April Glaspie, Signalling, and the Baltics

 

Haines-Little-Green-MenYou’ll all remember the story of hapless April Glaspie, often blamed — unfairly, in my view — for the First Gulf War. She was accused of giving Saddam Hussein the very mistaken impression that the United States would remain neutral should he invade Kuwait. The transcripts of the meeting vary in their particulars, but according to The New York Times, this is what she told him:

But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 1960s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi [Chedli Klibi, Secretary General of the Arab League] or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly.

When journalists later confronted her with this transcript, she said, “Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.” As I said, in my view she’s been unfairly scapegoated. In the transcript, she’s clearly referring to his “border disagreement” and reiterating the message American diplomats had given Iraq about that disagreement since the late 1960s. No sane interlocutor could understand her to mean, “We’d be just fine with it if you moved your border to the other side of Kuwait.”

But if you have the benefit of perfect hindsight, you can see that better signalling might have averted a bloody war, one whose consequences the world is still acutely suffering. Had she known he planned to invade Kuwait and what would ultimately ensue from this, she might have said, “If you invade Kuwait, you will perish and your country will face utter destruction and immiseration for generations.” But she didn’t know.

Nonetheless, this incident is usually used as the textbook example of the principle that in matters of war, signalling counts. Another textbook example — and here, I think, the charge is more fair — is Britain’s failure to signal its commitment to the Falklands prior to Argentina’s invasion. No one invades the sovereign territory of a nuclear power unless he believes that territory just isn’t all that important to them. As I wrote in There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher matters:

That the low-simmering Falklands dispute became candescent offers a pointed lesson about the importance of unambiguous signalling as a deterrent to war. Prior to the invasion, the British government appeared to be telegraphing a certain indifference to the islands’ fate. In 1981, facing the severe budgetary constraints imposed by Thatcher’s insistence upon reducing public sector spending, Defense Minister John Nott recommended the withdrawal from the area of the Antarctic supply vessel Endurance, the symbol of Britain’s commitment to the Atlantic. Judging a massive conventional naval conflict unlikely in the coming decades, he also proposed — with Thatcher’s approval — to scrap an aircraft carrier as well as two assault ships, and to reduce by one-third the number of British frigates and destroyers. In the same year, Parliament passed the British Nationality Act, which denied the islanders British citizenship. The measure was directed at another set of islanders who would have preferred to stay British, those of Hong Kong. The unintended consequence of the act’s passage, however, was to suggest that Britain was no more willing to go to war with Argentina than with China. It is fair to fault the Thatcher government for giving signals to the Argentinians that hinted of irresolution — although it is also fair to note, as Thatcher does, that no one expected them to do something quite so crazy. “Of course with the benefit of hindsight, we would always like to have acted differently,” she remarks. “So would the Argentinians.”

It is in light of these examples that I’d like you to consider this news item. Obama downplays Brexit impact at NATO summit, reads the headline:

Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union (EU) dominated Obama’s final NATO summit, which comes at what he called the most critical time for the military alliance since the Cold War.

Obama used the Warsaw summit to issue a clear message to key US allies Brussels and London to resolve their differences amicably.

“No one has an interest in protracted, adversarial negotiations,” he said.

What follows is an exercise in signalling:

“We are not turning our back on NATO,” said Cameron, whose nuclear-armed nation is one of Europe’s biggest contributors to the alliance.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg added that Brexit “will not change UK’s leading position in NATO.”

So far, so good. NATO lives. And the words will be matched with an action or two:

The summit’s centerpiece is a “Readiness Action Plan” to bolster NATO’s nervous eastern flank in the face of a Russia under President Vladimir Putin that the allies now see as more aggressive and unpredictable.

NATO leaders will approve rotating four battalions through Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, up to 4,000 troops in all, as a collective tripwire against fresh Russian adventurism in its old stomping ground.

There are other elements of that plan, but focus on the tripwire. This is necessary because we simply don’t have the conventional military capability to repel a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Russia can now roll into the Baltic capitals within sixty hours. The idea, therefore, is to use our military as human shields. Their job is to die. The presence of our soldiers is meant to suggest that we would have no choice but to escalate to full-blown conflict — and then to the unthinkable — given the public outrage that would ensue if Putin massacred a thousand-odd American servicemen.

So we’re counting on Putin’s rationality. He isn’t so crazy, NATO planners believe, as to attack members of a multinational force that includes two nuclear-armed countries. We believe that we’re signalling, with this gesture, that we’re serious about defending the Baltics.

I don’t know whether our assessment of the deterrent effect this is apt to have on Putin is correct. But as James Kitfeld points out in The Wall Street Journal, Putin has in the past been demonstrably willing to risk direct confrontation between NATO and Russian troops. “In 1999,” he writes, “it was not a small, symbolic tripwire of U.S. troops that Putin was willing to risk confronting, but a NATO peacekeeping force of five brigades and more than 10,000 soldiers.” A convoy of Russian peacekeepers deployed to Kosovo to seize the Slatina airfield. The British general on the ground, Sir Michael Jackson, resisted Wesley Clark’s order to block a runway at Pristina airport against Russian flights into Kosovo with the words, “Sir, I’m not starting World War III for you.” The Russian planes were only prevented from landing after the US persuaded Hungary to deny them permission to overfly the country.

Then, in the summer of 2008, “a small group of NATO forces was in Georgia on an annual training exercise.”

That April, NATO officials announced that Georgia would become a member of the alliance, and Putin had responded by warning that this would force Russia to recognize the independence of the restive Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tensions increased, and in early August those Western troops awoke to the sounds of explosions as Russian forces seized the breakaway provinces. The NATO training units beat such a hasty retreat that some of their vehicles were captured by the Russians, and alliance officials worried that they might become an inadvertent tripwire should the Russians march on the capitol of Tblisi. Fortunately, the Russians held back, although Putin was successful in blocking Georgia’s NATO membership.

Here are some of the things Putin and his intelligence analysts must be considering as they struggle to figure out how serious we really are. First, whatever we say, Brexit does signal a divided Europe. That Cameron has to say, “We are not turning our back on NATO” indicates that its credibility has already been undermined. François Hollande recently said that Russia was a “not a threat,” but a “partner.” Pro-Putin parties are performing well throughout Europe.

The NATO member with the second-largest military force is clearly in no position to defend anything; Turkish military officers recently turned their guns on their own citizens, and 9,000 Turkish officers are now in detention. Italy’s prime minister recently popped up at the St. Petersburg Forum, a conference convened by Putin that had until then been boycotted by European leaders. The German foreign minister criticized a major NATO exercise in Poland last month as provocative “saber-rattling.” And our Commander-in-Chief is the man who infamously drew a red line in Syria but failed to enforce it.

Russian propaganda outlets are boasting that “cracks are beginning to show” in the NATO alliance. Putin is working assiduously to enlarge those cracks. Our tripwire strategy suggests we’re confident that Putin doesn’t believe his own propaganda. I don’t know whether he does.

And now let’s consider how Putin might be interpreting the fact that our presidential race has come down to the author of the failed “reset” policy and Donald Trump. Trump’s response, when asked whether he’d endorse an Article V resolution to defend Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania if “little green men” or Spetsnaz invaded them, was to ask whether they were caught up on their bills. (They are, by the way. And they have lost soldiers honoring their commitment to Article V when we invoked it after September 11.) That these remarks prompted little outrage in the United States — that some of his supporters even applauded — speaks far more loudly than assurances that we’re not turning our back on NATO.

Look at this from Russia’s point of view. Russian officials and their state propaganda organs have suggested, in language almost identical what they said before invading and annexing Crimea, that Moscow will “protect ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltics.” In 2014, Obama went to Estonia and promised to defend it as if it were sovereign American territory. Within 48 hours, Russia stormed across the border and kidnapped an Estonian state security officer.

