We maintain and continue this committee of correspondence in memory of our founder and mentor, Colonel W. Patrick Lang. The image to the right is Marcus, a character from William S. Burroughs’s “The Coming of the Purple Better One.” Colonel Lang would refer to Marcus sometimes in clever jest, sometimes in biting social commentary and sometimes simply because he liked Marcus. May everyone who corresponds here do so in a similar spirit.

Posted in Administration | 12 Comments

AVAILABLE now FROM iUniverse, Amazon and Barnes and Noble in hard cover, soft cover, and digital.

The Portable Pat Lang

Essential Writings on History, War, Religion and Strategy

From the Introduction:

“In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Col. Lang created his own blog which to this day still serves as a committee of correspondence for a large network of former military and intelligence officers, diplomats, and scholars of international affairs.

Since its launch in 2005, the Turcopolier website has had over 40 million unique visits.

Since leaving the government, he has also authored five books, including a Civil War espionage trilogy, a memoir of his years in government service, and a primer on human intelligence.

This present volume—his sixth book—is an anthology of some of his most important writings. The content speaks for itself.  So have at it.”

Posted in My books | 4 Comments

The Butcher of Tehran is Dead

The death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has prompted many Iranians in Iran and abroad to celebrate with fireworks and drinks. (Image: Social Media)

People in Iran are celebrating the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi with fireworks, memes and jokes. But why this outburst of joy and celebration over the death of a national leader? And is the celebration just about Raisi’s death or is it indicative of a fightback by Iranians long repressed by a theocratic state?

“I think this is the only crash in history where everyone is worried if someone survived,” Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad wrote on X, after reports of that a helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi crashed. “Happy World Helicopter Day!” the Iranian activist wrote.

While hundreds gathered in the main squares of Tehran and Mashhad to pray for the safety of President Ebrahim Raisi following reports of the helicopter crash, scores of videos and reports emerged showing Iranians celebrating the news. Many Iranians and Iranian expatriates on social media were also seen joking and sharing memes of the crash.

Comment: Remember those massive crowds across Iran only a few short months ago protesting the brutality of the Raisi regime? I do. And I remember Raisi’s reaction to those protests. Pray for his soul? Sure. Offer condolences? Not a chance.

On a less emotional note, here’s a more sober article on Raisi’s death and what may happen next.


Posted in Iran, TTG | 51 Comments

Harper on the Treaty of Westphalia

I have a problem with the liberal democracy/authoritarian divide. From the time of our founding as a Constitutional Republic, the United States maintained a special close relationship with Russia. And Russia was always authoritarian. Catherine the Great and even Peter the Great were described appropriately as “benevolent despots,” and throughout Russian history, democratic or even social democratic systems have been momentary aberations. But Catherine the Great organized the League of Armed Neutrality, without which the American Revolution might have failed. Alexander II Czar of Russia freed the serfs a year before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and then he sent the Russian fleet to New York and San Francisco to prevent France and Britain from entering the war on the side of the Confederacy. Those kinds of relations continued well into the 20th century, including when Lenin’s New Economic Policy was modeled on River Rouge Plant, Muscle Shoals, and other US achievements that were replicated in Russia with American engineers, industrialists, etc. The Baldwin Locomotive Company of Philadelphia built all the locomotives for the Trans-Siberian Railroad. There are many similar examples. And they apply to China as well as Russia. Look at the history of American missionaries in China. And Nixon and Kissinger’s geopolitical play to bring China into the Western alliance system to further isolate the Soviets. I believe it played an underappreciated role in the end of the Cold War.

At no time was US-Russian cooperation predicated on Russia changing its form of authoritarian rule, whether Czarist or Bolshevik. 

John Quincy Adams, who was our first Ambassador to Russia, defined US foreign policy: We do not go abroad seeking dragons to slay. We lead by example, not by interventionism or hegemonism.

We do not go abroad seeking to force countries with different cultures, histories, customs, etc. to embrace our system–or else.

I believe we need to think outside the box of civilized versus barbarians, democrats versus authoritarians. We steadfastly oppose outside forces trying to change our system and way of life, and we do likewise. Do we have common interests that can be explored? Is there an international set of rules that we can all subscribe to? In the late 1990s it was fashionable to say we are in a post-Westphalian world, and that fever died down after some people thought through the implications. Obama tried to impose the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism. The trial of that view was Libya and look what a mess that created. Westphalia should not be abandoned, but revived under modern conditions, which means extending what was primarily a Western concept on a global scale with a broader input into how to recast a secure global environment.

