Putin Rolls the Iron Dice

As of this writing (Friday, February 25), the Russian campaign in Ukraine looks like a model of maneuver warfare, a direct follow-on to the Soviet campaign against the Japanese in Manchuria in 1945.  But the year is not 1945, and the results may be an operational victory but a strategic defeat for Russia.

Why is that a likely outcome?  Not because of Western economic sanctions, which Russia has prepared for.  The strategic question for which I suspect the Kremlin has no answer is, once you have taken Ukraine, what do you do with it?  Any government installed in Kiev by Russia will have no legitimacy.  The U.S. just found out in Afghanistan what happens when the foreign troops backing such a government go home.  If Russia keeps substantial forces in Ukraine to buttress its puppet government, those Russian soldiers will be targets for Ukrainian resistance forces.  How will a constant, if low-level stream of Russian casualties play on the home front?

How does Russia get a strategic win out of all this?  By annexing Ukraine?  That also runs into the problem of endless Ukrainian partisan warfare.  It is difficult to see a positive ending for Russia here.

I did not expect President Putin to take the risk of invading Ukraine.  It’s more than a risk, it is a gamble, throwing the iron dice of war and hoping for a win.  As the old saying goes, hope makes a good breakfast but a poor supper.

Why did Putin do it?  My guess – Zeppelin reconnaissance only reveals so much – is that he expected a diplomatic solution.  But NATO, led by Washington, offered him nothing, dismissing Russian security concerns and stressing that Ukraine had every right to join NATO.

Why did the American foreign policy establishment, aka the Blob, take a position that almost forced Russia to go to war?  Maybe the answer is just the Blob’s usual combination of hubris and incompetence.  But it is also possible it wanted Russia to get into what may prove a strategically unwinnable war.  With the rest of the American Establishment, it hates Russia because Russia rejects cultural Marxism, as do most of the former Soviet bloc countries.  It seems they know a thing or two about Marxism and are not so eager to get another dose of it.  In looking at the Blob’s motives, remember that the U.S. has no real interests at stake in Ukraine.  Our involvement is strategically gratuitous.  Ideological motivation, in Washington, not Moscow, may be at least a partial explanation for the unhelpful role the U.S. has played.

On the Russian side, President Putin began with a brilliant move (only former President Trump, among American leaders, acknowledged its brilliance).  By recognizing the independence of Ukraine’s two eastern provinces, he put the Ukrainian government on the horns of a dilemma.  If it accepted the loss of those provinces, it was finished politically.  If Ukraine invaded them, Russia could present its attack on Ukraine as a defensive response.  Russia would have been in a relatively strong position at the moral level of war.  But Putin jumped the gun, with the result that Russia is now universally seen as the aggressor.  There are times when inaction is a form of action, and Mr. Putin did not grasp that this was such a time.

Perhaps the most important question at this point in the conflict is, will it expand to include NATO?  I do not expect NATO to change its position and intervene in Ukraine.  But there are at least two scenarios that lead to NATO involvement in the fighting.  The first is if, in response to Russian moves toward western Ukraine, Poland sends troops in to secure territory that was, between the wars, Polish, including the important city of Lemberg (now Lviv).  The other is similar: if Russia decides to take Moldova en passant, Romania, which also claims Moldova, could intervene.  In both cases, the armed forces of NATO countries would have taken the offensive, so NATO would not be obligated to come to their aid.  But the hawkish mood in Washington might lead it to do so, with incalculable results.

What does this state vs. state war mean for Fourth Generation war theory, and vice versa?  Those who reject the 4GW concept will say it proves their case that Great Power rivalry will continue to determine international affairs.  But breaks between generations of war are not clean.  If they were, today’s U.S. military would still be modeling itself on the Second Generation French Army of the 1930s, a model that went down to defeat in six weeks in 1940 when hit by the Third Generation Wehrmacht.  Institutional change takes time, often too much time for contemporary Great Powers to maintain their positions.

4GW theory makes another point: if Russia fails strategically, there may be serious danger that the Russian state, not just its current government, falls apart.  That was a real possibility during the Yeltsin years, and the reason President Putin is popular in Russia is that he has strengthened the state.  The Blob would see Russia’s disintegration with delight, at least until the implications of a vast, stateless region with nuclear weapons hits home – possibly with a mushroom cloud or two.

As someone who recognizes Russia’s importance in the defense of Christendom, holding as she does its whole right flank from the Black Sea to Vladivostok, I am not delighted by the potential the war in Ukraine holds for a delegitimizing Russian strategic defeat.  But Russia seems to have fallen into the same trap Japan jumped into in the 1930s, the trap of acting out of time.  Japan saw itself as merely doing what the European powers did before World War I, invading other countries and subjecting them to its empire.  But the post-war world was a different place, and what was legitimate in 1880 was not legitimate in 1937.  President Putin’s apparent goal, restoring the Russian Empire, would have been acceptable in the 19th century, maybe in most of the 20th.  But today, it is not, unless it is accomplished peacefully.  Let us pray that the consequences of Russia acting out of time do not engulf us all.

Putin’s Gambit

As of writing this (Tuesday, February 15), Russia has not invaded Ukraine.  I doubt that it will.  Why?  Because Russia has more to gain by not invading than by taking all the risks war entails.