It isn’t just what Obama does and what Trump says: It’s that Americans clearly don’t object. Russians read our media — our social media included. When public reaction to Trump’s blatherings about NATO is positive, this says something more compelling than anything he said in the first place. Americans may not immediately recollect the origins of the slogan “America First,” but Russian analysts who study America most certainly will. Exchanges like this haven’t just been broadcast all over America, they’ve been broadcast to the entire world:

“He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump said in an interview on Sunday with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”

“Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos responded, in a reference to Crimea, which Putin took from Ukraine in early 2014.

Trump said: “OK — well, he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He takes Crimea.”

Our signalling, to put it mildly, is anything but clear. I’m American; I’m a native English speaker, I’ve studied US policy-making all my life, and I cannot figure out if we’re serious about defending the Baltics. How do we expect Putin to understand we’re serious if even I can’t tell?

We have a lame-duck president who thinks ideas such as “credibility” are part of a stale “Washington playbook.” The GOP, traditionally viewed as the more hawkish party, has been commandeered by a man who obviously knows nothing about the history of the 20th Century, nothing about NATO, nothing about Ukraine or the Baltics, and who has so enthusiastically slobbered over Putin during this campaign — and so completely surrounded himself by Putin allies — that the American media has spent endless hours debating whether he’s some kind of Manchurian candidate.

The problem is that if Russia invades the Baltics or Poland and sets off the tripwire, killing a large number of US military personnel, we will be forced to react dramatically — both because Americans will demand it and because otherwise, every American security guarantee around the globe will immediately be rendered null and void.

And this is exactly how catastrophic wars begin.

There are 35 comments.

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  1. Canadian Cincinnatus Inactive
    Canadian Cincinnatus
    @CanadianCincinnatus

    Good summary Claire.

    As people are captivated by Islamic terror attacks in Europe and America, few are aware of how truly dangerous the situation in Eastern Europe has become. And for no other reason but sloppiness and neglect. For all the dangers terrorism poses, they pale in comparison to the destruction created by a conventional war (let alone a nuclear war).

    For this reason, Donald Trump cannot become President.

    • #1
  2. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Signaling is important if one is seen as credible.  Credibility is a difficult notion, including capacity, popular, media, political and military support, alliance cohesion and the unmeasurable unknowable perception of will.  Putin knows about Obama’s will and a lot about Hillary’s.  They  both present great risks as we have already seen.    He knows nothing about Trump’s.    What Trump says means little, but we’ve seen  he doesn’t take kindly to insults, challenges, criticism.   He may be an ignorant babe in the woods, but he was not his own builder, architect, or engineer, so he is used to listening to knowledgeable people.   What he provided was will and risk taking and that is what a good President provides.  I think Putin and the Chinese, will continue to make their moves sooner rather than later so that Trump is presented with fait accompli.   They will be cautious but almost certainly will probe a Trump presidency  but very cautiously.   The’ll digest what they’ve managed to accomplish under Obama and watch for a while.  Hopefully Trump, unlike Obama, will have adult advisors.

    • #2
  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Canadian Cincinnatus: As people are captivated by Islamic terror attacks in Europe and America, few are aware of how truly dangerous the situation in Eastern Europe has become.

    This is very true.

    • #3
  4. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    It seems to me that part of Trumps popularity in the United States has to do with the average American being tired of overseas adventures.  That includes spending time and money to defend Europe from anything.  “That time and money should be spent at home,” says the Trump supporter.

    The problem of course is that, just like the conflicts in Europe 100 years ago, trouble in Europe affects America in many ways, both direct and indirect.  I doubt highly that Trump will make any deal with Putin that Neville Chamberlain wasn’t able to make with Adolf Hitler.  So where is the Churchill?  Where is the Eisenhower?  Dare I say, where is the Roosevelt?

    “Dare I say?”  Like I’m some ivy league educated weirdo!  That’s what happens when I read @claire!

    • #4
  5. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Canadian Cincinnatus:Good summary Claire.

