At the beginning of this week, President Barack Obama explained that Russia, hit hard by Western sanctions, is losing in its confrontation with the West and NATO caused by Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. In his State of the Union address, Obama displayed similar swag and bluster against both the Kremlin and Congressional Republicans, seemingly without regard for any recent events. As the President explained:
We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small — by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy and reassuring our NATO allies. Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.
“Every one of these sentences is, to put it mildly, a stretch,” explained one seasoned Kremlin-watcher, and the news this week from Ukraine has been grim, contra Obama’s hopeful pose. While Russia’s economy remains seriously hurt from sanctions and, even more, the sharp drop in oil prices, the notion that this is taming Putin’s baser urges is not only untrue, it’s more likely the opposite of the truth, as I cautioned a month ago.
Facts have increasingly been getting in the way of this White House’s messaging, on many fronts, so just as Obama now calls for political bipartisanship, after six years of doing the opposite, all the while ignoring the massive blowout of his own party by the Republicans in Congress that just happened again, for the second time in his presidency, Obama likewise seems to think that a bit of swag, plus a public taunt, aimed at Putin when the former KGB man is down on his luck will have the desired geopolitical effect. This White House does not seem to dwell on the fact that, while the domestic enemy may be politically obstructionist, the foreign enemy has all sorts of Special War unpleasantness in his arsenal, not to mention thousands of nuclear weapons.
If nothing else, the current crisis has demonstrated to Russians, with Kremlin prodding, that the United States remains their Main Enemy that it was for decades, now led by the arrogant and weak Obama, who is hated by the Russian public. The Chekists who run Putin’s Russia, who protested for years that America wanted to defeat Russia’s post-Cold War resurgence, that the U.S. will stop at nothing to bring Russia to heel while humiliating it, have been proved right, at least as far as most Russians are concerned.
To the shock and dismay of hopeful Westerners, including nearly all NATO leaders, the hard hit of sanctions has caused Russians to hate the West, not Putin. Most Russians view their war in Ukraine as a legitimate defense of Russians and Russian interests, certainly nothing like America’s aggressive wars of choice halfway around the world, and they are backing the Kremlin now.
Word of this defiance has even crept into The New York Times, which otherwise is a pitch-perfect expression of the WEIRD worldview. As Russian troops are advancing deeper into Ukraine, fresh from victory at Donetsk, NYT asked what on earth is going on here, why would Russians want more war now that the cost of it all to their economy is becoming obvious? The explanation was proffered by a Moscow economist: “The influence of economists as a whole has completely vanished,” he opined about the Kremlin: “The country is on a holy mission. It’s at war with the United States, so why would you bother about the small battleground, the economy?”
Once again, Westerners have imagined Putin is just like one of their leaders — cautious, timid even, obsessed with Wall Street and finely tuned to what big donors care about — when our Chekist-in-Charge is nothing of the sort. With perfect timing, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, addressed the Duma this week, for the very first time, delivering a speech long on social conservatism, including a plea to ban abortions to help Russian demographics, as well as a caution to ignore the West’s dangerous “pseudo-values.” Putin’s Russia is inching ever closer to Byzantine-style symphonia, and in the war against America and the West that is coming — and, according to many Russians, is already here — the Kremlin wants its people to be spiritually fortified for a long fight.
Bankers and oligarchs, who get much attention from the Western media, have become peripheral figures in Moscow. Months before the Ukraine crisis broke with Russia’s seizure of Crimea, Putin privately warned wealthy men whom he deemed friends and supporters to start getting their money out of the West, as tough times were coming. In the Kremlin’s view, oligarchs who failed to do this, and are now facing ruin, have nobody to blame but themselves. Any billionaires who criticize Putin too freely will meet with prison or worse.
It’s increasingly clear that the security sector, what Russians term the special services, are running the show. They are Putin’s natural powerbase, his “comfort zone” in Western parlance, plus they are the guarantor of his maintaining power as the economic crisis worsens. Current reports indicate that Putin’s inner circle now is made up entirely of siloviki, to use the Russian term, men from the special services: National Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Aleksandr Bortnikov, Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) head Mikhail Fradkov, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu.
Patrushev headed the FSB from 1999, the beginning of Putin’s presidency, to 2008, and was a previously a career KGB officer, serving in Leningrad counterintelligence just like Putin: and just like Putin, he is a Chekist to his core. Current FSB director Bortnikov, who took over from Patrushev in 2008, is another career Chekist who joined the KGB after college and, yet again, comes out of the Leningrad office. Fradkov is not officially a Chekist by background, having spent the early years of his Kremlin career in foreign trade matters, but he was “close” to the KGB during that time, and he has headed the SVR, the successor to the KGB’s elite First Chief Directorate, since 2007; it says something about Putin’s confidence in him that Fradkov survived the 2010 debacle of the exposure of the SVR’s Illegals network in the United States, which was nearly as demoralizing to the SVR as the Snowden Operation has been for U.S. intelligence. The last, Shoygu, who has headed the powerful defense ministry since 2012, is not a military man by background, yet has longstanding ties to military intelligence (GRU).
As Russia’s economic crisis has mounted, Putin has unsurprisingly turned to fellow Chekists, some of them very like himself by background. They share a worldview which is conspiratorial and deeply anti-Western; they view America as their Main Enemy and now believe Obama is on a mission to destroy Russia. That they will not allow, and they will stop at nothing to halt what prominent Orthodox clerics recently have termed the “American project” that wants to destroy Holy Russia. This volatile combination of Chekist conspiracy-thinking and Orthodox Third Rome mysticism, plus Russian xenophobia and a genuine economic crisis, means that 2015 promises to be a dangerous year for the world. The Kremlin now believes they are at war with the United States, an Orthodox Holy War in the eyes of many Russians, and that struggle is defensive and legitimate. It would be good if Obama and his staff paid attention. This is about much more than Ukraine.
Events this week may finally wake up Kyiv to the reality it is facing. Ukraine is at war with Russia. It has been so for many months, as was obvious some time ago to those with eyes wanting to see. Ukraine’s government has not been in that group, and as military reverses mounted, hiding from painful facts has continued. In their own way, Kyiv mouthpieces have been nearly as dishonest in their depictions of the Russo-Ukrainian War as the Kremlin.
In the face of mountains of contrary evidence, Kyiv insisted that the war in the Donbas has been an “anti-terrorist operation” and that the enemy found there are “terrorists” rather than the Russian soldiers that most of them are. In recent days, Moscow has dropped any pretense and is dispatching battalions across the border essentially openly. Once commonplace efforts to mask insignia identifying these units as regular Russian troops have dissipated as Vladimir Putin feels he no longer needs to hide his aggressive presence in Ukraine.
Why should he? Kyiv is a paper tiger, the Europeans are cowered in the corner, terrified of the Kremlin’s next move, while Obama is talking tough about how Russia is losing this conflict, despite the fact that obviously it is not. As usual, Obama is all vapid and chest-puffing talk, coupled with very little action. The White House’s tendency towards escapism in foreign policy has become increasingly marked in a manner that ought to worry all those who like a free Europe, but Obama has no grounds to criticize Kyiv for its dishonest depiction of events in Eastern Europe.
The fall of Donetsk airport this week says a lot about Petro Poroshenko and his presidency, none of it flattering. While there was little Ukraine could have done about the loss of Crimea last spring — they were floored by Putin’s unleashing of Special War with its “little green men,” just as NATO was, and Ukraine had no desire to confront Russia head-on, thinking a wider war might be averted — Kyiv’s leadership since then deserves harsh assessment.
