18 June 2014

Announcement: Maneuver Warfare: German Experiences in WWII

I am pleased to announce that the following interviews have been converted to electronic format and are now publicly available for downloading.  This entry will be permanently stored in a special page on the Blaster website, immediately to left of this posting.

Chuck Spinney

16 June 2014

Polk Report

How to Evolve an Exit Strategy From America’s Foreign Policy Shambles


Attached beneath my introductory comment is an essay by the American historian William R. Polk.  His subject is the American predilection for non-learning in foreign policy. My comment is intended to set the stage by summarizing the dangerous shambles that now passes for foreign policy in the United States.
Introductory Comment
In a nutshell, recent events in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Ukraine show there is no grand-strategic focus to America’s increasingly militarized foreign policy.  A German officer in the old imperial army might say, ‘kein Schwerpunkt!’ 
What we call foreign policy and grand strategy in the 21st Century — i.e., that ‘you are either with us or with the terrorists’* — has devolved into a self-righteous welter of bluster, threats, arms transfers, puny demonstrations (e.g., deployments of two or three B-2s), proxy wars, and bombing (especially, targeted liquidations with drones from a safe distance instead of a bullet in the back of the head), all aimed ad hoc in reaction to any crisis du jour.  The pattern is more like a giant whack-a-mole game than a sensible grand strategy aimed at ending conflicts on favorable terms, while paying due regard to strengthening our bonds at home and with our allies, undermining the cohesion of our adversaries, and coping efficiently with the internal constraints limiting our actions.
Consider, please, the following: Last month President Obama announced we would extend our stay in Afghanistan — a war we have clearly lost — until the end of 2016.  Last week, Mr. Obama, after months of procrastination, said he was considering sending weapons to the Syrian Sunni insurgents fighting President Assad.  The most effective of these insurgents are the ISIS Jihadis who are fighting and defeating, as well as stealing or buying weapons from the other insurgents.  This week Mr. Obama opened the door to the possibility of bombing ISIS Jihadis in Iraq to support the floundering Shi’ite government we installed.  Yet, as Patrick Cockburn** of the Independent has reported, the ISIS Jihadis in Syria and Iraq are coalescing into one proto-caliphate in their common Sunni areas (see map below).  This raises the real possibility that we could end up arming and bombing the same Jihadis.  Such a development would increase the potential of unknowable blowbacks throughout the entire region, especially for the Kurdish ethnic groups in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, as well as the state of Turkey itself (see here).  It is obvious that Obama’s prevarications and reactiveness are, at least in part, reflective of a need to cope with the welter of domestic attacks by his pro-war opponents at home.  And there is more.

