Sunday Observation on US/Russia relations – 11 August, 2013


Americans generally continue to display symptoms of an "illusion of central position."  We exhibit the greatest difficulty in imagining that foreigners like; the Russians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, etc. will not simply obey us once we explain our desires to them clearly.  This is a bit like thinking that some woman in a bar will obey your suggestion that she leave with you if you continue to explain how wonderful you really are.  That reminds me of the story of the Cowboy and the Lesbian, but, alas, that will have to wait for another occasion.

There is an endless prattling on the newsy shows of Russias's need to please us.  Why?  Why do they need to please us?  Like most people they don't like us.  We first kept them out of NATO, thereby automatically defining NATO by this action in the post Soviet world as an anti-Russian alliance.  Then we recruited new members of NATO in the East.  Many of these countries had been members of the Warsaw Pact or actual union republics of the USSR.  Then we mocked them for a decade concerning their backwardness, poverty resulting from communism,  lack of a true western identity, etc.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.  The price of oil is sky high because of market action in western spot contracts and manipulation of production in the West and ME.   As a result,  the Russian have a lot of money.  And, don't forget that they have 8,000 nuclear weapons.

Most significantly our profligate use of UAV borne attacks in Pakistan has made us dependent on Russia for the supply of our troops in Afghanistan through their country.

Who needs who?  pl

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41 Responses to Sunday Observation on US/Russia relations – 11 August, 2013

  1. r whitman says:

    No self-respecting Russian would wear those “dude boots”.

  2. The odd thing is that they used to like you. By the late Eighties, as the Russian history Vladimir Pechatnov put it in a 2010 article looking back at the Cold War, ‘the Soviet intelligentsia craved freedom and democracy almost at any price.’ A corollary of this was a kind of manic Americanophilia.
    (See )
    However, there always had been complicated ambivalences about the United States throughout the Russian elite. At the start of 1989, a colleague and I interviewed General-Mayor Valentin Larionov, the military theorist most closely associated with the so-called ‘new thinking’ introduced into Soviet policy by Mikhail Gorbachev.
    Unfortunately, at that point I had not come across the Soviet Army Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, and the work of Jacob W. Kipp, who later directed its successor, the Foreign Military Studies Office. As a result, I was not aware that earlier in his career, Larionov had been a pre-eminent theorist of the strategy of preemptive nuclear attack on the United States. He compiled and co-authored the classic statement of this, the original 1962 edition of the study of ‘Military Strategy’ published under the name of Marshall Sokolovsky.
    An interesting Q&A, from an interview with Larionov in 1999 PBS programme, ‘Race for the Superbomb’:
    ‘Q: At the end of WWII, if I am properly informed, there is this famous scene of the Soviet army and the American, the Western Allies meeting in Germany and rushing across this open field and embracing. You witnessed that event.
    ‘GL: I remember. Those were embraces without any ulterior motives, truly friendly embraces…Certainly, no one thought then about any aggravations of the situation; everyone thought that the peace had come, the peaceful times arrived, and that it would stay for a long time. It is only there in the higher circles of the state apparatus that they were already thinking about something in the future, and Stalin declared that the future war would be a war with the U.S. But on our level, on the level of an average commander, soldier, and sergeant, everything looked bright. All that was sincere.
    ‘I only remembered one episode: We went to the other side, spontaneously — this whole fraternization and all these embraces were completely spontaneous, and then the higher command began to control it. I remember when we made the official invitation to the leadership of the American division, and the tables were set, vodka was brought from Moscow; there was only Russian, not any kind of captured, vodka on the table. The table was covered with captured food, appetizers, alcohol, and Russian vodka and Russian food brought straight from Moscow. I felt then that we were letting our American allies know that we also had something to boast about and that we were very proud.
    ‘I was 18 then; now I am 75. And I still have it all in my soul.’
    (See )

  3. mbrenner says:

    Some French historian wrote back in the 19th century that Russia is never as strong as it seems, or as weak as it seems.
    I’m sure that notion is familiar to Susan Rice and the other mandarins among Obama’s entourage for whom history is what happened before they set their sights on high office – and reading is something you do on I-phones during UN debates

  4. turcopolier says:

    r whitman
    The Virgin of Guadeloupe? Ah, more anti Mexican bigotry on the left in Houston. pl

  5. John Minnerath says:

    >No self-respecting Russian would wear those “dude boots”< Wanna bet? And the BS they wade through isn't the kind we think of out here. A little bright for me, but my jeans are usually down over the tops anyway.

