A reader writes with this request for you well-informed BD readers. It reminds me that I read the other day that Russia took more casualties at Stalingrad than the United States suffered during the entire war:
While I've read many books about World War II, they've all been from the Western perspective (and predominantly about the United States' role in the war). I've been reading Dominic Tierney's mediocre but salvageable How We Fight, and he made a particularly interesting note about Russia's more significant role in WWII compared to the US -- more loss of life, greater stakes, and ultimate victory.
I've never read an account of WWII from the Russian perspective, and I'm not quite sure where to start in my search for one or two good volumes. I was hoping you might either have a suggestion, or be interested in posting to your blog to see what answers may come.
The deputy foreign minister for Russia may be reading Best Defense: "We must look squarely at the facts and the trend now suggests that the regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory."
Speaking of crummy things, several of you have written to me protesting the latest changes in this blog's commenting system. I agree: This morning the system wouldn't even allow me to read the comments. It seems like every time the LiveFyre system settles down, some genius comes up with a new fillip to screw things up again. I have complained to the authorities.
Prison is a good place to learn to really listen to your own mind and your own body. I've learned to read much more deeply, for instance. For four months, I had nothing to read but the Bible, so I read it for all four months -- diligently, picking everything apart. Prison is like a monastery -- it's a place for ascetic practices. After a month here, I became a vegetarian. Walking in circles for an hour in that tiny dusty yard gets you into a pretty meditative state as well. We don't get much in the way of the news. But enough to get inspired. "
Later in the interview, she comments, in an aside, "unlike Putin, we're not chickenshit."
By Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan (US Army, Ret.)
Best Defense kommissar of old school Russian affairs
It appears that Russia and the United States are about to embark on what may be the most peaceful and productive arms race in history -- a defensive arms race.
Russia, the U.S., and NATO have been unable to come to agreement over U.S. missile defense plans for Europe. Russia views the deployment of U.S. interceptors there as the first step to an eventual capability to negate Russia's only remaining deterrent to an attack by the West -- its nuclear offensive weapons. Russia has basically three responses it can choose: increase its offensive forces, increase its defensive forces, or do nothing.
On Nov. 29th, President Dmitry Medvedev announced that the Russian made Voronezh-DM radar warning station was moving to immediate combat readiness. It will detect incoming missiles targeted against Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad. "I expect that this step will be seen by our partners as the first signal of the readiness of our country to make an adequate response to the threats which the (Western) missile shield poses for our strategic nuclear forces," Medvedev said.
Russian leaders have previously promised to improve the survivability of their offensive nuclear missile force as a means of ensuring that they would retain an effective nuclear deterrent, and that will likely happen. But recent events and announcements indicate that Russia is also investing money in its own increased missile defenses. The Ministry of Defense is creating a new branch of service, the Aerospace Defense Force, which will unite defensive forces stretching from space-based platforms to land based systems, all intended to protect against external attacks, first and foremost U.S. strategic nuclear attacks. This is an unexpected development given that most observers, and even some Russian military leaders, predicted Russia would not follow America's lead in spending billions on expensive missile defense technologies.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
It seems that Prime Minister Vladmir Putin isn't the only one using dogs to get the upper hand in Russia. And the United States isn't the only country catching on to the how valuable bomb-sniffing dogs are in the field. After the bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport last January, President Dmitry Medvedev has made a big push to get more sniffer dogs on patrol -- and more dogs there will be.
The Russian military is banking on what they're calling "high-tech" bomb-sniffing dogs -- an overstatement perhaps given its rudimentary function. As the BBC reports from a military base outside of Moscow, this elevated technology is really just a remote-controlled dog, consisting of little more than a walkie-talkie and small video camera strapped to the dog's collar.
Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images
1. North Korea, complete arseholes -- even the Chinese have outgrown them.
2. Russia, a whole country run like The Sopranos only with less charm and public spiritedness.
3. Iran, such manifest dips***s that even their neighbours want them dead.
Ok, the ban is back on now.
Essargee - Office of Government Reports/U.S. National Archive
Why doesn't anyone ever tell me these things?
I'd avoided reading Col. Robert S. Allen's book Lucky Forward, a history of Patton's Third Army, because it has the reputation of being a gushing bio by a former aide. Allen was assistant G-2 -- that is, the no. 2 guy in the intelligence section --for Patton's Third Army during World War II.
