23.09 Joseph Erik Enge

RSRis Joseph Erik Enge: "U.S. foreign policy regarding Russian actions in the Ukraine and against the ISIL threat"

Jospeh Enge is a guest lecturer of history at the University of Tartu and doing his Ph.D. research on "Why did some Soviet Units mobilize and others did not in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during the august 1991 coup?" there. The most recent classes he has taught at UT is Military History for the M.A. Cyber-Defense Program and 20th Century American History for the history department. He received in the U.S. a secondary teaching certificate for history in 1988 and English in 1990 and taught both subjects in the United States and in Estonia. His connection with Estonia started in 1993 when he taught in Tartu as a Fulbright teacher. He has authored two world history textbooks for TeachingPoint Publishing in 2004 and 2005 and was awarded a James Madison Fellowship in history in 2005 for my work in teaching American history, curriculum design, and technology applications. He received his B.A. in political science with a history minor from California State University, East Bay; graduate teacher education program at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California; and an M.A. in military history from Norwich University in Vermont. In addition to academic work he is the owner of Enge translations, an Estonian based translation company.

The two greatest current threats to Western values, civilization, and freedom are Russia and Islamic terrorism. The United States and Europe need to recognize these threats and deal with them effectively. Recognition has been slow and dealing with them haphazard. Two world leaders, Obama and Putin, have insisted on being judged by what they say and not what they really do. Both leaders have made themselves overly dependent on perception dominating reality, and both are particularly vulnerable for that very reason. There are limits to spin and disinformation. Obama and Putin have reached the limits, and now it is time to assess the matters in the Ukraine and regarding ISIL without obfuscation.

Russia and the Ukraine

  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Sept. 18.

“There are moments in history when freedom is more than just a political concept.

At those moments, freedom becomes the ultimate choice, which defines who you are – as a person and as a nation.

Ukraine has lived this moment over the last 10 months – and became the scene of the most heroic story of the last decade, a synonym for sacrifice, dedication and the unbreakable will to live free.

In February, when the world saw that no one could take away Ukraine’s freedom – an external aggressor decided to take away a part of Ukraine’s territory.

The annexation of Crimea became one of the most cynical acts of treachery in modern history.

Ukraine, which gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear potential in exchange for security assurances, was stabbed in the back by one of the countries who gave her those assurances.

Allow me to remind you: 20 years ago, in the Budapest Memorandum, Russia (along with the United States, the United Kingdom, France and China) vowed to provide for the inviolability of Ukraine’s state borders and territorial sovereignty.

In reality, what we got from Russia was annexation and a war that has brought Ukraine to the brink of its survival.

The Soviet Union had collapsed too quickly, creating the illusion that this chapter in history was closed, and that this story had come to the end.

But in the minds of the people, it has not ended. The imperialistic mindset is still there. Nostalgia for the Soviet Union and the dismissal of the settlement that ended the Cold War has been cultivating revisionist instincts.

In 2008, Russian troops occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Now they have invaded Ukraine.  The right to protect ethnic Russians, and even Russian speakers, can and already has become a reason to fan the flames of war. Besides Ukraine, the Russian speakers reside in Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria.

Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine – what happens next?

Many things, including the effectiveness of the global non-proliferation system, will be put to a severe test and judged depending on the response of America, and the world, to that question.

Even NATO allies are at risk. As if to underline this point, two days after President Barack Obama’s visit to Estonia, the day the NATO summit ended, an Estonian intelligence officer was abducted and accused of espionage. 

The security assurances that were extended to Ukraine then have failed to work, proving that no agreements or treaties can secure world order.

So, what can bring peace and maintain it? - Common values, cooperation, and interdependence; leadership, and responsibility.   

Therefore, I urge you not to let Ukraine stand alone in the face of this aggression.

The United States made a commitment that it would stand behind Ukraine’s territorial integrity – and we hope that it will live up to that promise.

Democracies must support each other.

They must show solidarity in the face of aggression and adversity.

