[This column was written for the Unz Review]
I have to begin this column by admitting that “Biden” (note: when in quotation marks, I refer to the “collective Biden”, not the clearly senile man) surprised me: it appears that my personal rule-of-thumb about US Presidents (each one is even worse than his predecessor) might not necessarily apply in “Biden’s” case. That is not to say that “Biden” won’t end up proving my rule of thumb as still applicable, just that what I am seeing right now is not what I feared or expected.
Initially, I felt the rule still held. The total US faceplant in Alaska when Blinken apparently mistook the Chinese for woke-neutered serfs and quickly found out how mistaken he was.
But then there was the meeting with Putin which surprised many, including myself. Initially, most Russian observers joined one of two groups about the prospects for this summit:
- This summit will never happen, there is nothing to discuss, Biden is senile, his Admin is filled wall to wall with hardcore russophobes and, besides, the (US) Americans are “not agreement capable” (недоговороспособные) anyway, so what is the point?
- If the summit takes place, it will be a comprehensive failure. At best a shouting match or exchange of insults.
Neither of these happened. Truth be told, we still do not really know what happened. All we have are some vague declarations of intent and worded pious intentions. And even those were minimalistic! In fact, after the summit most Russian observers, again, broke into two main camps:
- “Biden” threw in the towel and gave up. Russians won this round. Hurray!
- “Biden” only changed tactics, and now the new US posture might well become even more aggressive and hostile. Russia is about to see a major surge in anti-Russian provocations. Alarm!
I think that both of these grossly oversimplify a probably much more complex and nuanced reality. In other words, “Biden” surprised many, if not most, Russians. That is very interesting by itself (neither Bush, nor Obama nor Trump ever surprised the Russians – who knew the score about all of them – in any meaningful way).
My strictly personal guess is that there is some very serious infighting currently taking place inside the US ruling class. Furthermore, that serious infighting is not about core principles or even strategy – it is a dispute over tactics only.
We have to keep in mind an old truism about outcomes: John F. Kennedy once said that “victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan” and he was right. When any group seizes power and effectively controls its interests, all is well, and everybody is busy consuming the proverbial milk and honey. But when this group suffers a series of humiliating defeats, a typical cascade of events begins:
- Finger pointing: everybody blames everybody else (but never himself/herself)
- Hindsight wisdom: “if I had been in charge, this would not have happened!”
- Infighting over quickly shrinking spoils of war
- A collapse of the centralized center of authority/decision-making centers
- Generation of subgroups, fighting each other over their sub-interests
In other words, following many years of extremely weak presidential administrations (since Clinton, imho), it is hardly a surprise that infighting would take place (in both parties, by the way). In fact, an apparently chaotic set of uncoordinated, or even contradictory, policies is what one should expect. And that is exactly what we have been observing since 1993 and this dynamic has been getting worse and worse with each passing year).
Needless to say, the main outcome of such defeat-induced infighting is to weaken all the groups involved, regardless of their objectives and policies. Some might believe that this is a positive development, but I am not so sure at all (see below).
That being said, there are some observations which might be helpful when trying to at least (indirectly) identify who are the main groups fighting each other.
The hardcore, really nutty, russophobes are still here, especially in the US media which seems to be serving not so much “Biden” as much as some “crazies in the basement” kind of cabal. Next to the legacy ziomedia, there is an increasing number of US/NATO/UK military officials who are foaming at the mouth with threats, warnings, complaints and insults, all against Putin and Russia. This is important because:
- The “Zone A” media has comprehensively and very effectively concealed the very real risks of war with Russia, China and Iran. And if this was mentioned, the presstitutes always stressed that the US has the “best military in the history of the galaxy” and that Uncle Sam will “kickass” anybody he chooses to. If the people of the USA were informed of the truth of the matter, they would freak out and demand that this path to war be immediately abandoned and replaced with a meaningful dialog.
- US/NATO/UK authorities have talked themselves into a corner where they have only two outcomes left: they can do what the US always does, that is to “declare victory and leave”, or they can force Russia to protect her borders on land, air and sea and, thereby, face a major military humiliation delivered by Russia.