On the surface, that may not seem to be the case.  Russia has spent a great deal of money positioning her armed forces for an invasion.  By not going ahead with it, she might look weak, at least in the eyes of fools.  The neocons and the Blob – the Washington foreign policy establishment – will claim threats of U.S. sanctions forced President Putin to back down, even though he has repeatedly said he has no intention of going to war.

That points to the first benefit to Russia by not attacking: Putin will appear to be a man of his word, while the Blob will have been exposed as an hysterical fraud.  That will not hurt the Blob domestically – it and its neo-con lampreys have been wrong on everything since the end of the Cold War yet remain in power – but the rest of the world will take note.  It will be less likely to react the next time the Blob barks at the bear.

For Russia, the biggest payoff from not invading is to have proven that it can.  The Russian military will have carried out (quite well) a completely convincing mobilization for a conflict in Ukraine.  No one doubts that, should she be forced to do so, Russia can take Kiev in two weeks.  There is no near-term possibility for Ukraine to join NATO, so Russia has no need to act presently.  But everyone now knows what the Russian Army can do.

Meanwhile, the financial cost to Russia of her extensive mobilization is easily repaid by intelligence she has gathered.  Intelligence on what?  On what NATO and especially the U.S. can and cannot see.  The Blob’s panic has led Washington to reveal a great deal of intelligence, which in turn points to sources.  The Russians now have a clear picture of what U.S. intelligence can perceive and, of even greater importance, what it cannot.  Maskirovka – masking or camouflaging planned actions, especially the massing of forces before an offensive – has long been a central Russian principle of war.  Russia – but not the U.S. – knows from what we revealed where her maskirovka worked.  She can do more of what worked while trying to do better elsewhere.

Finally, Russia will have reminded the world of the limits on American military power.  On the Eurasian continent, continental powers are dominant and maritime powers, including the United States, are less important players.  Fortunately, President Biden realized we could do nothing effective and ruled out sending American troops to Ukraine.  But what he did instead, dispatching handfuls of paratroopers to Poland and Germany and a few light armor units to Romania, showed how weak we are on the continent, not how strong.  Due to our shortages of both air and sea lift and the enormous logistics train American units require, all we could contribute to a major continental war is a few speed bumps.

As I have said in previous columns, this whole situation was easy to avoid.  All the U.S. had to do was to assure President Putin, in writing, that the U.S. was and would remain opposed to any changes in NATO’s by-laws.  Those by-laws prohibit any country that has a border dispute with a neighbor from joining NATO.  That would toss the hot potato back in Ukraine’s lap, since ending its border disputes with Russia would mean accepting Russian ownership of Crimea, something no government in Kiev can do.  Problem solved.

On the other side of the ledger, President Putin must know that the course and outcome of wars are never predictable.  Russia could probably get away with slicing off a corner of Ukraine, enough to get a land bridge to Crimea.  But more than that would mean sailing into uncharted waters, waters where the Russian state could run hard aground.

In the end, Russia has more to gain by not invading Ukraine than by going to war.  This is one of the rare situations where the low risk course offers more gain than a high-risk venture.  I suspect President Putin saw it this way from the outset.  He is now positioned well to gain from his gambit, and not just in central Europe.

His Majesty’s Birthday

As I do every year, on this January 27 I phoned my liege lord and reporting senior, Kaiser Wilhelm II, to offer congratulations on his birthday.  I expected to find him in high spirits, thanks to the growing Reichsburger movement in today’s Germany, which recognizes that he was the country’s last legitimate government.  Nor is that all:  Germans are organizing a new, grass-roots movement to put Prussia back on the map.  The Hohenzollerns’ stock is on the rise, and rightly so.

After a few rings, the telephone was answered, not by His Majesty but by Her Majesty, Kaiserin Augusta Victoria.  She was beloved by the German people, and I was delighted to be able to tell her that she still is.  But I still needed to speak to her Willi.

“His Majesty expected your call,” she said, “and would love to speak with you, but right now he is unreachable.  The Reisekaiser is off on a grand tour of the United States, and the crowds welcoming him are so vast and enthusiastic that he cannot predict his schedule.  He requested that you talk with me instead.”

“Well, I am both honored and delighted with the opportunity to do so,” I replied.  “But I must say I’m curious as to why he is receiving such a rapturous reception in my country.  He deserves it, of course, but just over a century ago Americans looked on him with somewhat less favor.”

“Yes, well, they now know what they were told about him and the German Empire were all British lies.  But more than that, they know the dirty little man they elected President, Mr. Wilson, also lied to them.  They did not want to go to war, and they re-elected him because he promised not to, and then in a month after his inauguration he did.  And all those American boys died, and the Spanish flu was brought to America, with America fighting for the wrong side.  I understand the Devil has given Mr. Wilson quite a splendid palace in Hell.  It even has air conditioning!”

“Yes, well, he earned it,” I replied.  “But I think people nowadays would like to hear what you, and all the other good Christian women in Heaven, think about our time.  You represented everything good in women, not just German women but women everywhere.  What do you have to say to us?”