Otherwise, they will be eliminated – one by one.

The post-war international system of checks and balances was effectively ruined.

The world was plunged into the worst security crisis since the US-USSR stand-off of 1962.

Today, we are witnessing another attempt at dividing the world, and Ukraine stands at the center of this attempt.

The outcome of today’s war will determine whether we will be forced to accept the reality of a dark, torn, and bitter Europe as part of a new world order.

These Ukrainian army, these young boys (underequipped, and often unappreciated by the world) are the only thing that now stands between the reality of peaceful coexistence and the nightmare of a full relapse into the previous century and a new cold war.

And should that happen, then this would neither be the end of it, nor the worst of it.

The war that these young men are fighting today is not only Ukraine’s war.

It is Europe’s, and it is America’s war, too. It is a war of the free world – and for a free world!

Today, aggression against Ukraine is a threat to global security everywhere. Hybrid proxy wars, terrorism, national radical and extremist movements, the erosion of international agreements, the blurring, and even erasing, of national identities: all of these threats now challenge Europe. If they are not stopped now, they will cross European borders and spread throughout the globe.

To prevent this, thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are in the line of fire right now.

Speaking in the United States Congress, from this high beacon of freedom, I want to thank them for their sacrifice!

I urge the world to recognize and endorse their fight!

They need more political support!

And they need more military equipment – both non-lethal and lethal.

Blankets and night-vision goggles are important.

But one cannot win a war with blankets!”

  • The Ukraine should not expect any help from Obama other than MREs and blankets.

Obama is committed to his former statements Russia is not a geopolitical threat despite the obvious reality in the Ukraine. Sending weapons to the Ukraine would require an action that would glaringly admit he was wrong, which giving an eloquent speech confirming U.S. commitment in Tallinn does not.

In March 2009, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov with a mock "reset" button. The big red button was labeled "Reset" in English and with what the State Department thought was the Russian equivalent of "reset." Lavrov called her out on it. 

"We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?" Clinton asked Lavrov.

"You got it wrong," Lavrov said. “It should be “perezagruzka” [the Russian word for reset]," said Lavrov."This says ‘peregruzka,’ which means ‘overcharged.”

President Obama’s foreign policy is not just lost in translation, but is lost from reality. The president's naiveté about Vladimir Putin is the root cause of his failure with Russia and have emboldened Putin’s actions against the Ukraine. Either way, count on Obama and Putin to spin their failures into successes for their domestic audiences.

During the last presidential debate in 2012 when Republican candidate Mitt Romney warned Russia was a geopolitical threat and undermining U.S. interests in Syria and Iran, Obama responded with a snarky remark, “the 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years” to portray Romney as an uniformed foreign policy novice.

Obama is anxious to have the Ukrainian situation resolved as quickly as possible without any serious help to the Ukraine and no matter how illegal or unfair the terms, and Putin knows this well. 

The good news is that the naiveté towards Russia held by many in the West has given way by Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and assaults on Ukraine. NATO’s resolve has only been strengthened. The little green men acting up in the Baltics will not work.

August 17, 2014 8:30 PM VOA reported:

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe says the alliance would respond militarily if any of its member countries faced an incursion similar to the one sustained by Ukraine’s Crimea prior to its annexation by Russia earlier this year.

“If NATO were to observe the infiltration of its sovereign territory by [anonymous] foreign forces, and if we were able to prove that this activity was being carried out by a particular aggressor nation, then Article Five would apply,” said U.S. General Philip Breedlove in an interview with Germany’s Die Welt, referring to NATO’s collective defense principle. “That’s when the alliance principle goes into force. This means a military response to the actions of this aggressor,” said Breedlove.
The U.S. general said that the “big problem” facing NATO today is a new type of warfare that the alliance is in the process of preparing for. Citing the Crimea precedent and pointing to developments in eastern Ukraine, Breedlove said that it's imperative that the alliance be prepared for anonymous warriors. “To be honest, it's of utmost importance that NATO be ready for so-called 'little green men.' Armed military personnel without sovereign insignia, who create unrest, occupy government buildings, incite local populations, train and provide tactical advice to separatists, and in doing so, strongly contribute to the destabilization of a country.”

