Sitzkrieg?

Several People have inquired why I have not written a column for TR in some time.  Let me assure them I am in good health and face no lack of material as our world speeds towards destruction.  The reason I have not written is that the TR website is being wholly revised and much improved.  That work should be done soon, and once it is I will fire more barrages at my usual target, folly.  I think readers will find the revisions to the website worth the wait.  

Meanwhile, the two wars the United States is involved in, those in Ukraine and in the Gaza strip, seem caught in strategic Sitzkrieg.  In the former, Russia grinds slowly forward in a war of attrition Ukraine is doomed to lose.  In Gaza, Israel digs itself ever-deeper into the Fourth Generation war trap in which a state defeats itself.  But this seeming strategic stability is deceptive.  Below the surface lurk factors that portend upheavals.

In Ukraine, NATO must soon face the fact that Kiev is losing and will continue to lose unless it can create a war of maneuver.  It had its chance to do that in the summer of 2023 and blew it at the operational level by duplicating Operation Barbarossa; it launched three divergent thrusts, which is to say there was no Schwerpunkt.  No Schwerpunkt means no decisive result, which is what Ukraine got.

Kiev’s defeat need not shatter world peace.  But NATO’s response to defeat in Ukraine may do so.  Panic is already showing its head in Paris, where French President Macron is suggesting NATO might send in troops to fight Russia directly.  Berlin says no, but the traffic-light coalition government is weak and can be pushed around.  London is in a belligerent mood and Warsaw is always eager to launch a cavalry charge against Russian tanks.  The decisive voice will be Washington’s.  That is not good news, because the Dead Inca has no idea what he’s doing and his advisors will be terrified of the charge of “losing Ukraine” in an election year.  Can NATO just swallow hard and say, “We lost?”  If not, the alternative is escalation in a war against nuclear power.

In Gaza, Israel has destroyed itself at the moral level of war, which is what states usually do against non-state opponents.  Martin van Creveld’s “power of weakness” is triumphing again.  Hamas will emerge from the war physically diminished but not destroyed, while most of the world sees it as “the good guys” because the massacres on October 7 have been overshadowed by Israel’s destruction of Gaza.  Hamas will rebuild quickly, and not only in Gaza.  Recruits and money will flow to it in a veritable Niagara.

The threat of a wider war lies to Israel’s north, not its south.  While Hezbollah’s operations have been restrained, they have nonetheless driven 80,000 Israelis from their homes, along with tens of thousands of Lebanese who have fled Israeli airstrikes.  The latter don’t matter strategically, but the former do because Netanyahu needs their votes.  As always, he will put himself above his country’s interests.  That suggests he is likely to launch a ground invasion of Lebanon, which Hezbollah apparently is anticipating and ready for.  Hezbollah is much stronger than Hamas, and recent events suggest Iran will also be forced to get involved directly. 

If Israel is able to degrade Hamas but not destroy it while an Israeli invasion of Lebanon does not go well (it didn’t last time) and Iran is sending presents to Tel Aviv, what does a panicky Netanyahu do?  Don’t rule out his pushing the nuclear button.  That might destroy Iran’s nuclear program, and maybe southern Lebanon as well.  But it would leave Israel a pariah in a world where all bets are off.

The current strategic stability is an illusion.  Wars move in fits and starts, and Sitzkrieg tends to be followed by wild swings and dramatic breakthroughs.  The fact that gold has risen about $500 an ounce in a few months says I am not the only one seeing danger ahead.

The Big Picture

It is natural for wars to draw observers into ever-more detailed studies of their events and potential lessons from them.  But the result can be an instinct for the capillaries that leaves war’s larger issues neglected.  I think that is happening now with the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.  If we stand back away from the details and look at the big picture from an American perspective, what do we see?

We see this country taking potentially fatal risks that Washington seems unaware of.  The U.S. is indirectly involved in two wars, those in Ukraine and Gaza.  In both cases, one of the players has nuclear weapons, Russia in Ukraine and Israel in Gaza.  At the same time, we are directly involved in two possible wars, a renewed war in Korea and a direct confrontation with China over Taiwan.  Again, two of the potential participants are nuclear powers, North Korea and China.  In effect, the U.S. is playing two games of Russian roulette and daring other countries to join us in two additional games.  What is the chance that in one of those four games our luck doesn’t hold and we blow our brains out?  Higher than anyone in the Blob, our foreign policy establishment, seems to realize.