Ham-handed summertime efforts to put pressure on Russian troops and their local proxies led to disaster at Ilovaisk, where ill-prepared and supplied Ukrainian troops and volunteers were cut to pieces. Rather than take the obvious lesson from this, that due to a lack of troops, especially battle-ready ones, Ukraine needed to establish more defensible positions in the Southeast, Kyiv did nothing of the sort.
Instead we wound up with the needless siege of Donetsk airport, an objective of no strategic value except that Poroshenko and his administration said many times that it must be held at any costs, implying Ukraine itself would be lost if this worthless heap of rubble fell to the rebels. Given such rhetoric, one might expect a no-holds barred effort to reinforce the defense, but this being Poroshenko, nothing of the sort happened.
Instead the “cyborgs” bravely holding on to Donetsk airport remained outnumbered, poorly supplied, and dismally led, so their eventual defeat was only a matter of time. With astonishing stupidity, just last weekend Poroshenko, breathing fire, publicly promised that all lost Ukrainian land would be retaken, then turned around and said he was a peace president, not a war president. Then he promptly flew to Davos to hang out with the global one-percent-of-one-percent jet-set. It’s no surprise that many Ukrainian frontline soldiers hate Putin yet actively despise their own president.
I’ve already called on Poroshenko to step down if he cannot manage the war, and it’s painfully clear that he cannot. My counsel last week, that Ukraine must emulate Croatia in the 1990’s — and definitely not Georgia more recently — if it wants to win this war, has been met with pushback from fans of Poroshenko, whose argument really boils down to: this is hard. Yes, war is very hard, perhaps even hell if you believe certain battle-tested generals.
A lot of Ukrainians are angry that they have been left in the lurch by NATO, forgetting that they are not a member of the Alliance. NATO will never go to war over the Donbas and the sooner Ukrainians accept that and stop feeling sorry for themselves and get in the war, the better. To be clear: Putin has engaged in naked aggression against his neighbor, just as Milošević did against Croatia in 1991. Yet if Zagreb had approached that war as Ukraine has dealt with its current crisis, complaining instead of fighting, substituting hashtags for strategy, one-third of Croatia would still be in Serbian hands today, an eternally frozen conflict, and that country would still be decades away from membership in NATO or the EU.
Given the complete lack of serious mobilization for war by Poroshenko, the next move is Putin’s. Given rather strongly suggested Russian objectives, plus looking at a map, it’s likely Russian forces will next move on Mariupol, in an effort to create a land bridge to Crimea. Outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops will resist bravely, again, and again they will lose. At this point there is nothing militarily stopping Putin from creating Novorossiya, a Russian pseudo-state running from the Donbas across the Black Sea coast over to their pseudo-state in Transnistria.
Creating Novorossiya would deprive Ukraine of any coastline, which is another reason Putin may seek to do that. It needs to be understood that, after so many needless and humiliating Ukrainian defeats, Putin is only one operational-level victory away from breaking hard-pressed Kyiv’s military in any meaningful sense. The Kremlin can already dictate its terms in the Southeast of Ukraine, and soon it will be able to exert its political will, without a full-scale invasion, over the whole shambolic country.
Putin has the military means to take over all Ukraine, particularly given Russia’s total control of the air, but that would be a fool’s errand, a humanitarian nightmare coupled with an endless insurgency. We can assume the General Staff has told “the boss” what would happen in that case, and we can hope Putin is listening. More likely is the creation of Novorossiya, step by step, under the Russian tricolor, and with that the shattering of any Ukrainian conventional military capability — and political will.
After that, the partition of Ukraine will be easy. The most likely end-state would be a three-way cutting up of the country, with Novorossiya, like Crimea, being joined to the Motherland by a triumphant Putin. The middle of the country around Kyiv, still called Ukraine, would emerge a rump Russian vassal state, independent in name only, to serve as a buffer between Russia and NATO. Ukraine’s West would go its own way, by default. Consisting of an expanded East Galicia, Austrian until 1918, this is the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, unclaimed even by Russian hardliners, who acknowledge its special status and history. Those with long memories will recall that in 1918, after the Habsburgs fell, the West did not seek immediate union with the rest of Ukraine: expect the Kremlin to “remember” this soon. West Ukraine, the remnant not eaten by the Russian shark, would soon join NATO and the EU, as the Russians off-record understand and accept.
This fate is not preordained, yet it approaches fast, and should be acknowledged as the likely outcome of this war by Ukrainians who seem unable to grasp the gravity of the situation Ukraine faces — starting with Poroshenko. Should Ukraine be broken and partitioned by Russia, a sad history will have repeated itself, and Putin will have thoroughly overturned Europe’s post-Cold War order. This is only part of a broader struggle between Putin and the West — since members of the Russian elite are publicly warning of war with the United States, we may want to pay attention — but Ukraine is the main battleground for now. There Putin is winning, and he will continue to triumph unless Kyiv decides to get serious about the war that has been forced upon Ukraine. They will lose much more than Crimea and the Donbas if they do not.
Yet again, Pope Francis has stirred up the Western commentariat by addressing social issues, this time contraception and having babies. Every time this pope talks about matters sexual there are gasps from enlightened Western post-moderns, who seem shocked that Francis is actually a Catholic. They are so accustomed to the laid-back, non-judgmental “cafeteria Catholicism” around them that a Catholic cleric, much less the Pope of Rome, publicly endorsing what the church actually teaches on such issues, however gently, leads to dropped jaws.
After all, Francis seems so nice and progressive, with his outreach to the poor and welcoming things stated about gays and whatnot — these having been the source of consternation among some Catholic traditionalists — and then he turns out to be another old white guy with a lot of “sexual issues.” I am not a Catholic, but it never ceases to amaze me how educated Western post-moderns cannot seem to fathom that no pope is going to ditch centuries of social teaching just to get a nice write-up in Salon or Vox. Francis is a compassionate man, but as the head of the Catholic Church he advocates positions on matters sexual that seem profoundly outdated and literally unthinkable to many in the West today.
Unthinkability is the issue here. The WEIRD demographic, as I’ve explained before, standing for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, is wholly dominant among our media elites that play a huge role in forming opinions and judging the acceptability of the same. Over the last half-century the WEIRD vanguard has taken over the academy, the media, and the entertainment world; one of its better-known members is in the White House right now. Obama’s castigation in 2008 of “bitter” Americans who cling to guns and religion was a perfect one-sentence explanation of how WEIRDos view less educated and enlightened fellow citizens, which is no doubt why his opponents will cite it forever.
There is no tyranny as offensive as a cultural tyranny, of course, and just as affluent, educated post-moderns view their lessers with undisguised contempt, the guns-and-bibles brigade returns that contempt with interest. This goes some way to explaining why American politics has become so bitter in recent years: both sides simply hate each other and bother less and less to mask it.
The WEIRD contingent has had an impressive string of victories since the 1960’s, especially in America. Their record of wins, fast, may have no precedent in history, since culture tends to shift slowly, sometimes glacially. The culture war has been won, and the victory for the WEIRD side is essentially total. In the last fifty years, racial relations have been so dramatically transformed by government and culture, hand in hand, that racism, once casual among many whites, is totally unacceptable in anything resembling polite society. It speaks volumes that Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered, dismembered and ate seventeen young men, many of them black and Hispanic, was at pains to make clear that, though he was a cannibalistic serial killer, he wasn’t racist: that fact he deemed important.