Credit: Wikimedia

Consider Libya: Since we fomented the violent downfall and liquidation of Qadaffy by leading “from behind” in Libya in the name of preventing a massacre, that country has become less a nation than a region of murderous tribal warlords, whose predilections for killing people are spilling over into nations to the south like Mali as well as exporting arms and Jihadis to Syria.  The United States supported the return of a military authoritarian government to Egypt that took power by overthrowing and imprisoning the leaders of a duly elected democratic Islamic government.  Israel just turned the American-led peace process with the Palestinians into a sick joke.  And the octopus-like tentacles of AFRICOM are spreading thoughout Africa.
In the Ukraine, Obama’s State Department colluded with a western-leaning cabal that included neo-fascist elements to overthrow a duly elected, if corrupt, government. Afterwards, the Ukrainian elections in May simply rearranged the seating arrangements of some of the same corrupt oligarchs.  Moreover, in response to the Ukraine crisis, the United States is making militarily inconsequential but provocative “show of force” deployments to Eastern Europe and the Black Sea.  There is also talk of increasing aid  and expanding NATO or its influence to Ukraine, Georgia, and even Moldova and Azerbaijan.  Instead of promoting strategic neutrality among the eastern European countries between Russia and the West, we are seeking alliances with distant countries (about which we know very little) in a transparent effort to undermine the historic centerpiece of Russian security since Napoleonic times — strategic depth in the West. Together, these actions have opened up the possibility of starting a new and totally unnecessary cold war with Russia.  And these examples by no means exhaust the list of the 1000 cuts slicing US foreign policy into disconnected pieces, say for example, those in the South China Sea or Iran.
Yet at home, poll after poll says the American people are tired of perpetual war and the accompanying politics of fear (see my essay, The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War).  Moreover, the US economy supporting these adventures is in trouble: recovery from 2008 meltdown has been sluggish, to put it charitably; the banks that created the 2008 meltdown are even bigger and more vulnerable today than when the government bailed them out of their follies; income and wealth inequality have risen to obscene levels, and the American middle class is fast becoming a historical curiosity (see Thomas Piketty’s path breaking work summarized here and here ); the tax base has deteriorated and the private debt to GDP ratio remains at a dangerously high level; and powerful domestic factions with vested interests in staying the course, like the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex, the Banksters, and Big Pharma, effectively own Congress and are using their oligarchal political influence (thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions to equate money to free speech) to purchase legislation that ensures their factional welfare remains protected at the expense of the people’s welfare.
In short, the ‘chickens’ of our self-referencing “you are either with us or against us” grand strategy are coming home to roost. At the same time, the domestic will and capacity to correct matters is dangerously atrophying.  This is a problem that should concern all Americans, but our dysfunctional domestic politics are keeping the masses distracted and political decision makers and media elites are focused inward in playing ‘gotcha’ with each other — the current hoohrah surrounding the Bowe Bergdahl POW swap being a case in point.
So what should be done?
My good friend Bill Polk, a historian of American politics and diplomacy, with a concentration on the Middle East, is writing a book on the history of America’s interventionist warmongering.  Based on that effort, he has written the attached essay examining our predilection for non-learning the lessons of past follies.  While Bill’s focus is on our dysfunctional foreign policy as opposed to the factional domestic interests fueling America’s march to folly, all of his recommendations are aimed at exorcising some of the deepest domestic roots of America’s predilection for perpetual war.
I urge you to read Polk’s essay; he has put his finger on the central problem — ignorance and passivity at home, but this problem’s generality and intractability is scary.  His recommendations go to the heart of the matter, but they are quite general.  Indeed, they  go to the heart of the American ideal by recalling James Madison’s famous 4 August 1822 letter to W.T. Barry.  Madison opened that letter by stating the importance of popular education to public accountability by saying, “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Polk is correct:  We need to create a popular government with popular information to displace the politics of “The Post Information Era,” a phrase coined by the the Pentagon Reformers to describe bureaucratic decision making in the last decades of the 20th Century.  How to do that without another American revolution remains an open question.
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. 
* See Senator Hillary Clinton (Sept 13, 2001) and President George W. Bush (September 20, 2001).
** See these reports:
William R. Polk, June 12, 2014
America appears once again to be on the brink of a war.   This time the war is likely to be in Syria and/or in Iraq.  If we jump into one or both of these wars, they will join, by my count since our independence, about 200 significant military operations (not all of which were legally “wars”) as well as countless “proactive” interventions, regime-change undertakings, covert action schemes and search-and-destroy missions.  In addition the United States has  provided weapons, training and funding for a variety of non-American military and quasi-military forces throughout the world.  Within recent months we have added five new African countries.    History and contemporary events show that we Americans are a warring people.
So we should ask:  what have we learned about ourselves, our adversaries and the process in which we have engaged?
The short answer appears to be “very little.”
As both a historian and a former policy planner for the American government, I will very briefly here (as I have mentioned in a previous essay, I am in the final stages of a book to be called A Warring People, on these issues), illustrate what I mean by “very little.”
I begin with us, the American people.  There is overwhelming historical evidence that war is popular with us.  Politicians from our earliest days as a republic, indeed even before when we were British colonies, could nearly always count on gaining popularity by demonstrating our valor.  Few successful politicians were pacifists.
Even supposed pacifists found reasons to engage in the use of force.  Take the man most often cited as a peacemaker or at least a peaceseeker, Woodrow Wilson.  He promised to “keep us out of war,” by which he meant keeping us out of big, expensive European war. Before becoming president, however, he approved the American conquest of Cuba and the Philippines and described himself as an imperialist; then, as president, he occupied Haiti, sent the Marines into the Dominican Republic and ordered the Cavalry into Mexico.  In 1918, he also put American troops into Russia.  Not only sending soldiers: his administration carried out naval blockades, economic sanctions, covert operations — one of which, allegedly, involved an assassination attempt on a foreign leader — and furnished large-scale arms supplies to insurgents in on-going wars.
The purpose, and explanation, of our wars varied.  I think most of us would agree that our Revolution, the First World War and the Second World War were completely justified.  Probably Korea was also.  The  United States had no choice on the Civil war or, perhaps, on the War of 1812.  Many, particularly those against the Native Americans would today be classified as war crimes.  It is the middle range that seem to me to be the most important to understand.   I see them like this.
Some military ventures were really misadventures in the sense that they were based on misunderstandings or deliberate misinformation.  I think that most students of history would put the Spanish-American, Vietnamese, Iraqi and a few other conflicts in this category.  Our government lied to us — the Spaniards did not blow up the Maine; the Gulf of Tonkin was not a dastardly attack on our innocent ships and Iraq was not about to attack us with a nuclear weapon, which it did not have.
But we citizens listened uncritically.  We did not demand the facts.  It is hard to avoid the charge that we were either complicit, lazy or ignorant.  We did not hold our government to account.