    As people are captivated by Islamic terror attacks in Europe and America, few are aware of how truly dangerous the situation in Eastern Europe has become. And for no other reason but sloppiness and neglect. For all the dangers terrorism poses, they pale in comparison to the destruction created by a conventional war (let alone a nuclear war).

    For this reason, Donald Trump cannot become President.

    For this reason, Hillary Clinton MUST not become President.  This is the situation she created, remember?

    • #5
  6. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    It was a mistake to extend NATO to the Baltics, “a suburb of St Petersburg” as Gingrich put it. There is a reason why Finland is not in NATO, even though it certainly would choose protection against the Russians: they don’t want to provoke the bear.

    You can thank Madeleine Albright for this, along with her bombing of Serbia campaign which angered Yeltsin so much that it probably ushered Putin into power.

    • #6
  7. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Our signalling, to put it mildly, is anything but clear. I’m American; I’m a native English speaker, I’ve studied US policy-making all my life, and I cannot figure out if we’re serious about defending the Baltics. How do we expect Putin to understand we’re serious if even I can’t tell?

    We aren’t serious about it and that’s perfectly clear: neither Hillary nor Obama would lift a finger to safeguard Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania and Putin knows it.

    The problem lies at the heart of the State department which believes that, deep down, everyone is like them so of course Putin isn’t going to invade NATO members because that would be crazy (i.e. something they’d never do).

    At the heart of all the diplomatic bad calls is the belief that everyone thinks alike and wants the same things – they don’t. Putin, by everything I can see, wants Russia to regain preeminence in world affairs by any means necessary. I won’t comment on how rational that is since I don’t have actual Russian government figures but I think it’s not very rational.

    With cheap U.S. shale gas flooding the world market Russia might not be able to use energy threats against its opponents easily so they’ll probably turn to military force sooner or later. Feckless or compliant leadership, which is apparently demanded by the American people in 2016, guarantees adventurism.

    Given the rise of the anti-EU parties in Europe I doubt if any invasion will be opposed when it does happen.

    • #7
  8. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    A disturbing picture is being presented here on many levels. There isn’t a corner of the world, it seems, that is stable.  Claire, Europe, even under the united banner of the EU, has not been able to control the thugs around it, and they are now distracted with a major refugee influx as well as Islamic terror threats that were not so prevalent only 10 years ago.  Leadership (or lack of) should not depend on one person, or country.  Even in leading the battles against the world’s foes, we’ve made big mistakes.  I agree with I Walton, comment #2 because the conditions we now see across the world will continue, no matter who is president, or what happens to the EU.  The EU has too many internal problems – they don’t seem to be solving them.  We’ve had a political implosion for the same reasons. As you describe, this is when the thug countries make their move – they also contribute to the conditions now occurring, such as Russia’s current role in Syria. How are they helping?  Look at their role in Iran, with China. They have big plans.

    It has to be a 100% united effort with the US and our allies to keep evil in check – we don’t want another world war.  Whoever does win the presidency will be faced with these serious issues, and more, soon enough.  I just hope they put together the best administration to improve Obama’s mess.

    • #8
  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    I Walton: he is used to listening to knowledgeable people.

    So why doesn’t he? Why would he say what he did about, for example, Estonia if he’s being advised by knowledgeable people and listening to them? It’s not a trivial issue. This is not his first week of campaigning. What he said has already made the world less safe. No one knowledgeable (at least, no one who wanted the best for the US and its allies) would have briefed him in a way that would make it seem like a good idea to say what he did about Estonia. Or Crimea. Or Ukraine.

    • #9
  10. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    I Walton: he is used to listening to knowledgeable people.

    So why doesn’t he? Why would he say what he did about, for example, Estonia if he’s being advised by knowledgeable people and listening to them? It’s not a trivial issue. This is not his first week of campaigning. What he said has already made the world less safe. No one knowledgeable (at least, no one who wanted the best for the US and its allies) would have briefed him in a way that would make it seem like a good idea to say what he did about Estonia. Or Crimea. Or Ukraine.

    I agree with this – worrisome.

