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100 Years Ago: The Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive

A century ago today commenced one of the most successful offensives of the Great War. The words “successful” and “offensive” are not part of the popular lexicon in discussing that epic conflict, with the public being accustomed to mud, blood, and futility: in short, The Horror. Yet the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive of May 1915 was by any standards a great success, achieving strategic effects at modest cost to the attackers, even though it’s fallen down the memory hole, remembered only by specialist historians.

The offensive takes its name from two towns, today in southeast Poland, where the attack came. It was the product, not of confidence, but fear. By the spring of 1915, Berlin was deeply worried that Austria-Hungary, its only major ally, was on the verge of collapse. The Prussians were right: reeling from the loss of three-quarters of a million soldiers in the first four months of the new year, in a series of failed offensives in the Carpathian mountains, Vienna’s forces were indeed nearing their breaking point. The fall of Fortress Przemyśl to the Russians in late March, with its garrison of 120,000 Austro-Hungarian troops, after months of painful siege, convinced Berlin that action had to be taken.

220px-Erich_von_Falkenhayn-retouchedErich von Falkenhayn (right), Germany’s top general, like most Prussian officers took a dim view of their Habsburg ally — “we’re shackled to a corpse” was a common refrain in Berlin — yet the Austro-Hungarians, for all their battlefield under-performance, had to be saved since for Germany, the only thing worse than having a weak ally was having no real allies at all. The Ottoman Empire was far away and fighting off attacks by the Russians and, soon, by the Western allies at Gallipoli, and could offer Berlin no aid: the opposite was the case. Thus Vienna had to be kept in the war.

Falkenhayn had long been a member of what we might call the “reality-based community” in Berlin and never felt that prewar plans for quick, decisive victories were more than fantasy, as the events of the summer of 1914 proved correct, when everybody’s battle plans failed to deliver as promised, bequeathing a protracted conflict to Europe. Falkenhayn, seeing that the fighting in the West had become hopelessly static by the end of 1914, favored operations in the East, where the vast frontages meant that maneuver might still be possible. Under the guise of what Falkenhayn termed a strategy of attrition (Ermattungsstrategie), Germany planned to punish the Russians while hitting Britain back for her blockade of the Central Powers with unrestricted submarine warfare. This was a high-stakes game.

First, the Russians had to be bloodied and the Austrians saved. To that end, in late April Berlin dispatched its 11th Army to the East in secret, equipped with the latest weaponry, including mortars and heavy artillery in calibers never seen by the Russians or Austrians. Led by the energetic General August von Mackensen, the 11th Army would form the spearhead of the attack, which aimed at splitting the Russians’ overextended front in the foothills of the Carpathians.

b_gor_szkic_sytuacji_na_froncieThe artillery barrage, when it came before dawn on May 2, crushed the Russians before it, with the Tsar’s 3rd Army barely getting in the fight on that fateful and sunny spring morning. Although the attacking force was roughly the same size as the defender (the Prussian 11th and Austro-Hungarian 4th Armies together had nineteen divisions, versus the defender’s twenty-four), the Russians were tired and, more important, the Prussian advantage in heavy artillery was decisive. In the main attack sector, over 1,600 artillery pieces including more than 300 heavy guns — this being the greatest barrage in the war to date — silenced Russian artillery, blasted command posts, and slaughtered any infantry caught in the open.

Intelligence played a decisive role here. Guided by excellent Austro-Hungarian signals intelligence, code-breaking being one of the few areas where Vienna had a big lead over Berlin, the attackers knew the enemy’s order of battle in detail, as well as how tired and depleted many Russian units were. Supplemented by aerial reconnaissance that located enemy batteries and command posts, Prussians gunners assembled a fire plan that would defeat the Russians with precise artillery barrages, delivered quickly, before the attacking infantry went “over the top.”

So it was. Despite valiant efforts to resist by certain Russian units — some simply melted under the hammer-blows of Prussian guns — the 3rd Army fell to pieces in the first couple days of the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive. As Tsarist troops surrendered by the battalion, many without putting up much of a fight, it was clear that a major breakthrough had been achieved. In the six weeks after the May 2 assault, retreating Russian forces were unable to form a coherent defensive line anywhere in Galicia for very long.

W6yT4LulThe combined Prussian-Austrian march eastward continued. There was joy in Vienna on June 3, when the black-yellow standard of the Habsburgs again flew over Przemyśl. Elation followed on June 22 when Lemberg, Galicia’s capital and the fourth-largest city in the Habsburg Empire, returned to Austrian hands after several months of Tsarist occupation. The population was joyful too, as tactless, heavy-handed Russian methods had alienated all but the most dedicated Russophiles among the Ukrainians of Galicia.

By the time Lemberg was recaptured, the Central Powers had lost less than 90,000 troops, while Russian casualties were staggering, probably eight times higher, with at least a quarter-million of those prisoners. Worse was to come for the Russians, who kept retreating into the depths of their empire, losing men every step of the way. By the time the front stabilized in late September, hundreds of miles east of where it had been in early May, bringing what they called the Great Retreat to an end, the Tsar’s armies had lost more than a million men as prisoners alone.

Russia had been severely bloodied but she was still in the war. While morale had taken a beating, the Great Retreat concentrated many minds in St. Petersburg too. Frederick the Great had counseled that it wasn’t enough to beat the Russians, you had to beat them dead, and this lesson was relearned by the Prussians and Austrians in 1915. The vast depths of the Motherland offered the Russians seemingly limitless strategic depth to retreat into and, no matter how many of them you killed or captured, there always seemed to be more Russians.

Falkenhayn’s offensive at Gorlice-Tarnów delivered beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. The Russians were crushed and the Austrians were saved, with nearly all of the Habsburg province of Galicia being retaken — all at a casualty ratio that enormously favored the attacker, thus violating nearly all the “rules” of the Great War. But it was not all good news for the Central Powers. The scope of the victory was a mixed blessing for the Austrians, who resented the dependence they now had on the Prussians to just survive. Talk of the Prussians as “our secret enemy” was heard at the Habsburg high command, not always in hushed tones, and relations between Berlin and Vienna, never easy, soured through 1915 due to Habsburg resentments at becoming less an ally of Germany and more a satellite. They would stick together down to final defeat in autumn 1918, but the relationship between the key members of the Central Powers was never smooth or particularly effective.

