The last few days have brought depressing developments for those who care about European freedom. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande went to Moscow to present a Ukraine “peace plan” that actually had been suggested to them by Vladimir Putin. Unsurprisingly, this went nowhere and Merkel has already pronounced that there is no military solution to the Russo-Ukrainian War, a message that was amplified by the Munich Security Conference, Bavaria’s best-catered talkshop, where the lack of Western resolve to confront Russian aggression was made abundantly clear. In Munich, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a rare European NATO leader who has a clear picture of events, told Merkel that the choice was “surrender or arm Ukraine” — to no effect.
To be fair to Europe, Washington, DC, has hardly been telegraphing resolve either. My proposal to send Ukraine defensive weaponry, which looked like it might be in the offing, by this weekend looked dead, though this White House sends so many mixed messages one can never be exactly sure. Late this week, the Obama administration unveiled its new National Security Strategy, amid less than fanfare, with the execrable Susan Rice explaining in “remain calm, all is well!” fashion that things are really much better globally than they look. This White House’s new foreign policy mantra is Strategic Patience, which seems to be the been-to-grad-school version of “don’t do stupid shit.” Since nobody inside the Beltway is taking this eleventh-hour effort to articulate Obama’s security strategy seriously, it’s doubtful anyone abroad, much less in Moscow, will either.
It’s therefore unsurprising that European leaders are in full-panic mode about what Putin will do next. The serious possibility that the Chekist-in-Charge in the Kremlin will seek more provocations, and possibly a major war, to achieve his strategic aim of establishing Russian control over the former Soviet space and therefore dominance over Eastern Europe, is reducing weak-willed Western leaders like Merkel and Hollande to political incoherence.
It seems to have never occurred to them, nor Obama and his national security staff either, that crushing the Russian economy with sanctions might bring more, not less, aggression from Putin, even though that was an obvious possibility. Jaws dropped this week when Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who until recently was NATO’s civilian head, stated that it is highly likely that Russia will soon stage a violent provocation against a Baltic state, which being NATO countries, will cause a crisis over the Alliance’s Article 5 provision for collective self-defense. Rasmussen merely said what all defense experts who understand Putin already know, but this was not the sort of reality-based assessment that Western politicians are used to hearing.
There are two core reasons for Western collapse of will before Putin’s decidedly modest aggression in Ukraine. The first is that Western and Central Europe have so substantially disarmed since the end of the Cold War. Hardly any European NATO countries spend the “required” two percent of GDP on defense, and no amount of American scolding about it seems to make any difference. As a result, European NATO militaries, with few exceptions, possess a mere shadow of the combat power they had two decades ago. Several of them have abandoned tanks altogether, while even Germany has so cut back its combat power that there are only four battalions each of armor and artillery in the whole Bundeswehr.
Not all the fault for this sorry state of affairs lies in Europe. Here America has played an insidious role too, encouraging spending on niche missions for the Alliance at the expense of traditional defense. Hence the fact that Baltic navies have considerable counter-mine capabilities — this being an unsexy mission that the U.S. Navy hates to do — yet hardly any ability to police their maritime borders against intruding Russians. To make matters worse, since 2001 the Americans have encouraged NATO partners to spend considerable amounts of their limited defense budgets on America’s losing war in Afghanistan.
But the moral collapse of Europe is even worse than the military collapse. All the armaments in the world do no good when the will to use them is absent. Since the Cold War’s end, Western Europeans have convinced themselves of many things that simply are not true. Their optimistic worldview, which really is the highest form of the WEIRD Weltanschauung, abandoned any notion that monsters might still exist, and many Europeans, including most of their leaders, seem unable to accept the new reality that Vladimir Putin has forced upon them. Yet denying that Russia aims to change the European order, and will use force to do so, will not stop Kremlin misdeeds, actually it will only encourage more Russian aggression.
To be blunt, I see little evidence to date that major European leaders are willing to wake up to this new reality. In the event of Russian provocation against NATO, which is highly likely soon, it’s very possible that the Atlantic Alliance will unravel completely. Putin may achieve his strategic victory with hardly a shot fired. In such an event, I have no idea how Obama, or any American president, could send U.S. troops to die to defend a Europe that is so flagrantly unwilling to defend itself.
Two-and-a-half millennia ago, the Chinese sage Sun Tzu counseled that “the best military policy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers,” and Putin is doing exactly this. He has no need to undermine NATO strategy, since none exists in reality, while he continues to hack away at the foundations of the Western Alliance through Special War, particularly espionage and subversion.
It’s significant that, just after Greece elected an openly pro-Russian government, whose defense and foreign ministers are major Putin fans, the rising left wing in Spain announces that, should it come to power, it will take Madrid out of NATO altogether. Cyprus’s announcement on Friday that it will offer its military bases to Russia should be seen in proper strategic context. If this chipping away at the foundations of European security by the Kremlin continues, there may be no big war for Russia to have to win.
Which is good news for Putin, since what makes craven European conduct towards Moscow so appalling is the fact that Russia is winning from a position of profound political, economic, and especially military weakness. In military terms, despite the shortcomings of European NATO, Russia lacks the ability to win any major war against the West. Moscow frankly would have a tough time subduing Ukraine quickly, much less marching westward with haste.
Outside the nuclear realm, where the Kremlin likes to rattle radioactive sabers, terrifying Europeans, Russian military strength is not especially impressive. Moscow is in the middle of a big military modernization program that will not be complete until the early 2020’s, and at the moment its ground, air, and naval forces can be assessed as far from ready to win any major war in Europe.
A look at Russia’s ground forces is revealing. Far-reaching reforms of the whole bloated army, which spent nearly two decades languishing in semi-Soviet mode — from organization to training to manning, everything — that commenced in 2007-09 are bearing fruit, but significant challenges remain. On paper, the active Russian army looks impressive, with slightly over forty maneuver brigades, many with modern weapons. But many of those brigades consist of conscripts who are not trained to NATO standards, and this army must face not just Ukraine and the West, but guard the vast border with China, while keeping a lid on the Caucasus and providing post-imperial order in parts of Central Asia.
In other words, Putin cannot engage in a major war without a substantial recall of reservists to flesh out the order of battle, and that may not be popular. The Russian population has endured the economic downturn, blaming the West rather than Putin for the collapse of their currency and much of the economy, and the Kremlin’s anti-Western stance is supported by most Russians. Yet this has something to do with the fact that Putin has kept truly painful costs low so far. Soldiers killed in Russia’s not-very-secret war in Ukraine are professionals. If bigger numbers of teenaged conscripts and thirty-something reservists start dying, Putin may find his war of choice is suddenly less popular.
