Should the US Arm the Iraqi Kurds?

NTR

By Paul Davis

I wanted to republish this since the Kurdish leader Masud Barzani is coming to talk to the president

During my recent interview on Kurdish television station NTR. One of the recurring questions was “Why will the US government not supply the Kurdish Peshmerga with weapons?” The short answer of course is that we have supplied small and medium size arms to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) while they were in direct contact with ISIS and receiving no help from Baghdad. The hard answer is that US policy limits what it can provide to a regional security force without the consent of the central government. Limited to the point of supplying nothing of consequence, noting that would matter. However, should this policy exist in the world today? Reportedly, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) is circulating a letter to Members of Congress urging a bi-partisan bill authorizing the President to provide the KRG with the arms it needs and bypassing Baghdad.

The impact of arming the KRG with heavy weapons, in the short term, will bring them on par with the enemy in front of them, who has superior weapons they have captured from the Iraqi army, US weapons, including advanced M1 tanks. We have seen the Peshmerga fight and defeat ISIS with the help of US airstrikes and the assistance of other Kurdish fighters such as the YPG and PKK. These victories however have been limited in scope but not in impact. Saving the Yazidi minority and pushing ISIS off the Mosul dam are significant achievements, but ISIS still controls a swath of Iraq and portions of Syria as well as now influencing Islamic extremist throughout the region.

The introduction of heavy weapons to the Peshmerga would not allow them to defeat ISIS by themselves but would allow them to secure the Kurdish region and return to building the only success story in Iraq. So why not do it.

We must address the political ramifications first. Baghdad does not want the Kurds stronger than they are currently. Turkey to the north fears any Kurd, having been at war with the Kurdish PKK organization for years. Turkey views weapons to the KRG as weapons to the PKK. The PKK began as an organization dedicated to an independent Kurdish state in what is now SW Turkey. These are our friends.

Failure to provide weapons to the Kurds leaves only the central governments in the region to fend off the terrorist threat. Currently the Iraqi forces have failed in all attempts to dislodge ISIS and most recently have turned to Iran for assistance. Over 3000 Iraqi forces backed up by 20000 Iranian lead Shia militia have so far failed to dislodge ISIS from the town of Tikrit. While fighting ISIS in the Syrian town of Kobane, on the Syrian Turkish border, Syrian Kurdish fighters supported by Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and US airstrikes did ultimately drive ISIS from the region. This even through Turkey initially denied the Peshmerga safe passage but allowed free crossing for ISIS. These are our friends.

How to support Mr. Royce’s attempt to authorize the transfer of arms over the objection of Baghdad is no small undertaking. There are three options left; first, we don’t and hope that Iraq and the Peshmerga can establish a secure Iraq, second we ignore Baghdad’s protests and just arm the Peshmerga or lastly we accept the inevitable, that Iraq is a failed state and understand we are arming the future army of an independent Kurdistan. This last is the easiest and the hardest.

The US has a lot of capital invested in Iraq, both financial and political. It would be difficult to walk away, but it would be the easiest path. Should we accept the failed state model, then what becomes of Iraq? It splits into three distinct parts. The first is a Shia part that falls under the control of Iran, Then a Sunni part that depends on the assistance of the Sunni world and Kurdistan, which has never had an Iraqi identity and surrounded on all sides by enemies. Non-Arab nation in the Middle East surrounded by enemies is not something we have not seen before.

Congress should authorize the transfer of arms to Kurdistan, or for the President to direct the transfer. The State department should direct its efforts on working with Turkey to step up and become the local peacekeeper. The above snarky comments aside, Turkey is at least, for the time being, a democratic secular nation which does not want to see Iran controlling the region and can use Kurdistan to buffer itself from the worst of sectarian violence in the Arab world. The weapons will come with a price, that is the KRG will need to do a little cleaning up. More open elections and less corruption.

Kurdistan, like Israel, is an oasis in the middle of turmoil and pains in the backside of the US. Both need protection, nurturing and support until their neighbors can join them in peace.

This is not the answer given my interviewer; all I could say was that since they were not a nation we had to work with Baghdad.