To put this in perspective, imagine what will happen if a single nuclear weapon is used in any conflict.  The world economy is already balanced on a knife edge.  Everybody knows a world-wide debt and financial crisis is coming.  The use in war of just one nuclear bomb could easily trigger that event.  Credit would dry up overnight, international trade would cease and the domestic economies of many countries would plunge into deep depressions.  Such a world economic crisis would in turn bring political chaos in its wake.  Establishment parties and politicians would be swept away (not entirely a bad thing) and states themselves would collapse, creating new stateless regions with all the dysfunction and disorder that implies.  Fourth Generation war would spread like Canadian wildfires.

Why does this country face four conflicts or potential conflicts involving nuclear powers?  A big part of the answer is the hubris and insularity of the Blob.  But it also brings to mind an observation John Boyd often made.  He said Washington is home to ten thousand analysts and no synthesizers.  We spend billions of dollars to gain information on the micro level but virtually nothing to look at the macro picture.  At present, that macro picture should frighten us into reducing commitments abroad, especially those that could push us into a nuclear exchange.  But the only prominent political voice urging that course is President Trump.  As usual, in the valley of the blind the one-eyed man is hated.  

Prudence, that highest of conservative political virtues, counsels us to draw back while we still can.  Once Communism fell in Europe, there was only one reason for NATO to continue, namely bringing Russia into what would have become a northern hemisphere alliance.  Russian President Putin said in his interview with Tucker Carlson that Russia had asked about joining but was rebuffed.  Now, we should tell Europe that it is fully capable of defending itself and we’re going home.  In the war over Gaza, we should tell Netanyahu that if he uses nuclear weapons (Iran is the obvious potential target) we will cut off all support for Israel.  With regard to Taiwan, we should attempt to make a deal with China where that island rejoins mainland China but no PLA or National Police are stationed there so Taiwan’s domestic liberties are maintained.  And President Trump, once re-elected, should attempt to restore the relations we had with North Korea after his first summit with Kim Jong-un (the neocon John Bolton sabotaged the second summit).  That would logically lead to a peace treaty with North Korea and a withdrawal of American troops from the South.

Together, these steps would lead to a more secure America, more secure because it would have fewer foreign commitments that could lead to war with a nuclear power (or, the case of Israel, tied to a nuclear power).  If that leads to mass unemployment within the Blob, well, isn’t that a shame.

His Majesty’s Birthday

As regular readers know, every year I telephone my reporting senior, Kaiser Wilhelm II, on his birthday, January 27, to offer my best wishes.  Such readers also know that His Majesty likes to surprise me.  Well, he did.  When I got out of bed the morning of the 23rd, I found out why: a naval Zeppelin, L-70, was hovering about twenty feet above my chimney.  Luckily, there were no sparks.  

I knew that meant I was on my way to Berlin.  I grabbed my seabag and went outside, where the airship had lowered its observation car for me to board.  I was quickly on my way, enjoying every minute of the smooth and silent air travel only an airship, not an airplane, can offer.

We landed at the Potsdam Zeppelinhafen the morning of the 26th, where a Fahnenjunker Kleinschmidt was waiting for me with an extra horse.  “They’re at the toy fort,” he told me as we cantered off.  “They?” I inquired.  Grinning, the Herr Fahnenjunker said, “you are about to meet some old friends.”

The toy fort is on the grounds of the Neues Palais, His Majesty’s preferred residence.  “Toy” is something of a misnomer.  It was a place for young Hohenzollern princes to play, but it was extensive and realistic enough so experiments with new battlefield tactics and techniques were carried out there.  As I rode up it was clear something along those lines was being conducted.

Dismounting, I saluted His Majesty, offering my felicitations for the morrow, and lit up in delight as I surveyed the rest of the party.  Bismarck was there, to whom I bowed very deeply, along with Moltke and, from a later time than ours, Field Marshal von Manstein.  And two old friends indeed, Max Hoffman and Hermann Balck.  I hadn’t seen Balck since we had dinner in the 1970s, and Max I knew only in spirit, but I also knew that with them present we would rock and roll.

“So, does this stranger have the password?,” His Majesty inquired, grinning.  “Gott strafe England,” I replied.  “That always works,” Max said.  “And with you here, so does ‘Wurst und Moselwein’, nicht wahr?”, I threw back.  “Immer,” said His Majesty. “But we also have some serious business to transact.  The problem before us is, how can Ukraine win its war with Russia.  Field Marshal von Manstein was about to present his analytics.”

