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17 March 2016


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William R. Cumming

Helpful analysis so many thanks!


It's been a neat demonstration in the limited use of force to achieve limited political objectives. There's perhaps a kind of 80/20 effect. Further Russian involvement would incur more costs of various sorts for Russia, but the benefits, if any, would flow to Syria or the rest of the world.


Patrick, I have followed your insightful analyses on Russian issues at various websites the past couple of years. It's wonderful to see you posting at SST!

Although this article on the surface might seem OT (with it's complaints about the lack of a "true conservatism" to fight the neocons), one of crucial points made is about the durability of the neocons and their imperialistic ways. It verifies the point of this article that "Washington won't learn."

Will a Trump Victory Actually Dislodge the Neocons? http://www.unz.com/pgottfried/will-a-trump-victory-actually-dislodge-the-neocons/
The neoconservatives’ power and influence do not depend on their willingness to march in lockstep with the GOP. Their power base extends into both parties; and if most neocons are currently identified with the “moderate” wing of the GOP, providing their political ambitions are met and their foreign policy is carried out, other recognizable neocons like William Galston, Kagan’s wife Victoria Nuland, and Ann Applebaum have identified strongly with Democratic administrations. ...

Neoconservatives demand that the government be pro-active in relation to the rest of the world. They and those politicians they train speak of “leading from the front” and place special emphasis on the protection of Israel and continued American intervention in “trouble spots” across the globe.

Neoconservatives have their own characteristic American nationalism, which is based on both energetic involvement in the affairs of other states and calls for further immigration, which now comes mostly from the Third World. ...

Finally, there seems to be a continuing congruence between the liberal internationalism preached by neoconservatives and such architects of America’s foreign policy as the Council on Foreign Relations. ... They are the most out-front among those calling for an aggressive American internationalism; and this has been a dominant stance among American foreign policy elites for at least a century.

Since "an aggressive American internationalism" is so fundamental to the thinking within the FP establishment, members of this establishment cannot seem to grok any other point of view. They can't see that the rest of the nation-state world is more oriented to playing defensively... which could be referred to as "aggressive defensive nationalism" vis-a-vis the US in the case of Russia (militarily) and China (economically).


Russia's ability to analyze the situation and act prudently exposes the large contrasts between its culture and that of contemporary US.

Philosophy is popularly disparaged in the United States. Reading books rather than clickbait internet junk is dismissed as well. In Russia, it's not uncommon to have read the greats, and to discuss them offhand as if they were last night's football. This puts the US at a real disadvantage.

To think abstractly is a skill that must be learned and practiced. Without it, it's quite easy to slip into the combinations of spite, magical thinking, and denial that we call neoconservatism, or responsibility to protect, etc.

The trend toward rhetorical brinksmanship by Kerry, continuing from Bush, is embarrassing and a sign of weakness.

Obama comparing Syria to a superhero movie and ISIS to the Joker is an example of how far things have slipped, either in these people themselves or in their view of the capacity of citizens.

Putin loves and regularly quotes Berdyaev, Solovyev, and Ilyin. Obama summarizes the plot of Batman movies.

Nice post, I appreciated it.

Patrick armstrong

Yeah. I think the West has lost the plot. I'm currently working on a piece provisionally titled "worthless values" about all the tub-thumping on Western values in the 1990s.


No Russian person of real import and of being in the decision making loop will talk to any run of the mill "Western" pundit. Period. No serious person from General Staff (GRU, GOU), FSB or forces commanders' will talk to "Westerners". So, both Europe and US are thus doomed to communicate either with freak-show of Russian "liberal" think-tanks, such as Carnegie BSers headed by Dmitri Trenin who once was a Colonel of some sorts, or with "internal" Russia "specialists" such as all those numerous Simeses, Gvozdevs, Galeottis or Masha Lipmans or Masha Gessens. The field of Russian "studies" in the West is dead. Few honest and objective Western Russia observers merely confirm the rule. Military to Military communications, on the other hand is a somewhat different case.

Michael Droy

Certainly they lost the plot. I can't help thinking what all those people at the NSA, the over militarised Police and the guys responsible for the torture and Drones.
All along they claimed that everything they did was righteous because it defended innocent Americans from Terrorists. And now they discover that the US encouraged Saudi and Turkey to back seriously evil terrorists, and to a large extent both Army and CIA was doing the same.
Somewhere along the line the US stopped fighting terrorists, and paying them, but nobody told the NSA (weren't they listening?)

I think there has been a neat move here. The US poo poohed the Russian coalition and claimed it had a 65 leading country coalition of its own. Finally the US had to join the Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah coalition as a junior partner under the pretext of a "Peace Victory". At which Russia leaves the party....
Right now if it gets anyworse, it will be US boots on the ground.