Truth be told, during the recent naval exercises UK and US officials made a lot of threats and promises to ignore Russian warnings, but in the end, they quietly packed and left. Smart choice, but it must have been painfully humiliating for them, which is very dangerous by itself.
How much of these statements/threats actually were done with “Biden’s” approval? I don’t know. But I am unaware of any reprimands, demotions or any other action taken against the crazies who are calling for a war against Russia, China or Iran. That does not mean that it did not happen, only that it was not publicized. My feeling is, however, that even if “Biden” did object to this kind of dangerous sabre rattling, “he” is too weak to do anything about it. It is quite possible that “Biden” is gradually losing control of his own administration.
[Sidebar: I recently had a good laugh hearing NATO naval personnel saying that Russians made “imitation attacks” on NATO ships by overflying them several times. Apparently, these folks sincerely think that gravity bombs are the main/only threat from the Russian Aerospace Forces and coastal defenses which, in reality, can sink US/UK/NATO ships without ever approaching them or even getting in their radar range. Not to mention 6-7 extremely quiet and heavily armed advanced diesel-electric subs of the Black Sea Fleet. While I don’t doubt the “diversity” of these NATO naval crews, I am now having major doubts about even their basic competence]
There will be many more NATO exercises in the Black Sea in the future. Ditto for USN operations off the Chinese, Iranian or DPRK coasts. This (always explosive) combo of ignorance, arrogance and incompetence could result in a major war.
Another option is the terminally delusional UK government (supported by those Brits who still have phantom pains about their lost empire and, of course, by the largely irrelevant 3B+PU gang) might do something really stupid (say, like this) and trigger a war with the DPRK, Russia, China or Iran and then the US would have to move to defend/save a British Navy which is mostly a joke (at least by Russian or Chinese standards). The main problem here being that the USN is also in a terrible shape and cannot compete against Russian and Chinese standoff weapons (I mean that literally, there are currently no defenses against maneuvering hypersonic missiles! The only exception would be the Russian S-500). The latter two nations, by the way, have joined into an informal and unofficial military alliance for many years already; check out this article and video or this one for a recent update).
But opposite, de-escalatory developments are also taking place. First and foremost, “Biden” seemed to have “farmed out” the “Ukrainian dossier” to the Germans and washed Uncle Shmuel’s hands from it. If so, that was a very slick and smart move (which is something we have not witnessed from any administration in decades!). I highly recommend this translation of a most interesting article by arguably the best Ukraine specialist out there, Rostislav Ishchenko.
Ishchenko goes into a lot of interesting details and explains what “Biden” apparently just did. Frankly, the Germans richly deserve this full-spectrum mess and they will be dealing with the consequences of this disaster for a long time, possibly decades. In fact, the Germans are stuck: they want to be the Big European Leader? Let them. After all, the EU politicians, led by Germany, did all they could to create what is now often called “country 404” – a black hole in the heart of the European continent. Germany is the biggest economic power of the EU? Good, then let the Germans (and the rest of the EU) pay for the eventual reconstruction of the Ukraine (or of the successor-states resulting from the breakup of the country)! Russia simply cannot foot that bill, China most definitely won’t (especially after being cheated several times by the Ukies) and the USA has absolutely no reasons whatsoever to do so. I would even argue that chaos (social, economic, political, cultural. etc.) in Europe is probably seen by the US ruling class as highly desirable since it 1) weakens the EU as a competitor 2) justifies, however hypocritically and mistakenly, a “strong US presence” in Europe and 3) gives NATO a reason (however mistaken, misguided and even immoral) to exist.
The US is protected from the fallout (immigrants, violence, extremism, etc.) of the Ukrainian disaster by distance, the Atlantic, a much stronger military (at least compared to anybody else in NATO). The US can print money in any way it wants and has no interests whatsoever in the (dying) Ukraine. If Ishchenko is right, and I agree with him, then there is somebody (possibly a group of somebodies) who is a lot smarter than anybody in the Trump Admin and who figured out that the Nazi-occuppied Ukraine should be an German/EU problem, not one for the US.