For all the Alliance’s military shortcomings, NATO can deter Putin’s aggression until 2020 at least, with current forces. However, deterring the Kremlin’s Special War, which I have long counseled the West to get serious about, may prove a more serious challenge. The West has the ability to keep a rampaging Russia restrained. Sending defensive weaponry to Ukraine would be a wise start, while so is bolstering NATO forces on the Alliance’s vulnerable frontier, well beyond the modest efforts now, finally, being undertaken. What no defense budget or military strategist can provide, however, is political will. If Europe cannot regain enough self-confidence to resist Putin, it will lose everything, sooner than you think.
Domestic politics and religion are things I discuss more indirectly than directly, with some exceptions, but this week’s events demand some contrarian analysis of the sort I like to offer. Faith is a topic of interest to me, as it is to many people, as well as a subject that’s best handled delicately given the third-rail aspects it can present.
President Obama waded into a controversy about faith this week, continuing in his pattern of stirring up pots, for no apparent reason, that most politicians would leave covered. The rise of the Islamic State, which has proved to be the worrying strategic shift I predicted months ago, has brought the issue of Islamic radicalism, a term this White House steadfastly refuses to employ or even recognize, into the public eye in a horrible way, between beheadings and related barbarism. This is probably why, in September, for the first time, fifty percent of Americans said Islam as a religion “is more likely than others to encourage violence among its believers.”
In marked contrast, Obama has continued with the line that the Islamic State is “not Islamic,” which is puzzling to many. It certainly adds grist to the right-wing mill that Obama, the son of an impious Muslim, seems oddly deferential towards the faith of his Kenyan father. It doesn’t help that Obama has recently hosted leaders of known Muslim Brotherhood front organizations in the White House, despite the fact that previous presidential parleys with MB-linked figures have ended embarrassingly.
Obama made all this worse on Thursday, at the National Prayer Breakfast, when he noted that, however barbaric the Islamic State is right now, Christianity’s track record is less than perfect too:
And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
Historically speaking, these are relatively unexceptional comments, though they reflect Obama’s worldview, which many Americans disagree with, rather well. All the same, it’s proper to ask why anybody thought telegraphing such historical equivalence at the National Prayer Breakfast was a good idea, particularly in light of Obama’s record of tossed-off insults at Americans of faith, most famously his 2008 zinger about small-minded people clinging to guns or religion. At best, the National Prayer Breakfast was a thoughtless error; at worst, it was an intentional public slap at political enemies, in the double-down fashion that Obama seems to be embracing in his last two years in office, after the midterm election Democratic bloodbath.
Predictably, some on the Right have seized on Obama’s comments with gusto. Rudy Giuliani lambasted Obama, “as weak a historian as he is a president, and as weak a theologian,” while some conservative commentators have stated that Obama really isn’t a Christian at all, at least “not in any meaningful way.”
Just as predictably, some on the Left have fired back that, yes, Obama is a Christian, and the Right are a bunch of bigots anyway. On cue, Ta-Nehisi Coates attacked the “foolish, historically illiterate, incredible” right-wing response to Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast comments, notwithstanding the fact that Coates has no degree in history, nor anything for that matter.
It would be wise to get past this partisan food-fight and address some questions, dispassionately, that Obama’s professorial take on Christian history has raised. Just what exactly Barack Obama believes is a legitimate question, albeit one that most media have dodged, despite the fact that the president over the years has said and written a great deal about what he believes, and what role that faith plays in his life.
The most important single source is a 2004 interview that is wide-ranging and detailed. In it, Obama comes across as the thoughtful progressive intellectual that he is. It’s worth examining in some detail, since in the interview Obama lays out his faith-based worldview with a degree of precision.
Out of the gate, Obama said, “I am a Christian. So, I have a deep faith. So I draw from the Christian faith,” going on to explain that his childhood in religiously diverse Hawaii and Muslim Indonesia marked him, then adding the statement, “I’d say, probably, intellectually I’ve drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith,” followed quickly with the wrap-up: “I’m rooted in the Christian tradition.” This is the professorial Obama, always ready with an “on the other hand,” that his admirers find fascinating and his opponents find vacillating.
Obama made clear that his Christianity is unconventional and his religious worldview is universalist: “I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”
Obama explained that his religious upbringing was liberally Protestant, but not strongly so, and that his first real encounter with faith came at the age of twenty-three, when he was working as a community organizer. He came across the black church and it changed his life. He witnessed “the power of that culture to give people strength in very difficult circumstances, and the power of that church to give people courage against great odds. And it moved me deeply.”
Specifically, Obama met the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Given the subsequent controversy surrounding Obama’s relationship with Wright — more on that later — this merits discussion, but the interview leaves no doubt that meeting Wright, the longtime pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), was the turning point of Obama life, at least in terms of faith. As Obama recounted, the pastor there, Jeremiah Wright, became “a good friend. So I joined that church and committed myself to Christ in that church,” leading to an altar call “in 1987 or 1988″ and Obama joining TUCC as a full member, as he would remain until his presidential run in 2008.
In the interview, Obama waffled on the issue of being “born again” at TUCC:
Yeah, although I don’t, I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I’m not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I’ve got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others. I’m a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt.
Obama then noted that his first memoir, Dreams from My Father, includes a whole chapter on his faith encounter and membership at TUCC, including the large role of the Rev. Wright in his growth as a believer and as a person. (Obama’s second memoir, The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006, took its title from one of Wright’s sermons).
“Yep. Every week. Eleven o’clock service,” was Obama’s reply when asked in 2004 if he still attended TUCC. He was more evasive on the issue of prayer: “Uh, yeah, I guess I do,” adding that he did not pray in any formal, on-your-knees sense. Direct questions about Jesus Christ were partly dodged. “Jesus is an historical figure for me, and he’s also a bridge between God and man, in the Christian faith…And he’s also a wonderful teacher.” — which seems to deny Christ’s divinity, much less any resurrection, but as so often with Obama it’s difficult to be exactly certain what he means.
Obama was quite certain, however, about the importance of not getting carried away with religion of any sort: “Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state…I’m very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics.”
Obama’s ideal faith seems to be one that is deep yet not too deep, and certainly not something leading to fanaticism. The line between faith and “religious certainty” is far from clear, based on Obama’s statements. Certainly his definition of sin as “being out of alignment with my values” does not seem conventional to any orthodox Christian, while Obama’s choice of spiritual role models — Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln — is curious, since only one of them was Christian in any conventional sense.