“Well, for me and for all the women here, it is just sad, very sad.  We do not understand why so many women in your time have unsexed themselves.  They want to live the lives of men!  Why?  Do they not understand that women’s work is not only different from mens’ it is more, not less, important?  It is women who pass the culture, our Western, Christian culture, on to the next generation, boys and girls alike, as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, neighbors, and friends.  When women fail to do that duty, it goes undone, because it is not natural to men.  And when it is not done, civilization itself is lost, as you see all around you.  Oh, when we compare our time to yours, we weep.  Why do you think that when the Blessed Virgin appears in your world, she does so weeping?”

“So when your husband said women are for “Kinder, Kuche, und Kirche” –children, the kitchen, and the church – he was not putting them down?”, I asked.

“No, not at all,” the Kaiserin replied.  “Men and women are equal but different.  Up here, that difference is celebrated.  After all, did not the Virgin Mother herself devote her life to her child, her kitchen, and the newly-created church?  What higher calling could we have then hers?”

“So what would your message be to American and German women today,” I asked?

“Just be a woman!” she said.  “But there is something more I would say to some of your women, the black women in America.  The pain you are suffering as your young men shoot and murder each other is something you can stop.  And perhaps only you can stop it.  How?  Refuse to have anything to do with young black men unless they get rid of their guns.  Take a page from 19th century women in the Temperance Movement.  They said, ‘Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine,’ and that convinced many young men to give up their drinking.  Tell your men that it’s us or the guns, you can’t have both.  Organize a pledge campaign, march in the streets, take your sons by their ears to the gun buy-backs.”

“So sometimes women do need to get out of the kitchen, you’re saying?” I asked.

“Yes!  But not by becoming men.  The women who did so much good in the Temperance Movement still dressed like women, had the manners of women, kept their homes clean, and put three good meals on the table each day for their men.  Women’s moral power comes from being women, not pretend men.  And because we use that moral power only when men fail, we are stronger than men.”

“And America’s black women should see Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata?”

“Yes, exactly,” said Her Majesty, laughing.

“Well, it sounds to me as if you should follow his Majesty and visit my country.  Our women need to hear you.”

“Willi said exactly the same thing in his last cable.  He told me the Imperial Zeppelin will be at my disposal, and I look forward to the trip.  He said the President’s daughter, that nice girl Alice Roosevelt, would love to be my hostess.”

“Hmm, Alice Roosevelt? ‘Nice’ was not the adjective usually applied to her.  You, the nicest woman in all of Germany, and she should be an entertaining combination.  Well, thank you, Your Majesty, and please pass my birthday best wishes on to your husband.  And let me close by saying all Germany awaits your return mit Ungeduld.” “Komme gleich,” als die Osterreicher sagen,” she replied with a laugh.  And so she rang off

January 6: The Unasked Question

This column is not another retrospective on the Capitol Hill riot of January 6, 2021.   rather it is a retrospective on the recent retrospective of the original event.

What we saw in that retrospective is what anyone who understands the system would expect:  false claims that the original event was a coup attempt, an Insurgency, even a rebellion (it was just a riot);  that President Trump intended and designed it (he was as surprised as anyone else); that he should have rushed to the Capitol and told his people to stand down (It would have been a good move on his part, but security would never have allowed it); and that only the right would ever do such a thing (Well the left regularly riots, loots and burns in our cities nationwide). The left’s hypocrisy reeks to the heavens.

But the most interesting thing about the retrospective was the question that was never asked, at least not within the Establishment or it’s kept media: why did Americans think they had to physically invade the Capitol in order to be heard?

The answer is that the January 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill was the flip side of the “cancel” coin.  When the Establishment decrees that anyone who voted for President Trump or fails to abase himself before cultural Marxism becomes an “un-person,” those people have only one way to make themselves heard: take to the streets.

To understand the dimensions of this problem, realize that somewhere between a third and a half of all Americans have been “canceled.”  What that means is that from the Establishment’s standpoint they no longer exist. They may not be allowed to speak.  Their interests can have no representation.  They may not be quoted or published.  If their politically incorrect views, speech or writing can be brought to the attention of their employer, that employer must fire them or be canceled himself.  They must be driven from their field and made unemployable.  They may be physically attacked without fear of their attackers being charged with a “hate crime.”  They are political Untermenschen, sub-humans, and if they or their property are subjected to a Krystalnacht by the goons of the left, well, they had it coming.  And the event will not make the papers.

In its impudence, the Establishment, which is wholly owned by cultural Marxism, thinks there will be no blowback for canceling somewhere upwards of 100 million Americans.  Well, on January 6, 2021, there was blowback.  A year later, through their rigged retrospective, they smirked that their kept media wrote the story, so the ordinary Americans who made themselves heard that day are presented as monsters.  The house owns the gaming tables, sucker, so place your bet and lose.

An objective observer would realize there is another America out beyond the Establishment and its rigged media whores.  That America is made up of the worker bees who make the Establishment drones’ lives comfortable.  They see the game that is being played at their expense.  They know they have been declared “unpersons,” that they have no voice, and their interests do not matter.  At a certain point, events will propel them out into the streets across the whole country, not just Capitol Hill.  That is what happens when you tell everyone who voted for Mr. Trump, and millions more who did not vote but reject cultural Marxism, to go f*** themselves.  And that is the message the retrospective on January 6 sent.