Yet the biggest loser of the Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive turned out to be Italy, which played no part in it. Italy sat out the Great War when it broke out, earning the undying enmity of Germany and Austria-Hungary, its ostensible allies. Britain and France wanted to get Italy in the war on their side, particularly because that would add a third front to Vienna’s war when neither of its first two, against Russia and Serbia, were going well. Sitting out the war was popular with most Italians, who watched the bloodbath engulfing their neighbors, but some Italian politicos couldn’t help their cravings for Habsburg lands, while certain prominent agitators pushed for war on the Allied side during the winter of 1915. One such was Benito Mussolini, a Socialist rabble-rouser who had a sudden — and to many of his comrades suspicious — conversion to the cause of joining the Allies (they were right: Mussolini was acting on behalf of British intelligence, for cash).

Rome was gradually swayed to enter the war, as the offers of Austrian land across the Adriatic being made by London and Paris were generous, since it was another country’s territory they were offering, and on April 26, 1915 Italy signed the secret Treaty of London that promised Rome extensive tracts of Habsburg territory for entering the conflict on the Allied side. This looked like a no-brainer for Italy since Austria-Hungary on the date the London pact was signed appeared to be on its last legs, bleeding to death in the Carpathian mountains, amidst rumors of ethnic turmoil about to engulf the entire shaky Habsburg edifice. Generals in Rome were confident that they would meet hardly any resistance at all when they marched across the Alpine frontier into all-but-defeated Austria.

The Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive kicked off a few days later, however, and the situation changed completely almost overnight. By the time Rome officially declared war on Vienna on May 23, Austria-Hungary was still quite alive and its forces were advancing deep into Russian territory alongside the Prussians.  On the heels of victory in Galicia, Vienna was able to scrape together just enough forces to hold its border against Italy. Instead of a victory march, the Italians met a bloodbath on the Isonzo river that formed the mountainous border with Austria, and eleven major offensives there failed to crack the Habsburg defensive line, though they did result in the Great War’s biggest bloodbath. War, as life, is filled with unintended consequences.

The Right — and Wrong — Side of History

Discussions of the right — and wrong — side of history have constituted one of the major memes of Barack Obama’s presidency. Indeed, the president is so fond of citing “sides” of history, always on his side of course, that the media have taken notice. While conservatives have castigated Obama’s frequent citations of this as an empty banality, even liberal outlets — Slate not being known for right-of-anything views — have asked if Obama is laying it on a bit thick.

There’s no doubt that Obama likes to cite his side on myriad issues, foreign and domestic, as being the “right” one, historically speaking, with the clear implication that others are on the wrong one. There’s not much new about this, at least in outline. An essentially positive and progressive look at the world’s forward movement seems hardwired into the American psyche, with a belief that things are getting better, even if slowly, being the default setting.

Historians call this the Whig interpretation, the faith — and, make no mistake, it’s basically a religious faith we’re talking about here — that liberty, freedom and enlightenment move ever forward, with occasional bumps in the road, of course. The American Whig faith seems so ingrained in our national character, more than two centuries in, that even major bumps like our catastrophic Civil War didn’t cause undue pessimism for very long.

But the sort of preaching about the right and wrong side of history that progressives have publicly embraced since 2009 is something different. As a historian it’s impossible not to notice it, plus how frequently the administration and its supporters confidently cite “history” being on their side. It’s applied liberally, to nearly every issue: gay marriage, race relations, feminism, the Arab spring, Russia — there seems to be little that “history” can’t do. What was once bad is now good, or at least getting that way, and “history” has dictated it so. Resistance, therefore, seems pointless.

Of course, we’ve seen all this before. Communists confidently stated the same, right down to the collapse of the Bolshevik edifice in Europe between 1989 and 1991. It’s one thing to think History has a defined path — every monotheistic faith does — but it’s a step further to think that you can detect it in more than outline. Marxists, of course, saw the course of History clearly, indeed it was a core tenet of their faith. Hence there’s something unavoidably Marxistoid about the current confident embrace of the “right” side of the flow of events, along with denunciations of “old think” that seem positively Maoist (it’s special when the New York Times puts out pieces denouncing Republican Old Think, without a hint of irony). One suspects struggle sessions are imminent.

Events this week in Baltimore ought to being some necessary perspective. The riots that burst forth in response to the burial of a young black man who died in police custody — today’s news brings word that state prosecutors believe he was murdered — laid bare before the world the defects of that city. None of this was exactly news to anybody who’s paid attention to Baltimorean realities for the last several decades: I’m from Maryland and I’ve lived in Baltimore, so the extent of societal degradation there was news to me in the sense that the sun rising in the East tomorrow demands a headline.

Nevertheless, President Obama gave the public the customary blather about root causes, implying that nobody really had known how bad inner city Baltimore was until rioters took to the streets. As the black scholar John McWhorter eloquently noted, the progressive narrative about Baltimore, which emphasizes over-policing, has vast blind spots, particularly about the enormous social costs of Federal policies pursued since the mid-1960s.

Indeed, any dispassionate look at Baltimore over the past fifty years would seem to demolish any optimistic take on History. A fair-minded assessment would have to conclude that, in terms of social impacts (criminality being just one of those, but an important one in the inner city given the number of lives it impacts), reforms in Baltimore since the mid-1960’s have been a mixed blessing. While the city now has a black mayor (there have been many in recent decades), a black police chief, a black-dominated city council and a police force nearly half black — all appropriate given Baltimore’s demographics — it also has appalling levels of violent crime, incarceration, poverty, and what cannot be called anything but societal rot characterized by illegitimacy, addiction, and anti-social behavior. That fifteen of its neighborhoods have a lower life expectancy than North Korea is really all that need be said, not to mention something all Americans should be ashamed of.

We can debate endlessly why Baltimore is so deeply dysfunctional, and I have no doubt talking heads will be doing so for months to come, but that the city is mired in appalling dysfunction cannot be questioned. If this is where History is taking us, we ought to ask History to stop at once. If we’re lucky, and God continues to shine His providence on fools, drunks, and the United States of America, as Bismarck famously noted, we will avoid the terrible fate of Yugoslavia, though as I’ve explained before I think it’s too soon to tell. Baltimore’s dysfunction seems a bad enough fate, and something we should all be working to prevent. A necessary first step is admitting we don’t know where History exactly is going. It would also help to stop denouncing those you feel are on History’s “wrong” side, as they’re fellow citizens too and, like it or not, we’re all in this adventure together.


New Jihadist Attack in Bosnia

At about the same time this morning that I published this piece explaining how Vladimir Putin’s allies in Bosnia were plotting to dismantle the semi-unitary state that has been in place in the country since 1995, there was a terrorist attack on a police station in the Serb Republic. The attack occurred in Zvornik, a town on the Drina river in eastern Bosnia that was “cleansed” of most of its Muslims during the 1992-95 war.