  6. I had thought it was Metternich who first said this. If it was a Frenchman, it would have been likely to have been Caulaincourt. His memoir ‘With Napoleon in Russia’ was, apparently, lost for years, and only finally published in 1933.
    (See )
    I heard the veteran British diplomat Sir Frank Roberts cite the phrase, in a discussion at Chatham House, I think in 1989. Unfortunately, neither the Americans nor the British could be brought at that time to see that it was foolish to base policy upon ludicrous overestimations of actual and prospective Russian strength.
    Likewise, after the collapse of the Soviet Union they could not be brought to see that it was unwise to base policy upon a confidence that the extreme weakness of the Russians in the 1990s would last for ever, and that enjoying rubbing their noses in the dirt might eventually incur some costs.

  7. walrus says:

    Col. Lang,
    Aah! You are channelling William Fulbright again – “The Arrogance Of Power”.
    “There are many respects in which America, if it can bring itself to act with the magnanimity and the empathy appropriate to its size and power, can be an intelligent example to the world. We have the opportunity to set an example of generous understanding in our relations with China, of practical cooperation for peace in our relations with Russia, of reliable and respectful partnership in our relations with Western Europe, of material helpfulness without moral presumption in our relations with the develop ing nations, of abstention from the temptations of hegemony in our relations with Latin America, and of the all- around advantages of minding one’s own business in our relations with everybody. Most of all, we have the opportunity to serve as an example of democracy to the world by the way in which we run our own society; America, in the words of John Quincy Adams, should be “the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all” but “the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
    Fulbright would be less than impressed by what passes for American Foreign and domestic policy since 2000. In particular the squandering of the last of Americas moral capital, so carefully amassed from 1945 to at least the start of the Vietnam war, which has left many countries doing their best to dispense with engaging with the indispensable nation as American IT companies are now finding in the wake of the NSA revelations.
    At this point the usual American response to my theme is who gives a **** about the rest of the world and who the heck do you think you are to criticise us? This attitude usually rests on misperceived understanding of the Cold War and particularly its ending – that this was a fight we were always going to win because we were naturally the good guys in the white hats. The reality is that we won because the Soviet economy finally imploded due to its absence of necessary price signals.
    The problem with not understanding this is that the current generation of policy makers and the commentariat that supports them, do not have any appreciation of the effort that was required to confront the USSR and thus the risks America runs when attempting to screw with other countries today. They don’t know about the string of nuclear land mines across Germany. They laugh when they hear about the dummy Soviet missiles on Mayday parades – only trouble is that at the time I don’t believe we thought they were dummies. They don’t know about the terrible calculations that had to be made. All they think is that Saint Ronnie Reagan whupped the commies ass! It appears that the Joint Chiefs have a much better appreciation of the limits of power, but there may be a limit to what they can teach.
    In addition, it has been suggested by Sir Michael Howard that one of the main reasons for the French débâcle against the Prussians in 1870 was that their army had spent the last Fifty years in Africa confronting nothing worse than badly armed tribesmen – and what has the American Army been doing for the last Ten years? What happens when American forces again confront an educated enemy equipped with modern technology? Does anyone in Washington outside the JCS think of that?
    Does anyone not realise that the automatic assumption of American air superiority rests on the almost complete absence of modern MANPADS in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is anyone aware that the first world equivalent of the IED is not only cheap almost undetectable and almost sentient thanks to microprocessors? The same goes for sea mines and other poor mans defence systems? To put tht another way, when I see videos of operations in Afghanistan what staggers me is the outpouring of Western blood and treasure trying to conquer an almost illiterate bunch of peasants. What happens when the enemy is a panzergrenadier?
    So yes, Obama is a fool to mess with the Russians, but he is no worse than the rest of them.
    Sorry for the rant, but I am sick of people pontificating on Americas superpower status, its far more fragile than it appears and nobody seems to understand the efforts and risks that were accepted to get there anyway.