The importance of the black church cannot be overstated in Obama’s faith and worldview, including this description: “the Civil Rights movement has a powerful hold on me. It’s a point in time where I think heaven and earth meet.” On this issue, Obama seemed to possess an abundance of faith-based certainty and endorsed “religious certainty expressing itself in politics” anything but suspiciously.
What can we make of all this? By and large, Obama in the 2004 interview, and many times since, comes across as a standard-issue liberal, post-modern Protestant, which is not surprising, since the United Church of Christ, which TUCC is part of, is long on tolerance and short on orthodox beliefs. Theologically liberal, the UCC places strong emphasis on social activism and less on traditional tenets of the Christian faith.
The only thing that separates Obama’s stated beliefs from the progressive Christian norm is the large role played by the Rev. Wright and TUCC. This merits some analysis, given their importance to shaping Obama’s worldview, as well as Obama’s walking away from Wright in 2008 when scandal erupted over certain statements made by Obama’s “good friend.”
That controversy stemmed from political comments made by Wright, who had recently retired from the helm of TUCC, that reflected strong criticism of America as well as negative comments about Jews and Israel. Eager to win the presidency, Obama threw his spiritual mentor of two decades under the bus, leaving Wright displeased to the present day.
Let me say that, his angry comments notwithstanding, I find Wright to be an interesting and thoughtful man — he seems vastly preferable to his replacement as Obama’s spiritual consigliere, Al Sharpton, who is a rabble-rouser and fraudster — and I can understand his resentment at Candidate Obama’s defenestration of him when the media noticed what was going on at TUCC.
Wright is a prominent advocate of black liberation theology, which emerged in the 1960’s as an offshoot of the Black Power movement. Given the importance of Wright and TUCC to Obama’s faith and beliefs, some analysis is helpful. Right-wing pundits took notice of these matters back in 2008, but the mainstream media largely ignored questions that merited attention. It did not help that most on the Right portrayed Wright as a Marxist, when really Leftism is secondary to his worldview, his regular incantation of left-wing platitudes on a host of issues notwithstanding.
Wright and TUCC are deeply immersed, instead, in black nationalism. TUCC embodies not the “black church” so highly praised by Barack Obama, but the hardline nationalist fringe of it. Black liberation theology is in large part the brainchild of James Cone, a prominent academic theologian of 1960’s vintage. While Cone was influenced by Marxism, his essential point was nationalism, namely that, confronted by intractable racism, blacks must reinvent Christianity along racial lines to achieve spiritual and political liberation.
Cone emphasizes this-worldly struggles for justice against America’s white power structure, amidst portrayals of black Jesus and saints. The anti-white flavor of black liberation theology is significant, and Cone has at times engaged in extreme rhetoric such as declaring “white-devil oppressor” Christianity to be “false.” “Theologically,” Cone stated, “Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man ‘the devil’.”
It should be noted that Cone’s radical, race-based theology has been sharply criticized by many mainstream black church notables. It should also be noted that Jeremiah Wright has never been one of those critics. Instead, Wright considers Cone a friend and mentor, praising him as a spiritual guide, while Cone has hailed TUCC as the foremost example of his theology in practice.
To be clear, Christianity and ethno-racial identity go hand in hand, and always have. In some countries, faith and national identity are so closely intertwined as to be difficult to untangle, with sometimes spiritually negative consequences. I’ve explained how Putin’s Russia has tried to erase the line between religion and national identity, an Orthodox temptation known as phyletism.
But the theology of Cone and Wright is something stronger, representing an effort to fundamentally re-write Christianity on a racial basis, with different races cast as evil, even Satanic, while blacks take the place of “chosen people,” harking back to the Old Testament role of the Israelites. In this conception, “real” Christianity, which is associated with your tribe, must be changed to “save” it from evildoers, who happen to be your racial enemies.
There’s nothing new about this temptation and it’s not difficult to find similar examples. The most recent case that comes to mind — I’m afraid this is going to be controversial — is Nazi Germany, where Hitler’s followers tried to comprehensively re-write Christianity on an “Aryan” basis. There’s a lot of myth-making about the Nazis and Christianity — if you’d like a solid debunking I recommend this book — and Hitler’s views on religion were complex, even ambiguous. While he looked upon the Roman Catholic Church of his childhood with distaste, even that was conditional, and Hitler was not anti-Christian per se. He wanted Germany to have a united, national Protestant church, which it lacked. Hitler mocked the neo-pagan tendencies of some leading Nazis, such as SS leader Heinrich Himmler, a severely lapsed Catholic.
From the beginnings of the Nazi movement, there was a theological tendency known as Positive Christianity which aimed to Aryanize German Protestantism by ridding it of Jews, past and present. In this view, Christianity had been corrupted by Jews — St. Paul was their particular bugbear — and needed to be purified of Semitic tendencies that had accumulated over the centuries. Needless to add, Jesus was not Jewish, rather Aryan, in this revised take on the faith.
After the Nazi takeover in 1933, this movement coalesced into the German Christians, which aimed to unify Germany’s Protestant churches around a race-based theology that was deeply anti-Semitic and espoused a historically fanciful take on Christianity. While this was outwardly Christian, its inner, race-based theology was a substantial break with any historical faith. While this cause ultimately failed, the German Christians delivered loyalty to the Nazis down to the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945, leaving a black mark on Christianity.
Of course, Americans will answer that James Cone and Jeremiah Wright rewriting Christianity for the benefit of their race is good, or at least understandable, while the Nazis doing the same thing was bad, even evil, but we need to recognize that the underlying theological sleight of hand is the same. Recasting Christianity to benefit your race or ethnic group, while highlighting others as hate figures who need to be expunged from the “true faith,” is unhealthy — traditional Christians would say sinful too — and ought to be resisted by all people who seek harmony and peace.
As I’ve said of Vladimir Putin, I have no idea what he actually believes, since someone else’s inner faith is unknowable, but Barack Obama has said and written a great deal about what he believes. Although the media ignored most of that, just as they dodged other important questions about Candidate Obama, there are more than hints that Obama’s faith includes things that would be strange, even heretical, to many Americans.
The media is aflutter this week with the “revelation” from a classified Department of Defense assessment that Vladimir Putin has autism. The troublesome man in the Kremlin is a problem not because he’s a nasty Chekist, besotted with Russian nationalism and KGB conspiracy thinking, he’s just ‘spergy — think an unfunny Rain Man with several thousand nuclear missiles. Per a 2008 DoD study:
Putin’s “neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy,” wrote Brenda Connors, an expert in movement pattern analysis at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. Studies of his movement, Connors wrote, reveal “that the Russian President carries a neurological abnormality.”
