Putin and others are hacking at the Pax Americana which sustains our historically peaceful, prosperous world. They need to be deterred, and we and our allies need to be serious about rebuilding the institutions, especially militaries, which have sustained it.
As the Gormogons’ usual foreign-policy beat writer, Confucius, Œc. Vol.,* should chime in now that events abroad have captured America’s attention again, however ephemerally and, alas, likely inconsequentially. Here’s what some consequences should be and why.
Bad Vlad, that Chekist хуй, has of course de facto annexed the Crimea, despite the fact it’s part of a neighboring country. Russians tend not to believe that land, Ukraine (like their other former imperial possessions), is a real country, rather as if the Conch Republic of Key West were inexplicably given a seat at the United Nations.
Consequently, Russian revanchism is one way Putin plays to the cheap seats, a foreign-political equivalent of shirtless crocodile-punching photo ops. It’s also no doubt deeply satisfying to the former Soviet cadres among the siloviki, the “strongmen” who are the core of Putin’s gangster régime, allowing them to feel they’re rebuilding a great edifice that Gorbachev and Yeltsin carelessly wrecked.
|Bears like ripping stuff up|
Their next steps? Anyone who tells you they know is guessing. Like all gangster governments, they proceed by trial and error, only stopping when they meet resistance. Of course, this leaves democracies, with their preference for peace, at a decided disadvantage, as if the gangsters make gestures towards reason, custom, and international norms, irenic, norm-based polities will resist having to push back in any unpleasant, much less violent way, as Chamberlain and Daladier could tell you. Indeed, many people will be found, now as in 1938, contorting themselves into rationalizing—even justifying—the gangsters’ aggression in order not to have to face the unpleasant reality that they won’t stop until they’re stopped.
Does this mean war with Russia? No, not unless we screw up repeatedly. There are many ways to push back against Putin to deter his adventurism, and one hopes that the administration and NATO will choose as many of them as possible. Here are a handful.
First, make life unpleasant for Putin’s silovik and oligarchal cronies through an expanded Magnitsky Act. Encourage our allies in Europe where significant Russian assets are held to pass similar laws. Restrict their travel. Make their personal finances difficult. Consider occasionally revoking the visas and university admissions of their children.
Second, attack Russia’s lifeblood—petroleum profits. Massively expand the export of U.S. natural gas to our European allies. Stop goofing around with Keystone XL and other oil-and-gas exploration and transport licenses. Encourage our Arab allies (if we have any left) to open the taps. Impoverish the Russian state—and its corporatist cronies—to defang their military and their ability to buy political power.
Third, up military cooperation. Missile defenses should already be on their way back to Poland and the Czech Republic. Bolster NATO’s presence in the Baltics, likely targets for further Russian revanchism. Reach out gingerly behind the scenes to Kazakhstan to see what we can do to help guarantee its integrity. Position more NATO troops forward. Start talking military-to-military with the Turks seriously, probably at the staff level if politics can be back-burnered.
Fourth, up military spending. Stop the sequester. Restart F-22 production, save the A-10, build ships, get a new strategic bomber in the pipeline, kill the F-35 if it won’t be flying soon, staff up the old, unglamorous conventional forces, re-emphasize large-war along with small-war tactics for special operators, and make sure our nuclear forces are operational. Yes, it’s expensive; yes, it’s thankless. No, it shouldn’t be indiscriminate—press those areas of our superiority. The U.S. military is the indispensable pillar holding up our entire peaceful, cooperative world system. Without its deterring venturesome aggressors, not only do we end up poorer and dragged into more, not fewer wars, but parts of the rest of the world will burn. Si vis pacem and all. It’s a cliché because it’s true.
Fifth, reorient military strategy. Since 2001, e’ve spent a lot of blood, treasure, and IQ worrying about small wars and counterinsurgencies. But we’ve also reshaped the military in ways that have made it less capable of fighting medium and large conflicts. This reorientation is also true on the level of strategy. Force people to think about what our options would be in case of a Russian “intervention” in a NATO ally to “protect” a Russian minority, and how to deal more broadly with the violence spawned by and in the Legion of Doom of nasty countries Russia and China are happy to sponsor and defend from pressure from the international-law-favoring powers. It is beyond our ability and interests to fight every fight, and we may have hard choices and see allies abandoned of necessity, but the more strategic preparation, the more we can move early and decisively and in a small way to avert larger catastrophes.