    • #10
  11. Richard Cook Inactive
    Richard Cook
    @RichardCook

    So:

    On the one (small) hand, we have a man who doesn’t know and/or care about our historical obligations to allies – especially if they are in some sort of double-secret arrears, or perhaps just confused about the “way” in which their historical enemy is “there” inside their sovereign territory.  On the other hand, we have a woman who, while knowledgeable about these historical alliances –  being the most conventional of conventional-wisdom candidates – yet can only be relied upon to bend to the popular will of her donors and/or party, neither of which will brook any form of military intervention regardless of cause (not to mention her being hopelessly compromised by the very threat in question).

    And I suppose the good news is that one of these is to replace the guy who has done nothing to rally his fellow Americans to oppose any of the Russian expansionism we’ve actually seen thus far in Ukraine, while promising to exercise his “flexibility” after his re-election to denude these self-same allies of their critical missile defense systems?

    • #11
  12. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    It seems like a destructive combination of attitudes is coming together in America:

    1. They’re not gonna attack Estonia!
    2. We can’t do anything to defend it!

    The second seems likelier true than the first.

    Then there are a couple of political facts worth mentioning, because of their bearing on the business of signaling intentions:

    1. No civilized country’s lookin’ to increase its military expenditure.
    2. No government wants to advertise war, because there’s no confidence anywhere.
    3. The division in Europe & the carelessness in America are real. There is no agreement on foreign policy in Eastern Europe & everyone knows there are deep reasons to do with the people in each case, on whom the political classes dare not rely.
    4. BREXIT is a hit to the hope that the EU could acquire legitimacy. This was never a wise move, but it is now somewhat dangerous. It’s made it less likely, not more, that anyone’s gonna fight over Estonia. No EU country has been encouraged or coerced by the EU to take its defense more seriously. Rather, the opposite is the case.

    So this would be another war democracy suffers by the reasonable incompetence of its educated classes & the oh, so moral incompetence of its active citizenry. No one can say but that the serious stuff would happen after the war is half-lost.

    Probably, the narrower minds are better focused here–fear might move Russian public opinion; economic catastrophe might afear enough people. Things like this may tide us-

    • #12
  13. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    I Walton: he is used to listening to knowledgeable people.

    So why doesn’t he?

    Not a clue why he says what he says, what’s going on in his mind, or who is advising him or who would advise him.   I do not think that Putin and the Chinese know either, nor do I think they would take risks  based on his wild strange comments.  I’m saying they’ll be cautious after the election but not before. It’s worrisome and will be worrisome to them. But once in power he’d be surrounded by some adults and some professionals, not just his kids and campaign folks.    When Obama got contradictory advice from the professionals he seemed  to fall back on his ideological fellow travelers, or just, as the Clintons, play the short term media angle.  Trump, who knows?  We do know the Clintons and the Democrat party and so do the Russians and the Chinese.

    • #13
  14. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Yes, we know the Clintons – and how much of what was reported back to Obama through Hilary as SOS and John Kerry, was taken seriously? Did they neglect to see the seriousness of what Claire describes? Things won’t change – that much we do know under a Hilary administration. I recall when she did speak out in addressing issues or condemning a situation, it is either after the fact, or in that lecturing tone that neither spoke strength or resolve.  There’s more at stake here than foreign policy – the domestic agenda of the liberals has created a healthcare crisis with private companies bailing, not affordable and less coverage, higher deductibles, race relations have been set back decades, border and terror issues, you know the rest. We’ve moved away from a smaller government, take responsibility for what you do culture.  How could we possibly want to continue that?

    • #14
  15. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    anonymous:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Trump’s response, when asked whether he’d endorse an Article V resolution to defend Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania if “little green men” or Spetsnaz invaded them, was to ask whether they were caught up on their bills. (They are, by the way. And they have lost soldiers honoring their commitment to Article V when we invoked it after September 11.)

