Friday, September 16, 2016

How the Next U.S. President Will Fall Into a War with Russia

Regardless of who wins the election in November, the United States will once again be afflicted with a president who has no coherent foreign policy. I would argue both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have an even less coherent foreign policy than Barack Obama, whose foreign policy aligned with the radical "new" left of the 60s and believed that the United States is EVIL incarnate and our highest goal should be to change ourselves rather than anyone else. Changing someone else being, of course, the goal of anything resembling an actual foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton perhaps used to have a somewhat more traditional foreign policy, but she is now so firmly tied to the Obama administration that she simply can't move a muscle on the issue. She went so far as to accept the Secretary of State position in Obama's administration and got majorly burned by going behind his back to implement something she believed in. At the very core of her soul, she is a political animal, and there's no possible way she can implement the type of foreign policy she actually believes in now that she has so closely aligned herself with Obama, not to mention the Democratic Party which has been overrun by radical leftists. If she did do what she really wants, her foreign policy would look much more like George W. Bush's than Barack Obama's, but unfortunately no foreign leader, least of all Vladimir Putin, is going to take her seriously on that.

 Donald Trump is even more of an enigma on foreign policy. Pretty much the only notable thing he's said on foreign policy is lionizing Vladimir Putin and hinting that the United States would renege on Article V of NATO which would allow Putin to essentially rebuild the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. The only other things he's known for even relating to foreign policy are his opposition to the Iraq War, which is now over, and building the wall on the southern border, if that qualifies. I suppose you could include his China "policy" that they are evil, cheating bastards and he will make them pay for screwing us over, presumably by starting a trade war that would damage both our economies. As on many other issues, the only available clues as to what Donald Trump actually believes point to him being a Democrat running as Republican. Even Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have made it clear they support Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton, impossible to imagine for just about any actual Republican. Much like Hillary Clinton, Trump will take positions on foreign policy not by any consistent philosophy or principles but rather by testing the political winds and going whichever way they happen to blow.  I have written before that this tendency in American government is the root cause of virtually all our foreign policy blunders since World War II. If I am correct, then under the next U.S. president it will again be the root cause of yet another major foreign policy blunder.

Wars are always the result of miscommunications of power or of the intent to use power. It may sound like a trivial reason to start a war and requires explanation. We can at least say without argument that wars are conflicts between two opposing factions who want something that is mutually exclusive. In order for involved factions to choose war as a means to get what they want, the factions must believe that they will win. Seems obvious on the surface, but we should explore it more critically.

What kind of war might begin if at least one faction believed they would lose the war? Well, suppose one nation attacks another nation that doesn't want war and was just minding its own business. We could suppose that the defending nation "has no choice" and must defend itself or be taken over by the aggressor. However, that is actually a choice between a war which results in the destruction of their nation and a capitulation which results in the destruction of their nation. The result of losing the war would be the same as the result of the capitulation, except a lot more people would be dead. In other words, the rational choice if the defending nation believed it would lose the war would be to capitulate, since the result of losing the war would be the same as the result of the negotiations except they would take no casualties. Let's suppose though that the aggressor nation made it clear that their goal is to annihilate the defender by killing them all. If the defending nation actually believed they would lose the war and all their people would be killed, then the result is still the same regardless of whether they choose war or not. Real people might choose war in this extreme circumstance for emotional reasons, but rationally there would be no purpose to fighting. The best option for the defender in this case is to advise all their people to attempt to run away before the enemy attacks. In this case, it's possible to choose war in order to give their people time to get away, sacrificing their over-matched military in order to give them time to escape. We might then say that here is an example of a defender knowing it would lose the war but choosing to fight it anyway. But that is wrong. Remember the aggressor's stated intention is to kill everyone. If the defender succeeds in escaping, using war to give them time to do so, then they have successfully prevented the attacker from carrying out their intention. It might not look like a win, but it is. In this case the defender doesn't really believe it would lose the war. The defender believes they will win the war by preventing the aggressor from carrying out their intent.

So the only thing we can really say is that in a real life situation, a nation or group of people which believes it would lose the war would only engage in war to satisfy emotional or perhaps spiritual needs, and even this is only likely in extreme circumstances. It is not the rational choice,* and I believe in the end all nations are rational actors. I have also defined war as the attempt to accomplish an intention, which is important. Some might disagree and try to define absolutely what winning looks like without regard to either side's intent, but I believe war is primarily an argument between two viewpoints. Each side engages in war because they believe war gives them the tools to win the argument by forcibly preventing the other side from carrying out their intent. In summary, all wars begin because each side believes they will win by preventing the other side from carrying out their intent.

Recall that wars are the result of miscommunication of power or the intent to use it. If wars only begin when each side believes it will win, then at least one side must be mistaken. And if at least one side is mistaken, that must be the result of a miscalculation of their relationship with their opponent. Accurate calculations of this nature are fundamentally about communication between the two groups, since an accurate calculation can only be made by correctly assessing the capabilities and intent of both sides. In order to prevent war, both sides must make accurate calculations of this nature whenever they have a disagreement. The goal of any foreign policy should be to resolve conflict without resorting to war, and therefore accurate communication of power relationships is fundamental.

