The end of the “wars on the cheap” for the United States
4 August, 2017
This analysis was written for the Unz Review.
With the Neocon coup against Trump now completed (at least in its main objective, that is the neutralization of Trump, the subsidiary objective, impeaching Trump and removing him from office remains something for the future) the world has to deal, yet again, with a very dangerous situation: the AngloZionist Empire is on a rapid decline, but the Neocons are back in power and they will do anything and everything in their power to stop and reverse this trend. It is also painfully obvious from their rhetoric, as well as from their past actions, that the only “solution” out the Neocons see is to trigger some kind of war. So the pressing question now becomes this: “whom will the Empire strike next?”. Will it be the DPRK or Syria? Iran or Venezuela? In the Ukraine, maybe? Or do the Neocons seek war with Russia or China?
Now, of course, if we assume that the Neocons are completely crazy, then everything is possible, from a US invasion of Lesotho to a simultaneous thermonuclear attack on Russia and China. I am in no way dismissing the insanity (and depravity) of the Neocons, but I also see no point in analyzing that which is clearly irrational, if only because all modern theories of deterrence always imply a “rational actor” and not a crazy lunatic on an suicidal amok run. For our purposes, therefore, we will assume that there is a semblance of rational thinking left in Washington DC and that even if the Neocons decide to launch some clearly crazy operation, somebody in the top levels of power will find the courage prevent this, just likeAdmiral Fallon did it with his “not on my watch!” which possibly prevented a US attack on Iran in 2007). So, assuming a modicum of rationality is still involved, where could the Empire strike next?
The ideal scenario
We all by now know exactly what the Empire likes to do: find some weak country, subvert it, accuse it of human right violations, slap economic sanctions, trigger riots and militarily intervene in “defense” of “democracy”, “freedom” and “self-determination” (or some other combo of equally pious and meaningless concepts). But that is only the ‘political recipe’. What I want to look into is what I call “the American way of war”, that is the way US commanders like to fight.
During the Cold War, most of the US force planning, procurement, doctrine and training was focused on fighting a large conventional war against the Soviet Union and it was clearly understood that this conventional war could escalate into a nuclear war. Setting aside the nuclear aspect for a while (it is not relevant to our discussion), I would characterize the conventional dimension of such a war as “heavy”: centered on large formations (divisions, brigades), involving a lot of armor and artillery, this kind of warfare would involve immense logistical efforts on both sides and that, in turn, would involve deep-strikes on second echelon forces, supply dumps, strategic axes of communications (roads, railways, bridges, etc.) and a defense in depth in key sectors. The battlefield would be huge, hundreds of kilometers away on both sides of the FEBA (Forward Edge of Battle Area, or “front line”). On all levels, tactical, operational and strategic, defenses would be prepared in two, possibly three, echelons. To give you an idea of the distances involved, the Soviet 2nd strategic echelon in Europe was deployed as far back as the Ukraine! (this is why, by the way, the Ukraine inherited huge ammo dumps from the Soviet Union, and why there never was a shortage of weapons on any side for the conduct of the Ukrainian civil war). With the collapse of the Soviet Union’s Empire, this entire threat disappeared, well, if not overnight, then almost overnight. Of course, the Gulf War provided the US armed forces and NATO one last, but big, “goodbye party” (against an enemy which had absolutely no chance to prevail), but soon thereafter it became pretty clear to US strategists that the “heavy war” was over and that armored brigades might not be the most useful war-fighting tool in the US arsenal.
This is when US strategists, mostly from Special Operation Forces, developed what I like to call “war on the cheap”. It works something like this: first, get the CIA to fund, arm and train some local insurgents (if needed, bring some from abroad); next embed US Special Forces with these local insurgents and provide them with FACs (forward air controllers, frontline soldiers specially trained to direct close support fixed and rotary wing aircraft to strike at enemy forces in direct contact with US and “friendlies”); finally, deploy enough aircraft in and around the combat zone (on aircraft carriers, in neighboring countries or even on seized local airstrips) to support combat operations day and night. The key notion is simple: provide the friendly insurgents with an overwhelming advantage in firepower. You have all seen this on YouTube: US and “coalition” forces advance until they get into a firefight and, unless they rapidly prevail, they call in an airstrike which results into a huge BOOM!!! following by cheering Americans and friendlies and the total disappearance of the attackers. Repeat that enough times, and you get an easy, cheap and rapid victory over a completely outgunned enemy. This basic approach can be enhanced by various “supplements” such as providing the insurgents with better gear (antitank weapons, night vision, communications, etc.) and bringing in some US or allied forces, including mercenaries, to take care of the really tough targets.