Several wars and other forms of intervention were for supposed local or regional requirements of the Cold War.  We knowingly told one another that the “domino theory” was reality: so a hint of Communist subversion or even criticism of us sent us racing off to protect almost any form of political association that pretended to be on our side.  And we believed or feared that even countries that had little or no connections with one another would topple at the touch — or even before their neighbors appeared to be in trouble.  Therefore, regardless of their domestic political style, monarchy, dictatorship. democracy., it mattered not, they had to be protected.  Our protection often included threats of invasion, actual intervention, paramilitary operations, subversion and/or bribery,  justified by our proclaimed intent to keep them free.  Or at least free from Soviet control.  Included among them were Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Iran,  Indonesia, Vietnam and various African countries.
Some interventions were for acquisition of their resources or protection of our economic assets.  Guatemala, Chile, Iraq, Iran and Indonesia come to mind.
Few, if any,  were to  establish the basis of peace or even to bring about ceasefires.  Those tasks we usually left to the United Nations or regional associations.
The costs have been high.  Just counting recent interventions, they have cost us well over a hundred thousand casualties and some multiple of that in wounded; they have cost “the others”  — both our enemies and our friends — large multiples of those numbers.  The monetary cost is perhaps beyond counting both to them and to us.  Figures range upward from $10 trillion.
The rate of success of these aspects of our foreign policy, even in the Nineteenth century, was low.  Failure to accomplish the desired or professed outcome is shown by the fact that within a few years of the American intervention, the condition that had led to the intervention recurred.  The rate of failure has dramatically increased in recent years.  This is because we are operating in a world that is increasingly politically sensitive.  Today even poor, weak, uneducated  and corrupt nations become focused by the actions of foreigners.  Whereas before, a few members of the native elite made the decisions, today we face “fronts.” parties, tribes and independent opinion leaders.   So the “window of opportunity” for foreign intervention, once at least occasionally partly open, is now often shut.
I will briefly focus on five aspects of this transformation:
First, nationalism has been and remains the predominant way of political thought of most of the world’s people.  Its power has long been strong (even when we called it by other names) but it began to be amplified and focused by Communism in the late Nineteenth century.  Today,  nationalism in Africa, much of Asia and parts of Europe is increasingly magnified by the rebirth of Islam in the salafiyah movement.
Attempts to crush these nationalist-ideological-religious-cultural movements militarily have generally failed.  Even when, or indeed especially when, foreigners arrive on the scene, natives put aside their mutual hostilities to unite against them.  We saw this particularly vividly and painfully in Somalia.   The Russians saw it in Çeçnaya and the Chinese, among the Uyghur peoples of  Xinjiang  (former Chinese Turkistan).
Second, outside intervention has usually weakened moderate or conservative forces or tendencies within each movement.  Those espousing the most extreme positions are less likely to be suborned or defeated  than the moderates.  Thus particularly in a protracted hostilities, are more likely to take charge than their rivals.  We have seen this tendency in each of the guerrilla wars in which we got involved; for the situation today, look at the insurgent movements in Syria and Iraq.  (For my analysis of the philosophy and strategy of the Muslim extremists, see my essay “Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism” on my website, www.williampolk.com/.)
What is true of the movements is even more evident in the effects on civic institutions and practices within an embattled society.  In times of acute national danger, the “center”  does not hold.  Centrists  get caught between the insurgents and the regimes.   Insurgents have to destroy their relationship to society and government  if they are to “win.”   Thus, in Vietnam for example, doctors and teachers, who interfaced between government and the general population were prime targets for the Vietminh in the 1950s.
And, as the leaders of governments against whom the insurgents are fighting become more desperate, they suppress those of their perceived rivals or critics they can reach.   By default, these people are civilians who are active in the political parties, the media and the judiciary .  And, as their hold on power erodes and “victory” becomes less likely, regimes  also seek to create for themselves safe havens by stealing money and sending it abroad.  Thus, the institutions of government are weakened and the range of enemies widens.  We have witnessed these two aspects of “corruption” — both political and economic — in a number of countries.  Recent examples are Vietnam and Afghanistan.
In Vietnam at least by 1962 the senior members of the regime had essentially given up the fight.  Even then they were preparing to bolt the country.   And the army commanders were focused on earning money that they sold the bullets and guns we gave them to the Vietminh.  In Afghanistan, the regime’s  involvement in the drug trade, its draining of the national treasury into foreign private bank accounts (as even Mr. Karzai admitted) and in “pickpocketing” hundreds of millions of dollars from aid projects is well documented.  (http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/inspections/SIGAR-14-62-IP.pdf., the monthly reports of the American Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.)
Third, our institutional memory of programs, events and trends is shallow.  I suggest that it usually is no longer than a decade.  Thus, we repeat policies even when the record clearly shows that they did not work when previously tried. And we address each challenge as though it is unprecedented.   We forget the American folk saying that when you find yourself in a hole, the best course of action is to stop digging.  It isn’t only that our government (and the thousands of “experts,” tacticians and strategists it hires) do not “remember” but also that they have at hand only one convenient tool — the shovel.  What did we learn from Vietnam?  Get a bigger, sharper shovel.
Fourth, despite or perhaps in part because of our immigrant origins, we are a profoundly insular people.  Few of us have much appreciation of non-American cultures and even less fellow feeling for them.  Within a generation or so,  few immigrants can even speak the language of their grand parents.  Many of us are ashamed of our ethnic origins.
Thus, for example, at the end of the Second World War, despite many of us being of German or Italian or Japanese cultural background, we were markedly deficient in people who could help implement our policies in those countries.  We literally threw away the language and culture of grandparents.   A few years later, when I began to study Arabic, there were said to be only five Americans not of Arab origin who knew the language.  Beyond language, grasp of the broader range of culture petered off to near zero.  Today, after the expenditure of  significant government subsidies to universities (in the National Defense Education Act) to teach “strategic” languages, the situation should be better.  But, while we now know much more, I doubt that we understand other peoples much better.
If this is true of language, it is more true of more complex aspects of cultural heritage.  Take Somalia as an example.  Somalia was not, as the media put it, a “failed state;” it was and is a “non-state.”  That is, the Somalis do not base their effective identity on being members of a nation state.  Like almost everyone in the world did before recent centuries, they thought of themselves as members of clans, tribes, ethnic or religious assemblies or territories.  It is we, not they, who have redefined political identity.  We forget that the nation-state is a concept that was born in Europe only a  few centuries ago and became accepted only late in the Nineteenth century in Germany and Italy.  For the Somalis, it is still an alien construct.  So, not surprisingly,  our attempt to force them or entice them to shape up and act within our definition of statehood has not worked.   And Somalia is not alone.  And not only in Africa.  Former Yugoslavia is a prime example: to be ‘balkanized’ has entered our language.  And, if we peek under the flags of Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo,  Mali, the Sudan and other nation-states we find powerful forces of separate ethnic nationalisms.