This has been met by snickers among the media, while the Kremlin sees nothing funny here at all. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, angrily denounced the “conclusion” that Russia’s president has Asperger’s as “stupidity not worthy of comment.” This is a rarity for me, but allow me to state that the Kremlin has this exactly right.
POLITICO has obtained two relevant studies by Brenda Connors through the Freedom of Information Act and let’s just say it’s not impressed. As it asks readers:
Do you like watching Internet videos and then drawing broad, sweeping, pseudoscientific conclusions about the people involved? If so, congratulations, you might be qualified to join the Pentagon’s secret team investigating the nonverbal cues of powerful world leaders.
What’s going on here is a tad complex but it’s worth a bit of unpacking since it demonstrates how DoD wastes vast sums of taxpayer money on complete bullshit. I happen to know a bit about this case, since I was at the Naval War College from 2005 to 2014, and got to see some of Ms. Connors’ special genius at work, and let me state that what’s still behind the classification wall is more risible than even this.
Allow me to also state that I don’t actually know if Putin has autism — and neither does Connors. Her credentials for making such an assessment are literally nonexistent. She has a BA and MA in political science and a background in — wait for it — interpretive dance. She was a protocol officer at the State Department and somehow wangled her way into lucrative research (i.e. non-teaching) faculty positions at the Naval War College; all this was a subject of some mystery to NWC faculty, but given that institution’s tendency to give out jobs to unqualified “special friends,” the Connors case isn’t really that much of an outlier. Connors has been at NWC for over a decade…doing whatever it is she does.
She bills herself as an expert in “movement analysis,” which means she watches a lot of video and YouTube clips and generates classified assessments of the subject’s mental state. How she comes to these conclusions is mysterious, to be charitable. Her Putin “assessment” was the topic of head-scratching by NWC faculty who, unlike Connors, knew something about Russia, the Kremlin, and the KGB. Her sole claim to understanding Putin is “movement analysis,” which is a discipline nobody else on the faculty had heard of.
Neither was the need for such classified assessments clear, since for decades CIA has done exactly that, writing up detailed medical and psychological studies of world leaders, so that U.S. decision-makers might gain insights of value. I’ve read quite a few of those assessments and, since they are done with the input of bona fide MDs and PhDs, unlike Connors, they can be genuinely insightful.
You see, Connors somehow got the eye of the Pentagon’s spooky Office of Net Assessment, which dispenses bags of cash in a non-transparent fashion to all sorts of oddballs. How much ONA has given to Connors for what she terms her “Body Leads” project is unclear but POLITICO learned that since 2009, experts working with Connors have received at least $365,000. Rumor has it the true figure is much higher, but I’ll leave that to intrepid reporters to uncover.
None of this is exactly surprising to anybody acquainted with ONA, which has been run since 1973 by Andy Marshall, known as “Yoda” to his legions of intellectual fans. Appointed by President Nixon in an effort to get around CIA assessments that Kissinger especially didn’t like, Marshall did that and ONA succeeded in that mission at least, and subsequently Marshall has enjoyed a level of geriatric tenure rarely seen outside North Korea.
This has something to do with the strong following Marshall has built up, which in his waning days — Yoda has promised to leave the Pentagon this year, finally — some are daring to note possesses cult-like qualities. I’ve found most ONA analysis middling (it’s not all as bizarre as “Putin has autism”) and it’s evident that Marshall’s real skill is in building his office and generating massive loyalty to it — and himself.
It’s not hard to see how Marshall has done this, since ONA under him manifests all the worst defects of academia and intelligence work, run together. You have the intellectual vanity. You have the powerful mentorship that can verge on the cultish. Plus you dispense cash to promising acolytes and keep the loyal ones on the gravy train for decades, ensuring their adherence to the Yoda-Is-God party line. You hide behind classification to make sure nobody’s ever entirely sure who’s on the ONA payroll and who isn’t, plus you avoid anything like normal peer review. Finally, hardly any of your assessments, being classified, are seen by outside scholars, much less the public, so nobody really knows what you’re doing.
Therefore there’s no mystery how the laughable Connors debacle happened. There’s also a specific ONA-NWC angle here that merits attention. The Connors case is not isolated, and not the worst one either. I am aware of NWC faculty working for ONA, then selling the DoD-owned product on the open market at considerable profit. This is called “triple-dipping” and is flagrantly illegal, not to mention unethical. I’d like to tell you NWC cleaned this up and fired wrong-doers, but they did nothing of the sort. These sort of shenanigans being tolerated at NWC may have something to do with the fact that, for years, it’s been the only accredited graduate-level college in the United States that I know of where the dean of research, who is supposed to prevent this sort of thing, possesses no terminal degree in research.
Last year the Department of the Navy’s Inspector General produced an unflattering assessment of the Naval War College that scathingly noted that the college faculty is underqualified and overpaid: which is true. One can only wonder what a Pentagon IG assessment of Andy Marshall’s shop would look like. Perhaps someone will be spurred to do one, given these revelations about the Connors boondoggle. They should look into ONA-NWC connections while they’re at it. I’ve only scratched the surface here.
UPDATE (1120 EST, 6 Feb): Brenda Connors’ LinkedIn page is suitably vague but does manage to misspell both “behavioral” and “strategic.” In case she deletes this, which would be sensible of her, it’s visible below.
I have been sharply critical of Ukraine’s political and military leadership in the war against Russia. Kyiv must get serious, now, if it expects to prevent the further destruction and dismemberment of their country by Vladimir Putin. The lack of gravitas in military matters demonstrated by Petro Poroshenko and his goverment — favoring vacillation, candlelight prayers, hashtags and trips to Davos instead of mobilization and strategy-making — does not inspire confidence in Ukraine’s ability to stem the Russian tide.
That said, Western aid to Ukraine to date is stunningly unimpressive and indicates that even core members of NATO and the EU are willing to watch Kyiv be crushed. Angela Merkel’s Germany has signaled that under no circumstances will it assist Ukraine with weaponry, which sends a clear message to all NATO and/or EU countries east of the Oder that they, too, will be sacrificed by Berlin if Putin decides he wants to devour their homelands.
Of late, even the notoriously cautious and vacillating Obama White House, witnessing the impending collapse of Ukraine, has indicated that it might be willing to give Kyiv anti-tank systems. This has caused an outburst of panic in certain quarters, who urge not even mentioning such things, since it might “backfire.” Since Russia has already invaded Ukraine, one wonders exactly what such timid financiers — who are nicely living up to Lenin’s dictum about capitalists selling the Kremlin the rope with which Moscow will hang them — are worried about, since nobody of any importance is discussing sending Ukraine anything other than defensive armaments. Moreover, it’s delusional not to recognize that the West has already declared economic and financial war on Putin’s Russia; the Kremlin understands this reality well, even if scared Westerners do not.