Ukraine: The Backstory

American establishment media, which combine historical ignorance with shallow ideology, are presenting Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine as just typical Russian bad boy behavior.  However, there is a backstory to current events, and if we understand that backstory Russia’s actions become a good deal more understandable.

The backstory begins with the Bosnian Annexation Crisis of 1908.  The Russian foriegn minister at that time, Izvolsky, made a deal with his Austrian counterpart, Aehrenthal, that Russia would not object to Austria annexing Bosnia if Austria would similarly not object to Russia taking the straits linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean (both territories were then owned by the Ottoman Empire).  Izvolsky set off for other European capitals to obtain their OK to the deal – something Aehrenthal knew he would not get.  Austria, however, moved quickly to annex Bosnia, leaving Izvolsky looking like a sucker and Russia humiliated.  In 1914, one of the main arguments of the pro-war faction in St. Petersburg was that anything was better than another embarrassment like that of 1908.

Now the backstory moves forward to the late 1980s.  As the Soviet Union careened towards dissolution, the United States assured Gorbachev that if Moscow dissolved the Warsaw Pact, NATO would not expand into the former Pact countries – Poland, Hungary, Rumania, etc.  Then, after the USSR was gone, NATO did exactly that.  When Russia objected and pointed out America’s promise, Washington replied, “You did not get it in writing.”

You think Russia might now have some reason to distrust the promises of both European capitals and the United States?  And why she now demands written promises that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO?  Has anyone in the U.S. State Department ever heard of the Bosnian Annexation Crisis of 1908 and the role it played in starting World War I?

The ignorance and incompetence of the Blob, as the American foriegn policy establishment is now known, is once again setting the world up for disaster.  I am sure Russia does not want to invade Ukraine.  She knows the cost will be high, especially if she bites off more than she can chew and faces an endless guerrilla war in lands she occupies.  But after we lied about expanding NATO eastwards, what choice does Russia have given the humiliation and geo-strategic threat NATO membership for Ukraine would mean for her?

The Ukraine crisis is one of our own making.  The Blob’s combination of hubris – the rest of the world must do as we tell it, or we will send in the U.S. military (and lose)– and Wilsonian idealism, which denies that other powers have legitimate interests, has pushed Russia into a corner.  The Blob neither understands nor cares, asking itself (it only talks to itself) what Russia can do about it.  What Russia can do, and is completing its preparation to do, is have the Russian Army in Kiev in two weeks and reply to the sanctions we threaten by shutting off the gas to Europe and letting NATO freeze in the dark.  It is no accident the Ukrainian crisis is occurring in winter;  President Putin knows Russia’s two best generals have always been General January and General February.

There is a way out of this situation without war.  The White House needs to dump the Wilsonian idealism that prattles, “Ukraine is a sovereign country and can do whatever it likes,” recognize that great powers, us included, have legitimate spheres of interest in their neighborhoods, express our understanding of Russia’s security concerns and promise, in writing, that Ukraine (and Georgia) will not be invited to join NATO.  This should not be a hard promise to give, because NATO’s own rules say that no country with a border dispute can join.  We can maintain peace by giving up nothing.

Will it happen?  The Blob cannot change, because if a member of the Blob lets even the slightest hint of realism show, his career is instantly over.  The top people can overrule the Blob, but those top people, the Secretaries of Defense and State and the President, are currently Winkin’, Blinken, and Nod.  The one potential player in a position to make both Washington and Moscow listen to reason is Berlin.  Let us hope it asks itself, what would Bismarck do?

“Critical Race Theory” is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Rightly, American parents are up in arms over the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” to their children in public schools.  When the left denies this is happening, they are lying.  In fact, the situation is much worse than most parents know.  Public school curricula throughout the land are not just teaching Critical Race Theory, they have been shaped and molded in almost everything they do by Critical Theory, of which Critical Race Theory is only one element.

Some history is helpful here.  What is commonly known as Political Correctness or “Wokeness” is actually cultural Marxism, Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms by a German think tank, the Institute for Social Research, usually called the Frankfurt School.  The Frankfurt School’s goals were the destruction of Western culture, the Christian religion (and all religion) and, starting in the 1950s with Herbert Marcuse, the white race.  One of the tools they developed for attaining these ends is what they called “Critical Theory.”

The term is something of a play on words: the theory is to criticise.  By constant, unremitting criticism of every characteristic of “bourgeois” society – the family, the schools, the churches, different social roles for men and women, distinctions between ethnic groups and races, normative heterosexuality – they sought to delegitimitize all aspects of traditional America and Western societies.

By the late 1940s, Critical Theory was already shaping curricula in teachers’ colleges and college education departments.  Today, it completely controls those places, to the point where if a student who wants to become a public school teacher does not mouth the lies it demands, he cannot graduate.