Even more transformational have been shifts in gender relations since the 1960’s, with American young women today being better educated than their male counterparts, with access to opportunities personal, professional, and sexual that their grandmothers could only have dreamed of. Some feminists now ask what good men are actually for, not in jest. Young men have noticed this seismic shift and numbers of them are dropping out of the race — professional and sexual — in a way their dads and granddads could not possibly comprehend. In Japan, this has become an official problem, and has a good deal to do with Japan’s staggering demographic crisis. As with race, feminism has triumphed so totally in just a couple generations that we have NGOs plus governmental bureaucracies hunting for evidence of racism or sexism, however fragmentary, to prove the need for more transformation. When young men lose interest in sex, as has occurred in Japan and is spreading in the West, something big is happening.
While race is of interest to the WEIRD demographic, sex is more central to their worldview. Catfights among progressives about determining who has more sexual privilege are fun to watch yet challenging for normals to comprehend. Here the LGBT issue has played a major role. Simply put, less than twenty-five years ago, gay issues were peripheral politically, confined to America’s far-Left fringe, while topics like gay marriage were never discussed by mainstream figures. Thanks to media and government action, now LGBT issues are given a place of importance in all discussions of social issues, while soon the Supreme Court will take up gay marriage, which may prove its most hot-button case since Roe v. Wade.
Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, LGBT issues are another area where the culture war has turned out to be one-sided in the end. Opposition to gay marriage is fading fast, while it barely exists among younger Americans. However, just as with race and gender issues, LGBT advocates are showing minimal magnanimity in victory, preferring to double-down on public dissenters. Even the powerful are being driven from jobs and public life over their opposition, even when quiet, to gay marriage. There is more than a whiff of the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) mob about all this, and the idea of live-and-let live does not seem to be in fashion among the Cultural Marxist Left. It’s difficult to see how America avoids a serious clash between progressives and tradition-minded religious groups over all this.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Cultural Marxists have won fast, and their transformation of the post-modern West has been very quick by any historical standards, the Left is brimming with confidence that their revolution is final. Hence the rhetoric about their enemies being on “the wrong side of history,” heard regularly, even from Obama. But any historian will tell you that history is not read that simply, and is seldom quite so linear: ask Erich Honecker how that March of History worked out.
It’s tough to miss that the post-modern Western Left is immersed in WEIRD narratives so deeply that it is unable to recognize, much less tolerate, alternative viewpoints. We have come a long way from the Bolshevism of the last century, which after a brief period of Leninist experimentation in social matters, turned towards an aggressive traditionalism; Stalin and his Red minions had views on abortion, gender, and sexual minorities that would make FoxNews blush. The revolution needed soldiers and workers, meaning hard men, and what were women for if not to make them?
Today’s social revolutionaries have created a post-modern WEIRD paradise that does not seem to know what it wants save permanent revolution. How this new society can be maintained for long without enough children of its own is the great imponderable, since the signature achievement of the sexual revolution that began in the 1960’s, from any big-picture historical perspective, is the amazing decline in fecundity in any society it touches.
Mass immigration is the preferred solution for WEIRDos, because it gets them off the hook for reproducing while providing interesting ethnic restaurants, plus ample cheap labor to do the household chores that affluent progressives don’t seek to do themselves (until recently many of these domestic tasks — cleaning, fixing, lawn-cutting — were assigned to a family’s children, who no longer exist in numbers).
In the United States, mass immigration, heavily from Latin America, is causing discontent but is seen as a nuisance, at most, by WEIRDos, who seldom know the working-class Americans who do see this as a serious threat to their economic and social well-being. In Europe, however, the influx comes heavily from Africa and Asia, and is mainly Muslim, leading to all kinds of problems, the most visible of them being terrorism.
The recent attacks around Paris have caused another outburst of introspection of a highly limited sort in the West. The Usual Suspects are, of course, explaining that all this unpleasantness has nothing to do with Islam. I’ve castigated this progressive myth-making already, as well as those on the other side, who seem to want a permanent war on Islam, which has more than a billion-and-a-half adherents.
Finding a middle path on discussing this problem is tricky but here we go. I have a Ph.D. in history, not Islamic Studies, which Islamist apologists insist you must if you discuss Islamic anything, but I’ve studied the subject in detail, I know Islam’s history and theology. Just as important, I’ve spent time in Muslim countries in many places, I’ve gotten to know many Muslims of diverse backgrounds: some remain my dear friends, some have been lovers (I came close to marrying a Muslim woman: that’s another story). Without further delay I shall engage in what SJWs call stereotyping and normals term analysis.
Issues of culture and development cannot be decoupled from discussions about the Muslim diaspora in the West. Pakistanis in America — many well educated professionals, nearly all speaking English — are frequently successful immigrants, many are notably patriotic and see no contradiction between their faith and their Americanism. Yet their illiterate co-nationals who come to Britain from the most backwards part of Pakistan — they bring their redneck habits, including cousin-marriage, to Yorkshire — are a breeding ground for crime and extremism. This is not all about Islam, other factors matter too, but we must be able to discuss Islam to understand what is going on.
France, which is home to a quarter of the twenty million Muslims living in Western Europe, likewise presents a complex picture that defies thumbnail assessment. The Parisian concept of laïcité, which was defended staunchly by Marine Le Pen in her New York Times op-ed demanding that France talk about Islamic extremism now, has been a success with more Muslim immigrants than many realize. There are millions of French Muslims, mainly of North African extraction, who have assimilated rather well to life on the other side of the Mediterranean, and many are well adjusted French patriots; some are even supporters of Le Pen’s Front national.
Westerners have a tough time understanding how Islam is actually lived by believers, while WEIRDos, thanks to their biases, seem incapable of grasping the essentials. In the first place, it must be understood that Islam is less a religion than a culture and a complete way of life. It has nothing to do with “religion” as defined by the post-Enlightenment West, which is comfortable with faiths that can be safely placed in a box ninety-five percent of the time, locked away when not in church, temple, or mosque.
Islam, being a programmatic faith not confined to the mosque, provides detailed commentary and rules on daily life, including matters sexual that invariably seem strange to post-modern Westerners, who view any infringement on personal sexuality as oppressive. This is a subject of regular mocking in parts of the Western press. Few care to note that Islam is very like Orthodox or Conservative Judaism in such matters.
Islam as actually lived by its adherents easily breaks down into three basic groups that are replicated everywhere there is Islam. Seeing how people live their faith, day in and day out, is illuminating. There is a genuinely radical element — perhaps ten percent, rather more in the West — that advocates Islamism, that is applying Islam in politics, by force if necessary. The aggressively pious vanguard of this sort pushes violence, even murderous barbarism, to further its aims. It has no sympathy for the West and seeks confrontation and victory, not dialogue. Its loudest adherents are usually dysfunctional sorts with a criminal past.
On the other side, maybe another ten percent, there are Muslims who actually reject the faith, de facto, but if they’re living in a Muslim country they keep relatively quiet about it, lest they be denounced as “apostates.” Many are well educated. Such atheists, or at least serious Islam-skeptics, are frequently encountered in the West; it’s seldom noted that many such people emigrate to freer countries precisely to be able to live their skepticism openly.