There is, of course, also the pessimistic analysis: the US is on the retreat everywhere, but only for the following reasons:
- Regroup, reorganize, buy time to develop some kind of coherent strategy
- Focus on each adversary separately and prioritize (divide et impera at least!)
- Re-analyze, re-plan, re-design, re-develop, re-train, re-equip and re-test pretty much everything in the US armed forces (which have not been shaped by any rational force planning in decades)
Those who believe the strategic retreat theory (I am not personally discounting this version, but I do not see enough evidence – yet – to endorse it either) typically add that “the US only left Afghanistan to hand it over to the Taliban/al-Qaeda and unleash them against “soft underbelly of Russia”. Now, that is utter nonsense, if only because Russia does not have a common border with Afghanistan.
Yes, sure, what is currently taking place in Afghanistan greatly worries all the leaders of the region, including the leaders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. But it just so happens that the Russians have been in intense consultations with all these regional powers. Not only that, but Russia already has forces deployed in the region (including the 201st base in Tajikistan) and she has been substantially reinforcing them with no protests from the Empire (at least so far). Finally, all of Central Asia, the Caucasus and even the Middle-East is well within reach of numerous types of Russian long-range standoff weapons. Apparently, the Taliban know that, because they went to great lengths to promise all their neighbors that the (now inevitable) regime-change in Kabul will not represent a threat for anybody. Can we trust them? Nope, of course not. But can we trust them to be smart enough to realize that while they are currently the biggest force in Afghanistan, they don’t even come close to having what it takes to fight a war against any of Afghanistan’s neighbors? Yes, I think we can. After many years of fighting, and the Taliban already in control of part of Kabul, the Taliban will finally achieve their goals and become the true, official, leaders of Afghanistan. Should they try to attack or destabilize any of their neighbors, the very first thing they would lose would be Kabul and any chance to be accepted as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Remember that, like the US, neither Russia nor Iran need to invade Afghanistan to strike at the Taliban, they can use proxies and they have the kind of weapon systems and launch platforms from which the Taliban cannot protect themselves. Last, but certainly not least, the Taliban know how the Russians and the Iranians fought in Syria, and they will not want to trigger anything similar in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, Russia’s “soft underbelly” is a 19th century concept. In the 21st century only the least informed and least competent people would ever use such a concept. Furthermore, only somebody with zero knowledge of actual military capabilities of the Southern and Central Military Districts of Russia could mention such a silly and outdated notion with a straight face. Besides, while the Afghans can be superb guerillas (but not always, contrary to the popular myth!), they cannot conduct combined arms offensive operations, while Russia and Iran can. Again, I will never say never, especially with Takfiris in the loop, but I don’t see the Taliban attacking anybody, least of all Russian or Iranian allies in the region.
Coming back to “Biden’s” great retreat: if “Biden” is smart enough to hang the Ukraine on Germany, “he” is probably too smart to predicate the US foreign policy towards Russia predicated around the “soft underbelly” thingie. As for all the “fire and brimstone” threats of war against Russia, they are not impressing anybody as the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians know that a confident and powerful country does not need to threaten anybody, if only because the actual capabilities of these country are a very telling “threat” by themselves. But when a former superpower is weak, confused and frightened, it will make many roaring statements about how it can defeat the entire planet if needed (after all, the US military is “the best military in the history of the galaxy”! If you doubt that, just listen to Toby Keith!). In other words, while in the West threats are an instrument of foreign policy, in Russia, and in the rest of Asia, they are inevitably seen as a sign of weakness, doubts and even fear.
Then there seems to be a long list of weapons systems, procurement plans and “defense” monies which have been pulled back, including the (truly awful) LCS and F-35. While it is true that the US is gradually phasing out fantastically expensive weapons systems and platforms which were also more or less useless, this shows the ability to at least admit that all that talk about super-dooper US superweapons was just that, talk, and that in reality the US MIC is incapable of producing the kind of superb high quality systems which it used to produce in large quantities in the past (Arleigh Burke, F-15, Jumbo 747, the Willys Jeep, F-16, A-10, Los Angeles SSN, KH satellites, etc.). This is also why the F-15X is designed to “augment” the F-35 feet (by itself a very smart move!).