The effects of relations among many of the peoples of Asia and Africa and some of the Latin Americans have created new political and social configurations and imbalances within and among them.    With European and American help, the  governments with which we deal have acquired more effective tools of repression.  They can usually defeat the challenges of traditional groups.  But, not always.   Where they do not acquire legitimacy in the eyes of significant groups — “nations” — states risk debilitating, long-term struggles.  These struggles are, in part, the result of the long years of imperial rule and colonial settlement.   Since Roman times, foreign rulers have sought to cut expenses by governing through local proxies.  Thus, the British turned over to the Copts the unpopular task of collecting Egyptian taxes and to the Assyrians the assignment of controlling the Iraqi Sunnis.  The echo of these years is what we observe in much of the “Third World” today.  Ethnic, religious and economic jealousies abound and the wounds of imperialism and colonialism have rarely completely healed.   We may not be sensitive to them, but to natives they may remain painful.  Americans may be the “new boys on the block,” but these memories have often been transferred to us.
Finally, fifth, as the preeminent nation-state, America has a vast reach.  There is practically no area of the world in which we do not have one sort of interest or another.  We have over a thousand military bases in more than a hundred countries; we trade, buy and sell, manufacture or give away goods and money all over Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe.  We train, equip and subsidize dozens of armies and even more paramilitary or “Special” forces.   This diversity is, obviously, a source of strength and richness, but, less obviously, it generates conflicts between what we wish to accomplish in one country and what we think we need to accomplish in another.  At the very least, handling or balancing our diverse aims within acceptable means and at a reasonable cost is a challenge.
It is a challenge that we seem less and less able to meet.
Take Iraq as an example.  As a  corollary of our hostility to Saddam Husain, we essentially turned Iraq over to his enemies, the Iraqi Shia Muslim. (I deal with this in my Understanding Iraq, New York: HarperCollins, 2005, 171 ff.) There was some justification for this policy.  The Shia community has long been Iraq’s majority and because they were Saddam’s enemies, some “experts” naively thought they would become our friends.  But immediately two negative aspects of our policy  became evident:  non-specialists:  first, the Shias took vengeance on the Sunni Muslim community and so threw the country into a vicious civil war .  What we called pacification amounted to ethnic cleansing.  And, second, the Shia Iraqi leaders (the marjiaah)  made common cause with coreligionist Iranians with whom we were nearly at war all during the second Bush administration.  Had war with Iran eventuated, our troops in Iraq would have been more hostages than occupiers.  At several points, we had the opportunity to form a more coherent, moral and safer policy.  I don’t see evidence that our government or our occupation civil and military authorities even grasped the problem;  certainly they did not find ways to work toward a solution.  Whatever else may be said about it, our policy was dysfunctional.
I deserve to be challenged on this statement:  I am measuring (with perhaps now somewhat weakened hindsight) recent failures against what we tried to do in the Policy Planning Council in the early 1960s.    If our objective is, as we identify it, to make the world at least safe, even if not safe for democracy, we are much worse off today than we were then.  We policy planners surely then made many significant mistakes (and were often not heeded), but I would argue that we worked within a more coherent framework than our government does today.  Increasingly, it seems to me that we are in a mode of leaping from one crisis to the next without having understood the first or anticipating the second.  I see no strategic concept; only tactical jumps and jabs.
So what to do?
At the time of the writing of the American Constitution, one of our Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris, remarked that part of the task he and others of the authors  put it, was  “to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, themselves.”   Translated to our times, this is to guard against our being “gun slingers.”  All the delegates were frightened by militarism and sought to do the absolute minimum required to protect the country from attack.  They refused the government permission to engage in armed actions against foreigners except in defense.  I believe they would have been horrified, if they could have conceived it, by the national security state we have become.  They certainly did not look to the military to solve problems of policy.  They would have agreed, I feel sure, that very few of the problems we face in the world today could be solved by military means   So,  even when we decide to employ military means,  we need to consider not only the immediate but the long-term effects of our actions.   We have, at least, the experience and the intellectual tools to do so.  So why have we not?
We have been frequently misled by the success of our postwar policies toward both Germany and Japan.  We successfully helped those two countries to embark upon a new era.  And, during the employment of the Truman Doctrine in Greece, the civil war there ended.   There were special reasons for all three being exceptions.  Perhaps consequent to those successes, when we decided to destroy the regimes of Saddam Husain and Muammar Qaddafi, we gave little thought of what would follow. We more or less just assumed that things would get better.  They did not.  The societies imploded.  Had we similarly gone into Iran, the results would have been a moral, legal and economic disaster.  Now we know — or should know –  that unless the risk is justified, as our Constitution demands it be by an imminent armed attack on the United States, we should not make proactive war on foreign nations.  We have sworn not to do so in the treaty by which we joined the United Nations .  In short, we need to be law abiding,  and we should look before we leap.
Our ability to do any of these things will depend on several decisions.
The first is to be realistic:  there is no switch we can flip to change our capacities.  To look for quick and easy solutions is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The second  is a matter of will and the costs and penalties that attach to it.  We would be more careful in foreign adventures if we had to pay for them in both blood and treasure as they occurred. That is, “in real time.”  We now avoid this by borrowing money abroad and by inducing or bribing vulnerable members of our society and foreigners to fight for us..  All our young men and women should know that they will be obliged to serve if we get into war, and we should not be able to defer to future generations the costs of our ventures.  We should agree to pay for them through immediate taxes rather than foreign loans.
The third is to demand accountability.  Our government should be legally obligated to tell us the truth.  If it does not, the responsible officials should be prosecuted in our courts and,  if they violate our treaties or international law, they should have to  come before the World Court of Justice.  We now let them off scot-free.  The only “culprits” are those who carry out their orders.
Fourthin the longer term, the only answer to the desire for better policy is better public education.  For a democracy to function, its citizens must be engaged.  They cannot be usefully engaged if they are not informed.  Yet few Americans know even our own laws on our role in world affairs.   Probably even fewer know the history of our actions abroad — that is, what we have done in the past with what results and at what cost.
And as a people we are woefully ignorant about other peoples and countries.   Polls indicate that few Americans even know the locations of other nations.  The saying that God created war to teach American geography is sacrilegious.  If this was God’s purpose, He  failed.  And beyond geography, concerning other people’s politics, cultures and traditions, there is a nearly blank page.  Isn’t it time we picked up the attempt made by such men as Sumner Wells  (with his An Intelligent American’s Guide to the Peace and his American Foreign Policy Library), Robert Hutchins, James Conant and others (with the General Education programs in colleges and universities) and various other failed efforts to make us a part of humanity?
On the surface, at least, resurrecting these programs is just a matter of (a small amount of) money.  But results won’t come overnight.  Our education system is stogy, our teachers are poorly trained and poorly paid, and we, the consumers, are distracted by quicker, easier gratifications than learning about world affairs.  I had hoped that we would learn from the “real schools” of  Vietnam and other failures, but we did not.  The snippets of information which pass over our heads each day do not and cannot make a coherent pattern.  Absent a matrix into which to place “news,” it is meaningless.   I have suggested in a previous essay that we are in a situation like a computer without a program.  We get the noise, but without a means to “read” it, it is just gibberish.
Our biggest challenge therefore comes down to us:  unless or until we find a better system of teaching, of becoming aware that we need to learn and a desire to acquire the tools of citizenship, we cannot hope to move toward a safer, more enriching future.
This is a long-term task.
We had better get started.