According to press reports in Sarajevo, the attacker stormed a police station while shouting “Allahu akbar” and firing an automatic weapon, killing one police officer and wounding two others. The terrorist was himself killed by police. Unconfirmed press reports indicate the gunman was sixty-year old Nerdin Ibrić.

Dragan Mektić, Bosnia’s security minister, has confirmed that three days before, Bosnian intelligence had received warning of a possible terrorist attack, though he did not provide details of exactly what that warning consisted of.

While Bosnia has had several domestic terrorist attacks in recent years, to date all have occurred in the Muslim-Croat Federation; today’s attack is the first in many years to take place in the Serb Republic and, as expected, it has served to fan already impressive local paranoia about Bosnia’s extremism and jihadism problem.

This blog has written extensively about Bosnia’s jihad and its implications for international security (start here for a primer) and the atrocity in Zvornik cannot bode well for politics in that troubled country. There is no doubt that this incident will fan the flames of Serbian nationalism and help Putin’s Balkan agenda, while making Bosnia’s problems even worse.

This is a developing story — follow this space for more as it happens…

UPDATE (0730 EST, 28 APR): The Sarajevo daily Avaz has reported that the shooter, Nerdin Ibrić, was a twenty-four year old Muslim who was born in the Zvornik area in 1991, and was ethnically cleansed, i.e. violently expelled, with his family by Serbs when he was a year old. His father is believed to be among the 750 Muslims from the Zvornik area who were murdered by Serbs. Predictably, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has responded sharply to the Zvornik attack, stating “Republika Srpska was shot at and we have right to defend ourselves, and we will defend ourselves,” adding that the RS may leave Bosnia’s state-level security structures, which is one more step towards independence, which is the Putin-backed project that I described in detail yesterday.

UPDATE (0805 EST, 28 APR): Bosnian authorities have arrested a man in connection with yesterday’s terrorist attack in Zvornik. The suspect, identified by the Sarajevo daily Avaz as Avdulah Hasanović, is known to the authorities, according to Federal Police director Dragan Lukač, who stated that the man had been in “frequent contact” with the shooter in the lead up to yesterday’s incident. Hasanović has previously been questioned by the authorities for suspected ties to the Islamic State — this was during the recent multinational Operation DAMASCUS to roll up jihadist networks in Bosnia (see here and here for analysis) — but he was released from custody. He was questioned about the recruitment of jihadists headed to Syria, where Hasanović spent part of last year.

UPDATE (1425 EST, 28 APR): Sarajevo media is reporting the arrest of a second suspect in yesterday’s terrorist attack. Kasim Mehidić, a Zvornik area man who is said to be involved with the Salafi jihadist movement in Bosnia. is in the custody of the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) in Tuzla, which can hold him for seventy-two hours for questioning before the prosecutor must file criminal charges to continue his detention.

UPDATE (1650 EST, 28 APR): In a perverse and sad irony of the sort Bosnia specializes in, Dragan Đurić, the forty-eight year old policeman who was murdered yesterday in Zvornik’s jihadist attack, was also a victim of Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war. While Nerdin Ibrić, the killer, had his father murdered by Serbs, Đurić’s father was murdered by Muslims. The twenty-year police veteran will be buried tomorrow with full honors.

Putin’s Balkan Offensive

On the weekend, the leader of Bosnia’s Serb Republic threatened secession if he did not get reforms, proposing to hold a referendum on leaving the country if his demands are not met by the end of 2017. Milorad Dodik, who has ruled over the Bosnian Serbs, on and off, for most of the twenty years since the United States forced a peace settlement to end Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, has toyed with secession before, but his weekend announcement represents the most direct threat ever to the country’s postwar political system.

In fairness to Dodik and the Bosnian Serbs, almost nobody in Bosnia is happy with the current system, which when it was hashed out in Dayton, Ohio in the autumn of 1995, under Clinton administration pressure, was never intended to be more than a temporary political solution to Bosnia’s political conflicts, yet here we are two decades later, and that short-term solution has become a seriously flawed, long-lasting one.

Dayton Bosnia is a deeply dysfunctional polity, with a weak, state-level government in Sarajevo plus two “entity” governments: the Serb Republic in Banja Luka and the Muslim-Croat Federation, also in Sarajevo. Its defects are too many to list briefly but boil down to a decrepit economy that never recovered from the war two decades ago, staggeringly high unemployment (officially it approaches fifty percent, but that is an underestimate), plus corruption so pervasive that it cannot be rooted out without cashiering the country’s whole political class, regardless of party or ethnicity (Dodik himself being one of the country’s biggest pols-on-the-take). Anybody who can escape Bosnia does so, leaving the country of four million with a declining population and a serious brain-drain.

Poor and corrupt, the Serb Republic isn’t a viable place, but neither is the whole country, and nobody knows what to do about it. The Dayton Accords created an impoverished ward of the European Union that nobody knows what to do with, yet which festers with crime, corruption, and extremism. And it’s not only the Serbs who want out: Croats, too, are deeply dissatisfied with the Dayton arrangement, which left them without an entity of their own, but unhappy Bosnian Croats can at least escape easily to neighboring Croatia, which distributes its EU passports to any fellow Croats who want them.

The root of Bosnia’s turmoil is not difficult to grasp in its essentials, though the diplo-dialect used by Eurocrats and American overseers buries it under lots of legalese and Balkan jargon that is impenetrable to outsiders. Bosnian Muslims want a more centrally controlled state, which they as the country’s largest ethnic group will dominate, while the Serbs want more autonomy for their entity and have no desire to live in a Muslim-dominated Bosnia. This is the exact same dispute that Bosnia collapsed into war over back in 1992: nothing has changed except a hundred thousand people got killed and a beautiful country got wrecked.

To be fair to the Serbs, there has been anger and confusion over recognition of an independent Kosovo by most of NATO and the EU, including the United States, after that former Serbian province formally separated itself from Belgrade in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO went to war on its behalf. Nobody in Brussels or Washington, DC, has been able to plausibly explain why Serbia’s borders can be redrawn but Bosnia’s cannot.

For NATO and the EU, Bosnia’s territorial integrity has been sacrosanct, even though partition, as with Kosovo, represents the obvious long-term solution to a problem that nobody really has any other fixes for. Yet, as the Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians learned after World War One, when the Americans push “national self-determination” they mean it for some people, and not for others. Unsurprisingly, Bosnia’s Serbs have pushed back against this American and EU double standard for two decades, to no avail, and Dodik’s exasperation reached its breaking point on the weekend.