Let me bring all this abstraction back into the realm of current events, specifically relating to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Looking at the foreign policy gestures of both major party candidates, what do we see them communicating about their intent to use power against Russia?  We see both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump communicating quite clearly and intentionally that they will not use U.S. military power to inhibit Russia's ambitions in Eastern Europe. The minimum result of this type of communication is Russia will continue its territorial conquests in Eastern Europe, which is currently ongoing. The only question is whether or not our esteemed presidential candidates have accurately assessed their own position. If they have, then Russia has a free hand and may do whatever it wants. The U.S. will allow it without engaging in war to prevent it. If they haven't, then they have failed to correctly communicate our intent to the Russians. In the current situation, this miscommunication of our intent will inevitably lead to war. If the U.S. did correctly communicate our intent, then Russia would have no choice but to back down as the hard power relationship quite clearly favors the U.S.

Russia has been given every reason to believe the U.S. does not care about their ambitions in Eastern Europe. In the case of Donald Trump, this is quite explicit, right down to specifically renouncing our responsibilities to defend NATO members in Article V of the treaty. This is important because both times Russia recently conquered territory, they did so in Georgia and Ukraine, both states which are not members of NATO. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are much weaker nation states than Ukraine, yet Putin has attacked Ukraine and not these weaker NATO members. This suggests that the only inhibition of Russia's territorial aggression in Eastern Europe is in fact the NATO treaty buttressed by U.S. military power. In effectively renouncing NATO, Trump has given Russia a blank check. Clinton's communications have been less clear, but equally suggestive of a willingness to allow Russia leeway. In any case, Putin clearly knows that U.S. politics is heavily driven by public opinion. The fact that both major party candidates have taken very passive positions in respect to Russia might suggest to him that public opinion is against war with Russia regardless of what Russia does. He has already completed a successful test of the strength of our intentions in Syria.

When civil war originally broke out in Syria, U.S. politically leaders immediately moved to intervene against Assad and the Allawite faction aligned with Iran. This provoked a massive public backlash. U.S. congressmen reported unusually large numbers of phone calls to their offices advocating against intervention in Syria. Then came ISIS, and all of the sudden public opinion shifted towards intervention as ISIS began to reveal their intentions in spectacular fashion. However, even hawks in the Republican party balked at intervention at this point, reasoning that it was far too late to do anything. As for our president, Obama handed the original decision to Congress, not because he cared about what they thought or the constitution, but because he agreed with the people and Congress was calling for an intervention. After the rise of ISIS, however, Obama steadily increased U.S. involvement in Syria, but stopped well short of war. Hillary Clinton meanwhile attempted to use her power as Secretary of State and her alliances in the foreign policy establishment to smuggle weapons to the Syrian rebels. To the extent she succeeded, she burned herself politically because many of these rebels turned out to be jihadists who later joined ISIS. The actions of the U.S. both politically and on the ground in Syria have shown to any outside observer that the U.S. is fundamentally fickle, unstable and not serious. We are clearly not acting according to any principle or even any interest, and can simply be manipulated by anyone willing to take aggressive, consistent action, as Russia has done.

Russia consistently supported Assad and Iran in the region, and now has a sizable military force based in Syria in support of Assad. They proved their commitment to Iran, which inexplicably the U.S. has now attempted to emulate. But Russia has no serious ambitions in the Middle East. Their primary concern is Eastern Europe. As any foreign policy aficionado knows, the primary driver of Russian foreign policy is control over Eastern Europe. Centuries of Russian history show that threats to Russia from foreign nations always come from Europe and must go through Eastern Europe to get to Russia. Russia has been historically saved by controlling vast swaths of Eastern Europe which act as a buffer against European threats. The obvious examples here are Napoleon's invasion and the German invasion during WWII, both ultimately unsuccessful because of the massive logistical problems of invading such a large territory, a territory which can be quite unforgiving during the famous Russian winters. Even in World War I, when Russia was defeated, they were able to gain peace by giving up large amounts of territory in Eastern Europe and were not successfully invaded.

So what was Russia really doing in Syria? They were testing the U.S. The U.S. failed the test, and Putin now believes that as long as he doesn't burn people alive and broadcast the video to the world, the U.S. will not care what he does. As a result, he will at a minimum massively escalate the current conflict in Ukraine. He will likely attempt further territorial conquest, first in Belarus, which is not a NATO member, then perhaps even against NATO countries like the Balkan states.  At some point in the process, the United States will find its resolve, as it historically has always done, and intervene with force. She has failed to communicate this inherent resolve to Putin's Russia which does not understand this aspect of American history or its people having had no direct conflict with them of any significance. As a result, the U.S. and Russia will engage in a conventional war during the term of the next U.S. president.

Now that's whack.

*I may have to discuss spiritual needs further, since Islam in particular offers spiritual rewards for engaging in war, especially for dying in war, and if dying is their only goal then losing the war might be the best rational choice.  If their intent is to die in war, then "winning" for their enemy would involve preventing them from carrying out their intent, i.e. by preventing them from dying in war, or at least preventing them from believing they will receive spiritual rewards from dying in war. At this point I can say with confidence that in practice Islamist nations do not attempt wars they think they will lose, and I can provide many examples. Islamist nations, unlike some individuals and terrorist groups, always have some additional goal besides dying. I also define war as a conflict between states