Comment: Our Harper definitely adds a voice of reason to this debate. My only real disagreement has to do with the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism. It’s a doctrine that can be misused. It can also be poorly executed as in Libya, although I think our mistake there was leaving them alone too soon. An integral step in our UW doctrine is the demobilization phase. Neither we nor any other NATO state did a damned thing about demobilizing the various Libyan militias or integrating them into a new Libyan military.

One could say Viet Nam instituted a humanitarian intervention by invading Cambodia and deposing Pol Pot in 1979. I would. Someone should have conducted a humanitarian intervention in Rwanda to stop that genocide. We intervened in Iraq to stop ISIS at the behest of Baghdad. I’m glad we did that. We also intervened to stop ISIS wiping out the Rojava Kurds at Kobanî. I’m glad we stayed with them after that although our failure to prepare for a demobilization or integration into the SAA is another failure in my opinion. In short, I don’t see the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism as a failed doctrine. The alternative is a doctrine of isolationism and the devil take the hindmost.


Posted in Harper, Policy, Politics | 59 Comments

A truck tries to penetrate into the Quantico Marine Corps Base

A photo of the truck sent anonymously to WMAL talk show host Vince Coglianese

By Robert Willmann

Back on Friday, 3 May 2024, a box truck pulled up to the gate of the Quantico Marine Corps Base on Fuller Road in Virginia. The two men in the cab of the truck claimed they were making a delivery for Amazon, the Internet department store. But their presentation did not jibe with available information, so they were directed to go to a side area. They instead tried to drive onto the base, but were stopped by roadblocks. This incident was kept hidden from the general public, until a lady working for a small Virginia news outlet serving northern Virginia named the Potomac Local News wrote a story about it on 10 May 2024–

Four days later, on 14 May, Todd Bensman picked up on it, and quoted the reporter for the Potomac Local News–

Bensman worked from 2009 to 2018 as an analyst at the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), which is the state law enforcement agency. The Texas Rangers are the investigatory section of the DPS. He then went to work for a foundation or non-profit organization, the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vince Coglianese, a talk show host at WMAL Radio in Washington DC, had Bensman on his program to say something about the incident at Quantico–

The Potomac Local News reporter, Kelly Sienkowski, wrote a followup article yesterday, on 16 May. The Immigration Service (ICE) has dummied-up and is stonewalling, saying only that–

“On May 3, 2024, Marine Corps Base Quantico’s Criminal Investigations Division arrested two Jordanian noncitizens for trespassing.  Marine Corps Base authorities notified the ICE Eastern Regional Office (ERO) in Washington, D.C., of the apprehensions.  Deportation officers from ERO Washington, D.C.’s Criminal Apprehension Program responded and arrested both individuals without incident.  Both individuals will remain in ERO custody pending removal proceedings.”

However, the reporter, Ms. Sienkowski, writes–

“Multiple sources have stated at least one individual had recently crossed the border and entered the U.S.. At least one is reportedly on the FBI’s Terrorism Watch List. Both Quantico and ICE have not acknowledged requests to confirm this information.”

Who are these illegal immigrants from Jordan? Was anything or anyone else in the truck? Or was it just hauling air around.

Posted in Current Affairs, government, Intelligence, Jordan, Middle East, Policy | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Drone Warfare… What is to be done?

Soldiers assigned to 10th Special Forces Group’s (Airborne) Resource Management Staff (S8) host a UAV capabilities display at the group headquarters area on August 7, 2020. The purpose of this display was to show 10th Group their in-house drone capabilities and their applications, especially in the battlefield and the effects drones can bring to a team.

Note: This is a Twitter thread by Trent Telenko. Although he first published these comments last November, he felt it necessary to refer to this thread again in the last few days. I share his alarm. In my opinion, we are far behind both Ukraine and Russia in this field.

The simultaneous Ukraine fielding of new jammers of Russian FPV drones (below) and new longer ranged, cheap, EW hardened FPV’s with a ~30 km range operating in the same electromagnetic battlespace over Krynky to cover ferry operations is a demonstration of its EW mastery.