But the vast majority of Muslims fall into a big group that lives the faith as best they can, without questioning its essentials. They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.
It needs to be clear that these majoritarians do not question Islam: if pressed, they will state the problem, the failing, is with them, not the faith. It should be obvious that the group wholly absent from this division-into-threes is the post-modern Western skeptic, the nominal mainline Protestant, or perhaps a very Reform Jew, who’s down with gay marriage since it’s been “reinterpreted” in recent decades. Hipster Jesus — into you with your sins, cool with your ironic vibe — does not have a corollary in Islam. The hardest thing for WEIRDos, who view all religion as odd, and perhaps risible, when not dangerous, to grasp is — Muslims actually believe this stuff.
Not having been touched by the Enlightenment, much less post-modernism, Muslims are on a different planet, intellectually speaking, than WEIRDos. At best, they talk past each other. As someone who has advocated a tough approach to Muslim immigrants who do not seek to assimilate to Western norms, particularly if they have extreme views, some sympathy for them nevertheless is in order here.
It must be deeply confusing to any Muslim newcomer to France to encounter a place of such unbelief and debauchery as Paris, where raw sexuality is everywhere, women run free in every sense, and faiths of all kinds are mocked openly. Free speech is not a French priority, and certain kinds of speech are protected, while others are not. Since I cannot rationally explain why French law protects certain speech, and not others, I don’t expect an unlettered immigrant from West Africa to make sense of it all either.
The list of things that can get you thrown in a French jail for saying is long, including “offensive” speech against various racial, religious, and sexual minorities, but it must be mysterious to Muslims why gross public indecencies against the Prophet are tolerated when denial of the Holocaust, a purely human affair, is not. When a founder of Charlie Hebdo, the publication whose profane cartoons provoked mass murder, says that its editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, was a provocateur/jerk-off whose offensiveness got everybody killed, we can imagine what less sympathetic Muslims might feel about this case. Not least because Charb was no free speech advocate, rather a far-Left agitator who tried hard to get his political opponents banned while offending every traditionalist, of every stripe, he could.
To illustrate how complex this all actually is, allow me to sketch my good friend A., whom I’ve known for years, a highly assimilated French Muslim. His grandfather came from Algeria after a long career as a decorated French colonial soldier, one of the lucky harkis to escape the bloodbath after Algerian independence, when deGaulle condemned so many who had fought for France to an evil fate. A. has filled those shoes well as a soldier and then a career intelligence officer. His French patriotism is sincere and deep; he has visited Algeria a couple times, his command of Arabic being no greater than mine, and didn’t like it. France is his home, his patrie.
In matters of faith, A. is privately a modest skeptic, but he makes an effort during Ramadan, mostly to appease his father, a kind old gentleman who, like many do, turned to faith in an old age marked by illness and loneliness. The rest of the year, A. regularly goes boozing and whoring like any counterintelligencer worth his salt. His ceaseless quest for the “right beurette” continues, unfulfilled. He is a Muslim and proud of it, but sincerely hates extremists and admits to feeling more than a little sympathy for the Front national, for its willingness to “stand up for France” (while A. is purely Algerian by background, he possesses a dislike of Germans to match anyone in France).
Yet A.’s views on many matters would distress WEIRDos. He thinks outright atheists are contemptible and views liberals with undisguised distaste, especially if they are Jewish and/or gay, and he is no fan of Israel. It should be noted that A. is no fonder of newer Muslim immigrants who freeload on welfare. Yet his anti-Semitism is far from deep or uniform, and he reveres Éric Zemmour, a fellow Frenchman of (Jewish) Algerian descent, as someone “who says the truth.” A. wants Muslims to be respected yet thinks it would be best if jihadists were taken out over the ocean in helicopters, Argentinian junta style, and dropped into the deep from 5,000 feet.
What to make of all this? My friend represents a best-case scenario for Europe, a Muslim whose faith is modest, entirely private, and who feels sincerely at home in Europe, but I know his views on many issues would not pass progressive muster. Survey after survey demonstrates that Muslims in Europe broadly possess views that would be shocking to the WEIRD demographic. Significant portions of Europe’s Muslim community, particularly among more recent arrivals, espouse attitudes that are, at best, conditional in their condemnation of violence, i.e. jihad, while their views on Israel and Jews are implacably hostile.
Short of a coercive reeducation program worthy of Mao’s Cultural Revolution I’m not sure what can be done about all this in 2015. Even if Muslim immigration were halted tomorrow — which is surely not on the table yet — Western Europe will still possess twenty million Muslims, many quite unassimilated, who are reproducing at a rate far beyond the native population. It’s difficult to see how this can end well — or peacefully.
The tragedy is that European powers were, until recently, able to inspire loyalty from their Muslims. France got millions of African Muslims, like A.’s grandfather, to fight for their empire in both World Wars, and Britain managed the same. The Ottoman Empire’s pompous declaration of jihad in 1914, on behalf of the Central Powers, went nowhere as Muslim soldiers of the Indian Army turned out to be loyal to the British Empire, the world’s biggest Muslim power, even in battle against fellow Muslims.
Muslims in Russia proved equally faithful to the Tsar during World War I, that country’s aggressive Orthodox Christianity notwithstanding, while Austria-Hungary found that their Bosnian Muslim subjects were their most loyal and combative soldiers. In the Habsburgs’ last war, the 2nd Bosnian Regiment, the legendary Zweier Bosniaken, won more valor decorations than any other of the emperor’s regiments, while Bosnian Muslims died at the front at the highest rate of any of Vienna’s many ethnic groups.
Such tenacious loyalty to an “infidel” empire seems difficult to imagine a century later, but was understandable at the time, for the simple reason that Western colonial powers protected Islam and ensured Muslims could keep their faith and traditions even under an explicitly Christian occupier. Austria-Hungary’s 1878 invasion of Bosnia met stiff resistance from Muslims, but they were soon bought off with generous allowances for sharia, Islamic law, and Muslim conscripts in the Habsburg Army were led in prayer by imams in Austro-Hungarian uniform with a rigor many had never practiced in civilian life. The slogan, “On the path of Allah, for our Austrian homeland,” was cited by Bosnian troops headed to battle in 1914-1918, and it was no lie, for the Habsburgs protected Islam, and for any pious Muslim, Austria-Hungary counted as dar al-Islam.
How, then, are European countries today doing such a terrible job of assimilating Muslim immigrants? In the first place, Christianity has been replaced by secularism, often of an aggressive kind. We have changed; Muslims have not. The sort of in-your-face secularism that’s commonplace in Europe now is difficult for Muslims to relate to, having no resonance with their historical experience, and is viewed with contempt by many of them. Bonds of tribe and kin that have frayed in the West remain powerful among Muslims. Post-modern permissiveness in sexual matters is likewise met with bemused anger by many Muslims, some of whom gleefully rape European women they view as whores.
Crime is one of the great unmentionables in all this, preventing honest dialogue. In 2010, Éric Zemmour was convicted of racial incitement for stating that Muslim immigrants were grossly overrepresented among France’s violent criminals, though few could plausibly state he was wrong on the numbers. Over the last generation, France has created a serious problem in the suburbs of Paris, among other major cities, where Muslim ghettos are crowded with young people who seldom if ever work, living on welfare while plotting crimes of various sorts, while seething with resentment and hate for “infidels” around them. For some, this path of hatred leads to jihad. Here the Paris killers, with their obsession with angry American rap music, were a walking, vapid, and murderous cliche.
