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Driving home today, I was listening to the 'Hugh Hewitt' show on the radio, which in today's case meant I was listening to guest host Dean Barnett prove the limits of his military comprehension. Like many Americans, Dean was very concerned by Russia's brutal invasion of Georgia, and like many Americans Dean thought the American response should be fast and decisive. But today Dean decided to compare the present situation between Russia and Georgia, with the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Mr. Barnett claimed that sending U.S. troops in as a "tripwire" (his word) would stop the Russians. That, for a number of reasons would have been a very, very poor idea. Sending a force too small to accomplish any significant mission or hold any significant territory, without recourse to massive reinforcement and fallback positions, would simply kill those men. The war already underway, interposing our troops on the assumption that everyone would stop and cool down, is extremely naïve, almost Kerry-esque in its lack of contextual awareness. Mr. Barnett brought up Desert Shield and Desert Storm as his example of what we should be doing, without noting any of the critical differences, beginning with the fact that we had places to station troops from the get-go in Desert Shield, that our intel failed to predict the attack but had resources in place to assist our troops, that we had a coalition in loose formation to back us up in the U.N. before any U.S. soldier arrived at a likely battlefield, and - oh yes - Iraq was still trying to develop its first nuclear weapon, while Russia already has a fleet of ICBMs loaded and aimed at the United States. I don't want to be too harsh on Mr. Barnett - talk show hosts are not normally versed in thinking an argument all the way through, but the argument he used was a dangerous one, the idea that a symbolic act would be effective against an opponent with a track record of ignoring anything but superior force. As outraged as decent people are by the invasion of Georgia by Russia, the American response must be far better considered than a reckless, emotional gesture.

There is an aphorism, commonly displayed on the walls of various barracks, which reminds the men that 'prior proper planning prevents p**s poor performance'. For all the apparent fury of warfare, it is vital to understand and remember that soldiers must plan before acting, and that the best commander does not rush headlong into a battle, simply because the public is angry.


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Comments (18)

Time to disagree with DJ...... (Below threshold)
stevesturm:

Time to disagree with DJ...

First, the Bush Administration/Pentagon should have had plans in place for dealing/responding to something like this. And it is a sad indictment of our President that the best his advisers could come up with was a response so lame that it very well could have come from Obama.

Second, I can't speak to what Barnett was thinking, but the idea of a tripwire in a situation such as this is not necessarily a stupid idea. Nobody would expect a small contingent of troops to stop a Russian assault, rather their purpose would be to deter the Russians from attacking for fear that doing so (and killing Americans in the process) would escalate the conflict beyond what Putin was willing to do (the premise being that there is a point at which Putin would figure he's worse off and the question is whether getting into a shooting war with us changes the calculus for Putin sufficiently for him to back off). Of course, Putin might have gone ahead and attacked anyway, figuring that Bush wouldn't have done squat about it, in which case our troops would have been unnecessarily sacrificed.

awesome post.....I think i ... (Below threshold)

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Perhaps not necessarily stu... (Below threshold)

Perhaps not necessarily stupid, Steve - putting out a tripwire implies that you're going to have the assets in place and ready to be used when the tripwire is broken. We don't have that.

If we put in a small force, what could we realistically do in response to our soldiers getting killed? Nuke Russia? Oh, that'd go over well. Proportionate response and all that jazz... Maybe we could go ahead and toss a few 500 lb bombs at Moscow? Somehow, I just don't see THAT happening either.

We don't have the assets in place to be of any great assistance to Georgia, either. The Peace Dividend drawdown in the early '90s took care of the military personnel we didn't need at the time - and any real problems with Russia were a good decade or two off, and might not even happen at all. Physical assets - well, you gotta get them there, and the logistics would be a real problem. To get it there FAST, you've got to go by air - and that gets real expensive real fast.

We were able to get stuff to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia fast in Desert Storm - but the Saudis paid the freight and bought the gas... I don't think Georgia can do it.

Putin knows we're weak, and we're divided. At least he's stopped... for now.

Please ... much of our mili... (Below threshold)
LenS:

Please ... much of our military is in neighboring countries at this very moment. Air attacks on the tanks could hurt the Russians badly. And putting a hunter killer sub in the Black Sea would do wonders for eliminating the Black Sea naval threat. For that matter, naval cruise missiles could do the same thing.