Certainly Moscow would up the ante if NATO began dispatching tanks, artillery and late-model aircraft to Kyiv, but that is simply not on the table. Ukraine’s pressing military needs exist in a few areas. Conventional weapons — armor and artillery, and ammunition for them — Kyiv possesses in abundance; they have no need for heavy weapons from the West at this point.
However, there are a few areas where modest Western gifts of essentially defensive weapons — particularly light anti-armor and air defense systems, plus counterbattery radars and tactical electronic warfare gear — would prove a serious problem for the Russians. The invader’s advantage in tanks and aircraft is significant, while Russian artillery, which is doing most of the killing, dominates the battlefield in Donetsk, helped by Moscow’s tactical electronic warfare and signals intelligence capabilities.
Of course, the opponents of helping Ukraine in any way are now insisting that not only is sending Kyiv weapons a strategically bad idea, it won’t help the Ukrainians anyway. This sort of nonsense requires a brief rebuttal. Over at Slate, Joshua Keating, whose bio mentions no service in anyone’s military nor any familiarity with modern weaponry, assures us sending Kyiv weapons “won’t do any good.”
To support this statement, Keating quotes a raft of political scientists and think-tankers, none of whom would be able to tell back from front on any modern anti-armor system. I’m sure they’re very impressive on the DC cocktail circuit, but these are not the guys you want with you in the slit trench when T-72s are headed your way. Their authority when discussing what weaponry Ukraine needs is about equal to the average person on the street.
Not to be outdone, over at The American Conservative, Daniel Larison, a vehemently pro-Moscow academic Byzantinist who somehow thinks his views on military matters carry more weight than, say, my cat’s, denounces the “folly and futility” of sending Kyiv weapons. “The debate over arming Ukraine has a lot in common with the debate over arming rebels in Syria,” Larison assures us.
No, it actually has nothing in common with that. In Syria, Obama faced a situation where the rebels were seriously fragmented, lacking effective command and control, plus it has been very difficult to tell “moderate” rebels from mere criminals and jihadists. Neither was it ever clear that armaments alone would help anti-Assad forces in any significant way. Hence this White House’s reticence about just dispatching pallets of guns and ammo to Syria, while averting eyes and hoping for the best, was something I shared.
In marked contrast, Ukraine has identifiable chains of command in both the Defense and Interior Ministries, and Kyiv’s defense bureaucracy, while hobbled by corruption, looks positively Prussian compared to anything in Syria. Moreover, it’s clear that modest amounts of specific weapons systems could have a deleterious impact on Russian aggression.
Specifically, sending Javelin ATGMs to Ukraine, which has been floated by the White House of late, might help a great deal; the Javelin, which has seen little use against tanks in Iraq and Afghanistan, can defeat the ERA on Russian tanks, which older Ukrainian AT systems, mostly of Cold War vintage, are having a tough time getting past. Modern MANPADS, even in small numbers, will drive the Russian Air Force high up, reducing their effectiveness, while OTS ECM systems — again, in modest numbers — can nullify most of Russia’s big SIGINT/EW advantage (i.e. REB) quickly. (If the United States declines to supply Ukraine with such systems, many Western countries make comparably advanced equipment.) Items such as better tactical medical gear, which would drop the death rate among Ukrainian wounded, ought not be controversial to anyone.
While the West has no interest in increasing tensions with Russia, denying that Putin has invaded and is waging aggressive war against Ukraine does not change what is actually going on. Since I have exhorted Ukraine to emulate Croatia in its successful 1991-95 independence war, it bears noting that Croatian success in blunting Serbian invasion was aided by discreet shipments of modern anti-armor systems from NATO countries, particularly Germany. Sadly, Berlin seems to have forgotten this.
Even with immediate Western military aid, of the limited and defensive kind I have outlined here, Ukraine will need years to reform its defense structure to eventually turn back the Russian invasion. In the meantime, Kyiv’s forces can only hold their overstretched line with outside military help. Europeans who want to keep Putin at bay — and Russian aggression against NATO countries, especially in the Baltics, is a serious possibility — would be well advised to let Ukraine do the fighting for them, tying down as much of the Russian military as they can, for as long as possible. The alternative is chilling.
P.S. I have not broken out all acronyms, as I usually do; couch-bound “military experts” should look them up so they can learn.
Today the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest legal body, rendered an important verdict. After years of legal haggling, the ICJ pronounced that neither Croatia nor Serbia committed genocide against the other in the 1991-95 war that raged between them, de facto.
Specifically, the ICJ ruled that Serbian war crimes committed against Croats in the latter half of 1991 — above all the murder of prisoners and civilians after the fall of Vukovar that November — fell short of the genocide standard, as did the mass expulsion of Serbian civilians in the aftermath of Operation STORM in August 1995. While none can dispute that the eviction of some 200,000 Serbs from the so-called Republic of Serb Krajina was the biggest incident of “ethnic cleansing” in all the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, it did not rise to the level of genocide, per the ICJ.
This ruling has been hailed by governments in Zagreb and Belgrade alike, amidst cliches about “turning the page.” This is a positive sign in a region that needs one. Certainly it is a welcome decision that ought to allow Croatia and Serbia to focus on pressing issues political and economic, rather than renewing mutual diplomatic spite about the bitter wars of a generation ago.
Many issues remain. This verdict, however welcome, raises troubling questions about the role of UN justice in messy conflicts. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), has covered itself in something less than glory, delivering only modest justice and not much reconciliation in over twenty years of prosecuting war criminals. It seems abundantly clear in hindsight that something more like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation model might be a better fit for nasty ethnic wars like those that tore the Balkans asunder from 1991 to 1999.
As I explained to the UN General Assembly a couple years ago, reconciliation is the real issue now, as impoverished Southeastern Europe, which remains plagued by staggering levels of corruption, crime, and unemployment, desperately needs to set aside past fights and work together to rebuild broken societies and economies. If Zagreb and Belgrade can work together now, thanks to the ICJ taking “genocide” off the table filled with resentments that they awkwardly share, that will be a promising turn of events.
It is surely an encouraging sign that when General Ante Gotovina, the biggest Croatian hero from Operation STORM, was released from the prison cell where the ICTY sent him on trumped-up war crimes charges, he told the throngs of nationalist well-wishers who greeted him home that they needed to get beyond the war and learn to live together, in harmony, with Serbs. If this spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation spreads, Southeastern Europe at last has a chance to move forward.