Such an admission, even if indirect and only logically implied, might show a level of maturity, or courage, by “Biden” which his predecessors did not have.
Could it be that the folks at the Pentagon, who do know the reality of the situation (see here for a very good Moon of Alabama article about this), figured out that Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump vastly over extended the Empire and now they need to regroup and “re-everything” to achieve a more sustainable “defense” posture?
Could it be that “Biden” will deliver what Trump promised, i.e. to end the useless (and unwinnable!) wars, stop caring too much about the agonizing EU, silently accept that Russia has no intentions (and no need!) whatsoever to attack anyone and focus on the biggest non-military threat out there: China. Maybe.
As far as I know, many (all?) simulations – by RAND and the US military – and command staff exercises have shown that the US would lose badly to both Russia or China. Could it be that “Biden” wants to put Russia and China on the backburner and “deal” with Iran first? The latest news on the US/Israel vs Iran front is not good, to say the least.
I still believe that following the murder of General Suleimani and the retaliatory Iranian missile strikes the US seems to have given up on the idea of a direct attack on Iran. After all, not only did Trump let the “most powerful military in the history of the galaxy” be humiliated and seriously scared – for good reason – by the extremely accurate Iranian missile strikes, but the entire world witnessed this humiliation. After that disaster, why would “Biden” decide to attack?
Could “Biden” be even dumber than Trump? I very much doubt it. Besides, both Trump and Biden were equally subservient to the Israel Lobby anyway, so I would never say never, especially since all Israel has to do to force the US to attack Iran, is to attack first, then present any Iranian response as a planned “genocide of 6 million Jews” (what else?), but this time in Israel and by the Iranians (who might even use gas, who knows?). At these words, both the GOP and the Dems will snap to attention and immediately rush to save America’s most precious and beloved “ally” (in reality, its colonial master and overlord, of course). About Israel, we can only sadly conclude that it really makes no difference whatsoever whether the Demolicans or the Republicrats (mostly RINOs anyway) happens to be in the White House.
So what are we left with?
Frankly, I am not sure.
I think that there is very strong, even if only indirect, evidence which there is some very serious in-fighting taking place in the “Biden” administration and there is also strong, but also indirect, evidence that the military posture of the United States is undergoing what might end up being a major overhaul of the US armed forces.
If true, and that is a big “if”, this is neither good news nor bad news.
But this might be big news.
Because, objectively, the current US retreat on most fronts might be the “soft landing” (transition from Empire to “normal” country) many Trump voters were hoping for. Or it might not. If it is not, this might be a chaos-induced retreat, indicating that the US state is crumbling and has to urgently “simplify” things to try to survive, thereby generating a lot of factional infighting (at least one Russian observer specialized in “US studies”, Dmitrii Drobnitskii, believes to be the case: see the original article here, and its machine translation here). Finally, the state of decay of the US state might already be so advanced that we can consider it as profoundly dysfunctional and basically collapsing/collapsed. The first option (soft landing) is unlikely, yet highly desirable. The second option (chaos-induced retreat) is more likely, but much less desirable as it is only a single step back to then make several steps forward again. The last option (profoundly dysfunctional and basically collapsing/collapsed) is, alas, the most likely, and it is also, by far, the most perilous one.
For one thing, options #2 and #3 will make US actions very unpredictable and, therefore, potentially extremely dangerous. Unpredictable chaos can also quickly morph into a major war, or even several major ones, so the potential danger here is very real (even if totally unreported in Zone A). This, in turn, means that Russia, China, Iran, the DPRK, Venezuela or Cuba all have to keep their guard up and be ready for anything, even the unthinkable (which is often what total chaos generates).
Right now, the fact that the US has initiated a “great retreat” is undeniable. But the true reasons behind it, and its implications, remain quite obscure, at least to me.
I will conclude by asking you, the readers, for your opinion: do you think that the US is currently in a “contraction phase”? If yes, do you believe that this is a short-term only phenomenon, or will this retreat continue and, if yes, how far?