Banja Luka has hardly been its own best ally in its campaign to get more power for Bosnia’s Serbs, with their nationalist antics alienating even their friends at times, yet it should be noted that the Muslims have shown little willingness to even discuss Dodik’s demands. That is functionally impossible, since much of Sarajevo’s elite, to include the Muslim clerical establishment, has demonized the Serbs with constant charges of genocide during the 1992-95 war — notwithstanding that such claims are at best a partial truth about that ugly conflict — and who, after all, can be expected to parley with such monsters? This peculiar version of “Holocaust theology” among Bosnia’s Muslims does not bode well for reconciliation and harmony. Total political paralysis has been the logical outcome.

Although it needs to be made clear that Bosnians of all stripes are primarily responsible for their country’s dismal situation, thanks to their seemingly intractable inability to get along, the West bears ample blame for Bosnia’s deep dysfunction, and not merely for creating the Dayton situation. As in Afghanistan, throwing billions of dollars in reconstruction funds, while not watching closely where it goes, led to NATO being the cash-cow for Bosnian organized crime and corruption.

Above all, the existence of the Serb Republic today is due to American intervention, a strange case of Balkan blowback. In early August 1995, the Croatian military unleashed its victory offensive, Operation STORM, to regain the territory it lost to Serb rebels in 1991. Still the largest European military operation since 1945, STORM rapidly crushed the Serbs and, with American go-ahead, Zagreb continued Croatia’s march into Bosnia, with the help of Bosnian Croat and Muslim forces. Two months of offensives followed, backed by NATO airpower, the Atlantic Alliance’s first-ever military operation, and by early October the Croats were at the gates of Banja Luka, having taken the heights of Manjača, a strategic mountain fifteen miles south of the Bosnian Serb capital.

The complete defeat of the Bosnian Serbs was at hand, since without Banja Luka, the only real city the Bosnian Serbs possessed, their pseudo-state would simply not be viable. Yet, mysteriously, on the night of 11-12 October 1995, the Croats suddenly halted their offensive. It was an open secret that they would have been in Banja Luka within twenty-four hours, as the Bosnian Serb Army was in chaotic retreat. It was equally an open secret that a call from Washington, DC, had ordered the Croats to halt their victory march.

While it’s not completely clear why the Americans wanted the Croats to stop short of a strategic victory over the Bosnian Serbs, allowing Banja Luka to stay in Serbian hands twenty years ago set the troubled course Bosnia has been on ever since. Having permitted the Serb Republic to live in the autumn of 1995, the Americans constructed the ramshackle Dayton system that would leave nobody in Bosnia satisfied.

This Goldilocks approach to Bosnia, where nobody’s Balkan porridge is ever quite right, worked inadequately for nearly two decades, in its own dysfunctional way, yet over the last year the game has been changed by Vladimir Putin, and only now is the West taking notice. It’s not that the Kremlin has exactly been hiding its diplomatic offensive in the region. Suspicious numbers of Russian diplomats have been visiting Banja Luka, a tiny place by European standards, while last September Putin praised Dodik as “an experienced politician and manager” while the Bosnian Serb leader was in Moscow. In exchange, Dodik hailed Russia’s theft of Crimea from Ukraine, praising it as a model of self-determination that the Bosnian Serb leader made clear set an example for changing Bosnia’s borders too.

There is significant ideological harmony between Banja Luka and Moscow, based on an anti-Western ideology grounded in Orthodoxy and Slavic nationalism, all of which masks a great deal of corruption and personal profiteering. This ideological alliance has been cemented by Leonid Reshetnikov, a retired Russian intelligence general who makes regular trips to the Balkans to visit his “brother” Serbs. A Kremlin insider with strongly nationalist and religious views, Reshetnikov is a fierce advocate of what I term Putin’s Orthodox Jihad, and he heads a major Moscow think-tank that serves as an arm of Russian foreign policy.

Unsurprisingly, Reshetnikov has counseled the Bosnian Serbs they must stand up to the West, since Brussels and Washington, DC, are plotting against them, seeking to destroy the Serbian entity. Just as unsurprisingly, this hardline nationalist take has won Reshetnikov plaudits from the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, which has hosted several of his visits to the region and bestowed him with high honors

This Kremlin offensive, with Reshetnikov in the ideological lead, has led some to worry about the “Russification” of Serbia, and that is a valid concern. However, despite ominous signs such as Serbian participation in the forthcoming Victory Day parade in Moscow on 9 May, including by the Serbian military, public opinion in that country remains divided between those who want a more European orientation for Serbia and those who seek some sort of Orthodox Slavic alliance with Russia. The outcome of this important debate remains uncertain.

However, there is little debate that in Bosnia’s Serb Republic the Kremlin’s allies have already won. Banja Luka is broke and weak, and here Putin’s money goes a long way — and already has. Thanks to the flawed Dayton structure imposed by the West, Bosnia as-is cannot be a functional country, and Putin is now exploiting a weakness that Western overseers should have fixed years ago, yet did not. Here the Russians are reaping easy diplomatic gains thanks to NATO and EU mistakes and unwillingness to fix them.

Skeptics are noting that Dodik that is merely playing a game to win more concessions from Sarajevo and the West, implying that he has no intention of actually staging any independence referendum. Dodik is unquestionably a scheming Balkan wheeler-dealer from central casting. Yet these are the same hopeful sorts who, over a year ago, assured us that Putin didn’t “really” mean all his nationalist rhetoric, he would never dare to actually invade Crimea and Eastern Ukraine …

The fate of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s looms large in Putin’s imagination as an example of what happens when the Europeans and the Americans gang up to dismantle a Slavic state: it is a warning sign to the Kremlin, the sort of thing that a strong and resurgent Russia will not allow to happen again in Eastern Europe. While this narrative of Yugoslavia’s violent collapse is very different from how most in the West view it, it’s widely held in Moscow and informs current Russian discussions of Bosnia and all of Southeastern Europe.

Bosnia may muddle through just yet, and perhaps Dodik is all talk. Dayton has lasted for twenty years in its plodding, dysfunctional way, and perhaps it will last for twenty more. But Banja Luka, with Moscow’s backing, is now signalling that real changes may be afoot that constitute a direct challenge to the political and security architecture the West created for the Balkans in the 1990’s. This is nothing less than a strategic offensive in the region — for now it falls under the rubric of Special War in typical Kremlin fashion — of the kind I told you Putin would bring to Europe this year. However, given the stakes there is no room for Western complacence, particularly given how badly it worked out the last time the Russians went all-in with their support for the Serbs.

UPDATE (0730 EST, 28 APR): Yesterday’s jihadist terrorist attack on a police station in Zvornik, which killed a Serb policeman (get the details here), seems perfectly timed to coincide with Dodik’s pro-independence move. As if on cue, the Bosnian Serb leader has stated that Banja Luka may withdraw from Bosnian state-level security structures, which would be an important step towards dismantling the Dayton apparatus. Elsewhere in the Balkans, Russian diplomats are stoking the fires of Orthodox Slavic nationalism and some people are starting to notice.