On November 5, 300 Russian FPV drones were landed or destroyed by Ukrainian forces. Quote from an AFU Marine officer about the situation on the left bank of Kherson: The AFU is less interested in real estate than it is in destroying the enemies logistics and ability to fight

Ukraine fielded a number of powerful river mobile drone jammers while at the same time deploying slightly larger FPV drones with different radio operating frequencies that the jammers don’t cover. What Ukraine did here was what the US manual JP 3-51, Joint Doctrine for Electronic Warfare, calls “Frequency Deconfliction.”** Or the AFU are simply opening windows in time and space where their jammers don’t affect Ukrainian FPV, or grenade dropping drones, frequencies.

Ukraine’s coordination of it’s “Talkers” (jamming community), it’s “Listeners” (Signals intercept community), it’s combat arms and it’s military procurement organizations to deliver what is looking like battle winning performance to cross the Dnipro is something the US Military would be very hard pressed to duplicate. Particularly given the US Army’s complete organizational annihilation of its electronic warfare jamming community, its ‘talkers.’ in the 2000’s.

The lack of ‘talkers’ with the tools to exercise with for 15 years has left it far, far behind Ukraine of November 2023 in terms of systems level coordination of procurements with electronic deconfliction needs on the battlefield. Especially since the US Army’s Military Intelligence “listeners” hate jamming talkers just for existing turf reasons.

Add in decades of a dead ground jamming equipment industrial base, more byzantine than the Byzantine’s DoD procurement laws, rules, and regulations, plus yet more inter-service turf issues of who exactly owns drones there really isn’t a chance the US Military can get this right before combat failure, particularly if it involved the leadership of the US Army.

Just a cursory evaluation of Ukrainian FPV drone jammer numbers suggests a modern US Army division needs two EW battalions in order to function on a modern battlefield. Electronic Warfare for the US Army is set to become the combat engineers of the electromagnetic spectrum. You can’t move on the battlefield without them. The interrelation of drones and EW means we will likely see a combined drone/EW branch eating most of the functions of fire support, aviation and intelligence into a new combat arms branch/union.

Attack helicopters will be replaced by drones in most scenarios, that much is clear. Drones have become the main low tactical level Recce platform. Attack helicopters will need standoff weapons for non-line of sight fire support, and drones to scout ahead and provide over the hill targeting.

Electronic Warfare Officers (EWO) will need to be embedded into every drone, mech, artillery, infantry, etc brigade. Plus technicians to do the maintenance and other EW grunt work. Exactly how to do this structurally is a good question. Embedded and integrated is the likely outcome.

Drones and their required EW force structure is a “disruptive innovation” that will only happen in the US Military over the dead bodies of all the various service pilot unions, plus the US Army’s Military Intelligence and Field Artillery branch chiefs. Only the falls of Poland, France and catastrophic military defeat at Pearl Harbor from Sept. 1939 thru Dec. 1941 got rid of both the Horse Cavalry Generals and the Battleship Admirals. Only a similar level of failure can unscrew the mess the US Military is in now over drones.

P.S.  You can download a copy of JP 3-51, Joint Doctrine for Electronic Warfare at the link below.

Comment: So what are we to do? Adjust, obviously. And fast. We already cancelled the latest attack helicopter project in favor of a UAV solution. At least that’s an acknowledgement of the problem. The Tactical and Land Forces Panel is pushing for a new drone branch in the 2025 Defense authorization Bill. That would professionalize the myriad smaller efforts going on, but that’s going to take a while.

If you want something to happen fast, task Special Forces. All our Gore-Tex and polypropylene winter gear was designed, developed, tested and ready for fielding in one year by 10th SFG(A). Colonel Potter, our CO at the time, got Army approval to address a serious need. A committee of NCOs from our mountain teams were given carte blanche to work with several established mountain gear companies to develop new cold weather and mountain gear. The first iteration was quickly developed and put to the test by teams throughout the Group. Adjustments were made and the second generation was ready for issue. Then the Falkland War blew up. Colonel Potter offered up all the new gear to his SAS and Parachute Regiment buddies. After the war, his buddies told our Colonel that the new equipment saved lives and ensured victories. All that new gear became standard Army issue shortly after that.