While many in the US armed forces were deeply skeptical of this new approach, the dominance of the Special Forces types and the success, at least temporary, of this “war on the cheap” in Afghanistan made it immensely popular with US politicians and propagandists. Best of all, this type of warfare resulted in very few casualties for the Americans and even provided them with a high degree of “plausible deniability” should something go wrong. Of course, the various three letter spooks loved it too.
What so many failed to realize in the early euphoria about US invincibility was that this “war on the cheap” made three very risky assumptions:
First and foremost, it relied on a deeply demoralized enemy who felt that, like in the series “Star Trek”, resistance to the Borg (aka the USA) was futile because even if the actual US forces deployed were limited in size and capabilities, the Americans would, no doubt, bring in more and more forces if needed, until the opposition was crushed.
Second, this type of warfare assumes that the US can get air superiority over the entire battlefield. Americans do not like to provide close air support when they can be shot down by enemy aircraft or missiles.
Third, this type of warfare requires the presence of local insurgents who can be used as “boots on the ground” to actually occupy and control territory. We will now see that all three of these assumptions are not necessarily true or, to put it even better, that the AngloZionists have run out of countries in which these assumptions still apply. Let’s take them one by one.
Hezbollah, Lebanon 2006
Okay, this war did not officially involve the USA, true, but it did involve Israel, which is more or less the same, at least for our purposes. While it is true that superior Hezbollah tactics and preparation of the battlefield did play an important role, and while it is undeniable that Russian anti-tank weapons gave Hezbollah the capability to attack and destroy even the most advanced Israeli tanks, the single most important development of this war was that for the first time in the Middle-East a rather small and comparatively weak Arab force showed no fear whatsoever when confronted with the putatively “invincible Tshahal”. The British reporter Robert Fisk was the first person to detect this immense change and its tremendous implications: (emphasis added)
You heard Sharon, before he suffered his massive stroke, he used this phrase in the Knesset, you know, “The Palestinians must feel pain.” This was during one of the intifadas. The idea that if you continue to beat and beat and beat the Arabs, they will submit, that eventually they’ll go on their knees and give you what you want. And this is totally, utterly self-delusional, because it doesn’t apply anymore. It used to apply 30 years ago, when I first arrived in the Middle East. If the Israelis crossed the Lebanese border, the Palestinians jumped in their cars and drove to Beirut and went to the cinema. Now when the Israelis cross the Lebanese border, the Hezbollah jump in their cars in Beirut and race to the south to join battle with them. But the key thing now is that Arabs are not afraid any more. Their leaders are afraid, the Mubaraks of this world, the president of Egypt, King Abdullah II of Jordan. They’re afraid. They shake and tremble in their golden mosques, because they were supported by us. But the people are no longer afraid.
This is absolutely huge and what the “Divine Victory” of the Party of God first achieved in 2006 is now repeated in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere. The fear of the “sole superpower” is finally gone, replaced by a burning desire to settle an infinite list of scores with the AngloZionists and their occupation forces.
Hezbollah also proved another very important thing: the winning strategy when faced against a superior enemy is not to try to protect yourself against his attacks, but to deny him a lucrative target. Put simply: “a cammo tent is better than a bunker” or, if you prefer “if they can spot you, they can kill you”. The more academic way to put is would be this: “don’t contest your enemy’s superiority – make it irrelevant”.
Looking back it is quite obvious that one of the most formidable weapons in the AngloZionist arsenal was not the nuclear bomb or the aircraft carrier, but a propaganda machine which for decades successfully convinced millions of people around the globe that the US was invincible: the US had the best weapons, the best trained soldiers, the most advanced tactics, etc. Turns out this is total nonsense – the US military in the real world was nothing like its propaganda-world counterpart: when is the last time the US actually won a war against an adversary capable of meaningful resistance? The Pacific in WWII?
[Sidebar: I chose the example of Hezbollah in 2006 to illustrate the collapse of the “sacred into surrender” paradigm, but to illustrate the “don’t contest your enemy’s superiority – make it irrelevant” the better, and earlier, example would be Kosovo in 1998-1999 when a huge operation involved the entire NATO air forces which lasted for 78 days (the Israeli aggression against Lebanon lasted only 33 days) resulted in exactly nothing: a few destroyed APCs, a few old aircraft destroyed on the ground, and a Serbian Army Corps which was unscathed, but which Milosevic ordered to withdraw for personal, political reasons. The Serbs were the first ones to prove this “target denial” strategy as viable even against an adversary with advanced intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities]
Russians task force, Syria 2015
As I have always insisted that the Russian operation in Syria was not a case of “the Russians are coming” or “the war is over”. The reality is that the Russians sent is a very small force and that this force did not so much defeat Daesh as it changed the fundamental character of the political context of the war: simply put – by going in the Russians not only made it much harder politically for the Americans to intervene, they also denied them the ability to use their favorite “war on the cheap” against the Syrians.