Many are now worried about low-grade warfare erupting across Western Europe, as jihadist cells go active and plant bombs and open fire. All over the European Union, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, police and spies are watching would-be killers closely. Although there is no enduring security fix to this daunting problem, as I’ve explained before, consistent police and intelligence pressure on Salafi radicals can reduce terrorism, if the will exists to sustain such aggressive operations by the security services.
While more terrorism seems likely, it may not be anything as dramatic as alarmists and thrillers would promise. France already faces an Islamic insurgency of a low-grade kind — it is habitually downplayed by the authorities as “isolated incidents” that happen “at random” when shootings and driving cars into people is anything but random — that may continue on low-boil for years, claiming a few victims at a time, not dozens, much less hundreds. French inner cities may come to resemble shambolic American inner cities like Detroit or Chicago, where war-like casualty rates among civilians are similarly dismissed as “street crime,” with the difference that France’s troublemakers will be inspired by Salafi jihadism while being shockingly well armed. Needless to add, more militarization of police and society will follow.
It’s all too soon to tell. All-out civil war — think more Mad Max than Gettysburg — cannot be ruled out at this juncture. What is clear, however, is that Europe has no idea how to respond to this mounting crisis in any politically coherent fashion. Pushing Marine Le Pen, who heads the most popular political party in France, to the margins of the national dialogue about domestic extremism seems certain to increase political polarization when it needs to be reduced. As I’ve stated many times, unless Europe’s mainstream parties find a way to engage alienated voters of the sort to whom the FN and Germany’s PEGIDA appeal, they are surrendering this vital and politically explosive issue — which is only continuing to grow, especially among the young — to the friends of Vladimir Putin, whose commitment to democracy may be less than sincere.
In his professorial way, President Obama has told Europeans that they must assimilate immigrants better, in order to defeat terrorism, without explaining how this might be done. This lecturing has gone down as well in Europe as does European pontificating at Americans how we need to be nicer to blacks: cheap posturing is not a policy, anywhere. Moreover, Obama’s unhelpful hint leaves out the critical question of how many Muslims in Europe actually want to assimilate to a society that many of them openly loathe. (Neither does it help matters when major NATO leaders tell Muslim immigrants that under no circumstances should they assimilate to European ways.) Ample, if anecdotal, evidence suggests that Muslims in Europe who actually want to adopt European values are doing so, at their own pace, while Muslims who want no part of WEIRD anything are rejecting our post-modernism — some of them with violence.
None of this mess, which has been decades in the making, is conducive to easy solutions. There is no European-wide fix available; individual countries will need to fashion bespoke responses, based on the unique circumstances of their own Muslim populations. But a start to getting on the road to societal health would be making clear that immigrants who have no intention of accepting European political values should not enter Europe. In this vein, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam, which possesses a large Muslim population, told co-religionists who are uncomfortable with European freedoms that they simply need to “f*** off.”
Such very free speech aside, institutionalized escapism continues to dominate Western debates on this issue. FoxNews recently caused a ruckus on both sides of the Atlantic with a discussion of Muslim “no-go” areas in Europe. The speaker overstated his case, as he tends to do, leading to hysteria among those eager to dismiss any notion that such areas, reminiscent of parts of North Ireland in the 1970’s where British security forces dared not operate, actually exist. The subsequent pontification has been strong, notwithstanding the fact that such no-go areas do exist in some parts of Europe, as any serious analysis would reveal. A brief discussion with any European cop or spook working operational counterterrorism would bring wisdom that would be discomforting to progressives.
The truth about Islam is that it approaches other religions from a triumphalist position, and always has. By default, it anticipates submission, not co-existence in any sense recognizable to the post-Enlightenment West. While its history is hardly all jihad, Islam’s “bloody borders” are a matter of record, not opinion. The last Ottoman effort to subdue Europe — one of many Islamic invasion efforts over the centuries — came in 1683, and was stopped, just barely, at Vienna. That sounds like a long time ago, but when King John Sobieski’s Polish cavalry appeared from the north to cut the Ottoman siege short, Harvard had been open for nearly a half-century, America’s coastal colonies were thickly settled, and Ben Franklin’s birth was barely two decades off. This was over three centuries ago, but hardly ancient history.
Many progressives fall prey to an argument, composed of equal parts narcissism and masochism, whereby jihadism and Muslim anger are really the West’s fault. The source of all this rage, you see, is to be found in recent Western “colonial blunders,” and certainly has nothing to with Islam. Colonialism has caused all sorts of bad issues — it’s difficult to see how France or Britain would have their big problems with Muslim immigrants without their former empires in the closet — but if it’s fair to point the finger at Western colonialism, it’s equally fair to cite all the centuries of examples when Muslim countries tried to overrun Europe at sword-point, killing, raping, and taking slaves all the way.
History matters and we must understand Muslim narratives about the past. This does not mean the West should agree with those, and we must not allow historical grievances, real or imagined, to be employed in defense of terrorism and murder. Above all, Muslims are people like all the others, and the average Muslim obsesses about such matters no more than the average American seethes about the Alamo. Muslims, on close inspection, turn out to have all the usual human frailties and complexes, not all of them conducive to peaceful coexistence.
The number of Muslims actually eager to wage jihad is small, but to deny that such sorts exist, and that they are motivated by a toxic brew of nihilism and aggression, in the name of Islam, is to perpetuate a dangerous lie. Moreover, opinion polling among Muslims, including in the West, quickly reveals that many of them strongly dislike lots of things about us, including Western sexual mores and Jews. There is nothing to be done about the issue of anti-Semitism at this point — the desire of some French Jews now to simply escape is sadly understandable — while Muslim discomfort about our post-modern ways is intractable unless we are willing to change who we are to appease relatively small, if vocal, numbers of newcomers. That matter will be left to voters, most of whom I doubt will be inclined to abandon their comfortable lifestyles to please angry foreigners on welfare who are responsible for a lot of street crime.
To sum up, the triumph of the WEIRD demographic in the West over the last half-century, so such post-moderns now dominate our scholarly, media and political elites, means that having a genuine discussion with Muslims appears impossible. While Christian Europe of the last century still had some common ground with believing Muslims, the gap today between our societal values and those of most Muslims is vast and cannot be overcome without huge changes, perhaps on both sides, that seem unlikely to happen without bloodshed.
To make matters worse, the only European country that is making an effort to appeal to normal people of faith in dangerous times is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Kremlin, speaking through its religious mouthpieces, has staked out a clear position that terrorism is unacceptable, but so is intentionally offending religious people with blasphemy. In this formulation, Russia — and Russia alone — offers a welcoming home to Christians and Muslims alike, while driving extremists of all sorts, whether they be jihadists or Communist cartoonists, out of the public square. Religion is not the problem, Russia makes clear, and its support for traditional religions here is consistent — extremism is.
WEIRDos in the West naturally find all this a tad comedic, and they were mightily surprised when Pope Francis (“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith”) came alarmingly close to towing the Kremlin line about Charlie Hebdo. Yet again, post-moderns were distressed to discover that the Pope of Rome is actually a Catholic. You have to be part of the WEIRD demographic to find it “shocking” when traditional religion stands up against aggressive blasphemy.