And if Putin threatens us with their nukes and we cave, then he'll do it again and again. And he'll probably sell the Muslims what they need to hit our cities. I'd say our greatest priority is to start preparing an overwhelming first strike on Russia's ICBM's, bombers and missile subs. Destroy them and Russia is a medium power at best. We have bunker busters, we have precision weapons that work, we have stealth planes, we have cruise missiles, and we have hunter killer subs. A first strike that takes out his WMD's is not only possible, but highly likely to succeed.

And second, it's time to kill Putin. A little radiation poisoning would be poetic justice for his murders of dissidents and reporters around the world.

But if we do nothing, we will face massive casualties down the road. But that's to be expected, all of our leaders from all sides of the spectrum lack the courage to do what is necessary to any of our enemies.

Driving home today... (Below threshold)
Anon Y. Mous:
Driving home today, I was listening to the 'Hugh Hewitt' show on the radio, which in today's case meant I was listening to guest host Dean Barnett prove the limits of his military comprehension.
[...]
Mr. Barnett claimed that sending U.S. troops in as a "tripwire" (his word) would stop the Russians. That, for a number of reasons would have been a very, very poor idea. Sending a force too small to accomplish any significant mission or hold any significant territory, without recourse to massive reinforcement and fallback positions, would simply kill those men.

Ever hear of Korea? We have 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea, along the DMZ separating them from North Korea. North Korea has a million man army. Obviously, should they decide to attack South Korea, our 37,000 troops would be wiped out.

Would that be the end of it? Of course not. That's why North Korea has been disinclined to cross that tripwire: they know it would mean war with the U.S., and however much they might want to annex South Korea, they are not willing to take us on to do it.

They seem to comprehend their military situation quite clearly.

Putin is a bully.(KGB,bully... (Below threshold)

Putin is a bully.(KGB,bully. Same thing)

Apparently, W was born with the ability to deal, decisively, with one, and only one, bully in his life as POTUS.

Bush wanted to give the Hussein regime what it had coming, not so with someone whose soul he has gazed into.

Russia is about to establish itself as the new version of pre-war Iraq X one hundred. Why? Because as many have already noted,if the American government did not want this to happen,it would not have been allowed to happen.

Same old history comin at us folks: Think Europe, circa 1933, only this time, everyone has the bomb.

Preempt/stop the tyrant and become very unpopular for saving millions of human souls. That is a hard thing to do, even if you were already successful the first time. It's not easy being hated but, it's about to be near impossible to stay alive for millions of innocents and that is the fault of the appeasers, and those who appease the appeasers, ie: Bush.

Let 'em eat (un)resolutions and (presidential) condemnations.

For those who think Bush fa... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

For those who think Bush failed they need to realize that nothing short of NATO membership would have kept Russia from invading Georgia. Bush was the staunchest supporter of extending NATO membership to Georgia, but that didn't happen because of other nations. If anyone failed, it was the nations that opposed extending NATO membership to Georgia.

For those who think we should have had a tripwire in Georgia, they're nuts or ignorant, or both. Russia is no third rate power like Iran, Iraq, or north Korea, which the U.S. military could easily dispatch (not talking about nation building here). Given Russia's proximity to Georgia and the logistics difficulty of getting U.S. troops there in large numbers, it's unlikely the U.S. could push Russia out using a limited campaign. The alternative is all out war. Who in their right mind wants to risk starting world war three over Georgia? Thank God that Bush is not the reckless cowboy the left tries to make him out to be.

After Bush leaves office I expect China will follow Russia's lead and take back Twain. It's the same problem. China is near and can put lots of conventional forces onto the island while the U.S. is far away. Are we really going to risk all out war with China over Twain?

Nations on the boarder with Russia need membership in the EU and NATO to be free from invasion by Russia. If the west is not willing to extend such membership then we are giving Russia the green light to invade. That's particularly true if the west plays all it's non-military cards against Russia over Georgia. Then there's no downside for Russia invading the next helpless nation.

Sure, the U.S. could easily... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

Sure, the U.S. could easily "dispatch" a million North Korean soldiers, Mac Lorry. However, they have several hundred thousand rounds of chemical and biological artillery shells pointed at one of the most densely populated urban centres in the world, where nearly 40,000 U.S. soldiers are stationed. If Kim Jong-Il grew dissatisfied with the status quo; went even more crazy; or was diagnosed with a terminal illness and decided he wanted to leave an impression on the world greater than anybody's since Hitler, he could give the order and 20-some odd million people would die. Nothing anybody can do about it.

