September 3, 2008

NYT: Georgia, not Russia, attacked

The Battle of Kursk it wasn't ... The New York Times reports:

Just weeks after Georgia’s military collapsed in panic in the face of the Russian Army, its leaders hope to rebuild and train its armed forces as if another war with Russia is almost inevitable. ...

Georgia’s decision to attack Russian and South Ossetian forces raises questions about the wisdom of further United States investment in the Georgian military, which in any case would further alienate Russia. Not doing so could lead to charges of abandoning Georgia in the face of Russian threats. ...

“Our mission is to protect our country from Russian aggression,” Davit Kezerashvili, Georgia’s 29-year-old defense minister, said in an interview last week when asked what missions the military would be organized to perform. “...

Military rebuilding will take years, which means that long-term decisions about American support to Georgia will fall to the next presidential administration.

Republicans and Democrats alike have signaled strong support for Georgia.

Mr. Saakashvili has cultivated close ties to both the McCain and Obama campaigns. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for vice president, visited Mr. Saakashvili last month, as did Cindy McCain, the wife of Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee. Mr. McCain has been a vocal proponent of Mr. Saakashvili’s government, and a strong critic of the Kremlin. ...

Russia’s military, while able to overpower and scare off the inexperienced Georgian Army, went into battle with aging equipment, including scores of tanks designed in the 1960s, and armored vehicles that broke down in large numbers along Georgia’s roads. ...

But as Georgia and the West begin to discuss military collaborations, the conversation is informed by the events of last month, in which the Georgian military scattered under fire. ...

But interviews with Western military officers who have experience working with Georgian military forces, including officers in Georgia, Europe and the United States, suggested that Georgia’s military shortfalls were serious and too difficult to change merely by upgrading equipment.

In the recent war, which was over in days, Georgia’s Army fled ahead of the Russian Army’s advance, turning its back and leaving Georgian civilians in an enemy’s path. Its planes did not fly after the first few hours of contact. Its navy was sunk in the harbor, and its patrol boats were hauled away by Russian trucks on trailers.

The information to date suggests that from the beginning of the war to its end, Georgia, which wants to join NATO, fought the war in a manner that undermined its efforts at presenting itself as a potentially serious military partner or power.

Mr. Saakashvili and his advisers also say that even though he has no tactical military experience, he was at one time personally directing important elements of the battle — giving orders over a cellphone and deciding when to move a brigade from western to central Georgia to face the advancing Russian columns.

In the field, there is evidence from an extensive set of witnesses that within 30 minutes of Mr. Saakashvili’s order, Georgia’s military began pounding civilian sections of the city of Tskhinvali, as well as a Russian peacekeeping base there, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire.

The barrages all but ensured a Russian military response, several diplomats, military officers and witnesses said.

After the Russian columns arrived through the Roki Tunnel, and the battle swung quickly into Russia’s favor, Georgia said its attack had been necessary to stop a Russian attack that already had been under way.

To date, however, there has been no independent evidence, beyond Georgia’s insistence that its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking before the Georgian barrages.

That's a big improvement over so much of the initial reporting in the American that made it sound like Russian takes rolled first over the de facto boundary of 17 years; but the NYT now sounds a little too overconfident in the opposite direction. Russia may have been trying to provoke Georgia into committing the casus belli. I don't know that Putin was trying to provoke Georgia's government of over-networked yuppie goofballs into starting this war, but he might have.

During the battle, one Western military officer said, it had been obvious that Georgia’s logistical preparations were poor and that its units interfered with each other in the field.

This was in part because there was limited communication between ground forces and commanders, but also because there was almost no coordination between police units and military units, which often had overlapping tasks and crowded one another on the roads.

One senior Western military official said that one of the country’s senior generals had fled the battle in an ambulance, leaving soldiers and his duties behind. Georgia’s Defense Ministry strongly denies this.

No one disputes that the army succumbed to chaos and fear, which reached such proportions that the army fled all the way to the capital, abandoning the city of Gori without preparing a serious defense, and before the Russians had reached it in strength. It littered its retreat with discarded ammunition.