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Nixon explicitly advised against it. I saw him on TV when he stated that “Russian are down but not out”, and that “we can never be friends but we cannot afford to be enemies.”
    I think he also wrote that “We need to treat Russia with respect…”
    His advise was ignored, it seems.

  9. r whitman says:

    None of my Mexican friends and relatives would ever wear those boots. They are “dude ranch specials” even with the Virgin on them. Old man Lucchese would have a screaming fit.

  10. Ingolf says:

    Wonderful excerpt, David. As is the whole collection of interview transcripts from which it’s taken.

  11. PirateLaddie says:

    The “Cowboy and Lesbian” parable rests on the ‘exclusive fallacy.’ (There’s probably a more refined, philosophical term of art, but not in my baliwick.) A useful assessment of the human condition is not us vs. them, but rather something like Whitman’s “I contain multitudes.”
    My father (USAAF) spoke of the late 40’s as a time before the Cold War ‘jelled” and the oligarchs of the West imposed their “Cowboy OR Lesbian” mindset on the Americans. I fear that too many years of cowboying without enough cattle to run have left us with just our hats — don’t know if we’ll end up going to the Euros (more likely the Chinese) with them in hand for what passes for political salvation. Hold tight for interesting times.

  12. MRW says:

    Great links, David. Thanks.

  13. MRW says:

    Like this piece, Colonel.

  14. confusedponderer says:

    Hey, Nixon can be ignored. After all, he was a RINO, as underlined by him creating the EPA. The EPA had the gall of banning Tom DeLay’s favourite pesticide on grounds it “harmed marine life”, creating red tape. Stupid shrimps. And that with Russia and respect – same thing. Not to mention Nicon’s despicable appeasement of the Chicoms.
    Defeating evil, Nixon didn’t.
    That said, I wonder, why didn’t the D’s heed his advice then … oh, they didn’t because he was a Republican, and a sort of devious one for that.
    That’s the handy thing about it being about persons – once one knows who the enemy is, one doesn’t need to bother with what they say.
    The person principle is a successful recipe in foreign policy also: Iraq problem was Saddam, and with him gone … oh wait

  15. FB Ali says:

    You refer to the squandering of America’s moral capital starting with the Vietnam war. Another ‘squandering’ took place right after 9/11. That infamous attack caused an upsurge of sympathy for America and its people throughout the world, including the Muslim world. Instead of building on that Bush-Cheney and the neocons used the opportunity to launch their mad schemes, starting a generational war with the Muslim world, and creating much hostility and discontent in much of the rest of the world.

  16. CK says:

    In regards to Russia:
    When you think you have them by the balls; recheck the contents of your hand. ( Not quite LBJ but then who is?)

  17. Fred says:

    “At this point the usual American response to my theme is who gives a **** about the rest of the world ….” Hasn’t this been a common refrain of the poi polloi for the better part of the last century? Our problem is that our leaders think that’s just what their fellow citizens are and have been treating us all accordingly. We’ll see if those leaders get an electoral comeuppance in the next few years or will continue to see themselves as ‘first citizens’ and the rest of us as second class ones.

  18. jonst says:

    And now the real pressure mounts…gay activists and the Olympics…as we are not shy about telling the world, and especially Russia, how to live. If the Russians thought America (500 or so voices in DC media)was ticked off about Snowden et al….wait till they see how the media plays the gay issue. Because that is one of their favorite issues.

  19. turcopolier says:

    r whitman
    I usually wear Lucchese Classics but in this case I think i will order these in black background. pl

  20. turcopolier says:

    Are you actually familiar with the tale of the cowboy and the lesbian? How about the story that begins with a fellow walking into a bar with an eight foot alligator on a leash? does that also present some philosophical point you would like to make? pl

  21. PirateLaddie says:

    Sure — “guess I been a lesbian all these years!!” is the old cowpoke’s closing line. BTW, there are at least two setups, one quite a bit cleaner than the other.
    The alligator on a leash? You don’t mean the Jerry Reed version, where the ‘gater’s tail’s been cut off and he’s been painted yellow?
    No, I guess not.
    Well, there’s a violent tale (involving a blond) and a more discipline-oriented one (involving a drunk @ the bar). Both work, but the blondie one is more cuter (as blonds usually are, vis-a-vis drunks).