One of those lies is “Critical Race Theory,” which blames blacks’ problems entirly on white “discrimination.”  Society must be completely remade to eliminate “racism” of all kinds, which is defined as acknowledging what everyone knows, that racial and ethnic differences are real.  Does anyone seriously pretend there is no difference between, say, Swedes and Italians, or Irishmen and Russians?  How many people, looking for a good time on a Saturday night, go to a Russian bar?  But should any student in a college education department say that, he would be doomed.  What Critical Theory demands is endless cant, all the time and about everything.

But, again, Critical Theory does not stop with race.  It lies behind sex education in schools, the goal of which is to make every kind of deviant behavior “normal” while condemning traditional Judeo-Christian morals.  It permeates the teaching of history, where instead of presenting America as an example for the world, it is seen as a criminal enterprise from the start.  It is now influencing math and science, where the very idea of objective truth is denounced as white, male, and “oppressive.”  If a student is black, any answer he gives to a math problem must be accepted.

The members of the Frankfurt School, as early as the 1930s, said that it does not matter whether students in public schools learn any skills or any facts.  All that matters is that they graduate with certain “attitudes.”  In other words, schools are not about transmitting knowledge but are instead Skinner boxes, places where students are psychologically conditioned, like Pavlov’s dogs, to live by ideological lies.  Should they doubt the lies, they have been conditioned to look in the mirror and see “another Hitler.”

The parents who have risen up to demand Critical Race Theory not be taught in their public schools have seen only the tip of the iceberg.  Broader Critical Theory shapes everything public schools teach.  The goal is to produce, through endless conditioning, good little cultural Marxists who will launch an American cultural revolution, like that in Mao’s China, where everything old will be swept away.  And what will succeed it?  The members of the Frankfurt School refused to answer that question.

PS:  If readers have not seen it, I recommend a video documentary on the Frankfurt School, “The History of Political Correctness.

The View from Olympus: The Marine Corps, Continued: An Alternative Approach

In my last column I laid out the reasons why the Marine Corps’ current strategy is trivial.  It focuses on a war with China that is unlikely to happen, and in which the Marine Corps would be only a player, adding a handful of anti-ship missiles to the surplus we already have.  (After the first 48 hours, both sides’ surface warships would be either sunk or in port.)

The question is, can we devise a better alternative?  I think we can, to the advantage of the Marine Corps and the country.

The starting point immediately presents a challenge: the Marine Corps’ strategy must fit within the national strategy, and the national strategy is defective.  It focuses on a war with China that is highly unlikely because both the U.S. and China are nuclear powers.  Any direct engagement of conventional forces would contain a high risk of escalation to nuclear war.  The side losing conventionally would be under immense political pressure to redeem the situation by going nuclear.  Both sides know this, and if an incident between their respective armed forces does occur, they will both be attempting to contain it.  The real story here is that our national strategy is a budget strategy, not a strategy for the outside world.  However, it contains an opportunity for the Marine Corps, one I will address shortly.

The Marine Corps needs a strategy that bows to the war with China nonsense but also looks beyond it.  The brief I would create would go something like this:

The Marine Corps recognizes that war with China is the most dangerous situation America faces, but also that it is unlikely.  Should such a war occur, it will be of critical importance to prevent it escalating to the nuclear level.  To that end, the most powerful but least risky strategy for the United States is a distant blockade of China.  China depends on massive inflows of resources.  The Navy/ Marine Corps team can block the seaborne flow and can do so at distances from China where the Chinese armed forces cannot project power.  That means we can do it without firing a shot — a tremendous advantage in a conflict where preventing escalation will be literally a matter of life and death for both countries.

Within the strategy of a distant blockade that must be enforced with minimal violence, the Marine Corps offers critically important capabilities.  These include:

  • Stopping and boarding ships to inspect their cargoes and papers to determine whether they may pass or not.  Boarding ships is a traditional Marine function, and the Corps’ work to develop non-lethal weapons and tactics can minimize the risk of casualties.
  • Isolating Chinese overseas bases and ports controlled by Chinese companies.  The Navy would blockade such bases and ports from the sea while Marines did so from the land, normally with the consent of the locals but if necessary without it.
  • Establishing local bases for our own ships enforcing the blockade.  Those bases will need protection from their landward sides.
  • Maintaining a “fleet in being” threat to take Hainan island.  Taking Hainan would require direct engagement and could only happen after prolonged fighting had reduced Chinese anti-ship capabilities to a minimal level.  But the loss of Hainan would be such a dire blow to the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy that it could not ignore a Marine Corps prepared and ready to take it.  The threat alone would tie down substantial Chinese forces and also move Beijing toward wanting a quick settlement of the conflict.  (Marines can add more examples of what the Corps can contribute in a conflict that must not escalate.)

At the same time the Marine Corps must be prepared for important roles in a conflict with China, it must also be ready to fight and win wars with non-state enemies around the world.  In the Marine Corps’ view, such conflicts are less dangerous than war with China but more likely.  Climate change, mass migration and state failure will create happy hunting grounds for non-state entities that for a variety of reasons regard the United States as an enemy.  We dare not merely sit and wait for them to strike.