The same can happen with drones and drone employment. Even though Special Operations are due to lose thousands of billets due to downsizing, US Army Special Operations Command is looking at increasing the size of the twelve man ODA with the addition of one or more drone/EW/software specialists. The last such change converted to team XO from a first lieutenant to a Special Forces Warrant Officer. Those warrant officers always come from the pool of experienced SF senior NCOs. It was a great move. I suggest we do the same for drone/counter-drone operations. Add a WO position to each team largely drawn from experienced SF Communications NCOs. The training of those SF commo sergeants should include drone/EW training. With a drone/EW WO and two drone/EW commo sergeants along with a good team cross training program, the ODAs will quickly become competent in this field and innovative. It’s their nature.

SF training with tech companies is already taking place. One of the linked articles below describes a four week training course attended by a 3rd SFG(A) team at a JKFSWC training center in Hoffman, NC last year. By now more and more teams are taking similar courses and learning from Ukrainian units they are training in Europe. SF will lead the Army into the future, actually the present, of drone warfare.  


Posted in Technology, The Military Art, TTG | 18 Comments

500 Years of Western Dominance: Is it Coming to an End and What Comes Next?

The lesson from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was that no one power could restore order based on hegemony and universal values, as the other states in Europe would preserve their own sovereignty and distinctiveness by collectively balancing the most powerful state. This was evident when Catholic France supported Protestant Sweden to prevent the dominance of the Catholic Habsburgs. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 gave birth to the modern world order, in which peace and order depend on a balance of power between sovereign states.

The Westphalian system prevents hegemony as other states collectively balance the effort of an aspiring hegemon to establish economic and military dominance, and universal values are rejected to the extent they are used to reduce the sovereignty of other states. 

Westphalia should in principle be based on sovereign equality for all states. However, it originated as a European security order that later laid the foundation for a world order. Under the original Westphalia, the Europeans claimed special privileges and the principle of equal sovereignty for states did not apply to everyone. Sovereignty was deemed to be a right and a responsibility assigned to “civilized peoples”, a reference to the Europeans as white Christians. The international system was divided between the civilized and the barbarians. There was one set of rules for the Europeans in the civilized “garden”, and another set of rules when the Europeans engaged with the so-called despotic barbarians in the “jungle”. The interference in the internal affairs of other peoples and the development of vast empires was framed as the right and the responsibility of civilized states to guide the barbaric peoples towards universal values of civilization. This responsibility to govern other peoples was termed the “white man’s burden” and the “civilizing mission”.

In our current era, we have abandoned the civilized-barbarian divide, but we have replaced it with a liberal democracy-authoritarian divide to legitimize sovereign inequality. The West can interfere in the domestic affairs of other states to promote democracy, invade countries to defend human rights, or even change the borders of countries in support of self-determination. This is the exclusive right and a responsibility of the West as the champions of the universal values of liberal democracy. As the EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell explained: “The gardeners have to go to the jungle. Europeans have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world. Otherwise, the rest of the world will invade us”. 

International law in accordance with the UN Charter defends the principle of sovereign equality for all states. The so-called “rules-based international order” is based on sovereign inequality, which introduces special privileges under the guise of universal liberal democratic values. For example, the West’s recognition of independence for Kosovo was a breach of international law as it violated the territorial integrity of Serbia, although it was legitimized by the liberal principle of respecting the self-determination of Kosovo Albanians. In Crimea the West decided that self-determination should not be the leading principle, but territorial integrity. The US refers to liberal democratic values to exercise its exclusive right to invade and occupy countries such as Iraq, Syria and Libya, although this right is not extended to countries in the jungle.

Comment: This is part of an interview with Professor Glenn Diesen, a professor at the School of Business of the University of South-Eastern Norway, a political scientist and a regular commentator at RT. It shows. But I find his characterization of the international order established by the Treaty of Westphalia and how that system works today to be compelling. It definitely makes sense of the age of European empire and colonization. Too bad he can’t see Russia’s long embrace of empire and colonization as clearly.

The interviewer, Felix Abt, asks Diesen about Halford Mackinder’s heartland theory and how it’s playing out today. Diesen points out how “the British and their American successors both pursued policies of controlling the vast Eurasian continent from the maritime periphery.” Thus NATO. And in line with Mackinder’s theory that whoever controlled Eastern Europe would eventually control the world, he points out the importance of NATO expansion and Ukraine to both the West and to Russia. Diesen also points out the long running effort to keep Germany from uniting with Russia to control Eastern Europe and the heartland. I remember this effort from the resistance to Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. I also remember what happened when Berlin and Moscow became allies under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Poland resisted and WWII ensued.