The Truth About Gallipoli

This weekend we commemorate the beginning of one of the Great War’s most (in)famous campaigns, the failed Allied effort to force the Dardanelles, remembered as Gallipoli in the West. The Turks call it the Battle of Çanakkale and since they won you’d think they would get to name it, but that’s another story. It’s strange that this battle, one among many fought futilely from 1914 to 1918, gets so much historical attention, but there are a few reasons for that.

First, Gallipoli fits what I term that war’s Anglo Privilege paradigm, meaning that battles involving English-speaking troops are deemed Very Important, and will generate books and documentaries galore, while anything else is not, to the extent that it even happened at all.

Second, there’s a movie about Gallipoli starring Mel Gibson, back when he was famous for being a hunky action star rather than an anti-Semite with a drinking problem, and many people have seen it. It fits nicely in what I call the Pommy Bastard school, where brave Australians are sacrificed by stupid British generals. If you like this sort of thing, you like this sort of thing.

Third, the whole Gallipoli story for the last fifty years has been nested comfortably in the lions-led-by-donkeys scam, which is virulent in the English-speaking world, since it portrays all generals of the Great War as fools and knaves, and there is always an eager audience for this message, no matter how inaccurate it may be.

To be fair, the Gallipoli campaign should be remembered for certain things, including its critical role in the Australian national myth. The heroic performance of the untried, all-volunteer Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli is the stuff of legend, and rightly so. The near-obsession with this battle Down Under makes some sense, historically speaking, even though it comes at the expense of greater Australian efforts later in the war, and the dawn ceremony every year to commemorate the landing is a moving thing, if you ever get the chance to see it.

For the Turks, the battle is even more significant since it saw the emergence of Mustafa Kemal, an Ottoman colonel later better known as Atatürk and the founder of the Turkish Republic. Kemal’s heroic defense of the peninsula against the Allies saved Istanbul and cemented his reputation, thereby setting a path for future greatness. If you cannot be stirred by his words given to the troops of his 19th Division as he sent them into battle to resist the foreign invader — “Men, I am not ordering you to attack — I am ordering you to die” — you may be beyond hope.

The military facts of the Gallipoli campaign are clear enough. By the end of 1914, the Western Front had become static thanks to the emergence of machine guns and rapid-fire artillery, making movement difficult and costly, with troops digging trenches that stretched from Switzerland to the English Channel to get away from the pain. Even the dullest generals realized that breakthrough in the West was unlikely and everybody was in the war for the long haul.

Fortunately, the Allies had the Russians, whose supply of cannon fodder was nearly unlimited, but they lacked weapons and munitions. London and Paris liked the idea of Russians doing the dying for them, particularly because the Eastern Front was not as static as the war in France and Flanders, but they needed a way to get supplies to Mother Russia. The easiest way to do that was pushing through the Dardanelles and reaching the Black Sea.

Inconveniently, the Turks were in the way but the British and French took a dim view of the Ottoman military, and the “daring” concept became the pet project of Winston Churchill, then serving as the First Lord of the Admiralty (Britain’s Secretary of the Navy, in American parlance), and he pushed hard for the Gallipoli campaign. A brilliant but erratic man, Churchill regularly had ideas ranging from genius to madcap pop into his head, and he needed good staff officers to determine which was which: he had better helpers in the next war.

The first Allied effort to force the Dardanelles came in mid-March 1915, when an Anglo-French force of eighteen battleships and many cruisers and destroyers in support attempted to just sail up the straits. This was quickly cut short by Ottoman guns and mines that sank several Allied ships. Having severely underestimated the seriousness of Turkish resistance, the British and French navies learned a painful lesson in the lethality of modern sea mines and coastal artillery.

Undeterred by this setback, the Allies landed at the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula at the end of April, with several untried British and French divisions, supplemented by the novice ANZACs, assaulting beaches without anything resembling real gunfire support from the fleet offshore. The Turks put up a stiffer fight than anticipated, and despite great heroism, the Allies soon stalled. The fighting, with attacks being met by counterattacks at every turn, was close-quarter and savage.

Significantly, the static conditions of the Western Front were soon replicated at Gallipoli, with both sides digging in to escape the firepower of modern machine weapons. With German weapons to help him, and led by effective commanders like Kemal, the Ottoman soldier, the average mehmetçik, showed great tenacity fighting to defend his homeland against the infidel invader, much to the dismay of the Allies.

But the Allies kept pushing, and the Turks kept pushing back, all through the terrible summer. Both sides had invested pride and prestige, and for the Ottomans especially their backs were to the wall, as Istanbul was close-by. In early August, the British committed fresh divisions in an amphibious assault at Suvla Bay on the Aegean side of the peninsula in an effort to turn the Turks’ flanks, but this too quickly bogged down in the face of machine guns and rapid-fire artillery.

After the failure at Suvla, it was evident to the Allies that the campaign was going nowhere and it was time to stop throwing good men and money after bad. But, in typical Great War fashion, that took time and men kept dying, though by the end of 1915 the fighting had died down considerably. The Allies finally pulled out early in 1916, with a clever retreat by sea in the first week of January which thanks to well-executed deception plans turned out to be the Gallipoli campaign’s only real success for the Allies.

Eight months of ground combat on the Gallipoli peninsula won nothing for the Allies but an appreciation for how well the Turks could fight. It caused a temporary end to Winston Churchill’s political career, left in tatters by the debacle. He resigned as the civilian head of the Royal Navy and, to atone for his mistake, took command of a British infantry battalion in the trenches of the Western Front, seeing several months of frontline service in 1916. This would be like Donald Rumsfeld, after resigning as Secretary of Defense in 2006 for his appalling mistakes, leading a combat battalion in Iraq for a while.

The Gallipoli campaign is unquestionably exotic compared to the mud and muck of Flanders. One need not be a classical scholar to note that the battle was waged near many important places of the ancient world, plus the Aegean sun and sea were alluring to many. Nevertheless, the horrors of Gallipoli were just as real as anywhere during the 1914 to 1918 conflagration and romanticizing it seems unhealthy. Men were torn apart by machine guns and shrapnel, dying horrible deaths in a failed effort, at least as far as the Allies were concerned.

