[T]he Russians are unlikely to keep on fighting should it become clear that they are likely to be defeated.
One lesson from the Snake Island episode, as well as the withdrawal from Kyiv, is that the Russian commanders can recognise when they are in a losing position and withdraw rather than take unnecessary punishment. Because we have been through a period of slow, grinding advances from Russia there is a tendency to assume that Ukraine will also have to overcome a tenacious Russian defence, that the third stage may look like the second, except with the roles reversed.
This is not as obvious as it may seem. Not only will Ukrainian tactics likely differ but, if they start being pushed back, the Russians will need to decide how much they really want to hold on to territory at the expense of preserving what is left of their army. If, at some point, the Russian command see only adverse trends ahead they may consider the long-term and the need to maintain their armed force to deal with future threats, other than Ukraine. Russia cannot afford an inch by inch retreat to the border, taking losses all the way. At some point they may need to cut their losses. This would be the point where they might urge Putin to engage in serious negotiations (for example reviving earlier proposals on a form of neutrality in return for full withdrawal) to provide political cover for their withdrawal.
Whether or not we get to this stage is a different matter. The challenge for Ukraine is to develop an offensive with some momentum to the point where there is no readily available way for it to be reversed by the Russians. This is a challenge because the Ukrainians will need to advance by means that do not solely involve direct assaults on Russians positions. Over the next few weeks we should start to get some sense of whether Ukraine can start to take the initiative and impose its own priorities on Russia rather than the other way round, and how well the Russians are able to respond to the steady improvement of Ukrainian capabilities. Should Ukrainian forces be able to create any momentum, however, then the situation could move in their favour very quickly. Can the Ukrainians win? Yes. Will the Ukrainians win? Not yet clear, but the possibility should not be dismissed.
3/ Still, to understand where this war is going, what conditions military operations will create in the coming weeks, and how they may set conditions for a negotiated settlement an attempt to surmise a logical course of action is necessary.
5/ I have added what I feel are the Ukrainian government’s war aims to this assessment. Essential they are the opposite of Russia’s aims but contain important nuances that offer a “golden bridge” (i.e., making the Russians feel they have achieved a goal).
Francis Fukuyama, of “End of History” fame, again climbs out on the predicting limb and tells us: Russia’s going to lose.
I’ll stick my neck out and make several prognostications:
Russia is heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine. Russian planning was incompetent, based on a flawed assumption that Ukrainians were favorable to Russia and that their military would collapse immediately following an invasion. Russian soldiers were evidently carrying dress uniforms for their victory parade in Kyiv rather than extra ammo and rations. Putin at this point has committed the bulk of his entire military to this operation—there are no vast reserves of forces he can call up to add to the battle. Russian troops are stuck outside various Ukrainian cities where they face huge supply problems and constant Ukrainian attacks.
The collapse of their position could be sudden and catastrophic, rather than happening slowly through a war of attrition. The army in the field will reach a point where it can neither be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize. This is at least true in the north; the Russians are doing better in the south, but those positions would be hard to maintain if the north collapses.
There is no diplomatic solution to the war possible prior to this happening. There is no conceivable compromise that would be acceptable to both Russia and Ukraine given the losses they have taken at this point. …
Putin will not survive the defeat of his army. He gets support because he is perceived to be a strongman; what does he have to offer once he demonstrates incompetence and is stripped of his coercive power? …
The war to this point has been a good lesson for China. Like Russia, China has built up seemingly high-tech military forces in the past decade, but they have no combat experience. The miserable performance of the Russian air force would likely be replicated by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, which similarly has no experience managing complex air operations. We may hope that the Chinese leadership will not delude itself as to its own capabilities the way the Russians did when contemplating a future move against Taiwan.
Hopefully Taiwan itself will wake up as to the need to prepare to fight as the Ukrainians have done, and restore conscription. Let’s not be prematurely defeatist.
Turkish drones will become bestsellers.
A Russian defeat will make possible a “new birth of freedom,” and get us out of our funk about the declining state of global democracy. The spirit of 1989 will live on, thanks to a bunch of brave Ukrainians.
China’s multidecade ascent was aided by strong tailwinds that have now become headwinds. China’s government is concealing a serious economic slowdown and sliding back into brittle totalitarianism. The country is suffering severe resource scarcity and faces the worst peacetime demographic collapse in history. Not least, China is losing access to the welcoming world that enabled its advance.