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Tikrit Has Been Liberated, Now What?

The Iraqi army along with Shi’a militia and in conjunction with Coalition air support liberated the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). Heralded as a major blow to IS and a morale booster for the Iraqi army (IA). As with all military actions, we need to analyze this for second and third tier effects. Then we need to determine follow-on efforts.

To put this all into perspective, this was the second attempt by the Iraqi government to dislodge IS form Tikrit, the first ending in defeat for the IA. In this last iteration, Baghdad assembled a composite force of regular army and Shi’a militias, mostly backed by Iran, that by estimates numbered between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters. The IS force inside of Tikrit was estimated to be between 200 and 1000 fighters.

Tikrit was recaptured after a month long campaign that at many times bogged down in the complex world of urban warfare. The introduction of Coalition airstrikes and attrition finally won the day for Iraq. As of this writing the Iraqi forces are still mopping up the IS resistance.

The reality of all this is that while coalition air power played a strong role in the final push to end IS hold on Tikrit the majority of the forces on the government side were Shi’ite militia controlled by Iran and supported by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisors and likely combat troops. These forces hold no loyalty to Baghdad and do not fight in the cause of Iraq. On the front page of the Wall Street Journal for April 2d is a picture of what is said to be a member of the Iraqi forces beating an insurgent. There is no way to tell if this is indeed a member of IS, it should be noted that the flag shown in the photo is that of one of the militias, not the Iraqi flag.

Since the beginning of the operation, there have been repeated reports of human rights abuses on Sunni residents, which are being investigated by Amnesty International according to a recent report by AFP. “We are investigating reports that scores of residents have been seized early last month and not heard of since, and that residents’ homes and businesses have been blown up or burned down after having been looted by militias,” said Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty.

“There have also been reports of summary executions of men who may or may not have been involved in combat but who were killed after having been captured,” she said.

Additional reports indicate wide scale looting by the Shi’a militias. A recent AP report states Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the Army to arrest and prosecute anyone found looting abandoned properties. However two-thirds of Baghdad’s presence in Tikrit are the Shi’a militia. While Shi’a religious leaders call for restraint, it is unclear how much influence they will have over the Iranian backed fighters. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, called on security forces and the militias to “preserve and guard citizens’ properties in areas that have been liberated.”   The question now is how these actions will affect the continued fight against IS and what this means in the coming fight for Mosul.

We must understand that while the Iraqi government can pretend that the fight in Tikrit was a government fight to liberate part of the country from an invader, it is in fact a Shia-Sunni fight/civil war. IS is predominantly a Sunni organization built on the foundation of their interpretation of Sunni Islam. Iran’s militias follow the teachings of the Shi’a sect. Now we have a little reported third aspect. Baathist military leaders, from Saddam Hussain’s old party, seem to be in charge of much of the military and security portion of the IS. Putting this altogether we have Sunni’s killing Shi’a and Shi’a killing Sunni and political puppet masters pulling strings.

This combined Shi’a government/Shi’a militia force must now move north through the Sunni provinces of Anbar and Nineveh before attempting to launch an attack on Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. Based on the disenfranchisement of the Sunni in the past several years and the current Shi’a violence against the Sunni population this does not look like an easy prospect. Sunni tribes with the assistance and insistence of the IS will resist and degrade the force as it moves north. Should it become apparent that the bulk of fighters resisting are Iraqi Sunni tribes the Coalition Air Forces will be reluctant to engage. If this force reaches Mosul it will be far from its supply base, in hostile territory and fighting a well-trained force that likely now will outnumber the Iraqi’s.

Once near Mosul there is of course another force that has shown itself capable of standing up to IS and defeating them, the Peshmerga of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). The Peshmerga, designated a regional security force in the Iraq Constitution, are well trained, highly motivated but only moderately armed. Like the IA they were pushed back by the initial IS attacks. Unlike the IA however then regrouped and fought back, regaining what they had lost and helped retrieve some territory not part of the KRG. The Kurds are a secular group and the Peshmerga contain units that are Sunni, Shi’a, Christian and Yezidi. Like the Sunni however, they have been ill-treated and it is not likely they will consent to join in the fight for Mosul without major concession from Baghdad.