Lastly, both Abt and Diesen talk about the growing connections and alliance between Russia and China and how this alliance will lead to a renewed Westphalian system based on a balance of power among sovereign states, a rules-based international order rather than a system of Western dominance characterized by “a civilian-barbarian or liberal democracy-authoritarian divide.” I don’t see the competition between liberal democracies and authoritarian states going away. That’s a competition of ideas which will and should, in my opinion, continue until the end of humankind.


Posted in Europe, Interviews and Lectures, Politics, Russia, TTG | 55 Comments

“Vladimir Putin removes Sergei Shoigu from Russian defence ministry”

BBC – Russian President Vladimir Putin is to remove his long-standing ally Sergei Shoigu as defence minister, the Kremlin has announced. The 68-year-old had been in the role since 2012 and will be replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, an economist with little military experience. Mr Shoigu is to be appointed secretary of Russia’s Security Council. The Kremlin said the defence ministry needed to stay “innovative”.

Reshuffles in Russia don’t happen very often so this is a big moment at the top of Russian politics. But Vladimir Putin remains the person who ultimately calls the shots. It was his decision to start the war in Ukraine and all the big decisions are taken by him.

The appointment of Mr Belousov as defence minister will come as a surprise to many, given his previous experience. But analysts suggest President Putin is seeking to align the Russian economy more closely with the war effort. The decision to put an economist in charge of the Ministry of Defence reflects the changing priorities of the Kremlin and the huge amounts of money the Russian authorities are now pouring into the war in Ukraine – and Russia’s need to boost efficiency in the armed forces.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the proposed appointment of a civilian showed the role of defence minister called for “innovation”. He said Russia was becoming more like the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, when a high proportion of GDP went on military spending. As a result, it was necessary to make sure that military expenditure was better integrated into Russia’s overall economy, he added. “The one who is more open to innovations is the one who will be victorious on the battlefield,” he said.

In recent months, there had been rumours that Mr Shoigu’s position was growing weaker and that he could lose his job. In April, one of his deputies – Timur Ivanov – was arrested on corruption charges in a rare move against such a senior official. And Russia’s campaign in Ukraine was meant to last a few weeks at most.Instead, it is now in its third year and has been plagued by military setbacks and big losses in men and materiel. Although Mr Shoigu will remain in a powerful role as secretary of the Security Council, the move appears to be a demotion for him.

It’s not yet clear what will happen to the council’s current head, Nikolai Patrushev.

Comment: I think this is a realization by Putin that his war in Ukraine will not be over soon. He needs someone to manage and improve the efficiency of his war economy in the face of increasing casualties, loss of equipment and continuing sanctions. He needs an economist to figure out a better way forward. Belousov is more than just an economist. As the BBC article points out, he is a hardline defender of a russia that is encircled by enemies. He’s close to the Russian Orthodox Church and practiced karate and sambo in his youth. He was also the one Kremlin economist who supported Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Shoigu is replacing Patrushev as Secretary of the Security Council, so he’s far from being banished from the Kremlin. What interests me more is where Patrushev will land. He is a hard liner among hard liners fully behind the eradication of Ukraine and the establishment of a Kremlin led bloc to continue to oppose the Western bloc. He was seen by many analysts as a likely candidate to eventually succeed Putin. Maybe Putin hears such speculation and will move Patrushev to a place to forestall such speculation… or facilitate such a future transition. We’ll see.


Posted in Russia, TTG, Ukraine Crisis | 29 Comments

The 42 sins by mcohen

The 42 sins 

For the sin of unfolding the colours inside
Holding the edges too soon
For deceit hastily denied
Forsaking the light of the moon
Holding an answer with no excuse
The question abandoned
In essence of time a ruse
For the sin of underhanded 

For the hoarding of dust
Gathered in pools
That the innocent trust
Taken from gullible fools
The cutting of rope
Work of a blunt knife
A mirror with no hope
The tears of a life. 

For the sin of offering cause
Non to collect
Not giving a pause
To the effect
Deaf to the shriek
The tearing of veil
Forsaking of the meek
The oil of a whale 

For the silencing of bells
None shall toll
The casting of spells
Placing pins in a doll
Who shall place a rock
Upon a sapling
To mock
Those that come crawling 

The sin of twisting
Words of the innocent
In falsely resisting
The gestures of the decent
The splitting of hairs
With no regard
The graceless airs
A Piercing shard. 