I again saluted the Field Marshal, who began with the failure of the Ukrainian summer counter-offensive.  “In effect, the Ukrainian operation plan was Barbarossa writ small.  It had no Schwerpunkt.  The Ukrainians launched three simultaneous, non-mutually-supporting thrusts.  They led with armor, which, as we learned the hard way, always costs heavily in destroyed tanks.  By the way, their tanks, including the German Leopards, proved no more survivable than their Russian equivalents.  They then tried to lead with infantry, which, with infiltration tactics, could have worked, but it did not.  I’m not sure why.”

“I suspect their heavy losses in infantry left them without the high-quality troops attack divisions require,” His Majesty observed.  “It is difficult to do infiltration tactics with Landsturm.  But the question is not why their summer offensive failed, but whether we can come up with an operational plan that will work.  Any Ideas?”

Max spoke up.  “They need to break through at one end of the Russian lines, north or south, then roll up between the Russian front and the Russian border.  That will either bag or reduce to a rabble the whole Russian force in the east.  Having done that, they should offer to negotiate.  Russia has to get something still, certainly Crimea, but Ukraine would keep the Don basin with its industry.”

“They can’t break through,” Black observed.  “They have to do an end run.”

“How?” Moltke asked, as always a man of few words.

Now Manstein showed his stuff.  “Ukraine should mass its forces in the north, as if to break through there.  Then, it launches into Belarus with the whole force.  The Schwerpunkt should drive north, then east, end-running the Russian northern line and driving down between the Russian forces and the border, just as Herr General Hoffman suggests.  But that’s not all.  Two other thrusts, both small in size, should be detached from the main force.  One should drive at Minsk, broadcasting the message that its only target is Lukashenko and asking Belarussian forces to come over.  That will pose not just an operational but a strategic threat to Russia just as she needs her operational reserves inside Ukraine.  The second Nebenpunkt should be a special operation to sieve the missiles with nuclear warheads Russia has positioned in Belarus.  If Ukraine grabs those, Russia loses the ace up her sleeve, the threat to go nuclear.  Russia will face one operational and two strategic disasters, without sufficient forces to deal with more than one, and become paralyzed by the choice.”

We stood around somewhat stunned.  For a while, no one said anything.  Then Bismark spoke.  “Brilliant operational art, Herr Feldmarschall”.  You deserve the oak leaves.  But what none of you idiots have considered is the strategic picture!”

The Kaiser rolled his eyes.  “Now I know why my grandfather said, ‘Sometimes it is a hard thing, being Kaiser under Bismarck.” But please, Otto, enlighten us.”

“Why is Germany allied with Ukraine when Russia is far more important to us?  Yes, we need the grain of Ukraine.  But Russia offers vastly more: grain, oil and gas, strategic position, a large if low quality army, a decent navy and air force, the list is endless,” Bismarck went on.  “I have no love for the “Laws of History,” but there does seem to be a general rule that when Germany and Russia are allied, both do well, and when they are opposed, both do badly.  Is there really any need to discuss what the outcomes of the World Wars would have been if Russia had joined the Central Powers in a new Dreikaiserbund or the Axis?  Max?  Moltke?  Anybody?

“There would have been no Second World War, or probably First, in that case,” the Kaiser said.  “Peace is what I wanted, and peace is what Germany and Europe would have had.  Anyway, it has grown late, and we face a big party tomorrow in the Grotto – both Nicky and my friend Franz Ferdinand are coming, as are you, my American friend – and I promised Max more sausages and Mosel wine than even he can eat and drink.  Between now and then, we all have things to ponder, especially what you, dear Otto, have told us.  We Germans always want to subordinate the strategic to the operational, then wonder why it all blows up in our face.  Hopefully, someday we will learn not to do that.  May that day come soon.”

Attention, Marines: The NEW Maneuver Warfare Handbook is Now Available

In 1985, I published the Maneuver Warfare Handbook.  It is still in print almost forty years later and it has been translated into more than ten other languages, most recently in Russian and Ukrainian.  I now have the pleasure of announcing, not its replacement, but a supplement: The New Maneuver Warfare Handbook.

Why a new book when the old one is still useful?  Because in the years since 1985 we have learned a few things – enough that a new book is necessary.  Again, the new book does not replace the old, but augments it.  To “get” maneuver warfare in all you need to read both books (the older one first).