Europe is in real danger here. The possibility of mass violence, caused by jihadist insurgents who are painted as “criminals” by the political and media elite, is serious and the gross decline in European military strength since the end of the Cold War does not provide assurance that such messiness could be brought under control quickly. In that case, radicalization will beget counter-radicalization and grave violence between Muslims and native Europeans should be expected. In that case, madmen like Anders Breivik will turn out to be trendsetters of an odious kind. Here the progressive need to find Islamophobia, which seems to concern many on the Left more than armed jihadism, does not promote stability.
As Europe descends into chaos and violence, a dystopian future wanted by no sane person, who will be there to stave of total collapse? Some are already planning for this, quietly, but most of Europe is not — how can governments plan for something they dare not even name? — and we can expect NATO to be unready for what may be coming. Having participated in many defense exercises with NATO, I can state confidently that the very last thing the U.S. military wants to get caught up in is European chaos. If the German military, far too small to contain mass violence, appeals to Stuttgart, where the U.S. European Command is headquartered, for assistance, somehow emails will be lost and calls will be “missed.” It’s impossible to imagine Obama committing American troops to putting down Muslim riots and worse in Europe.
However, Vladimir Putin will be waiting by the phone, eager to “help” Europe in its time of troubles. Not to mention that Putin comes from the Russian secret police tradition, where you create problems in order to solve them. Kremlin wags are eager to remind everyone how many times Holy Russia has selflessly saved the continent from Western European madness, in 1814 and in 1945 in particular, and suddenly the man in Moscow will appear as a savior, a warrior of faith himself — not at all like Europe and America’s weak-willed elites — who can appeal to moderates of all sorts, Christian and Muslim alike, to reject violence and extremism. This scenario is fanciful only if you are blind to what Putin wants, and how bad the situation in Europe actually is. When a drowning Europe needs Putin’s urgent assistance, our WEIRD demographic may find out that history did not turn out quite as they had been promised.
I’ve always allowed comments on this blog. Managing comments has been a task that’s been mostly enjoyable, the occasional troll notwithstanding.
However, there’s been a gradual rise in commenters who feel entitled to an extended response to their statements, and will pester if they don’t get the affirmation they seek..Some clearly need their own blog while others seek a research assistant. I can’t help with either of those so I’m shutting down comments.
Thanks to those who have commented enjoyably — you know who you are.
Today Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, breathed fire about his country’s ultimate victory in its war with Russia. Perhaps encouraged by reports of a local victory at Donetsk airport, which has seen a major uptick in fighting this weekend, Poroshenko assured Ukrainians with tough talk that “invaders” will be evicted from their country’s soil, every last inch.
This, however, is more optimistic blather of the sort Poroshenko has applied considerably in recent months, without much action to show for it. Ukraine needs not peace marches and blustery speeches, rather force generation, counterintelligence, and above all strategy. I laid all this out in my piece yesterday, which got considerable pushback from those who think Ukraine can be defended with wishful thinking and the right hashtag.
As I explained, Ukraine needs to get serious about the war if it wants to win it. Croatia two decades ago, when that country lost a third of its territory in 1991, only to regain it four years later after building the right military and applying it strategically, offers a model for success if anybody in Kyiv is looking for one. That template is imperfect but far better than any others out there right now.
What Ukraine must not do is emulate Georgia, and I’m providing this warning clearly because there’s a good chance that Poroshenko and his cadres of image-over-substance pols will be tempted to ape Tbilisi when they need to follow the Zagreb model. What I mean by the Georgia model is the road to disaster followed by President Mikheil Saakashvili in the run-up to his country’s stomping by Putin in Georgia’s brief, painful war with Russia in August 2008. This is especially relevant because Saakashvili, a strategic illiterate, thought he was following the Croatian model of the 1990’s when, in fact, he did the opposite.
For Saakashvili, getting Georgia into NATO was the primum mobile of his foreign and defense policy; as to Ukrainians of a certain ilk, accession to the Atlantic Alliance seemed to offer the only real security guarantee against rapacious Russia. To be fair to pro-NATO people in Tbilisi and Kyiv, getting those countries into the Atlantic Alliance is stated U.S. policy, and has been for years, and remains so today — though Washington, DC, is publicly committed to getting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO sometime between this afternoon and the end of time. In other words, this is something even cautious liberals like President Obama have to say to keep neocons like John McCain quiet, but which they have no intention of actually doing.
Getting into NATO is a tricky business, with enormous political and bureaucratic hoops for any applicant to jump through, and it’s never a quick or cheap process. On the military side, this means transforming your armed forces and defense ministry to look and act in Western ways: you have to ditch Soviet-era tactics, techniques, and procedures, at a minimum. Your military’s software needs modernization. On the hardware side, your military’s Soviet-legacy gear will need to get cut back too, because it’s expensive to maintain and not very interoperable with NATO members.
From the time he became president in 2004, Saakashvili didn’t just transform his military to “NATO-ize” it, he actively courted favor with the Pentagon and the George W. Bush administration, sending troops to Iraq to help battle the rising insurgency there. The Georgian army was reduced to five brigades, nearly all light infantry, ditching practically all its armor and artillery in favor of a counterterrorism and counterinsurgency approach to warfare, which of course was what U.S. military trainers working with the Georgians encouraged.
Most consequentially, as explained in the excellent book on the 2008 war written by the late Ron Asmus, Saakashvili had a chat in 2006 with Stipe Mesić, Croatia’s president, who knew that his country would soon join NATO, which was the Holy Grail for Tbilisi. Helpfully, Mesić told his Georgian counterpart that what he needed to do was reassert control over all their territory or they would never get into NATO — which was good advice — and to do that Georgia needed its own Operation STORM … which turned out to be deadly advice.
As I explained yesterday, Operation STORM was Croatia’s August 1995 victory offensive, the biggest military operation in Europe since the Second World War, which in a few days thoroughly defeated Serb rebels and restored the country’s territorial integrity. Wholly ignorant of military affairs, yet brimming with confidence, Saaksahvili became obsessed with the idea that Georgia could pull off its own Operation STORM and thereby humiliate Russia, achieving glory and entry to NATO. He did not dwell on the fact that Georgia’s military was totally incapable of anything like what Croatia achieved in 1995, nor that Russia is not Serbia.
Before long, Moscow got wind of Saakashvili’s intentions, specifically his ardent desire to reclaim Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were lost in the early 1990’s and were de facto under Putin’s control, protected by the Russian military. Eager to cut Saakashvili down to size and message NATO that it needed to back off, Russian military intelligence (GRU) turned up the heat, unleashing Special War against Tbilisi, and it was only a matter of time before the Georgians walked right into a GRU trap.
Which happened in the summer of 2008, when months of Russian provocations in South Ossetia presented an opportunity that Saakashvili stumbled blindly towards, not understanding the consequences. It only took a few days in August for Putin’s forces to lay waste to Georgia’s unready forces. The only brigade of the Georgia Army that was battle-ready was not on hand since it was — you guessed it — serving with U.S. forces in Baghdad, while the other four maneuver brigades were in various stages of disrepair. They were, in the words of an American liaison officer, “beginning to walk, but by no means were they running … If that was a U.S. brigade it would not have gone into combat.”
Predictably, Russia’s better equipped and trained forces, including mechanized brigades, crushed Georgian light infantry like a bug and Tbilisi saw its dreams of reconquest evaporate in blood and humiliation. Putin made his point about what happens to countries in the post-Soviet space who court NATO too openly, while Saakashvili, whose political career was in tatters, learned the cost of magical thinking in military matters, particularly when coupled with hope masquerading as strategy.