    NATO’s official guideline is that members are expected to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. According to 2015 data from the SPIRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Yearbook, among the Baltic states only Estonia at 2% meets this goal. Latvia (1%) and Lithuania (1.1%) are around half the expected figure. By comparison, the U.S. spent 3.3% of GDP on defence.

    Does socialistic leadership and corruption prevalent in Eastern Europe influence that spending ratio?

    • #15
  16. John Park Member
    John Park
    @jpark

    According to J B Kelley, Arabia, The Gulf, and the West, Saddam’s claims on Kuwait were historically baseless. If Glaspie had pushed back on those lines, maybe he wouldn’t have invaded.

    As for Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia (and Taiwan?), Trump’s remarks suggests that he doesn’t think them worth the “bones of a Pomeranian grenadier.” That’s not good in my view, but we’re not in a position to do much more than set tripwires.

    • #16
  17. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    There are other elements of that plan, but focus on the tripwire. This is necessary because we simply don’t have the conventional military capability to repel a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Russia can now roll into the Baltic capitals within sixty hours. The idea, therefore, is to use our military as human shields. Their job is to die. The presence of our soldiers is meant to suggest that we would have no choice but to escalate to full-blown conflict — and then to the unthinkable — given the public outrage that would ensue if Putin massacred a thousand-odd American servicemen.

    So we’re counting on Putin’s rationality. He isn’t so crazy, NATO planners believe, as to attack members of a multinational force that includes two nuclear-armed countries. We believe that we’re signalling, with this gesture, that we’re serious about defending the Baltics.

    I disagree with the text I’ve highlighted above. We are not counting on Putin’s rationality. We are counting on Obama’s credibility as Commander in Chief. Putin must assume that if he smashed into the Baltic states and started blasting our people Obama would act. That is a question of the credible threat that Obama would act. In the first Gulf War, Jimmy Carter had so destroyed our credibility that I suspect no amount of proper signalling would have convinced Saddam Hussein that he was going to be in a world of hurt if he didn’t withdraw. How was Saddam to know that George Herbert Walker Bush was “old school” and when he gave Saddam a “red line” (get out of Kuwait before such and such date) that he meant every word?

    Moving very large amounts of lethal force into proper position to fight a large conflict doesn’t happen overnight. That really should be messaging enough. It is only the relentless drumbeat of appeasement that could possibly lure an enemy into ignoring the “message”.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #17
  18. Canadian Cincinnatus Inactive
    Canadian Cincinnatus
    @CanadianCincinnatus

    NATO’s official guideline is that members are expected to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. According to 2015 data from the SPIRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Yearbook, among the Baltic states only Estonia at 2% meets this goal. Latvia (1%) and Lithuania (1.1%) are around half the expected figure. By comparison, the U.S. spent 3.3% of GDP on defence.

    In addition, among NATO countries that supported the US mission to Afghanistan, Estonia suffered the second highest level of casualties relative to its population. The highest was Canada. (I believe the US was third).

    • #18
  19. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    More than Glaspie, I blame her boss, George H.W. Bush. She was just parroting his line, after all.

    • #19
  20. KC Mulville Inactive
    KC Mulville
    @KCMulville

    Does anyone really believe that Obama, or Hillary, will retaliate against anything that Russia does?  Or China? No.

    On the other hand, retaliation against a nuclear superpower has to be as prudent as it is determined. Do I really believe that Trumo is that prudent? No.

    I recall the dialogue from The Maltese Falcon:

    SPADE:  If you kill me, how are you gonna get the bird?  If I know you can’t afford to kill me, how’ll you scare me into giving it to you?

    GUTMAN:  Sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.

    SPADE:  Yes, that’s…  That’s true.  But none of them are any good unless the threat of death is behind them.  You see what I mean?  If you start something, I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.

    GUTMAN:  That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgement on both sides.  Because, as you know, in the heat of action…  …men are likely to forget where their best interests lie…  …and let their emotions carry them away.

    SPADE: And the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough… …to tie you up, not make you mad enough to bump me off… …against your better judgement.

    Do either of our candidates have that kind of delicate judgment, and play strong enough? No.