After this review of the situation, it is time to look toward to the next step. It is unlikely that the Iraqi force will be able to carry the fight through the Sunni region and mount a successful campaign against Mosul without major support from an outside entity. It is unfortunate that all of the good works the US and the Coalition did to build trust with the Sunni’s after Desert Storm was reversed by the policies of recent Iraqi governments. Shi’a militia activity, as well as actions by government forces to punish the Sunni population, makes it even more unlikely that the Sunni’s will return to support Baghdad anytime soon.

Outside support of the kind needed in a direct fight for Mosul will not come from the US or any Coalition partner. If any support comes, it will come from Iran directly. Even the Iranian supported militias would not be able to shift the balance enough to win the day. Options are therefore limited. Live with the status quo, let Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jorden and others take the fight to IS in Syria and elsewhere. Let Iraq split amongst its ethnic groups in which case it is likely the Sunni tribes would engage IS on their own or with the help of Sunni governments. Alternatively, in the end hope for some type of diplomatic solution. I mention this last only because I know there are readers who think there is a diplomatic solution to every problem.

Does Russia Plan to Stop with Ukraine or Turn Left at Kiev and Continue to Poland

Does Russia Plan to Stop with Ukraine or Turn Left at Kiev and Continue to Poland

Today NATO has confirmed what the Ukrainian government has been saying for months; Russian troops have crossed the border and are in eastern Ukraine. Not some advisors, but troops, tanks and artillery with all the support required. Moreover, why not, the West has given them permission to invade and told Putin that nothing will happen other than economic sanctions. Sanctions that will only bolster his standing with the Russian people and lend credence to his claims of US support to the “fascist” in Kiev.

Unfortunately, most Americans will not know this is happening since the news media is still concentrating on the recent election results and current developments in Iraq and Iran. I suppose it is important to concentrate on who will be the Democratic nominee in 2016, devoting multiple columns on speculation while Ukraine is being invaded. While the troubles in the Middle East are important Ukraine present a larger danger to the West. Why is Ukraine important and what should the West do?

The short answer (or shortsighted answer) is that Ukraine is not very important to the US and only marginally important to Europe. The US does very little business with Ukraine and Europe is tied through the natural gas that flows from Russia through pipelines in Ukraine. The importance of a response to Russia’s invasion is in the long term. For the US, which has lost the respect of the world, is to reestablish the foundations of peace in Europe which has allowed growth and prosperity. It is further important to establish diplomatic boundaries; boundaries which when crossed do invite a military option. These boundaries use to exist; there was some certainty of a response when crossed. With the loss of those boundaries, invasions happen.

The invasion is moving slowly while Putin and his thugs continue to test Western resolve and capabilities. Recent activities, reminiscent of the cold war, are being used to judge us. Russian planes are flying near US, Canadian and European airspace causing fighters to scramble to intercept. Naval forces have also been involved testing the waters off Sweden. The “non-Russian forces”, disguised as Ukrainian separatist, who took control of eastern Ukraine and allowed Russia to annex Crimea, preceded these tests. Now that we have been judge and found deficient Russian forces are flooding over the border. The question is where will they stop? Once a Russian military force begins to move it will stop only when it runs into a force larger then itself or is sufficiently degraded that it can go no further. Of course, an alternative is to ensure it never begins to move.

It is somewhat late in the game to try incremental steps to convince the Russians it is a bad idea to invade Ukraine. It is not too late to show resolve and indicate that there will be a price to pay and that price will be painful. I doubt that the U.S. can pull it off and will need someone that the Russians believe will be true to their word. Germany, England and France, along with Poland and the Baltic states could provide a sufficient force to make a threat credible.

I hope that a united European front would be able to stop a war from happening or at least contain it to a limited war that would not lead to a major conflict. The problem, as I have written before, is the longer it takes to meet this challenge, the larger the war that will come. Make no mistake, unless Putin is stopped, there will be a war.