Sixth, tear up any “reset” or “strategic partner” position papers at State and make it clear that we do not see Putin’s government as a friend or potential ally, but a problem to be managed. Emphasize the Volgi’s Fallacy of Foreign-Policy Egocentrism: it’s not all about us. Our words and actions cannot fundamentally reorient Russia’s perception of its own interests. Putin has obviously, at least as long as we’ve been banging on about him on this blog, calculated Russia’s interests as inimical to ours, and that needs to be the fundamental reality of our dealings with him. We are in the business of shifting his calculations of success. If some day, the Russians rise up and install Garry Kasparov as their new president, great. Then we reset. Until then, we’re not going to do better than a cold peace—because that’s what Putin wants.
Seventh, reassess our global position and look for additional allies against a Russia likely to bully more in its “near abroad.” The rapprochement with India that seems to have stalled a bit recently was an excellent step in this direction. China should cast a gimlet eye on Russia, but given the U.S. is identified as its Main Enemy and it wants to keep a hand free for similar imperialist adventures in the Senkakus, Spratlys, maybe Taiwan, &c., the likelihood that they’ll do anything but run interference for Putin at the UN and elsewhere is negligible. In Europe, as always, Germany is a key counterweight to Russia. Merkel shows signs that she might be able to shrug off the ostpolitische temptations that seduce German politicians so frequently—encourage that. In general, use this crisis to rally NATO (even France) out of its torpor and get them spending money on their militaries again (quixotic as that may seem). Also, if we are going to frivilously decommission our A-10s in favor of the Vaporfighter 3000, give them and training to the Finns, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Balts, or Ukrainians.
Last, keep in mind that Putin is not playing a strong hand. Russia today is nowhere near the threat that the Soviet Union was at its height. Yet Putin has played his fairly weak cards well—and we haven’t been playing at all, merely folding and pushing chips over to him. However, what Russia—never as strong or as weak as she looks, as the saying goes—has always been good at is operating by guile. The two tools that Putin has been exceptionally good at using are provocation and black propaganda (i.e., useful lies), as I hashtaged a Tweet the other day in Russian: provokatsiya and dezinformatsiya (провокация, дезинформация). Pay attention. Know what he’s doing. React with all the tools at our disposal—which are more varied and more powerful than most of what he’s got—and we should be able to manage Putin and his ilk, in the hope that down the road some day a more responsible, less viscerally anti-Western, more irenic Russian government comes to power.
Also, much of the above can be applied, with some changes, to our dealings with other would-be regional hegemons. Deter them from adventurism and aggression, and we can, God willing, continue to enjoy the fruits of the Pax Americana, the most pacific world man has ever seen. No one will love us or even thank us for it, but even a cursory glance at history should show that the alternative is not a global chorus of “Kumbaya,” but poverty and war sæculō sæeculorum.
Putin’s probably won the Crimean Not-War; it’s too late in the day and the West was too disorganized. Given Putin’s provoking Georgia into starting a war which allowed Russia to de facto guarantee the independence of Abkhazia and North Ossetia, there should have been no mistaking his ambitions. In America, at least, the messianic Obama haze and the Democrats’ delusional scapegoating of President Bush for all America’s problems abroad caused many to be able to rationalize away or laugh off the reptilian Chekist’s obvious designs on his neighbors. Now, well into Obama’s second term, even Democrats need to realize that Putin’s a swaggering thug, a sauntering threat to peace who looks on them at least as contemptuously as they did their previous president. He believes the international order to be an anti-Russian conspiracy, and he’ll happily attempt to bring it down, as long as he and his buddies can enjoy their astronomical wealth and unfettered power in doing so.
The good news is that, properly motivated and rallied, the international-order powers, even in what may be the Dämmerung des Abendlandes, should be able to pen in Russia until its ability to pose a large military threat collapses in a demographic and economic death spiral. So, like the guy in the movie said, Men of the west, I bid you stand. You have the peace and prosperity of the world in your hands. Don’t drop ’em.
* For those who came in late, Confucius’s day job is as the Gormogons’ Œcumenical Volgi.
Don’t ask impertinent questions like that jackass Adept Lu.