When the Russians first deployed their task force to Syria they did not bring with them anywhere near the kind of capabilities which would deny the Americans the use of the Syrian air space. Even after the shooting down of the Russian SU-24 by the Turks, the Russians only deployed enough air-defenses and air superiority fighters to protect themselves from a similar attack by the Turks. Even today, as I write these words, if the USAF or USN decided to take control of the Syrian airspace they could undoubtedly do it simply because in purely numerical terms the Russians still do not have enough air defenses or, even less so, combat aircraft, to deny the Syrian airspace to the Americans. Oh sure, such a US attack would come at a very real costs for the Americans, both militarily and politically, but anybody who really believes that the tiny Russian air contingent of 33 combat aircraft (of which only 19 can actually contest the Syrian airspace: 4 SU-30, 6 SU-34, 9 Su-27) and an unknown number of S-300/S-400/S-1 Pantsir batteries can actually defeat the combined airpower of CENTCOM and NATO is delusional to the extreme or simply does not understand modern warfare.
The problem for the Americans is formed by a matrix of risks which, of course, includes Russian military capabilities, but also includes the political risks of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria. Not only would such a move be another major escalation in the already totally illegal US intervention in this war, but it would require a sustained effort to suppress the Syrian (and, potentially, Russian) air defenses and that is something the White House is not willing to do right now, especially when it remains completely unclear what such a risky operation would achieve. As a result, the American did strike here and there, just like the Israelis, but in reality their efforts are pretty much usхeless.
Even worse is the fact that the Russians are now turning the tables on the Americans and providing the Syrian forces with FACs and close air support, especially in key areas. The Russians have also deployed artillery controllers and heavy artillery systems, including multiple-rocket launchers and heavy flamethrowers, which are all giving the firepower advantage to the government forces. Paradoxically, it is the Russians who are now fighting a “war on the cheap” while denying this options to the Americans and their allies.
Good terrorists, aka “FSA”, Syria 2017
The main weakness of the Free Syrian Army is that it does not really exist, at least not on the ground. Oh sure, there are plenty of FSA Syrian exiles in Turkey and elsewhere, there are also plenty of Daesh/al-Qaeda types who try hard to look like an FSA to the likes of John McCain, and there are a few scattered armed groups here and there in Syria who would like to be “the FSA”. But in reality this was always an abstraction, a purely political concept. This virtual FSA could provide many useful things to the Americans, a narrative for the propaganda machine, a pious pretext to send it in the CIA, a small fig leaf to conceal the fact that Uncle Sam was in bed with al-Qaeda and Daesh and a political ideal to try to unify the world against Assad and the Syrian government. But what the FSA could never provide, was “boots on the ground”. Everybody else had them: Daesh and al-Qaeda for sure, but also the Syrians, the Iranians and Hezbollah and, of course, the Turks and the Kurds. But since the Takfiris were officially the enemy of the USA, the US was limited in the scope and nature of the support given to these Wahabi crazies. The Syrians, the Iranians and Hezbollah were demonized and so it was impossible to work with them. That left the Turks, who had terrible relations with the USA, especially after the US-backed coup against Erdogan, and the Kurds who were not too eager to fight and die deep inside Iraq and whose every move was observed with a great deal of hostility by Ankara. As the war progressed the terrible reality finally hit the Americans: they had no “boots on the ground” to embed their Special Ops with or to support.
The best illustration of this reality is the latest American debacle in the al-Tanf region near the Jordanian border. The Americans, backed by the Jordanians, quietly invaded this mostly empty part of the Syrian desert with the hope of cutting off the lines of communications between the Syrians and the Iraqis. Instead, what happened was that the Syrians cut the Americans off and reached the border first, thereby making the American presence simply useless (see here and here for details). It appears that the Americans have now given up, at least temporarily, on al-Tanf, and that US forces will be withdrawn and redeployed elsewhere in Syria.
So who is next – Venezuela?
A quick look back in history shows us that the Americans have always had problem with their local “allies” (i.e. puppets). Some were pretty good (South Koreans), others much less so (Contras), but all in all each US use of local forces comes with an inherent risk: the locals often have their own, sometimes very different, agenda and they soon come to realize that if they depend on the Americans, the Americans also depend on them. Add to this the well-known fact that Americans are not exactly known for their, shall we say, “multi-cultural sensitivity and expertise” (just see how few of them even know the local language!) and you will see why US intelligence usually becomes aware of this problem by the time it is way too late to fix it (no amount of fancy technology can be substituted for solid, expert human intelligence). The reality is that Americans are typically clueless about the environment they operate in. The US debacle in Syria (or in Libya or the Ukraine, for that matter) is an excellent illustration of this.