Speaking strategically, the Gallipoli was a bad idea from the start, since the concept took too little account of the difficult geography — forcing the Dardanelles sounded easy on the PowerPoint-equivalent of 1915 — as well as just how hard the Turks would fight on their own soil. Moreover, it should have been understood that the tactical stalemate that paralyzed operations in France and Flanders would be quickly recreated at Gallipoli. Ideas that sound too good to be true often are, and Churchill’s notion of getting guns to the Russians to win the war did not take enough reality into account. The alleged “lesson” of the debacle, that amphibious landings were just too difficult and complicated to work in the Great War was false, as the Germans pulled off an impressive one on the Baltic in 1917; but it was clearly too difficult for the Allies in 1915.

So a hundred years later we are having a something of a Gallipoli binge, with the media getting in the fray. Unfortunately, most of the media pieces have no idea what they are talking about and some are so silly they need a rebuttal. It was the appearance yesterday of this especially egregious piece at The Daily Beast that spurred me to write this. Hailing Gallipoli as the Great War’s “most disastrous battle,” the article is a list of sub-Wikipedia “facts” that ought to be laughed out of the room.

In the first place, Gallipoli was not even close to the war’s bloodiest, most mismanaged battle, not by a long-shot; it doesn’t even make the bottom ten. About a half-million soldiers became casualties there, more or less evenly divided between Allies and Ottomans, during the eight-month bloodbath; however, due to many soldiers lost due to illness in the unhealthy conditions, only about 100,000 of the casualties were killed in action.

By way of comparison, the Somme campaign of May-November 1916 inflicted over a million casualties while the roughly concurrent bloodbath at Verdun cost more than three-quarters of a million men. Which is much less than the 1.75 million men lost on the Isonzo river — today’s border between Italy and Slovenia — for no strategic gain whatsoever, in what ranks as the Great War’s biggest debacle (there’s a really good book on this, available in English and Italian, if you want the full story). The Third Battle of Ypres, popularly known as Passchendaele, inflicted some 800,000 losses, for no real gain, in the latter half of 1917, while the Battle of the Frontiers in the opening weeks of the war in the West exceeded the butcher’s bill at Gallipoli, in a fraction of the time.

To say nothing of the vast and bloody Eastern Front, which is customarily ignored thanks to Anglo Privilege (you can fight back by reading this book). In just the opening three weeks in Galicia, on today’s Polish-Ukrainian border, in the summer of 1914, the Austro-Hungarians and Russians together lost nearly 700,000 men, while in the first four months of 1915, in a failed effort to lift the siege of this fortress, the Austro-Hungarians lost an appalling 800,000 soldiers in the Carpathian mountains, while Russian losses in that campaign, arguably the most hideously futile of the Great War, were not much less.

In mid-1915 the Russians lost a million men as prisoners alone in what they termed The Great Retreat following the Gorlice-Tarnów offensive in early May, while their payback the following summer, the so-called Brusilov Offensive, cost the Austro-Hungarians almost 800,000 men and the Russians something like 1.4 million (casualty counts, particularly in the East, are difficult to determine with precision even a century later).

The Great War was by far the bloodiest conflict in European history to that point. The Gallipoli campaign, for all its horrors, was nothing special in terms of its butcher’s bill or what (little) was achieved. These are the facts. Additionally, The Daily’s Beast‘s claim that Gallipoli was an especially diverse campaign, with soldiers from all over the world, is equal nonsense; presumably the author has never heard of the Salonika campaign, where soldiers from more than a dozen countries, and a couple dozen nationalities, battled for years.

The Daily Beast has embarrassed itself here. I wrote this because I called them out on Twitter about their ridiculous piece twenty-four hours ago, suggesting a correction, and they have done nothing. The Great War centenary is bringing a lot of media coverage, which is a good thing. But we should expect even journalists to have a passing familiarity with what they are writing about.

Woodrow Wilson’s Great Folly

Woodrow Wilson remains a controversial president, a century after he was in office. While many dislike him for domestic policies (his establishing the Federal Reserve and the IRS are still hot topics for some Americans), his foreign policy mistakes were greater still, since they shaped the whole world, not just the United States.

This month we passed the ninety-eighth anniversary of America’s entry into the Great War, on April 6, 1917. From this decision there would be no going back — for the United States or for the world. While some Americans still don’t like America’s role as a major world power, non-interventionists lost that argument a century ago, and we’re all still living with the consequences. America’s entry into World War One caused that epic conflict’s outcome and has repercussions that are still detectable today.

One of the big reasons Wilson took America into that war, despite much reluctance, was a perception that Imperial Germany was a lawless place that threatened a liberal world order. Incidents like the sinking of the British liner Lusitania by a German U-Boat almost exactly a hundred years ago, which killed 198 Americans (among 1,191 who went down with the ship off the Irish coast), cemented certain segments of the American population against the Central Powers.

Yet anti-German sentiment in the neutral United States was far from unanimous, with millions of Americans of German and Irish extraction in particular pointing out that Germany’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare was a response to Britain’s illegal distant blockade of the Central Powers, which was starving Germany and Austria-Hungary into gradual submission, ultimately killing hundreds of thousands of civilians through malnutrition and disease in the process.

However, the propaganda image of the criminal Hun, pushed in America by pro-British media, increasingly stuck, helped by a wave of religious fervor among liberal Protestants that advocated for intervention in the European war as a moral crusade. This religious movement had real impact on many Americans, particularly as the war dragged on endlessly, with the nightmare battles of attrition of 1916, at Verdun and the Somme, killing hundreds of thousands of German, French and British troops for no apparent strategic gain. This religiously inspired progressive vision — their self-confident moralizing in a messianic way would ensure them airtime on FoxNews today — viewed the Great War as a simple matter of good versus evil, and inspired later Wilsonian rhetoric about “keeping the world safe for democracy.”

But in November 1916, Wilson succeeded in gaining reelection to the White House on a peace platform, since at that point he had indeed kept the United States out of the European war, despite period flame-ups of American popular opinion against Germany thanks to more U-Boat sinkings of civilian ships and even terrorist acts in this country.

Yet early in his second term, only a few months later, Wilson would take America to war. In fairness to Wilson, it’s not difficult to see why. Realizing that they were gradually losing the war through economic attrition thanks to British blockade, top generals and admirals in Berlin decided to go for broke in a sustained submarine campaign to force London to the table. This plan never stood a real chance of success, thanks to a critical dearth of submarines, but at the beginning of 1917 it was the last card Germany felt it had to play.

The German leadership assessed that America would enter the war over this renewed U-Boat offensive, but they were nonchalant. In the first place, Berlin considered that America wasn’t really neutral anyway, since its factories and banks were driving the British and French war effort. Additionally, the Americans would need at least a year to raise a real army and get it to the Western Front, which would give the Germans enough time to win the war first.