The New Cold War

The New Cold War

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall, we seem to have come full circle. On that day which began the true end of the Second World War, returning pre-war countries to the control of its citizens, the future looked bright. Country after country reclaimed its heritage, not without problems and adventures. Even the Soviet Union fell and gave back control of many of its vassal states to the people. The down side of all this was the closing of minds in the West to any potential reversal of these activities. In the intervening years, all eyes have moved toward the Middle East, with all the problems, wars, and barbarity that has become the Middle East.

To play down the dangers of groups such as ISIL or countries like Iran that can and have plunged the region into war and fear would be foolish. The darkness that has enveloped that part of the world has the potential of spreading outward to engulf the rest of the world. However, the immediate threat to the Western world is once again coming from Russia. The fall of the Berlin Wall did not remove the danger of men such as Putin; it only drove them underground for a little while. While the West went forward into a new age of freedom and prosperity, Russia remained, well Russian.

The West has forgotten the Cold War and what it pertained. The barbarity of ISIL notwithstanding, the current rash of Russian aircraft and ships testing NATO defenses in conjunction with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea must be understood in an older context then the current batch of leaders appear willing or able to do. I suggest a rereading of the book “Arms and Influence” by Thomas Schelling for all decision makers. Understand what Russia is doing and what responses are required.

First off, and this is important, we must understand that Russia will continue limited wars until its objectives are meet. That is until the price is too high. Lines must be drawn and aggression contained. If NATO and the West continue to fail to respond to Russian provocations, they will become more belligerent. Who is to blame? Schelling would likely say the West. By failure to up the ante, we are giving Russia permission to continue its actions. Economic sanctions are not going to contain military action. Russia, as Putin envisions it, is capable of self-preservation. The West, as Putin envisions it, is incapable of sustaining an economic embargo against Europe’s energy supplier. So then, the answer is to nuke Moscow, not really.

The answer is to show resolve in the face of this naked aggression. Movement of NATO forces into western Ukraine close enough to be a threat but far enough back not to be an immediate danger. Then it becomes quid pro quo. Russian forces advance deeper into Ukraine so does NATO. Is this brinksmanship or a game of chicken? Yes it is. Could it lead to a larger war? Yes, it could. But the alternative is to allow the Russians to continue to move west until??? At what point do we call a halt and at that time what would it take to stop the advance? The longer it takes the less likely Russia will feel anything is going to happen. The longer it takes the larger and more dangerous will be the response.

The new cold war can only remain cold while there is a credible threat of actual war. Currently Russia does not see that threat. I do not advocate war, just the opposite. We need to set the boundaries, to let Russia know what the limits are. A new cold war is a terrible thing and should never have been allowed to happen. However, it did happen and now we must respond. If we learn from the past, we can contain war and avoid conflict. If we ignore what was learned the world may pay a terrible price.

The US still has no strategy in its fight against ISIS

pleasethink1

With the administration pressed on all sides because of its lack of an effective foreign policy, a group that had been building up in Syria struck with speed and violence that caused a major breakdown in the regional status quo. Military planning requires time and information to produce a strategy that will result in a desired end state. The current US operation against the Islamic terror group ISIS (ISIL, IS, Da’esh) has shown none of the earmarks of a strategy.

What is strategy; it is the ways and means to an end. The end state given is the total destruction of ISIS. So what then are the ways and means, the strategy to accomplish this? The United States announced it would begin forming a coalition that would engage ISIS from the Air and then from the ground. The ground portion would consist of regional forces with the US leading with…

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The US still has no strategy in its fight against ISIS

With the administration pressed on all sides because of its lack of an effective foreign policy, a group that had been building up in Syria struck with speed and violence that caused a major breakdown in the regional status quo. Military planning requires time and information to produce a strategy that will result in a desired end state. The current US operation against the Islamic terror group ISIS (ISIL, IS, Da’esh) has shown none of the earmarks of a strategy.

What is strategy; it is the ways and means to an end. The end state given is the total destruction of ISIS. So what then are the ways and means, the strategy to accomplish this? The United States announced it would begin forming a coalition that would engage ISIS from the Air and then from the ground. The ground portion would consist of regional forces with the US leading with Air strikes supported by regional and international air forces. The problem is this is not a strategy; it is at best the start of a plan.