I finally picked up the book yesterday, and in doing some preliminary research, was surprised to learn that a few years ago, Allen, who shot himself in 1981, has been revealed to have worked briefly with the KGB in the 1930s. The KGB code-named him source "Sh/147," according to Spies: the rise and fall of the KGB in America, a 2009 book by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev, who dug through the KGB's archives.
This is complex but interesting. In 1931, Allen, then the Washington bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor, along with Drew Pearson, then of the Baltimore Sun, anonymously wrote a gossipy book titled Washington Merry Go-Round. After being identified and fired from their newspaper jobs, in 1933, Allen and Pearson started a syndicated column of the same name. The same year, the KGB's New York station reported to Moscow Center that Allen looked to be a good source because he was plugged into the Roosevelt Administration, just then taking office, and put him on a $100-a-month stipend, according to Spies, which Yale University Press published in paperback earlier this year. That wasn't great pay, but remember that this was during the Depression. "Given the lack of any reference to him after the first two months of 1933, it is likely the relationship did not last more than a few months," the book says. "There is no indication of whether he or the KGB ended their association."
Allen, an Army reservist who went on active duty in 1942, also was "one of the few people cleared for the ULTRA secrets" in Europe during World War II, according to the website of the George Patton Museum. Sadly enough, he lost an arm during the war, was briefly taken prisoner, and then when back home was elbowed out of the column by Pearson, who replaced him with Jack Anderson. Lucky Forward, by the way, is as gushy as I expected. Patton can do no wrong, and Allen describes his immediate superior, Col. Oscar Koch, as "the greatest G-2 in the U.S. Army" (46, Manor Books paperback edition). It also is written in a kind of Winchellesque staccato. "There was one force, however, Montgomery could not keep from Falaise. The Air." (89)) It does have some minor tidbits. But no, it would not make my list of the top 500 books to read about World War II.
If I were the KGB, I would have been mighty tempted during World War II to blackmail Allen into sharing Ultra knowledge. Learning all this also makes me wonder just how Drew Pearson came to be the one who broke the hot news about General Patton slapping two hospitalized soldiers in Sicily in the summer of 1943. That happened before Patton took over the Third Army, but Allen might well have been hearing things.
Mexican drug boss Tony Tormenta ("storm" in Spanish) went out Butch Cassidy-style in a running firefight the other day across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Not only automatic weapons, but also grenades, were involved. Final score: Drug gang lost 4, Mexican marines lost 3, with one observer, a Mexican reporter, also killed. Border bridges were briefly closed.
Speaking of violence against journalists, a leading Russian reporter got his legs, jaw and fingers broken by someone who apparently disliked the attention he has given to political extremist groups. It takes real courage to write honestly about politics in today's Russia.
Policy Review has a rambling essay on military memoirs that I found especially interesting for its discussion, at the end, of a recent memoir of serving in the Russian army. I hadn't heard of One Soldier's War in Chechnya, by Arkady Babchenko, but was struck by some of it quoted in the essay:
'This is not an army, but a herd drawn from the dregs of the criminal classes, lawless apart from the dictates of the jackals that run it.' In this 'army living by prison camp rules,' the end product is a soldier without a conscience and 'with a coldness inside [him] and a hatred of the whole world, with no past and no future.'"
Meanwhile, here is a roundup of recent U.S. military memoirs. (How can I not like an essay that says in an aside, "Ricks is even more right about that than he realizes?" Of course, he goes on to say that, "Ricks is wrong to think we can rely on ROTC instead of, rather than along with, the academies" -- but alas he misses the point that in advocating closing the military academies and war colleges, I advocated moving to a Sandhurst-like approach, rather than just relying on ROTC. And send colonels to civilian institutions to learn how to think strategically.)
Speaking of military memoirs, Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature yesterday. He isn't generally known for military writing, but his novel Captain Pantoja and the Special Service is a good farce about an officer assigned to set up a roving brothel for troops isolated in the Amazonian jungle.
YURI TUTOV/AFP/Getty Images
A long-term plan to "infiltrate" think tanks, eh?
That is not a project that requires years of effort and much expenditure. I think someone was scamming Moscow Center. "Yes, comrade, we are planning to infiltrate the think tanks in five or ten years. Meanwhile, please send funds for a new car."