Like the old book, the new book is addressed directly to the Marines.  But the new book talks directly to the Army as well, especially to its Special Operations Forces.  The forward is written by an Army general, Jim Dubik, who I have known since he was a major.  And following the core of the book are appendices that speak to the Army, several written by LTG Dubik.

As in the original book, the new one has a section devoted to looking at key maneuver warfare concepts in some detail.  This section parallels Marine Colonel Mike Wyly’s tactical problems in the earlier book.  Addressed once again to small unit leaders, the concepts studied are Surfaces and Gaps, Mission Tactics, the Main Effort or Schwerpunkt, the Objective, and the Reserve.  The discussions include tactical exercises.  

The new book goes beyond the old in several respects.  I added a discussion of maneuver warfare culture, without which an armed service can talk about maneuver warfare but it can’t do it.  An army or Marine Corps that can do it is focused outward, on the situation, the enemy, and the result the situation requires, not inward on rules, processes, procedures, even orders.  The reader can decide for himself where the U.S. armed services stand today in this respect.

The new book also devotes more space to training, not only to what is trained but how it is trained.  The memorize / spit back / brain dump method is useless.  Here, the new book offers a discussion by retired Army Major Don Vandergriff, who has written by far the best material on how to train under the heading of Outcomes Based Learning.  One key to OBL is that procedures and techniques are taught in a tactical context, not in a stand-alone manner.

A target of this new material is all U.S. Special Operations Forces.  Why?  Because for the most part, they do the fighting.  The bulk of our armed services are seldom if ever employed.  While Washington pretends to focus on war with Russia or China, in reality nuclear-armed countries do not fight conventional wars with each other.  The real fighting is with non-state entities such as Hamas, al Qaeda and the Shabab.  That fighting is done by our SOF.  The new Handbook will be useful to them.

A final point:  the new book is a lot less expensive than the old one.  So get it, read it, and apply it to your own situation.  America needs to start winning.

Israel Falls into the 4GW Trap

As of this writing, Israeli forces have penetrated Gaza city and are on their way to taking northern Gaza.  Tactically, they are succeeding, as state forces usually do against 4GW opponents.  In the process, they are losing at the moral level, also as state forces usually do.  The result promises to be that, at the strategic level, Israel will defeat itself.  That is the 4GW trap.

Martin van Creveld calls this the power of weakness.  Physically, Hamas is far weaker than Israel.  It has no fighter jets, no tanks, and little artillery beyond mortars and bottle rockets.  Israel has all of these things and it is using them freely.  This turns Hamas into David and Israel into Goliath.  

Van Creveld illustrates the 4GW trap with a parable.  If a child is behaving horribly in public, an adult can get away with giving him one good wack.  But if the adult tries to administer a prolonged beating to the child, onlookers are soon horrified.  They intervene, the police are called, and the man is arrested.  He has committed a crime.

The horror generated by Hamas’s brutal massacre on October 7 gave Israel the initial moral advantage.  But the news cycle moves on.  Now, what the world is seeing day after day is Palestinian civilians, including women and children, blown apart by Israeli bombing, dragged lifeless from buildings Israel has collapsed, deprived of food, water, and medicine, with no safe place to flee to and winter soon coming on.  Israel has become the adult beating up a helpless child.

At present, Israel seems to be saying, so what?  What are you going to do about it?  No Arab state will fight Israel because it cannot win; Israel has nuclear weapons.  Hezbollah is so far staying out, in part because Hamas is Sunni and Hezbolla is Shiite and also because it has a lot to lose; its vast rocket force is a “fleet in being” that protects it only so long as it is not used.  Iran is fighting through its proxies, which is both safer and more effective because it cannot do more on its own than strike Israel with some V-2s.

The moral level of war operates more slowly, but also more powerfully.  Israel is alienating not just governments but ordinary people all over the world.  Israel is a state that can only survive with external support.  It needs money from overseas, weapons from other countries, and markets for its products.  If external support stops, it is just a matter of time before Israel goes under.  That is the ultimate defeat at the strategic level.

