Thanks to Andrei Martyanov for pointing out a recent opinion piece by Peter Van Buren, a retired Foreign Service Officer who had a career at the U.S. State Department. U.S. Foreign Service officers take great pride in believing they are super smart. How do they know? They pass the Foreign Service exam. If you have not taken and passed that exam you are, by definition, not as smart as a Foreign Service officer. I am not exaggerating.
I worked alongside some of these folks for four years and can attest to the arrogance and air of self-importance that imbues the typical FSO as they parade around State Department headquarters aka Main State. While there are some exceptions (i.e., normal people you would enjoy sitting with as a dinner guest or bar mate), the FSOs are a weird lot produced through years of self-selection. One of my former colleagues, a gent named “Tony” was a devout Christian Scientist who had a permanent case of the sniffles. I found it hilarious. He was always sick. He did not appreciate the irony.
Anyway, back to Mr. Van Buren. Peter appears to be a break with the stereotype. He is a big, beefy guy and does not appear to be deficient in testosterone. Testosterone is in short supply at Main State. It is metro sexual heaven. FSOs also are known for being fairly reticent personalities. They normally shy away from attracting attention unless there is a promotion on the line. Looks like Peter was not afraid to rock the boat and go to where the action was:
After his book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, was published in 2012 Van Buren claims to have experienced a series of escalating, adverse actions. His former employer, the U. S. State Department, claimed van Buren had not properly cleared his book for publication under Department rules, and that the book contained unauthorized disclosures of classified material.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_van_Buren#cite_note-WaPoDavidson-4
I have not read his book, We Meant Well, but I can applaud him for acknowledging the fecklessness of the U.S. imperial adventure that cost the Iraqis so much in blood and treasure.
That said, I am shocked by his piece in the American Conservative. He starts off with this, to quote brother Martyanov, wowser:
From the moment Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, there were only two possible outcomes. Ukraine could reach a diplomatic solution that resets its physical eastern border (i.e., Russia annexes much of eastern Ukraine to the Dnieper River, and establishes a land bridge to Crimea), and so firmly reestablishes its geopolitical role as buffer state between NATO and Russia. Or, after battlefield losses and diplomacy, Russia could retreat to its original February starting point, and Ukraine would firmly reestablish its geopolitical role as a buffer state between NATO and Russia.
“Only two possible outcomes?” I can think of at least one other possible outcome — Russia demilitarizes and de-nazifies Ukraine and ensures that a new government in Ukraine is not beholden to the United States and NATO. Peter, why did you not even entertain this possibility? Russia, by virtue of its size and technically sophisticated military (e.g., it has a fully integrated electronic warfare capability that NATO lacks) and arsenal of precision hyper sonic missiles and tanks entered the “special military operation” with some clear advantages.
Peter also makes this outlandish claim:
This problem for Putin is ever more acute as NATO builds up strength in Poland.
One of Peter’s friends needs to do an intervention and let him know that NATO has run out of weapons to send Ukraine and that Poland’s Army is larger than England and Germany combined. In short, NATO is relying on Poland to provide the cannon fodder, er, I mean troops, to give NATO a credible force. NATO, in reality, is a ghost force with little punch. Consider these numbers:
British. as of 2022, the British Army comprises 79,380 regular full-time personnel, 4,090 Gurkhas, and 28,330 volunteer reserve personnel. (https://www.army.mod.uk/)
As of January 2022, the German Army had a strength of 62,766 soldiers. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Army)
As of 2020, the French Army employed 118,600 personnel (including the Foreign Legion and the Paris Fire Brigade). In addition, the reserve element of the French Army consisted of 22,750 personnel.
As of 2022, Poland has 150,000 active duty personnel and a 32,000 Territorial Defense Force.
Surely a diplomat with Mr. Van Buren’s pedigree would know that Russia just finished mobilizing more than 300,000 military reservists. That force alone is larger than the standing armies of the UK, Germany and France combined. Let that fact sink in for a moment. Russia has a million man army currently active and has reserves of more than two million. I don’t think the NATO commanders are very good at math.
Peter labors under the delusion that Russia is still in the military Dark Ages and has not caught up with the military might of the U.S. and NATO:
Putin’s plan depends on fighting Ukraine, and thus the U.S. by proxy, not direct conflict with the militarily superior United States and whole of NATO.
Just how does the United States enjoy “military superiority” over Russia? Russia has a larger army in terms of manpower. Russian tanks are as good, if not better, than any tank in the U.S. arsenal. Russia has the most modern air defense system of any country in the world. And Russia has a clear edge in hyper sonic precision missiles that it is producing domestically without depending on imported resources. The United States is “superior” in one regard — it spends billions more than Russia. Oh yeah. One more thing. The United States has lost more wars to second and third world countries than Russia.
I am not sure why Peter Van Buren wrote this article the way he did. For a guy who was not keen to genuflect to the U.S. State Department hierarchy, he certainly is bending the knee to the neo-con memes, e.g. “Russia is militarily inferior”, “Russia is running out of missiles” and “Putin wants to resurrect the Soviet Union”. Yet, he concludes his article with some sanity:
The conquest of Ukraine being treated as a small unit exercise tells us much. None of this is any great secret. The off ramp in Ukraine, a diplomatic outcome, is clear enough to Washington. The Biden administration seems content, shamefully, not to call forcefully for diplomatic efforts but instead to bleed out the Russians as if this was Afghanistan 1980 all over again, all the while looking tough and soaking up whatever positive bipartisan electoral feelings are due for pseudo “war time” President Joe Biden. As with Afghanistan in 1980, the U.S. seems ready to fight until the last local falls (supplying them just enough weaponry to avoid losing) before facing the inevitable negotiated ending, a shameful position then and a shameful one now.
I agree with Peter that the U.S. strategy is shameful. But he forgot to discuss a key fact — Russia will dictate the terms. Russia is not bleeding men and materiel. Ukraine is. Russia has the resources in personnel and military defense production plants that it can resupply and sustain operations. Ukraine, now, is totally dependent on Western largess. So much for Mr. Van Buren’s “only two possible outcomes.”