In an effort to cause trouble for the Americans, the German foreign ministry in a madcap outburst suggested getting Mexico in the war too, with their lost provinces — Americans call this our Southwest — as booty. Inconveniently for Berlin, this secret message was intercepted and decrypted by British naval intelligence which, in a cunning covert action, shared the details with Washington, DC. Outraged, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war — he promised a “war to end all wars” — and he got it on April 6, 1917.

The German assessment that it would take the Americans a year to really get in the war proved accurate. The U.S. Army in recent decades was a small-time constabulary that was expert in down-punching against natives, Mexican bandits, and decadent European has-beens like Spain; it inspired little fear in Germany. The American Expeditionary Force arrived in France in vast numbers by mid-1918, but they were untried and their only major battle experience, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which took place in the last six weeks of fighting on the Western Front, saw a staggering loss of over 120,000 dead and wounded Americans, many lost due to tactical incompetence, in what remains the bloodiest battle in American history.

Yet the mere presence of more than a million American troops in France, no matter how inexperienced, meant that Germany stood no chance of victory any longer, and Berlin knew it. Hence the willingness of Prussian generals to get an armistice in early November 1918, despite the fact that everywhere German forces still stood on foreign soil. In that sense, American intervention in the Great War unquestionably determined the conflict’s outcome.

However, the context of American intervention in the fighting must be examined. The stark reality is that, by early 1918, months before American military might mattered on the battlefield, the Central Powers had more or less won the war. Italy had just been crushed in the famous Caporetto offensive, with Rome staying in the war only thanks to British and French direct assistance, while the Balkan front had ended on terms entirely favorable to Germany and Austria-Hungary. Most importantly, the Bolshevik revolution took Russia out of the war altogether, and by early 1918 the Central Powers were occupying the Baltics and most of Ukraine. This was a victory by any standards.

Only the Western Front was seriously still in play, and there the fighting had been essentially static for years. Without American military participation in France beginning in the summer of 1918, it is difficult to see how the British and French could have managed any major offensive operations in an effort to push back the Germans, who occupied much of France and nearly all of Belgium. Therefore some sort of compromise peace would have had to happen, as both sides were utterly exhausted — militarily, politically, and economically.

What that compromise peace would have looked like is impossible to say with precision, though one suspects that the Germans would have been willing to make some concessions in the West since they were occupying so much territory in the East. Certainly their ailing Habsburg ally by early 1918 was begging the Germans for peace on almost any terms. Yet this did not happen; we know what did, and what the terrible consequences of how the Great War ended would be.

Woodrow Wilson’s intervention in the Great War made any compromise peace utterly impossible, however. He used the righteous rhetoric of the progressive academic he was, even when it was not altogether connected to reality (here comparisons to the current occupant of the White House, another progressive academic with an ideological bent, are unavoidable). Wilson took America into the war as something both more and less than a member of the Allied coalition. Less, in the sense that Wilson did not intend to take orders from the British and French, whom he viewed as imperial powers that were less morally worthy than the United States. More, in that, by possessing a vast economy and unlimited manpower reserves, Wilson could dictate terms to the Allies, and so he did.

Those terms were elaborated in his (in)famous Fourteen Points of January 1918, which fully captured Wilson’s progressive vision of how the world ought to work. Europeans noted that Wilson had no experience of foreign affairs and it showed; the French prime minister found Wilson’s Fourteen Points a bit much, noting that God himself had only ten. But he played along, as did London, since America could now dictate the terms it wanted for Allied victory.

None of Wilson’s Points would have more impact than the tenth, which advocated autonomy for the peoples of Austria-Hungary, which a month later Wilson expanded into full “self-determination.” In other words, Wilson wanted to break up the ancient Habsburg realm. A liberal intellectual who possessed all the fashionable faculty views of a hundred years ago — including very much the “scientific racism” that progressives advocated — Wilson despised the Habsburg Monarchy as backwards in politics and religion and wanted it to simply go away.

While multinational Austria-Hungary had many problems, it was a much more coherent and capable polity than the European Union of today, and none of the Allied powers save America wanted to see it disappear. Some sort of Habsburg realm was seen as a strategic necessity by the British and French, since without that dynasty, Southeastern Europe would fall into chaos, with a dozen ethnic groups fighting amongst themselves. Yet, following Wilson’s lead, the Allies in early 1918 began advocating for the dissolution of Austria-Hungary along ethnic lines, giving material support to exile groups, mainly Czechs, who sought the end of the Habsburg Monarchy.

They achieved that at the end of 1918, thanks to Allied accomplishments on the battlefield, and Europe has been living with the consequences ever since. Back in the mid-19th century the Czech statesman František Palacký stated that if the Austrian Empire “did not exist it would have to be invented,” since the alternatives in that European region were worse. Presciently, Palacký observed that, in the event of Habsburg collapse, Central Europe would fall prey to either a growing Germany or “a universal Russian empire.”

Both happened to Central Europe in the decades after the Great War. The unsatisfactory settlement forced by Wilson guaranteed future problems. The new Czechoslovakia included more Germans than Slovaks, but the tactless Wilson seemed not to care about the real-world consequences of his liberal vision on the region. It did not take long for German nationalists to exploit the legitimate grievances of those left out of the Fourteen Points. Eventually a particularly disgruntled war veteran named Adolf Hitler would emerge to change Europe and unleash another world war to clean up the mess made by the first one.

It’s clear, with a century of hindsight, what a Europe without Wilson and his Fourteen Points would look like. A compromise peace would have allowed the Germans to quickly crush Russia’s nascent Bolshevik thugocracy like a bug, as they planned to do. Without the Bolshevik threat, European politics would have been transformed in positive ways, for without the Communist menace, which was real, with violent Red revolutions in Hungary and Germany in 1919, far-right extremists like Mussolini and Hitler would have enjoyed limited appeal. It’s easy to see the angry Austrian painter wasting his subsequent decades selling postcards on the streets of Vienna or Munich, as he did before the Great War — and not taking over anything more important than his current flophouse.

While Imperial Germany was not a postmodern liberal’s dream, neither was it a totalitarian place — comparisons between the Second and Third Reichs are very flattering to the former — and besides a German-dominated Europe is what we have today anyway, a century later. Moreover, the survival of the Habsburg realm in some fashion would have brought Central and Southeastern Europe a degree of peace it has not enjoyed since before 1914.

