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The comparison between the Ukraine and Afghanistan is sub par. There’s so many cultural, historical, and Geo political differences that you really can’t compare. Perhaps if you compare Afghanistan’s resistance to Russia in the 1980s.

Having said that I want to comment on one of the most significant but under reported keys to Ukraine’s military success, or more specifically on Russia failures.

I see a lot of these talking head retired generals insinuating that if they were in charge, Russia would be doing better. Being retired military, I’m used to the hubris of the officer class. But… They are missing out on the real reason.

Russia’s military lacks the same educated competent professional enlisted an NCO core that the US military has, as well as other westernize Nations. All the technology in the world means nothing unless you have 20 something-year-old kids that are capable of fixing it. Combat units are led by listed, not officers. The one TV show that actually gets this right is navy seals. Their main character, liter is a master chief… Which is an NCO.

Even in the Air Force… Officers get shuffled around between post so that they learn a little bit of everything. But they actually don’t know how to do anything. They are managers. They make sure that we take care of computer based training, make sure we are doing our performance reports, and generally a lot of paperwork.

Russia’s military is so underpaid, and does not recruit the best of the best like the United States that there is no chance for them to be successful.

Put a Russian general in charge of American enlisted military verse an American general in charge of Russian enlisted military, The Russian general is going to win every day of the week and twice on Thursday.

There is a much greater difference between the average NCO then there is between a Russian general and an American general.

But it’s just one more case of elitism in American society. Anyway, that’s my rant.

As always, I am dictating this on my phone… So there probably lots of grammatical errors. I will try and fix them when I get to work.

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The Russian debacle where they allowed their vehicles to get bunched up and run out of fuel is one of the signs of a poor NCO corp. An American E-7 or E-8 would have lost his shit if he saw something like that forming.

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Exactly. Senior NCO's exist to make officers look good.

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Another problem is that many of Russia's generals are not career military. They are state security Putin loyalists who Putin made generals to make the military more loyal to him. It would be like if a bunch of CIA operatives became generals in the US. Spying and leading a military require completely different skill sets.

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Not really... Generals are overrated.

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Better NCOs would be great no doubt. But Russia offers a banquet of mistakes to choose from. I think the insane drive from Kherson where they tried to simultaneously bypass Mykolaiv and assault Kryvyi Rih is kind of under appreciated. There’s an almost fractal quality to the errors here.

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A lot of people have been wondering how analysts overestimated Russia's military. There was an analyst on Twitter who offered a defence of his trade:(https://twitter.com/C_M_Dougherty/status/1509910414330638344)

He said that they were basically stupefied that Russia decided to just throw away every common sense idea about 'how to invade a country'. For example, there was no overall military commander for the invasion. If your granny decided to invade Ukraine, she would probably put someone in overall command of the task. In a sporting context, it's like Russia decided to play without a goalie, or play their quarterback as a lineman or something equally insane.

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He is one of those talking head types... It doesn't matter what strategy they used. Their equipment was poorly maintained (enlisted job)... and poor executed (enlisted job).

Put that guy in charge of the Russian Military and they still lose.

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I read through that entire Twitter thread. He basically says the Russian failure was due to general lack of logistics capability, not following doctrine, and leadership “down to tactical units.” Also, I looked him up: He is a former 2nd Bat. Army Ranger. I guarantee he understands how important NCOs are.

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Yeah. He isn't the worse. All the Officers know how important NCO's are... but they never go out of their way to tweet it or mention it on the news.

Here is how military life goes:

General or Officer gives speech to us enlisted. You guys are awesome, the best, you make me look good, the best in the world.

Then go to their Commanding Officers or to the Government and talk about all the things they did.

Par for the course.

I'm retired, so I get to say "fuck Officers"

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

Every single talking head has taken great pains to sing the praises of our NCOs. Every single one! They are the vital backbone of our military.

Who the hell have you been watching?

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Obviously the wrong ones.... it hasn't made it to my twitter feed yet (I don't actually watch TV... just clips)

Send me a link if you have seen it...

I certainly haven't read any written articles or analysis pointing out that it's the critical fault of the Russian Military more than any issue.

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I dunno, I feel like this is incredibly common knowledge for almost anyone who has made even a casual study of military affairs or history. I've known that the Red (and now Russian) Army model for NCOs sucked since I was around 11-12 years old.

I'm also seeing plenty of folks with actual military backgrounds pointing it out on Twitter and whatnot.

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Yes. Anyone associated with the military would know it. But that's 5% of the population at most.

I get it... CNN hires Generals as analysis, not MSgt's. And Generals going to talk about General things.

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Along with the 10-20% of the population who are amateur history buffs, lol.

Again, I’m not really seeing any shortage of this sentiment.

But to the extent people aren’t discussing it, it’s because the undertone is “the Russians know their conscript NCOs suck and have a doctrine to deal with it as best possible, why aren’t they following that doctrine?”

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

Starting at 3:50 and I think it’s mentioned a bunch more times.

https://youtu.be/RerDDm-lONI

“The Russians, with their overly centralized command system and lack of experienced noncommissioned officers, have been slow to respond to Ukrainian tactics. “The Russians have no imagination,” an American who said he was fighting with the Ukrainians told the Atlantic. “They would shell our positions, attack in large formations, and when their assaults failed, do it all over again.””

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/28/stop-overestimating-russian-military-and-underestimating-ukrainians-one-month-war/

“What is an 'NCO,' and why does Russia's lack of them cause them so much trouble”

https://m.dailykos.com/stories/2022/3/24/2087772/-Ukraine-update-What-is-an-NCO-and-why-does-Russia-s-lack-of-them-cause-them-so-much-trouble

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Thanks for the video! That guys comment at 3:50 was spot on, but it wasn't talked about a bunch.

The Daily Kos guy is spot on... but not exactly mainstream. Also... I was in Germany the same time he was in the early 90's. Holland actually.

The Washington Post article mentions it as an aside... a contributing factor... not THE factor. Which I maintain it is.

So... good finds. But I stick with my original point.

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“not THE factor. Which I maintain it is.”

That’s just it though… the Russians evolved their land combat doctrine almost entirely around the need to avoid leaning on their NCOs for tactical initiative.

Now they’re not following that doctrine at all because of gaping strategic failures at the field and flag officer level.

If they were following doctrine they’d be bludgeoning their way to a very costly victory, IMO. Since they aren’t, they’re instead repeatedly ramming their fist into a concrete wall, mauling it in exchange for very little attrition of the other side’s combat power.

So I’d argue that while your point is technically correct, what’s surprising about all this is that the Russians aren’t following their playbook for dealing with this well-known problem.

I could make the argument that the failure to adhere to doctrine is “the” factor costing them the war.

These two arguments are very much flip sides of the same coin.

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I disagree. I don’t think it’s so much that they didn’t plan for a competent NCOs as much as they took it for granted. As officers, I think they just assumed that their enlisted would be somewhat competent. And Russia's enlisted force has actually been worsening under Putin. So I'm going to stick with… It is the main factor.

Their doctrine would've failed even if they played it perfectly

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The 3:50 guy is CNN’s military analyst and a general. And every retired general they have on zooming from his home office talks about NCOs. I’m not going to keep posting links but trust me the generals mention it all the time.

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Typo in last para? Expected "strong enough"

"This is just to say that while obviously it would be better for Ukraine — and, frankly, better overall policy — for the West to step up the economic measures against Russia, Russia simply isn’t weak enough to make it genuinely necessary."

But in any case --

1) you're taking a hell of a risk on the claim that "the west can win while barely trying" (or endorsing the risk-taking of our political leaders); and

2) the policy of giving Ukraine just enough to allow it to bleed Russian slowly, while not giving it enough to finish the job quickly, is inhumane to all involved. A twenty-month war will involve some atrocities that would not have occurred in a ten-month war. Those atrocities will be partly attributable to the policies of those governments who deny Ukraine what it needs to win more quickly.

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What do they need to win more quickly though? I agree with this sentiment but I’m not 100% on what is to be done. Russias apparent intention is to exhaust themselves relatively soon with a frontal assault on donbas using all the remaining ground forces. Should we interrupt our opponent when they are making a mistake?

Focusing on getting Ukraine the tools to stop this assault isn’t planning to ‘bleed’ Russia—we’re not talking about arming an insurgency in Kherson.

I know people want to see Ukraine push the lines back toward Russia but if Russia wants to fight this war till they are out of tanks it’s better to let Russia attack.

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I'm unsure what "enough" in context actually is. I think it's been established that "planes from Poland" was a negotiating position and not a serious need, they've been given a ton of easy-to-use and highly effective anti-armor, anti-material, and anti-aircraft weaponry, they have sufficient tanks for their needs, their logistics capabilities are decent and I'm sure we would be happy to turn over trucks alongside their loads at the border if they were needed (and may be already)...

It's not like we can just blink a bunch of Ukrainian citizens who know how to operate a Patriot SAM system into existence and give them a few.

The same applies to any other material aid short of what would provoke a shooting war between NATO and Russia, and, sorry, I'm unwilling to risk a nuclear war over this.

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Oops, fixed the typo.

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Weird, I had one scheduled...hold on a second.

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I read those as descriptive, not normative, claims.

Yes, it would be better to give "whole-assed" aid with "whole-assed" sanctions, but we won't, in no small part because of Olsonian sclerosis. It would be better to give them everything they need to actually win and quickly. What's our mechanism for getting there? Who's gonna tell Habeck to turn on the Nuclear plants and turn off the gas?

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Matt's analysis of Ukraine vs Afghanistan is wrong. In the 1980s Afghanistan fought off the Soviet Union, under a greater imbalance of strength than Ukraine faces today. This shows the issue isn't "Ukraine good, Afghanistan bad". It's "do people support the war?".

Ukraine is resisting foreign invaders who want to change their society. In the 80s, Afghanistan was doing the same. In the 2000s, that wasn't the case. The US was asking Afghans to *support* a foreign invader who wanted to change their society. They didn't and the invasion failed.

Of course state capacity matters. But you need a hell of a lot less capacity to rally the troops to "let's kick out these f*ckers who are killing us and want to order us around" than "let's help the people from the other side of the world and who keep bombing weddings restructure our society"

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Afghanistan never succeeded in fending off the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union completely occupied Afghanistan and was bled dry by the cost of occupying a country where no one liked them and that no one was backed by hostile powers. This was exactly what NATO had hoped and prepared for in Ukraine. Most of the problems with giving Ukraine assistance arise from NATO not having prepared for Ukraine just flat winning the war. Ukraine, unlike Afghanistan, really has fended off Russia, which appears to basically be in slow retreat since about two weeks into their campaign.

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Completely agree. People rally around external threats much better than that rally against internal threats.

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Zelensky was considered a joke in Ukraine before the invasion. Getting invaded helps your popularity and how people perceive how statesmanlike you are.

With regards the difference between Ukraine and Afghanistan, I think lots of Afghans didn’t think their government was legitimate and they didn’t think the Taliban were malign outsiders. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s 2014 war focused minds. There were clear improvements in Ukraine’s military since then. As an aside, I worry that Taiwan won’t get a second chance if it is invaded by the PRC

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“Zelensky was considered a joke in Ukraine…”

Her received 73% of the vote. Ukrainians must have a hell of a sense of humor.

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He was the great hope for peace, then he was a joke, and peace was a joke too. Now he’s a war hero!

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His popularity declined a huge amount between the election and the start of the war. I seem to remember that polling last summer suggested only around 20% of Ukrainian voters thought he should stand for re-election.

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"As an aside, I worry that Taiwan won’t get a second chance if it is invaded by the PRC."

Nah, the PRC just want the southeast corner of the island. They'll stop there.

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I also wonder how much the memory of the holodomor made the Ukrainians more likely to come together. Sure, it was the soviets not the Russians then, but in both cases it was from Moscow.

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I'm confused by your reference to, "I worry that Taiwan won’t get a second chance if it is invaded by the PRC." Second chance at what?

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Remaining independent.

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

I think the support for the Taliban was less “They’re legit” and more “They could kill me.”

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Na, I think it was more "They're more legit than the American puppet regime and less likely to randomly kill me with a drone strike."

There's been plenty of reporting on how many Afghans viewed the Taliban as a more legitimate government entity. Certainly more legitimate than the Russian government vis a vis Ukraine.

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I agree that the Russians are seen as less legit, though I don’t think the Afghans were going to be doing much with drones. The $174m ScanEagle program was a huge fiasco, and oversight was so incompetent on the Navy’s side that we even lost key documents in the update to Windows 10.

https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/audits/SIGAR-20-44-AR.pdf

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So there are lots of differences between Afghanistan and Ukraine. But worth looking back at the simple story Matt has outlines a few times for Ukraine to get richer and become a stronger nation: just do what Poland did. German manufacturing supply chain, etc.

In contrast the ‘simple’ visions for a successful afghan state and economy mostly revolve around linking China and Iran, or Russia and Iran maybe by way of other central Asian states. Things we are not actually very excited to see happen, and which lots of the people living in the country don’t want to see happen either!

I guess there was some talk about us wanting to build some nefarious pipeline through the country, which I guess never made sense, but at least that would have offered some kind of a vision for what the country was supposed to be.

It’s hard to be a good partner to a nation when you don’t really want them to succeed. ‘Have good schools girls can go to and a symphony’ is not a realistic vision for a successful nation on its own. It has a cargo cult aspect to it.

All of which is to say there’s a bit more here than ‘crisis made Ukraine strong but not Afghanistan and we don’t know why’

We are very well aligned with a simple vision for Ukraine’s national economy. And Ukrainians have readily available examples.

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"‘crisis made Ukraine strong but not Afghanistan and we don’t know why’"

That formulation is actually *better* than Matt's formulation:

"...there is an aspect of natural selection to this kind of thing. Under conditions of stress, dysfunctional polities collapse whereas ones that are better at getting their shit together manage to survive."

That invocation of "natural selection" sounds like it is doing some explanatory work, when instead it's functioning here as a mere tautology (of the kind strenuously avoided in the Neo-Darwinian synthesis).

Right now, we don't have independent measures of dysfunction and fecal logistics that would allow us to say, prior to the collapse, which countries do and don't have their shit together. The collapse of the Afghan national army was a surprise! The resistance of Ukraine is a surprise! So, appealing to "natural selection" is *worse* than saying "and we don't know why."

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The simple (but not perfect) answer is that Afghanistan is a tribal nation whereas Ukraine is a tribe.

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Something there no doubt. But Russia was planning to exploit division in Ukraine not planning to face a unified ‘tribe’.

‘Western’ culture brings the youth together to some degree, and older people potentially inclined to be pro Russia will obviously turn on you once you blow up their homes.

But it seems like Ukraine has kept getting more unified for years in the face of largely successful Russian operations to weaken their civil society.

I would say the very obvious and achievable example of Poland has helped Ukrainians see the path forward in moments when they were getting far less support from the US than Afghanistan.

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“…Russia was planning to exploit division…”

Russia failed for some reason.

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I'm sorry to say that your thesis is almost entirely wrong:

"The economic war on Russia is half-assed not because each national leader has independently decided to half-ass it, but because all of our societies are experiencing demosclerosis and simply can’t choose to act decisively on the Russia issue. We lack the capacity."

It has nothing to do with demosclerosis. The problem is that Ukraine is not important enough for most people to be willing to accept sacrifices and the tradeoffs that come with policy that isn't half-assed. Like with many other things, the virtue signaling on Ukraine far outstrips what people are actually willing to accept.

The problem is actually a lack of popularism. Helping Ukraine as long as the domestic cost isn't high is very popular. Potentially sacrificing 3 percent of GDP to help Ukraine is not popular and the reason it is not popular has nothing to do with demosclerosis.

If there's a nugget here it's that political leaders have insufficiently made the case to the public that some sacrifice is worth helping Ukraine. In fact, they are avoiding that argument completely for the most part.

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Disagree that "political leaders have insufficiently made the case to the public". We've had a full court press from the media/millitary industrial complex.

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Afghanistan is a country of geographical factions; Ukraine is homogeneous for the most part with the exception of the Russians living in the Donbass region. Ukraine has lots of roads and railways and it's easy to move troops and supplies compared to the rudimentary transportation infrastructure in Afghanistan. The mountainous terrain in the Asian country adds an extra layer of complexity in terms of military activity. This fact alone stymied both the Russians and Americans during the almost 30 years (cumulative) they were involved in Afghanistan.

There are other nuances as well such as will to fight that make it extremely difficult to compare the two regions.

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Your complacency is going to look pretty bad after Le Pen wins in France and cuts off the aid tap from the EU, and the Republicans win in the mid-terms and cut off the aid tap from the States. Meanwhile, Scholtz will send a few more helmets to Ukraine, and a billion dollars a day to the Kremlin, rather than risk electoral defeat if the economy shrinks by half a percent in Germany.

Putin has played a long game in creating parties of pro-Russian quislings in all of the major democracies. But the real asymmetry of power here is that an autocrat can force his subjects to endure far more pain than voters in a democracy will tolerate.

I wish I could count on voters in the West to make some sacrifices to keep degrading the Russian war machine. But so far, the efforts have been acceptable to the electorate because they have required zero sacrifice. (You want to seize Putin's yachts? Fine! Who does that hurt, other than Tucker Carlson?) Unless Ukraine triumphs before the mid-terms, it will be abandoned after them.

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"republicans win mid-terms and cut off the aid tap" is not a statement that stands up to scrutiny. Yes there is a faction of the GOP that is basically pro-russian but Ukraine Aid has been passing on massive bipartisan margins and there is nothing to suggest that would change if the GOP was in control of the house.

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Strong doubt on lepen. The polling is deceptive, presented in a way that underemphasizes how many undecided there are and how unlikely they are to break right. I really hope I’m correct on this!

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" I really hope I’m correct on this!"

Me too!

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It's going to be jarring for a lot of progressives when the Republican candidate in 2024 runs on Biden being weak on foreign policy and allowing Putin to steal Ukrainian territory.

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“Citation needed” on all counts.

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"“Citation needed” on all counts."

I lay out a hypothetical scenario, and you want me to cite authorities for it?

Do you understand how hypotheticals work? Do you understand how citations work?

If you want to say, "I think the scenario you propose has a very low probability of coming to pass," then say that. At least it would not make you look as though you have no idea what a citation is.

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

It’s a polite way, in modern parlance, of calling bullshit.

If you prefer I can be blunt in the face of pedantry: Your post is bullshit, none of this is going to happen. Le Pen is headed for a decent-sized loss in the second round, the Republican mainstream is very onboard with handing weapons to Ukraine to fuck over Russia, and Germany seems to have finally gotten its head out of its ass on defense spending.

And this is all when Russia looks like it’s *losing*.

If this conflict grinds along and it looks like it’s holding its own, the EU and US are going to do more to degrade it, not less.

Most of all, though, I’ll be frank: at the rate Russia is losing material and morale, this conflict cannot last until a new Congress is seated in January 2023.

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Cool! I hope that all of your predictions come true. I like your rosier hypothetical far more than my gloomy one.

But of course, there are no "citations" for your hypothetical, either.

Now: suppose that we don't have enough evidence to tell which elements of our respective predictions are more likely to come true. Is there not some general wisdom in warning against the extreme downsides of the grim scenario, in the face of complacency? I'd rather act with urgency and concern, rather than idly hope for my dreams to take care of themselves.

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Even hypotheticals require some evidence to be viewed as plausible.

In support of mine, for instance, I’d offer the polling data that has Le Pen solidly behind in the second round even failing to account for undecided voters, most of whom are on Macron’s left.

I’d also offer the near-monolithic support the Republican Party has offered for Ukraine aid when it’s unattached to poison pills.

And a 20% increase in German defense spending.

Not to mention that, again, Russia’s current attrition is utterly unsustainable and its forces’ morale is in tatters.

There’s a lot more pointing at my “rosy” analysis holding true going forward than your grim one.