The moral level also intersects the operational level.  With extensive American help, Israel has been fundamentally changing its relations to its Arab neighbors.  It has ententes with Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, and Morocco.  It was on the cusp of a similar arrangement with Saudi Arabia.  The development of normal relations with these countries gives Israel new markets, new allies (discreetly) against Iran and also against Islamic 4GW entities, and legitimacy in the eyes of the world.  Now, the moral defeat Israel is inflicting on itself in Gaza puts all these relationships in danger.  Those countries’ governments face pressure that grows daily as their populations get angrier with Israel.  At some point, their own legitimacy will be at stake.  Either they will have to return to a policy of hostility toward Israel or risk overthrow.  Either outcome defeats Israel at the operational level, thus feeding her destruction through isolation at the strategic level.

The strategy for Israel I outlined in my last column was designed specifically to avoid moral defeat.  So long as Israel refuses to take the moral level of war into account, regardless of what is happening on or under the ground in Gaza, Hamas is winning.

A Strategy for Israel

Shortly after World War I, a British officer said, “Thank God that’s over.  Now we can get back to real soldiering.”  That expresses the U.S. armed forces’ attitude towards Fourth Generation war, war waged by entities other than the states, following our withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Hamas’s deadly raid on Israel, the worst defeat Israel has suffered since the early days of the 1973 war, has put 4GW back front-and-center, whether state armed forces like it or not.

As I write this, Israel has painted itself into a strategic corner.  Part of the reason is that Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s premier, set a strategic goal very difficult to attain, namely the complete destruction of Hamas.  That would appear to require an Israeli invasion of Gaza, a fight Hamas is prepared for, will welcome, and will result in high Israeli as well as Gaza civilian casualties.

Another cause of Israel’s strategic predicament is inherent in Fourth Generation war: the moral balance is tilting in favor of the people currently under attack, i.e., those who live in Gaza.

Hamas’s initial raid on Israel was a typical action by a 4GW entity.  It bore no resemblance to an invasion by a state army.  Rather, it looked very much like an Indian raid on an American frontier settlement.  The savages massacred a lot of people, took others hostage, set buildings on fire, then either died fighting or ran for home, hostages in tow.  One of my ancestors, Hannah Dustin, was taken in just such a raid on the Massachusett’s frontier in the 1690s.  Not only did she escape her captors, she killed several Indians in the process.  We saw similar heroic actions by civilians in some of the kibbutzim Hamas overran.

That original massacre gave Israel the moral high ground.  But as is usual in 4GW, as the fighting drags on and Israel pits its high-tech, well-equipped armed forces against low-tech, comparatively poorly equipped Hamas fighters, and the bombing kills more and mo4re Gaza civilians, the moral balance is shifting against Israel.  Soon, the international pressure on Israel to agree to a cease-fire will become overwhelming. 

Meanwhile, the Israeli economy has ceased to function because so many reservists have been mobilized.  Those mobilized soldiers now sit around as Isael’s government tries to come up with a strategy to use them.

Since Israel wants a strategy, let me propose one, a strategy that allows Israel to avoid defeat on the moral level and does not require an invasion of Gaza:

First, Israel re-imposes a complete blockade on Gaze.  Nothing comes in, not food, not water, not medicine, nothing

Second, Israel simultaneously establishes a humanitarian corridor out of Gaza through which anyone can leave.  As they do so, fighting-age males, let’s say males between the ages of 14 and 50, are separated from the women, children, old people, etc.  The latter go to the West Bank, where Israel allows other Arab and Moslem states to provide the PLO with plenty of money to take care of them.  The fighting age males go to POW camps set up in the Negev, where they remain until Israel’s war with Hamas ends.

Third, after all the Gazans who want out have gotten out, Israel wipes out Hamas.  It starts by attacking from the sea, establishing beachheads, then pumping sweater into Hamas’s tunnels under Gaza.  At the same time, it works from the north to south, destroying every structure standing in Gaza, artillery and bombing, not by sending Israeli soldiers into a fight on the ground.  In the end, everything in Gaza is flattened, the same way the Romans flattened Jerusalem, with not a stone left standing on stone.  Israel keeps the blockade on for however long it takes to starve out remaining Hamas fighters.  The remains of Gaza are then bulldozed into the sea.

Israel then announces it will release the fighting-age males held in Negev to any country that will take them, in whatever number they want, from one to all of them.  This puts the moral onus for their continuing captivity on other Arab and Moslem countries rather than on Israel.

What about the hostages of Hamas?  As in past hostage situations, Israel, working through third parties such as Qatar, will offer Palestinian prisoners it holds in trade for the hostages’ safe return.  If Hamas starts executing hostages, it will defeat itself on the moral level of war – war’s most powerful level.