The Marine Corps is the obvious servicer to specialize in containing these “Fourth Generation war” or “non-trinitarian” threats.  Doing so requires strategic mobility, which in turn means a ground force must be married to the sea.  The Marine Corps has a long history of involvement in such conflicts, going back to the sands of Tripoli and the banana wars of the early-to-mid 20th century.  Marines have been working to understand war with non-state opponents and how to win it since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  (The first field manual for 4GW, the K.u.K Austro-Hungarian Marine Corps FMFM-1A, was produced around 2005 by a seminar made up mostly of Marine officers, and Lt. Col. Greg Thiele USMC is the co-author of the Fourth Generation Handbook.  If the Marine Corps wants to pick up these works and use them, we will not object, and I’m confident both the Admiralty in Pola and His Imperial and Royal Majesty Kaiser Karl will give their permission.

Specific Marine Corps capabilities that are necessary for fighting non-state threats include:

  • Raids
  • Punitive expeditions
  • Not relying on airpower, which results in civilian casualties and major destruction of civilian assets, but meeting our enemies eyeball-to-eyeball while protecting the local civilian population.  In both Iraq and Afghanistan over-reliance on air power brought strategic-level negative outcomes.  (Again, I’m sure HQMC can give more examples.)

In conclusion, the Marine Corps can make important contributions in a potential conflict with China, contributions that serve strategic requirements to minimize violence and thus avoid escalation.  At the same time, it can be the nation’s first responder for the type of conflict most likely in the 21st century, conflict with threatening non-state entities.

Any questions?

The View from Olympus: The Marine Corps, Again: Fire/Counterfire.

The October, 2021 Marine Corps Gazette contains a long letter from Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper and Col James K. Van Riper, both USMC Ret., denying the value of the concept of Fourth Generation war and of the broader intellectual framework of the Four Generations of Modern War.  Their timing is perhaps a bit off, since we just saw the Marine Corps, along with the other American armed services and some NATO allies, defeated in a Fourth Generation war in Afghanistan.  But I have known General van Riper for decades and respect him highly, so a reply is in order.

As the Van Ripers’ note, war has an immutable nature, though the conduct of war (they say “character”) changes over time.  Change itself is thus part of war’s nature, and it makes war’s nature dialectical.  One way of war establishes itself for a shorter or longer time as dominant; it is challenged by a new way of war, usually mixed with elements of the old, becomes dominant and the cycle begins anew.  Thesis, antithesis, synthesis; we see it over throughout history.  I call the new syntheses “generations.”  The Van Ripers’ can call them “bananas” if they want to.  But to deny war is dialectical is to deny its nature.

As to Fourth Generation war, the Van Ripers miss its essence.  It is not, as they state, insurgency, nor do 4GW entities win by having superior will.  It is a contest for legitimacy, which makes John Boyd’s moral level of war decisive: people regard as legitimate whatever entity seems most moral to them (their standards of morality may be very different from ours).  The entity that has legitimacy in their eyes is one they are willing to fight for, to the point of becoming suicide bombers (throughout military history, suicide attacks have been rare).  It is the power of 4GW at the moral level that enables physically weak entities like ISIS and the Taliban, who have no tanks, fighters/bombers, artillery, or the other usual measures of combat power, to defeat the U.S. Marine Corps and other state armed forces.  With our massive firepower, we win all the battles, but they win the wars.

The van Ripers argue that:

Many of the characteristics that Lind identifies as central to the fourth generation of war — the rise of non-state actors, decentralization, and the blurring of the lines between combatants and civilians — have dominated wars of past ages.  They are not new to a so-called fourth generation of war.

I agree completely, and I have pointed the same thing out for decades.  The framework I advocate is the four generations of modern war, war beginning with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.  4GW has many similarities to war before the rise of the state.  

The Van Ripers discount the fading states’ legitimacy around the world, but do not seem to understand that even in their own country, a growing number of people question it.  How many Trump voters consider the combination of the Biden Presidency and Democratic control of both Houses of Congress legitimate?  Had the election gone the other way, how many people on the left would accept President Trump as legitimate?  How many did so in his first term?  As I have said and written many times, you do not have to go to the Hindu Kush to fight Fourth Generation war; it is coming to a theater near you.

Finally on the subject of 4GW, the Van Ripers write, “Lind has continued to champion the fourth generation of war ever since, without success, having failed to operationalize it in any meaningful way.”  May I suggest to them the Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook, co-authored by Lt. Col. Greg Thiele, USMC, and myself?  It is based on seminars Lt. Col. Thiele and I led at EWS and thus on the experiences of many Marine captains just back from fourth generation wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Van Ripers complain that I continue to say the Marine Corps has adopted maneuver warfare doctrine only on paper, not in terms of what Marines actually do.  Ever since FMFM 1, Warfighting, was published, Marines of all ranks have said to me, “What the Marine Corps says is great, but it’s not what it does.”  At a conference put on by T&E a few years ago, which I attended, there was unanimity, colonel through staff sergeant, that the Corps is not doing maneuver warfare.  But there is an easy way to settle this: let HQMC order all Marines to read the (now) MCDP 1, Warfighting, then vote on one question:  “In your daily life as a Marine, do you experience what this book says Marines should be doing?”  I’ll wager Cleveland pierogies to Lejeune sand fleas the “no” vote will win it.