William R. Polk  (see bio)  was a member of the Policy Planning Council of the State Department during the Kennedy Administration and is a historian, who specializes in the Middle East.  He is the author of many books, including Violent Politics: Insurgency and Terrorism, Understanding Iraq, Understanding Iran.  He lives in Vence, France

09 June 2014

Should the Latest Round of Geography Shuffling in Ukraine be a Casus Belli for Cold War II?

I compiled this slide show mostly from information readily available in Wikipedia. Think of it as a quick, superficial tour of Ukrainian history by a non-historian, via a portrayal of the changing political boundaries and power relations as defined by the evolution of maps covering the region.

Nevertheless, I believe the ever shifting pattern in these maps helps one to contrast the incredibly complex history of this region to the simple-minded, misleading, anti-Russian narrative dominating the mainstream media.

Chuck Spinney

08 June 2014

Ukraine: Why Is the US Trying to Restart the Cold War?

Attached is an important op-ed by Diana Johnstone.  She places the Ukraine Crisis in a very different perspective than that portrayed by the mainstream media, the neoconmen, and the neoliberal globalists.  Note particularly her reference to the meeting in Yalta during September 2013.  This has not been widely reported on but is, I think, important to anyone’s understanding of the West’s (US, NATO, and EU) agendas that are now playing out.  More background information about this Yalta meeting can be found these links:

Tightening the U.S. Grip on Western Europe
Washington’s Iron Curtain in Ukraine
[Reprinted with permission of the editor of Counterpunch]
NATO leaders are currently acting out a deliberate charade in Europe, designed to reconstruct an Iron Curtain between Russia and the West.
With astonishing unanimity, NATO leaders feign surprise at events they planned months in advance. Events that they deliberately triggered are being misrepresented as sudden, astonishing, unjustified “Russian aggression”. The United States and the European Union undertook an aggressive provocation in Ukraine that they knew would force Russia to react defensively, one way or another.
They could not be sure exactly how Russian president Vladimir Putin would react when he saw that the United States was manipulating political conflict in Ukraine to install a pro-Western government intent on joining NATO.  This was not a mere matter of a “sphere of influence” in Russia’s “near abroad”, but a matter of life and death to the Russian Navy, as well as a grave national security threat on Russia’s border.
A trap was thereby set for Putin. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.  He could underreact, and betray Russia’s basic national interests, allowing NATO to advance its hostile forces to an ideal attack position.
Or he could overreact, by sending Russian forces to invade Ukraine.  The West was ready for this, prepared to scream that Putin was “the new Hitler”, poised to overrun poor, helpless Europe, which could only be saved (again) by the generous Americans.
In reality, the Russian defensive move was a very reasonable middle course.  Thanks to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Crimeans felt Russian, having been Russian citizens until Khrushchev frivolously bestowed the territory on Ukraine in 1954, a peaceful democratic solution was found.  Crimeans voted for their return to Russia in a referendum which was perfectly legal according to international law, although in violation of the Ukrainian constitution, which was by then in tatters having just been violated by the overthrow of the country’s duly elected president, Victor Yanukovych, facilitated by violent militias.  The change of status of Crimea was achieved without bloodshed, by the ballot box.
Nevertheless, the cries of indignation from the West were every bit as hysterically hostile as if Putin had overreacted and subjected Ukraine to a U.S.-style bombing campaign, or invaded the country outright – which they may have expected him to do.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry led the chorus of self-righteous indignation, accusing Russia of the sort of thing his own government is in the habit of doing. “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests. This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext”, Kerry pontificated.  “It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century”. Instead of laughing at this hypocrisy, U.S. media, politicians and punditry zealously took up the theme of Putin’s unacceptable expansionist aggression. The Europeans followed with a weak, obedient echo.
It Was All Planned at Yalta
 In September 2013, one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs, Viktor Pinchuk, paid for an elite strategic conference on Ukraine’s future that was held in the same Palace in Yalta, Crimea, where Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill met to decide the future of Europe in 1945.  The Economist, one of the elite media reporting on what it called a “display of fierce diplomacy”, stated that: “The future of Ukraine, a country of 48m people, and of Europe was being decided in real time.” The participants included Bill and Hillary Clinton, former CIA head General David Petraeus, former U.S. Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, former World Bank head Robert Zoellick, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, Shimon Peres, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Mario Monti, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, and Poland’s influential foreign minister Radek Sikorski.  Both President Viktor Yanukovych, deposed five months later, and his recently elected successor Petro Poroshenko were present. Former U.S. energy secretary Bill Richardson was there to talk about the shale-gas revolution which the United States hopes to use to weaken Russia by substituting fracking for Russia’s natural gas reserves.  The center of discussion was the “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement” (DCFTA) between Ukraine and the European Union, and the prospect of Ukraine’s integration with the West.  The general tone was euphoria over the prospect of breaking Ukraine’s ties with Russia in favor of the West.
Conspiracy against Russia?  Not at all. Unlike Bilderberg, the proceedings were not secret. Facing a dozen or so American VIPs and a large sampling of the European political elite was a Putin adviser named Sergei Glazyev, who made Russia’s position perfectly clear.
Glazyev injected a note of political and economic realism into the conference.   Forbes reported at the time  on the “stark difference” between the Russian and Western views “not over the advisability of Ukraine’s integration with the EU but over its likely impact.”  In contrast to Western euphoria, the Russian view was based on “very specific and pointed economic criticisms” about the Trade Agreement’s impact on Ukraine’s economy, noting that Ukraine was running an enormous foreign accounts deficit, funded with foreign borrowing, and that the resulting substantial increase in Western imports could only swell the deficit.  Ukraine “will either default on its debts or require a sizable bailout”.
The Forbes reporter concluded that “the Russian position is far closer to the truth than the happy talk coming from Brussels and Kiev.”
As for the political impact, Glazyev pointed out that the Russian-speaking minority in Eastern Ukraine might move to split the country in protest against cutting ties with Russia, and that Russia would be legally entitled to support them, according to The Times of London.
In short, while planning to incorporate Ukraine into the Western sphere, Western leaders were perfectly aware that this move would entail serious problems with Russian-speaking Ukrainians, and with Russia itself.  Rather than seeking to work out a compromise, Western leaders decided to forge ahead and to blame Russia for whatever would go wrong.  What went wrong first was that Yanukovych  got cold feet faced with the economic collapse implied by the Trade Agreement with the European Union.  He postponed signing, hoping for a better deal. Since none of this was explained clearly to the Ukrainian public, outraged protests ensued, which were rapidly exploited by the United States… against Russia.
Ukraine as Bridge…Or Achilles Heel
