HONOLULU, Oct. 9, 2015 – The late baseball legend Yogi Berra famously remarked, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a home run. If you got the timing, it’ll go.” Americans, in their search for foreign policy home runs, are notorious for choosing the most strenuous and overcomplicated plans known to man, only to discover frustration and disaster years down the road. Understanding historical cycles — not diplomatic antics and rollercoaster policy — is the key to winning the game of timing and hitting a home run when it comes to world affairs.
Just days ago, Russia shocked the world when her supposedly crumbling, outdated, non-4GW/RMA compliant military steamrolled into Syria with jet fighters and brand new SS-N-30A cruise missiles, fired from surface warships over a thousand miles away. The reaction from the U.S. political-military-academic complex to these attacks were the same predictable knee jerk hubris Americans always hear whenever world actors step outside of the K Street think tank paradigm: “Who could have foreseen this development!”
A “New” Cold War? We Still Haven’t Finished The Last One
“Apparently, Putin has adopted a strategy of reasserting Russian strength,” defense wonks mutter online and in various policy magazines. “This may require a return to U.S. Cold War-style deterrence strategies to reassure our allies and preserve peace.” Apparently? The fact of the matter is that the U.S. and her Western European allies never actually won the military contest with the Soviet Union; the Russians simply ran out of money and couldn’t keep the lights on. The root causes of conflict were never actually eliminated, nor were the vast arsenals of either side ever subjected to an overwhelming Vernichtungsschlacht to decisively prevent future rearmament.
Alexis de Tocqueville prophetically suggested that the world would one day be divided between the great powers of Russia, built by the sword, and the U.S., built by the plowshare. The truth is, the historical national experiences of Russia and the U.S. are night and day to each other, leading to vast differences in worldview and military posture, which ultimately destine the two to inevitable conflict.
Americans have long enjoyed the safe insulation of having two vast oceans on opposing flanks to separate her from traditional enemies and two non-threatening nations on her northern and southern borders. Contrast that with Russia, which has seen countless land invasions over the centuries from Europe and Asia, some of which razed her cities to ash and claimed the lives of millions of Russians.
The end result is that when Americans view international security and foreign policy, they tend to be lax, believing things will either work out on their own in the absence of American intervention, or, failing that, threats that do spill over into American shores will take so long that U.S. forces can “rally the troops” and “fire up the industry” to meet the enemy just in time to emerge victorious. (Right. The Kool-Aid of that mindset is so amped with sugar coating, I feel like I need to take an insulin shot just thinking about this lunacy.)
Russians, on the other hand, are more pragmatic and less idealistic in their worldview. They see themselves as geographically boxed in, with a chilly, ice-covered north, a historically explosive and dangerous Europe to the west, the bellybutton of world instability to their south and billions of Asians with massive potential armies to their southeast. Russians believe in taking initiative, utilizing time-tested methods of brute force to assert strength and reducing complex situations to the simplest solution possible.
Russians do not waste their time trying to figure out how to put a tiny bomb within inches of a military target so as to ensure accuracy and minimize civilian collateral damage. Target too hard to hit? Russia builds a bigger nuclear warhead — and makes 55,000 of them.
Russians do not lament with tears over how to fit a wheeled vehicle capable of carrying glorified food delivery boys and vaccination teams into the back of a cramped propeller cargo plane. They’d rather build mobile, long-range surface to air missile trucks that can shoot down anything that flies.
Russians do not ask questions like, “Why do we need tanks? Why do we need aircraft carriers? Why do we need strategic bombers? Why do we need an air force?” Their scientists and professors do not spend years writing books that advocate the elimination of their most effective military weapons, puffing up imaginary threats … Russia has better things to do, like making planes, tanks, and ships just because other people have them.
Russians do not spend 20 years trying to appease their army, air force and naval branches with a single joint aircraft packed with complicated electronics, fancy composite parts and theoretical weapons never tested in combat. Russians make a quick and dirty combat aircraft with big engines and crank out squadron after squadron after squadron of them, so that the paltry 128 super-duper overengineered U.S. fighters they oppose are spread too thin and don’t have enough missiles to repulse a massed attack. And unlike the schizophrenic, constantly changing policies of Washington, Moscow can always be trusted to employ the same strategy over and over and over again.
When George H.W. Bush and Colin Powell began the process of dismantling the U.S. military to a “minimal deterrent” model — taking tactical nuclear weapons off surface warships, retiring thousands of combat and support aircraft, closing or consolidating dozens of bases — America set the stage for facing a resurgent Russia.
Instead of using the Cold War pause to recapitalize, modernize and prepare for the coming storm, the U.S. extended a hand of friendship and welcomed Russia into the capitalist world. Congress subsidized reconstruction of Russia’s crumbling early warning and nuclear command and control systems to “promote stability,” and the White House, in a spirit of good faith, even let Russians sit in U.S. military facilities to observe aerospace tracking to prevent conflict.