You're right, of course, in that Russia can act with near impunity in that region. China, however, likely could not take Taiwan. The Taiwanese air force is impressive, with modern American and French fighter planes in missile-resistant mountain hangars, and AIM and Harpoon missiles are pretty effective too. Unless things have changed since I looked into this issue with a modicum of depth a few years ago, China lacks the amphibious capability required to take a mountainous island like that.

Yes, NK can kill thousands ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Yes, NK can kill thousands of SK civilians, but that wasn't my point. My point was that the U.S. military could easily dispatch the NK military if it invaded SK. Once NK opens fire with their artillery they can expect a rain of cluster bombs from U.S. Army missile launchers that are well beyond NK's artillery range. NK's million man army is as much a weakness as it is a strength. They are on the wrong side of an extensive killing zone, and with U.S. air dominance, their troops and supplies won't be able to move. All communications between NK forces and their beloved leader would quickly be severed, and as we've seen in other dictatorships, once that link is cut the effectiveness of their military drops to near zero as an offensive force.

As for Twain, there's no doubt that China could take that island if they wanted to. The only hope for Twain would be the U.S. coming to it's aid, and I doubt we would go to war with China over Twain. The leaders of Twain should negotiate the best reconciliation terms they can get from China while the getting is good.

The west is now on notice that if it doesn't quickly extend NATO membership to nations like the Ukraine then Russia will use the same tactic it used in Georgia to create a pretense for invasion. If the Ukraine was to become a member of NATO then NATO troops would need to be based there ASAP to present a credible threat. Then it's Russia that has to weight the benefits of taking Ukraine with the risks of all out war with a military force it won't easily defeat. With the deployment of the F-22 Raptor to the area Russia won't gain air supremacy and then their tanks will face A-10s, Apaches, and Abrams (the A team).

How would China take Taiwan... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

How would China take Taiwan? They could destroy it, sure, but I don't think they're interested in a Pyrrhic victory. The U.S. has already come to their aid, to the tune of modern equipment, munitions, and training. I think the terrain and logistical obstacles posed by a mountainous island fortress like Taiwan would deter a Chinese invasion.

And, honestly curious, how come you keep spelling it 'Twain'?

And, honestly curi... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
And, honestly curious, how come you keep spelling it 'Twain'?

Sorry I confused you. Twain is a play on the word "Taiwan" and the concept of two Chinas. Remember, it was what we now call Taiwan that held the UN seat for China. I'll keep it simple for you and use Taiwan.

How would China take Taiwan?

One way would be to use the same tactic Russia used against Georgia. Create a pro-China group of rebels in Taiwan and arm them. They can then sabotage Taiwan's defenses and cause lots of unrest. China then claims it's only restoring peace.

China has been spending a large amount of it's new found wealth on it's military. I believe one of its goals is to cow the U.S. as well as create the capability to take Taiwan militarily. China considers Taiwan to be part of China, so it's not just a return on investment calculation that China is making. There's some nationalistic pride involved. If BO leads the US then I expect China will move on Taiwan. There's no point risking such a venture while the US has a strong leader.

Mac, the U.S. does not have... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

Mac, the U.S. does not have a strong leader. Strong is not the opposite of thoughtful. He is without political capital and is surrounded by people incapable of planning for the occupation of Iraq, which was something they were obviously interested in doing since the PNAC started dreaming about 'spreading freedom' throughout the Middle East in 1997.

As the American and Chinese economies are so intertwined right now, I think any worry about a military conflict between the two powers is bordering on the hysterical. China knows what it wants, and fighting the U.S. in a conventional war in their region (or a nuclear war anywhere) would cripple their long-term goals.

He is without poli... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
He is without political capital and is surrounded by people incapable of planning for the occupation of Iraq,

As commander in chief, Bush doesn't need much political capital to defend a nation like Taiwan. What he needs is the will to use military force and he has certainly demonstrated that he does.