Such scenarios, said Breedlove, could also occur in other eastern European countries, and NATO must take steps there to prepare police and military forces to deal with such challenges.

In my own opinion, it is highly unlikely Russia would directly attack the Baltics as members of NATO. Rather Russia, as with the kidnapping of Estonian counter-intelligence officer Eston Kohver, will use indirect methods to attempt to distract and intimidate their neighbors. The Baltics are in a far better position to deal with Russia’s indirect, hybrid warfare as the ethnic Russian support to destabilize the Baltic governments is weak, the Baltic institutions and agencies are strong, and the border with Russia is not porous like the Ukraine’s. Little green men and military equipment will not be able just suddenly appear in Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania.

A Russian direct attack on the Baltics is unlikely simply because Russia would lose. True, Russia has upgraded some of their ground military units, but not all of their units. Also true, it would take some time for NATO ground forces to arrive in sizeable numbers, six to eight weeks. Yet, it is extremely doubtful Russia could achieve air superiority over the region necessary to make a ground or potential amphibious invasion successful. NATO air assets already present and additional assets that can be quickly flown in would achieve air superiority and grind up any mechanized columns attempting to advance from Russia.

It is for good reason Russia has chosen piecemeal and incremental attacks on the Ukraine. They are not sure of their own capabilities and the reaction of the West. Any direct Russian military action that failed and is defeated would be disastrous for Putin and his image. Putin allegedly uttered as reported by the German newspaper Süddeustche Zeitung  on September 18th privately to Ukrainian President Poroshenko, “If I wanted, in two days I could have Russian troops not only in Kiev, but also in Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Warsaw and Bucharest.” The reality is this is complete bravado and a cheap attempt at intimidation.

The unlikelihood of direct Russian overt, large scale invasion in the region is not just a question of Russian military capability and avoiding a potential embarrassing military setback that would destroy both Putin’s and Russia’s image of strength. It is a matter of control. Putin is a control freak by any measure of the term. Putin can control his indirect, incremental style of warfare being able to escalate and de-escalate as the situation warrants and as needed, but the shooting down of the Malaysian passenger plane on July 17 showed that even this approach has problems to reign in the use of force. Once a complete and direct invasion is unleashed, he loses control of the situation as it could unravel and escalate in more directions than he could possibly control or predict.

Putin has played his indirect assault as far as it can go in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian successes against the “so-called insurgents” saw their defeat as inevitable leaving Putin with the desperate option of having to openly shell the Ukraine from the Russian side of the border, more blatantly send some Russian troops into the Ukraine, and agree to a ceasefire with a separation with a buffer zone. For all intents and purposes, Putin has failed in his wider objectives in the Ukraine.

In the so-called game of foreign policy chess, Obama and Putin have both lost. Obama has proven to be completely wrong about Russia and then only taking weak and reactive half-measures to deal with them. Putin’s actions have pushed the Ukraine decidedly to the West, energized NATO’s solidarity and mission to strengthen its commitment to Poland and the Baltics, and diminished Russia’s position into an essentially rouge state in the world diplomatically and economically. The lone achievement of Putin is taking the Crimea at great price without Western recognition of the annexation short of fellow rouge state recognition from the likes of Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, and North Korea. Russia should not be able to readily discard its rouge state status until it is willing to return Crimea to the Ukraine at some distant future date beyond Putin’s leadership.

Putin still has two more years to maximize any potential gains from his Ukrainian gambit while Obama is president of the U.S. and before the Russian economy takes serious hits from diminishing oil revenues and the sanctions start to be effective. The challenge will be to contain Putin in the interim and hope the United States elects a president who is able and willing to show the leadership necessary to confront Russian aggression. Hopefully, the Ukraine will still be around to be saved.