I suspect the Van Ripers’ letter was written in response to a request from Headquarters, Marine Corps, and perhaps partially by HQMC, to discredit my critiques of the Corps’ recently adopted strategy.  I am aware many Marines individually think intellectually about war.  But only an institution that checked its brain at the door could come up with a strategy so comically bad as the one now promoted by HQMC.  That strategy is to prepare for a war with China in which Marines will take islands from the Chinese, then mount anti-ship missiles on them to shoot at Chinese warships (some varients include anti-submarine warfare too, presumably with underwater bayonet charges).  To recapitulate what I have said elsewhere, this strategy has three notable deficiencies:

  • First, China is a nuclear power, and nuclear powers do not fight each other in conventional wars because the risk of escalation is too great.  If such a war did occur, the US Navy and Air Force already have many times the number of anti-ship missiles we would need, especially since the Chinese would keep most or all of their surface warships in port.  The Corps’ strategy adds nothing to the defense of our country.
  • What the country does need is a service specialized in Fourth Generation war, because state collapse is the main danger we face.  State collapse brings, among other problems, vast numbers of refugees.  One mission a Fourth Generation focus would give the Marine Corps is returning refugees from the country or region they came from, which may not want to receive them.  We will need the capability,, for places with sea coasts, to make a (possibly opposed) amphibious landing, dump the refugees ashore, and leave quickly.  Punitive expeditions against places that harbor terrorist threats are another logical Marine Coprs mission.  By becoming America’s force of choice for a world of collapsing states, the Marine Corps would give itself a strategy meaningful to national security and to the American public.
  • Finally, by adopting a strategy of “me too” — a few more anti-ship missiles in a war unlikely to happen — the Marine Corps raises the question of its own future.  We still have a Marine Corps because past generations of Marines came up with roles the public and politicians could grasp, were unique to the Marine Corps and clearly met a real national security need.  I do not want to see the Marine Corps disappear.  But if today’s Marine Corps, as an institution, cannot do better than the farce of a strategy HQMC has come up with, its future is in doubt.  Remember, the Corps is no longer inexpensive, and we have a debt crisis in our future.

I thank the Van Rippers for their letter, as it helps bring out facets of Fourth Generation war that need to be addressed.  I am particularly grateful for their citation, as a critique of 4GW, of an article in Parameters from 1993, “elegant Irrelevance: Fourth Generation Warfare,” by Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. That same McKenzie, now a general, is the CINC of Central Command, where he recently presided over our final defeat in a twenty year war against a Fourth Generation entity, the Taliban, and our tail-between-the-legs withdrawal from Kubal.  Ironies are seldom that delicious.

The View from Olympus: The Scheller Affair and Moral Courage

Several weeks ago, a Marine battalion commander at Camp Lejeune, Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, went public in a big way in a video with a demand for accountability at high levels for our disastrous flight from Afghanistan.  The Marine Corps responded as he knew it would, by immediately relieving him of his command, which ended his Marine Career.  There is no bigger sin in the U.S. military bureaucracy than committing truth.  Lt. Col. Sheller, who sacrificed his pension by his initial act, made a second video resigning from the Marine Corps and saying he wanted no benefits from his seventeen years of service.  Both videos have circulated widely on the internet.

What it comes down to is that Lt. Col. Scheller had the moral courage to say what is being said widely in both the Army and the Marine Corps from the ranks of captain to colonel.  But so far, only Lt. Col. Scheller has had the guts to go public with his demand.  Where are the other voices asking for the same?  Do the Marine Corps and the Army put together now have only one officer with moral courage?  So it seems.

From before the dawn of history, courage has been recognized as the most essential virtue of the warrior.  American soldiers and Marines, including their officers, are today noted world-wide for their physical courage.  More than one European officer who was in combat alongside American units has told me that American officers sometimes have too much physical courage, taking unnecessary risks.

That is a high compliment to American officers.  But there is another kind of courage, no less necessary in military officers: moral courage.  As the Scheller Affair demonstrates, it is possible to have both, as Lt. Col. Scheller clearly does.  But a person can also have one without the other.  The fact that only one American officer, to my knowledge, has gone public with a demand for accountability — not just for the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, but for the whole incompetent conduct of the war over a twenty-year period — suggests moral courage is as rare among American officers as physical courage is common.  That is, indeed, my observation over almost fifty years of working with the U.S. armed forces.

Why is that the case?  Because the American military personnel management system penalizes moral courage.  The system’s rule of “up or out,” which requires officers to continually get promoted or leave the service, compels everyone to be a careerist at an early age.  Many young officers find that distasteful, but they know their only choices are to bend to the system or get out.  So those who plan a career, most of them anyway, bend.  In doing so, they get their first lesson in moral cowardice.

More quickly follow, because the promotion process relies on officer fitness reports in which even a small mistake often ends a career.  This teaches a CYA mentality in which safety of career depends on never taking initiative and always following every rule, even when the result will be defeat.  Anyone who objects to a stupid order, process, or procedure, puts his future on the line — and, from my long observation, is often forced out.  Driving out young officers who show strong character and moral courage is so common that if we really wanted to reform our armed services, asking them to come back would be an effective first step — especially if we then used them to replace the careerists.