    • #20
  21. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:The problem is that if Russia invades the Baltics or Poland and sets off the tripwire, killing a large number of US military personnel, we will be forced to react dramatically — both because Americans will demand it and because otherwise, every American security guarantee around the globe will immediately be rendered null and void.

    Chased out of Iraq.  Chased out of Afghanistan.  Stood by and watched Georgia get dismembered without so much as parking a carrier off the coast.  Stood by, in violation of at least the spirit of a treaty to defend their territorial integrity if we managed to at least obey the letter, as Ukraine was invaded and partitioned.  And those are just our friends.  Shall we list the less-than-likable friendly dictators we’ve abandoned once they were no longer useful to us, starting from Gaddafi and working our way down to Jonas Savimbi, and across to the “Friendly Dictatorships” of Latin America and back to the Montagnards we left to the tender mercies of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese?

    What in hell do you mean “will be rendered null and void.”

    • #21
  22. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    You should calm down some. Things aren’t that bad. Principle doesn’t matter that much; or morality. Things can get better, as they have in all previous crises faced by democracies or regimes with a massive electoral pillar when it comes to consent & legitimacy.

    The turn-around is not all that moral–I think you can tell that very few people see the world or go through their lives in any way compatible with the story you tell, much less the passion it seems to excite in you.

    • #22
  23. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Titus:

    I don’t know if I can generalize or explain.  I’m an army brat.  I grew up with Vietnam vets.  I grew up with people who were in Grenada and Panama -conflicts we actually won, but which no one wants to discuss or remember.  I grew up with people who fought in the First Gulf War.  The people we screwed were the friends of my father.  And while he didn’t talk about it much, his colleagues did, and so did my mother and their wives.  We could have won, we should have won, and if we had no intention of winning, then we never should have made the promises in the first place.  Though I did not personally make the promises that were broken, it was my people who had to look at those we left hanging out to dry as the helicopters left.

    I do not appreciate being lectured by those who made promises they had no intention of keeping about how coming to grips with two decades of elite dishonesty represents nothing more than a failure to properly signal.  If the Foreign Policy Establishment of this country cannot make a promise to win a war and support those we call our friends and keep the stupid promise, then they should stop making those promises.  And if they can’t do that, they should stop blaming the people who have to face the fallout for being ticked about it.

    • #23
  24. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    You can destroy that establishment, scare it senseless or else live with it. The bad situation now coming apart looks to get a lot worse.

    I look around my own country trying to figure out whether slavery’s coming back in a big way with the Russians. American incompetence at the level of international politics & the fecklessness of your ruling class look really different viewed from over here, even though I don’t think America owes me anything.

    The government here does ok by upholding its NATO engagements &, broadly speaking, the alliance, including participation in Afghanistan has worked out fine. Soldiers, the few I know, were really excited; as is the case with such things–there’s a lot of competition–it’s the only opportunity for a career… The people don’t care. They don’t know what’s coming. They don’t want to know. Political leadership is collapsing so far as foreign affairs are concerned. & all the while, a threat looms that obeys no logic of freedom & empire, unless we should think of it as the decadence of American empire. It makes very little sense; it looks almost inevitable.

    I’ve no doubt America would withdraw its soldiers & they wouldn’t take kindly to abandoning the men they’ve trained; I’m sure there are Americans who now have a good opinion of Romanian soldiers they’ve seen–Americans always seem to react that way. But the warrior classes obey; & the political classes invite chaos.

    • #24
  25. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    It’s better to be American, but it’s also more humiliating. I understand that–it just seemed like you were shouting at Miss Berlinski. I’m sure you didn’t mean it to come out that way.

    Your people are worth revering; but they will not get any reverence but from people like you & whatever public forms of honor you can contrive. Overall, the warrior classes are going to face a strange kind of suffering, I fear, sort of like the ignominy at the end of the Vietnam…

    There is trouble with your politics that apparently no one can deal with–there is no one who can tell people what the future might mean, such that it’s a worthwhile enterprise. Foreign affairs in America always presages a collapse of confidence–things are neglected & ideas turn into insanities in foreign affairs first.