There are lessons here for Westerners too. Using “genocide” too casually is a serious problem, particularly when advocacy journalists are eager to hear “the g-word,” which guarantees them international airtime. In every ethnic or tribal conflict on earth, no matter how small, all participants know that if they can convince one gullible Western journalist that the killing they are doing and/or suffering amounts to “genocide” then the world will hear about their struggle — from their viewpoint, of course. Western aid and help may well follow, with cash on the side.
This is exactly what happened in Bosnia in the 1990’s, where credulous Western journalists uncritically swallowed claims of genocide and misreported key aspects of that ugly conflict. Death tolls were massively inflated for political effect, while important issues like the role of al-Qa’ida and Iran in Bosnia’s war were ignored as being “off message,” with the end result that Western intervention in Bosnia’s unpleasantness froze a conflict that continues today in the political realm.
Here the impact of “genocide” is especially pernicious. Endorsed by the West, Bosnian Muslims today adhere to a one-sided view of the 1992-95 war that includes only their victimology, often exaggerated for political effect. Why should they compromise with Serbs and Croats, fellow citizens, who after all perpetrated “genocide” against Muslims? How can one parley with such monsters? As a result, Bosnian politics remain permanently broken and the country is a complete politico-economic basket-case that nobody knows how to fix.
Genocide is a deadly serious thing and therefore something that ought never be cheapened by propagandists. By now, any conflict that has a death toll equal to a bad weekend in Chicago or Detroit will have advocates pronouncing that “genocide” is underway, or at least imminent. Journalists and politicians must become wiser about such matters, since the effects of their bad calls can be long-lasting, as Bosnia demonstrates. Let’s hope that the ICJ’s welcome verdict, a vote for political sanity returning, has a cleansing effect whenever claims of genocide are aired casually.
I’ve written a fair amount about France lately, mainly regarding its grave problems with immigration, radicalism, and terrorism. Unlike quite a few Americans, I’ve never indulged in anti-French cheap shots — the phrase “freedom fries” never passed my lips — mainly because I detest fat never-served neocons, who counsel endless war from their couch, far more than any Frenchman I’ve ever met. I’ve also had the privilege of serving alongside French partners in a few warzones, and I admire their deep professionalism and quiet patriotism.
That said, I am equally lacking in the absurd Gallomania that infects a high percentage of American pseudo-intellectuals, who need to change their shorts after the mere mention of coq au vin, to say nothing of cinq à sept. My late father was a Francophile of a serious, bookish kind and he required that I learn good French (because every gentleman must) and that I win the love of at least one beautiful Frenchwoman (because what is life without that?). I complied, eventually seeing the wisdom of his counsel, and I shall pass the same on to my sons. I am grateful for French language and culture, which gave me my favorite novelist, but I see France as just another European country at the end of the day.
Yet there is an unquestionable majesté about France that only diehard Francophobes can deny. Unfortunately, I tend to be inspired by the less-noticed moments of French glory, the sort that will never get mentioned on the History Channel or in any major motion picture. But it would be a shame if these stories evaporate in the mists of time, like tears in the rain. The world will be a sadder, less inspired place without them.
We’re now commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Great War, and I’ve written on that several times (see here and here), to say nothing of my books, but for no country is this centenary more melancholy than France. In a real sense, French victory in November 1918 — and a victory it was — has been forgotten amidst the enduring horror of the massive loss: 1.4 million dead Frenchmen. It’s no exaggeration to state that this butcher’s bill resonates still in France, and can be seen as the deep reason for why the French military — vast and well equipped on paper — failed to stem the German tide in 1940. A hundred years later, a detectable ennui about the Great War lingers.
However, focusing on the undeniable horror of 1914-1918 obscures how much gloire there was for the French. Invaded by Germany, their war was defensive and just, and in the end they won. Their victorious generals and heroes have been forgotten, lost in a sea of pain and death that to post-moderns seems pointless and anything but glorious. The average French infantryman, the doomed yet impressively mustached poilu, seems like a victim to the WEIRD.
It all seemed very different at the time. France was saved in 1914, and right through 1918, only by the willingness of her men — for men they were — to fight and die in vast numbers for hearth and home. Italians once called this ardent Gallic desire to close with the enemy, bayonet in hand, la furia francese, and it was present abundantly in the Great War, even among many senior leaders.
No general embodied France’s combative spirit more than Charles Mangin, whose name today resonates only among specialist historians. A hundred years ago his name was known to every French castle and cottage, for he was hailed by millions as France’s fightingest general.
In many ways, however, Mangin was an outlier. Failing to gain admission to St. Cyr, France’s West Point, he enlisted, and was eventually sent to St. Cyr from the ranks. He spent his career in the colonies, mostly in Africa, fighting more than not, and won a raft of decorations for his fearlessness, including the Legion of Honor before age thirty. But he was an odd man out among officers who spent their careers in France. He was Catholic, croyant in an officer corps bitterly divided between believers and secularists.
Neither did Mangin hide his views well. In an officer corps divided not just in belief, but between those who spent their careers in France versus in the colonies, Mangin was an unapologetic “African” who extolled the virtues of France’s tough colonial soldiers. Those who spent decades in the métropole, mostly riding a desk, viewed fellow officers toiling in the colonies as a tad rough, while the “Africans” saw their metropolitan brothers as desk-jockeys, at best.
Unrepentant, Mangin never hid his passionate view that France’s military depended on her colonies, mostly Muslim. In 1910, he published his views in a book, La force noire (The Black Force), which advocated that Paris openly embrace her brave colonial troops, including employing them in the European war that Mangin considered inevitable. Otherwise defeat by Germany loomed.
All these issues came to a head in August 1914 when France, like nearly all of Europe, was plunged into war. In the opening battles, which cost France hundreds of thousands of men, Mangin commanded his infantry brigade energetically; even his detractors did not deny his personal courage, which was never lacking.
On the retreat towards Paris in early September, the lead-up to the decisive Battle of the Marne, Mangin had an encounter with Philippe Pétain, a rival brigadier and exactly the sort of desk officer from the métropole whom Mangin disliked. As Pétain turned a corner, marching with his tired troops, munching on a cold sandwich in a paper wrapper, he saw Mangin, seated at a field table, complete with linen and silver, dining on steak frites and a bottle of red wine, presented by his faithful Senegalese manservant, a giant who with his red tarbouche stood over seven feet tall.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked Pétain.