The immediate military requirement was to stop the forward momentum in Iraq. This should have been easy. We had air power in the region and we had regional ground forces engaged with the enemy, The Kurdish regional guard, the Peshmerga. The Peshmerga had eyes on the enemy and had up to date intelligence on ISIS locations and movements. What they did not have was sufficient firepower to engage effectively. Therefore, the answer is simply, coordinate targets with the Peshmerga and at the same time resupply them with needed weapons.

With everything so clear and easy why are thousands of Kurds, Yazidi, Arabs and Christians still dying at the hands of ISIS.

The United States and its allies are so tied up in the theoretical world of politics that dogma has replaced critical thinking and while waiting for an epiphany thousands more will die. The US wants to run all weapons through Baghdad, which has refused to support the Peshmerga or share in oil revenues as required by their own constitution. It is not as if the option is the Iraqi army, they are worthless. While being the recipients of US weapons and training they ran at the first sign of a fight and left the weapons and weapon systems behind. So then, give the weapons to the Kurds directly. Baghdad says no and our NATO ally Turkey is against arming Kurds at any time for any reason. Turkey has a legitimate concern since one of the Non-Iraqi Kurdish groups, the PKK, has been at war with Turkey for decades. Turkey has a less then legitimate excuse; they have been supporting ISIS in an attempt to overthrow the Assad regime.

Inside of Syria, we have disparate groups that are fighting not only ISIS, but also the Assad government and each other. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the group that receives all the press, is an amalgam of rebel groups that began the attempted overthrow of Assad in 2011, during the Arab Spring. The FSA is undisciplined, self-serving and untrained. This may have been different had the west responded to request for assistance from the beginning but it did not and the FSA is so broken and dysfunctional and infiltrated by ISIS and Assad and a number of others that it is not the boots on the ground the US needs. Therefore, whom do we turn to inside of Syria?

Stop me if you have heard this one, the Kurds. The Kurdish militia in Syria known as the YPG has been successfully fighting ISIS for two years. A highly disciplined and committed force they defended Kurds, Arabs and Christians from Assad and ISIL. They sent fighters to Iraq and helped rescue the Yazidi from Mt Sinjar while the west was considering action. The YPG while being Kurdish has also raised units of Arabs, Christians and Yazidi. So what is wrong with the YPG? They have been tied to the PKK.

Now back to the lack of strategy part. As said, a strategy is the ways and means to an end. If the desired end is the destruction of ISIS then there must be boots on the ground. If they are not to be US boots then they will need to be someone’s. The Iraqi army is out they are broken. The FSA is out they are incapable, Regional armies would be good but Turkey Jordan, UAE etc. will not likely commit to invade a neighbor regardless of the security situation. The Kurds are engaged. The strategy then would be to arm and support the Kurds, cooperate and coordinate air attacks. Train them to go beyond guerrilla tactics and stand and protect themselves while destroying the bad guys.

The current action of the US and allied air forces have been to seek out and destroy convoys and attack stationary targets identified as command centers. This is good, this helps. This is not a strategy to achieve the end result of the destruction of ISIS. These are actions that individually cause temporary harm, it is not a strategy designed to achieve the ultimate declared end.

I call on the US and the individual countries involved to engage with the Kurds to fight a common evil. We may not agree with their politics but they are not now, have never been nor will they ever be a threat to the west. In fact, if treated fairly we may find a good true and loyal friend in a region that is not likely to give the west many opportunities at friendship.