    • #25
  26. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    I am yelling at Miss Berlinksi.  Well, I’m trying not to, but she does annoy me.

    “I cannot figure out if we’re serious about defending the Baltics.”

    No.  We’re not.  Democrats never met a foreign treaty they didn’t want to sign -right up until the point they actually have to deliver on their promises and then its “oh, well there’s these mitigating factors and anyway we have domestic issues to deal with that shouldn’t be sidetracked by those pesky foreign affairs.”  And Republicans go along with it in the deluded belief that those without shame can be guilted into performing their duties when the time comes.  And because you can’t fight a war with half the country opposed to it, we will do nothing.

    So if and when Russia invades Estonia, the Democrats are going to say how this isn’t something that really affects Americans, and Republicans are going to lament the broken promises, and once again my people, my friends, my students are going to be left to watch as the people they promised to help get ground under by the Evil Empire.  If by some miracle there is GOP President who commits are troops, the same thing will happen after the next election, except in addition, some of our people will die first.

    And the Foreign Policy Establishment will sit in their salons and sip tea and wax eloquent about how complicated foreign affairs, and oh such tragedy!

    Spare me.

    • #26
  27. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Don’t do it, anyway. Ricochet is a safe space for conservative woe & I think you’d have to get really lucky to throw a rock & not hit someone as woeful as you are. For all that, the Foreign Policy Establishment is not here for you to manfully abuse.

    I don’t know what to say to palliate your anger. As I said, knowing things will get worse is what does it for me. But you should be kinder to Miss Berlinski.

    • #27
  28. BD Member
    BD
    @

    There was a time after the US invasion of Iraq when bad actors were intimidated into good behavior by the threat of US military force.  But the American media systematically destroyed support for the war because success would have helped a political party filled with religious Christians and because they view the US military as a force for evil in the world.

    George W Bush decided he was better off ignoring the various slanders directed at him and the military he commanded, and that was a mistake as well.  Many Americans decided it was not worth it to have a proactive foreign policy if it meant being called mass-murdering war criminals 24/7.

    • #28
  29. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Titus Techera:You should calm down some. Things aren’t that bad. Principle doesn’t matter that much; or morality. Things can get better, as they have in all previous crises faced by democracies or regimes with a massive electoral pillar when it comes to consent & legitimacy.

    The turn-around is not all that moral–I think you can tell that very few people see the world or go through their lives in any way compatible with the story you tell, much less the passion it seems to excite in you.

    I don’t understand this comment Titus? Principle doesn’t matter that much or morality? All civil societies from its political process to its laws and everything in-between are based on these two things.  We’ve witnessed the erosion of both in the last 8 years and we are seeing the results of that erosion play our across the globe, including our own country.

    • #29
  30. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Front Seat Cat:

    Titus Techera:You should calm down some. Things aren’t that bad. Principle doesn’t matter that much; or morality. Things can get better, as they have in all previous crises faced by democracies or regimes with a massive electoral pillar when it comes to consent & legitimacy.

    The turn-around is not all that moral–I think you can tell that very few people see the world or go through their lives in any way compatible with the story you tell, much less the passion it seems to excite in you.

    I don’t understand this comment Titus? Principle doesn’t matter that much or morality? All civil societies from its political process to its laws and everything in-between are based on these two things. We’ve witnessed the erosion of both in the last 8 years and we are seeing the results of that erosion play our across the globe, including our own country.

    I think we’re talking about different things. The man & I were talking foreign policy, not domestic. In foreign affairs, luck matters a lot. America survived the World Wars because it’s in America, not in Europe. Not because of morality or principle. It’s just the luck o’the draw. Britain, to some extent, enjoyed that good luck, but needed to show more prudence & morality because it was in much greater danger. (Of course, need is not have…) Also, it’s possible that FDR & Churchill helped more than morality.

    • #30

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