Ukraine, a term meaning borderland, is a country without clearly fixed historical borders that has been stretched too far to the East and too far to the West.  The Soviet Union was responsible for this, but the Soviet Union no longer exists, and the result is a country without a unified identity and which emerges as a problem for itself and for its neighbors. [ Blog Note: The problems in defining what constitutes Ukraine predate those created during the Soviet period.  This link reinforces Ms. Johnstone's point by using  a sequence of historical maps to describe how political power and what passes for a national identity evolved in Ukraine since pre-Christian times.  Note how East and South East Ukraine and Crimea had "non-Ukrainian" identities for most of recorded history.  Any errors are Chuck Spinney's.]
It was extended too far East, incorporating territory that might as well have been Russian, as part of a general policy to distinguish the USSR from the Tsarist empire, enlarging Ukraine at the expense of its Russian component and demonstrating that the Soviet Union was really a union among equal socialist republics.  So long as the whole Soviet Union was run by the Communist leadership, these borders didn’t matter too much.
It was extended too far West at the end of World War II. The victorious Soviet Union extended Ukraine’s border to include Western regions, dominated by the city variously named Lviv, Lwow,  Lemberg or Lvov, depending on whether it belonged to Lithuania, Poland, the Habsburg Empire or the USSR, a region which was a hotbed of anti-Russian sentiments. This was no doubt conceived as a defensive move, to neutralize hostile elements, but it created the fundamentally divided nation that today constitutes the perfect troubled waters for hostile fishing.
The Forbes report cited above pointed out that: “For most of the past five years, Ukraine was basically playing a double game, telling the EU that it was interested in signing the DCFTA while telling the Russians that it was interested in joining the customs union.”  Either Yanukovych could not make up his mind, or was trying to squeeze the best deal out of both sides, or was seeking the highest bidder.  In any case, he was never “Moscow’s man”, and his downfall owes a lot no doubt to his own role in playing both ends against the middle. His was a dangerous game of pitting greater powers against each other.
It is safe to say that what was needed was something that so far seems totally lacking in Ukraine: a leadership that recognizes the divided nature of the country and works diplomatically to find a solution that satisfies both the local populations and their historic ties with the Catholic West and with Russia.  In short, Ukraine could be a bridge between East and West – and this, incidentally, has been precisely the Russian position.  The Russian position has not been to split Ukraine, much less to conquer it, but to facilitate the country’s role as bridge.  This would involve a degree of federalism, of local government, which so far is entirely lacking in the country, with local governors selected not by election but by the central government in Kiev.  A federal Ukraine could both develop relations with the EU and maintain its vital (and profitable) economic relations with Russia.
But this arrangement calls for Western readiness to cooperate with Russia. The United States has plainly vetoed this possibility, preferring to exploit the crisis to brand Russia “the enemy”.
Plan A and Plan B
U.S. policy, already evident at the September 2013 Yalta meeting, was carried out on the ground by Victoria Nuland, former advisor to Dick Cheney, deputy ambassador to NATO, spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton, wife of neocon theorist Robert Kagan. Her leading role in the Ukraine events proves that the neo-con influence in the State Department, established under Bush II, was retained by Obama, whose only visible contribution to foreign policy change has been the presence of a man of African descent in the presidency, calculated to impress the world with U.S. multicultural virtue.  Like most other recent presidents, Obama is there as a temporary salesman for policies made and executed by others.
As Victoria Nuland boasted in Washington, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has spent five billion dollars to gain political influence in Ukraine (this is called “promoting democracy”).  This investment is not “for oil”, or for any immediate economic advantage. The primary motives are geopolitical, because Ukraine is Russia’s Achilles’ heel, the territory with the greatest potential for causing trouble to Russia.
What called public attention to Victoria Nuland’s role in the Ukrainian crisis was her use of a naughty word, when she told the U.S. ambassador, “Fuck the EU”.  But the fuss over her bad language veiled her bad intentions.  The issue was who should take power away from the elected president Viktor Yanukovych.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party been promoting former boxer Vitaly Klitschko as its candidate.  Nuland’s rude rebuff signified that the United States, not Germany or the EU, was to choose the next leader, and that was not Klitschko but “Yats”.  And indeed it was Yats, Arseniy Yatsenyuk , a second-string US-sponsored technocrat known for his enthusiasm for IMF austerity policies and NATO membership, who got the job. This put a U.S. sponsored government, enforced in the streets by fascist militia with little electoral clout but plenty of armed meanness, in a position to manage the May 25 elections, from which the Russophone East was largely excluded.
Plan A for the Victoria Nuland putsch was probably to install, rapidly, a government in Kiev that would join NATO, thus formally setting the stage for the United States to take possession of Russia’s indispensable Black Sea naval base at Sebastopol in Crimea.  Reincorporating Crimea into Russia was Putin’s necessary defensive move to prevent this.
But the Nuland gambit was in fact a win-win ploy.  If Russia failed to defend itself, it risked losing its entire southern fleet – a total national disaster.  On the other hand, if Russia reacted, as was most likely, the US thereby won a political victory that was perhaps its main objective.  Putin’s totally defensive move is portrayed by the Western mainstream media, echoing political leaders, as unprovoked “Russian expansionism”, which the propaganda machine compares to Hitler grabbing Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Thus a blatant Western provocation, using Ukrainian political confusion against a fundamentally defensive Russia, has astonishingly succeeded in producing a total change in the artificial Zeitgeist produced by Western mass media.  Suddenly, we are told that the “freedom-loving West” is faced with the threat of “aggressive Russian expansionism”.  Some forty [24?] years ago, Soviet leaders gave away the store under the illusion that peaceful renunciation on their part could lead to a friendly partnership with the West, and especially with the United States.  But those in the United States who never wanted to end the Cold War are having their revenge.  Never mind “communism”; if, instead of advocating the dictatorship of the proletariat, Russia’s current leader is simply old-fashioned in certain ways, Western media can fabricate a monster out of that.  The United States needs an enemy to save the world from.