Since 2008, Georgia has quietly rebuilt its shattered military while toning down talk of NATO, especially when Russians are in the room. Mikheil Saakashvili, in courting war against a much more powerful neighbor with his own weak military, has provided an ideal how-not-to guide on dealing with Vladimir Putin. Georgia learned painfully that it’s a terrible idea to act like you’re in NATO when actually you are not.
Fortunately for Kyiv, Ukraine is a vastly bigger and more populous country than little Georgia, but it faces serious strategic hazards at present. Defiant words, as Poroshenko used today, when not accompanied by military means to back up tough talk, can lead to catastrophe, particularly when Russians are on the other side. If Ukraine wants to win the war that Putin has forced upon it, Kyiv must emulate Croatia’s hard work in the 1990’s that created a path to victory. If Poroshenko opts for the Georgian model, Ukraine may not survive the coming strategic debacle.
Today brings more bad news from easternmost Ukraine, as Kyiv’s defenders are trying to hold on to Donetsk airport, where fighting has waxed and waned for months between Ukrainian troops and rebels, many of whom are actually Russian soldiers. Putin is pushing again around Donetsk and the airport’s brave defenders, termed Cyborgs by the Ukrainian public, may not be able to stand their ground much longer. As usual, they are dismally supplied and badly led. Never in the Russo-Ukrainian War, which started last spring, has Kyiv’s General Staff inspired much confidence, and their leadership is improving slowly, if at all, under the rigors of war.
The disorganization and corruption of too much of Ukraine’s military is no secret. Indeed, that the higher-ups are criminals who avoid battle is a near-universally held belief among the fighters who are doing the dying around Donetsk, who see senior officers, many of them hold-overs from the Yanukovych era, living in comfort far from the sound of the guns. The troops who have borne the brunt of the Russo-Ukrainian War to date are volunteers — there are more than fifty battalions of them, though some are in reality more company-sized — since the regular army is in such a lamentable state that many of its units cannot be sent into battle.
Why the Ukrainian military remains so unready after many months of promises from Kyiv that it is serious about resisting the Russians is an important question. We have heard many excuses proffered about how the military was neglected for two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, which is true but unhelpful now, when Ukraine urgently needs combat-ready forces. Courage is not lacking while battle skill clearly is.
Small wonder then that morale among Ukraine’s combat troops is low and dropping. The Azov Battalion, which is among the more proficient as well as politically radical of the volunteer units, makes no effort to hide its contempt for the politicos in Kyiv, promising to turn the guns around once the Russians are defeated. If Kyiv isn’t careful, it could easily find itself with a serious political problem on its hands, with angry volunteers feeling themselves to be defeated more by their own government than by the enemy. Here the experience of Germany’s Freikorps may offer worrisome lessons.
Moreover, the critique of many volunteers, that Kyiv is fundamentally not serious about the war, is difficult to refute. Even staunch defenders of the Ukrainian government concede that support for the combat forces is haphazard, at best, and the fighting troops would be starving and freezing without donations from private citizens eager to support “the boys.” Kyiv has just upped the draft age limit to twenty-seven, and has promised to soon add 50,000 conscripts to the hard-pressed forces.
But those troops will not be fit for frontline service for months, and if Putin decides to push harder in Ukraine’s Southeast, defenses would collapse quickly. Not to mention that calling up 50,000 draftees in a country of forty-five million citizens represents something very short of a general mobilization, and bespeaks a lack of understanding in Kyiv about the situation they actually face. The Poroshenko government is happy to raise awareness about Russian aggression, amidst unsubtle hints that they have been left in the lurch by NATO and the West, while bringing in foreign experts who are pleasing to the eye to try to repair the pathetic economy. However, Kyiv seems much less serious about actually defending the country from Putin’s aggression, substituting talk for action as a matter of policy. As for strategy on how to win the war, none can be detected.
A historical comparison illustrates how lame Poroshenko and his cronies actually are at defending Ukraine. When the First World War ended, Western Ukraine, centered on the recently Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia, attempted to defend ethnic Ukrainian land (then, as now, Western Ukraine was a hotbed of nationalism). In a few months, they created an army of 100,000 troops, and managed to get three-quarters of them into battle in more than a dozen brigades. Notwithstanding a grave lack of weapons and funds, and a critical shortage of trained officers, they acquitted themselves well in battle, losing only when overwhelmed by greater numbers of much better equipped Polish forces. They did this from nearly no industrial base and a population less than one-tenth of Ukraine’s today.
To cite a more recent example that likewise puts Kyiv in a poor light, in 1991 Croatia saw fully one-third of its territory seized in a few months by Serbian rebels who were backed by Belgrade. Croatia had to create a military almost from scratch, possessing few heavy weapons, while burdened with counterintelligence problems at least as bad as Ukraine’s today. Yet by the end of 1991, by executing a true mass mobilization, Zagreb fielded an army of 150,0000 in sixty brigades, and thereby managed to blunt Belgrade’s effort to subdue Croatia by force.
Croatia stopped the Yugoslav military’s putative effort to destroy their country through sheer grit, helped by Serbian incompetence. Indeed, the Yugoslav offensive to crush Croatia was far larger than the effort Putin has made in the Donbas to date, while the epic siege of Vukovar in late 1991, which ended in Pyrrhic victory for the Serbs, was more intense than what’s going on around Donetsk now.
By early 1992, the war calmed down, front lines became more or less static, and Croatia resolved to get back the one-third of its country that had been seized by Belgrade. Zagreb understood this was a long-term project that required the building of a proper military machine. Croatia’s president, Franjo Tudjman, had many flaws, but he was a military man by background and he understood the strategic imperative. For the next three years, Croatia methodically built a new army along NATO lines, with discreet Western aid, while laying the diplomatic basis for eventual victory in what they call the Homeland War.
When the time was right, in mid-1995, as the Greater Serbia project was falling apart and NATO had tired of the antics of Slobodan Milošević, Zagreb unleashed Operation STORM in early August, the largest military operation in Europe since 1945. With lightning speed, 130,000 Croatian troops struck and within three days most of the country was back under Zagreb’s control, demoralized Serbs having folded in the face of betrayal by Belgrade. Three years after STORM, thanks to smart diplomacy, Croatia recovered all the territory it lost in 1991, setting the country on a path to membership in NATO and the European Union.
Lessons abound here for Ukraine today. In the first place, possessing competent armed forces is the critical factor; no amount of diplomacy, Western sympathy, or avid hashtagging can compensate for military power when your country is at war. If Ukraine wants to defeat Russian aggression and eventually get back the territory it has lost, the first job is making the Ukrainian military functional and big enough to matter. That remains far off at present. Talk of joining NATO or the EU until Ukraine controls every inch of its territory is a dangerous fantasy that should not be encouraged by the West.
Petro Poroshenko is well meaning but no war leader. If he cannot run the war he should step down in favor of those who can. At a minimum, Kyiv must purge the General Staff of crooks, incompetents, and Russian sympathizers. Turning to foreigners, including Ukrainians in the diaspora who possess acumen in military and security matters, is being done for the economy, why not for the armed forces? The time to evict Russian rebels from Ukrainian soil is years off but that goal will never be achieved if Kyiv does not get serious about the war soon.