C. J. Chivers reported from Tbilisi, and Thom Shanker from Washington. Clifford J. Levy contributed reporting from Moscow.

The key strategic question not mentioned here is whether Georgia intends to build a military oriented toward the offense or the defense.

Hezbollah showed in 2006 that, by spending the $100 million per year it gets from Iran, plus whatever it extorts out of the Lebanese economy, you can dig in and withstand a modern army with airplanes and tanks even when you have none. At least, you can withstand a modern army for about as long as a modern country will put up with waging offensive war. As the Georgians showed, in the 21st Century, people really don't like to fight very much, so the balance is switching from offense to defense. It's not 1940 anymore, so mini-Maginot Lines are coming back into utility.

But you can't conquer the land you want by digging in on the land you already have. At this point, having tried to retake South Ossetia, Georgia finds itself with Russian sitting on land that Georgia controlled up until last month, so it is likely to even more want to go on the offensive to get the Russians out.

What's the solution? I don't know, but, it would be nice if Democratic Georgia had one of those democratic elections we're always hearing about and voted Saakashvili out for starting and instantly losing a war with Russia. Then a new government could start a defensive-oriented strategy, digging in to make it too costly for Russia to go further south, while negotiating to get Russia to pull back to its protectorates, leaving a demilitarized zone behind.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if the Hezbollah strategy is workable for Georgia. Moscow isn't within easy reach of cheap rocketry.

Steve Sailer said...

Cheap ballistic rocketry didn't do Hezbollah any good defensively, it just helped goad the Israelis into pounding on them more. Cheap anti-tank rockets, however, did help Hezbollah extract a price from the Israeli invaders.

Anonymous said...

Would that really stop the Russians? I would say that Georgian rockets falling on Moscow would be far more effective, politically, than blowing up a few old Russian tanks (of which they presumably have a lot, or at least comparatively more than the Israelis).

neil craig said...

It is clear, even from western rweports, that the Georgians are really pissed off with Shaask. Of course he did get elected, after a western supported & financed de facto coup, by 96% of the people, in an election western "N"GOs said was free & fair.

The best thing for the locals & for us too would be if the country that gave birth to Stalin, voted for a government that wanted to be friendly with Russia. In certain circumstances I think 96% of people would vote for that but I don't think they will get the option. Democracy is not alwys the glorious free choice of the people we like to think. Quite often it is merely the coronation of their masters.

Anonymous said...

If Saakashvili was a democrat, you'd think he'd have offered the people of South Osetia and Abhazia referendums to decide their future affiliation. I'm sure that Russia would have agreed to such a referendum. It could have been conducted by the EU, the UN, whomever. Saakashvili did not choose this democratic route for the same reason for which Russia would have welcomed it - the majority of the people of those regions do not want to have anything to do with Georgia. The referendums would have turned into contests between the independence and joining-Russia options.

The whole idea of the Saakashvili regime being democratic is hilarious. This regime was brought to power by a coup. This coup was orchestrated by a long-time practitioner of the art of the Third World coup George Soros. Soros is apparently proud enough of this to babble to newspapers about it. After that coup they had an "election". Saakashvili won it with 96% of the vote. It really is a joke. Anyone who knows anything about the Caucasus will tell you that 96% of the locals of that region will never agree with each other on anything at all. Because of its mountainouns geography (every valley has its own nationalism, and usually its own language), it's a legendarily fractious place. When I try to imagine honest elections in the Caucasus, my mind comes up with visions of a parliamentary system with a 100 or so (mostly ethnically-based) parties, none of which ever gets more than 5% of the overall vote. Rigging an election in the Caucasus to show a 96% victory for your candidate is in some ways an interesting thing to do. You wouldn't be fooling any of the locals. Or any of Georgia's neighbors. So whom would you be fooling? Probably the people who live oceans away and know next to nothing about Georgia. I think Soros and Co. has been largely successful in this task.

M. Simon said...

Michael Totten is the antidote to the NYTs.

Georgia On My Mind

Anonymous said...