I also suspect the FBI is hyping this one.
A few months ago historian Geoffrey Wawro and I did a panel discussion together for a group of documentarians specializing in military history. He mentioned then that he had a new history of the American experience in the Middle East being published soon, and now it is out. It is called Quicksand.
Yesterday I interviewed him by e-mail.
Best Defense: What are the essential facts that Americans don't understand about the Middle East?
Geoffrey Wawro: Americans look at the Middle East through the lens of terrorism. This is analogous to the Cold War tendency to view the Middle East as a place under perpetual threat from Communism. In fact, most Middle Eastern peoples detest terrorism, and their security services are committed to its destruction. Unfortunately, states like Iran, Syria, Libya and Iraq under Saddam play a double game. Although frightened by terrorist extremism, they succor groups that they can wield tactically against their enemies, chiefly Israel. In the event of a U.S. war with Iran, those groups -- like Hezbollah -- would be unleashed against Americans and U.S. interests as well. What this means for Americans, is that we must proceed delicately. It is foolhardy to imagine we can "rid the world of terrorism," if only because terror attacks are an asymmetric weapon wielded by weaker states against stronger ones. Syria is certainly a "terrorist state" in the sense that it gives cover to anti-Israeli terrorist groups -- which Damascus regards as no more objectionable than Israeli F-16s -- but it is also a country that we can do business with, solidifying gains in Iraq, managing Lebanon and the Kurds, and fighting al-Qaeda. This complexity, with its strong odor of amorality, exasperates Americans, but is an ineradicable piece of the Middle Eastern landscape, of the "quicksand" I describe in my new book.
BD: What do you think of the Obama Administration's handling of the Iran situation?
GW: This is a tough one. Iran may well be on track to have a nuclear weapon before the end of Obama's first term. We've known about this program for seven years, yet both Bush 43 and Obama have failed to strangle it with hard sanctions, owing to the reluctance of Russia and China to get tough. On the one hand, Obama is trying to distance himself from the "axis of evil" rhetoric, and make a good faith effort to understand Iran better. On the other hand, he deplores the bloodthirsty irresponsible chatter coming out of Iran: the holocaust denials and the bluster about actually using nukes. But the recently leaked Robert Gates (January) memo about the absence of military options for Iran gets to the heart of the problem. How does the U.S. fight a war, or even an air campaign, against Iran today? Can we afford it? Can we afford the disruption in oil flows? Can we afford the inevitable explosion of Iranian wrath in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf? Can Israel deal with concurrent explosions from Iranian clients in Gaza and Lebanon? The question that recurs to me is why are the Russians and Chinese -- who have their own problems with Islamist extremism and proliferation -- not taking this threat seriously? Neither one of them wants to credit an American right to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation, but at some point THEY need to take this threat seriously. Obama should have traded the anti-missile sites in East Central Europe for Russian sanctions on Iran.
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
I'm always struck by the tawdriness of the real world of intelligence, so unlike the glamour of many thriller novels. It turns out that a retired Israeli intelligence operative sold out to the KGB because he needed money to bail him out of some business failures. They worked him for seven years, during which he spilled as much as he could, including information about "American intelligence officers in contact with Israeli intelligence, including names, positions and specialties"-and received a grand total of $31,000. What a shmuck!
Flickr user: zeevveez
If you want to understand what is going on, read this -- by far the best thing I've read on the Obama administration's decision to change course on missile defenses facing Russia and Iran.
Kaplan's bottom line:
What will the Russians do now? They've cited the missile-defense plan as the main source of suspicion, the main obstacle to improved relations. Now that Obama has wiped it off the board, will Putin and Medvedev come around -- or will they bring up some other reason, some other excuse, for remaining distant and occasionally hostile? It's in the Kremlin's court.
The only thing I'd add is the lineup that made the decision. President Obama remains a novice in foreign affairs, but he is backed by people who know this subject intimately from a variety of angles -- James Jones (national security advisor, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe), Gen. Cartwright (vice chairman of Joint Chiefs, former head of U.S. Strategic Command) and Robert Gates (defense secretary, and lifetime Russia expert).
I have no idea where Hilary Clinton is on all this. Am I wrong or is she floundering in her job?
Tambako the Jaguar/flickr
I've spent the last several days at the Naval War College, which hosted a big summary conference on counterinsurgency practices.