True to form, Mangin replied: “Look at you. You have been at war for two weeks, and you look half-dead. I have been at war my entire life, and I have never felt better.”
Mangin continued in this spirit for the next four years, fighting all the way until Germany was defeated. He rose to command a division, then a corps, then a field army. Throughout, his fire-breathing, combined with a cynical Gallic wit, became the stuff of soldierly legend. His ability to command African troops especially was impressive, and he was regularly in the front lines himself.
His troops from the métropole were not always as impressed, finding Mangin’s toughness off-putting, and some of them derided him as “The Butcher.” There can be no doubt that Mangin endured the same tactical dilemmas that made the defense stronger than the offense from 1914 to 1918, yet he never reconsidered his belief that the attack was the only acceptable form of war, particularly when so much sacred French soil was under enemy occupation. As he observed straightforwardly about the Great War battlefield, “Whatever you do, you lose a lot of men,” a sad but true statement.
Mangin’s reputation suffered from the Nivelle Offensive of spring 1917, which failed amidst heavy losses, after high hopes for breakthrough, but his career continued, indeed prospered, since he, unlike so many French generals, remained willing to keep fighting, no matter the cost. His reputation was saved by his energetic leadership of the 10th Army in mid-summer 1918 that broke the back of Germany’s last offensive in the West. After this, the victory that Mangin had repeatedly promised would come became only a matter of time.
An incident on the eve of that decisive battle is revealing. Walking along the front line only hours before the great Allied counter-offensive kicked off, as the old soldier liked to do, Mangin encountered a sentry, asleep at his post. This was not just a court martial offense, but one calling for summary execution for dereliction of duty in the face of the enemy. Instead, Mangin picked the tired poilu up by his ear, shouting, “We’re about to kick the boches to Hell — How can you be sleeping at a time like this?” and sent the stunned sentry on his way.
Mangin played an honored part in Allied victory and, unlike most Allied leaders, never let the Germans forget that they lost. After the war, he occupied western Germany, earning the eternal enmity of the Nazis. Mangin died in 1925, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, praising his brave African troops to his dying breath.
It’s probably good that Mangin did not live to see the French defeat in 1940, which would have killed him. Saving what French honor could be saved after that humiliation fell to Philippe Pétain, who tried to engineer a face-saving collaboration with the Nazis. Approaching senility, Pétain was no politician — his mantra was “women and food are the only things that matter” — and he failed to save the honor of France that Mangin devoted his life to defending. It’s therefore perhaps not surprising that, after the occupation of France, the statue of Mangin was the only such statue that Hitler ordered to be blown up.
It seems too much to hope that France today, saddled by self-doubt, declining demographics, and domestic radicalism, can channel its inner Charles Mangin, but it could do far worse than revisiting a hard-fighting hero who so passionately extolled — and lived — the belief that those who fight and bleed for France, no matter their ethnicity or religion, represent the best of France.
This is turning out to be a bad week for Europeans hoping to resist the advance of Putinism. Ukraine continues to dither, rather than fight Russian invasion seriously. While Kyiv at last termed Moscow’s violence against their country “aggression,” they demurred from calling it a war, which it is, seemingly not realizing that if Ukraine won’t call this a war, NATO and the rest of Europe never will. The Poroshenko administration continues to pass on getting serious about defending their country, as I have roundly criticized.
News from Athens is also bad. The newly-elected hard-left SYRIZA party is not just anti-austerity, it’s openly pro-Putin. New Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras makes no effort to hide his admiration for this Kremlin, and the first foreign dignitary he entertained as PM was Russia’s ambassador to Greece. Greece’s new defense minister visited Moscow before the election, while the new foreign minister is pals with Aleksander Dugin, the Kremlin-approved neo-fascist ideologist (while Dugin, the son of a GRU general, is a marginal figure in Moscow, he is employed by the regime as fly-paper for foreign Putin groupies). Although SYRIZA is a very left-wing party, it fits comfortably into the mostly far-right Putinist coalition in Europe. As Dugin explained in 2013, “In Greece, our partners could eventually be Leftists from SYRIZA, which refuses Atlanticism, liberalism and the domination of the forces of global finance. As far as I know, SYRIZA is anti-capitalist and it is critical of the global oligarchy that has victimized Greece and Cyprus.”
Everybody expected that SYRIZA, with its anti-austerity platform, would pose immediate problems for the EU, but it’s now clear that the new government in Athens will bring problems for NATO as well. SYRIZA opposition to EU sanctions on Russia is stated openly, and it seems possible that Greece will now move into an openly pro-Moscow orientation in foreign and defense policy, which would pose serious complications for NATO. The emerging dividing line in European politics is no longer Left versus Right, but Pro- or Anti-Putin.
Most Western leaders remain blind, at this point willfully, to what Putin represents and what he wants. Moscow makes no effort to hide its worldview, a toxic blend of Chekism, militant Orthodoxy, xenophobia, and anti-Western resentments, but the Davos elite, being the consummate WEIRDos, cannot see the obvious. As long as NATO and EU leaders refuse to notice what is before their eyes, the West will continue to lose to a Russia that it dwarfs in political, military, and economic terms. In war, will counts more than numbers, as Putin is proving yet again.
It’s increasingly obvious that Moscow’s aim is the recreation of something like the Tsarist Empire of pre-Great War days. An important bellwether here is the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI), another “independent” Moscow think-tank that actually isn’t independent. RISI’s head is Leonid Reshetnikov, another “former” Chekist, in fact a career KGB officer who retired as a two-star general and the head of foreign intelligence analysis. Like many, he has transformed into a militant religious believer with Big Ideas and enthusiastic backer of Putin’s Orthodox Jihad. Reshetnikov, who pushed for the invasion of Ukraine, now wants to erase Belarus also, and thereby recreate Tsarist Russia. It’s comforting to dismiss this as lunatic nostalgia, but Reshetnikov is no marginal figure, rather a connected member of the Chekist elite with close ties to the Kremlin.
Recreating Tsarist Russia within the frontiers of 1914 would mesh nicely with the fate of Ukraine I recently sketched as the likely outcome if Kyiv does not get serious about the war, soon. That this vision includes the re-annexation of the Baltic States, which would mean war with NATO, should be obvious to all. The West must look squarely at the fact that Putin may no longer fear such a confrontation. There is little time to waste.
In the midst of all this dire warning, I want to inject a dose of optimism. Putin’s neo-imperial project is doomed to fail. Its inherent contradictions are great, to add a fleeting Marxist note. It is an intensely Russian project and the very things that make Putinism intoxicating to Russians — its nationalist politics and religion, its paeans to Muscovy’s heroes and greatness past — render it toxic to foreigners. For all its ambitions beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, Putinism has nothing to offer non-Russians except vassalage.