Netanyahu’s coalition partners will oppose such a strategy because they want to drive all Arabs out of the West Bank, not bring more Arabs into it.  But if Netanyahu has a political future after the intelligence failure that left the back door open to Hamas, it will be based on a credible claim might be politically powerful enough that he would no longer require his current coalition partners.

For Israel, the time to adopt and execute a strategy is running out.  The continued bombing of Gaza and resulting civilian casualties are turning the moral balance against Israel.  As the Italian statesman Cavour said, you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them.

Three Ways to Counter Cultural Marxism

Since the 1960s cultural Marxism, aka “Political Correctness” or “wokeism,” has been on the offensive, trying to destroy every aspect of our traditional, Judeo-Christian, Western culture.  Conservatives have largely responded with a passive defense, which merely slows, not stops, the cultural Marxists.  If we want to win, we have to strike back.  Here are three ways to do so:

  • Allow high school students to graduate with two diplomas, one for high school and the other a B.A.  Since most college humanities and social sciences departments offer little beyond conditioning in cultural Marxism, the students would lose nothing by not actually attending those courses.  To receive their B.A. along with their high school diploma, they would have to take a few extra courses in high school.  But they would no longer have to shell out $100,000 plus to get a degree without which they cannot get a decent job.

This would be an enormously popular program because it would save young people from needing loans  to pay for college, loans that burden them in some cases for decades.  At the same time, it would destroy the cultural Marxists’ base in the universities.

Some school districts are already offering an Associates Degree that comes along with a high school diploma, again for taking some extra courses.  This would merely extend that to include a B.A.  A B.S. would still require attending college, because in science and math students actually learn things in college.  Few of the professors who teach in those departments are cultural Marxists, and the few who are would either have to keep their ideology out of the classroom or find no students signing up for their courses.

  • Require all colleges and universities that receive federal funds, including research funding, to adopt a strong statement guaranteeing their students freedom of thought and expression.  The University of Chicago’s statement should serve as a model, perhaps with the addition of a clause defining “diversity” as including diversity of viewpoints, which the cultural Marxists’ definition does not.  With their research funds at stake, all faculty from the hard science departments would come to the faculty meetings they usually avoid and vote the required statement in.

President Trump announced this proposal in his last year in office and started its trek through the federal rulemaking process.  I am sure Mr. Biden killed it on his first day in office, but if Mr. Trump wins in 2024, it should come back.  Again, this would be a direct hit on the cultural Marxists’ control of the universities.  The only way they can peddle their bilge is by threatening students and other faculty who dissent from it.

  • Add “political beliefs” to the list of forbidden discriminations in federal civil rights law.  As in the universities, the cultural Marxists who run companies – and there are many, often in senior positions – can only cram their ideology down their employees’ throats by threatening the jobs and careers of anyone who dissents.  This would put an end to that.  The legislation would allow entities that openly label themselves as political to be exempt.  But how many companies making, say, light beer, would want to label themselves as political?

I am sure others can come up with ideas beyond these, ideas that would enable conservatives to take the offensive against cultural Marxism.  What conservatives need is leaders with guts to do that.

Breakthrough or Break-In?

The papers are full of reports that the Ukrainians have broken through on their southern front, opening the way for an armored offensive on the operational level.  Such an offensive could seek either to destroy the Russian army by getting between it and the Russian border, or go for a terrain objective such as the coast of the Sea of Azov.  From a maneuver warfare perspective the former is preferable, although I think the latter is more likely.  Aiming for the Sea of Azov is much easier logistically; rolling out behind the whole Russian army leaves Ukraine’s logistics train following in trace with whatever Russian units hold together on its left flank.

However, I question the reports of a Ukrainian breakthrough.  Much more likely is a break-in.  In other words, Ukrainian forces have succeeded in entering the Russian defensive lines – a break-in – but they still face more Russian lines ahead of them.  While that is a step toward opening the door to an operational offensive, it does not do so of itself.

Ukraine learned the hard way a lesson the Germans learned early in World War II: don’t try to make a breakthrough by charging headlong with tanks.  Neither Germany then nor Ukraine now could afford the tank losses, and the effort usually fails anyway.  Use infantry to make the breakthrough and then send in your armored units to turn a tactical success into an operational victory.  I think it likely the Ukrainians are employing the infantry infiltration tactics developed by the German Army in World War I; they still work against an enemy who employs a static, linear defense.