Welcome to the age of “peak China.” Beijing is a strong revisionist power that wants to remake the world, but its time to do so is already running out. This realization should not inspire complacency in Washington—just the opposite. Once-rising powers frequently become aggressive when their fortunes fade and their enemies multiply. China is tracing an arc that often ends in tragedy: a dizzying rise followed by the specter of a hard fall. Read the rest of this entry »
An 1896 caricaturist predicted Zoom Christmas celebrations in 2020! Translation (roughly): My wife visits her aunt in Budapest, my oldest daughter is studying to be a dentist in Melbourne, … this does not prevent us from celebrating Christmas with the telephonoscope. pic.twitter.com/0ODROejI8K
Joel Kotkin argues that, even if the democrats manage to win the presidency this year, the tripartite Democrat Party coalition is inherently unstable and its factions are bound to fall apart.
The [Democratic] Party now enjoys predominant influence over mainstream media, rising influence among wealthy elites, a stranglehold over education and entertainment industries, and the domination of the burgeoning non-profit world. Remarkably the self-styled â€œparty of the peopleâ€ now accommodates the big Wall Street firms and tech oligarchies alongside the progressive, neo-socialist, activist base and an ever-diminishing remnant of traditional working-class voters.
This powerful coalition is also a fundamentally unstable oneâ€”a three-headed hydra whose heads, particularly after Trump leaves, will soon be biting each other furiously. One faction, the corporatist elite, genuflects and even profits from the progressive mantra on climate, gender, and race. Some, like former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, are so committed to gentry progressivism that he recently suggested those who donâ€™t get with the program could â€œface a firing squad.â€ Others, like the Marxists and rioters of BLM, seek a total social revolution and increasingly speak of ending â€œracial capitalism.â€
Many on the Right, having learned nothing since Reagan, simple-mindedly identify each of these two dominant groups as â€œliberal.â€ A more accurate assessment would be â€œcorporatistâ€ and â€œsocialist.â€ …
[I]ncreasingly, the policies of the partyâ€™s two dominant factionsâ€”the corporatists and the socialist Leftâ€”are out of sync with working- and middle-class interest. On issues like climate change, patriotism, and housing, notes Berkeley law professor Alli Joseph, both the progressives and corporatists evidence â€œclass cluelessness or class condescensionâ€ that undermines the partyâ€™s populist appeal. The Leftâ€™s agenda, as epitomized by the New York Timesâ€™s 1619 project, and widely adopted by the corporate elite, is no winner on Main Street. Even the World Socialists see it as â€œa gift to Donald Trumpâ€ and â€œa falsification of historyâ€ which denies â€œthe great Democratic legacy of Americaâ€™s revolutionsâ€ and alienates most working class Americans.
Forbes interviews Gilder on the future of Big Tech.
Q: One of your lifelong theories, which reaches back to your 1980s bestsellers https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1596988096?ie=UTF8 and The Spirit of Enterprise, is the role of the human spirit and human agency, something economists and governments donâ€™t see or donâ€™t want to acknowledge.
Gilder: Itâ€™s the greatest of all forces. Think about whatâ€™s going on in the U.S. today, particularly in our university system. As Tyler Cowen describes in his book The Complacent Class, weâ€™ve adopted a kind of ideology of cautionary principles and stationary states. He really puts his finger on it. Weâ€™re not living in an age of boldness and abundance, but in an age of retrenchment and shrinking horizons and careful rearrangements of existing resources. A lot of it is epitomized by this whole idea that unless human beings stop moving, the climateâ€™s going to collapse on us.
The climate-change paralysis has been very destructive, not only to our national economy but particularly to Silicon Valley. Every time I find a company thatâ€™s doing everything right, I discover a peculiar feature of its technology thatâ€™s designed chiefly to stop it from emitting carbon dioxide. And that feature twists the technology into a pretzel, making it less useful and less promising. Take Google. Itâ€™s making an elaborate effort to render all of its massive data centers around the world â€œcarbon-neutral.â€ Theyâ€™re all linked up to various druidical Sunhenges of solar panels or quixotic kites or windmills. I mean, thatâ€™s some archaic way to produce energy!