Cheap anti-tank rockets, however, did help Hezbollah extract a price from the Israeli invaders.

John Mearsheimer predicted that cheap anti-tank weapons would favor the defense way back in 1983, in his book Conventional Deterrence. His comments on this will be interesting to see, assuming he makes any. They won't appear in the the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, or the New Republic, since he's been banned from those publications after he wrote things that are true but drew the ire of the Israel Lobby, but he might write something on it in International Security.

The Maginot Line gets way too much criticism. The big problem with it was that the French didn't cover their whole border with it. They threw up a hasty extension to it after 1934, but it was nowhere near as impressive as the main thing. It wasn't impossible to take it-the Germans used it, and US forces ended up digging them out from parts that couldn't be bypassed at a high cost.

With very rare exceptions (usually involving new technology, and not lasting very long) defense has always had the advantage over offense. For those of you familiar with Robert Jervis' Cooperation under the Security Dilemma, this has major implications for defense policy and strategy.

Planetary Archon Mouse

Anonymous said...

What is really scary is that the NATO leadership jumped on the Georgian propaganda bandwagon and declared that Russia attacked first. If Georgia had been a member of NATO we could be at war with Russia today just because the Georgian leadership were fools and idiots. We would have turned over our war making decision to a third rate country with delusions of grandeur

DJ

Anonymous said...

The Georgian President was giving military orders from his cell phone? What are the chances those weren't intercepted by the Russians?

- Fred

rightsaidfred said...

>>>>giving orders over a cellphone

What a yuppie fantasy.

MQ said...

Democratic Georgia? Georgia is not democratic, don't spread this false meme.

Saakashvilli got 96% of the vote in the last election...

testing99 said...

Steve --

Hezbollah won over Israel because Israel was constrained by the press and domestic considerations (tiny population not able to withstand extensive war).

Looking at Lebanon is a wrong model, may I suggest Iraq and Afghanistan?

Anon is right Steve, in that Hezbollah which could have loaded chemical weapons on it's rockets, held a trump card on Israel. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were hostages, constraining Israeli actions.

Hezbollah could have killed tens to hundreds of thousands of Israelis, THAT was a huge trump card.

Moscow is not constrained by the press, they kill critics in elevators or with poisoned radioactive tea. They have a massive manpower advantage.

But, it did not go all their way. Russia's air cover was defeated by their own designed anti-air missiles, they had pilots in their 50's!!! and the cruiser Moscow was heavily damaged by Georgian patrol craft "invisible" to radar by shore clutter at night.

However, Iraq shows that decisive armor/air/artillery can smash opponents, particularly when terrain allows maneuver and you have control of the air. Even in Afghanistan, the Taliban were quickly routed by decisive precision bombings aided by GPS, day and night. Stuff the Soviets never had.

Tscottme said...

Here's a link to Michael Totten's interview with an expert on Georgia/Osettia which disagrees with the NYT (Georgians started it) idea.

http://xrl.us/op4ke

C. Van Carter said...

"After the Russian columns arrived through the Roki Tunnel"

Roki Tunnel made me remember my post about Georgia/South Ossetia from 2006.

Anonymous said...

"Russia's air cover was defeated by their own designed anti-air missiles, they had pilots in their 50's!!!"

For the love of God, testing99, please enough with the "pilots(s) in their 50s" garbage. And why is it now "pilots" (plural)? I thought it was just one guy, now I suppose we find it is multiple aged and doddering, nearly blind "pilots" who make up the pathetic and decaying Russian Air Force that was shot from the skies by heroic, plucky and inexperienced yet determined Georgians who stood up to the horrid Russians?
Listen, a bit of advice. When you are going to lie/make shit up, keep it simple and keep it consistent. Otherwise, you look like a fool.
Please, just stop with that whole line.

Anonymous said...

The last article I read described the famed 50 year old Russian pilot (singular!) as a 'flying officer'. I dont know if flying officer is a specific rank (eg in WW2 the RAF had a rank of Pilot Officer, which no longer exists) or whether he is just an officer, of unknown rank, who flys.

