The View From Olympus: Can the Russians Do What We Cannot?

At the moment, the joint Russian-Syrian-Iranian offensive in Syria appears to be succeeding. That may change. But if Russian intervention does succeed in doing something at which the U.S. has consistently failed–returning an area lost to 4GW to state control–why might that be the case?

The most important reason is strategic. Russia is supporting an established state, not trying to create a state. The Syrian state retains substantial legitimacy. It is strongly supported by virtually all non-Sunni Moslems in Syria and all non-Moslems. Why? Because if the Syrian state disappears, their choices will be conversion, flight, or death. A “democratic, inclusive, pluralistic” Syria can exist only in the minds of the fools who make America’s foreign policy.

I suspect a growing number of Syrian Sunnis would also at least accept, and perhaps welcome, the return of the Syrian sate, even under its current government. Tyranny is preferable to anarchy, and the Assad family’s tyranny is mild compared to that of ISIS. To enable Sunnis who have rebelled to again accept the state, the Syrian government will need to offer them generous terms, i.e., forgive and forget. I suspect Moscow, run by realists, knows this.

Operationally, the Russians have shown they can still design a campaign. By 1943/44, they were as competent at the operational level as the Germans. The U.S. remains as operationally incompetent as it always has been. Its campaign plans in Iraq and Syria were hopelessly warped by Washington’s insistence on democracy. As one Marine battalion commander, recently returned from Afghanistan, said at a Boyd Conference, “Talking to a 14th century Afghan villager about the government in Kabul is like talking to your cat about the back side of the moon. You don’t know what it’s like and he doesn’t care.”

But even with the politics removed, the U.S. military does operational art at the kindergarten level. After the First Gulf War, the U.S. Army preened and said it had shown the Russians it could now do operational art. It looked that way for a couple years, until it came out that the Republican Guard had gotten out of the Kessel largely unscathed. Frank’s “left hook” attack was classic French methodical battle, meaning it was too slow. Schwarzkopf had just one operational decision to make during the whole campaign, to switch the Schwerpunkt to McCaffrey after Frank’s fatal slowness was evident. He failed to make it. In the end, the Iraqis carried out their operational retreat better than the U.S. carried out its operational advance.

Tactically, Russian tactics are easier to learn and more effective than American tactics. We know that from the Army’s National Training Center; the Soviet-model OPFOR was quite open about it when I visited there.

At this remove it is difficult to determine, but Russian tactical air power may also be more effective than American. The main reason is, again, that Russia is supporting an existing state, which offers an effective (by local standards) army with which Russian aircraft can work. The U.S. lacks that in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, except for the Kurds.

There may be another factor at work: Russia doesn’t care much about civilian casualties. In 4GW that is usually disastrous, but the Russian/Syrian offensives we are now witnessing look largely conventional. Strategically, they may be part of a Hama model approach to 4GW, which can work if it is over fast (and Russian tactics are based on speed). Tactically, Russia traditionally uses firepower massively, without regard for collateral damage, which is what they seem to be doing around Aleppo. U.S. airpower, in contrast, is used “surgically”, which means in a war of pinpricks that goes on forever. At the moral level, that may be more disadvantageous than the Hama model, which is brutal but fast.

International opinion, of course, is howling about Russian aircraft pouring it on. Washington would be paralyzed by such howls. Moscow, run by realists, doesn’t give two kopeks for them. How many divisions has “international opinion”?

If, in the end, Russia does succeed where we have failed, what will be the lessons? The main lesson is an old one. The Russian military, devastated by the dissolution of the Russian Empire (the USSR was merely an overlay), started thinking creatively. They have learned quite a bit. The senior levels of the U.S. military think only about money, not war. favicon

6 thoughts on “The View From Olympus: Can the Russians Do What We Cannot?”

  1. Great article. I only wish the Republicrats would bother to pay attention.

    “The U.S. remains as operationally incompetent as it always has been.
    Its campaign plans in Iraq and Syria were hopelessly warped by
    Washington’s insistence on democracy.”

    Reminds me of a comment I made on my Facebook feed this morning:

    “LIBERALS want a small standing army that they can primarily use for “peacekeeping” missions around the world.

    CONSERVATIVES want a large standing army that they can primarily use
    for “nation-building” and “spreading democracy” around the world.

    CIVIC REPUBLICANS want a universal, well-trained militia that minds our
    own business and stays at home unless our vital interests are directly
    threatened, or we are

  2. It’s not true that all Sunnis are against Assad or that the Syrian society cannot be inclusive. It was before the US and its proxies destabilized it. The Syrian army is composed of Sunnis, Alawites and Christians standing united against the discord sowed by the US-Saudi-Turkish-Israeli axis.

  3. The real reason the Russians may be succeeding where the US fails:

    *Ring, Ring*
    Obongo: “Hey Vlad, I need you to lighten up on the ‘moderate’ muslim terrorists…er, freedom fighters, man.”
    Putin: “No.”
    Obongo: “Look, man, these are my fellow muslims and I’l be very angry if you don’t.”
    Putin: “No.”
    Obongo: “I’m trying to fundamentally transform the world so Christians and white people are eliminated and then we’ll, like, have paradise and I expect you to go along even though you’re white!”
    Putin: “No.”
    Obongo: “There will be repercussions, Vlad. I’ll call you a racist! So there!”
    *Click. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr*
    Obongo: “Vlad?”

  4. Yes, the Assad government always had a lot of Sunni support, especially from more educated/secular/middle class types. The war would have been over quickly if the Sunni Arabs were united against Assad.

  5. Well said as usual. A couple of other thoughts:

    1. Has the United States really failed? What if our strategy is to tear down, to deliberately spread chaos and to eliminate rivals for power? Kosovo, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria… the US military excels at breaking things. Perhaps that’s the point. Russia may be better at the operational art, but if sanctions and a flooded market for oil and funding internal fifth colonists causes a collapse, the United States could still ‘win’. I’m not saying that Russia will collapse like Libya etc., but if the pressures intensify who knows…

    2. I still don’t get why nobody talks about Assad’s deliberately created population explosion. His regime banned the sale and possession of birth control, and propagandized that people needed to have six kids each. So the population doubled every 18 years, and when it hit 22 million the water ran out and things fell apart.

    I mean, consider this. Doubling every 18 years. Suppose that the United States had not stirred up trouble?
    2010: 22 million people
    2028: 44 million people
    2046: 88 million people
    2064: 176 million people
    2082: 352 million people
    2100: 704 million people

    Can Syria, a mostly arid plateau the size of Washington State (which has 7 million people and abundant water and soil etc.) using only its existing capital, increase it’s population to 704 million by the end of this century? No it can’t – and it didn’t. What would have stopped the population from growing this large? Not famine of course, but what has already stopped it – chaos, war, poverty, etc.

    I would love to know whether, if the Assad regime survives, he will continue his pro-natalist policies.

    More people always better? I think Syria was a lot stronger with 10 million well-fed and reasonably well-off people than 22 million hungry and desperate people…

  6. From the 4GW perspective the Russians don’t really run much risk when they use maximal firepower, simply because most residents of these areas have already left. Much of the destruction has already occurred.

    On that note, was there any definitive answer to who bombed the medical centers in Azaz? The media floated a “it might be Russians”, but it’s been completely dropped. That would lead me to think that it was the Turks who were responsible, but again the story is no longer part of the news cycle, unlike the US’s strike against the DWB facility in Afganistan.

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