The Protection Racket Returns
But first of all, the United States needs Russia as an enemy in order to “save Europe”,  which is another way to say, in order to continue to dominate Europe.  Washington policy-makers seemed to be worried that Obama’s swing to Asia and neglect of Europe might weaken U.S. control of its NATO allies.  The May 25 European Parliament elections revealed a large measure of disaffection with the European Union.  This disaffection, notably in France, is linked to a growing realization that the EU, far from being a potential alternative to the United States, is in reality a mechanism that locks European countries into U.S.-defined globalization, economic decline and U.S. foreign policy, wars and all.
Ukraine is not the only entity that has been overextended.  So has the EU.  With 28 members of diverse language, culture, history and mentality, the EU is unable to agree on any foreign policy other than the one Washington imposes.  The extension of the EU to former Eastern European satellites has totally broken whatever deep consensus might have been possible among the countries of the original Economic Community: France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux states.  Poland and the Baltic States see EU membership as useful, but their hearts are in America – where many of their most influential leaders have been educated and trained.  Washington is able to exploit the anti-communist, anti-Russian and even pro-Nazi nostalgia of northeastern Europe to raise the false cry of “the Russians are coming!” in order to obstruct the growing economic partnership between the old EU, notably Germany, and Russia.
Russia is no threat. But to vociferous Russophobes in the Baltic States, Western Ukraine and Poland, the very existence of Russia is a threat.  Encouraged by the United States and NATO, this endemic hostility is the political basis for the new “iron curtain” meant to achieve the aim spelled out in 1997 by Zbigniew Brzezinski in The Grand Chessboard: keeping the Eurasian continent divided in order to perpetuate U.S. world hegemony.  The old Cold War served that purpose, cementing U.S. military presence and political influence in Western Europe. A new Cold War can prevent U.S. influence from being diluted by good relations between Western Europe and Russia.
Obama has come to Europe ostentatiously promising to “protect” Europe by basing more troops in regions as close as possible to Russia, while at the same time ordering Russia to withdraw its own troops, on its own territory, still farther away from troubled Ukraine.  This appears designed to humiliate Putin and deprive him of political support at home, at a time when protests are rising in Eastern Ukraine against the Russian leader for abandoning them to killers sent from Kiev.
To tighten the U.S. grip on Europe, the United States is using the artificial crisis to demand that its indebted allies spend more on “defense”, notably by purchasing U.S. weapons systems. Although the U.S. is still far from being able to meet Europe’s energy needs from the new U.S. fracking boom, this prospect is being hailed as a substitute for Russia’s natural gas sales  – stigmatized as a “way of exercising political pressure”, something of which hypothetic U.S. energy sales are presumed to be innocent.  Pressure is being brought against Bulgaria and even Serbia to block construction of the South Stream pipeline that would bring Russian gas into the Balkans and southern Europe.
From D-Day to Dooms Day
Today, June 6, the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day landing is being played in Normandy as a gigantic celebration of American domination, with Obama heading an all-star cast of European leaders. The last of the aged surviving soldiers and aviators present are like the ghosts of a more innocent age when the United States was only at the start of its new career as world master. They were real, but the rest is a charade.  French television is awash with the tears of young villagers in Normandy who have been taught that the United States is some sort of Guardian Angel, which sent its boys to die on the shores of Normandy out of pure love for France. This idealized image of the past is implicitly projected on the future.  In seventy years, the Cold War, a dominant propaganda narrative and above all Hollywood have convinced the French, and most of the West, that D-Day was the turning point that won World War II and saved Europe from Nazi Germany.
Vladimir Putin came to the celebration, and has been elaborately shunned by Obama, self-appointed arbiter of Virtue.  The Russians are paying tribute to the D-Day operation which liberated France from Nazi occupation, but they – and historians – know what most of the West has forgotten: that the Wehrmacht was decisively defeated not by the Normandy landing, but by the Red Army.  If the vast bulk of German forces had not been pinned down fighting a losing war on the Eastern front, nobody would celebrate D-Day as it is being celebrated today.
Putin is widely credited as being “the best chess player”, who won the first round of the Ukrainian crisis.  He has no doubt done the best he could, faced with the crisis foisted on him.  But the U.S. has whole ranks of pawns which Putin does not have. And this is not only a chess game, but chess combined with poker combined with Russian roulette. The United States is ready to take risks that the more prudent Russian leaders prefer to avoid… as long as possible.
Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the current charade is the servility of the “old” Europeans.  Apparently abandoning all Europe’s accumulated wisdom, drawn from its wars and tragedies, and even oblivious to their own best interests, today’s European leaders seem ready to follow their American protectors to another D-Day … D for Doom.
Can the presence of a peace-seeking Russian leader in Normandy make a difference?  All it would take would be for mass media to tell the truth, and for Europe to produce reasonably wise and courageous leaders, for the whole fake war machine to lose its luster, and for truth to begin to dawn. A peaceful Europe is still possible, but for how long?

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. She can be reached at diana.johnstone@wanadoo.fr