One of the most interesting presentations was by Harvard's Mark Kramer, who took issue with the assertion made in the American military's counterinsurgency manual that each side in a COIN fight is vying to be perceived as legitimate by the population. The Russians, he said, in several campaigns both at home and aboard have strived not for legitimacy, but simply for control. And in each instance their operations were notably brutal but also quite effective.
He cited four major cases, beginning with western Ukraine and Lithuania from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. Contrary to the current American view that "enemy-centric" approaches don't work, he said, the Russian approach worked, probably because of its "unbridled violence" against anyone who got in the way. He noted that Nikita Khrushchev, then the head of the Ukrainian Communist party, told his security agents in 1945 that, "For one of ours, we will take out a hundred of theirs." (Why does this line remind me of Sonny Corleone?)
Then, in Hungary in 1956, after an initial hesitant approach in October, the Soviets cracked down hard in November, and successfully crushed the anti-communist uprising.
Most strikingly, he argued that even in Afghanistan, the nasty Russian approach was "partly successful, albeit at horrific cost for Afghanistan." That's not the conventional wisdom about what happened in the so-called graveyard of empires, so I listened especially closely to this part of presentation. The great shift in the Afghan war, he said, wasn't the introduction of Stinger missiles (that is, the story told in the book and movie Charlie Wilson's War) but the coming to power of Gorbachev, who wanted to get out of Afghanistan. "They notion that Stinger missiles brought this about is just a fallacy," Kramer said. "The first ones didn't arrive until September 1986" -- which, he said, was after Gorbachev had decided to get out.
Finally, in Chechnya, the Russians did not seek or win legitimacy, just effective rule. He said his interviews there indicate to him that again, they succeeded.
So, he concluded, the Russians have made a pretty good case for the efficacy of "enemy-centric" counterinsurgency operations -- just as long as one doesn't mind being extraordinarily brutal in those campaigns. This is of course a sharp contrast to the "population-centric" approach prescribed in the new American COIN manual.
The Obama people are throwing the Russians a bone and cancelling the Bush Administration move to put missle defense systems in Poland the Czech Republic. I hope this is part of a deal or understanding that the Russians will help us out more on containing Iran.
This is, by the way, good news for the U.S. Navy, which now will have to plan on deploying anti-missile ships to the Black Sea, where they could try to intercept rockets the Iranians might be stupid enough to shoot northwestward toward Europe. Ah, "the Black Sea fleet" -- that has a nice ring to it. Turkey is also a nice place for liberty ports. There are lots of interesting and relatively inexpensive towns in Turkey, especially on its Mediterranean coast, which Americans never seem to have discovered. And the larger message for political leaders is a reminder that sea-based systems are less subject to political pressures than are land-based systems -- another plus for the Navy.
Tambako the Jaguar/flickr
Well, duh! This is a dog bites man headline. Memo to the ale-addled hacks of Sunday Times of London: It would be newsier if you find a Chechen rebel who was sure he wouldn't be whacked.
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- NATO foreign ministers agreed Thursday to resume high-level formal ties with Russia, suspended last year after Moscow's military thrust into Georgia.
KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that Moscow would halt gas deliveries to Ukraine if payment were not received by Saturday, and this could also affect supplies to Europe.
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
The Russians are being all nice about letting the U.S. military ship gear through its territory to Afghanistan.
Next step: This time, try to keep the pilferage rate below 30 percent, OK? (Those of you who followed Afghanistan logistics issues back in the spring of 2002 know what I mean.)
The more I think about it, the more Russia is acting like Pakistan -- a difficult, nuclear-armed Third World country run by small, undemocratic group.
My guess is Obama's first foreign policy move will surprise everyone. I think it will be a reaching out to Russia. There will be no illusions about Vladimir Putin, who has made it clear that he is a thug. But I think the Obamites will sense that there is no need to go out of their way to create trouble here. Russia is in economic and demographic decline, especially with oil prices in the basement, so why rub its nose in it? Specifically, I think we might see a deal to move U.S. military supplies by rail through Russia and former Soviet Central Asia to the Afghan border. This will show cooperation, and also relieve pressure in Pakistan, where the Taliban and its allies lately have been embarrassing the government by attacking convoys carrying U.S. supplies for Afghanistan.
Photo of Putin at a meeting in December via ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.