So hurry not on the road to hell
The gatekeepers await
For they can foretell
The story of your fate
The final ring of the bell
As the hour grows late

Comment: I found this work by our fellow correspondent, mcohen, to be so damned good that I had to publish it as a stand alone post. Enjoy.


Posted in Poetry, TTG | 8 Comments

Open Thread – 10 May 2024

Whatever blows your skirt up.

Big geomagnetic storm hit today. Too bad it’s cloudy and rainy in Virginia today. Might have gotten a glimpse of the Northern Lights. First time I saw them was on an ROTC winter survival weekend on a frozen lake in the Great North Woods. Magical.


Posted in Open Thread, TTG | 62 Comments

Russia can lose this war by Timothy Snyder

Russian soldiers march during the Victory Day military parade dress rehearsal at Red Square in Moscow, on May 5. The parade will take place on May 9, marking the 79th anniversary of victory in the Second World War.

On Thursday Russia will celebrate Victory Day, its commemoration of the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Domestically, this is nostalgia. In the 1970s, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev created a cult of victory. Russia under Putin has continued the tradition. Abroad, this is intimidation. We are meant to think that Russia cannot lose. And far too many of us, during Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, have believed that. In February 2022, when Russia undertook its full-scale invasion of its neighbor, the consensus was that Ukraine would fall within days.

Even today, when Ukraine has held its own for more than two years, the prevailing view among Russia’s friends in Congress and in the Senate is that Russia must eventually win. Moscow’s success is not on the battlefield, but in our minds. Russia can lose. And it should lose, for the sake of the world — and for its own sake.

The notion of an invincible Red Army is propaganda. The Red Army was formidable, but it was also beatable. Of its three most consequential foreign wars, the Red Army lost two. It was defeated by Poland in 1920. It defeated Nazi Germany in 1945, after nearly collapsing in 1941. (Its win in that instance was part of a larger coalition and with decisive American economic assistance.) Soviet forces were in trouble in Afghanistan immediately after their 1979 invasion and had to withdraw a decade later. And the Russian army of today is not the Red Army. Russia is not the USSR. Soviet Ukraine was a source of resources and soldiers for the Red Army. In that victory of 1945, Ukrainian soldiers in the Red Army took huge losses — greater than American, British and French losses combined. It was disproportionately Ukrainians who fought their war to Berlin in the uniform of the Red Army.

Today, Russia is fighting not together with Ukraine but against Ukraine. It is fighting a war of aggression on the territory of another state. And it lacks the American economic support — Lend-Lease — that the Red Army needed to defeat Nazi Germany. In this constellation, there is no particular reason to expect Russia to win. One would expect, instead, that Russia’s only chance is to prevent the West from helping Ukraine — by persuading us that its victory is inevitable, so that we don’t apply our decisive economic power. The last six months bear this out: Russia’s minor battlefield victories came at a time when the United States was delaying Ukraine aid, rather than supplying it.

Today’s Russia is a new state. It has existed since 1991. Like Brezhnev before him, Russian President Vladimir Putin rules through nostalgia. He refers to the Soviet and also the Russian imperial past. But the Russian Empire also lost wars. It lost the Crimean War in 1856. It lost the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. It lost the First World War in 1917. In none of those three cases was Russia able to keep forces in the field for more than about three years.

In the United States there is great nervousness about a Russian defeat. If something seems impossible, we cannot imagine what could happen next. And so there is a tendency, even among supporters of Ukraine, to think that the best resolution is a tie. Such thinking is unrealistic. And it reveals, behind the nerves, a strange American conceit. No one can guide a war in such a way. And nothing in our prior attempts to influence Russia suggests that we can exercise that kind of influence. Russia and Ukraine are both fighting to win. The questions are: who will win, and with what consequences?

If Russia wins, the consequences are horrifying: a risk of a larger war in Europe, more likelihood of a Chinese adventure in the Pacific, the weakening of international legal order generally, the likely spread of nuclear weapons, the loss of faith in democracy.

It is normal for Russia to lose wars. And, in general, this led Russians to reflect and reform. Defeat in Crimea forced an autocracy to end serfdom. Russia’s loss to Japan led to an experiment with elections. The Soviet failure in Afghanistan led to Gorbachev’s reforms and thus the end of the cold war.