ISIL Threat

Obama does not want to destroy ISIL, rather contain them while not making this clear to the American or world public. While avoiding articulating his real goal to just contain ISIL, his limited military approach guarantees ISIL will not be destroyed, simply degraded with even questionable chances of containment success.

Obama’s great emphasis on “no boots on the ground” with very little likelihood any partnership willing to provide troops on the ground and no success of training moderate “vetted” Syrian rebels, which will take over a year, has made it clear Obama is not willing to effectively destroy ISIL. What is truly bizarre is his subsequent declaration 3,000 American troops will be used in West Africa against the Ebola outbreak. Not only retired, but currently serving military officials have openly, publicly split with the president on his ISIS plan to a degree never seen before that he needs to keep all military options open.

Obama’s continued emphasis on his “no boots on the ground” statements is for domestic consumption for a political wing of his party. His priority is partisan politics over national security as it is a basic military axiom to NOT tell your enemy what you will and will not do. Sun Tzu repeated over and over the importance of deception in his work The Art of War with just one quote saying, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” Sun Tzu also wrote, “The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

General James Conway (the former Commandant of the United States Marine Corps) slammed Obama’s ISIL strategy with a potent dose of reality stating September 19th at a conference, “I don’t think the president’s plan has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.” Conway’s major concern was that the U.S. did not have a force on the ground in Syria it could rely on.

Obama has a consistent, “pattern and practice,” in overruling sound military advice at the expense of national security to fit his domestic political agenda and narrative while denying America is at war with terrorists. The manipulation of language to deny reality ongoing  with Obama’s avoidance of saying we are at “war with Islamic terror” by using tortured logic to deny the U.S. is at war with ISIL and Islamic terrorism in general and that ISIL is not “Islamic” during his September 11, 2014 national address.

This is nothing new.

November 5, 2009 Fort Hood shooting by Maj. Nidal Hasan who described himself as a “mujahedeen,” or Muslim holy warrior killed 13 servicemen and women while wounding 29 on the military base was deemed by the DOD “workplace violence.” It is the worst shooting to ever occur on a U.S. military base. The government has declined to call this al Qaeda–inspired mass murder an act of terrorism because to do so would be “unfair to the victims.” The Senate released a report describing the mass shooting as "the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001."The Purple Heart has been denied the soldiers who were killed or wounded at Fort Hood because they were classified as victims of simple calamity rather than of combat, they and their families have been denied the accompanying benefits. A number of them say they have not even been able to secure adequate care for their wounds.

2009 Obama rejected a 40,000 strong force to remain in Afghanistan as advised by his military.

2011Obama rejected a 10,000 strong force to stay in Iraq when 24,000 was recommended by his military and left none.

2014 Obama rejected any U.S. forces to stay in Afghanistan to sustain the government there as advised by his military.

The same Obama misrepresentations of events like the Fort Hood terrorist attack continued regarding the Benghazi consulate attack and at first ignoring ISIL and then claiming they were a junior varsity organization of no real threat just last January.

Obama pulled all U.S. forces out of Iraq at the end of 2011 without a status of forces agreement and no residual U.S. troops despite being warned of the dangers, warnings which have proved to be prophetic.

July 12, 2007 speech, President Bush warned that Iraq would become a terrorist haven if troops were to withdraw too early.

On November 16, 2011 in a testy exchange with Senator John McCain, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (SOD July 2011 to February 2013) sparred with lawmakers about how talks ultimately collapsed on a future US military mission in light of the complete withdrawal in December. In a charged hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Panetta was grilled by Republicans who accused President Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq for his own political gain without making a genuine effort to broker a deal with Baghdad to keep some troops in place. The US military's top officer, General Martin Dempsey, told lawmakers at this same hearing he was concerned about the future of Iraq after the pullout and acknowledged that no commander had recommended a full withdrawal from Iraq.