I think weâ€™re really in the middle of a loss of confidence, a loss of courage that is expressed and perpetrated by a massive expansion in regulations. This began in the Bush era, was vastly expanded during the Obama years, but has now been marginally retrenched. My hope is that the Trump retrenchment signals a truly new approach to the world and the human predicament.
“James Madison” thinks the same old German flaws are leading once again to the same old disaster.
Germany does one thing exceptionally well. It can harness its natural tendency toward rigor bordering on arrogance, self-preservation, and an abiding need for social conformity to achieve unparalleled economic dominance in the region. But, because it is consumed by fears â€“ fears arising from its exposure lying at the nexus of the east and west along the wide Northern European plain â€“ it cannot control its urge to overcompensate. Whether it is provoking war against France in 1870, baiting Austria into confronting Russia leading to WWI, or allowing a megalomaniac to seize power and neighbors to create buffer states in WWII lest they threaten, Germany keeps repeating the same mistake. It always eventually turns its industrial power into a tool to exploit others in an effort to protect itself.
After WWII, Germany adopted a kind of â€œnever againâ€ mentality driven first by reconstruction and later by contrition. The German Constitution, the Basic Law, was designed to avoid a repeat of Hitler, Weimar, and Hohenzollern rule which led to economic expansion, exploitation, and calamity. It also structured its government to stop communism, avoid religious division, and prevent class warfare.
By the 1990s, Germany recovered fully from the devastation of WWII and was faced with the enormous cost of integrating the East. Faced with the necessity of converting the low-skill, low-wage East Germans into a productive resource, it developed a political-union-management plan to temper wages in the western side of the country, invest in automation and low-end production in the East, and in the process trim and redesign its production model. The key result was more job flexibility than most Europeans were willing to accept at the time. This led to rapid transformation and a remaking of German production. Germany increased its quality and lowered its relative costs. With the Soviets out of the way, military spending was trimmed and redirected to pay for retraining, social costs, and funding economic efficiencies. This was a win-win politically since reductions in defense spending fed the ever-present anti-war sentiment of a nation that has always struggled to control its fears.
At the same time, the Euro currency entered in 1999 and diluted the relatively high cost of the German Mark and German efficiency. Suddenly, a blending of Germanyâ€™s productive workforce with the extremely unproductive, low-skill Mediterranean and growing eastern EU countries in one currency shielded and boosted German competitiveness. The Euroâ€™s arrival meant Germany could hide behind a currency that did not fully value its costs. Its products and companies began to experience better fortune. The timing was perfect. China and the other BRICS needed machine tools, equipment, and technical know-how. Germany would export its way to pay for East-West integration and create itself as a world trade power.
By now the politicians were fully on board â€“ including the left Socialist Democratic Party under Gerhard SchrÃ¶der. They were delivering a new Reich, one that would dominate in the marketplace with high technology, luxury, and world-class products. German companies dominated segments of Chinaâ€™s, Brazilâ€™s, Indiaâ€™s, and Russiaâ€™s auto and fabrication markets. To smooth things out, much talk of green energy, policies, and global accords was tossed about. Germany was in a fugue of green that would eventually lead its politicians to pull the plug on nuclear after the nation hysterically failed to fully understand the Fukushima incident. Nevermind, Germany would pretend to be green while it turned more brown â€“ burning coal to generate power and subsidizing solar and wind everywhere at great cost to the average German. Electricity costs would rise substantially â€“ non-competitively.
Germanyâ€™s economic success, however dominant, was not unique. It could be mimicked. In fact, much of its transformation was patterned after Japanese methods. So to address this, German politicians began working to ensure German standards and technology were adopted or imposed by using the growing power they accumulated within the EU. The phony German diesel engine debacle (only German diesel engines could meet the new German-written EU standards) or the German obsession (silly fad) with renewable energy resulted. With over 20 percent of German jobs (over 10 percent due to VW alone), corporate profits, and exports dependent upon creating a global auto footprint, all of Germany rallied around the phony â€œclean dieselâ€ technology â€“ deceptively and fraudulently represented as cleaner than it actually was. EU skies in Madrid, Milan, and Paris turned gray with diesel pollution that was not possible using the new German clean diesel. In 2015, they got caught. Something was rotten in Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Strasbourg.