What a shock it must have been for the George W. Bush crew of “adults” when, while the Army was tied down with cave dwelling, raggedy insurgents in Afghanistan and Iranian-equipped terrorists in Iraq, Russian long-range strategic bombers began to buzz U.S. carriers and Asian and European allies. Of course, even before the bomber flights and arms buildup, the Bush administration’s magnum opus Nuclear Posture Review could not have delighted the Russians more: the Pentagon explicitly stated it would no longer plan for strategic war with Russia. The Pentagon had already drunk the Kool-Aid of preparing for low-intensity conflicts, anti-drug operations, counter-terrorism and cyberwar (all of which, incidentally, we have performed poorly in).
As Americans were treated to Republican grandstanding over al Qaeda terrorists or Iranian attempts to build strategic vaporware in the form of a couple intermediate range rockets and nuclear weapons that were, at best, 1950s in design, the Russians and Chinese used America’s post-9/11 counter-terrorism mania to quietly, yet earnestly, build up their traditional nuclear and conventional forces.
Now, America is in a lurch. Russia has “new” cruise missiles that can be fired from a thousand miles away? “How did that happen!” D.C. policymakers gasp. China has two separate stealth fighters that look like ripoff F-35s and F-22s? “How did they get such technology!” astonished members of Congress demand to know.
What We Know (But Don’t Know)
It is good that the Obama administration has suddenly decided to put away the 4GW/RMA nonsense of fighting terrorists with super-duper weapons in favor of returning to a traditional (sort of) Cold War defense model. But the difference between Jimmy Carter’s (supposedly weak) military and Obama’s military is that the civilians advising the U.S. defense establishment are hopelessly stuck on stupid. Let’s see: America is deploying air-dropped B61 tactical nukes to Germany? Wow, so scary! That’s really going to stop Russia, who can fire nuclear ICBMs or SLBMs at the bases hosting those weapons in less time than it takes to authorize, arm, and scramble the fighters carrying them.
Maybe if war college professors and civilian policymakers would stop tweeting idealistic hubris on Twitter and writing idiotic op-eds for think tanks, maybe America might have a chance at deterring Russia before the structure of the world changes against us.
To begin, forget about the Russians being “rational actors.” American idealistic rationalism is irrationality to the rest of the world. Russia, historically, always strikes first and acts boldly, forcing other states to react or submit to their policy. We see that in Syria, we saw that in Ukraine, in Georgia, in Kosovo, and the list goes on and on. Russia does not leak to bloggers and journalists their strategy months in advance to “test the waters” and see the diplomatic reaction. Russia simply acts. When Russian and American forces finally clash with each other, it will be the Russians who fire first — unless we do something about it.
We should not fear “incidents” with the Russians. In fact, the U.S. should make every effort to exploit Russian attempts to test American resolve. Former Carter National Security Advisor enraged the politisphere when he said earlier “The Russian naval and air presences in Syria are vulnerable, isolated geographically from their homeland. They could be disarmed if they persist in provoking the U.S..” He’s right. Americans need to stop being such simpering idealists and cowboy up.
The next time a Russian combat aircraft strays into NATO airspace, NATO fighters should shoot it down. Let the Russians decide how to deal with that. The only reason Russians breach NATO airspace is because they know Americans won’t respond. Stop saying that conflict with Russia will spark World War III. It won’t. The Russians are ballsy, but they aren’t stupid – history demonstrates that when faced with overwhelming U.S. pressure, they cave.
Second, Russia, India, and China will all attempt to play each other against each other and ultimately against the U.S. sphere of influence. The U.S. must be keen to this game of shifting alliances and seek to divide them by courting India and dividing China from Russia.
Last of all, the U.S. needs to stop trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to defense. We need to stop trying to find sneaky ways to cut costs and look better to the world because these strategies only result in our spending more money and losing more battles in the end. Stop trying to make a fancy hypersonic missile or new ICBM that fires halfway around the world only to drop a tiny (yet accurate!) explosive that only upsets the enemy being targeted. Stop trying to overthink the situation.
Our enemies have nuclear weapons. The weapons are rocket science, but the response isn’t. If your enemy has nukes, you need more nukes than he has. It’s that simple. Stop putting one nuke on a MARVed missile when you know the Russians are loading theirs to the max. Stop storing nukes and delivery platforms separately to “increase stability” … you’re just ensuring that the Russians and Chinese will decapitate you in their first strike.
Our enemies have an air force. Don’t be an idiot. You can’t defeat an air force of bombers with just ground pounders with rifles and lightly armed aluminum hulled littoral ships that rust in the water.
Our enemies are building aircraft carriers. Stop trying to get rid of ours.
Our enemies are bypassing America’s much lauded OODA Loop by getting inside our acquisition loop. And right now, we are losing the arms race with China, Russia and especially the Third World. When Africa can acquire new fourth generation combat aircraft and our own U.S. Air Force is struggling to keep the lights on, you know there’s a problem in Washington.
This isn’t difficult. We did this before, but for some reason, we can’t seem to do it now.
America needs a home run again when it comes to being the leader of the free world and a courageous fortress against international evil. Roll back the 30 years of stupid and maybe the world will start working right again.
Dr. de Gracia is a political scientist, an ordained minister, a former elected official and the author of the new political thriller “American Kiss,” available now from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other major bookstores. DISCLOSURE: Danny de Gracia is an elected Republican district chairman, but his opinions are expressly his own and do not reflect the official opinion of any organization.