August 16, 2004
The Russian cheerleaderBy Douglas Hanson
There is nothing more frustrating than a pundit who proposes to solve a critical problem with a solution that is based upon false premises and revisionist history. There is no shortage of intellectually pretentious commentators looking down their noses at President Bush, and prescribing the need for him to adopt a more 'sophisticated' approach to world affairs, making use of the 'allies' supposedly alienated by his clumsy diplomacy. The loss of such support is often regarded as crucial, as if these would—be strategic adjuncts had a great deal to contribute to our success in the War on Terror.
The Asia Times has just such a columnist, who goes by the pen name of Spengler. The acerbic wit and pretensions to intellectual grounding of his writing has drawn a worldwide following to Spengler's columns. This strategic prognosticator chooses to remain anonymous, even declining interviews from the prestigious (?) Religion Report of the Radio National (Australia).
Spengler concocts a dizzying combination of half—truths and contradictions in his article, Careful what you Bush for (cute title, huh?), while attempting to persuade the reader that President Bush will win a second term, while being miserable fighting the War on Terror, until the Russians ride to his rescue.
Spengler first reminds us that the Americans have yet to replace a Commander—in—Chief in a time of war; this is the last cogent statement he makes in the article. He maintains that Bush opened a Pandora's box a year ago (I thought we invaded Iraq in March 2003, not August 2003), and will be remembered as the President who led the US into a 'civilizational [sic] war.' Spengler then backtracks and says
...although it is more precise to say that civilizational [sic] war led the US into it.
So which is it? If I and the surviving family members of the 3000 who were murdered on 9—11 remember correctly, the 'other' civilization brought their form of warfare on innocents to our shores, not the other way around. According to Spengler, the best course of action would have been that President Bush simply shrug the attack off, and go have another swig of Wild Turkey. Of course, he assumes that GW ran for election based upon the notion that he wanted a job that would be a piece of cake, and would enable him to coast merrily along without a care in the world. I don't think even Bill Clinton was this na�ve, even though he sure had a hell of a lot of fun while in the Oval Office.
The most blatant errors in this diatribe occur when Spengler attempts to make the case for Russian intervention in Iraq. While granting the notion of the geo—political significance of Central Asia, the prediction that the Russian Army will solve all of our problems in the Sunni Triangle rests on this opinion piece from the Russian daily Izvestia:
Washington, to be sure, would like Russian peacekeepers in the Sunni belt in Iraq: they have a great deal of experience operating in such Muslim hot spots as Bosnia and Kosovo ... One should take note that in all these areas, the Russian peacekeepers enjoyed a very good relationship with the locals, without incidents and terrorist acts. Truthfully, the Russian leadership should consider this option quite carefully.
If this is Spengler's rationale for the bold assertion that the Russians will intervene in Iraq for the betterment of the region and the world, he is either a fool or deliberately deceptive, since the passage above is fraught with errors and revisionist history. Once examined in detail, Spengler's case falls apart, as does his theoretical intellectual prowess.
That the Russians have a great deal of experience in 'Muslim hotspots' in the Balkans is demonstrably false. The Russian Airborne Brigade, which was nominally part of the US—led Multi—National Division — North (MND—N), largely occupied the Bosnian Serb sector, where the religious denomination was Eastern Orthodox Christian. In fact, this was a key condition for Moscow's agreement to deploy their troops to Bosnia as part of the NATO Stability Force (SFOR). The aspect of Pan—Slavism, with the Russians watching over their poor, downtrodden Serbian brothers was of utmost importance to the Moscow leadership, especially from a psychological and propaganda viewpoint.
The closest the Russians got to Bosniac Muslims was when the brigade's signal platoon and liaison element (about 30 soldiers) were collocated with the US division headquarters in Tuzla. It is no wonder, then, that the Russians 'enjoyed a very good relationship with the locals.' It's because they were patrolling their brother Serbs' neighborhoods, not Muslim enclaves. Of course, Slobodan Milosovich's boys in Republika Srpska wouldn't dare commit any terrorist acts against the Russian Brigade; they're all Slavs after all.
Of course, the air campaign against Serbia over the status of the province of Kosovo was a very interesting time for the US Commanding General of MND—N, especially when it came to dealing with the Russian Airborne Brigade. Isvestia maintains that the Russian Army had a great relationship with the people in Kosovo, while ignoring the fact that the Russian brigade moved ahead of NATO forces to seize the Pristina airport in order to look out for the interests of Serbia and Slobo; not for any desire to ensure justice for Muslims. And, as previously reported in The American Thinker, this brigade refused to submit to the authority of the MND—N commander for about six hours before an informal accommodation was made by the two commanders on the ground.
In fact, the Russian experience with Islam over the last 20 years has been anything but a positive one in these Muslim 'hotspots.' Think of Chechnya today or Afghanistan 20 years ago. In Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union conducted a brilliant operation initiated by highly trained Spetsnaz groups and airborne divisions. After this initial success, things went downhill quickly thanks to Muslims — not the Mujahadeen so much as the Muslims serving in Russian forces.
The military leadership wanted to follow up the airborne effort in Kabul quickly with heavy forces, so the obvious solution was to mobilize category 'B' and 'C' divisions (units with older equipment and less trained personnel) in the bordering Soviet Central Asian Republics. Once deployed, these Muslim soldiers promptly sold weapons and ammo, and gave vital information to their Muslim brothers in the Mujahadeen. These poorly—prepared divisions were eventually rotated out, but momentum had already been lost during these first critical months of the war.
That Spengler relies on this daydream of an opinion piece in Izvestia to provide the crucial linchpin of his prediction shows that he is either an inexperienced analyst, not very well—read, deceptive, or all three. As further evidence that this is nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the author, he salivates at the prospect of Russian intervention in Iraq, yet, backtracks again, and says that
Russia does not want to engage its weakened and demoralized army in a foreign venture.
This is the understatement of the decade. Again, the experience of the Russian Airborne Brigade in Bosnia paints the picture of a troubled, homebound army. Not only was the brigade's logistic support provided by the US and NATO, but the salaries of the soldiers themselves were financed by the West. If the Russian Army were to ride to the rescue in Iraq, it would be on an old swayback nag, whose feed was provided by the Coalition, and whose shoes were nailed on by a US blacksmith.
Spengler has simply written a smarmy hit piece on President Bush disguised as a thoughtful article on the nuances of regional geo—politics. The writer not only talks down to the reader, but he denigrates the President's ability to understand the consequences if the West should loose this war. Apparently, Spengler longs for the good old days when Russia was a player on the world scene and had an army that was half—way decent, one that could implement Mother Russia's oppressive policies.
That world no longer exists, so Spengler needs to get out more, or start reading more newspapers than Izvestia.
Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent