Ruminations on the Russian Federation’s Failure To Close the Door in Western Ukraine to Foreign Military Assistance as Part of Its Invasion Plan

US airmen and marines (above) load M777 artillery pieces marked for delivery to the Ukrainian Armed Forces on an US Air Force transport plane. Many weapon systems sent into Ukraine have had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. Firepower in the form of multiple launch rocket systems, self-propelled artillery, and heavy caliber guns, transported possibly along the now heavily traveled supply lines from both Poland and Romania enabled the Ukrainian Armed Forces to launch two highly-successful counteroffensives. Presented here are some ruminations on Russia’s failure to initially shut the door to the massive levels of military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the US, other NATO Member States and the EU via Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Emphasis is placed on the likely reasons why Russia went into Ukraine militarily without addressing the potential impact of Western resupply of Ukrainian forces. To that extent, issues considered include: whether the Russian Federation General Staff was responsible for this considerable delinquency or was the Kremlin near criminally remiss for not heeding likely recommendations of the military chiefs and their war planners.

Intriguingly, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin launched the Ukraine War lacking a strategy that took into consideration of what Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces) would come up against. What was seemingly completely missed or misunderstood was the degree of support from the US and NATO Member States that Kyiv would receive. No effort, that was apparent, was made to obviate the ability of the US and its NATO allies to supply Ukraine at will as part of the military strategy. From the start, conquering Kyiv was the focus as if Putin, his foreign and national security policy team at the Kremlin, and his senior commanders in the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Perhaps, for Putin, the conquest of Ukraine was a dream on which he could feast his imagination. That was at least until the matter was reduced to reality. If one might think of Putin at all as a rational actor, it would seem Putin has painted himself into a corner. That is quite unlike Putin. Some might say that after all the years of accomplishments and successes, and all the experience, he was bound to make one big mistake. It is a real head rubber.

Presented here are some ruminations on Russia’s failure to initially shut the door to the massive levels of military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the US, other NATO Member States and the EU via Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Emphasis is placed on the likely reasons why Russia went into Ukraine militarily without addressing the potential impact of Western resupply of Ukrainian forces. To that extent, issues considered include: whether the Russian Federation General Staff was responsible for this considerable delinquency or was the Kremlin near criminally remiss for not heeding the recommendations of the military chiefs and their war planners; whether the door was left wide open between Poland Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania with Ukraine because they were hamstrung by Putin’s concept that a successful “lighting strike in Ukraine” could be achieved even though the idea was apparently developed in the abstract; and, whether they had little choice but to acquiesce to the manifestations of Putin’s sense of vulnerability over Ukraine’s close ties to the US, the EU, and NATO. Unless one was actually behind closed doors of conference rooms in the Kremlin and the national security bureaucracies in Moscow, or “reading someone’s mail,” one cannot know for certain how the decision concerning resupply from western Ukraine was made or maybe not made. The best informed guess would inevitably be an interpretation. While “ruminating”, greatcharlie sought to stay grounded within the realm of what would actually be possible in Putin’s regime given what is known about it. Insights offered here are occasionally supported with historical examples of timeless relevance that immediately came to mind or actually helped to generate ruminations. Causa latet, vis est notification. (The cause is hidden, the result is obvious.)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell (above) at press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991. When a military campaign is launched, often an objective becomes separating an opposing army from what gives it support and what allows it to continue to generate combat power. Acting in this manner against an opponent is referred to as acting decisively. During the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, the concept of separating Iraqi forces in Kuwait from resupply as well as command and control from the Iraqi military and political leadership was expressed without ambiguity by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell during a press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991. He famously stated: “Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it.”

Why Is Resupply an Issue?

When sent to war, the purpose of an army is to use its trained troops to deliver calculated lethal violence in protection of their country and its values wherever they are ordered to go. Not to be forgotten, is the necessity that the army’s troops place their very lives on the line in that pursuit. Equally important to note, not all countries have the same values. The values of the Russian Federation, particularly those that compelled the invasion of Ukraine, are quite different, for example, from those of the United Kingdom, France, or Germany. As professionals, army commanders act to the best of their knowledge and experience, use their troop in accordance with their army’s doctrine and in obedience to the concept and intent laid out by the army’s senior leadership. When it is the case, the army leadership acts in fol)owing with the concept and intent of their country’s political leadership. Such was the case when the Russian Federation Armed Forces were directed by Putin and ordered by the Russian Federation General Staff to invade Ukraine.

Today, armies can deploy with a considerable amount of supplies, but supplies begin to deplete as soon as the fight is underway. Nevertheless, to keep the army going, long before it becomes engaged, considerations and arrangements are made by planners and logistical (supply) officers to transport supplies wherever they are needed. Losing the ability to be resupplied means an army can fight only until the point when it metaphorically and literally, as one element of resupply, runs out of gas. To that extent, the most extreme of human endeavors becomes an even greater challenge for troops in that army. Whether resupply is possible can more often mean the difference between victory and defeat. 

To be a useful, effective fighting force on the battlefield, critical items such as bullets, grenades, rifles, other small arms, Kevlar vests, phones, petroleum, oil lubricants, and all and elements as replacement troops, and troop medical evacuation must get up to where the fight is. As shortages become problematic, commanders must begin to economize, their ability to act will be reduced, and subsequently their army becomes far less effective. The commander of the opposing army, if a capable commander, will discern the change, recognize the advantage presented and seek to exploit it as best as possible. The decision would need to be made on whether the army with dwindling supplies should be withdrawn. If the situation reaches the point when the commander can no longer act to alter the army’s situation, his army is being battered, or his army is cut off and has no available means of egress, he may be forced to surrender. While this description is somewhat oversimplified, it lends support for the idea that when a military campaign is launched, often an objective becomes separating an opposing army from what gives it support and what allows it to continue to generate combat power. Acting in this manner against an opponent is referred to as acting decisively.

During the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, the concept of separating Iraqi forces in Kuwait from resupply as well as command and control from the Iraqi military and political leadership was expressed without ambiguity by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell during a press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991 alongside the US Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. In the hour-long briefing, which detailed the first week of operations of the 28-nation coalition against Iraq, Powell famously stated: “Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it. To cut it off, that began last week when we started to go after the nerve center, the brains of the operation, the command and control of the operation, and the lines of communication that come out of Baghdad and other places in the country.”

One might have expected that Russian Federation Armed Forces top commanders and planners, in a similar vein, might have taken a similar tack toward the Ukraine Armed Forces. It might have been expected that they would have recognized that resupply not so much from Ukrainian arsenals but from those of US, other NATO Member States, and other countries in the EU would need to be blocked, cut off in some way. Yet, nothing remotely similar to what Powell expressed in 1991 was heard from the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense, the Russian Federation General Staff, or from Putin, himself, about cutting the Ukrainian Armed Forces off from resupply. There were no feigned movements such as moving Russian Federation forces to points outside Ukraine from which a blocking operation could best be launched in order to signal the intention to cut the Ukrainian Armed Forces off from resupply. Nothing was done sufficiently enough to cause supporters of the government of Kyiv to second guess any planned efforts to resupply the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In view of the potential decisive impact from contributions by the 30 countries in NATO,  particularly the US with its military largess, it would seem some Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and planners thinking logically would urge the Russian Federation General Staff to suggest scrapping the operation until the problem of the Western resupply threat was resolved. 

A near endless list of situations during wars in which resupply determined the outcome of battle or even the war, itself. For example, armies have often encountered difficulties in cutting off resupply on a strategic level when fighting a determined opponent. Occasionally political leaders and army commanders have been slow in recognizing the opportunity to act decisively to mitigate resupply efforts on a strategic level. Armies have faced difficulties on the tactical level against a smaller force of well-trained, well-organized, and well-led opposing troops, even during a siege, when sufficient resupply has been made available to them

Ho Chi Minh Trail

The Ho Chi Minh Trail (Đường mòn Hồ Chí Minh) was a supply system that provided support, in the form of manpower and materiel, to the Communist insurgency, Viet Cong, and the People’s Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese Army) during the Vietnam War. It comprised a logistical network of roads and trails that ran from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Initially troops, pushing heavily laden bicycles, driving oxcarts, or carrying supplies on their backs, moved hundreds of tons of supplies along it. However, trucks would become the primary means of moving supplies and troops. By 1969, tgere was even a pipeline crossed the Lao frontier through the Mu Gia Pass and, by 1970, it reached the approaches to the A Shau Valley in South Vietnam. The plastic pipeline, equipped with numerous small pumping stations, managed to transfer diesel fuel, gasoline, and kerosene all through the same pipe. By the end of 1970, the number of pipelines entering Laos increased to six that year. As a whole, supply efforts through trail were quite effective, which no mean feat given US efforts to thwart effort through trail included attacks from a CIA-raised clandestine army and the most intense air interdiction campaign in history. Mitigating the effects of US operations to destroy the trail was an existential effort. One might say the Ho Chi Minh Trail was the “center of gravity” for the Communists. Its loss probably would have led to their defeat in the war. As long as supplies could get to the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, their war effort could continue with vigor which complicated US-led efforts to secure South Vietnam for the government in Saigon. South Vietnam would eventually surrender to North Vietnam.

Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1945

During World War II, Germany acted robustly to prevent merchant ships from carrying food, raw materials, troops and their equipment from North America to the United Kingdom. If they had succeeded, the outcome of war might have been radically different. The United Kingdom might have been starved into submission, which would have been complete strain on the morale. Its forces and those of its allies worldwide likely would have been deeply impacted. The supply line from the US was essentially the beating heart, the center of gravity, of the United Kingdom’s war effort. The threat to the movement of ships across the Atlantic came in the form of German submarines, the “Unterseeboot” or U-boat. United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill once wrote that, “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.”

At the start of World War II, the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (Commander of the Submarines) was Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Karl Dōnitz. Dönitz pushed for a German fleet that consisted almost entirely of U-boats, claiming that depriving Germany’s enemies of vital supplies such as food and oil would be the most effective way to achieve victory. He claimed that given 300 U-Boats of the latest design, the Type VII, he could defeat the entire Royal Navy. He would utilize them in tactical formations that would later be called “wolfpacks”. Dőnitz’s  superior, Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy) and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine (the Naval High Command) Erich Raeder, was uninterested in his theories. Raeder was a traditionalist whose focus was surface warfare. Raeder also judged that Germany could not contest the Royal Navy for control of the sea. Even more, Raeder believed submarine warfare was cowardly. By 1941, although relatively small in number, U-boats under then Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Dőnitz were threatening Allied shipping as far as the US east coast. By the end of 1942, U-boat “wolfpacks” were achieving considerable success in sinking merchant ships. By early 1943, the United Kingdom’s resources, especially oil, were running out, and it became a question of whether Allied shipyards could build merchant ships fast enough to replace the tonnage that was being sunk. 

Finally recognizing the value of then Admiral Dönitz concepts on the effective conduct of submarine warfare, in January 1943, German Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler saw to it that he was advanced to the rank of Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) and replaced Großadmiral Erich Raeder as Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine. Interestingly, he retained his post as Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote. Dőnitz was given the authority to act as he saw fit with German naval forces too late. At that juncture, Dőnitz had 200 operational U-boats. By April 1943, his U-boats were clearly struggling to make an impact. The Allies were sinking German submarines in greater numbers, with 45 being destroyed in the months of April and May. Aggressive Allied anti-submarine tactics were aided by the introduction of new technology. Long-range aircraft were equipped with centimetric radar and directed based on Ultra intelligence from intercepts of Kriegsmarine Enigma code communications. The mass production of Liberty Ships in US shipyards would ensure that the Allies would overcome attrition rates and win the Battle of the Atlantic. Without the victory, the Allies would not have been able to land forces ashore in the Mediterranean Theater or at Normandy.

In Operation Sonnenblume, in 1941, the German Afrika Korps‘ first offensive in North Africa, it sought to advance on Alexandria and Suez. In that advance, the capture of Tobruk was a priority as it was the only deep water port in Eastern Libya and would have provided the Germans with the closest supply port to the Egypt–Libya border. Of some significance is the fact that the one the renowned military commanders to emerge from the war led the attack on Tobruk: Generalleutnant (Lieutenant-General) Erwin Rommel. In 1940, Rommel commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the invasion of France where he demonstrated skill in the new tactic of blitzkrieg. He was a military officer who knew his business. When Rommel struck, he achieved complete surprise against British Army units in Libya’s eastern coastal region. The British Army was forced to retreat several hundred miles across the desert toward Tobruk. At Tobruk, the British Army and its allies held on. The Germans frequently bombarded the port. A blockade had been organized to thwart British resupply and reinforcement efforts. However, ships of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Station ran the blockade, and provided Tobruk’s defenders gunfire support, supplies, fresh troops and by ferrying out the wounded. The defenders of Tobruk received enough resources to keep up the fight. Rommel was stopped and the siege was lifted in December 1941.

Tobruk Siege 1941

In Operation Sonnenblume, from February 6, 1941 to May 25,1941, its first offensive in North Africa, the German Afrika Korps sought to advance on Alexandria and Suez in that advance, the capture of Tobruk was a main objective. Tobruk was the only deep water port in Eastern Libya and would have provided Rommel a supply port closer to the Egypt–Libya border than Benghazi, 900 kilometers or 560 miles west of the Egyptian frontier, which was within the range of Royal Air Force bombers; Tripoli was 1,500 kilometers or 930 miles to the west in Tripolitania. Of some significance is the fact that the one the renowned military commanders to emerge from the war led the attack on Tobruk: Generalleutnant (Lieutenant-General) Erwin Rommel. A veteran of World War I, from 1929 through 1933, Rommel served as an instructor at the Dresden Infantry School and from 1935 at the Kriegsakademie (German War Academy) at Potsdam. In 1940, Rommel commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the invasion of France where he demonstrated skill in the new tactic of blitzkrieg. He was a military officer who knew his business. When Rommel struck, his Afrika Korps achieved complete surprise against British Army units in Libya’s eastern coastal region of Cyrenaica. The British Army was forced to retreat several hundred miles across the desert towards Tobruk.

Recognizing that he had the opportunity to capture Tobruk before the British Army and its Allies had time to organize an effective defense, Rommel advanced aggressively to exploit it. The 9th Australian Division, dubbed “The Rats of Tobruk”, supported by British Army armor and artillery, repulsed initial German assaults on April 10, 1941 to April 14, 1941, and even when the fresh 15th Panzer Division was committed to the attack on April 30, 1941, the defenders held on. The Germans frequently bombarded the port with artillery and Luftwaffe (German Air Force) dive-bombers and medium bombers. A blockade had been organized to thwart British resupply and reinforcement efforts. However, ships of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Station–to include the Inshore Squadron–ran the blockade. Indeed, known as the “Tobruk Ferry Service”, Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy warships provided gunfire support, supplies, fresh troops and by ferrying out the wounded. The defenders of Tobruk were provided enough resources to keep up the fight. The Royal Air Force flew defensive sorties from airfields far away in Egypt. The siege of Tobruk was the first occasion in the war that German Panzer units had been stopped. The siege was lifted in December 1941. It must be noted that via Operation Crusader, launched on November 27, 1941, Tobruk was relieved by the British Eighth Army which after September 1941, controlled British Army and other Allied ground forces in the Western Desert. It seems worthwhile to note the Fall of Tobruk occurred when Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel  commanding Panzerarmee Afrika (Panzer Army Africa) which controlled the Afrika Korps and additional German units deployed to Africa as the 90th Light Infantry Division), as well as the Italian X Corps and XX Corps, attacked  on June 20, 1942 with massed air support, broke through a weak point on the eastern defensive perimeter, and captured the port. Although the garrison on the western perimeter had not been attacked, it was cut off from supplies and transport. Lacking the means to escape, the majority had to surrender; 33,000 prisoners were taken. Rommel had indeed learned lessons during the 1941 siege.

Être Voué à L’échec dès le Début

Even if everything else had been planned and arranged in the correct manner in every other aspect for the invasion, the viability of the entire plan would still rest on the ability of the Russian Federation Armed Forces to at best destroy, acceptably disrupt, or at the absolute minimum, delay resupply from the US, EU, and NATO. Without being able to control the movement of resupply in the West, the plan for the invasion should have been scrapped or the attack should have been postponed until that was nailed down. The reasoning behind such a decision has already been made abundantly clear looking at the circumstances of the handful of examples presented here already. As it was, the “special military operation” was launched, half-baked, and billions of dollars in military assistance has reached the Ukrainian Armed Forces via their country’s western border. Many weapon systems sent into Ukraine have had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. Firepower in the form of multiple launch rocket systems, self-propelled artillery, and heavy caliber guns, transported possibly along the now heavily traveled supply lines from both Poland and Romania enabled the Ukrainian Armed Forces to launch two highly-successful counteroffensives. On August 29, 2022, a counteroffensive was launched to eject Russian forces occupying the Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts (provinces). On September 6, 2022, a counteroffensive was launched to eject Russian forces occupying the Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts. Given the unsatisfactory nature in which the Russian invasion was arranged and indeed, has been prosecuted, the decision to go into Ukraine was the sort that if made during an instance of saber rattling and war fever in a highly-industrialized democracy, would very likely lead to the impeachment of a national leader.

Ruminations

To set the record straight from the outset, greatcharlie believes that if Russian Federation forces were selectively positioned in Western Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces would have likely used their formidable and quite impressive drone arsenal to bombard them. They might have achieved the same relative success that they have achieved with Russian Federation forces in the east and south and around Kyiv. Once aptly prepared, Ukrainian special forces would likely do their part to hunt down and displace and destroy any Russian Federation troops settled in their country’s Western region. 

Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces would unlikely have known or believed any of that would have been possible before the invasion. One would need to consider other reasons for the omission of a mission to thwart, to an extent blockade resupply to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the West.The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. The. Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine.

To the left of the above map are all countries situated on Ukraine’s western border. As Ukraine is looked upon in Europe as a very large country, perchance the area in western Ukraine that would need to be covered was judged by military commanders and planners in the Russian Federation General Staff as too large and deemed too difficult to control or monitor, surveil, and launch successful interdiction attacks and raids from. The Polish–Ukrainian border has a total length of 529 kilometers or 329 miles to 535 kilometers or 332 miles according to different sources. The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. The Slovakia-Ukraine border is 97 kilometers or a bit over 60 miles. The Hungary-Ukraine border is roughly 103 kilometers or 60 miles long. It its located in Hungary’s Tisza river valley of its northeast. The Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine.

Omission or De-emphasis?

Negligentia sempre habet infortunam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.) Imaginably, there is a moderately rational reason behind the decision to attack the second largest country in Europe, 603,500 square kilometers or 233,000 square miles, without being fully prepared. Ukraine is second largest in size to Russia, which is 17,098,246 square kilometers or 6,601,670 square miles. As Ukraine is looked upon in Europe as a very large country, perchance the area in Western Ukraine that would need to be covered was judged as too large by military commanders  and planners in the Glavnoe operativnoe upravlenie General’nogo štaba Vooružёnnyh sil Rossijskoj Federacii (the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation) and commanders and planners at the lower level in Yuzhnyy Voyennyy Okrug (the Southern Military District) and the Zapadnyy Voyennyy Okrug (the Western Military District) and deemed too difficult to control or monitor, surveil, and launch successful interdiction attacks and raids into. The Polish–Ukrainian border is the state border between Poland and Ukraine. It has a total length of 529 kilometers or 329 miles to 535 kilometers or 332 miles according to different sources.

Concisely and admirably described by the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (Transfrontier Operational Mission), an association that was set up in 1997 by the government of France to resolve issues for entities concerned with cross border issues, the Poland-Ukraine border begins at the tripoint formed by the Ukrainian, Polish and Slovak borders, in the middle of the Eastern Carpathian mountains. The demarcation runs initially towards the east, arriving at the Ushok Pass and the source of the San River, whereupon it turns north-west to follow the river for around 50 kilometers or 31 miles. It subsequently leaves the river to take a north-easterly direction, crossing the region known as the “Przemyśl Gate”, where mountains meet lowlands. The border then crosses large swathes of agricultural land, to reach the Bug River, which forms the last third of its demarcation. It ends at the tripoint formed by the borders of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. Poland is a NATO Member State and an EU border state.

The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. Again using a description from the Mission Opérationnelle TransfrontalièreThe Republic of Moldova separates the border into two segments. The first in the west, at the tripoint between the Hungarian-Romanian and Hungarian-Ukrainian borders. That segment then continues across the East Carpathian mountains and terminates at the tripoint formed by the Moldovan, Romanian and Ukrainian borders. The second segment begins at the second tripoint between the Moldovan, Romanian and Ukrainian borders, on the north bank of the Danube River, and terminates as it reaches the Black Sea. Romania is a NATO Member State and an EU border state. The Slovakia-Ukraine border is 97 kilometers or a but over 60 miles long. Slovakia is also a NATO Member State and an EU border state. The Hungary-Ukraine border is roughly 103 kilometers or 60 miles long. It is located in Hungary’s Tisza River Valley in the country’s northeast. As with the preceding three countries discussed, Hungary is a NATO Member State and an EU borderstate. The. Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine. Transnistria is an autonomous republic aligned since 1992 with the Russian Federation. Russian Federation Armed Forces units have also been garrisoned there since 1992. To that extent, anyone providing military assistance to Ukraine would hardly choose to move anything through Moldova as Russian Federation intelligence services posted in Transnistria would likely be able to position themselves to monitor such resupply activities. Moving through Moldova would very likely be deemed too risky, unsafe. To an extent, one might say any effort by Russian Federation Armed Forces to monitor resupply efforts for Ukraine would indicate commanders and planners were covering the matter. Perhaps the Russian Federation General Staff sold that notion to Putin. However, while a few things could be done from Transnistria, given the sheer size of its border with Ukraine, and its position south and toward the east with respect other bordering countries, it would unlikely be enough to make a real difference. It would seem Putin did not want to stir trouble over Transnistria issue. The Russian Federation Armed Forces there have remained relatively quiet, and the West has more or less left the autonomous republic alone. If covert monitoring has been transpiring along or across the Transnistria border, it is apparently not having an impact. Thus, the focus here is on resupply from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center), Russian Federation Defense Minister General Sergei Shoigu (right), and Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces General Valery Gerasimov (left). Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces apparently “wholeheartedly” accepted the idea that the Ukrainians would acquiesce as in 2014. Despite losses inflicted upon Ukrainian defenders and territorial gains, in eastern and southern Ukraine as well as Kyiv, the mission to completely snuff out the combat power and resolve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and force a sort of mass capitulation was not achieved. The losses of the Russian Federation Armed Forces have been exponentially higher. It seems most apparent that the Russian Federation General Staff had moved forward without a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. Indeed, by results alone, one might infer that there were actually no contingency plans to draw upon for the invasion of Ukraine.

Folly, Doctor-Like, Controlled Skill

Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces apparently “wholeheartedly” accepted the idea–fiction–that the Ukrainians would roll over and play nice doggie à la 2014. Tomaten auf den augen haben. Despite losses inflicted upon the Ukrainian defenders and territorial gains, in eastern and southern Ukraine, the mission to completely snuff out the combat power and resolve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and force a sort of mass capitulation was not achieved. In the end, the losses of the Russian Federation Armed Forces have been exponentially higher. It seems most apparent that the Russian Federation General Staff had moved forward without a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. Indeed, by results alone, one might infer that there were actually no contingency plans to draw upon for the invasion of Ukraine, with solutions for all conceivable challenges. Doing the “what-ifs” beforehand was probably viewed as walking out on thin ice “politically”. While the idea might be difficult for the reasonable to reconcile, it appears the massive enterprise was  truly undertaken by Moscow on the fly. 

Allowing the Russian Federation Armed Forces to perform in such a way would be very much unlike Putin given the record of his past behavior. True, over the past two decades, he has dropped some clangers. Even the most knowledgeable and experienced can make mistakes they learned to avoid long ago. That is human nature; the human element. Still, Putin’s actions are usually thoughtful, calibrated, well calculated, with the use of resources in a measured way to achieve the most favorable outcomes. Putin can surely tell the difference between real and unreal. He has not managed to stay in power since 2000 by engaging in Quixotic pursuits. This is something new. One wonders what could possibly come next for Ukraine and for the world.

Putin was oddly hooked on the idea that among the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, there was a lingering sense of Soviet unity equal to his own. This in itself was quite interesting as Putin was hardly known for truly displaying brotherly love toward former Soviet republics. He would create an environment of fear in his relationship with their respective leaders. After Euromaidan, the Ukrainians did not want any part of that. In his invasion day television broadcast of February 24, 2022, Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian Armed Forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to again simply march into their country. There appeared to be a singular emotional commitment on his part to the ideas of Russian-Ukrainian unity and the fealty of the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to Moscow, to him. Putin “appealed” to members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as follows: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers! Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin continued: “I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders. I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families.” If the matter were not so grave, his words might be looked upon as comical.

Putin seemed forgetful of, or totally oblivious to, the fact that he was responsible for the greatest humiliation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces when he ordered the “green men” of the Russian Federation Armed Forces into Crimea to seize Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Further, without firing a shot, the green men first corralled members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces much as sheep in their own garrison and then herded them out of Crimea. Knowing the Ukrainians as well as he claimed he did in the February 24, 2022 broadcast, Putin should have known the Ukrainians are not sheep. He should have been well-aware that there would be payback for what happened in 2014 and everything that has happened since. He surely knows that now.

In its ill-designed aspects influenced by the political leadership, the Russian Federation’s special military operation on a macro-level much resembles the failed German campaign, Operation Barbarossa, launched on June 21, 1941. Hitler provided empty assurances resulting from his baseless analyses to Oberkommando des Heeres (High Command of the Army) to the effect that “We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down.” Oberkommando des Heeres went along with Hitler’s concept that the campaign would be a short one, and that the Soviets would give in after suffering the shock of massive initial defeats. As a result, it did not develop a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion.  The shock and awe of the initial Blitzkrieg was dissipated by the vast distances, Supply challenges could not be overcome. There was a lack of sufficient manpower resources. German losses could not be sustained. After initial contact, there was stiff resistance from Soviet forces. Despite the serious losses inflicted on the Soviet Army the mission to completely destroy Soviet fighting power and force a capitulation was not achieved by January 7, 1942, and the operation was terminated 20 kilometers short of Moscow. Interestingly enough,a number er of fitting comparisons between Putin and a national leader whose blunders came as a result of being closed to the recommendations and entreaties of his or her top advisers, are those made with Hitler.

Delinquency

There is the real possibility that commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces, attempting to hastily organize the massive special military operation, were not even aware that the opportunity to destroy and disrupt the resupply effort for Ukraine was missed. Everything truly started off on the wrong foot from the get-go. By logic, at first glance this would seem unlikely. After all, the well-trained senior officers and planners of the Russian Federation Armed Forces would not be aware of the danger posed by Ukraine’s open western border. Perhaps there may have been some understanding among military planners that the situation there would be played-down in order to line up with thinking from the Kremlin. In the realm of conjecture, anything becomes possible. If such was the case, from that point onward, they could only hope nothing bad would come of that considerable  omission.

The US educator and organizational theorist, Russell Ackoff was a pioneer in the field of operations research, systems thinking, and management science. In a research article entitled “A Major Mistake That Managers Make” in Handbook of Business Strategy, volume 7, number 1, January 2006, pages. 225-227, Ackoff wrote: “Errors of omission, lost  opportunities, are generally more critical than errors of commission. Organizations fail or decline more frequently because of what they did not do than because of what they did.” Although the December 7, 1941 surprise attack of the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor was a tactical victory, it was also a strategic blunder, as the Japanese failed one of their most critical objectives: destroy the US aircraft carriers. Even worse, the Japanese failed to destroy the strategic oil reserves at Oahu, and the damage to docks and yards was slight. That oil reserve fueled the US Navy through the remainder of the war against Japan.

A well-intervaled column of German vehicles moves through the Ardennes Forest in 1940 (above). At the top of the list of historical causes for military blunders has been insufficient intelligence analyses as well as the failure of consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations. Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government three times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signaling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1914, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signaling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signaling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signaling that the German Army might attempt to move via the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

Was Faulty Intelligence to Blame?

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus, auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando? (Who, what, where, with what, why, how, when?) Very pertinent here is the attendant influence of faulty intelligence in understanding the situation of an opponent, strengths and weaknesses, capabilities and possibilities in the development of the concept and intent of an operation in terms of supply. It becomes a factor of some magnitude in planning support operations. It is imprudent for political leaders and top military commanders to ignore information from intelligence services that confirms some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. Well at the top of historical causes for military missteps has been insufficient intelligence analyses as well as the failure of consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations. 

Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government three times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signaling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1914, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signaling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signaling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signaling that the German Army might attempt to move via the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

Referring again to the attack on Pearl Harbor, a newly discovered official US Government memorandum has revealed that intelligence collected about the activities of the Imperial Japanese Navy, led to assessments that Japan might attack the US on the West coast, the Panama Canal, and the US naval and military bases in Hawaii some time in December 1941. The Japanese Imperial Navy would eventually execute a devastating surprise, aircraft carrier-based, aerial attack and submarine attack on the US Naval Base and Headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and aerial attacks against the US Army Base at Schofield Barracks and the US Army Air Corps Base at Hickam Field. Most US military commanders were bewildered by the successful attack which they never would have believed Japan could execute before it actually happened. By leaning into those beliefs, they were caught flat-footed by the attack. Their immediate responses were meager and ineffective.

In the case of Ukraine, it would seem Putin was provided faulty information. Some intelligence services apparently did more in the direction of providing fabrications than others.. From what can be gathered by newsmedia reports about its findings, the foreign intelligence service of Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB, known as the organization’s 5th service. The 5th Service is a division that was established in 1998, when Putin was director of the FSB, to carry out operations in the countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Its mission was to help ensure those countries remained within Russia’s orbit. Apparently, the 5th Service laid it on thick. There were allegedly many unproven, torrid statements on the nature of Ukrainian society made concerning the destructive impact of the West on the culture, morality, spiritually, self-image of the people, ultranationalists, and the leadership in Kyiv, and the Ukrainian people’s willingness to stand fast against an invasion. 

Are Russian Federation Satellites Functioning?

One might imagine that there was a chance that intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities by Russian Federation satellites could have assisted in covering the space and monitor and act against assistance efforts by supporting calibrated attacks on supply trains, especially readily observable ones  traveling along roads and rails. Intriguingly, only a few short years ago, there was great concern expressed in the US about formidable Russian Federation satellites that were interfering with US satellites. As discussed in greatcharlie’s July 6, 2017 post entitled, “Trump to Meet With Putin at G-20 Gathering: Trump Seeks an Authentic Relationship with Russia”, there was the belief that Russia was developing the ability to approach, inspect, and potentially sabotage or destroy US satellites while they orbited the Earth. 

Now, it seems, Russian Federation satellites must be able to provide a picture of the situation in Ukraine. True, as stated here, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, but, if many will pardon this expression, in greater terms, it is smaller than the State of Texas in the US, which has been regularly, intensely surveilled by the Russian Federation as it was before by the Soviet Union due mainly to the many massive US military and NASA bases and other facilities there. De quoi s’agit-il ici? It appears that a breakdown in Russian ISR capabilities from space much as its military, naval, and intelligence capabilities generally, had occurred long before the special military operation was launched.

Having been responsible for the preparedness of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, the Russian Federation General Staff had to have known something was awry. it had to have known whether they were up to the job in Ukraine. While the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ Zapad and Vostock exercises perhaps indicated that they were ready for war, surely the Russian Federation General Staff was fully aware of how numbers of troops, actions, reports were, to be frank, falsified. The most senior commanders may not have been sure themselves what the true capabilities of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were. If they were living in an illusion about how mighty their forces were, that  Illusion was destroyed in the face of reality.

Snapshot of the initial wave of Ukrainian refugees (above). There is the possibility the commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces may have believed there was more to gain by having a great flow of refugees pouring out of Ukraine to create problems, chaos and confusion, hostile reactions from populations of countries inconvenienced by overflows of Ukrainian refugees, and frustration among NATO, EU Member State capitals. Conceivably, the thinking from the Kremlin and subsequently the Russian Federation Armed Forces that if the roads out of Ukraine to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova were clogged, potentially military assistance could not get through, at least not efficiently. By weaponizing refugee flows an invasion would cause, it may have been believed a way found to split the seam between two possibilities. However, even in the best case scenario, the refugee exodus would be a temporary problem. If Western powers could not resolve the matter, they would at least be able to mitigate its immediate effects. Once the invasion began, humanitarian and refugee organizations of almost every kind jumped in feet first. The West could do more with assistance to stem the crisis than the Russian Federation could do by creating a refugee overflow crisis. As it turned out, the refugee crisis as the Kremlin might have envisioned and hoped did not materialize.

The Pitfalls of Creative Thinking

There is the possibility the commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces may have believed there was more to gain by having a great flow of refugees pouring out of Ukraine to create problems, chaos and confusion, hostile reactions from populations of countries inconvenienced by overflows of Ukrainian refugees, and frustration among NATO, EU Member State capitals. That belief would very likely have been in following with the concept and intent disseminated from the Kremlin. The impact of a refugee surge was witnessed while war raged in Syria. During the 2015 Syrian Refugee Crisis, an estimated 1.3 million refugees seeking asylum literally jammed roads leading to Europe. European countries, especially the first ones along the refugees route that encountered them, were unable to handle their numbers immediately. Some capitals panicked. Many political, social, financial, and security issues subsequently arose. The refugee flow eventually subsided. 

The Weaponization of Refugees

Conceivably, the thinking from the Kremlin and subsequently the Russian Federation Armed Forces that if the roads out of Ukraine to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova were clogged, potentially military assistance could not get through, at least not efficiently. By weaponizing refugee flows an invasion would cause, it may have been believed a way found to split the seam between two possibilities. Zwei fliegen mit einer klappe schlagen. However, even in the best case scenario, the refugee exodus would be a temporary problem. If Western powers could not resolve the matter, they would at least be able to mitigate its immediate effects. Once the invasion began, the UN with its many aid organizations as well as and other international and regional intergovernmental humanitarian and refugee organizations jumped in feet first. The US would work with capitals in Europe, especially Warsaw, and encourage through diplomacy and support with its wherewithal, a multilateral effort by government aid agencies. The EU acted in a similar way. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, CARE and other international and regional nongovernmental humanitarian and refugee organizations. Nongovernmental refugee and displaced persons organizations, and a variety of humanitarian organizations from around the world made their way to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova to get a handle on the problem. 

As things went, the Russi­an Federation’s special military operation triggered a “regional forced displacement crisis.” By September 30, 2022, seven months after the invasion began, 7,536,433 Ukrainian refugees were registered outside of Ukraine. Reportedly, Poland and Germany received the most refugees; more than a million each. The Czech Republic took in the next highest number 438,926, followed by the US, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Italy, and Spain, each of which accepted from 100,000 to 300,000 refugees. Smaller numbers escaped to Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova. 

Interestingly, and doubtlessly to the consternation of the Kremlin and Russian Federation Armed Forces, not only is military assistance flowing freely into Ukraine from Poland but so are “returnees”. Clear data that documents how many of the 7.5 million Ukrainian refugees have returned home permanently, reportedly is unavailable. However as of September 20, 2022, over 6 million cross-border movements were made back into the country. Border crossing points in Poland as well as Romania are said to be receiving most of the returnees, with nearly 4.5 million crossings from Poland and nearly 1 million from Romania. In the aggregate, one might conclude that the West could do more with assistance than Russia could do by creating a refugee overflow crisis. In the end, the refugee crisis that the Kremlin may likely have envisioned and hoped for did not materialize. Vide et credere. (See and believe.)

Where Was the GRU?

As a military matter, intelligence on the situation in Ukraine to the extent it would impact the special military operation had to be of great interest specifically to Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU  The GRU could not have missed the potential problem of resupply routes into Ukraine from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania being set up. Perhaps the GRU was unable to convince the Russian Federation General Staff of the necessity to close the door to assistance from the West. Maybe there was at first a thought to use the same act twice with “green men” in the Western Ukraine. However, GRU planners may have been concerned about being unable to redeploy or evacuate troops placed perhaps at border crossings, highways, train junctions, road intersections, bridges, heights, airports, military airfields, and so on deep in Ukraine in large numbers if a major problem was encountered.

It was suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities. It would seem that suggestion made by greatcharlie then was well-off the mark. Maybe they were concerned about potential for great casualties and huge losses of materiel.

Where Was Spetsnaz?

Voyská spetsiálnogo naznachéniya (‘Special Purpose Military Units) or spetsnaz, a carry over from the days of the Soviet Union, are trained, and tasked as special forces units and fielded in wartime as part of the GRU. As is the case with special forces in most countries, the primary missions of spetsnaz are power projection (direct action), intelligence (reconnaissance), foreign internal defense (military assistance), and counterinsurgency. The GRU may have been unable to conjure up a viable plan to use spetsnaz in western Ukraine. Again, GRU planners may have been concerned about being unable to deploy or evacuate troops placed even on raids so deep without a solid means of egress. Even if it had been possible to monitor and act in the Western region from Belarus, again, distances that needed to be traversed may have been too great.

One might wonder whether the GRU had been aware that there was someone else in Western Ukraine, covert foreign forces from governments very friendly with Kyiv, already holding the most useful entrances and exits to and from Poland, Slovakia,, Hungary,, and Romania open in case of an attack. It is the sort of thing US Special Operations Units, the Special Activities Division of the US Central Intelligence Agency, the British Army’s Special Air Service, and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service would be very capable of doing and would likely do, covertly. Surely, this idea is drawn from the realm of conjecture, however, it would be a smart move and their hypothetical presence would hardly be reported in the Western newsmedia. If, hypothetically, such forces had been there covertly since 2014, they may have been well-engaged in successful clandestine and covert activities in the region.

Perhaps what happened in Syria may have been an issue at all in GRU Headquarters. A battle between US Special Forces and Russian private military contractors from the infamous Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group) may have had a long-lasting educational effect in Yasenevo. Present in Syria as part of the campaign to destroy the so-called Islamic Caliphate created by the Islamic jihadist terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) that cut across iraq and Syria, US Special Forces, in self-defense at their own base, decimated a formation of Gruppa Vagnera that attacked them. Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

Even if commanders and military planners had been certain that spetsnaz could well-handle any foreign forces that hypothetically might have detected in the Western region of Ukraine, there imaginably would have been a wish in the Kremlin to avoid being seen as, and being accused of, attacking those foreign troops. In dubio abstinence. (When in doubt, sustain.)

Where Were the Russian Airborne Forces?

As for the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, surely the Ukrainians might have expected missions launched by them to hold territory in-depth. Yet, as with the GRU, commanders and planners in the VDV may have been concerned about being unable to redeploy or evacuate troops placed perhaps at border crossings, highways, train junctions, road intersections, bridges, heights, airports, military airfields, and so on deep in Ukraine in large numbers if a major problem was encountered. Maybe they were concerned about potential for great casualties and huge losses of materiel. That happened without an operation to block Western assistance coming in from the West: 50,000+ killed. 

Surely, they were made more certain that the VDV would unlikely have been able successfully operate in the Western region of Ukraine after what transpired when its units attacked Hostomel Airport in the first days of the special military operation. The VDV faced considerable troubles there. One might view the capture of an airport a sort of bread and butter target for airborne units in armies worldwide

Russian Airborne Forces landing at Hostomel Airport (above). Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and planners may have been concerned about the potential for huge losses if a blocking operation in the West were attempted. Surely, they were made more certain that the VDV would unlikely have been able successfully operate in the Western region of Ukraine after what transpired when its units attacked Hostomel Airport in the first days of the special military operation. After securing Hostomel Airport to the extent possible, the Russian Federation Army and VDV there tried to push into the nearby town and then  advance to Bucha and Irpin. Their poorly organized movement encountered ambushes in Hostomel and Bucha which resulted in significant losses of personnel and equipment. Those in command of the Russian Federation Army and VDV troops, decided to hold their positions, digging in on the roadsides to defend themselves against Ukrainian artillery and drone strikes. They also suffered heavy casualties from night attacks by special forces units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. On March 29, 2022, the order was given for the Russian Federation forces at Hostomel to withdraw from the Kyiv oblast. Under continuous artillery fire from Ukrainian forces, the Russians damaged equipment that had to be abandoned and made a hasty retreat.

According to reports based on what was observed, the Russian Federation Armed Forces plan of attack against Hostomel Airport included its rapid occupation, with the intention of using it as an assembly area for Kyiv’s encirclement and capture. The airport is a bit over 6 miles north of Kyiv. The Initial February 24, 2022 assault on Hostomel Airport was a success, catching its Ukrainian defenders by surprise apparently due its speed. Mi-35 and Ka-52 attack helicopters operating out of Belarus struck the airport’s defenses and opened a way for helicopter-borne VDV units in Mi-8 transport helicopters that followed. However, despite being caught off guard by the initial assault by the attack helicopters, the attack itself was ineffective as the Ukrainian defenses were left largely intact.  Without any meaningful air support–it was very likely not included in formulation of the attack plan, VDV units on the ground faced counterattacks by Ukrainian forces almost immediately.

Luckily for the VDV troops struggling with Ukrainian forces for control of the airport, Russian Federation Army units originating in Belarus broke through Ukrainian defenses near Ivankiv and rapidly drove toward Hostomel. Although the advancing Russian Federation troops faced attrition from several Ukrainian ambushes en route, they reached Hostomel Airport and assisted the VDV in securing it on February 25, 2022. The Russian Federation Army units and the VDV sought to establish Hostomel into a forward operating base from which the larger push on Kyiv could be initiated. However, it was at this juncture that the special military operation began facing fierce resistance from the Ukrainians and became stalled. Logistical problems impacted operational tempo. The most visible sign was well-televised coverage of a 40-mile-long convoy that halted due to lack of fuel. Securing Hostomel Airport to the extent possible, the Russian Federation Army and VDV there tried to push into the nearby town and then  advance to Bucha and Irpin. Their poorly organized movement encountered ambushes in Hostomel and Bucha which resulted in significant losses of personnel and equipment. Those in command of the Russian Federation Army and VDV troops, decided to hold their positions, digging in on the roadsides to defend themselves against Ukrainian artillery and drone strikes. They also suffered heavy casualties from night attacks by special forces units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. On March 29, 2022, the order was given for the Russian Federation forces at Hostomel to withdraw from the Kyiv oblast. Under continuous artillery fire from Ukrainian forces, the Russians damaged equipment that had to be abandoned and made a hasty retreat.

A Matter of Military Science

To the extent of everything mentioned here, perhaps a hypothetical concern over sending a relatively large sized force into Western Ukraine was a matter of Russian Federation commanders and military planners remembering what they learned while studying in military educational institutions. To that extent, they wanted to avoid the circumstance faced by Allied troops during Operation Market Garden during World War II.

The story of the Battle of Arnhem, part of Operation Market Garden, a massive Airborne ground assault in from from September 17, 1944 to September 26, 1944 during World War II. remains fairly well-known, however greatcharlie will humbly seek to recount it to the extent that is pertinent here. Under the plan proposed by British Army Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, the Airborne assault would support a single drive north over the branches of the Lower Rhine River,which would  permit the British Second Army to bypass the Siegfried Line and attack the industrial Ruhr. US Airborne troops were dropped in the Netherlands to secure bridges and towns along the line of the Allied advance. Farthest north, the British 1st Airborne Division was dropped at Arnhem to capture bridges across the Nederrijn (Lower Rhine). Their assault was supported by the Glider Pilot Regiment and the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade. The British XXX Corps were assigned to reach the British-led contingent in two to three days. The division was told to expect only limited resistance from German reserve forces. However, information collected by the British Army’s 21st Army Group in Belgium and Dutch resistance that German armor units were present around Arnhem. That intelligence was supported by aerial reconnaissance. However, the commanding officer of 21st Army Group, dismissed the information. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force was made aware that almost certainly two Panzer divisions were situated at Arnhem but received the information from Ultra intercepts so close to the Operation Market Garden’s launch that it chose to ignore it. Intriguingly, the First Allied Airborne Army was not made privy to information from Ultra.

The information was very accurate. German Army Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, the commander of Army Group B, had moved his headquarters to Arnhem and was re-establishing defenses in the area and co-ordinating the reorganization of the scattered units. Thus, at the time of Operation Market Garden’s launch, several units would be present in the vicinity of Arnhem to oppose them. Most threatening among them were the II SS Panzer Corps comprising the remains of the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and  the 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg”. It was the bad luck of the airborne force that both German SS divisions, during their formation, had undergone month-long anti-airborne exercises and had also spent the last 15 months studying how best to act against a parachute assault in classroom and field exercises.

The 1st Airborne Division was dropped a distance from its objectives and encountered unexpected resistance, mainly from elements of the 9th SS Panzer Division and the 10th SS Panzer Division. A small force managed to reach the Arnhem road bridge, but the advance of the main body of the division was halted on the outskirts of the town. As for XXX Corps, it was forced into a struggle at Nijmegen, and advance north was delayed. As a result, the British airborne troops were not relieved as scheduled. After four days, the small British force at the bridge was overwhelmed and the rest of the division trapped in a small pocket north of the river. Lacking reinforcement and resupply, remnants of the 1st Airborne Division, after nine days of fighting, were withdrawn in Operation Berlin. Without secure bridges over the Nederrijn and the front line stabilized south of Arnhem, the Allies were unable to advance further. The 1st Airborne Division lost almost three quarters of its strength. Battered and tattered, the division was not sent into combat again.

Concern over a Potential Panicked Response by Ukraine’s Neighbors

The Kremlin may have been uneasy about how the US, its NATO allies, and the EU would respond militarily if Russian troops landed in Western Ukraine, “danger close” to the Polish border. Even more, it may have been the case that  they were concerned political leaders in Poland, potentially panicked at observing Russian forces landing practically on its border, might have responded first by ordering Polish Armed Forces to unilaterally drive inside Ukraine border, take positions inside its Western region, and then refer the matter to NATO. Such hypothetical unilateral action might have included an armored and mechanized drive into Ukraine to create a buffer, and landing troops on border crossings, highways, train junctions, road intersections, bridges, heights, airports, military airfields, and so on before they would all fall completely into Russian Federation hands. To that extent, they would likely go after the same targets in Ukraine that the Russian Federation Armed Forces would likely want. In the worst case scenario, Polish troops could have fired heavy artillery and launched missile attacks on targets to deter air landings by the Russian Federation Armed Forces.

Where Was the Russian Air Force?

Concerning Voyska Vozdushno-Kosmicheskoy Oborony, Rossijskoj Federacii (the Russian Federation Aerospace Defense Forces, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces), particularly the Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily Rossii, (the Russian Air Force) element, one might have presumed commanders and planners of the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces would have organized air power assets of the force to strike strategically and tactically to make a positive difference in the war effort. Strategically, disrupting its supply of weapons from external sources and destroying Ukraine’s ability to construct weapons would likely be a priority. Tactically, a priority would likely be coordinating efforts by Russian Air Force assets with ground forces as they advanced. One might have expected that with the support of the Russian Federation’s ISR capabilities, a plan would have been in prepared for the Russian Air Force to shut the door on the transport of supplies through Ukraine, interdicting supply lines as fast as they were organized. However, that has not been the case. As the situation stands in the Ukraine campaign, the Russian Air Force has been near nonexistent relative to its size, supposed power, and the expectations of military analysts worldwide. Its best fighters and fighter-bombers have been regularly blasted out of the skies by the Ukrainian Armed Forces using both pricey sophisticated air defense weapons systems provided to Kyiv by Western powers as well as javelins and stingers, shoulder fired rockets operated by individual soldiers in the field. In response to the Ukrainian air defense threat, Russian Federation warplanes are not evading by flying sorties at 15,000 to 20,000 feet as they had over Syria. Russian aircraft are often remaining above Russian airspace and firing air launched cruise missiles into Ukraine. Since aircrews cannot identify targets across the border, airstrikes are made in areas where air intelligence reports the enemy is located. In attacking urban centers, that will always result in collateral damage in the form of civilian deaths and injury and the destruction of nonmilitary structures.

The Unwillingness to Speak Truth to Power

Commanders in all branches of the Russian Federation Armed Forces are surely unwilling to speak truth to power and inform Putin of what needed to be done in the West and that they were uncertain that their forces could achieve such an objective. One might imagine that suffering Putin’s coup de gueule would be the least of their worries. It has been a symptom common among those in service of authoritarian regimes throughout history. Skilled commanders are eventually bled dry of their strength to speak out about ill-laid military plans conjured in the minds of tyrannical leaders who are convinced of the certitude of their ideas. Many have been willing to bring reprisals against those commanders, even their best, who, for the sake of the forces they command and country, might step forward to disagree with them. It causes greatcharlie to cast its mind back to the 1981 pop song Der Kommisar“, essentially a scare story originally performed in both German and English by the Austrian artist Falco (Johann Hölzel). In the penultimate chorus of the English version, are the lyrics: “Don’t turn around, wa-uh-oh (yeah-yeah) / Der Kommissar’s in town, wa-uh-oh / He’s got the power and you’re so weak / And your frustration will not let you speak / La la la la la la.”

Commanders in all branches of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were surely unwilling to speak truth to power and inform Putin of what needed to be done in Western Ukraine and that they were uncertain that their forces could achieve such an objective. One might imagine that suffering Putin’s coup de gueule would be the least of their worries. This has been a symptom common among those in service of authoritarian regimes throughout history. Skilled commanders are eventually bled dry of their strength to speak out about ill-laid military plans conjured in the minds of tyrannical leaders who are convinced of the certitude of their ideas. Many of those leadsrs have been willing to bring reprisals against those commanders, even their best, who, for the sake of the forces they command and country, have stepped forward to disagree with them.

The Military Assistance Misread

On a more political level, perhaps Putin, his Security Council, and the Russian Federation General Staff were certainly completely wrong in their most likely conclusions about the degree of assistance the West would provide, what type of weapons and the impact they would have on the battlefield. The US has committed billions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine since February 24, 2022. Relative to what the Ukrainians would eventually receive, what they had been provided to that point would hardly have been viewed as impressive by the Russian Federation General Staff.

Much as it had been planned by the US during the days of the Cold War, much of what would be used to repel a Warsaw Pact rampage through Western Europe would be taken from prepositioned stocks of supplies or they would be flown in and shipped in. During the Cold War, from 1969 to 1993, the annual REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) Exercises rehearsed that reinforcement and resupply to a great degree. It seems apparent now that thinking along the same vein in the Pentagon may have driven planning for the support of Ukraine in event of an attack. This idea would very likely be a kick-in-the-head to Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and planners who had not have recognized the parallels as yet, never foresaw the possibility that the US and its NATO allies would essentially come at them, via the Ukrainians, in a similar way.. How obvious it all might seem now.

A Miscalculation on the Political Will of the West

Perchance Putin, his Security Council, and the Russian Federation General Staff miscalculated with regard to the degree of political will in the administration of US President Joe Biden and the US Congress to support Ukraine. Mixed messages regarding US commitment. The “No US boots on the ground” talk came a tad too early perhaps. It probably was music to ears in Moscow. It may have very well created the impression the US was pulling away or could potentially abandon Kyiv if Russia invaded. It may reasonably seem a bit of an overreach to impute to Putin and his acolytes, but one would only need to look at the varying degrees of overreach they have demonstrated with regard to the Ukraine matter.

Maybe Putin and his advisers concluded that European countries could become rankled enough to lend military support to Ukraine but perhaps they were a bit better than less concerned with the quality and quantity of their potential assistance and financial giving. They would expect the US to have the matter well-covered.

Perhaps they considered that Western European resolve to be engaged robustly, wholeheartedly in Ukraine would hinge on the resolve of the US to back its NATO allies. As for the US, much as alluded to earlier, its resolve would hinge on the success or failure of Russian forces in Ukraine, which really meant the capabilities demonstrated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Thereby, as long as the Russian Federation Armed Forces performed well, robust military assistance beyond javelins and stingers would not be sent into Ukraine. (Based on that suspected line of thought, one might compare how that situation for Ukraine as the invasion got underway to a degree paralleled, mutatis mutandis, the situation of the fledgling US in 1777. The decisive Battle of Saratoga in which the Continental Army defeated the British Army gave the French government the confidence to sign treaties of alliance and trade with the US government and joined its war against Great Britain.  Both countries agreed to fight the war until the US was truly independent, and neither would agree to a separate peace.)

As the efforts of the Russian Federation Armed Forces became desultory, ineffective, and proved surprisingly lacking at Kyiv and Kharkiv, it became easier for the US to give more to an Ukrainian cause with the real potential for victory and convince other NATO Allies to do the same albeit to far lesser degree. Panicked efforts by Kyiv to muster support and acquire weapons were practically wasteful as they clearly had the matter covered.

Misperceptions on Zelensky: A Force To Be Reckoned With

Of likely concern for Putin’s advisers, if not Putin, was surely Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who in the months before the invasion was already burning a bit brighter than the Kremlin expected. There were hints that he potentially could display all the qualities ascribed to great leaders. Doubtlessly, it was hoped in the Kremlin that Zelensky would find himself cutting a figure not unlike Felicia Hemans’ “Casabianca” (1826), crying out for an answer, in Zelensky’s case from Washington, that would never come and his world would go up in flames. As it was, Zelensky proved to be a lion of a man, stalwart of the Ukrainian cause, and a force to be reckoned with once the Russian Federation’s special military operation began. Western government officials and news media commentators alike would view Zelensky as having galvanized the Ukrainian people to resist Russia’s effort to swallow up their country. Zelensky also impressed with his entreaties to the world to come to the aid of his fellow countrymen in the best ways that they could. One might safely assume that his efforts influenced how countries with the wherewithal to respond to the Ukraine in its time of need, worked with him, and rapidly developed and implemented plans to provide considerable support for his country. Indeed, such positive perceptions of Zelensky, his impact, helped to attract aid groups, humanitarian volunteers, foreign fighters, helpful weapons, and financial resources to support Ukraine’s cause.

Ukrainian artillerymen fire US made and gifted M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) (above) at Russian Federation forces holding Ukrainian territory. On a more political level, perhaps Putin, his Security Council, and the Russian Federation General Staff were certainly completely wrong in their most likely conclusions about the degree of assistance the West would provide, what type of weapons and the impact they would have on the battlefield. The US has committed billions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine since February 24, 2022. Relative to what the Ukrainians would eventually receive, what they had been provided to that point could hardly have been perceived as impressive by the Russian Federation General Staff. Much as it had been planned by the US during the days of the Cold War, much of what would be used to repel a Warsaw Pact rampage through Western Europe would be taken from prepositioned stocks of supplies or would be flown in and shipped in. The annual Reforger (Return of Forces to Germany) Exercises rehearsed that reinforcement and resupply to some degree. It seems apparent now that thinking along the same vein in the Pentagon may have driven planning for the support of Ukraine in event of an attack.

The Distorting impact of Putin’s Kyiv Obsession

Surely, Putin’s singular emotional wants and wishes beyond what was militarily and strategically logical what drove the planning of the operation or was it formulated to the best of the abilities of trained, experienced, informed military officers in the Russian Federation Armed Forces. To Putin, everything about the government in Kyiv was anathema. Recall as aforementioned that in a very perplexing way, Putin stated in his appeal to the Ukrainian Armed Forces in his February 24, 2022 broadcast: “You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” He would go on to say: “I want to emphasize again that all responsibility for the possible bloodshed will lie fully and wholly with the ruling Ukrainian regime.” The indication s and implications of such statement are that Kyiv was indeed an obsession. To that extent, among those wants and wishes was toppling the government in Kyiv. Accomplishing that apparently became a priority with Kyiv in the planning of the invasion or whatever sufficed for its planning that distorted the picture Putin, his Security Council, and the Russian Federation General Staff of the battlespace. When examined in the context of this situation, how apposite the second quatrain of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 becomes: “What wretched errors hath my heart commited, / Whilst it had thought itself so blessed never! / How hath mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted / In the distraction of this madding fever!”

If one might imagine Putin was a bit more pragmatic in his thinking and approach on Kyiv, it might be believed Putin may have thought the quickest road to victory was to cut off the head, the government in Kyiv and the command and control Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff, from their forces in the field. If that could be achieved, Putin likely believed the mass surrender of Ukrainian troops in the field would come next. If that was the case, and what has transpired in Ukraine evinces to some degree that it was, then quite a bit of creative thinking was clearly involved in the invasion’s planning. 

However, by the time of the invasion, the government in Kyiv under Zelensky was well-tied in with its Western supporters. Thorough plans to provide escalating levels of military and financial assistance were surely already in place. Even though Zelensky initially displayed a great degree of uneasiness concerning the way in which the needs of Ukraine in the crisis would be met, it might be the case that what has come Ukraine’s way has far exceeded what he might have been reasonably expected. The shortsightedness apparent in thinking that the Kyiv government could be decapitated is stark. An informed guess is that the Ukraine enterprise was not hashed out with the best foreign and national security thinkers in Russia. One would get the idea it all was the result of the thinking of one man, certain of its roundness. Such impetuous schemes and boldness are at first sight alluring, but are difficult to handle, and in the end result in disaster.

Perhaps the real problem for Putin was not just that he relied on fortune, but was driven by blind rage and to a further extent blind ambition. Ukraine was one the bigger pieces he needed to pull together a respectable number of former republics into some simulacrum of the Soviet Union. While it may seem daylight madness for the reasonable to attempt that, for Putin, it makes perfect sense.

The Distraction of Covetous Thoughts?

As discussed in greatcharlie’s May 30, 2022 post entitled, “Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine”, long before he became the legendary Russian President that he is today, Putin was a doctoral candidate at Leningrad State University (now the University of St. Petersburg.) it was at the very end of his KGB service. (A fuller discussion of that period of Putin’s life can be found in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2017 post entitled “Book Review: Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000)). The rector at the St. Petersburg State Mining University as of this writing, Vladimir Litvinenko, chaired the committee that awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin his doctorate in Economics in 1997. He recently stated that Putin’s thesis was titled “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region Under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” Putin’s economic studies, at what was then Leningrad State University, were most likely heavily doused in Marxian theory. Even more pertinent here, his research made him quite knowledgeable about the resources of countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He would be very aware of Ukraine’s wealth in minerals, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. Indeed, Ukraine has a large supply of many valuable mineral and raw material resources. Ukraine in fact holds approximately 5 percent of the world’s mineral resources. Its significant mineral resources include: iron ore, coal, manganese, uranium ore, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury. As for stocks of iron, manganese, titanium and uranium ore Ukraine is ranked first among European countries. As for mercury ore reserves, it is second only to Spain. Attendant to capturing sovereign territory in Ukraine, much as he grabbed Crimea eight year before, Putin may have wanted possession of its supply of many valuable mineral and raw material resources. Thinking in that direction may also have distorted his picture of what would be most important in invading Ukraine successfully. 

If this was Putin’s thinking and actions on this matter, at a more detailed level than discussed earlier, it would very much mirror that of Hitler during Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. As explained by the Imperial War Museum, industrialists in Germany most likely influenced Hitler’s decision to seize the Southern Caucasus in the Soviet Union and Stalingrad despite the concerns and entreaties of Oberkommando des Heeres with undertaking an operation of such distance from where the German Army was situated. As aforementioned, Operation Barbarossa, launched in June 1941, failed to achieve Hitler’s objective of decisively defeating the Soviet Union in a single campaign. German forces managed to occupy vast swathes of Soviet territory and industry. However, the audacious invasion finally ground to a halt in December 1941 on the forested outskirts of Moscow, the exhausted German Army stabilized its winter front in a line running roughly from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. The strain of the harsh winter campaign upon the ill-prepared Wehrmacht, as well as the severe strain placed on the Luftwaffe in its prolonged efforts to air-supply the army’s string of city-bastions along the front, was tremendous. The Germans suffered a staggering 850,000 casualties. Interestingly, despite such considerable setbacks, the Germans believed the war was still going fairly well.

However, the following year, Hitler decided to go on the offensive. A decision by Hitler to launch a campaign in the Southern Caucasus region, south of the German front was spurred on by flawed information provided to him by economic advisers. They told Hitler that Germany would be incapable of sustaining the war without the resources in the Caucasus. North of the mountains was a center of agricultural production, which also held significant coal and metal reserves; to the south, was the region of Transcaucasia, a densely populated industrial center which produced some eighty percent of the Soviet Union’s annual oil production.Responsive to the wishes of the political leadership, by February 1942, the Oberkommando des Heeres was planning an offensive in the Caucasus region. 

On April 5, 1942, Hitler issued  Führerbefehle Nr. 41 (Fűhrer Directive No. 41), laying out the basic plan for the new offensive in the Soviet Union. The new plan would become known as Fall Blau (Case Blue). The main objectives were the major oilfields in the Caucasus and Transcaucasia: Maikop, Grozny and Baku. Senior German commanders were concerned about undertaking such a deep thrust into the opponent’s territory, fearing for the safety of their flank. Hitler’s remedy was to include in the plan the occupation of Stalingrad by Germany’s Italian, Hungarian and Romanian allies. The city would initially be taken by Germans. They would also establish a defensive line along the Don River and Volga River, which would be taken over by allies, too. Capturing Stalingrad would have the additional benefit of blocking all enemy traffic on the Volga, a crucial transport artery. To Hitler, the operation, which he deemed to be “of limited scope,” made perfect sense. Events proved otherwise.

A postage stamp from the erstwhile Deutsche Democratische Republik (German Democratic Republic, also known as the GDR or East Germany) circa 1963, that includes portraits of the Prussian military leader August Neidhardt von Gneisenau (left), Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (right). In war, the value of a reliable, knowledgeable, skilled, and open-minded adviser who truly understands the concept and intent of his commander, cannot be underestimated. A model for interaction between a political leader or military commander with his advisers was the one between the renowned 18th century Prussian Army Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher with his chief of staff General August Neidhardt von Gneisenau. In Clausewitz: (Scarborough, 1979), author Roger Parkinson quotes von Blücher with regard to his relationship with his brilliant chief of staff as follows: “Gneisenau, being my chief of staff and very reliable, reports to me on the manoeuvres that are to be executed and the marches that are to be performed. Once convinced that he is right, I drive my troops through hell towards the goal and never stop until the desire goal has been accomplished–yes, even though the officers trained in the old school may pout and complain and all but mutiny.” Regarding an offer for von Blücher to receive an honorary degree at Oxford University following the Napoleonic War, Parkinson quotes him as saying: “Well, if I am to become a doctor, you must at least make Gneisenau an apothecary, for we two belong together always.”

Eyes Wide Shut

“A lion does not lose sleep over the opinion of sheep. ” is a quote often attributed to others, but it is very likely the words of Abū ʿAbdullāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (28 August 767 — 19 January 820) was a Palestinian-Arab Muslim theologian, writer, and scholar, who was the first contributor of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (Uṣūl al-fiqh). Often referred to as ‘Shaykh al-Islām’, al-Shāfi‘ī was one of the four great Imams, whose legacy on juridical matters and teaching eventually led to the Shafi’i school of fiqh (or Madh’hab). In his thoughts, Putin is surely completely alone. He appears indifferent to whether the rest of the world sees him as a bit out of touch or strange, apart from everything else. Outside of his super fans in Russia–many of whom have been unfortunate enough to meet their end, so very young, on fields, hills, and woods in Ukraine as questionably trained conscripts–certainly does not appear gallant or chivalrous. Putin is holding the course on Ukraine, not yielding in any way that might allow for authentic and substantive negotiations to end the conflict to begin. There still does not appear to be a line of talk available to even his closest advisers that could put a different complexion on the matter.

In war, the value of a reliable, knowledgeable, skilled, and open-minded adviser who truly understands the concept and intent of his commander, cannot be underestimated. A model for interaction between a political leader or military commander with advisers was the one between the renowned 18th century Prussian Army Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher with his chief of staff Prussian Army General August Neidhardt von Gneisenau. In Clausewitz: (Scarborough, 1979), author Roger Parkinson quotes von Blücher with regard to his relationship with his brilliant chief of staff as follows: “Gneisenau, being my chief of staff and very reliable, reports to me on the manoeuvres that are to be executed and the marches that are to be performed. Once convinced that he is right, I drive my troops through hell towards the goal and never stop until the desire goal has been accomplished–yes, even though the officers trained in the old school may pout and complain and all but mutiny.” Regarding an offer for von Blücher to receive an honorary degree at Oxford University following the Napoleonic War, Parkinson quotes him as saying: “Well, if I am to become a doctor, you must at least make Gneisenau an apothecary, for we two belong together always.”

An informed guess by greatcharlie is what has likely been a reliable intuition that had served him well along the way and allowed him a leg-up in giving subjects light were darkened with regarding parsing out the many aspects of this massive enterprise in Ukraine. Imagining Putin with his mind set on invading Ukraine come hell or high-water and refusing hear any suggestion that he delay until Russian forces were fully prepared to act, maximize every advantage and exploit the liabilities of Ukrainian forces to the fullest extent, and cope with all contingencies, if one might dare discuss such with him as noted earlier. 

One can only imagine Putin’s outward attitude and behavior at that time. The thought of it all curiously reminds greatcharlie a song sung by the renowned comic, Groucho Marx in the comedy film “Horse Feathers” (1932), not that there is anything remotely humorous about any aspect of the Ukraine War. When Marx’s  character, Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, is made the new head of Huxley College, and asked to offer some suggestions for his administration, the first verse of his musical response was: “I don’t know what they have to say / It makes no difference anyway / Whatever it is, I’m against it / No matter what it is or who commenced it / I’m against it.”

Putin Was Blinded by Rage

A dislike of Biden administration members inflamed the ardor of Putin and closest acolytes and they became determined to hurt Kyiv for siding with them. Imagining Putin’s mindset, he likely firmly believed before the invasion of Ukraine that he had a good understanding of the way many senior foreign and national security policy officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden, many of whom had held senior posts in the Obama administration, would respond to a move toward Ukraine. As discussed in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, Putin had experienced considerable dissatisfaction and disappointment in his dealing with Obama administration officials, particularly on Ukraine. As he may have perceived their actions in the past, they found it rather piquant to interact with him as if he were a lesser party, and given his positions and concerns no consideration. He likely believed they saw him as undeserving of respect. Communications were condescending, actions were often insulting. In an explosion of aggression, in part a response to his treatment, he grabbed Crimea with military force and fomented civil war in the Donbas. He engaged in other destabilizing efforts. Apparently, he was not completely satisfied with those actions, and held in his mind the idea of doing more. Seeing the appointment of many of those same officials in even higher posts in the Biden administration, most likely inflamed his sense with ardor to lash out violently. Everything those officials did in the Biden administration, Putin surely viewed with their past actions firmly in mind.

One might theorize that although he could not conventionally strike directly at those officials, Putin could reach the Zelensky government, members of which he may view as something worse than traitorous. He could well imagine the the fall of the Zelensky government would beset the Biden administration officials that he despised with a sense of loss and failure. Secondly, he would hope to cause torment and anguish among their “Ukrainian followers”. To that extent, perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine that given current attitudes and behaviors of Putin, the invasion of Ukraine may also have been in part an opportunity for Putin to have a return engagement, a rematch, with former senior Obama administration officials serving in the Biden administration and settle an old score. 

Putin (seated left) during a Russian Federation Security Council meeting just days before the special military operation was launched. A dislike of senior members of the administration of US President Joe Biden likely inflamed the ardor of Putin and closest acolytes and they became determined to hurt Kyiv for siding with them. Imagining Putin’s mindset, he likely firmly believed before the invasion of Ukraine that he had a good understanding of the way many senior foreign and national security policy officials in the Biden administration, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine. One might theorize that although Putin could not conventionally strike directly at those officials, he could reach the Zelensky’s government, members of which he may view as something akin to “traitorous”. He knew what anguish and loss the fall of Zelensky’s government would cause those US officials and secondly, their “Ukrainian followers”. To that extent, perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine that given current attitudes and behaviors of Putin, the invasion of Ukraine may also have been in part an opportunity for Putin to have a return engagement, a rematch, with former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration and settle a score.

The Way Forward

It certainly appears to many reasonable people around the world since the Ukraine War began that currently there is a dearth of rational thinkers in the Kremlin. As is so often the case in the history of warfare, perception, better still, misperception, and not reality, drove the decisionmaking of Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and war planners. Intriguingly, in parsing out the possibilities of this pivotal moment in the war’s planning, it would seem Putin’s special military operation did not necessarily have to turn out as it has.

Too many human lives have been lost in this war. The common wisdom is that the war never should have transpired, and no one should have died. No amount of gain in Ukraine would match the degree of loss in the cold terms of blood and treasure by Russia which started the war. Nevertheless, it will likely go on and plenty more dying will be done.

Conforming to the concept and intent of their political leader, Putin, senior commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces mistakenly thought that the campaign would be a short one, and that the Ukrainians would give in after suffering the shock of massive initial defeats. Being responsive to the concept and intent of their political leadership was, by their training and oath, the correct thing to do, but the very wrong thing to do at the same time. Res ipsa loquitur! Perhaps the only real hope for its end on the battlefield is Ukraine’s capture of every bit of sovereign territory, to include Crimea. As mentioned here, that is within the realm of possibility. Yet, Putin would hardly find that outcome satisfactory. If a satisfactory solution cannot be found for both sides on Ukraine, there will be good reason for the world to fear the worst from him. In the cavernous assembly halls of the Kremlin where Putin speaks before top officials of his government, the Russian Federation Duma, other key political leaders at the federal provincial and local levels–nationalists, ultranationalists, and Communists–prominent supporters of the United Russia Party, and business leaders, one will not spy happy faces, filled with optimism over the future ahead. There are mainly the morose visages of people who likely whisper among themselves that the genuine end to everything may be near. Perhaps Putin is equal to his rhetoric, and Russian Federation ICBM’s will make their way out of their kennels. His supporters would likely believe that. A solution to the Ukraine War must be found soon. Utere, non numera. (Use the hours, do not count them.)

Update on greatcharlie.com’s Review of Duty: A Means to See Gates’ Perspectives on Government Service in a New Way

During his years of service, Ambassador Donald P. Gregg (pictured above) exemplified the type of capable, effective, and experienced US government official that Robert Gates, in Duty, lamented about rarely finding in the Obama administration.

In response to greatcharlie.com’s March 31, 2014 post “Book Review: Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014),” many readers of our blog have inquired about the review’s discussion of the prism through which Gates appraised the attitudes and behavior of government servants in the administration of US President Barack Obama. Young staffers and many senior officials had not seen what Gates had seen, had not heard what Gates had heard, and had not felt what Gates had felt as events occurred. They had no interest in learning from him. In Duty, Gates measures his observations of standards and practices in the US government while he was Secretary of Defense against what he had known during his previous years in government. In greatcharlie.com’s review, it was suggested that Gates was influenced by impressive colleagues in the Central Intelligence Agency and officials at the higher rungs of the US national security establishment with whom he worked during his career. They were individuals whose ingenuity, courage, sacrifice, and patriotism help build the foundation of US national security upon which policy and decisions are made. Among those names mentioned in greatcharlie.com’s review was veteran CIA officer Donald P. Gregg.

Gregg’s impressive career at CIA was part of a total of 43 years of exemplary government service. As a result of his crucial work in the administration of US President Ronald Reagan, some have referred to Gregg as “the father of modern counterterrorism.” Gregg completed his government service as the US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea. Similar to Gates, he continued to serve his country’s interests outside of government. Gregg transformed The Korea Society while serving as its president and chairman of The Korea Society. He presently serves as chairman of the Pacific Century Institute. The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) prepared a transcript of its recording of an interview conducted with Gregg on March 3, 2014, as part of its Foreign Affairs Oral History Project. Located at the National Foreign Service Training Center, ADST is an independent, non-profit organization that advances the understanding of diplomacy and supports the training of foreign affairs personnel through a variety of programs and activities. ADST’s oral histories are not nostalgia. They highlight the realities of diplomacy to include thought provoking, sometimes absurd, and often horrifying stories from which valuable lessons can be drawn.

Gregg’s oral history sheds light on his career as he passed through urgent and important events of the Cold War and a brief time afterward. It enables one to observe how ideas and players moved events forward from the inside. Insight is provided on actions and critical events. Gregg can easily be seen as a wise man, not only by his words, but in how he presented ideas and concepts and sought to develop consensus on issues. ADST has graciously authorized the presentation of Gregg’s oral history on greatcharlie.com for our readers to review. Hopefully, greatcharlie.com’s readers will appreciate and recognize the great value of Gregg’s oral history, and it will permit them to better understand Duty and see Gates’ perspectives in a new way.

Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

Foreign Affairs Oral History Project

AMBASSADOR DONALD P. GREGG

Interviewed by: Charles Stuart Kennedy

Initial interview date: March 3, 2004

Copyright 2008 ADST

INTERVIEW

[Note: This interview was not edited by Ambassador Gregg.]

Q: Today is March 3, 2004. This is an interview with Donald P. Gregg. This is being done on behalf of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, and for the Luce Foundation. I am Charles Stuart Kennedy. So to begin with, I wonder Don, could you tell me when and where you were born and a little about where did you grow up.

GREGG: I was born in New York on December 5, 1927, and raised in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. My father was in YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). He was national secretary for boy’s work. I had TB (tuberculosis) as a kid, so I didn’t really go to school until I was about 12. I went into the army

Q: How did you go to school?

GREGG: I was taught to read at home. In those days that is about all you needed to have done. I went in the army at age 17 in 1945 right out of high school, and later went to Williams College.

Q: In the army where did you serve?

GREGG: I was trained as a crypt-analyst and didn’t get overseas. I had enlisted for 18 months and they didn’t have enough time to send me overseas. So I entered Williams in the fall of ’47, majored in philosophy, graduated in 1951. I had been signed up by CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) at that time.

[Portion of interview missing because the recording is too low to be able to transcribe]

GREGG: I got in because NSA you know the army having spent a lot of money training me as a crypt-analyst, and the interview was [inaudible] that I was not at all interested, [inaudible] the CIA. I said, “What is CIA?” He said, “Oh they jump out of airplanes and save the world.” I said, “Sign me up.”

Q: [inaudible]

GREGG: Paramilitary, yes. Well that meant planning clandestine operations, [inaudible] on the island of Saipan [inaudible] other people who were paratroopers down the line, all that kind of stuff. 

Q: Did you go with Bob Dylan and all that stuff?

GREGG: No I was a very close friend of Jack Downey’s. He was shot down in front of me some 20 years before.

Q: Well now, sort of moving ahead because this is going to sort of concentrate on your career. You first went to Korea when?

GREGG: I first set foot in Korea in 1968. I had been in Japan for nine years. I spoke Japanese fluently. I had become very interested in Korea through, as I saw through the Japanese prism. I had become very interested, and some of my CIA friends had been stationed there. I took a trip there in 1968, spent three or four days there, took a train down to Pusan and came back via [inaudible] to Japan, was tremendously impressed by the vitality of the people. It was the only job I ever requested in my CIA career was the assignment to Korea. I was assigned there in 1973.

Q: Well you mentioned the Japanese prism. My understanding is the Japanese basically looked down upon the Koreans.

GREGG: Very much so.

Q: I mean had that, what had sparked your interest. I mean were you trying to see the world through a different perspective?

GREGG: Yes. I mean I thought of the Japanese blaming the Koreans for everything from crime to pollution to traffic problems, and yet one could see that progress was being made in Korea, I was struck by the fact that the Koreans were so supportive of us in Vietnam. They had two full divisions there for several years, over 300,000 people. So I just wanted to see a neighboring country about which I had heard a great deal from friends who were stationed there.

Q: Did you, were you able to pick up any sort of the culture of Korea at the time, I mean the first visit?/ Did you sort of change your view?

GREGG: I was just really impressed by the directness of the people, by the beauty of the country, by the strong sense of history. I have always had an interest in pottery and the ceramics are gorgeous. I bought a few pieces of ceramics. It was just a very interesting experience. I still have a letter I wrote to my mother on the way back saying that this was a country that I really wanted to see more of.

Q: Well you had also served in Vietnam. Did you have any contact with the Koreans at that time?

GREGG: No. I was in charge of the ten provinces around Saigon from ’70 to ’72. They were in I Corps. I occasionally saw a Korean officer, but I did not have any contact with

Q: What sort of feedback were you getting from your colleagues about the Koreans?

GREGG: How tough they were, and how the pacification was really very effective I think they were in a couple of provinces. They were very tough, very ruthless. 

Q: Well then you got assigned to Korea in 1973 and were there for two years. What were you doing there?

GREGG: I was chief of station for CIA.

Q: What can you talk about what you were doing at that time?

GREGG: Well the major issue was North Korea. I had been to North Korea twice now. I told them and I tell others that I think North Korea is the longest running failure in the history of American espionage, because we have not been very successful in recruiting them. My job was to try to cooperate with the South Koreans in learning more about North Korea. It also was a very touchy time for U.S.-South Korean relations because by 1973 we had withdrawn from Vietnam or had been evicted. Park Chung Hee, the dictator, military leader was losing faith in us as a strong ally. He was acquiring weapons systems without telling us. He started a nuclear program which we discovered and stopped. It was a very interesting and difficult time for the relationship. My counterpart was a man named Lee Hu Rak who was the director of Korean CIA. He had gone to North Korea in 1972 and had met Kim Il Sung. In my first meeting with Lee Hu Rak, I took an instant dislike to him. But I asked him how did you feel when you sat down opposite your lifelong enemy. He said, “Oh, very strong. One man rule. Quite a guy.” Full of admiration. I think that he came back and said to Park Chung Hee, if we are going to talk to those people, we really are going to have to tighten up. So there was a good deal of tightening up. Park Chung Hee had narrowly beaten Kim Dae Jung in an election in 1971 or ’72. There were charges that the votes were rigged, and Kim Dae Jung at that point when I first went to Seoul, he had been in the United States speaking very critically of Park Chung Hee. He had went to Japan and continued his diatribes against his what was going on in Korea. So about two months after I was there, Kim Dae Jung was kidnapped from his hotel room in Tokyo, and this immediately became known. The ambassador to Korea at that time was Phil Habib, a man for whom I have just tremendous admiration. He called me into his office and said, “I know how things work here.” They are not going to kill Kim Dae Jung for 24 hours, until I have weighed in, and if you can tell me where he is and who has him, I think we can keep hm alive.” So fortunately we were able to do that, and Kim Dae Jung was tied hand and foot in a small boat. He had been locked up and told that he was going to be thrown into the sea. An airplane flew over the boat in which he was, and I guess some kind of message was sent, and he was released or untied.

Q: What was your role in this? Did you go to your counterpart and say “don’t do it?”

GREGG: No I didn’t. We were able to tell the ambassador that I can’t go into details about that, but it was KCIA that had kidnapped Kim Dae Jung.

Q: Well then what did he do?

GREGG: What did he do? Habib made a representation to the Korean government saying it is your own agency that has done this, and you damn well better keep him alive or it is going to be a tremendous spot on your escutcheon and it will do huge damage to our relations.

 Q: When you arrived there, what was your impression as station chief of dealing with the KCIA. During part of the time when you were doing this, I was in Athens as consul general there. I had you know, very much the distinctive question that we were very nl ce  uch,  ery close to the Greek junta and their intelligence organization. In fact too close. I mean, could you describe the relationship?

GREGG: Well it was a very difficult relationship because we had KCIA federally penetrated. Which was one of my major jobs because it was an organization basically out of control. I found very quickly that they talked about North Korea as a threat but their real effort was in stemming any kind of dissent within South Korea. That led to one of the major events in my CIA career, because after it became known that KCIA had kidnapped Kim Dae Jung, riots broke out on a number of campuses including Seoul University, which is the leading university in Korea. And the KCIA arrested an American-trained Korean professor named Che, accused him of stirring up these riots on the campus, and either tortured him to death, or tortured him to a point where he jumped out of a window to avoid further torture. We also knew that. We knew exactly what had happened. So I reported that back to my headquarters. I was received and noted, and I then sent a message back saying that I wanted to protest this because I felt that it was absolutely unacceptable. was told that I had a message from a man named Ted Shackley who was my boss. “Stop trying to save the Koreans from themselves. That is not your job. Your job is to report what is going on.” So I disobeyed orders, and I told CIA this. They know it, so this is not a secret from the agency. My other contact was the head of the presidential protective force, which would be the equivalent of our secret service. He is a man for whom I have quite a lot of respect. He was sort of a Korean samurai type. He did not like Lee Hu Rak. I knew that. So I went to him, and I said, “I am speaking personally. I have no authorization to do this. I am just speaking on my own, but I want to tell you how badly I feel about what was done to Professor Che by the Korean CIA. I came here on the assumption that I would be working with the Korean CIA against our common enemy North Korea, and here I find that they are much more intent on keeping dissent under control in South Korea.” I said, “I am very unhappy working with an organization that does that sort of thing.” That is about all I said. He took notes and thanked me. A week later, Lee Hu Rak was fired. He went into hiding, and was found in the Caribbean and was brought back and I think was put into jail. He is now a potter. The replacement that they put in was a man named Chin Shik Su, a former justice minister. He had me over and he said, “Mr. Gregg, I want you to know that I am going to be as much against those who break the law on behalf of this government as I am going to be against those who break the law against this government.” One of his first acts was a proscription against torture. Now I think that is one of the best things I did as a CIA officer. I am very glad I did it and it I think was a major step in the relationship, certainly between our intelligence services and eventually between our countries.

Q: That was probably, Ted Shackley was well know for his time in Vietnam. In fact he was a major figure there. Was he back in Washington?

GREGG: Yes, he was chief of the Far East division at that time. I have had trouble with Sackley in Vietnam.

Q: In his book, Ambassador Lilley talks about working with Shackley in Laos. What was yr impression of Shackley? Where was he coming from?

GREGG: Well he was a very effective hard line intelligence officer. I think he fully xpected to be director until he ran afoul of a guy named Wilson who was more ruthless than he was.

Q: But was this almost sort of the ambiance of the CIA-KCIA relationship at the time. You just observed that you didn’t get too involved in what they were doing.

GREGG: Well our job was to make sure that they didn’t do anything crazy that could start a war with North Korea. I discovered and we eventually put a stop to the nuclear program. They got submarines when they weren’t supposed to get them.

Q: Were we concerned that Park Chung Hee might lunge to the North?

GREGG: Yes. This was you know, five years after the Blue House raid.

Q: You might explain what the Blue House raid was?

GREGG: Well this incident was where a group of North Koreans dressed in South Korean uniforms infiltrated into Seoul, got close to the presidential mansion, Blue House, and all but one were killed. They tried to assassinate Park Chung Hee, and killed an awful lot of South Koreans before they went down. The North Koreans seized the Pueblo that same year. It is now known that the South Koreans trained a retaliatory force which at the last moment was stopped from going into North Korea to assassinate Kim Il Sung. So it was a very tense tough kind of relationship. There were incidents along the DMZ and our ability to defend the peninsula if we had been attacked was very questionable. General Hollingsworth was there as commander of the joint ROK-U.S. I Corps. He and I had been together in Vietnam at the time of the attack in Easter of 1972. He was a tough profane combat general. He and I were very close. I had been his intelligence advisor at a very tough time in Vietnam and had given him a lot of information which he had used, so he and I liked each other immensely. I remember standing with him on the bank, of I guess, the Imjin River. We looked up north and he had a lot of Korean generals with him. He said, “We are going to kill every son of a bitch to the north end of the FEBA. Not one of those bastards is going to set foot in South Korea.” That is what they loved to hear. Then he would get with my by himself and he would say, “Well I wish that were true. We are outgunned, outmuscled. I don’t think we have a chance of defending Seoul.” So it was a very tense time.

Well I think the general feeling in the long run was the might of the West’s air power and all that would prevail, but it was not going to be an easy task.

GREGG: Absolutely not. People forget that when the line was drawn and Korea was divided, the Korean peninsula is quite like the Italian peninsula. You have served there. The North has got mineral wealth and industry and the South was poor and agricultural.  When the dividing line was made, the assumption was that North Korea would always be the stronger half. There has been a complete reversal of that 

Q: At the time you were there, this is the ’73 to ’75 period. How, economically, how was the balance between North and South Korea?

GREGG: I don’t think we really knew. The South Koreans were beginning to make ships. They were beginning to make their first car which looked as though it was going to be a disaster. North Korea was very powerful militarily. They were getting aid from both the Soviet Union and China. Kim Il Sung was a master at not getting drawn in to either orbit totally and was able to play one off against the other. So the term economic basket case was originated in South Korea.

Q: Applying to South Korea.

GREGG: Yes. So I think the feeling in the early 70’s was that the North was still the more powerful half of the peninsula.

Q: Well were we getting any reading at all on the mindset of the North Koreans?

GREGG: No, It was opaque. The North Koreans were almost unapproachable. Few were recruited in dismal places in Africa but it was impossible to communicate with them once they went home. No, it was a very poor insight that we had.

Q: Was there the feeling,I mean Kim Il Sungwe are talking about 50 years now since the truce. There has always been the feeling that Kim Il Sung might suddenly attack. What was sort of the attack alert while you were there?

GREGG: We discovered the first tunnel that was being dug under the DMZ. I don’t know how many were dug. It was a monstrous task. These were, you know, going to be invasion channels. I remember on the golf course I used to play, every fairway has poles that would be stuck up at night to keep gliders from landing. There was a curfew in Seoul.

Q: Yes. It was great if you had teenage kids, which I did.

GREGG: Yes. So there was a constant tension, a feeling that the North might come south.

Q: And there was an air raid alert once a month. Tanks in the street and all that.

GREGG: Yes, that’s right 

Q: Well, what about the Korean military? Were you looking at the Korean military or was that somebody else’s job?

GREGG: Well the military attaché that was his primary job. There was, and it was interesting that in both the case of Park Chung Hee and later on Chung Du Won, these were generals who had not been close to the United States. These were very nationalistic generals whom we did no know very much about. There were cavalries of generals that had very strong allegiances. There was always the question of a coup occurring which did occur after Park Chung Hee was assassinated. But my primary focus was on the Korean CIA and on North Korea.

Q: Where did the Korean CIA get its people? Was there a recruiting

GREGG: Yes, they had a recruiting system. Some of them, there was horrendous corruption on the part of some of the senior people. They had a couple of good people that I got to know, and they produced a man who later became ambassador to the United States, had come up through the ranks. So they attracted some good people. It was a mixture just as our CIA was but with more bad than good.

Q: Well were we looking at the opposition parties and all this, I mean from the CIA viewpoint, or was this left to the political side of the Embassy?

GREGG: Park Chung Hee stayed in office a long time. He was scared by the election that he almost lost to Kim Dae Jung. The election system was fixed so that he was assured of election as many times as he wanted to be president. One of the unforgettable times I had with him was in November of 1974. His wife had been assassinated earlier that year by a North Korean who tried to kill the president. The President ducked behind a bullet proof podium. He was making a speech, and the assassin killed his wife. But Gerald Ford had come through on his way to Vladivostok, and they had a very good meeting. Kissinger was with him.

So Park invited the ambassador, who was Dick Snyder at that point, and I guess it was General Stilwell who was head of the U.S. Forces Korea and me to play golf. I said a few things to Park Chung Hee. I had told my counterpart in the presidential protective force that I think one of the problems with President Park is he doesn’t have a minister of bad news. He is very anxious. He just gets people to tell him what they think he wants to hear. So Park said something to me in Japanese, “I hear you think I need a minister of bad news.” I said, “Yes, I think every strong leader does.” Then at the dinner after the golf, it was astonishing because the minister of defense was there, and the general was there. They all sat like school boys with Pak at the head of the table. There was a long silence. I thought my Lord, what a waste. So I said to the president, I said, “Do you ever equate yourself with Kamal Ataturk of Turkey?” The reason I asked that is that was a man who had all power and he systematically created an opposition party and really dragged Turkey toward democracy, and is their greatest living hero still to this day. So Park sort of looked at me in sort of a rattlesnake might look at a rabbit, and said, “Well I don’t know too much about Kamal Pasha, but I want to do for Korea what he did for Turkey, that is keep it militarily secure and make it economically powerful.” Then he went on and said, “I am not going to stay in power forever. Some people have said that I have already stayed too long, and perhaps if I hadn’t run for president last time, perhaps my wife would still be alive.” So we all took that as indicating that he wasn’t going to run for the presidency again, but he did. He just had worn out his welcome, and it was a subsequent head of the KCIA who assassinated him, an astonishing turn of events.

Q: When you think about all the efforts there, were there forces in this ’73 to ’75 time, were there forces stirring in Korea that looked like they were sponsored by the North Koreans at all?

GREGG: There was talk of that. We felt that there were agents from the North that had one in, that it had been infiltrated. We never felt that they were able to reach out, or if one were caught by local people, the unknown feeling was how much influence they had on campuses because there were riots on campuses. Because the anti-American asnd the feeling was quite strong in some student groups, it was sort of blamed on the North. Even when I was ambassador in ’89 to ’93. So they certainly were trying to influence things in the South, but we never were able to really expose, not at least while I was there, a major successful effort to that end.

Q: Did you get involved even indirectly in the efforts of the KCIA to operate in the United States on Koreans living in the United States?

GREGG: No, we would be absolutely against that. Absolutely not.

Q: I mean I was just wondering whether the during this particular time you were station chief you were telling the KCIA to cut it out or something. Were things of that nature  happening?

GREGG: The only think I remember about that is when Kim Dae Jung had been in the United States and speaking critically of Park Chung Hee, he had been harassed by goons who we felt had been stirred up by the KCIA. I think the agency back there through its liaison told them to knock that off.

Q: How did you find you fitted within the embassy?

GREGG: Oh, I had a very excellent relationship. I was a pretty strong tennis player at that point, and I used to play tennis with, Habib and I got along wonderfully, and Dick Snyder and I got along wonderfully. I played tennis and golf with him. I was, you know, I was declared. Everybody in town knew that I was station chief. But I went out of my way, there had been a time when the station chief in Korea was more powerful than the ambassador, and I made absolutely clear that that was not the way I operated. I told the ambassador everything I was doing. I had a really excellent relationship with everybody.

Q: What was your impression,how did Phil Habib operate?

GREGG: Well, he had a sense of humor. He had a tremendous sense of leadership. He called me and he said, “You know there is only one rule that I have for you, and that is you will not see a man  named Tongsun Park.” This was a man who had been given a tremendous amount of money who was trying to buy his way into favor here in the United States, and he had found some willing takers on the part of some Congressmen and so forth. Phil Habib just hated him. (Editor’s Note: Tongsun Park was at the center of a corruption scandal investigation begun in 1977 by the House Standards Committee of the 95th Congress which implicated congressmen in taking money or gifts from agents of the South Korean government.)

Q: Did he get involved with Suzie? I think there was a young lady Suzie something or other?

GREGG: No I didn’t. Actually Pak was very, I had a funny invitation to meet somebody very important, and I wasn’t told who it was. I went with my antenna up, and it was Tongsun Park. I just said, “Look this doesn’t work. The ambassador has said I am not to see you and that is it.” I walked out, and I told Phil. He cussed him out and said, “That son of a bitch.” I thought he was terrific. He was living in the old style Korean h set there, and it was about to fall down. He insisted that the embassy residence be built Korean style. It was, and it is an absolutely magnificent residence. Have you seen it?

Q: Oh yes, I have gone there many times. It wasn’t much fun to live in for some of the ambassadors because everything is sort of out in the open.

GREGG: We loved it, and I thought it was just terrific. I remember waking up or going to bed after one of the many receptions that we had where everybody was raving about it. I said, “Let’s name this house Habib House for Phil.” So I sent a cable into the department. I knew the chief administration. He is a retired navy captain. I said, “Sweep all of the inevitable bureaucratic concerns out of your way, and let’s name this Habib, House.” Silence. No response. Three or four months later Phil died, and I sent another message in. I said, “For crying out loud, let’s do it so it can be announced at his funeral.” Silence. So I sent a third message in saying “What the hell is wrong with you people there.” They said it takes an act of Congress to formally name a building. So I just put a plaque up on the front door saying “This is Habib House” and I put a plaque up on the gate, and it is now Habib House. I had had huge admiration for him. He had been in Vietnam. He was just deal honest, and a great leader. Everybody that knew him just admired him immensely.

Q: How did you relate to the political section?

GREGG: I had some very good friends. I am having lunch with a man who was political counselor, Paul Cleveland, today. He and I became lifelong friends.

Q: Give Paul my regards.

GREGG: Okay, I will. There was really no tension at all. There were some of the FSOs saying: oh you guys, you have much more in the way of expense accounts than we do, the inevitable kind of stuff. I would say look, the way we gather information is the most inefficient, expensive way there is. We are just trying to get what is not being given to us through diplomacy, and in those days, there is a tremendous amount. It was fascinating to me to go back as ambassador in ’89. I knew the chief of station very well. In three and a half years there, he did his job very well. I don’t think he told me one thing that was of any particular surprise or value, because the relationship had matured. The military and we were much closer. We were working more harmoniously with the Korean CIA. We still are not very good at getting people into the North, but they had stopped trying to acquire illegal weapons systems. The nuclear program had been ended, and the relationship had matured. It was a much closer alliance than before. There was a real need for CIA to do its thing when I was there, like stopping the nuclear program and saving Kim Dae Jung’s life. I mean those were two big deals.

Q: Did you observe the relationship between Habib and was it General Hollingsworth?

GREGG: Well it was Stilwell. He was the guy in Seoul. Hollingsworth was up north. I think Hollingsworth and Habib would have gotten along just fine. They were both rough cut diamonds in the rough. Stilwell had a very prickly relationship with Habib, because I  think there was still remnants of the rivalry between the army, the UN command and the

Q: How did you find Snyder?

GREGG: Fine, excellent. I liked him, and I had a very good relationship with him and am still very close friends to his widow.

Q: He was sort of the prime architect of the reversion of Okinawa as a real Japanese hand. How did you find, did you see anything between Stilwell and Snyder?

GREGG: Yes, some of the same under trappings.

Q: It wasn’t the greatest.

GREGG: No, it was not. I think there was some real sort of mutual hostility. Stilwell, for example, when I reported some things on the Korean army, he would argue with me and say well that is not true. Because he wanted me to think that he knew everything that was being done, and that nothing was being done that he didn’t approve of, and that was not the case.

Q: Did you get any feeling for the Korean military?

GREGG: Yes, I used to play golf with the generals. I liked them. The guys I got to know, I liked because they made them selves accessible to me. They were westernized; they spoke English. I never learned Korean. I could speak Japanese to them, the older ones But no I made some,Pak Sey Jik, the guy who made the Olympics, he and I became very close friends. There was a Tuesday Morning golf club. The Korean generals and the American general and me, yes, I got along with them very well.

Q: Golf was a very important aspect of diplomacy, and frankly a lot of the Far East.

GREGG: Yes, very much so.

Q: It is an interesting

GREGG: Two of my favorite Korean stories come from the golf course. One, I had a beautiful young caddy who caddied for me every Tuesday morning, rain, sleet or snow. I remember one sleeting morning we were out playing golf and my eyes were watering and my nose was running, and my glasses were just in fog, and she stood there looking as she had just stepped out of a band box. I said to her, “Miss Kim, why is my nose running and yours isn’t?” She said, “Because your nose is so big and mine is so small.” Then the second one was when I was ambassador, and we were playing. This was a beautiful spring morning. We teed off at the crack of dawn, and there was still a moon very visible in the sky. I turned to this caddy who was 50 years old and plain as a mud fence and I said, “Oh, that moon makes me feel very romantic.” She said, “Okay with me but what will your wife say?” So anyway, but no, I got to know a lot of the military people. General Kung who later became prime minister, was one of my close friends.  Were we concerned at the time that the military might try playing games with a naval maneuver? You know what I mean, the naval aspect was always rather dangerous. I mean the North Koreans would come down. I don’t know if they had any during this first period, if they had any submarine incursions.

GREGG: Yes, there was the Pydo island an extension of the MLL out there, a very complicated piece of water. That was one of the more amusing things because we learned that the Korean navy had acquired a midget submarine from I think it was Germany. They weren’t supposed to have any submarines. I went to the admiral who was in charge of our naval forces. His name was Henry Morgan, wonderful name for an admiral. I said, “Well, let’s figure out a way to get the South Koreans to tell you that they have this submarine.” I said, “I’ll let you know when they are going to exercise it, and you can launch several American aircraft, and then you are obligated to tell the South Koreans that you have spotted an unidentified submarine, and since the South Koreans don’t have any submarines, it must be a North Korean submarine, and you are about to attack it.” So that is what we did.

Q: I was just wondering, being part of the diplomatic community, did you get involved, how were your relations with the consular people for visas, because this is what I was in charge of when I was there some time later?

GREGG: I didn’t really get involved in that. When I was ambassador, I prided myself on issuing visas in Pusan, and we got rid of the lines around the embassy. Then an inspection came just after I left and brought it all to a halt. Ed Wilkinson was my

Q: Yes.

GREGG: But there had been a man, very suspect, Andy Antippas, who left a very bad reputation behind.

Q: Well the whole situation is very dicey. I used to worry quite a bit about the corruption aspect. Well let’s move on, quickly, what did you do between ’75 and ’89?

GREGG: I went back to CIA and was put in charge of, I was sort of the thrusting point for the Pike investigation of the agency that Senator Church was leading a Senate

Q: Another of our Williams classmates, Bill Miller was much involved with that.

GREGG: I got to know Bill. That was a very difficult job because Pike had really charged his people with bringing the agency to heel. I learned three things that I hadn’t known before. We had tried to kill Castro. We had reached out to the Mafia to try to get them to kill Castro, and that we had done some drug testing on some unwitting people. I thought those were all extremely unfortunate. I was shocked by it, but on the whole, what cameout was all right. Colby had already pulled together what he called the family jewels. He asked everybody to report anything that they knew that the agency had done which they felt was bad. Church and Pike soon learned that these papers existed and so they were turned over. This caused an irreparable split between Colby and Dick Helms. Helms felt that if those were given over, that this would increase congressional oversight to the point where we would really be out of the covert action business. Colby felt that if he didn’t turn them over, the agency essentially would be shut down. I think they both were right. But it just was a watershed.

Then my career fell on difficult days because Jimmy Carter brought Admiral Stansfield Turner in as director, an Amherst man which was part of his problem. A Christian Scientist and a moralist, and a believer that scientific SIGINT and satellites could do the intelligence job antiseptically and that it was people like me who had always gotten the agency in trouble. So I was put up for several of the top jobs in the operations directory and got none of them. My career really went sidewise. I was about to become national intelligence officer for Asia, a job which I would have liked, when I was suddenly offered a chance to go to the National Security Council staff at the White House, because a man named Sam Hoskinson had gotten fed up with Jimmy Carter and quit. They needed an Asian specialist there, and somebody put my name into the hopper. I went and interviewed with Brzezinski and was given the job. So I worked at the White House for the last 18 months of the Carter administration, and was one of I think only two people who made the transition from Carter to Reagan. The only reason I survived was that I was from CIA. The Reaganauts came into the White House sort of like the Visigoths at the sack of Rome. The Carter people had fled writing graffiti on their desk blotters. It was a very unpleasant turnover. I was in charge of Asian policy and intelligence at the NSC. I got to know George Herbert Walker Bush there. I had met him when he was a congressman, but I had never seen him as director. He asked me to become his National Security Advisor.

Q: Well while we are on this, on the Far Eastern policy, was there a different thrust to the, from the latter part of the Carter era to the early part of the Reagan era? I mean knowing Latin America there was sort of an earth change, but after the dust had settled, is there much of a difference in policy for other regions?

GREGG: Well, during the Carter Administration I think that probably the American ambassador who had the most difficult tour of anyone I could think of is Bill Weinstein who has written a book about this, because Jimmy Carter wanted to pull all our troops out of South Korea. This was regarded as a mistake by other neighboring countries.

Q: All of us. I mean I was in the embassy at the time, and you know, we were horrified.

GREGG: So that came to a halt with Reagan. The first foreign visitor or chief of state that Reagan had was Chun Doo-hwan. The price of that visit was Kim Dae Jung’s life. He had been sentenced to death for, what is the word I am groping for? Sedition, treason. I had gone out with Secretary of defense Brown to talk with Chun Doo-hwan about Kim Dae Jung. Brown said, “I don’t think Chun Doo-hwan is going to bring Kim Dae Jung up.” I said, “Oh I think he will, Mr. Secretary.” It was the first thing that Chun brought up when we went to see him. I have a hell of a problem with Kim Dae Jung,” he said. “Every single general in my army wants him dead. Most of the Korean people want him dead. I know that you don’t want me to kill him. I know that if I do kill him, I am going to have a problem with you, so it is a real problem for me.” The only thing that we told him that made any sort of impression on him was that we knew the North Koreans were preparing a tremendous propaganda exploitation of this. I told him that. Richard Allen who was Reagan’s first National Security Advisor picked up the ball. Chun wanted desperately to be legitimized by a visit to the White House. So the trade off was if he saw Reagan, Kim Dae Jung would be, his life would be spared. That was the trade off. We did everything we could to downplay the visit. We had a lunch rather than a dinner. We used all these diplomatic niceties, but Reagan was such a courteous person, you know there was a picture with his arm around Chun, and Chun got what he wanted.

Q: Well then, when you worked for Bush, what were you doing with Bush?

GREGG: I was his national security advisor. I started every day with him, reading the President’s daily brief. I arranged who got to see him from what countries. I went to 65 countries with him in the 6 ½ years I worked for him, and wrote hundreds of papers giving him my suggestions on how our policy ought to be implemented, international.

Q: What was your reading of him in the international world?

GREGG: Superb. Absolutely superb. I have huge respect and admiration for him. I saw him deal with everybody from Margaret Thatcher to Deng Xiaoping to Mitterrand to Gorbachev. He was superb. His son is a completely different breed of cat. I voted for him, and I am extremely uncomfortable with that vote.

Q: I have to say that I see a great deal of the retired foreign service community in doing what I do, and George W. Bush, you know, I really don’t find any support for him within  this community, which is normally split. We are going through a very difficult patch I

GREGG: I think it is going to be a riveting campaign.

Q: I do too.

GREGG: So anyway, after 6 ½ years with Bush, I got splattered by the Iran-Contra affair. People thought here is a CIA guy in the White House. It is too complicated to go into. I rode it out. I am the only person who was involved in that to seek a job that required Senate confirmation. That was a very tough go, but I got through. I have, Bush to this day, he said, “Thank you. You took the heat for all of us.” That was somewhat of a vindication.

Q: You were appointed by George Herbert Walker Bush

GREGG: To be ambassador.

Q: To be ambassador. How did that come about? Did he ask?

GREGG: Yes. He asked me. He said, you know because of the Iran-Contra business veryone was saying you ought to take Brent Scowcroft to be your security advisor. I said, yes. He is a role model that everybody has. I understood that completely. Bush had defended me during the Iran-Contra thing very well. So people knew that I had been to Korea. They knew I was an Asian specialist, so it was I think a very natural thing to do.

Q: How did the preparations and the Senate hearing go?

GREGG: There was a long delay, and Senator Cranston had a man on his staff who devoted I think six months of his life to defeating my nomination. I have my hearings taped. I am very proud of them. It started out with Cranston dumping on me for 45  minutes. It was sort of like lying at the foot of Niagara Falls looking upward. You know, I was there by myself. I didn’t have a lawyer. I didn’t have anybody. I was all by myself, and just began to climb up the rope slowly hand over hand, just dealing with  the qestions and accusations and so forth. I finally got through in September.

 Q: Was the questioning, was it just Cranston or was this you had to make political points?

GREGG: Yes, I think so, and to try to embarrass Bush. You know, it was very partisan. My children were all there. The man who leapt to my defense was Senator Helms, a man for whom I have a great many doubts. But it was a very interesting experience.

Q: During that experience you are always on the tightrope aren’t you that you don’t screw up your relations with the country you are going to, saying something that might help the Senate but it is not going to help you

GREGG: There was no questioning about Korea. The questioning was all about my fitness to be ambassador because the feeling was I had deceived people because of the Iran Contra business.

Q: Well then you arrived in Korea September ’89, and you were there until February of ’93, basically the length of the Bush administration. What were the issues you felt you had to deal with when you went out there?

GREGG: Well the first issue I dealt with was the fact that we had nuclear weapons in South Korea. We had a nuclear inspection; an annual team came out to make sure that they were stored safely because something awful had happened in Spain or something.hey had to report to me when they had finished. Everything was fine, but I said, “Why did this process start.” They told me what had happened in Spain and how difficult that was. I realized, South Korea was already embarked on what they called nordpolitik (Northern Policy). It was based on Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. The government of South Korea was establishing relations with all of North Korea’s friends and allies. They were moving toward an attempt to reach out to North Korea.

Q: By this time China and South Korea had relations.

GREGG: No, they were established in September of 1992. So we also were beginning to have suspicions about what was going on at Yongbyon, the North Korean’s nuclear interest. So, I thought, my god, if we had nuclear weapons in the South, that is going to become an immediate issue. We will never take them out under pressure. It will become  an issue for students in the South. It will become a sticking point with the North.  went to USFK (U.S. Forces Korea) and asked, “Why are these here?” “Well they have  always been here.” I said, “Are they of any utility to you?” They said, “No.” So I went to President Roh Tae Woo’s national security advisor, a man to whom I was very close, and I said, “I think we ought to get them out of here.” So it took some doing because it was part of the security blanket, but I was able to send in October of 1990, a message with the full support of the Blue House and USFK, I recommend we remove our nuclear weapons from South Korea. I had one brief message back from Dick Solomon who was assistant secretary at State. He said, “You will never know how helpful your message was.” About a year later President Bush announced that we were pulling nuclear weapons back from all over the world. In Korea we went through a little dance because we had the “neither confirm nor deny” policy about whether we had nuclear weapons. But we worked out something where President Roh would say there are no nuclear weapons on Korean soil and the White House said we have no reason to object to that statement by President Roh. That is one of the best things I did.

Q: Had these nuclear weapons been something to which the South Korean government kind of hugged to their chest?

GREGG: Sure. But it was just part of the security blanket. But the relationship was closer. The sophistication of the relationship was greater. I made the point, look if you need nuclear weapons, they can be had in spades. But having these obsolescent things sitting in Osan was just an irritant.

Q: Well at that time I think I remember General Chapman back when I was there in ’76-’79, that every time they did war games, they found that the North got into Seoul and all  this, and they at the last day of the games they would call in massive air power to stop it. Had the balance changed by the time you were there?

GREGG: It was still iffy. That was the first thing that I asked when I got there. When I

left it was very tenuous. The reading at that point was, if we had good weather, we can get air power deployed quickly enough and in large enough numbers to probably keep them out of Seoul. But if we have bad weather it still was doubtful whether we could hold Seoul. The problem of getting the people of Seoul across the Han River was just incredible. So it was still a very touchy defense scenario.

Q: Well how about on the economic side. Much had been made of Park Chung Hee’s legacy that he had set up a strong economic base there including doing things for the farmers which hardly anybody else had ever done in any other country, that is give them a living recompense for staying and growing rice and other things.

GREGG: Well, that became a major problem because the price of Korean rice was sky

high, just because of the subsidies, and yet there was a tremendous emotional sentimental attachment on the part of the Korean people to their grandma on the farm. Carla Hills who was the Special Trade Representative came out and was pushing for us to let more beef in and rice in and so forth. One of them said, “Well why are you doing this? If the prices are lowered, and the markets are opened up, it is going to be the Australians that are going to sell us the beef, not you, and somebody else will sell the rice.” Carla said, “We know that. We are not arguing for unilateral advantage. We are talking about freer trade.” It was shortly after her visit that six students vaulted over the wall of the residence and got into the residence and tried to set fire to it. My wife and I were in our bedroom. They tried the door once but did not try to break in. It took some time for the Korean cops to get themselves organized to rout them out. I didn’t feel under any particular threat. I have had people come after me with real malice aforethought, and that was not the case here. These kids I think, were surprised at how easy it was to get into the house. So they were eventually routed out. They did about $35,000 worth of damage to the furnishings.

Q: What were they after?

GREGG: Protesting the opening up of the beef quotas. You know, they were making a demonstration. Who knows what they were after. It was actually a very good way to start a tour as ambassador because we behaved rather well. My wife in particular was very gracious. We were on television. We thanked the Korean police who actually had done a lousy job, but we praised them. The Koreans were deeply embarrassed, but we had behaved well, and actually it was a very good way to start a tour. But it showed me just how sensitive these economic issues were, particularly when farmers were concerned.

Q: Well, what was your role in the trade issue?

GREGG: I was probably the most active of any ambassador that had been there in terms of trying to sell American products. I had a very favorable article in the Wall Street Journal written when I left saying that nobody had ever done that in Korea. I enjoyed it. I worked very closely with the Foreign Commercial Service. Another high point of my tour was a fight between Lockheed and the French on anti-submarine warfare planes. This was fascinating because Lockheed offered the P-3 aircraft, the Neptune, and the French were trying to sell the Atlantique. So Lockheed was in some trouble, and they came to me and said, “We really need to keep this going. What can you do?” I did not use CIA on this because I don’t like economic espionage, so I went to the defense attaché and said, “We don’t know what price the French are willing to sell their aircraft for. Can you find that out?” So he found that out. I went back to Lockheed with that. They lowered their price. But the sale was still going to the French. I had gotten to know the minister of defense quite well. I played golf with him, so I asked to see him. I said, “Mr. Minister, you know how interested we are in this sale of Lockheed aircraft.

There has been a price adjustment and the Lockheed price is now lower than the French price. But I don’t think you know that because I don’t think your office has been made aware of that.” Dick Christiansen was in the room with me. He is now DCM in Tokyo, absolutely fluent in Korean. He passed a note to me saying the interpreter is not interpreting what I was saying. So I again repeated this. I looked at Dick, and he shook his head. I then thanked the minister for the meeting and said I would like to see you once more before you make your final decision. That was interpreted and he said, “Yes, please.” I requested to see him and said, “I would like to use my interpreter at this meeting if you don’t mind.” He said, “Fine.” So we went and I said exactly the same thing. This time it went through. He went right through the ceiling, called a halt, called a review, and the bid went to Lockheed. I was paraded down the assembly line in Marietta, Georgia, one time when I was in that area where they were still very pleased. The French were furious. They never spoke to me again.

Q: I mean you know, to get to the interpreter, I mean other things. It looks like a lot of people were in on the deal.

GREGG: Well I don’t think the interpreter was. It was just what I was saying was so embarrassing. That was Dick’s interpretation. He didn’t think the interpreter had been bought off. But certainly some people down below had been bought off.

Q: It does show some of the problems with interpreters. You are not getting yourThe president while you were there was

GREGG: Roh Tae Woo?

Q: How did you find him?

GREGG: I liked him. He loved to play tennis. I arranged for him to play tennis with President Bush. We, unlike the Japanese who always have it Japan against the United States, we teamed the two president’s up as partners, and the opponents including me could make career enhancing decisions as to who won the match. I liked him very much. We helped him. We introduced him to Gorbachev in San Francisco on 1990. We helped get the Chinese to drop their opposition to both North and South Korea joining the UN. He and I were real buddies. He would ask me to come and play tennis at Blue House quite frequently, and also golf. These tennis and golf things, business could be conducted there.

GREGG: Oh absolutely.

Q: What was sort of the internal situation in Korea at that time?

GREGG: Well the real political watershed I think, had taken place during Jim Lilley’s time where there had been an agreement to have the president elected by a direct vote of the people instead of the rigged system that had been put in place by Park Chung Hee. So Roh Tae Woo had been elected because he had run against both Kim Dae Jung, and Kim Yung San, and there had been a three way split, and he I think got something like 40% of the vote, but he was still in. So he was still regarded as a military figure but he was much less authoritarian than Chun Doo-hwan had been or Park Chung Hee, and conducted I thought, a very sophisticated diplomacy. During my time, when I came I think Hungary was the only eastern bloc country to be represented. When I left, everybody was represented in Seoul.

Q: How did the Chinese recognition go? I mean was this difficult for the Korean side or the Chinese side?

GREGG: It was from the Chinese side because the North Koreans felt that as a  tremendous betrayal. The Chinese ambassador came to see me immediately after he arrived, and we had a fascinating talk. He had spent 15 years at Pyongyang, so he knew the North Koreans very well. He had been with Kim Il Sung when Kim played his last visit to China in 1991, and Ceausescu of Romania had already been killed after having tried to bring…

Q: This was the ’89 uprising.

GREGG: Right. Ceausescu had been one of the few people that Kim Il Sung had  maintained a bit of an interesting relationship. The Chinese ambassador said that Kim IlSung was very worried about what had happened to Ceausescu, and had said to the Chinese, “I realize that I have to make some changes in North Korea, what is your advice, because he mentioned the situation in Romania.” The Chinese said, “Well do what we do. Keep political control at the center but set up some special economic zones at the periphery where you can have special rules and use them to attract foreign investment. So Kim Il Sung began to move in that direction. He set up a special economic zone way up north in Rajin-Sonbong. It was doomed to failure because it was essentially a dusty parking lot surrounded by barbed wire by a polluted river. It was inaccessible. Nobody wanted to go there. But that is where he really started to try to move to new directions.

Q: When the Chinese came in, did they, were they pretty cautious? Did they feel that this was hostile territory? How were they received?

GREGG: Oh they were received very well, because the Russians or the Soviets had already recognized the South. By that time it was very clear that the South had outstripped the North economically. I think the Chinese saw real opportunity to begin mutually beneficial trade relations with the South Koreans, which they have done.

Q: Had there been trade relations with China before hand.

GREGG: There had been some, yes.

Q: Going sort of through Hong Kong.

GREGG: Well, they had a boat from Qingdao to Inchon that had started when I left, a ferry boat. Yes, there was some trade.

Q: Did the Chinese community play any role, I mean there was a small Chinese

GREGG: No. Taiwan had been there for years, and they had to leave. What community there was was more or less in the Taiwan camp I guess, but it is not a significant factor.

Q: Did you get involved with the two Kims?

GREGG: Kim Dae Jung, and Kim Yung San? Yes, I did. Kim Dae Jung was very much aware of the fact that twice I had been involved in keeping him alive, so he was very friendly to me. Kim Yung San, I always found very unimpressive. Not very intelligent. But he would ask to see me, and we would have long dull dinners. But he was elected president just before I left. Dae Jung and I saw a fair amount of each other. I felt one of the things I wanted to do was to go down to Kwangju where there was tremendous anti U.S. feeling because of the supposition on the part of the people of Kwangju that we had supported the horrible suppression of things there. Kim Dae Jung helped me set that up.

Q: How did that go?

GREGG: It went tremendously well. It was very controversial. Kim Dae Jung said, “If you are going to go, go in the winter during Christmas vacation when the university isn’t open, and so I planned to do that January of 1990, and the day before I was supposed to go, Kim Dae Jung called me up and said, “Don’t go, it is too dangerous. There is a kidnap threat.” The national police was aware of this, so I called a country team meeting, and said, “You know there is this. I have the feeling that I really ought to go. What do you think?” The country team was split right down the middle. So I decided I would go. I left a memo in my safe saying if something happens to me, it is purely my fault. So off I went, and I arrived, and the press along with a huge bodyguard of police. The press was saying have you come to apologize for Kwangju? I said, “No, we have nothing to apologize for. I have come because we have a cultural center there that is being firebombed, and I want to find out why there is such resentment of us.” So I spent two full days talking to everybody. I had been to Hungary once, and it was long after the uprising of 1956, but there was sort of a feeling of betrayal on the part of the people of Kwangju. On the morning of the third day the press came again and said, “Have you come to apologize about Kwangju?” I said, “Yes, I found we do have something to apologize for, and that is we have kept silent for too long.” That made an impact, and so the people who had been firebombing our…been organizing the opposition agreed to see me. I had been trying to se them and they refused. So I canceled my return flight, and I had about 3 ½ hours with about six of these guys. It was absolutely fascinating. At first they wanted to meet in secret, and then they decided they wanted to have television. So we met in front of the television and newspaper people.

The first question was who gave the order to shoot in the streets of Kwangju? I said, “I have no idea. It was a Korean decision and a Korean order, and it is only Koreans who know.” He said, “That’s a lie, because we know you have satellites that can look down from the sky and you can read a newspaper from the sky and were watching, and you know who gave the order.” I said, “Well we do have those satellites, but they don’t take you inside a man’s head. We don’t know who gave the order.” Then they said, “Do you take us as a nation of field rats because the general in charge said there is a certain lemming like quality in Korea.” This had not gone over well. I said, “Absolutely not. I have huge admiration for the Korean people. That is why I have come back in this capacity.” Then they said, “Well, we thought you were going to save us.” I said, “What made you think that?” Well you sent an aircraft carrier to Pusan.” “That was a signal to the North Koreans not to get involved.” They said, “We know you supported Chung Doo-hwan because he was the first man to visit President Reagan. We know you supported what he did here because you were so close to him.” I said, “Did you know the price of his visit was Kim Dae Jung’s life?” That had been said in Washington; it had been said in Seoul, but it had never been said in Kwangju. It caused a sensation. So after about three hours, they said, “Well we don’t have any more questions. We thank you for coming. Some of your answers have not been good, but some have been helpful, and we thank you for coming.”

The interpreter I had, who was a superb young woman, whispered to me, she had just done a magnificent job and really removed the language barrier. She said they are terribly afraid they are all going to be arrested after this because the police are after them. I said, “Thanks for telling me.” So I went out, it was raining, and the cops were surrounding the place as they had and tear gas had been needed to flush some people out at times. So I put my arms around two of these guys and I went up to the very tough policeman who had been my chief bodyguard and said, “You are not to touch these people. You are to let them go.” He sort of could hardly believe. I said, “I mean it. I don’t want you to touch these people.” So he barked an order and the cordon gap opened up, and as they passed through each one was either kicked or pushed out into the darkness. One of them turned and waved as he went. The fire bombings of our cultural center stopped. We moved to a new place and were able to stay until budgetaryI went four times to Kwangju. I went with the German ambassador, and we talked about the German implications for eventual North-South reunification. I went down with the first Russian ambassador, and we talked about the Russian view of the Korean Peninsula. I consider those visits to be among the most interesting visits of my life. In fact it made me feel quite at home when I went to North Korea because I felt the same kind of resentment in the North that I had felt in Kwangju. I saw it evaporate as the North Koreans found I was taking them seriously and trying to answer their questions in good spirit.

Q: Did you see the rise of anti Americanism? Had we just in a way, some of these things have outrun their time or something.

GREGG: I was never in 3 ½ years ever able to make a publicized appearance on a college campus. I was invited frequently to make appearances. I would always accept. The word would get out that I was coming, and the campus activists would say “Don’t let Gregg come or we will burn the campus down.” So the invitation would be canceled. I got an honorary degree from the Jesuit University there, Sogan, and they gave it to me at night on Christmas vacation. So there was still a lot of that. There were riots around the embassy frequently. So it was still there. It subsided I think, later on, after I had gone. Particularly after first Kim Yung San and then Kim Dae Jung, these were the opposition leaders. The politics were getting freed up. The military was out of politics, so that had removed one source of tension. But the Koreans had tremendous historical memory, and they remembered the Taft-Katsura Agreement, which not one American in a million is aware of. I just learned that the 1919 demonstration against the Japanese had been inspired by Wilson’s 14 points. The Koreans felt the United States would come to their aid. There was a demonstration of Korean unhappiness with the Japanese occupation. We didn’t do that. Then there was the division of the country in 1950 that was resented, and the fact that Truman would not fight to go up to the Yalu and reunite the whole country. So there are all of those underlying resentments which never were really fully cleared up.

Q: Well were you involved at that time particularly because of the fall of East Germany and all that, in looking at the problem of a collapse in the North and the soft landing and the hard landing and all that. Could you talk a bit about what the thinking was at that time?

GREGG: It really didn’t start until I had left. Willy Brandt made his only visit to Korea while I was there in October of ’89. I was a great admirer of Willy Brandt, and I saw a good deal of him on his visit. He went up to the DMZ, and I had dinner with him when hecame back from the DMZ. He said, “That is the most appalling thing I have ever seen. It is a time warp. I am sure that when that DMZ is penetrated, you will find that the psychological dislocations behind it are going to be much more difficult to deal with than what we will cope with when the Berlin wall comes down.” He said, “We hate the Berlin wall. We draw graffiti on it and so forth, but there are gates through it, and people pass back and forth and radio works and television works and so forth, but the DMZ is a time warp.” The Koreans said, “Well when do you think the Berlin wall will come down.” Brandt said, “Not in my lifetime.”

Q: This was in ’89.

GREGG: Within 60 days it was down. So I think that there was a feeling that unification as going to take place. It was really after I left that they began to try to quantify what hat would cost. The feeling was the cost to South Korea would just be more than they could handle. As I say, one of the few things that North and South Korea agree on is that they want whatever process occurs to be a gradual one. I think that is still true.

Q: This is tape two side one, with Don Gregg. Don, what about within Korea the, I can’t remember the name for it, but the big industrial

GREGG: Chaebol.

Q: Chaebol. How did you view them at the time, and what were our concerns and their influence?

GREGG: Well, they had been tremendously successful. Park Chung Hee had appointed some very talented men. General Park Dae Jung said, I want you to build a world class steel plant. I will give you land; I will give you loans; I will give you all the help you need. So as a result, Korea is either the first or second largest producer of steel to this day. Chung Se Yung of Hyundai got started, a magnificent man, building ships, building cars, now into microchips. They were given free reign, preferential loans. Laws were passed if they needed to be passed, or pass the regulations just to allow them to grow very quickly. So, you had figures on the landscape, Chung Se Yung of Hyundai, Kim Dae Jung of Daewoo were the two. B.C. Lee of Samsung. These were men who were more or less laws unto themselves. The thought of their collapsing was almost unthinkable at that point. We felt that we wanted a better deal in terms of access for agriculture, that kind of thing, but it was later on, particularly in terms of automobile production that some of them just went off the rails. Daewoo is now essentially defunct. Even Samsung had an ill conceived venture into the automobile business. The banks were weak. Everybody was concerned with market share, not profitability. There has been I think, triggered by the 1997 economic turndown, there has been a real turnaround in the Korean market toward more transparency, and a more profit driven system. I think they are doing very well.

Q: Was there a corruption factor in all of this?

GREGG: Yes, there was. There were always rumors for payoffs for some of the big military purchases. It was very hard to pin down. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the American business community used to complain about it because they always talked about a tilted playing field. Everybody else pays off, but we are not allowed to and so forth. I would just say, “Look, one of the things the United States stands for is not doing that, and just keep at it.” That is one of the reasons that I became as active as I was in going to trade fairs and pushing American products. I felt that for Korea really to get over the top as an economic entity of continuing viability, they have to move away form the Chaebol oriented, corruption ridden closed kind of economic society where if you didn’t pay off, you weren’t going to get anywhere.

Q: Well how about Congress? When I was there, I took Tongsun Park’s visa oath and I think Robert Giuliani, a Giuliani anyway came and was taking a deposition from him. This is back in ’76 I think or something. You know we had congressmen who, they would arrive and not even talk to the embassy, come and get measured for suits, and young ladies would appear to serve as handmaidens or something. Was that still going on?

GREGG: It wasn’t as bad as it was in the 70’s. I think that Lester Wolf was one of the guys that appeared all of the time back then. There were a number of them. But it was less, much less when I was there as ambassador.

Q: Did you find, was there much congressional interest in what you were doing there?

GREGG: Not that I remember. Jim Baker was Secretary of State, and he had four or five issues that he paid a great deal of attention to, and one of them was not Korea. So I had the ability to take a lot of initiative, as I did. I never really remember having to take congressional concerns into much consideration. Maybe I have forgotten, but it wasn’t a big

Q: Well reverberations from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the whole thing, did they filter down much to South Korea, or were they insulated from this?

GREGG: They were pretty much insulated. I mean it was seen as because we had moved so quickly to get Roh Tae Woo in touch with Gorbachev, and they sent a very able man as ambassador quickly after the collapse. I think the South Koreans just saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and their recognition by China as indications of their growing success and their growing stature.

Q: How about Tiananmen Square, this is in ’89. I mean this reverberated certainly in the United States.

GREGG: Well you know, no. The Koreans are tough, and they have been looking down the muzzles of North Korean artillery for 50 years, and it really takes a lot to shake them.

Q: Were you, speaking of the North Korean threat, how did you feel about the North Korean threat when you came back? I mean was the thought of a lunge south, I mean did it make sense in the North Korean context at this time?

GREGG: No it really didn’t. Our ability to defend Seoul had improved, as I say it depended on good weather. But the military balance was much more favorable. It was recognized that the North Korean air force wasn’t exercising much. Their equipment was getting old, that they didn’t have the economic power to maintain a massive invasion. Then as now, it was easy to inflict tremendous damage on Seoul via their artillery was the main threat. I think my feeling was that it, they were not irrational. This wasn’t a really very likely event. Now it became very much more dangerous after I left in 1994.

Q: What about, I think it was called South Pos?. We had a very large American community, military community right in the heart of Seoul on the wrong side of the Han River. Was that, were we concerned about that?

GREGG: We were concerned about it in terms of our relations with South Korea. It was as though we still had a British base in New York City’s Central Park. Jim Lilley had really embarrassed the military about their golf course right in the middle of Seoul. I played the last round on that golf course, and we shut it down. They built us another course south of the city, not nearly as convenient, but at least we turned the golf course over, and it is now used as a park. We talked at that time, they wanted access to the base at Yongsan. We said, yes, we are willing to move, but you have to pay for it. The cost at that time of moving us down to Osan or Suwan or whatever was 4-6 billion dollars. The Koreans didn’t want to cough up that much money. So that has been an issue for some time.

Q: Were E&E, I mean emergency evacuation plans always

GREGG: No, that was really not. My successor Jim Laney, was about to declare that the evacuation of all non-essential personnel, which is sort of the last thing you do before you expect a war to start. That was headed off by Jimmy Carter’s visit, but not during my time we didn’t talk about that.

Q: With the arrival of the Chinese and then the Soviet and then Russian embassies, were you able to get a little better picture of North Korea?

GREGG: Yes we were. Also during my time, the South Koreans had the prime minister level exchanges with the North Koreans, and they signed in early ’92, an agreement that still isn’t a very good blueprint for the way relations between North and South Korea have been developed. The national security advisor to President Roh Tae Woo said to me when I was about to leave, “If we could have kept everybody in the United States and South Korea and North Korea in place for one more year, I think we could have solved the North-South issue.

Q: Well Kim Il Sung, was he alive when you left?

GREGG: Yes.

Q: Was he a failing force?

GREGG: No. It was recognized. I mean I have told you what the Chinese ambassadortold me about his mind set. Billy Graham had gone to North Korea on two occasions, and Kim Il Sung had said, “You know, I really want to make friends with the United States.” That didn’t seem to have much impact. But the power shortages in the North were becoming very noticeable because there is no longer concessional aid form the Soviet Union, and the weakness of the economy was noticeable. The trains in the north ran very slowly because the electric power was so weak. There was a general recognition that the North’s economy was imploding. That it was already reports of food shortages; that the feeling was the North really needed to change the way it was doing, changing its economic approach. But that was headed off by the reinstitution of Team Spirit, a sort of a reinforcing of exercise that the North Koreans hated. It brought thousands of U.S. troops in from abroad, and it was sort of a symbolic demonstration of our willingness to come to the aid of South Korea if there was a North Korean invasion. The North Korean alert level was always way up when we did that. I canceled it for one year, and that paved the way for a lot more talks. But it was reinstated without my knowledge.

Q: Well you say it was re-started without your knowledge, while you were still ambassador

GREGG: Yes, the decision was made in the fall of 1992.

Q: Was this sort of you know, business as usual in the Pentagon, or was this

GREGG: I think it was business as usual in the Pentagon. It was also some hard line South Korean generals who sort of saw Team Spirit as sort of a reassertion of the security blanket. They were very suspicious of talks with the North.

Q: Well you left there when?

GREGG: In the end of February ’93.

Q: When you left, how were things at that time?

GREGG: Kim Yung Son had just been sworn in. He was talking about Seigewa, globalization. That was his big thing. He was talking about more economic development. I thought things were good. I think I probably had as easy a time as any ambassador in the post war period.

Q: Had the computer Internet revolution sort of hit Korea? I think it would be a natural  for it later on.

GREGG: No it hadn’t.

Q: Well you got involved in Korea again afterwards didn’t you?

GREGG: Yes. I still am. I had talked to the Koreans about the fact that they never had an organization in the United States really dedicated to all facets of the U.S.-Korean relationship. They had tried to do it through Tongsun Pak, which had failed. This had caused them really to draw back. They established something called the Korea Foundation which is going around endowing chairs and various universities. I said, “You need to have somebody in the United States, somebody with some stature who really develops an organization devoted to the Korean-American relationship.” At that point I thought that George Herbert Walker Bush was going to be re-elected. I had some hopes of going to be ambassador to Japan. He lost, and that brought my government career to a halt. So I was offered the job as chairman of the Korean Society, and having said what I said to the South Koreans, I could hardly turn it down. So it turned out to be a very stimulating difficult job.

Q: What is difficult about it?

GREGG: The non-profit world is much more competitive and cut throat than I thought it would be. I have been sued by an African-American employee whom I dismissed for nonperformance. He is in California. I have dealt with corruption, embezzlement. Managing a Korean organization is in a way like herding cats. But when I took the organization over, it had a net worth of less than $200,000. We now have an endowment of $8.5 million. We have enlarged our office space three or four times. We have a very active program involving business development, involving cultural exchanges, involving political discussions. I continue to enjoy it.

Q: What about the, you have been involved in some business with North Korea haven’t you?

GREGG: Yes.

Q: What would you like to say about those?

GREGG: Well, Kim Dae Jung had a completely different attitude toward North Korea than Kim Yung San. I invited, I helped pay for the visit of two North Koreans to New York in ’95 or ’96, something like that. Kim Yung San people never forgave me for that. I was encouraging subversion in their view which is ridiculous. But Kim Dae Jung said to me, “Please try to plant the flag of the Korea Society in North Korea.” So I began to pursue the North Koreans in New York. They have a mission there at the UN. I invited the ambassador out to my home with some of his staff. Introduced them to American businessmen who had an interest in perhaps investing in North Korea. We were approached by Syracuse University who had an IT training program with the former Soviet Union.

Q: IT?

GREGG: Information technology. They said, “Do you think the North Koreans would be interested?” I said, “Yes, I think they would.” So we funded an exchange program between Syracuse University and Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang, which is going very well. The Clinton administration was very open to me. They invited me down to try to assess the Jimmy Carter visit, because they didn’t really know what to make of it.

 Q The Jimmy Carter visit being what?

GREGG: Well he went to see Kim Il Sung in 1994 at a point where we were about to pull out of our [inaudible]. People we were getting ready to re-enforce. The North Koreans said, “We will turn Seoul into a sea of fire.” They pulled out of the non- proliferation treaty. I think next to the Cuban missile crisis, this was the second most dangerous moment in the post cold war era. Jim Laney who had been the former president of Emory University, and very close to Jimmy Carter, knew that Carter had a standing invitation to go to North Korea. Laney got hold of Carter and said, “I think you ought to go.” Carter said, “Well I am not sure how the White House would feel about it.” Warren Christopher was dead set against it, Secretary of State, feeling that that usurped his rule. But Gore was for it, and so Carter was given permission to go. He went to see Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung said to him what he said to Billy Graham. I want to be friends with the United States. If you are concerned about my nuclear program, I will turn it down as long as you build some replacement power generating things and give me oil in the interim for the power that I lose for shutting down my nuclear reactor. That was the genesis of the 1994 agreement. They called me to the White House when Carter was still on his trip and said, “What do you make of it?” Bill Clinton was there. I said, “All I can say is Carter had a man there with him,” Dick Christiansen again, who had helped me on the trade negotiations, “who is absolutely fluent in Korean. So there is absolutely no doubt about what was said by both sides, so that you will have a clear record of what was said if you want to look at it.” It isn’t like Gerry Ford going to Poland with a poor quality interpreter and not knowing what was said.

 Q: “I lust after Poland,” or something like that.

GREGG: Something like that. So that worked. That led to the agreed framework established in 1994 where we with funding from South Korea and Japan were going to build two light water reactors in North Korea. That then, the relationship with the North wasn’t going very well. I was part of a Council On Foreign Relations task force that recommended a senior person be put in charge of the relationship with North Korea.

Again we had to wrestle the State Department to the ground. The assistant secretary felt he was doing a perfectly fine job. He wasn’t doing a good job at all. The former secretary of defense Bill Perry was appointed. He went to North Korea, and the issue was not only nuclear, but missiles. They had fired a multi stage rocket in 1998 that really rattled the Japanese cage. It was much more sophisticated than we thought they were capable of. So he went to the North and worked very closely in putting out a report saying what the North Koreans could expect from us if they stopped firing missiles and shut down their nuclear program or maintain their nuclear program. So the demarche from Perry was considered by the North Koreans, finally accepted. They sent their Field Marshall Jo, Myung Yok, to Washington in October of 2000. He went to the White House in uniform, invited Bill Clinton to go to North Korea. He was given a dinner by Al Gore. The State Department sent Madeleine Albright to North Korea to check out the feasibility of a visit. In December of 2000, after the election, I was approached by the woman in charge of North Korean affairs for the State Department saying, “Do you think Bill Clinton should go to North Korea.” That was Wendy Sherman. It was one on one. I said, “Well do you have a missile deal?” She said, “No, we cannot get the answer to two or three key questions.” I said, “What are they?” She told me. I said, “Well I think what is happening is Kim Jong Il has the answers to these questions. If Clinton goes, he will get those answers, and he will be given a present for having gone.” So she said, “Do you think we should go on that basis?” I said, “That is way above my pay grade. That is a decision only the President should make.”I think with the controversy about Florida and time ran out. But the North Koreans knew that he had come very close.

Madeleine Albright, I have spoken with her at the University of Michigan. She is very entertaining on the subject. She said, “You know Kim Jong Il and I are about the same height. We both wear high heels and we both put mousse in our hair. But he is very intelligent. I had eleven hours of discussion with him, and we left a very good hand of cards on the table which the Bush administration has failed to pick up.” So when Kim Dae Jung came to the United States pushing for an early meeting with Bush. It didn’t go at all well because Bush said, “I don’t trust Kim Jong Il. We are going to have a policy review before we do anything.” He had referred to him as a pygmy, also we should have gotten out. So the policy review was held, and it revalidated the Kim Dae Jung sunshine policy, but it changed the agenda. Kim Dae Jung had structured his sunshine policy around the things that were the easiest to do first, leaving the hardest things for last.

Q: Sort of confidence building.

GREGG: That’s right, and the Bush people moved the tough things right up to the front, which is troop disposition along the DMZ and so forth. So they laid out the basis on which they would resume contacting the North, and the North didn’t respond, and then came 9-11. So then the North Koreans approached me in the fall of 2001 saying we are getting nowhere with the Bush administration. Why don’t you come to North Korea and talk to us. I said, “I can’t really anoint myself to do that. Why don’t we figure out something better than that.” So we agree to four former ambassadors were going to go, Under the leadership of Bob Scalapino, an renowned orientalist from (University of California) Cal Berkeley who had been to North Korea before. It was going to be Jim  Laney, Bill Gleysteen

Q: Jim Lilley?

GREGG: No I don’t think it was going to be Jim Lilley.

Q: Dixie Walker?

GREGG: No. Yes, Dixie Walker. So then we were planning to go in February of 2002, and then came Bush’s State of the Union speech in which he made North Korea part of the axis of evil. That trip went down the drain. So I went to a conference in the UK on the future of Japan. This was at a place, not Ditchley, but a similar conference center run in part by the British Commonwealth office. Very good conferences. There were a number of Europeans there. I was appalled at their attitude toward 9-11. Not the Brits, but the French, the Dutch, the Swedes, the Swiss, and their attitude was well now you know what we have been dealing with in terms of Bader Meinhof and the Red Brigade. You know, what is the big deal. Don’t over react. What is so special about you. For them to lack any understanding of the impact of 9-11 on the United States, I thought my gosh, if these people don’t understand where we are, there is no way in the world the North Koreans can know. So I felt motivated to write Kim Jong Il a letter saying that your weapons, missiles and nuclear matters have become of huge concern to us because we have been attacked by people who would love to get their hands on the kinds of things you possess, and use them against us. That is why we are so concerned, and we really need to talk about this. It was about a three-page letter. I took it to one of the, a man named Lee Good who was the ambassador, the number two ambassador to the UN. He said to me, “How dare you write a letter like this to my chairman. Who do you think you are. Very Korean reaction.” I said, “I am writing this letter to him because I think I understand how his mind works, and he needs to know this.” He said, “How do you know how his mind works?” I said, “Well I have talked to George Toloroya who sat with him for several days on a train when he went to see Putin and had a long talk with him. I talked with Chinese who were with him when he visited a Buick plant in Beijing or in Shanghai. This is the kind of thing we have to do in North Korea. I have talked to Kim Dae Jung at great length about his visit with him, and I have talked to Madeleine Albright about her visit. They all add up to a very intelligent man who is trying to lead North Korea in some new directions.” He said, “That is a good answer. I will send your letter.”

So two weeks later I was invited to go. I had not asked permission. I had kept Rich Armitage informed, He is deputy secretary of state, an old friend. He sent me a perfect little note saying Don, thanks for your note. Keep me informed as you desire, blah, blah, Rich. Perfect. The State Department said, “Would you like to have a Korean speaking Foreign Service officer go along with you.” I said, “I’d be delighted.” So they sent a young woman who spoke fluent Korean, and so in we went. In April of 2002 I had about 10 hours of discussion with Kim Le Gwan who was the leader of the North Korean delegation to the recently completed Beijing talks, and a very hard line general named Ree Chan Dok. My meeting with him is very reminiscent of my meetings in Kwangju.. It started out with the same bristling animosity, and ended up two hours later with saying exactly what they had said, “You have come a long way, and I appreciate your coming.” We would up understanding each other. He started out with me saying, “Why are you here? You speak first.” I said, “Well, General, I am here because I think you need to know what our frame of mind is. Yesterday I was taken up your Juche Tower,” which is a tower about the height of the Washington Monument. “It is very impressive. How would you feel if you were looking out your window and saw one of your own aircraft fly into that monument reducing it to a pile of rubble and killing everybody on the plane. We say that twice in New York and once in Washington. How would you feel?” I just looked at him. He said, “I think you have lost sight of the fact that the real fighting spirit is in the heart of every soldier.” I said, “I know that. The last thing we ever want is another war with you in Korea.” He said, “It would be a disaster for you.” I said, “Well look what we are accomplishing in Afghanistan without a single heavy artillery piece or heavy tank.” He didn’t like that. But we went on from there and you know, talked very frankly. As I say at the end of two hours we had developed a good deal of respect for each other.

I came back from that trip and wrote something that I sent to the White House recommending that somebody like Bill Perry be sent to North Korea. Well it was interesting. They said, Kim De Wan said, “Why is your George W. Bush so different from his father?” I said, “Well he is a Texan, and his father is a New Englander.” “Why is W so different from Clinton?” I said, “Well you know in a democracy that happens. You have continuity of leadership, so you don’t have to deal with that. Whereas sometimes there is a real turn. I watched one at close range from Carter to Reagan. Clinton to Bush is the same kind of thing.” “So why don’t you understand us better?” I said, “Well, I think because you are the longest running failure in the history of American espionage.” I said, “We couldn’t recruit you people. We could recruit Soviets; we could recruit Chinese.” He sort of swelled with pride. Then this was funny. He said, “Are you wearing your Ops Center hat when you are saying that?” I said, “What?” He said, “You heard me. Are you wearing your Ops Center hat?” I said, “Are you referring to a very bad book by Tom Clancy?’ He said, “Yes, of course.” This is what my wife calls an airport only paperback written by Clancy and another guy named Steve Pieczenik called Op-Center. The leading character is called Gregory Dowell. He is former chief of station in Seoul and later ambassador. So it is clearly based on me. So I said, “Well I haven’t read the book. My wife has. Would you like her reaction?” “Yes.” I said, “Well, she doesn’t mind that I die an honorable death at the end of the book, but she hates the fact that I had a Korean mistress.” That broke him all up. But I tell you that because it shows the sophistication of these people and the depth of their knowledge about us.

So anyway I suggested that there was great mystification as to why one president was so different from another. They realized they had almost had Jimmy Carter as a guest and now they were dealing with a man who referred to them as part of the axis of evil among other things. I said that you could recapture everything that Clinton had by sending somebody with a letter to the North Koreans. They are very anxious for a better relationship. You know, absolutely no response, no acknowledgment to that or anything else I sent to the White House on the subject.

Q: Well do you sense that on this subject that there is a guiding hand? I mean you have national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, you have Colin Powell in the State Department, both of whom seem to be sophisticated and have been around the block and understand. Is it that this is political or visceral? What is happening do you think?

GREGG: Well I think what is happening is that the philosophy of the Bush administration was shaped by a group of people who called themselves, before the election, they called themselves the Vulcans. That is named for the big statue of the god of fire that is on a ridge above Birmingham where Condi Rice grew up. The Vulcans consisted of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Scooter Libby, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice. They were intellectual descendants, particularly Wolfowitz, of the Wohlstetter at the University of Chicago, who felt that we should have been much more preemptive against the Japanese before Pearl Harbor. It is also influenced by another professor, whose name escapes me, who felt that Athens should have been more pre-emptive against Sparta. So this is the doctrine that they sold to Bush, that to maintain our role as the world’s only superpower, we need to be unilateral if need be. We need to go into pre-emptive action, and we need to engage in regime change. I think those are the touchstones and 9-11 seemed to validate it.

There is the President has said you are either with us or against us, and he sees North Korea as evil. Wolfowitz recently, in referring to Saddam Hussein, he said, “Saddam Hussein was in the same category as Hitler, Stalin, and Kim Jong Il. Sooner or later those people are not just content to bring evil down upon their own people. It spills over their borders and they have to be dealt with.” Now the president has distanced himself from that kind of rhetoric. He says he is committed to a diplomatic solution. I heard Secretary Powell give a wonderful speech yesterday after flying down here. He was talking about democracy in Asia and the development of democracy in Asia. He was highly enthused about that. I am very thankful that he has stayed as Secretary of State. I think he gives us some credibility and some substance that would otherwise be lacking. I think he has a very hard row to hoe, but I think he has been given more leeway on Korea. Wolfowitz said in my presence last October, “The State Department is now in the lead on Korea.” That had not been the case in the past. But you still have people like John Bolton who is undersecretary for proliferation who is out there. He is as unpopular in South Korea as he is in North Korea, talking about coercion and sanctions.

Q: The North Koreans have said they won’t talk to him again.

GREGG: Right. I don’t think they have ever talked to him. They denounced him in no uncertain terms.

Q: Right now we are going through a period where the North Koreans are sort of challenging us by going ahead with nuclear developments. Is this, how do we read this? What are they doing? What are they after?

GREGG: They are after a changed policy on our part. They are truly concerned about our military intentions toward them. I went to a Track II, six-party meeting in Qingdao last September, hosted by the Chinese. Some of them had been to the previous official six-party talks in Beijing just less then two weeks before. The same ground was covered. The leading Chinese figure there was a woman named Fouying, a very accomplished diplomat. She said, “We all agree, including North Korea, that we want to have a nuclear free Korean Peninsula. We all agree, including North Korea, that where we want to end up is a verifiably nuclear free Korean Peninsula where North Korea’s security and economic concerns are adequately dealt with. The problem is we don’t know how to get from position A to position B, and that is still the problem because the Bush administration says we will not submit to blackmail. We will not reward that behavior, and the new mantra is CVID, completely verifiably, irreversible dismantlement of all nuclear programs.” They want Korea to do what Qaddafi had done. I saw Kelly briefly yesterday, and Colin Powell had said that some progress had been made in Beijing, but it is going to be a long slow process because we and the North Koreans are staring at each other across a chasm of mistrust. In the meantime the U.S.- South Korean relationship is in the worst shape I think it has perhaps ever been. Because the alliance which has been geared to joint opposition to North Korea as the implacable foe, in the wake of the summit of 2000, no longer works because the South Koreans now see the North Korean, these are the younger people at least, as perhaps a long lost brother who has acquired some bad habits and needs rehabilitation and tender loving care rather than punishment. The older Koreans are still very suspicious of North Korea, but the younger Koreans are very accepting of the North. They think the North would never use nuclear weapons against them. They see the United States, many of them see the United States as a greater threat to their ongoing security than North Korea. The relationship is in very difficult shape.

Q: Well you know the great concern is that the North Koreans being hard pressed for money, that there could be leakage of nuclear weapons to a terrorist. That would put the

GREGG: Absolutely. That is a red line, and I have written the North Koreans. I am in touch with them, and I wrote them when there was a statement hinting that that might happen. When I went there the first time, I said that it is just imperative that you completely distance yourselves from any form of terrorism. They said, “We have already signed two UN measures against terrorism.” So I agreed that could happen and that is our concern. I don’t think they had any intention of doing that. The sort of nuclear bazaar that has been run out of Pakistan has been of deep concern on that score.

Q: The North Koreans were at one point you know, selling drugs. Their embassies were selling drugs to maintain themselves. I mean how dire would you say their straits are?

GREGG: Well I think it is somewhat, I have talked at length to people who have been up there delivering food and medicine and so forth. They have allowed market gardens to be cultivated for the profit of the owners. That has improved the food situation to some extent. They had a somewhat better rice crop than last year, but they have cut down all their trees. They have lousy fertilizer, primitive agricultural technique. They are very  vulnerable to fluctuation s of temperature and rainfall, and so they have a food, they have had a food shortage, and there has been starvation. It is still bad, but it is somewhat better than it was. There is still a great power shortage. But even in my two trips to Pyongyang in April and November of 2002, I saw improvement in Pyongyang in those six months in terms of food stalls in the streets, more cars, so forth. Now Pyongyang is much better than the worst provinces up along the Chinese border are still in very bad shape.

Q: The Japanese factor recently, has that been

GREGG: Well, I was at another conference in Japan just before Koizumi went to Pyongyang, and we had at this conference, some Chinese who were very knowledgeable of the North Koreans having spent years in Pyongyang. The major concerns on the part of the Japanese were those abductees. The Chinese said, “Oh, they will never admit this.” Well Kim Jong Il did admit it. He apparently thought that that would somehow put the issue behind them.

Q: These were Japanese citizens

GREGG: These were Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by the North Koreans so that they could use them as models top train agents to act like Japanese. Maybe 30 were kidnapped. They allowed some to return to Japan. The Japanese have not returned them. The issue has bubbled up. It has backfired, and the North Koreans are furious at the Japanese and make the point that the Japanese never speak of the tens of thousands of young Korean women they kidnapped and forced to be comfort women for the imperial army. So the, you know the thinking is at some point the Japanese will pay reparations to North Korea. Sort of that money that would be in the billions would help kick start the economy. North Korea, I felt quite comfortable there because I was dealing with Koreans, and I understand the Koreans. It is a terrible regime. It is a repressive regime. It is a brutal regime. The question is how do you get them to stop being repressive and brutal. My suggested solution is to let them develop economically, improve the living standard of their own people, give Kim Jong Il a real chance to survive. I suggested that his role model ought to be Fidel Castro who has presided over a decrepit society but still maintains some degree of respect at home. How he does it I don’t know. The South Koreans hope he will be a Deng Xiaoping, a real reformer. I am not sure he is capable of that.

Q: Is somebody talking to Kim Jong Il? I mean you were mentioning Park Chung Hee, you know, who brought him bad news? Do you feel that there is contact with him?

GREGG: Well, yes. Putin refers to him as a completely modern person. They apparently get along quite well. He has got some good give and take relations with the Chinese. He has met a number of South Koreans including Kim de Jong. Everybody I have talked to who has talked to him directly says he is a highly intelligent man. For example, he reads the daily press out of Korea on the web site every day. He goes to the web site of the Blue House.

Q: That is the White House of South Korea.

GREGG: Yes. He complimented the minister of unification under Kim De Jung saying, “You know, I really am very interested in your write up of Park Chung Hee, because I want to do some of the same things for North Korea that Park Chung Hee did for South Korea in terms of jump starting the economy. So I think he has a recalcitrant military that he has trouble dealing with. I think he has a small coterie of people around him who are fairly enlightened.

Q: Okay, Don, I think this is a good place to stop.

GREGG: Okay.

End of interview

 

Book Review: Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)

Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (above) wrote Duty not to tritely vent anger and disappointment over his recent experience in the US government, but to engage in a sincere effort to improve the government’s handling of defense and foreign policy issues. 

In a March 25, 2014 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “Putin’s Challenge to the West,” former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote: “Mr. Putin aspires to restore Russia’s global power and influence and to bring the now independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Moscow’s orbit. While he has no apparent desire to recreate the Soviet Union (which would include responsibility for a number of economic basket cases.), he is determined to create a Russian sphere of influence—political, economic, and security—and dominance. There is no grand plan or strategy to do this, just opportunistic and ruthless aspiration. And patience.”  Gates, an American statesman, a former cabinet member of two administrations, patriotic and dedicated to his country, now out of government, sought to contribute to the US policy debate on Russia by writing this assessment of Putin’s moves in Ukraine.  Much as he was compelled to use his experience as a national security official, and expertise on the former Soviet republics to write his editorial, Gates was inspired to write his latest book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

Some reviewers have referred to Duty as a tell-all, arguing Gates was motivated write it by the urge to settle scores.  They point to the fact that it would seem impossible for any future president to hire Gates for a cabinet post.  However, Gates intentions were not so banal, and at 70, he certainly is not concerned with gaining a post in any future administration.  Just as when he decided to leave civilian life to take the position of Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration in 2006, Gates saw the possibility of sharing today the benefits of his experience, lessons he learned, and mentoring from those who selflessly protected the US for decades under far more demanding, dangerous circumstances.  As the US heads into dark territory with Russia and perhaps Iran and North Korea, his comments in Duty will prove significant to those who need to know what to do. Never wanting to see his country or president fail, writing Duty, with great passion and candor, was a way for Gates to ignite positive change and improvement.  Undeniably, he has managed to reach administration officials and Members of Congress, many of whom were unwilling to listen to his advice while he was serving in government.  In using this method to reach official Washington, calling attention to what he saw as the error in its ways, Gates put much at risk. Yet, in that way, Duty is truly an articulation of Gates’ generosity.

Some reviewers have found it enough to say Gates rose from the ranks at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), joining in 1967 via the US Air Force, but that is not enough to help readers understand the prism through which he views service in government.  The CIA of the Cold War years was different in many ways for the Agency today.  As he moved through numerous major events in his early career, Gates worked effectively as yeast within wheat flour, quietly, perhaps initially undetected.  Yet, over time, he was seen as having a positive impact through his work, eventually recognized as being part of the process of moving things forward.  He was never the sort to be negative or appear disgruntled.  During his career, Gates likely came in contact with CIA officers such as, Donald Gregg, Robert Ames, Gary Schroen, Jack Devine, Dewey Clarridge, Claire George, James Lilley, William Buckley, James Delaney, William Colby, Richard Helms, and Vernon Walters, with whom dozens of stories of ingenuity, courage, sacrifice, and patriotism are coupled.  Contacts with such associates and a multitude of others helped Gates develop a greater understanding of the world and other ways of thinking, on top of all he was learning directly through his duties as an analyst on the Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence.

As Gates reached the senior ranks of the organization, especially the job of Deputy Director of CIA, his work at headquarters was supplemented by travels worldwide, to establish or ensure understandings and agreements the Agency had with foreign personalities, some with whom most professionals and the average person would never wish to come in contact.  By that time, Gates was also made very familiar with the more esoteric, advanced, and somewhat frightening aspects of the US intelligence community’s activities.  Outside of CIA, he worked closely with Brent Scowcroft, as well as with Colin Powell and James Baker, legends in the world of US foreign and defense policy.  He was Deputy National Security Advisor during the fall of the Soviet Union.  Eventually he would become the Director of CIA. Gates’ counsel was highly valued among senior foreign and defense policy officials and presidents.

Before Gates came back to Washington to serve as Secretary of Defense, he served as President of Texas A&M University and a member of several corporate boards. He moved away from the worries of national security, leaving the job to the capable hands of others.  While developing the minds of young men and women was the concept and intent behind his service at Texas A&M, he also had a chance to reflect on his life and career.  That time of calmness and peacefulness allowed him to sharpen his discernment and see what is really inside himself.  It was likely in that period, that Gates recognized the importance of being candid and forth-right with associates.  Being polite is a virtue; silence is golden. However, remaining silent when change or action is necessary is wrong.  When the flock has strayed, remaining silent is failure.  Having developed a reputation for nearly a century for being discreet, Gates, with Duty, seemingly put the concept of being forthright in full effect in order to repair matters.  He is honest about his associates, appropriately self-critical of his own judgments, and candid in reflecting on issues that might have been handled better.

With much attention being given to Gates criticisms, the fact that Duty is an interesting history of his work as secretary is nearly lost. Gates feels that he met the job’s challenges to include: managing the activities of the armed forces globally; developing the department’s budget, overseeing the research, acquisition, and procurement process for new systems; directing the Defense Department’s relations with allies and partners overseas, managing relations with other departments such as State, Energy, Homeland Security; directing the relationship of his department with the White House and the Congress; and, managing the relationship between the military services and the president.  When Gates arrived at the Defense Department, its bureaucracy was comfortable and resisted pressure to shift to a wartime footing, dragging its feet on urgent military needs as well as neglecting to adequately care for wounded warriors.  Gates explains how he assured $16 billion was in a supplemental budget to get thousands of much needed MRAP troop-carriers built and sent quickly to Iraq and Afghanistan, against objections from the service chiefs.  He produced a budget in the first year of the administration of US President Barack Obama that cut or curtailed 33 weapons programs, including the F-22 stealth fighter.  He changed the Army’s promotion board and thus allowed some of the most creative colonels, whose careers had been thwarted, to advance to the rank of general.  When he discovered the horrors at Walter Reed Army Hospital, he fired the Secretary of the Army and fixed the situation immediately.  He also fired the Air Force Chief of Staff for slowing down production and delivery of reconnaissance drones, which in Iraq helped the troops spot roadside bombs and track down the insurgents who planted them.  In agreement with just about all other reviewers, Gates’ descriptions of how he managed to successfully lead and effectively direct the Defense Department with a combination of cooption and coercion, tempered by decades of government service at the senior level, makes Duty a book that should be read by every future US Defense Secretary, as well as political and business leaders, and defense and foreign policy makers in any country.

Yet, the history of his tenure as Defense Secretary served as background to all of his appraisals of behavioral and attitudinal changes among officials and officers in the government since he left in 1993.  Gates clearly saw it as emblematic of a degraded quality of service to the US.  That apparently startled him the more than anyting else.  At the lower levels, Gates found the behavior of young members of the National Security Council staff unsettling.  The National Security Council (NSC) staff was dominated by young congressional and campaign staffers who had little or no experience in foreign policy.  Gates explains the young staffers would engage in meddling to include making calls to four-star generals.  Having served in similar positions under four previous presidents Gates says such actions would have constituted “a firing offense” in previous administrations.  There was apparently no model for the young staffers to follow that remotely resembled what Gates had known in the past.  Rank and title had lost its meaning.  Perhaps the assumption was made by younger staffers that all were equally finding their way as students in school.  They were likely never told and never consiered  that most older, senior professionals possessed a depth of knowledge tha coiuld have been useful to them.  Interestingly, during the Cold War, the KGB and GRU likely would have avoided any attempt to contact such young staffers as described by Gates, judging them as too erratic, possessing a far greater sense of importance than deserved, and displaying questionable judgment.

While former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was praised by Gates, characterizing her as cooperative and capable, many other senior officials at the White House also drew criticism from him.  Gates appraised Tom Donilon, the second National Security Advisor in the Obama administration as suspicious and distrustful of the uniformed military leadership to the point of stating in a meeting that it was “insubordinate” and “in revolt” against the White House.  At one point in an Oval Office meeting, Donilon was so argumentative about military operations that Gates contemplated walking out of the room in anger.  “It took every bit of my self-discipline to stay seated on the sofa.”  Gates referred to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as “hell on wheels” and “a whirling dervish with ­attention-deficit disorder.”

Gates’ criticism of US Vice President Joe Biden has received considerable note in the media.  He depicts Biden as being loud and garrulous and a comical “motor mouth,” obsessed with politics over substance.  At the same time, he says Biden is “simply impossible not to like.”  Gates explains how Biden presumes to know more about counterterrorism than an experienced Special Operations general.  However, Gates only assessed that as an aspect of Biden’s “relentless attack” on “the integrity of the senior military leadership.”  Gates noted that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”  What he faults Biden most about is poisoning Obama’s relationship with his generals.  Gates stated, “I thought Biden was subjecting Obama to Chinese water torture, everyday saying, ‘the military can’t be trusted.’ ”

Regarding the presidents he served as a Defense Secretary at war, Gates explains President George W. Bush and his aides squandered the initial military victories in both wars by mistakes and short-sighted policies.  He expressed dislike for Bush’s “freedom agenda” as “too simplistic” and his objectives in Afghanistan as “embarrassingly ambitious (and historically naïve).”  He believes that the invasion of Iraq and the revelations about renditions, Abu Ghraib prison, and Guantánamo “fueled further anti-American feeling.”  Yet, Gates admits admiring Bush as “a man of character, a man of convictions, and a man of action.”   Readers may find an incongruity in these statements, Gates understands that presidents also have feelings, make errors, but have the right to be treated respectfully.  Errors on the other hand do not have rights and errors made by authorities should be given attention. Gates successfully managed to assist Bush by accelerating the isolation of Vice President Dick Cheney with a number of political maneuvers.  He clearly saw Cheney’s advice as questionable.  Before he left office, Gates reveals that Cheney advocated bombing both Syria and Iran. Gates explained that he almost singlehandedly kept Bush following through on that suggestion regarding Iran.

Gates served Obama well, encouraging and supporting him.  Gates clearly understood there were enormous gaps in Obama’s background, knowledge, and understanding with regard to national security.  Coming into the administration, Gates let the president know that he would be with him and would stand by him.  He asked Obama to trust him, and promised not to fail him.  Gates hoped there would be a process by which he could impart the best of what he knew for the president to absorb.  Indeed, the president spoke in confidence with Gates, often seeking out his counsel.  For Obama the policy making process on Afghanistan was agonizing and left him wary of his generals.  Concerned over being disrespected by them, Obama asked Gates, “Do they think because I’m young that I don’t see what they’re doing?”  However, Obama eventually became non-receptive to certain reasoning. Gates indicates that was perhaps due to competing messages from Biden and others.  Such competing voices, even worse, were further confusing the situation.  Some officials misunderstood what Gates had learned long before that the weight only falls on the president’s shoulders.  Clarity of thought is especially critical on tough issues.

Gates explains a break occurred with Obama in April 2011, just he was departing the administration.  Obama had previously agreed that Gates would restructure the defense budget but that its size would not be altered. In the face of midterm elections and fiscal pressures across the board, White House Chief of Staff, William Daley, informed Gates that he would need to cut the budget by another $400 billion over the next 10 years. Gates explained “I was furious.”   He writes. “I pointed my finger at Daley and said, ‘This White House’s word means nothing!’ ”  True, the president’s job is to set national priorities, and political changes unavoidably alter those settings; it’s the Defense Secretary’s job to devise the best strategy given his limited resources.  Yet, Gates, well aware of that, perhaps is not recounting the whole story of the agreement.  Perhaps it included a quid-pro-quo that was reneged upon.  Gates disappointment also could have been due to what he recognized as a pattern of mistrust and suspicion plaguing the White House’s relations with the Defense Department since 2009.  Gates already had a deep distrust of Obama’s staff, feeling betrayed on major promises made about the defense budget and about the process of allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the military.  On top of that, Gates explained being in the White House Situation Room and thinking that “the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his.  For him, it’s all about getting out.”

If there was a point in the book where Gates could be said to have been aggressive and questionably constructive, it is in his discussion of the US Congress.  Gates sensed a superficiality about Congressional efforts, in which Members were not thinking deeply in the long term interests of US.  He witnessed a senselessness among those seemingly addicted to the insignificant.  He calls Members of the Senate “hypocritical and obtuse” and is angered by the “kangaroo-court environment” in committee hearings.  Gates states that the House of Representatives has “more than its fair share of crackpots” and “raving lunatics.”  He points to “rude, insulting, belittling, bullying, and all too often highly personal attacks” by Members.

Perhaps the real window into Gates soul was his thinking about the troops.  Gates really cares.  He was essentially traumatized by his role in sending US soldiers overseas to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He admits to crying over letters of condolence that he signed, later mulling over in bed the lives of those killed or wounded.  His emotions are genuine.  At one point Gates writes “I did not enjoy being secretary of defense.”  At another, he recalls telling a friend in an email, “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”  He reveals in Duty’s conclusion that he has requested to be buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of many of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 19th century Hanoverian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz stated, “Strength of character does not only consist of having strong feelings, but maintaining one’s balance in spite of them.”  Duty is not part of an effort by Gates to angrily vent disappointment over the government, but a sincere effort to improve US national security.  Too many have looked at the work from the wrong perspective. Gates understands that US strength was created through patriotism, dedication, hard work, and real sacrifice.  He has asked that those serving in the government now perform in that manner.  For that reason, Gates saves his criticism especially for those professionals and officials who set the example and standard for the young staffers.  With a sense of respect and collegiality toward his president and his associates, Gates was quiet while in government, but silence does not obviate intellectual inquiry or activity of the spirit and of the soul.  Now, Gates has voiced his thoughts.  Hopefully Gates will continue to speak out as loud as he can.  Without question, greatcharlie.com highly recommends Duty to all of its readers.  In time, it will be viewed as one of the greatest Washington insider memoirs ever.

By the way, Gates did more than assess the situation with Russia over Ukraine in his March 25th Wall Street Journal editorial.  He also offered a way forward worth considering. He explained: “The only way to counter Mr. Putin’s aspirations on Russia’s periphery is for the West also to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia.” If negotiations betwee the US ad Russia over Ukraine fail, we shall see if his advice is taken, and see how it goes!

Russia Is Ousted From Group of 8 by US and Allies: Things Aren’t Improving on Ukraine, But Maybe General Dempsey Can Change That

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, is cast in the same mold of a long line of senior military leaders who have effectively advised US presidents in time of crisis.

According to a March 24, 2014, New York Times article entitled “Russia Is Ousted from Group of 8 by US and Allies,” US President Barack Obama and other leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized democracies cast Russia out of their organization to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his annexation of Crimea.  The leaders also threatened tougher sanctions against Russian interests if Putin escalates aggression against Ukraine.   When asked to discuss such efforts to compel a change in course by Russia, Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have literally shrugged their shoulders.  Other Russian officials have scoffed and mocked such measures with great bluster.  Where possible, Putin has taken parallel actions against US and other Western interests in Russia. 

Though it seems Putin may be content with his military achievements so far, US officials, policy experts, journalists, as well as pundits outside of the policy making process, insist upon ratcheting up the situation, publicly declaring that an even greater threat exists from Putin.  Indeed, they pessimistically imagine Putin engaging in further aggression, ostensibly attempting to also annex territories of various former Soviet republics in which ethnic-Russian populations dominate, using the pretext of self-determination with those groups.  In doing so, they perhaps unwittingly have suggested Putin’s actions may mirror former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s efforts to grab ethnic-Serbian held territory in break-away Yugoslav republics to form a “Greater Serbia.”

Putin is astute enough to realize Crimea may be more than enough for Russia to handle.  As former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage recently commented at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, “We’re going to see if Crimea becomes a small bone in Putin’s throat.”  In that vein, the US and its Western partners will have their hands full, too, trying to build Ukraine up economically, politically, socially, and militarily. Russian media reports remain rife with suspicions and accusations of US involvement in the collapse of the regime in Kiev that was friendly to Moscow.  They emphasize to the Russian people that their country has an upper hand in the situation.  One news anchor in Moscow reminded Russian viewers that “Russia is still the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive ash.”

On the positive side, meetings between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who have regularly worked together on other urgent and important issues for both countries, have already begun.  Every effective channel reportedly has been opened by the US to express a message to Russians of US concerns about Ukraine.  However, there seems to be a notion held by Putin and Russian officials in their heightened state of alert that any efforts to find common ground with the US would amount to appeasement.  Expressions of US positions have been interpreted as US demands, eliciting a reflex response by Moscow not only to reject those positions, but any proposals drawn from them.  Communications are now somewhat mangled.  All important telephone conversations between Obama and Putin have been reduced to bristling confrontations between the two.  By all accounts, the conversations very likely would have been a finger-wagging sessions between Putin and Obama if they had taken place face to face.  The situation remains tense and dangerous.

Thinking outside of the box, handling the Russians, even with very apparent political and diplomatic aspects of the problem, might be facilitated with more input from a member of the US national security team who had recent success in negotiating with senior Russian military officials on critical defense matters.  That individual is US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.  In addition to knowing what the most concerning Russian military capabilities and possibilities for action might be, his professional military experience, depth of knowledge, understanding of history, insights and worldliness, make him someone Obama perhaps could rely on more heavily for advice on the Ukrainian crisis.  Indeed, as a senior military officer he may possesses the capability of being effective in advising Obama in such crises in a way perhaps not possible for other presidential advisers at the moment.

Dempsey was recommended for the job of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates had already nominated Dempsey to be the Army Chief of Staff. In his recent book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Knopf, 2014), Gates explains that Dempsey had commanded forces in Iraq and command in Iraq or Afghanistan was a quality he wanted in the next chairman.  Gates also thought Dempsey had also performed superbly as the deputy commander and acting commander of the US Central Command.  When notifying Dempsey of his decision to nominate him as chairman, Gates explained to Dempsey that he was well-equipped to face the challenges of the budget, to lead the chiefs as a team, to maintain cohesion, and to help a new secretary of defense manage the relationship between the military services and the president.  Obama has clearly been very satisfied with Dempsey, selecting him twice as chairman.

Dempsey has dealt with a challenging agenda since assuming his present post.  Most relevant in the Ukraine crisis has been Dempsey’s part of the process of ensuring sustained positive US-Russian relations.  Dempsey recently demonstrated his ability to manage line of communication and promote constructive conversations with the Russians when he met with General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on January 21, 2014, in Brussels.  In that long-scheduled meeting, Dempsey displayed solid judgment and diplomatic acumen to advance an agenda for bilateral military relations.  The two generals produced a workable agreement that detailed 67 activities on which the armed forces of the US and Russia would continue to cooperate, despite pre-existing political and diplomatic problems and new concerns that arose over security assistance at the Sochi Olympic Games.  Indeed, the meeting came amidst a blitz of criticism leveled against Putin and organizers of the Games by US officials.  Those criticisms served to create the impression worldwide that the Games in Sochi were not safe to visit. The comments were almost perfectly designed to evoke the worst reaction possible from the Russians. 

Upon seeing Gerasimov, Dempsey likely noted he was a tough general, but not totally devoid of charm. As recounted through press reports of the Moscow Times, RT, RIA Novosti, Interfax, and other Russian press offices and of the American Forces Press Service (AFPS), Reuters, and the New York Times, Dempsey sought cooperation from Gerasimov through encouraging him to consider their unique situation as commanders of the most powerful military forces in the world.  Both were well aware of the esoteric, advanced, and frightening technologies that could be brought to bear in war and the need to maintain peace and stability in their nations’ relations and throughout the world.  Cooperation was the best way to achieve that end.  Dempsey was quoted as saying, “I think we have an opportunity to advance the relationship on areas of common interest.” Issues such as the US missile defense system, vehemently opposed by Moscow, were discussed.  However, Dempsey noted to Gerasimov’s apparent appreciation that Russia was a vital partner to NATO providing supply lines for its mission in Afghanistan, agreeing to allow the movement of nonlethal material to and from the war zone through Russian territory.  That rail and road network is becoming increasingly important as protests in Pakistan choke efforts to use the more convenient supply lines there.  Dempsey reassured Gerasimov about US and NATO efforts to ensure stability in Afghanistan after the departure of the International Security Assistance Force at the end of 2014.  Gerasimov asked for regular updates on the US and NATO effort to train, advise, and equip Afghan National Security Forces, as well as Afghanistan’s ability to maintain and control transportation lines in and out of the country. In an AFPS interview, Dempsey was quoted as stating: “We agree that a stable Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism is in our common interests.”

By the end of the meeting, Gerasimov was comfortable enough to endorse “regular contacts” between their militaries as “quite useful.”  Pointing to the less than congenial political and diplomatic relations between the US and Russia, Dempsey said it was important for the militaries “not to foreclose on conversations, even if at some points there are disagreements that prevent the forward movement” in other parts of the relationship whether political or diplomatic.  There could be no better time to consider using of that effective line of communication than now.

At the same meeting, to ensure a safe and secure Olympics, Dempsey made a nearly open-ended offer to Gerasimov to provide “full assistance” from the US military, echoing an offer made to Putin by phone that same week.  Gerasimov’s reaction of expressing a need for anti-IED technology was plausible to the extent that Islamic militants could have used roadside bombs against Russian government or civilian vehicle at the Games.  However, Russian Islamic militants were viewed as more likely to carry out a martyrdom operation (suicide attack) than plant a roadside bomb and detonate it at a distance.  If Gerasimov hoped to exploit US concerns and generosity, that all stopped with Dempsey.  He understood the implications of just giving it away, nonetheless, Dempsey remained quite respectful of the Russians’ request.  He understood that it was after all the job of the Russian security services to seek advantages over potential adversaries, and the effort to exploit the thinking among US political officials should have been expected.  There was a guarantee that Dempsey despite Gerasimov’s push for US technology would be guided foremost by his duty to defend the US.  Abiding by that, Dempsey seemingly, instinctively stood his ground against Russian appeals “in the interest of improving military cooperation and communication” while truly seeking to further military ties likely more earnestly than his Russian counterpart.

Dempsey’s insight on working with military elements of the Russian government could help his president through this crisis.  Dempsey may very likely be able to demonstrate that there is a way to deal with Russians even under current conditions.  He may be able to bring Russia to the diplomatic table, despite the very militaristic and aggressive mindset in which Russian leaders are currently steeped.  In a pinch, he may very-well act as a brake on any possible runaway breakdown in US-Russian communications. 

However, to be most effective in providing perspective and military advice from the chiefs for Obama on Ukraine, Dempsey would need to heed lessons from his experience with Obama on Syria in August 2013.  From that experience, Dempsey likely foresaw difficulties advisers would have in getting Obama to rapidly come to terms with any plans or proposals offered on Ukraine.  Providing a range of military option to effectively achieve objectives based on the president’s concepts, would be not be sufficient enough with Obama.  On Syria, Dempsey was initially tasked with providing advice and viable options for calibrated military strikes in response to Obama’s expressed goal of deterring and degrading Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. In his Rose Garden statement, Obama took comfort in Dempsey’s advice, stating confidently: “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.  Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.”  Yet, Obama was actually driven to resolve the crisis not by military action, but in a manner that would allow his worldview—that problems can be solved at the diplomatic table using reason and logic—to win through.  Unable to quickly find that handle to the situation, uncertainty and indecisiveness ultimately prevailed.  Obama was apparently paralyzed by fears of a bitter scenario that would have the US and the region embroiled in a larger conflict as a result of such action.  That was coupled by his concerns over the legal ramifications and international implications of military action against Assad regime.  Not knowing how best to respond, Obama strayed from a path of assertive and decisive action which most likely would have achieved all military goals and had a strong educational effect on Assad.  After making very shrill accusations that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed his red-line by using chemical weapons, Obama made the now world renown decision not to take military action.  Obama settled for a deal Russia proposed and negotiated with the US to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Seeing how wrenching and difficult the decision making process on Syria was for his president, Dempsey surely understands that to ensure advice to Obama on Ukraine would be effective, the advice of the chiefs on military aspects of the situation would need to go in tandem with helping Obama remain strong and of good courage in the face of daunting circumstances.  Fears of greater problems stimulate the imagination, can lead to a pessimistic outlook on the future, and often cause a leader to deviate from a path.  Remaining confident a resolute when a crisis is brewing is made more difficult in a dispute such as the one between the US and Russia on Ukraine, when party seems determined to maintain an environment unfavorble for communication.  Dempsey’s advice in that respect would need to be direct and personal.  An example of how Dempsey might proceed would be to first put matters in perspective by discussing Ukraine from the context of the military stalemate that has existed between the US and Russia during and since the Cold War based in part on first-hand experience as a US Army officer.  Following that, Dempsey could assist Obama in understanding the calculated risks and possible outcomes of a variety of diplomatic and military initiatives with Russia given assessments made both in the past and present to make the situation more controllable for his president.  Consideration of what is possible to do and what will likely be faced would also facilitate reaching decisions on options to help bring Putin and Russian officials to a point where negotiation on the issues might be possible.  That is the advice Obama apparently wants foremost.  Along the way, Dempsey could continually assure Obama that he has the full support of the military chiefs.  He could assist Obama in mulling over possible courses of action to ensure a sharpening of his perception and clarity of direction.

Boiled down, Dempsey’s role would be that of mentor or coach for Obama, who apparently is still trying to understand how to manage US military capabilities, leveraging US strength through diplomacy and engaging in decision making on the use of force to deter and defeat opponents.  Putin and Russian officials may discern “tweaks” in Obama administration’s message and communications prompted by Dempsey, and respond favorably to a request to negotiate.

The Way Forward

The US and its European partners have met to discuss and level sanctions and other economic actions against Russian interests in retribution to the Crimea-grab and to deter Russian efforts to further destabilize a weak Ukraine.  However, Putin has executed plans to annex Crimea and a return to the status quo ante will not occur.  For Obama’s advisers, finding ways to bring Russia to the diplomatic table, given the confrontational attitude of Putin and Russian leaders, has been challenging.  However, resolving the Ukraine crisis may more importantly require bringing Obama to see and understand that it requires a certain agility to develop solutions for coping with opponents whose thinking is different from his own.  “Might doesn’t make right,” an utterance recently heard from Obama, is not best philosophy to which one might subscribe when dealing with real aggression.  This is particularly true for the US which predicates its ability to engage effectively in diplomacy worldwide on its capability to enforce its policies and protect its interests with considerable military power.

Advisers such as Susan Rice, Antony Blinken, Wendy Sherman, and Samantha Power, in addition to well-experience officials as Joe Biden, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan, certainly have a great deal to offer to Obama.  Yet, results show that they, most likely for various important reasons, have been unable able to reach Obama over the Ukraine crisis in a manner that has allowed him to appear truly in control of the situation.  There is a certain “human element” to advising leaders in time of crisis. In recent history, a line of remarkable senior military officers have very effectively served their presidents in a manner described here. Included among them are: Maxwell Taylor, Brent Scowcroft, Stansfield Turner, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell, and James Jones.  Dempsey was recommended as chairman based on his military experience.  That same military experience made him “expert” in encouraging, advising, and coaching fellow commanders in difficult circumstances.  Dempsey’s counsel would truly help his president in dealing with Putin and the Russians beyond the battlefield or even the diplomatic table.  Hopefully, Obama will somehow come to understand the benefits that would come from more fully utilizing Dempsey, and seek “greater” counsel from him soon.