SST is pleased to have Patrick Armstrong posting on the site. In the interest of full disclosure we should know that Armstrong is Canadian. He mentioned the war in VN as an example of American fecklessness in this piece. My view is that the outcome there was the result of US public pressure as represented in 1975 when the US Congress passed legislation forbiding further assistance of any kind (including supply) to the RVN government. From 1969 to 1973 the US armed forces conducted a phased, carefully planned withdrawal at the direction of the elected government in Washington. An armistice followed that withdrawal and the Christmas bombing campaign of 1972. That lasted for two years until the US Congress oassed the aforementioned law. The communists then attacked and overran South Vietnam. pl


I hope that will be published here also.


Putin is a strategic thinker, Obama is not.


No doubt we all remember that Laputa (La puta) = "The Whore" (in Spanish) - when Dean Swift was writing the Spanish Empire was in its death throes.


I'm no foreign policy expert, but it sure seems like they set limited, concrete goals and achieved most of them in a relatively short amount of time. I wish our foreign policy grandees thought a bit more about using that approach rather than grandiose plans to remake the world.


Putin seems by far the most intellectual of the heads of state that I am aware of. He seems to genuinely enjoy discourse. After he went on air in the Charlie Rose interview he invited Rose to continue the discussion informally over tea, which Rose accepted. That is so different from other politicians who are so concerned about messaging that they quake at the prospect of anything that can take them off their script. It shows some serious intellectual confidence. And if someone questions him unfairly he will demolish them, as this douchebag BBC journalist found out:


Patrick Armstrong



Western journalists can't comprehend Putin's moves in Syria because they're watching chess while thinking of checkers.


They're flummoxed over Putin's approach to the Ukraine issue for the same reason.


Smashing, Patrick! Another satisfying demolishing of the NATO think-tank trope factory.

Fort Russ also posited another possible motive - a unilateral withdrawal now, plainly at Russia's pleasure and under control, takes all the wind out of the Syrian opposition's sails at Geneva. They might otherwise have been able to trumpet triumphantly that they had negotiated a Russian withdrawal, which would buff their street cred immensely. It'd be a lie, but Washington would be quick to confirm that it had actually happened that way, and mock Putin's denials, and the English-speaking world would mostly believe Washington - and, by extension, the Syrian opposition. This way, the military commitment lasted nearly as long and they will not be able to reap any political benefit from its end. Neat.

To paraphrase a comment which appeared at my blog by way of The Guardian; if Putin walked on water, western think tanks would mock him for being unable to swim.


Col. Lang,

what is your opinion of the issue of 'fragging' or 'combat refusals' in the US Army in Vietnam, such as described here:


Was this on any kind of serious scale, such as to affect combat readiness, or a relatively minor matter?

Patrick Armstrong

Let me put in a plug for my site. I've been gradually filling it up with my writings since I retired. http://patrickarmstrong.ca/


In reply to Patrick Armstrong 18 March 2016 at 03:41 AM

Thank you for that duly visited added to my bookmarks and feed - very happy to see you've brought across your Russian sitreps from "Russia: Other Points of View". I was afraid they might have stopped.

All: Armstrong's site "Russia Observer" is well worth visiting. There's a sign-up for email updates on the site or if like me you prefer to use a feed reader or something like Firefox's live bookmarks the feed is here:



Not only the Russian MoD, but intel and MFA people will talk to Western diplomats and military counterparts. Certainly not as frequently as in the 90's when, except for the MoD, Russian decision makers and major advisers talked to their Western counterparts. The problem is getting Western and U.S. decision-makers to take account of the reports of these communications. Too often, the politicians and their advisers stick to their own understandings and eschew what it being communicated.


You completely misread what I wrote. I talked about punditry. Western "main-stream" media, "academe" and such. Obviously Minister of Foreign Affairs talks to Secretary of the State. Putin talks to Obama. But NO, I underscore, no serious person in Russian decision making circuit would talk seriously and beyond platitudes to people from what here, in the US, and in the West in general is called "expert community". Just to give you example, recent situation with Zyuganov who simply refused to speak to US Ambassador to Russia. No one of consequence will talk to Mr. Ariel Cohen from Heritage Foundation, no one with serious credentials will talk to people from Stratfor or with any other "expert". I cannot emphasize enough a tectonic cultural shift in Russia. One of the reasons for tectonic shift is a complete and utter discrediting of this very "expert" community which, with some very rare exceptions, for decades was producing BS which would fit into narrative. US think-tankdom viewed today in Russia as basically a butt of the jokes. I can testify to such attitudes being totally justified. In other words, US public opinion on Russia is being formed by people who are:

1. Utterly incompetent;
2. Pursue agenda which is different from honest informing;
3. Are either "exceptionalists" (or neocons) or plain simple Russophobes.

But here we are opening the new can of worms.