It’s impossible to miss that European fans of Putin increase in number the farther you travel from Russia’s borders. Closer to Russia, the sort of far-right activists who agree with a lot of Moscow’s critique of the West’s WEIRD problem are intensely anti-Putin, out of fear; they know the Kremlin has no place for them in their plans for a New Europe, free of Atlanticism and the United States.
It’s easy to fantasize about Putin “saving” Europe from itself when you’re in Germany or Greece, or better yet France. Such illusions are rare in Poland, Romania, the Baltic States, much less Ukraine, where the hungry Russian bear looms close-by. One wonders what Marine Le Pen would think of her crush in the Kremlin if France were located a thousand kilometers eastward of where it is.
Ukrainians have no illusions, they know the Russians well. They are aware that most Russians, including Putin, don’t view theirs as a “real” country, despite the fact that it has forty-five million citizens and is the second biggest country in Europe. Putin has openly stated he does not think Ukraine is a country and he refers to them as “Little Russians,” an offensive Tsarist throwback. Ukrainians know that their language, the second-biggest in Imperial Russia, was banned entirely by the Tsar in 1876, while the Soviets, despite being more understanding about Ukrainian language and culture, brought genocide. After such recent historical experiences, why any Ukrainian would welcome Moscow’s rule is a good question.
The volunteers who are bearing so much of the defense of Ukraine’s East include many right-wingers whose views on the WEIRD West are indistinguishable from the Kremlin’s, but they know that Putin does not want allies, he seeks vassals. They are acquainted with what control by Moscow means. Ukraine’s Orthodox Church, which is powerful politically — Ukrainians tend to be more personally devout than Russians, who like to wax about Orthodox swords but don’t actually go to church much — has explained that it rejects Western post-modern values but emphatically does not reject Europe or democracy.
There is nothing new about any of this. In the decades before the Great War, Russian Slavophiles, who pushed an earlier version of militant mystical nationalism fused with Orthodoxy, fantasized about Russia taking over all their “little brothers” in Eastern Europe. They meddled internationally, helping cause World War I, and they were genuinely shocked to discover that Slavs living under the Habsburgs did not greet them as liberators. Ukrainians in Habsburg lands occupied by the Russian army in 1914-15 were immediately treated to what fellow Ukrainians living under the Tsar already experienced. They did not like it, and the Russians arrested thousands of Ukrainians who objected — clerics, teachers, politicians — packing them off to Siberia for the duration.
Such blindness is hardly a uniquely Russian problem. Nationalism is not for export, and is bound to collide with other people’s nationalisms. Comparisons to Hitler are always to be used sparingly but some apply here. Fascism never became an international movement because of the inherent contradictions of the competing nationalisms among Hitler’s wartime allies. For instance, Horthy’s Hungary and Antonescu’s Romania were happy to fight Bolshevism but they really hated and feared each other more.
Neither did the Germans deal well with political figures seeking to be partners, not vassals, of Nazi Germany. Narrowly focused on themselves and their nationalism, the Germans failed to develop any sort of pan-European coalition against the West and Bolshevism, even though there were millions of right-wing Europeans who would have joined them. It never seems to have occurred to Berlin that the more than thirty divisions of the Polish army would have been very helpful in the Wehrmacht‘s (ultimately failed) drive on Moscow in 1941, not to mention that there were many Poles who were as eager to crush the Soviets as anyone in Germany. Poles were inferior Slavs, Untermenschen, and had to be crushed, per Nazi dogma, and that was that — notwithstanding the fact that Germany never fully subdued the Poles, who resisted Nazi occupation with unmatched fervor.
Close to the end of the World War II, as Nazi dreams of empire were collapsing in flames, a noted French collaborationist explained how the Germans did it all wrong. Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, a fascist who became disillusioned with the Germans’ imperial project, shortly before taking his own life, thereby missing a date with an Allied hangman, castigated the “imbecilic” Hitler and Germany’s “extreme political incompetence”:
These military failings followed from Hitler’s total lack of imagination outside of Germany. He was [essentially] a German politician; good for Germany, but only there.
Lacking political culture, education, and a larger tradition, having never traveled, being a xenophobe like many popular demagogues, he did not possess an understanding of what was necessary to make his strategy and diplomacy work outside Germany. All his dreams, all his talents, were devoted to winning the war of 1914, as if conditions [in 1940] were still those of 1914.
Much the same could be said of Putin, a Chekist functionary, not a deep thinker, a man of limited experience of life outside Russia and the KGB cocoon. His brand of Tsarist-era nostalgia, fueled by nationalism and Orthodoxy, has nothing to offer non-Russians, and is not even wanted by some of Russia’s many minorities. Putin, like Hitler, lives in a mental time-warp that was outmoded already in 1914 — see his strangely 19th century views on diplomacy — and would be laughably obsolete now, were it not so dangerous. Moscow’s imperial experiments past all failed, thanks to the limited appeal of the Kremlin’s political program to millions of non-Russians, and this one will too, eventually.
But the ultimate defeat of Putinism, while pre-ordained, may not be quick. Ukraine may indeed fall under Russian vassalage again, and Europe shows no signs of waking up to the nature of this threat, much less what must be done to counter it. No sanctions will stop Putin, who cares little about economics, now. The Davos crowd, long on money and comfort, will likely keep its heads firmly in the sand until Russian tanks are audible, naively thinking Putin can be bought off.
To make the fall of Putinism happen sooner, not later, before Russian imperial fantasies cause a massive war that could kill millions, the West must address this threat seriously, now. Helping Ukraine resist Russian invasion is important, as is finally getting serious about deterrence in Eastern Europe. Just as important is resisting the Kremlin’s Special War against NATO and the EU, while addressing the legitimate concerns of Europeans about hot-button issues like immigration and national identity before they embrace Putin-approved “solutions.”
Vladimir Putin has already torn Europe’s post-Cold War consensus asunder, shattering the happy views of the Davos crowd (though they seem not to realize it), bringing war to the continent again. What this Kremlin wants is perfectly clear. The West’s not noticing Russia’s agenda is a choice, one with increasingly fateful consequences. Putin’s dream of Russian Empire over Eastern Europe will fail, as all preceding efforts of this kind did. NATO and the EU, with American help, have the power to determine how long it takes for Moscow’s fantasies to turn to dust, and how many countries and lives are destroyed before that happens. Let us hope they use it, soon.