Beneath the Russian particularities, history offers a more general and still more reassuring lesson about empires. Russia is fighting today an imperial war. It denies the existence of the Ukrainian state and nation, and it carries out atrocities that recall the worst of the European imperial past. The peaceful Europe of today consists of powers that lost their last imperial wars and then chose democracy. It is not only possible to lose your last imperial war: it is also good, not only for the world, but for you.

Russia can lose this war, and should, for the sake of Russians themselves. A defeated Russia means not only the end of senseless losses of young life in Ukraine. It is also Russia’s one chance to become a post-imperial country, one where reform is possible, one where Russians themselves might be protected by law and able to cast meaningful votes. Defeat in Ukraine is Russia’s historical chance for normality — as Russians who want democracy and the rule of law will say.

Like the United States and Europe, Ukraine celebrates the victory of 1945 on May 8th rather than May 9th. Ukrainians have every right to remember and interpret that victory: they suffered more than Russians from German occupation and died in huge numbers on the battlefield. And Ukrainians are right to think that Russia today, like Nazi Germany in 1945, is a fascist imperialist regime that can and must be defeated. Fascism was defeated last time because a coalition held firm and applied its superior economic power. The same holds true now.

Comment: Timothy Snyder is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History and Global Affairs at Yale University and the author of “Bloodlands” along with many other books and articles. He also conducted an online course, “The Making of Modern Ukraine” in the Fall of 2022. The lectures are still available online. I watched all seven lectures back then and, if you haven’t watched them yet, I strongly recommend them.

In this essay, Snyder holds no illusions that Russia will disintegrate if she doesn’t prevail in Ukraine. He sees it as an opportunity for Russia to rise above her current imperialistic tendencies. It’s an optimistic and hopeful thought for the future of Russia and the Russian people.

There’s nothing here I disagree with beyond Snyder’s point that Russia is a new state. Technically it is, but I see immense continuity between the pre and post 1991 Kremlin. I know for a short time the apparatchiki fled the organs of power in Moscow and many academics from the former soviet Academy of Sciences moved into offices to keep the machinery of government working. It could have been a true time of change, but the old Soviet apparatchiki and the rising siloviki soon pushed the academics out. They just had to wait until one of their own moved into the top spot.

It’s possible and even likely that Russia will not get the victory she desires. Maybe the Kremlin can spin whatever outcome occurs into a victory, at least for internal consumption. in that case, I don’t see Russia changing at all. Only if the Kremlin has to accept a loss will there be an opportunity for the change that Snyder envisions.


Posted in Russia, TTG, Ukraine Crisis | 72 Comments

Inaugural crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner

After years of delays and a dizzying array of setbacks during test flights, Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is finally set to make its inaugural crewed launch. The mission is at last closing in on its historic astronaut launch attempt, with NASA officials giving the green light for liftoff at 10:34 p.m. ET Monday. Starliner will carry NASA’s Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore to the International Space Station, marking what could be a momentous and long-awaited victory for the beleaguered Boeing program.

“Design and development is hard — particularly with a human space vehicle,” said Mark Nappi, vice president and Starliner program manager at Boeing, during a Thursday news briefing. “There’s a number of things that were surprises along the way that we had to overcome. … It certainly made the team very, very strong. I’m very proud of how they’ve overcome every single issue that we’ve encountered and gotten us to this point.”

If successful, the Starliner will join SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in making routine trips to the space station, keeping the orbiting outpost fully staffed with astronauts from NASA and its partner space agencies.

Comment: This has been a long time coming for both Boeing and NASA. I wish them well, especially the two astronauts who probably had at least a passing thought about going up in a spacecraft built by Boeing. NASA is quick to point out that Boeing Spacecraft is a totally different entity from Boeing Aircraft, but it will surely be the source of some dark humor.

SpaceX is also scheduled to launch a Starlink mission from Cape Canaveral today. Unlike the Starliner launch, Starlink missions have become routine. But I am looking forward to the next Starship launch. That’s going to be exciting no matter how it turns out.

I also saw a nice little story about the Mars Ingenuity helicopter yesterday on CBS Sunday Morning. I was surprised to see how that project was treated like a red headed step child by the NASA Perseverance team. It’s worth a look.


Posted in Space, TTG | 12 Comments