  22. PirateLaddie says:

    Oops! Forgot the “philosophical” point. For the Jerry Reed version — traveling under false colors is often a good idea. For the blond/drunk version — just cause you can don’t mean you should.

  23. turcopolier says:

    The gator walker tells the barman, “A schooner of suds for me and a pail full for my friend. The barman says, “we don’t serve dumb animals here.” the gator’s friend picks up an empty bottle and hits the gator on the head with it. the gator has been looking at the crowd appreciatively. It turns around, opens its jaws, waddles up to the friend and slowly clamps down on his his genitals. the friend hits him again. the gator opens up and backs away. “There, there!” cries the friend. “you call him a dumb animal. Could any of you do that?” A girl in the crowd raises her hand and says, “I’ll try sir if you don’t hit me so hard with the bottle.” pl

  24. Trent says:

    PL, Bob Weir told that joke endlessly while the Grateful Dead tuned or replaced broken guitar strings. I wish he had included the cowboy and the other alligator joke for variety.

  25. PirateLaddie says:

    Yup — that’s the blond version. The drunk version has the gator keeping his mouth open for 5 minutes despite the temptation and the drunk tells the owner “I don’t know if I can keep my mouth open for 5 minutes.” Like I said — blonds is more cuter than drunks.

  26. turcopolier says:

    Trent et al
    Hey! I’m sorry. other people have told these jokes before. Congratulations yah got me! pl

  27. David Habakkuk says:

    Babak Makkinejad,
    A central achievement of Nixon’s foreign policy was based upon a realisation – which could with profit have been achieved by American policymakers much earlier – that tensions between the Soviet Union and China could be exploited in a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. At the moment, American policy serves to push these two powers together – and common fear of ‘regime change’ is here a major factor.
    A recent article by Nicholas Gvosdev in ‘The National Interest’ discusses the manifold indications of moves towards a ‘Eurasian Entente’ – but also suggests that there is a great deal the U.S. could do, without sacrificing its own interests, to prevent relations between Russia and China becoming too close:
    ‘The U.S. reaction has been largely to see this as inevitable, as the formation of some sort of Axis of Autocracies. Yet Russia hedges its collaboration with China—starting with its close cooperation with India, Beijing’s historic rival. Moscow cannot afford bad relations with its largest neighbor and, like other Asian states—including those who are close allies of the United States—one of its major trading partners. Russia was never going to be drawn into any sort of overtly anti-Chinese alliance or serve as one of the pillars of a U.S. pivot to the region. Yet there have been plenty of signals that Russia wanted to have a much more balanced relationship between Beijing and Washington. The reformist factions around Dmitry Medvedev pushed the strongest for the “reset” in relations with Washington, driven in part by their assessment that the nadir in U.S.-Russian relations during the second term of the Bush administration would push Russia into a closer embrace with China. But even among the so-called “siloviki” in the Kremlin (the “power” factions), there is concern about an overdependence on Beijing. Igor Sechin, the CEO of the state oil company Rosneft, has taken steps in recent years to tie his company’s future to the Chinese market. Yet, in proposed projects for the Russian Far East, he has also solicited Japanese and Western investment—to counterbalance Beijing’s influence.’
    (See )
    However, if Obama wants to embrace ‘human rights’ with messianic fervour, such a ‘realpolitik’ approach obviously goes out of the window.

  28. Ursa Maior says:

    “Then we recruited new members of NATO in the East. Many of these countries had been members of the Warsaw Pact or actual union republics of the USSR.”
    With all respect Sir, pacts of the WWII are really oughta go out of fashion. Especially ones made by Stalin and Hitler.
    I know that for most americans a strong and independent Europe (especially one with a german leadership) is something unacceptable, yet things are really slowly heading this way especially since France shot himself in the foot (immigrants, too generous welfare etc.)