Just this Sunday on September 21st, Leon Panetta now reveals in direct contrast to what he told the U.S. Senate in 2011 that when the U.S. withdrew from the country in 2011 he was not confident pulling out was the right decision. “I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq,” he said. “The decision was that we ought to at least try to maintain 8,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops there, plus keeping some of our intelligence personnel in place, to be able to continue the momentum in the right direction.”

Panetta also revealed that he was in support of arming the moderate Syrian rebels in 2012, along with several other members of the administration.  “I think that would've helped,” Panetta said. “And I think in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS.” According to CBS News, Panetta writes in his new book “Worthy Fights” that he, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the director of the CIA and the joint chiefs chairman all urged Obama to arm the rebels at a 2012 meeting. Obama completely ignored and dismissed this advice.

President Barack Obama recently reiterated his intention to pull nearly all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan once again despite the military advice of his generals and the lesson and disasters that afflicted Iraq after his rapid withdrawal in 2011.

Obama strongly asserted during his 2012 re-election campaign that the war on terror was won, he won it, and took full credit for pulling all U.S. troops out of Iraq. Now Obama claims it was not his choice to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. Somehow that is Bush’s fault too, which is his standard go to defense of anything that goes wrong.

September 11, 2012 Benghazi attack where the American consulate was overran and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed was falsely blamed on a video protest, not organized terrorism. It was clear that this was not simply a spontaneous protest over some video to all but the most uniformed the next day, yet President Obama with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept up the same false video protest narrative on September 14th when the four bodies were flown back to the U.S. Clinton said speaking over the dead Americans’ caskets and to their families present said the rage and violence aimed at American missions was prompted by “an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.” Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and now Obama’s national security advisor, stated September 16th on four Sunday talk shows it was simply a spontaneous protest, not an organized terrorist attack. One must remember Obama was in a tight re-election at this time, needing to downplay the terrorist attack given his strong assertion to American voters the war on terror was essentially over and a thing of the past because of him.

Hillary Clinton angrily responded to her previous false video claim while being questioned by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson on January 23, 2013 “Was it because of a protest or is it because of guys out for a walk one night and they decide they go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

It makes a big difference at this point for three important reasons. First, it needs to be determined what went wrong that night to prevent a repeat of an American consulate being overran and personnel being killed. Second, the culprits involved need to be identified to apprehend or eliminate them. Third, was it a matter of incompetence or negligence that has since been covered up? Just over a week ago, new allegations have come to light from a former State Department employee that he saw Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff and deputy chief of staff overseeing a document operation, which allegedly took place on a weekend in a basement office of the State Department,  where aides secretly scrubbed all negative documents relating to Benghazi so that Congress would not see them. If true and proven, it is a federal crime and will make a big difference to any and all involved.  

In May of 2013 Obama again unequivocally declared the “Global War on Terror” is over at the National Defense University within Washington, DC's Fort McNair. Yet Obama has been receiving detailed intelligence reports on ISIL for over a year as recently reported earlier this month. In a January 27, 2014 interview with The New Yorker Obama declared ISIL as J.V. (junior varsity), is taken by surprise by their rapid expansion, and stated “We don’t have a strategy yet” on August 28th.

So where does that leave U.S. actions against ISIL for the foreseeable future? Obama has effectively “kicked the can down the road” for the next U.S. president to deal with to protect his own “legacy” of being a president who did not get the country involved in a war and pretend he won the war on terror. Hence, his strange definition that bombings are not acts of war, only boots on the ground are an act of war; ISIL is not Islamic or a real threat to the U.S.; and any and all military advice that contradicts this political narrative no matter how serious the national security consequences will be ignored while he is president. When all else fails, Obama will give another speech, probably blame Bush, and pretend problems are not really problems. We have two more years of a president who time and again has put his own political agenda as a priority over U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. To quote Machiavelli again, “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” Unfortunately, President Obama has proven himself unwilling to change in light of clear and present dangers that challenge his assumptions and world views. Elections have consequences; and the American 2014 Senate and 2016 presidential elections will have far-reaching consequences for the United States, Europe and the Middle East.