As for planning for the occupation of Iraq, that would have been easy. Just follow the methods used by Nazi Germany, but that's not what the US went there for. We went there to liberate Iraq from Saddam and then rebuild that nation. That's a far more difficult task than just occupation. In fact, no one has ever done nation building in a more hostel location than Iraq. It even took the US ten years to get Japan back to where it could run it's own affairs and that's after they were defeated in a war in such a way that most of the population wanted peace.

You may not think Bush is a strong President, but in military terms China likely has a different opinion. Besides, just wait a few months and there's a good chance BO will take hold in the US. The Chinese can just keep him talking while they change the facts on the ground.

As the American and Chinese economies are so intertwined right now, I think any worry about a military conflict between the two powers is bordering on the hysterical.

For these same reasons and more the US won't come to Taiwan's aid should China invade. In fact, China has so much of our money they can put us into an economic depression nearly at will and they know it. Also China is not building up it's military for no reason.

Taiwan would be wise to seek terms for reconciliation now while doing so peacefully is a potent bargaining chip with China.

Mac Lorry, #7:"Aft... (Below threshold)
Kenny:

Mac Lorry, #7:

"After Bush leaves office I expect China will follow Russia's lead and take back Twain. It's the same problem. China is near and can put lots of conventional forces onto the island while the U.S. is far away. Are we really going to risk all out war with China over Twain?"


With respect Mac, I think your scenario is much more possible if Obama is elected president. The communist Chinese understand that he will talk, and not act.

But if McCain is elected president, I think the Chinese will leave Taiwan alone.

And I think you're both a b... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

And I think you're both a bit paranoid, as China lacks the amphibious capabilities. They would have a hell of a time taking over an island that size with only airborne troops as well, as Taiwan's surface to air defences are very formidable. This information is available online, if you'd care to avail yourself of it. (Took me about thirty seconds to find it earlier this morning when I was looking to refresh my understanding of how effective Taiwan's military would be at deterring an invasion from the mainland.)

Hyperbolist,I don'... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Hyperbolist,

I don't think you understand the situation. Taiwan is a modern developed nation dependent on it's extensive infrastructure to maintain it's lifestyle. Yes it has a mountainous spine, but every level area is highly developed. It only takes minutes to pull up a satellite view of Taiwan using Google maps to see what I'm talking about.

China doesn't have to invade to cause Taiwan to capitulate, all they have to do is demonstrate that they are both willing and able to destroy Taiwan's infrastructure while preventing Taiwan from doing the same to China's infrastructure. A short missile barrage and a few blown bridges will get the point across and when the U.S. doesn't show up in force, Taiwan will accept China's generous terms under the threat that they will never be offered such good terms again. Only then will the Chinese military step onto Taiwan.

Of course Taiwan will blame the U.S. for abandoning it, an idea the Chinese will foster, and it will be true. The time is past when the U.S. is willing to go to war with a major power over anything less than our own territory or perhaps that of NATO allies or Israel. Taiwan needs to come to terms with that and get the best deal they can from China. Japan needs to look to it's own defenses as does South Korea and all the nations of South America and Africa. Electing BO only speeds up this decline of the US as a superpower. Sorry free world, but the American electorate has no stomach for sacrifice or even hearing about sacrifice.

What sort of sacrifice woul... (Below threshold)
hyperbolist:

What sort of sacrifice would curbing the regional ambitions of China entail, Mac? Certainly a military draft and several hundred thousand dead soldiers, if such an operation were even thinkable. McCain wouldn't have the stomach for it either, nor should he. Being morally superior to China does not require being able to out-slug them. And, depressingly, it does not require China to lose economically. Sometimes it sucks being the good guys.

What sort of sacri... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
What sort of sacrifice would curbing the regional ambitions of China entail, Mac?

For starters, the U.S. economy. We have sold China our economic well being and independence in exchange for cheap goods.

McCain wouldn't have the stomach for it either, nor should he.

Maybe not, but electing an old war horse like McCain sends a message that the U.S. is still willing to invest in a powerful high tech military, one that China won't be ready to take on for a decade or so. China is in no hurry.

Being morally superior to China does not require being able to out-slug them.

No doubt Georgia has a different point of view. That of a nation at the mercy of Russia while the U.S. and the EU maintain their moral superiority.

Sometimes it sucks being the good guys.

Being the good guy is useless without the ability and willingness to help. Another way of saying it is, without the ability and willingness to help no one can be the good guy.




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