Why Putin is pushing the door open to a New Cold War

Putin

In a March 17th article in Foreign Policy Magazine Gordon Adams, a professor of international relations at American University’s School of International Service, advices that we “Don’t Poke the Russian Bear.” It is Professor Adams’ contention that the reasoning behind Russia’s actions in Ukraine is driven by traditional Russian paranoia, and I agree. He also states that American policymakers do not get it, and again I agree. He then goes on to discuss how there is not only little we can do about it but that we should just accept the current reality and accept these actions as an inevitable part of Russia protecting its interest and its borders, now I have to disagree. According to the good professor the current crisis:

“It’s not about democracy. It’s not about annexation. It’s not about aggression or a new Munich. It’s not about a return to the Cold War. It’s about centuries-old Russian paranoia about the states on its borders and what Moscow think the Europeans, the Chinese, or the Americans are up to in its near abroad.” [1]

I am sorry professor, but it is about democracy, it is about annexation, it is about aggression, it is about a new Munich and it most certainly is about a return to the cold war.

So let us discuss these points. Is it about democracy? When did Vlad the impetuous decide that the evil government in Kiev was subjugating the Russian-speaking people of the Crimea? If I recall it was after the Ukrainian people in a popular move removed the President of Ukraine who just happened to be pro-Russian and was refusing to accept a relationship with the European Union, supported by most Ukrainians, in favor of closer ties with Russia. Of course this raises the question, does the removal of a duly elected president, by popular rebellion, encompass democracy, or is it an undemocratic action. I would remind Mr. Putin that he became the second (and fourth) president of Russia due to the removal of the Soviet era government by popular rebellion, supported by the military. Russia will not accept the new government in Kiev and considers Viktor Yanukovych as the legitimate leader of Ukraine. This following an election considered by most to be free and open, even those in the rebellious east had an opportunity to vote. Understanding that a reason for keeping control of the Crimean peninsula was to maintain a warm water port for the Black Sea fleet, allowed under treaty, there was no attempt to discuss this with the new government. The democratic loving Putin fermented a revolt supported by Russian forces, even though Moscow denied it, and then sending in the Russian army to keep the peace. So much for democracy, let us try aggression.

Well I guess we kind of did aggression but let’s recap. A large country with millions of soldiers under arms backed up with modern equipment attacks a smaller country with a small army and little in the way of modern equipment and secures some land. That’s aggression, oh no I guess it’s not really you see Putin got permission from the Russian Duma (Congress) to use the army if needed to protect the subjugated Russian speaking population of a foreign country. You see that’s not aggression…its war. Of course, the professor wrote this article before the downing of Malaysian Air flight MH17 and before the revelation that the Russians were firing on Ukrainian positions from inside of Russia, but nonetheless to say that this is not about aggression is a little much.

What about this being a new Munich. This requires us to understand the full implication of what happened in 1938 and how it does relate to Russian and Western actions today. The short of it is that the United Kingdom and France in order to appease Hitler gave Germany a portion of Czechoslovakia based on the argument that it was home to mostly German speaking peoples, without the Czechoslovakian government being invited to the table. The Czechoslovakian government considered this a great betrayal as they had a pact with both Britain and France to protect Czechoslovakia. Ok so we have not signed a pact with Putin to cede eastern Ukraine. The military actions taken by Russia violates a treaty signed between the US, UK, Russia and Ukraine to protect Ukrainian borders in recognition of Ukraine giving up its Nuclear arsenal following the breakup of the USSR. Germany completed the takeover of the remainder of Czechoslovakia in March of 1939. While Britain and France protested, they could only increase military preparedness with no other follow on action. WWII started in September after Germany invaded Poland. This should also cover annexation.

As to the return of the Cold War, we would need to define Cold War. According to most, it is a heightened level of political and military tensions between two sides. In the old days, that was the West (NATO and others) and the East (Warsaw pact and others). While NATO still exists, the Warsaw pact is gone. Putin however is trying to reestablish it through a Russian federation. This new federation established the same way as the Warsaw pact was, through force of arms. The real question is this a new Cold War or a continuation of the original following a lull. Does not matter, ITS BACK.

Which raises the question, does Putin know what he is doing and does he care. From a Western mindset, it would appear that everything Russia is doing is counterproductive to a desire to be a full partner in the world community. Nevertheless, let us return to the last part of what the professor said. “It’s about centuries-old Russian paranoia about the states on its borders and what Moscow think the Europeans, the Chinese, or the Americans are up to in its near abroad.” [2] Russia has always been an outlier to the western world.