Martin said...

"MQ said...

Democratic Georgia? Georgia is not democratic, don't spread this false meme.

Saakashvilli got 96% of the vote in the last election..."

Yes, 96% is the kind of share that Breshnev and Castro used to get (Castro still does, for that matter). Turnout for any one side of that order is usually indicative of tyranny or fraud, not good government.

"testing99 said...

However, Iraq shows that decisive armor/air/artillery can smash opponents, particularly when terrain allows maneuver and you have control of the air."

What it shows is that the worlds most powerful military can crush a tin-pot Arab dictatorship, that has been under international embargo for 12 years.

Remember Moshe Dyan's prescription for success as a general (another interesting historical anecdote made popular by Steve): fight Arabs.

headache said...

"“Our mission is to protect our country from Russian aggression,” Davit Kezerashvili, Georgia’s 29-year-old defense minister, said in an interview last week when asked what missions the military would be organized to perform. “..."

Well he did a fine job!!

headache said...

Planetary Archon Mouse sed:

"the Germans used it, and US forces ended up digging them out from parts that couldn't be bypassed at a high cost."

I think this highlights the essential issue. The Germans inarguably were the best soldiers of WWII, but hopelessly outnumbered. Their fighting was tactically brilliant and bitter. That's why the price the US and Russia had to pay was so high. Reading the NYT piece left me wondering why the Israeli's, who also have a good military reputation, were willing to even waste their time with the Georgians. I could not see how one can ever turn that lot into a useful army, defensive or offensive, regardless of the sophistication of the gear. The human material is just not there. At least nobody will be repeating that stupid question again why they did not hit the tunnel to Russia. Well they could not!

I'm also not impressed with the assessment of the Russian force's equipment. Nobody has criticized the Russian forces themselves, only the equipment. But Russia has tons of Cold War equipment in addition to some pretty modern stuff. Obviously the smart thing was to use the old stuff. They could scare the Georgians off using old gear, so everybody must be wondering what the Russians would be like with their modern armour (T90's with anti-tank rocket protection etc.). I guess the Russians knew the Georgians were no good so just sent in their soldiers on rusted junk. I'm not even sure these were their finest soldiers.

big bill said...

Steve:
"Hezbollah showed in 2006 that, by spending the $100 million per year it gets from Iran, plus whatever it extorts out of the Lebanese economy, you can dig in and withstand a modern army with airplanes and tanks even when you have none. At least, you can withstand a modern army for about as long as a modern country will put up with waging offensive war."

Yeah, a "modern country", OK, but what about Russia?

I can't imagine how long Hezbollah would have lasted if the Russians advanced on them with flamethrowers a la Iwo Jima.

Sadly, the luftjuden now dominate in Israel and the sabra has become extinct. As a result they were unable to fight the latest war the way their terrorist ancestors did in the 1930's and 40's. They have lost their Begin balls. The Woody Allenification of Israel. How sad!

The Russians do not suffer the same post-modern mental disability.

Quercus said...

As for the Russians' supposed ruthlessness, in Strategy, Luttwak argues there was an unwillingness to take casualties by the Soviet leadership in the Afghanistan occupation of the '80s. This despite Soviet control of the press and Russians' historical tendency to fatalism when their young men are turned into cannon fodder.

Anonymous said...

"The last article I read described the famed 50 year old Russian pilot (singular!) as a 'flying officer'. I dont know if flying officer is a specific rank (eg in WW2 the RAF had a rank of Pilot Officer, which no longer exists) or whether he is just an officer, of unknown rank, who flys."

Off topic, but someone is wrong on the internet...

The rank of pilot officer, Pilot Officer Smith, is the still the lower commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force. Pilot Officer is an OF1 rank on the NATO scale and is the equivalent of a second lieutenant in the Army. The RAF equivalent of a lieutenant (army) is Flying Officer, also OF1.

Strangely Pilot Officer Smith is may not be a pilot, in fact most P/O Smiths are actually penguins, while Flying Officer Jones may actually be an engineer or a pen pusher.