  29. turcopolier says:

    Ursa Major
    I see that you are out in the country in Hungary and I appreciate the difficulty you might have with English as a second language. Nevertheless, you seem to misunderstand my post. I am not interested in perpetuating ANY states as they now exist. I certainly am not interested in perpetuating the boundaries of states that are “holdovers” from the sub-divisions of the Russian and later the Soviet empires. As for states that Hitler created that still exist, which are they? No, my point was that as an American with pretensions to strategic thought, it makes no sense to me to senselessly (from our point of view) provoke Russia. IMO the continuance of NATO as an anti-Russian military alliance and the expansion of the alliance to include former military allies of the USSR like Hungary is an unnecessary provocation. pl

  30. Ursa Maior says:

    thank you very much for your detailed answer. When I said outdated WWII pacts and decisions I meant Molotov-Ribbentropp, Yalta, Teheran and others. My country (and most our neighbours) NEVER belonged to the russian sphere of influence except 1944-1989 and maybe the shortlived soviet republics of 1919. Times change and while I also condemn unnecessary sabre-rattling, Russia is NOT the Soviet union anymore.
    We fought and still fight for our independence, defending it mostly from the germans but the russians and turks alike, lately you can add the EU too. I understand that among the sea of problems your country faces you don’t want to have another costly commitment like Poland, Hungary etc.
    And we agree that NATO has outlived itself. As I keep saying the germans are up, the russians are in, and America seems to be annoyed by Europe.
    Yet the strongest country is weak alone. The American Empire’s structure has the first visible serious cracks and while I wish you all the best, even a small snowball can start an avelanche. I value your care for your country and while yours is probably the most realistic and thoughtful approach to US foreign policy I know of, I wanted to raise your attention to the causes of loosing the trust of your allies. I know, I know you’ve said many times that the US should not listen to all the squabble of the world, yet in our world the war of perception rules all.

  31. Trent says:

    Not at all. I love the jokes. I just never thought SST would overlap with the Grateful Dead.

  32. Alba Etie says:

    “Lately it occurs to me – what a long strange trip its been .. ”

  33. Alba Etie says:

    Ursa Major
    Please explain if you would , your view on how or what should President Obama’s administration response be to the events unfolding today in Egypt ?
    What should the United States strategic goals be in the Middle East ? And how , again in your view , going forward might the United States maintain the trust of its Allies . I wonder about the trust of allies as we seem also to be heading together for a multi polar world – , without one necessarily dominant Super Power ?
    And as a side bar questions since you join us here from Central Europe – were you in favor of the NATO actions in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990 ‘s ? And how might you assess the success of the NATO / United Nations programs to date in the former Yugoslavia?

  34. Alba Etie says:

    Yes if memory serves – shortly after 9/11 the Japanese Diet issued its on AUMF – first time since WWII . The Diet authorized Japanese combat troops to go to Afghanistan . Further if memory serves Bushcheney turned down the Japanese offer to send war fighters – The hubris from Bushcheney was tragic as well as breathtaking .