All this belongs at the foot of Woodrow Wilson and the United States. While the Europeans caused the First World War, it was American involvement that forced such an unsatisfactory end to that conflict, all but guaranteeing the far worse Second World War. It’s unfair to say that Wilson created terrible things like the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, and the Holocaust, but it’s certainly fair to note, with a century’s worth of hindsight, that Wilson’s terrible errors of 1918 led directly to horrors on a scale none could have imagined. Without Wilson, his Fourteen Points, and America’s fateful intervention in the Great War, our world would likely be a far happier place today. This is something every American, particularly those who advocate military interventions abroad in a casual manner, should contemplate.

P.S. Further exploration of the terrible impacts of Wilson’s animus against the Habsburgs can be found here.

Obama’s Militarization of CIA

One of the standard tropes about the Central Intelligence Agency, and the whole Intelligence Community, in recent years is that CIA has become excessively militarized since 9/11. To meet the needs of the War on Terror, the story goes, Langley ditched conventional espionage and analysis in favor of drones and paramilitary operations that pleased the White House — especially when George W. Bush lived there — at the expense of traditional CIA missions.

Like all enduring myths, there’s more than a little truth to all this. There’s no doubt that, in response to 9/11, CIA’s counterterrorism mission, which was awfully important before the Twin Towers fell (few remember that then-Director George Tenet told the Agency it was “at war” with Bin Laden after Al-Qaida’s 1998 East African embassy bombings), became even more so mid-morning on September 11, 2001. CIA got into the killing business in a serious way, in many places, developing a close-to-seamless relationship between itself, NSA, and the military’s spooky Joint Special Operations Command to hunt down terrorists worldwide.

This represents the most impressive secret killing machine in military history, with lethal snake-eaters guided by real-time, precise intelligence, and one which President Obama especially has not been squeamish about using. This militarization of CIA has led to criticism of the Agency from outsiders, many of whom didn’t like CIA anyway and really don’t like it when it has its own drones and special operators. They have some valid points to make, not least that years of prioritizing the counterterrorism mission has cost the Agency some capabilities in more traditional espionage and analysis, particularly because Langley’s best and brightest, as always, wanted to be where the action is — that’s the path to promotion and secret fame — and eschewed “legacy” missions in favor of killing bad guys in tandem with JSOC. Rising stars have flocked to the Agency’s Counterterrorism Center — led since 2006 by “Roger,” a convert to Islam (he has a prayer rug in his office), who looks like an undertaker but whose dedication to the mission is legendary — since that’s CIA’s pointy spear. Needless missteps that have gotten CIA officers killed thanks to sloppy tradecraft are grist to the mill of “too-much-CT” criticism.

However, it’s easy to overstate all this. CIA has kept on doing all its traditional missions since 9/11. Spies and analysts have been rolling along, doing what they’ve done since the Agency was established in 1947. Outside critics often miss the big picture, as I’ve noted before, and few journalists and academics have much “feel” for how CIA and the whole IC actually operate. It all looks rather different when you’re inside the bubble.

It’s disappointing that hardly any commentators have noted that CIA is currently being taken down a path of real militarization. The major reforms recently proposed by Director John Brennan are causing serious bureaucratic churn out at Langley. Brennan, using the highly successful Counterterrorism Center (CTC) as a model of how to fully integrate case officers and desk-bound analysts, wants to fundamentally transform CIA by creating a series of mission centers that will bring the spooks and geeks together in one big happy intelligence family.

There are many reasons to be skeptical. First, Brennan, a skilled politician who has Obama’s ear, adheres to the view that what ails CIA are “stovepipes” — what cynics term “cylinders of excellence” — that separate the spooks (the Directorate of Operations or DO) and the geeks (the Directorate of Intelligence or DI). Breaking the 1947-era china, then, will fix all this, or so the theory goes. This seems unlikely, given the IC’s spotty history of reorganizations. Moreover, the differences between the DO and the DI, which can create friction, are mainly due to the very different personality types that occupy them. Besides, few care to note that the CTC, Brennan’s model for CIA integration, actually belongs to the DO.

Brennan’s reorganization plan recasts the Agency along the lines of the U.S. military, where the armed services are the force providers but operations are placed in the hands of the joint Combatant Commands. In this concept, for instance, the DO will train up case officers, then send them to mission centers to do their job. This model, which copies how the Pentagon does business, represents a far greater militarization of CIA than anything else since 9/11, or in the Agency’s entire history. Yet hardly any outsiders have noticed this, much less commented on it.

Many spooks are none too happy about Brennan’s reorganization since they believe it will reduce the DO’s ability to control espionage operations, which seems to be a safe assumption, and what the director actually intends. As a sop, the DO got its old name back — it was rebranded as the National Clandestine Service in the post-9/11 reforms, for no particular reason — while the DI will be renamed the Directorate of Analysis. However, the discomfort in spook circles was serious enough that the Deputy Director for Operations, the mighty DDO, announced his retirement rather than preside over changes that many think equal disbanding the DO, de facto.

The outgoing DDO, Frank Archibald — Langley never admitted his true name but it was outed in the media years ago — was a career case officer and a former Marine with extensive experience in covert action and tours with the Special Activities Division, the CIA’s in-house snake-eaters. The paramilitary SAD, which has expanded enormously since 9/11, has been a focus of criticism by outsiders as its relationship with JSOC has grown exceptionally close.

It’s perhaps surprising, then, that Archibald’s replacement as DDO is “Mike” — another former Marine and veteran paramilitary operator whose last job was the chief of SAD. Brennan leapfrogged over several more senior DO officers to elevate “Mike” to the top spy job, so the intent is clear, as the new DDO is known to be a “team player” regarding the nascent reorganization of the Agency.

Recasting CIA along Pentagon lines and putting a hardcore snake-eater in charge of remaking the DO sends a strong message that Brennan, and therefore Obama, think a more military-like Agency is what the country needs. This, to be charitable, is a debatable point, not to mention something that Congress should be discussing.

It doesn’t help that the media is silent about the implications of all this. Like so many things, the voices that waxed hysterically when Bush was said to be militarizing CIA are quieter when Obama does that, and more. This follows the usual pattern in Washington, DC. CIA involvement in extraordinary renditions — the bureaucratic term for kidnapping terrorists abroad — generated massive media attention during Bush’s second term, yet not much since, while hardly anybody cares to note that the policy actually commenced in 1995, under President Clinton, with the abducted terrorist being executed. Like so many things, it seems to be different when Democrats do it.

Based on the IC’s history, it feels safe to predict that Brennan’s far-reaching reorganization will cause years of churn out at Langley, and eventually there will be a re-reorg to undo these deep organizational changes when they turn out to have created more problems than they solved. That do-over will be the task of the next director, and will be handled tactfully, once Brennan has gotten his Medal of Freedom and his book deal. In the meantime, CIA personnel will do their best to complete their mission, as they have done every day for nearly seven decades.


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