With the promise of a better tomorrow, Germany began to encounter additional bumps. Russia turned revanchist, forcing hard choices about sanctions over Ukraine, choices moralistic Germany belatedly accepted. China did not adopt western democratic ideals with free markets, in fact, it became more repressive. Human rights issues had to be overlooked by Angela Merkel on her trade visits to China. German export markets in Brazil and India were built upon rather primitive economic foundations that eventually caught a downdraft. The rise of Turkish and Hungarian nationalism and authoritarianism presented conflicts between economic interests and a German aversion to authoritarian rule.
Finally, its look-the-other-way tolerance in exchange for the opportunity to â€œsell, sell, sellâ€ arrived at a beggar-thy-neighbor strategy which eventually sold and banked Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal into near or actual insolvency. There were other cases of German goods being sold to dictators and winding up where they should not be. Germany, rather than being seen as a responsible citizen, a trusted partner, and source of trade and technology, was seen as a ravenous exploiter. Even sales of its military hardware â€“ items it was not purchasing sufficiently to defend itself or Europe â€“ saw an uptick in sales. German might be the leader of Europe â€“ but it was a leader that lacked both the high ground and the high road.
It was clear as far back as 2006 when oil prices were skyrocketing that Russia planned to rearm. Despite this, Germany continued to disarm and unarm. And by 2015, Britain saw the EU for what it was becoming â€“ a Franco-German alliance with deep interests in telling local merchants in Barcelona to do things the way they were done in Bavaria. The EU regulations set how many paper towels could be used in a public bathroom or which diesel cars met EU standards (answer: German). Germany was calling the shots in public and behind the scenes whether you lived in Leyden or Leicester. The EU could not challenge the one nation that generated all the positive export balance for the EU in total. The EU needed Germany and Germany knew it. It alone still manufactured things that could be sold around the world.
Yet, Britain and France paid for the nuclear forces, they alone funded the limited means to project military force, and they alone held some real soft power to influence the United States â€“ the only power that still mattered if the EU was to hold sway. It was evident looking back that even the Clinton and Obama administrations barely deferred to Germany. She was a non-factor.
The great German waltz suffered its last blow when Germany turned away from sincere concerns about social harmony and cohesion and Angela Merkel opened her borders to flocks of young, unskilled males roaming in from the Middle East to enter the country as refugees. This horde was encamped with government cooperation and little national debate or reflection â€“ and they remain in German-funded schools and transition programs to this day. Underlying this somewhat disastrous decision to accept about a million new citizens from Syria, Iraq, etc., is a stark reality that Germany â€” if it is to continue to be a workshop for VWâ€™s, Airbusâ€™s, and machine tools â€” needs workers. The population reproduction has lagged behind replacement levels and no one wants to clean sewers, bathrooms, or pick up garbage. Thus, an economic policy driven by a demographic problem led to a rushed rationalization of an immigration policy that quickly became unpopular.
Nationalist sentiments â€“ the vilest and most detested sentiments in post-WWII Germany â€“ have surged forth. And the nation is now locked in a political impasse over forming a new parliamentary coalition to rule â€“ a little over a month ago the Christian Democrats (Angela Merkelâ€™s center-right party) experienced their worst election since 1949! No coalition is forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Germanyâ€™s economy is strong. The nation is weak. It is even perhaps unstable. It is in some respects isolated â€“ from Britain (Brexit), France (reluctantly pro-EU expansion), the Mediterranean EU countries, the more demanding, intolerant, and authoritarian Eastern EU, a resurgent Russia, and its old protector, the United States â€“ which is now a political card played to demonstrate moral superiority. Its old fears of exposure on the Northern European plain nestled between nations who do not trust each other or worse, do not trust Germany, will emerge again. That which unites Germanyâ€™s regions and people, their natural proclivity toward a kind paranoia and fear, also destroys it. Will it continue to overplay, overextend, overcompensate? Can it pull itself back a bit, realign, and find a national consensus? Can it arm itself, protect itself, and become a trustworthy ally?
The answer is simply that since its creation as a balance of power between imperial Russia and France, Germany is too small, too large, too aggressive, too passive, and too weak to lead. And when others, or Germany itself, attempts to do so, sooner or later she oversteps and things start to spin out of control. Germany is its own, and quite often the worldâ€™s, worst enemy.