At the centennial of the start of World War I, Chas Freeman spoke on the lessons of diplomacy for 2014, titled "When Diplomacy Fails" -- https://vimeo.com/104138420

"The more fundamental problem for U.S. diplomacy is the moral absolutism inherent in American exceptionalism. Our unique historical experience shapes our approach to our disadvantage, ruling out much of the bargaining and compromise that are central to diplomacy.

In our Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, we demonized the enemy and sought his unconditional surrender, followed by his repentance, reconstruction, and ideological remolding.

The American way of international contention formed by these experiences is uniquely uncompromising.

Our rigidity is reinforced by the mythic cliché of Hitler at Munich. That has come to stand for the overdrawn conclusion that the conciliation of adversaries is invariably not just foolish but immoral and self-defeating. . . .

Americans suppose that diplomacy ends when war begins and does not resume until the enemy lies prostrate before us."

Freeman also observed that the USA does not rely on culturally attuned and trained diplomats to conduct its foreign policy, but on CIA and the military, and ambassadorships are pay-back for campaign contributions.



You appear to write from Canberra? I was in SEA for two one year tours ('68-'69. '72-'73) and two TDYs amounting to seven months between them between the two tours. I was in the field all the time the first tour with some visits to the Saigon area. The second time I was in MACVSOG and STDAT-158 headquarters but spent about half the time in the field. On the TDYs I was altogether in the field evaluating HUMINT operations country-wide. So, I got around a bit. IMO the state of the US armed forces in VN reflected the state of the US as that condition changed and evolved throughout the war. I don't write much about the marines. They are a separate army with their own internal dynamic. They were smart enough to get out of VN early when the opportunity presented itself. By the time I went back in early '72 there were no marines in VN except for joint staffies and a handful of advisers with the RVN Marines. In the US Army the units that had served together in peace time before deployment were very solid, but, Max Thurman, then DCS Personnel at MACV made the decision to re-distribute the people in these units when they arrived in country so that the people would not all rotate home at the same time. This, of course, destroyed much of the units' cohesion. The policy of unit rotation that has been followed since 9/11 has been much better. In those days we had a mixed force of professionals and draftees in the enlisted ranks. The continuing flow of draftees pulled out of US society in the lower economic brackets progressively soured on the war as the years passed and the American people soured on the war, but for the first four or five years they were great, full of fight, sardonically humorous, largely uncomplaining. Their theme expression was "It don't matter. It don't mean nuthin." In music "We gotta get out of this place..." will ring in my head to the end. They killed a hell of a lot of very determined NVA and VC soldiers in nose to nose sustained combat. With regard to "fragging," an officer (or NCO) who acts like an ass, does not take his share of the risks involved, who does not stand up for his people and who has a supercilious air of superiority about him is always at risk in actual combat. Combat soldiers are all armed and have been conditioned by training or experience to kill. Opportunities abound when you are in contact with the enemy. I always thought that I was standing for election yet again when the first shot was fired. Having said that, I would say from my experience and many years of talking to officers who served in VN that the actual incidence of enlisted men making attempts on officers they did not like was very low throughout the war. The same was true of refusal of platoon or company sized units to carry out offensive operations orders. What did happen was that as opposition to the war solidified in the US, units became less and less useful, less and less trustworthy and the junior officers in these units became more and more complicit in avoiding unit responsibilities in the field. By the time I retuned to VN in '72 the three US infantry brigades left in country had a low combat value. Contributing factors to this decline in combat value in '71 and '72 were, the knowledge of the ongoing phased, scheduled withdrawal, the reception that returning soldiers were getting in the US and the incredible lack of foresight shown by the command in VN with regard to unit training. There should have been a program of withdrawing battalions from the line for unit training on a periodic basis. No such program existed and the battalions were left in more or less constant contact with the enemy for the many years of their deployment to VN. In that circumstance standards of unit training declined steadily. In summary, I think the supposed frequency of "fragging" and "combat refusal" is much exaggerated but the phenomenon of a steady decline of the effectiveness of line combat units of the Army has not been studied enough. pl

Babak Makkinejad

Ali Khamenei is another one.


Further to a comment published earlier, which quoted from a talk by Chas Freeman on US failures in diplomacy, Freeman ascribed those failures in part to US not employing culturally aware and diplomatically-educated and trained foreign service officers, instead using ambassadorships as a quid pro quo for campaign contributions.

That's true as far as it goes, but the even more gloomy reality is that US universities and training grounds for those diplomats of the future are under the thumb of the Borg. In a discussion On the Future of Free Speech, moderated by Jeffrey Rosen, Pres. & CEO of the National Constitution Center (a taxpayer funded org.), panelist Stanley Fish said unequivocally that the Constitutional protections of free speech Do Not Apply in academia. Rather, Fish declared, Academic freedom is a function of the peer-review process in which tenured persons and administrators, as was Fish, control what may or may not be successfully researched, published, and taught. http://www.c-span.org/video/?318476-1/free-speech-us

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