As I noted in previous columns, the Russians’ cordon defense is inherently weak.  It is likely to fail unless it is supported by a strong tactical and operational reserve, with the latter made up of the defender’s best armored units.  I do not know what the Russian Army has left to make up those reserves, but the outcome on the ground depends largely on the answer.

Meanwhile, on the strategic level both the U.S. and NATO are sleepwalking.  There is no apparent effort to address the central threat to the western powers, namely a nuclear war.  If Russia is defeated on the ground, she has no choice but to go nuclear; she cannot afford to lose this war.  If Putin refuses to escalate (the correct decision), he will be replaced by someone who will.  From this perspective, every Ukrainian victory moves us closer to the worst possible outcome, nuclear weapons landing on American and/or European cities.  That in turn can lead to a state collapse in Russia, Europe, and the U.S.

What the West needs most right now is an effort to end the fighting and begin talking with Moscow about peace terms.  That initiative will not come from the Blob, the Washington foreign policy establishment, where any departure from neo-con/neo-lib groupthink is a career ender.  The only potential sources in NATO for a push to end the war are France and Germany.  As usual, Germany’s worst enemy is her own foreign office, which is terrified of crossing Washington.  The French rather enjoy doing that, so Paris is the only hope.  God save us.

The Eastern Front

No one familiar with the war in the east 1941-45 can fail to see parallels between events then and now.  The similarities are obvious.  Ukraine is smaller than Russia, its army is smaller, and it has less, although better equipment.  The Ukrainian army seems to be following the German way of war, maneuver warfare, or at least trying to.  It does appear to have developed the culture maneuver warfare requires, where results are more important than methods, decision-making is decentralized, initiative is desired more than obedience and it all rests on self rather than imposed discipline.  I find it interesting that a Slavic army seems able to do this; could the Russian army do the same?

At present it certainly cannot.  By 1944, perhaps 1943, the Red Army was equal to the Germans on the operational level.  It was never so on the tactical level, where the culture was strictly top-down.  Today, the Russians seem to have lost their ability on the operational level without improving on the tactical level.  I recall a conversation I had in the 1970s with John Ericson, the author of Road to Stalingrad and Road to Berlin.  He said to me, “Do you want to understand today’s Russian army?  Ask yourself what it was like under Tsar Nicholas I.”

All this would seem to leave Ukraine with good odds of victory.  But as we move from the board situation to specifics, the balance changes.  Having largely failed on the offensive, the Russian army has gone over to the defensive.  Clausewitz argues that the defensive is stronger than the offensive.  More, we know from military history that armies which are ineffective ont he offensive often fight much better on the defensive.  That was true of the Russians facing Army Group South in 1941, and may be true again today.  The Russians appear to have adopted a cordon defense, which is inherently weak, but they have built it in depth.  Much will depend on whether they have strong, mobile operational reserves that can counter-attack and encircle Ukrainian forces that break through; the dissolution of the Wagner Group may have hurt the Russians badly in this respect.

From the Ukrainian perspective, they face one problem that greatly hampered the Wehrmacht and another the Germans did not face.  The first is that they have a hodgepodge of equipment drawn from anywhere and everywhere, or produced in an endless variety of models, each with different parts.  The result is a logistics nightmare.  That in turn feeds into Ukraine’s second problem, one not facing the Wehrmacht: insufficient operational depth.

As I have said before, for Ukraine to win it needs to turn the conflict from a war of attrition to a war of maneuver.  But that requires deep thrusts that encircle masses of Russians.  They don’t have the operational depth to do that because they cannot cross the border into Russia itself.  So they face a Russian defense that has operational depth without that depth being available to the attacker.

I can see only one way around this: break through the Russian defenses at one end and then turn parallel to them in their rear and drive to their other end.  This would be classic German Durchbruch und Aufrollen at the operational level.  With major Ukrainian forces in their rear, the Russian linear defenses might collapse in a rout. 

But here is where Ukraine’s dog’s breakfast of equipment becomes a serious problem.  Through the Aufrollen aspect of the campaign, Ukraine’s supply line would be slow and vulnerable.  It would also have to carry ammunition and spare parts for a wide variety of tanks, air defense units, artillery, etc., meaning it would be enormous.  If Russia’s cordon defense collapses, the Ukrainian supply line could be shortened.  But if it doesn’t, Ukraine’s army could be trapped behind enemy lines without ammunition and spare parts.  That would mean the end of Ukraine.