  35. Ursa Maior says:

    I am in no position to give advice how the egyptian turmoil should be handled. I dont believe neither in the export of democracy nor in responsibility to protect. If people want to kill each other, they will and I do not see a real reason for intervention in such cases except for hard and real national interests.
    US goals in the ME are a tricky question. I do not have enough reliable info to form completely defendable opinion, and I would not like to make a fool of me, when people of relevant knowledge of the area are also unsure.
    International influence is a multifaceted issue. Economics, culture, military strength, diplomacy and perception all shape it. From what I see there is a slow, but steady decline of US influence in Europe, from all of the before aspects. Keeping the trust of the allies rests in my opinion upon a long term, more or less common view which is clearly communicated and rigorously carried out. Like NATO used to be. Continously changing clearly economical advantage driven goals, thinly veiled as foreign policy resting upon „cultural values” on the other hand guarantees a quick deterioration. Quoting Sun Tse: Know your enemy and know your foes, alas I have a feeling that people who made US foreign policy in the recent 15 years or so dont know themselves and do not have a clue about who their enemy is, and what is it like. In a multipolar world alliances are changing with the speed of light, see Europe 1800-1904, from the six coalitions against Napoleon, to the first real British-French alliance. What I see as a REAL problem is the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world. If the intelligentsia in the US does not accept a multipolar world America can find itself in the position of Napoleon I, facing the rest of the world. A direct attack on its soil is highly unlikely, yet the continous drain of victories will bring it to its knees at the end. If there would be a habitable Earth after that.
    Looking at the current state of the USA I see a wounded giant struggling without second thought to keep everything he used to posess. Looking jealously to its friends, relatives, and enemies alike. It is visible that a strong and unified EU(especially one lead by Germany) is definitely NOT seen as a positive thing on the other side of the Atlantic, which I think is a serious mistake. I think a strong and selfreliant Europe (both in military and economical terms) would do more good to the US than harm. Of course there would be competition, but hey it is a globalized world! Just like China, EU is destined to be a great power too, not because of its „historical mission” or God but due to its size. The other european option is perpetual war, which I hope we are mature enough not to choose.
    Joining NATO in 1999 Hungary had a reliable security guarantee, even though it was isolated from its allies like an island until 2004. Yet I think all other european countries were and would have been doing their best to prevent the esacalation of the Yugoslav crisis. I think in Yugoslavia the EU made the US to fight for its goals in the disguise of NATO. OTOH due to american resistance, and the forced pacifism in the EU there were not and there still is not an independent european military capability to act in such cases. Yugoslavia was split up because the serbs ran the multiethnical country like it was only theirs and lacking indigenous european military capabilities the US had to act too, as part of NATO to prevent a greater scale war. So yes NATO and along with that american intervention was necessary. As of NATO/UN programs, well tensions are calming down in the Balkans, and enough incentives have been offered to the serbian leadership, intelligentsia, political and business class name it whatever you would like, to seriously apply for admission into the EU. Even swallowing the frog as we say, along the way admitting an independent Kosovo, that is.
    Sorry for being long.

  36. Alba Etie says:

    Thank you Ursa Major – the ‘ being long comments” are why I visit Col Lang’s SST site often – I learn a great deal here.
    So as follow up – are there any applicable lessons learned from the Muslim / Serbian Christian conflict in the Balkans – that might be useful to other conflict resolution elsewhere?
    And do you have an opinion about Turkey being given EU membership ?

  37. Charles ! says:

    Thanks for being so long, new perspectives always food for thought. Though your very realist one fits right in here. It does seem a tremendous shame the U.S can’t see Germany as sharing the Western global DOL required to sustain our civilization.
    Crikey Pat, what a long strange trip its been indeed, have to start posting as Charles II soon!

  38. Ursa Maior says:

    Yes there are applicable lessons. Apply enough force and plan for a long stay (see Kosovo from 1999 onwards): result there will be no insurgencies. Do or do not. There is no try. 😉
    Turkey does not belong to the EU at all. Although due to French resistence the words judeo-christian were dropped from the EU constitution, we are still a judeo-christian “state”. No place for turks even though they are our kin (hungarians were called turks in the 10-11th century for a reason). Especially since they are run by an islamist party.

  39. Alba Etie says:

    Ursa Major – that’s a very applicable lesson, almost self evident , go or no go – based on staying until all agreed goals are met , in this case a peaceful and stable Balkans . More specifically I was wondering if there were any applicable lessons in dealing with a Christian / Muslim conflict zone patrolled & controlled by a multi national policing force from across the wide world and that was sustained & succesful from many many years of stabilization and rebuilding . Moreover did Russia in the end play a constructive role in the bringing peace to the Balkans during the stabilization efforts ? I do recall that Russia used the same rationale to go to war with Georgia , as president Clinton used for going to war with Milesovic .
    I do agree that Turkey- especially under Erdogan is not a good fit for the European Union .

  40. Ursa Maior says:

    Tim Judah has a good book on Ksovo. Religion is only secondary there ethnicity is more important. As of Russia it stayed clear and helped to solve the crisis by doing that.

  41. Alba Etie says:

    Thank you Ursa Major for the Tim Judah recommendation I will look for his book .

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