The cultural bias that drives the why a person or government thinks and acts is no small item. First, let us define cultural bias. Most of us view cultural bias as the problem with standardize test, such as the SAT. This is a good place to start to understand. When a group of people designs a test, whose questions are constructed in a manner that is unintelligible to the intended audience, based on a different worldview or understanding, it is cultural bias. There is a lot more to it than that but you get the idea. A case in point of the larger picture of cultural bias is a recent posting from Russia that set out side by side a photo of Putin petting a leopard and one of President Obama holding a dog. From the Russian perspective, this shows Putin as a “MAN” who is fearless and capable of standing up to a west as defined by Obama holding a tamed dog. From the western perspective we see a kind and humanitarian Obama (no politics here just an observation making a point) and a person doing something (holding an animal that can tear you to pieces) only a circus performer or an idiot would do. The photo was in a Tweet from the deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin and captioned “We have different values and allies.”

Let us now extend this to the current crisis. Is Vladimir Putin acting as a lone wolf, angry at the west for some perceived slight or is he acting like a, well, Russian. To re-quote the professor “It’s about centuries-old Russian paranoia about the states on its borders and what Moscow think the Europeans, the Chinese, or the Americans are up to in its near abroad.” This is not a condemnation of Russia or Russian leadership or a statement of good or evil, it is a statement. If we accept that there is truth to the statement, then we can look for answers to the crisis. I warn you these answers are not always the ones we want or want to deal with.

In a recent article in The New Yorker, David Remnick discusses the problems Michael McFaul, who recently resigned as the US Ambassador to Russia, had with Putin. McFaul an academic and an expert on Russia should have understood the culture and cultural bias. Like many Americans, however McFaul was caught up in his own worldview, which sees only the good. When nominated Dmitri Medvedev was President of the Russian Federation and US-Russian relations was OK, not great but OK. After his official appointment, Putin declared his intention to run for the office, which sparked demonstrations in Moscow.

“In the three months between McFaul’s appointment and his arrival in Moscow, a great deal changed. Putin, feeling betrayed by both the urban middle classes and the West, made it plain that he would go on the offensive against any sign of foreign interference, real or imagined. A raw and resentful anti-Americanism, unknown since the seventies, suffused Kremlin policy and the state-run airwaves.”[3]

From the beginning, Putin was set to prove that Russia was going to be a great power once more. As before, the concept of power was through force of arms and other traditional Russian methods. Most recently, the management of REN TV canceled a Russian political program, which was the last TV show to be critical of Putin and the current government. Is Vlad just being an impetuous leader out of touch with the Russian people? His latest approval rating is 80%.

We are in what appears to be a cold war with an advisory that is trying to compel us to do something. So what is the something we need to do. We can discuss diplomacy but to Putin that just give him more time to do what he wants. We can discuss economic sanctions, which will be of little effect on a country that does not have a strong economy outside of oil and gas exports and does not fear losing that revenue. We can discuss deterrence. Yes, we can discuss deterrence.

To be up front I am not suggesting that the next time Russian artillery fires into Ukraine that we nuke Moscow. What I am saying is that we can provide weapons and training, intelligence and logistics support. What I am saying is that the 6th Fleet can run some exercises in the Black Sea. We can make life more difficult for the Russian military as it tries to reinvent itself into what was the Soviet military. Back in June, some Russian bombers flow off the coasts of Alaska and California to within 50 miles of the US. Bing honest they were within their rights and according to the Air Force the encounter was “professional.” Next time maybe a little less professionalism and a little more swagger.

Putin is not going to stop until he sees the potential of an encounter that may cost him masculinity points. An old saying goes something like this “All evil needs to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” We need to do something to shut the door on this new cold war.

Adams, G. (2014, March 17). Don’t Poke the Runnian Bear. Retrieved July 24, 2014, from foreignpolicy.com: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/17/don_t_poke_the_russian_bear_ukraine

Remnick, D. (2014, August 11). The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/11/watching-eclipse

[1] (Adams, 2014)

[2] (Adams, 2014)

[3] (Remnick, 2014)