Now that we have identified some of the doctrinal and operational weaknesses of the US “war on the cheap” approach, let’s apply them to a list of potential target countries:
Notes: “demoralized enemy” and “air superiority” are my best guesstimate, I might be wrong; “boots on the ground” refers to to a indigenous and combat capable force already inside the country (as opposed to a foreign intervention) capable of seizing and holding ground, and not just some small insurgent group or a political opposition.
If my estimates are correct, then the only candidate for a US intervention would be Venezuela. However, what is missing here is the time factor: a US intervention, to be successful, would require an realistic exit strategy (the US is already overextended and the very last thing the Empire needs would be getting bogged down in another useless and unwinnable war à la Afghanistan. Also, while I gave the Venezuelan opposition a tentative “yes” for its ability to play the “boots on the ground” role (especially if backed by Colombia), I am not at all sure that the pro-American forces in Venezuela have anywhere near the capabilities of the regular armed forces (which, I believe, would oppose a US invasion) or the various Leftist guerrilla groups who tolerated the Chavez-Maduro rule but who have kept their weapons “just in case”. Furthermore, there is the issue of terrain. While Caracas might be easy to seize in an optimistic scenario, the rest of the country would be difficult and dangerous to try to operate in. Finally, there is the issue of staying power: while Americans like quick victories, Latin American guerrillas has already proven many times over that they can fight for decades. For all these reasons, while I do think that the USA is capable of intervening in Venezuela and messing it up beyond all recognition, I don’t see the USA as capable of imposing a new regime in power and imposing their control over the country.
Conclusion – Afghanistan 2001-2017
Afghanistan is often called the “graveyard of Empires”. I am not so sure that Afghanistan will ever become the graveyard of the AngloZionist Empire, but I do think that Afghanistan will become the graveyard of the “war on the cheap” doctrine, which is paradoxical since Afghanistan was also the place were this doctrine was first applied with what initially appeared to be a tremendous success. We all remember the US Special Forces, often on horseback, directing B-52 airstrikes against rapidly retreating Afghan government forces. Sixteen years later, the Afghan war has dramatically changed and US forces are constantly fighting a war in which 90% of the casualties come from IEDs, where all the efforts at some kind of political settlement have miserably failed and where both victory and withdrawal appear as completely impossible. The fact that now the US propaganda machines has accused Russia of “arming the Taliban” is a powerful illustration of how desperate the AngloZionists are. Eventually, of course, the Americans will have to leave, totally defeated, but for the time being all they are willing to admit is that they are “not winning” (no kidding!).
The US dilemma is simple: the Cold War is long over, and so is the Post Cold War, and a complete reform of the US armed forces is clear long overdue and yet also politically impossible. Right now the US armed forces are the bizarre result of the Cold War, the “war on the cheap” years and of failed military interventions. In theory, the US should begin by deciding on a new national security strategy, then develop a military strategy in support of this national security strategy, followed by the development of a military doctrine which itself would then produce a force modernization plan which would affect all aspects of military reform from training to force planning to deployment. It took the Russians over a decade to do this, including a lot of false starts and mistakes, and it will take the Americans at least as long, or even more. Right now even the decision to embark on such a far reaching reform seems to be years away. For the time being, garden variety propaganda (“we’re number one, second to none!!”) and deep denial seem to be the order of the day. Just as in Russia, it will probably take a truly catastrophic embarrassment (like the first Russian war in Chechnya) to force the US military establishment to look reality in the eye and to actually act on it. But until that happens, the ability of US forces to impose their domination on those countries which refuse to surrender to various threats and sanctions will continue to degrade.
So is Venezuela next? I hope not. In fact, I think not. But if it is, it will be one hell of a mess with much destroyed and precious little achieved. The AngloZionists have been punching above their real weight for decades now and the world is beginning to realize this. Prevailing against Iran or the DPRK is clearly beyond the actual US military capabilities. As for attacking Russia or China – that would be suicidal. Which leaves the Ukraine. I suppose the US might send some weapons to the junta in Kiev and organize some training camps in the western Ukraine. But that’s about it. None of that will make any real difference anyway (except aggravating the Russians even more, of course).
The era of “wars on the cheap” is over and the world is becoming a very different place than it used to be. The USA will have to adapt to this reality, at least if it wants to retain some level of credibility, but right now it does not appear that anybody in Washington DC – except Ron Paul – is willing to admit this. As a result, the era of major US military interventions might well be coming to an end, even if there will always be some Grenada or Panama size country to “triumphantly” beat up, if needed. This new reality, of course, immediately raises the issue of what/how the US Dollar will be backed by in the future (until now, it was only really “backed” by US military power), but that is a very different topic.