The personnel system’s war on moral courage breeds inward focus, where gaming the career system and rising in rank replaces getting the results the battlefield demands as officers’ lodestone.  That inward focus in turn means the American armed forces cannot get beyond  Second Generation war, a war of processes for putting firepower on targets.  Third Generation war, also called maneuver warfare (and official USMC doctrine), demands outward focus on the situation, the enemy, and getting the result the situation requires.  That in turn requires moral courage, because it often means acting against rules and orders.  A maneuver warfare military promotes officers who do that and thereby get the necessary result.  Our armed services get rid of them.

And so we lose wars like that in Afghanistan, because a Second Generation military cannot win a Fourth Generation war.

The real meaning of the Scheller Affair is that the American armed forces need lots more Lt. Col. Schellers.  The Marine Corps Commandant has said there will be a full accounting for the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan (although not, so far, for the lost war).  If he’s serious, there is an easy way to show it: refuse Lt. Col. Scheller’s letter of resignation and put him in charge of the investigation.  Does the Commandant have the moral courage to do that?  Or should Lt. Col. Scheller be staying and the Commandant resigning?

Unavailable Options

As I’ve said before and will probably say again, I support President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and President Biden in carrying that decision through.  Our withdrawal should have taken place 60 to 90 days after we first entered, but better late than never.  We could stay one hundred years and Afghanistan would remain what it is.

On the other hand, the conduct of our withdrawal has been a mortifying mess.  Yesterday we lost thirteen American servicemen dead and more wounded, doing what the U.S. military does so well: occupy fixed positions, follow predictable routines and get surprised when an enemy walks through the door we leave wide open.  The military responds, “What other options did we have?  All we hold is the airport, we have to defend that and try to get Americans and Afghan allies out through it.  We have no option other than being sitting ducks.”

In fact, there were options and there should have been more.  The first and most important was at the strategic level.  As soon as the Biden administration decided to follow through with President Trump’s decision to leave, it should have sent a loud, clear message to the Taliban that we will leave only on our own terms.  Those terms should have been, first, a “decent interval” of perhaps a few months before the Taliban took Kabul.  I’m well aware we did not expect the Afghan government and army to collapse as quickly as they did, but that possibility should have been recognized early in our planning.  Quisling regimes seldom last very long after the occupying Power that created them leaves, and Afghans are well practiced at going over to the winning side as soon as one is clear.

Second, we should have told the Taliban our timetable will be determined by us, not by them.  We have the power to do that, and it made little sense for the Taliban to fight us when we were leaving. 

Third, — and this remains an option even after our debacle — we should have offered the Taliban an alliance against ISIS-K.  Unofficially, U.S. forces have already acted in support of Taliban troops fighting ISIS, primarily with intel and air strikes.  ISIS-K is the most dangerous enemy the Taliban faces because the Islam it promotes is more “pure,” which is to say brutal and, in terms of governing a country, unworkable.  An alliance with the Taliban against ISIS-K would serve the interests of both parties, would have given us an orderly and even “friendly” withdrawal and probably would not have left us with thirteen dead and more, I fear, to come.

This strategic option was not recognized by the Biden Administration because the Washington foreign policy elite cannot think in these terms.  Nothing ends the career of one of those tuft-hunters and yes-men faster than being accused of “realism.”  Now our troops and our country pay the price.

If the striped-pants set blew it at the strategic level, the military failed to see much less grab an option at the tactical and possibly operational levels.  Imagine, for a moment, that our six thousand troops in Kabul were not American but rather belonged to the Wehrmacht or the pre-1967 IDF.  Would they have simply sat on an airfield waiting for it to hatch while the Taliban dictated what we could and could not do?  Either one would have taken Kabul from the Taliban in a matter of hours, and, this time bottom-up rather than top down, dictated to them how and when we would leave.

That tactical option, once exercised, would have opened up the possibilities of operational maneuver.  All over urban Afghanistan, young Afghan males are appalled at the prospect of being governed by a bunch of illiterate hicks with bushy beards and AKs.  The Taliban’s victory is shallow: they beat the Afghan army, which had not been paid in months, so most did not fight, but they did not conquer Afghanistan.  Ethnic rivalries are already surfacing, which, added to urban insurrections, could roll the Taliban back.  Suppose our Wehrmacht or IDF forces took Kabul, passed out rifles and RPGs to all the young men who now see their freedom gone and then moved on to retake other Afghan cities the same way and create anti-Taliban militias?  They would still withdraw from Afghanistan, but they would have left behind what we should have left in a post-60 or 90- day withdrawal: a new government in Kabul and an Afghan civil war that would keep the Taliban busy for a long, long time.

Unfortunately, while the Wehrmacht and the IDF had the ability to adapt quickly and sometimes radically to new situations, the U.S. armed forces do not.  They remain stuck in the Second Generation of modern war, which means nothing can be done but through elaborate, time-consuming processes.  They could no more turn our humiliating withdrawal at Taliban sufferance into a victory that they could win the Fourth Generation war in Afghanistan we fought for twenty years.  Until someone with authority figures out that Second Generation armed forces are useful only for parades and air shows, and demands real military reform, we will continue to get our butts kicked.  And, as in this case, both the civilian and the military leadership, if we can call it that, will be to blame.