There has been much complaining from some Ukrainians that NATO isn’t doing enough and I share some of that frustration. That said, Ukraine must defend itself. NATO will never go to war over the Donbas and the sooner Kyiv accepts strategic reality the better. Like Croatia in the 1990’s, NATO will provide discreet assistance with supplies, logistics, training, and intelligence, but the heavy lifting will have to be done by Ukrainians. If there are not enough Ukrainians willing to bear that burden, they will not have their own state for long.
Kyiv’s trump card, which they play poorly, is that Vladimir Putin is desperately afraid of getting embroiled in a messy, full-scale war in Ukraine. While Russia can defeat Ukraine’s military with relative ease still, occupying large chunks of Ukraine, in the face of certain resistance, would be a political and humanitarian nightmare and the Kremlin knows this.
It’s fair to point out that Russia, a vast nuclear power, is a much more formidable foe than Serbia. Yet it’s likewise fair to note that Croatia, whose experience in the 1990’s offers a template for what Kyiv must do now, has one-tenth the population of Ukraine, and even less territory. The Russo-Ukrainian War is far from over. Someday, Russian power and Moscow’s willingness to use it will wane and Putin, like Milošević, may seek to cut off bumptious rebels whom he nurtured but later finds a nuisance. Then will be the time for Ukraine’s own Operation STORM, but not before, and unless Kyiv gets serious about military matters, that day will never come.
Yesterday one of the more remarkable scandals in the history of the U.S. Navy more or less wrapped up when its kingpin pleaded guilty to a raft of charges centering on bribery and defrauding the Defense Department to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Leonard Francis, a Malaysian known universally as Fat Leonard for his impressive girth, headed Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA) in Singapore, a firm that got rich by servicing and repairing U.S. Navy ships, not altogether legally.
This line of work is rife with corruption, particularly in the seedier ports of the Western Pacific, but Fat Leonard brought this rigged game into the twenty-first century. He bribed Navy officials, plying them with liquor, gifts, cash, and rented women, yet Fat Leonard kicked it to a new level by ferreting classified reports from his Navy friends, sensitive information about ship deployments, which allowed GDMA to steer lucrative repair contracts away from low revenue ports like Singapore and toward “fat revenue” ports like Phuket in Thailand. Given the number of U.S. Navy ships of the Seventh Fleet operating in those waters, the money came easy once Fat Leonard had his machine in place.
This began in 2004, with the buying — or at least renting — of favors and classified information from Navy officials, and for five years the going was good, but by 2009, Federal investigators grew suspicious of how GDMA was making so much off the Defense Department. Soon the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) was on the case, looking into what Fat Leonard was up to.
Like any good businessman with a clever and sneaky mind, Fat Leonard turned the tables on NCIS by penetrating them while Navy investigators tried to determine what GDMA was up to. The golden source was a senior NCIS agent who was in regular contact with Fat Leonard, sharing with him what was going on with the classified NCIS investigation into GDMA, allowing Fat Leonard to avoid the collapse of his corrupt empire until late 2013. The agent, John Beliveau, was paid, as usual, with cash, gifts, and prostitutes and, in a touch worthy of a Coen brothers film, he had recently been named NCIS Agent of the Year.
Fat Leonard’s ability to recruit the right source cannot be judged less than impressive, and his stable of dirty Navy officials included a commander holding the number-two job at Navy Fleet Logistics Command in Japan, plus another Seventh Fleet commander who shared classified information about ship movements; in another touch worthy of the Coen brothers, he was paid once with tickets to a Lady Gaga concert.
Of greatest concern, Fat Leonard’s network of friends included two Navy admirals, who “just happened” to be among the Navy’s most senior intelligence officials. Despite allegations of “personal misconduct” against both admirals, neither has yet been charged with anything relating to the GDMA scandal, yet their security clearances were suspended by the Secretary of the Navy. This led to the bizarre situation that Vice Admiral Ted Branch spent a year serving as the Director of Naval Intelligence while being totally unable to do his job since he could see no classified information. After a year of this odd situation, VADM Branch was finally replaced. Needless to add, mere mortals who are not three-star admirals would not be allowed to stay in their jobs without clearances, while the lower-ranking — say a junior officer or any enlisted sailor — would be thrown to the wolves without delay.
This is the crux of the matter. In recent years, the U.S. Navy has put on a good show regarding ethics. The mantra “Honor, Courage, Commitment” gets recited a lot and the mandatory reeducation sessions, particularly regarding matters sexual, are positively Maoist in their intensity. Unlike the other armed services, the Navy is willing to relieve commanders at the O5/O6 level almost casually over misconduct allegations, which sends the message that those trusted with command are expected to live up to Navy values. This sounds impressive, yet it not infrequently turns out that the allegations are minor and almost invariably sexual, bespeaking a Puritanism that sailors past would find risible, and any credit the Navy gets is undone by the widespread toleration of gross corruption as evidenced by Fat Leonard and his rigged game.
The Navy is at pains to explain that Fat Leonard is an “isolated incident” that demonstrates nothing about the state of the Navy. However, those who have served in the Navy know otherwise. Every single Navy command I’ve seen up-close, as an officer or as a civilian, had some flavor of the
crimes — sorry, problems — demonstrated with the GDMA disaster, but these usually went unreported, since calling up the Inspector General can easily invite career suicide.
Navy leadership is at this point is only fooling itself. The details of a recent internal Navy study are shocking, particularly the lack of trust in senior leadership felt by sailors. Only eighteen percent of the sailors surveyed said morale was “good,” with forty-two percent describing morale as “poor” or “marginal,” while fully half of those surveyed had no interest in moving up the chain of command themselves. To quote the study:
37.2 percent regard senior leadership as ‘marginal’ or ‘poor,’ a plurality state they do not trust senior leaders, 51.3 percent don’t believe senior leaders care what they think and 50.1 percent of sailors do not believe senior leaders hold themselves accountable
These sad numbers generated the usual blather about how admirals “get it” and the Navy is “working on this” but nobody who knows the service believes this. The very public nature of the Fat Leonard scandal has forced the Navy to confront the rot in its senior ranks, but to date there have only been weak promises that “this time will be different.”
If the Navy expects to win the next war, it needs to restore confidence in its integrity, especially to its junior sailors, who see senior officers and admirals getting rich and living the high life, while their own careers, and often lives, can be ruined over a whiff of scandal regarding drink or women of the kind that sailors until recently would have termed “the weekend.” Puritanism for the lower ranks and wild (illegal) partying for the higher ranks is a great way to destroy morale.
The FBI needs to brought in to figure out what really happened in the Fat Leonard drama, since the NCIS was itself compromised in the scandal, moreover its track record on high-profile investigations is less than stellar. There are troubling counterintelligence aspects of the GDMA story that need full and proper investigation.
Additionally, a high-ranking panel must be convened by the Pentagon to produce recommendations on how to clean up Navy culture, particularly among the senior ranks. No currently serving admirals should be involved, since they cannot be trusted to be impartial, but there are several retired admirals of genuine integrity out there who are deeply concerned about the state of the Navy and would be ideal here; they are in the phone book.
The American public deserves believable assurances that the Fat Leonard scandal will not be repeated, and junior officers and enlisted sailors need to feel confident that there are not two tiers of expectations and justice in the U.S. Navy. If that is not repaired, and morale in the fleet is not properly restored, the consequences may be dire indeed, and played out in the Western Pacific sooner than you think.