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Thanks! Again: I hope you are right.

But I think there is too much complacency about the inevitability of Ukraine's victory.

Time is against us. Yes, time will hurt the Russians, too, through the effect of sanctions and through attrition of their materiel. But time will also fracture our coalitions, and sap our purpose. Biden and Blinken have done an amazing job of stitching together an international coalition of allies, and of keeping the domestic opposition at bay.

But Republicans would rather see Republicans win than Russia lose. They will use any damage to our economy as a weapon against Biden (they're already doing it). And the same will happen in every Western democracy. Voters are low on patience, and more attached to their own comfort than to the survival of foreigners far away.

Those are my worries: let's hope they turn out to be false.

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My hot take is that the US, EU, Britain, Australia, Japan and possibly others should take small steps moving towards a global governmental super-structure. Current global bodies include the UN (which has a seat for every country, which numerically means lots of dictatorships), or pan-continental bodies which sort of make sense and sort of don't (the EU, South America a little bit moving towards their version of the EU called Mercosur, the same thing with Africa and the African Union).

It would make a lot more sense to put what everyone vaguely handwaves as 'the West' into a formal body- picking and choosing your friends based on actual values, and not just who's geographically closeby. You at least see a step towards this with the CANZUK concept (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CANZUK). The new 'Western Nations' alliance could form a free trade pact for starters, then over the decades inch towards other stuff, sort of like what the EU's done. As a reminder, the US + the EU + Britain alone is about 3 times the size of China's economy. Maybe eventually a mutual defense pact over time.

Is this super-unrealistic right now, in this new age of nationalism? Sure- but as the EU proves, these things can work out over a multi-decade time span. We should counter the power of China and Russia with a new global body that's authoritarian-free and proudly elitist, the opposite of the UN- poor countries need not apply

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I am very troubled by the fact that the humanitarian cost is barely acknowledged. Just in the past couple of days we got a chilling demonstration of Russian atrocities. The refusal of western nations - Germany most of all- to do what needs to be done to bring this war to a swift and decisive end, simply because it would cost them moderate economic pain, is simply unconscionable. Have the Germans really learned anything and feel true historical contrition if they are now so happy to basically fund massive war crimes in Eastern Europe?? It’s crazy that they aren’t under much more significant public pressure to change course.

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

This outrage doesn't make much sense to me.

1. An energy embargo is not guaranteed to end the war, led alone swiftly and decisively

2. Foreign policy is almost always selfish. Cases of outright altruism are extremely rare.

3. The Germans do feel historical contrition. They continue to pay holocaust reparations. They took in a million Syrian refugees. They have opened their borders to Ukrainian refugees. Historical contrition is one reason why a hostile policy towards Russia was so unthinkable to them.

4. There have been *much* bloodier conflicts since WW2 that the international community did *much* less about. In many cases the international community supplied weapons to people committing war crimes. In a couple of them, the international community was doing most of the killing (Vietnam/Iraq).

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It's not that easy 'to bring the war to a decisive end'. Getting NATO directly involved would probably do it, but with extremely unpredictable and very unpleasant tail risks. You also can't just dump complicated NATO weapon systems on Ukraine and expect them to rapidly learn to use them. And you also don't want Russia to get hold of a modern NATO tank, for example. Right now, the job is finding all the stuff Ukraine needs and can deploy right now.

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I am horrified by what Russia is doing and applaud our sanctions thus far as well as the materiel support that has helped Ukraine stop Russia in its tracks. More of that would be welcome!

And while I dislike "whataboutism" arguments, it still pains me to note that our horror at what Russia is doing is not matched by our reaction to what happened in the Second Congo War (1998-2003) in which an estimated 5.4 million people died. Not matched by a factor of a million to one in terms of public attention, I'd say.

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The Congolese should have gotten a Tik Tok account.

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deletedApr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022
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That's completely backwards. If my future child is a bully in school, and I teach him to stop, I will advocate that he stand up to the other bullies in the future, not stand there on the sidelines reading a book.

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

The atrocities of WWII taught the heavy price of standing aside and not intervening. Moreover, they *are* intervening, by funding the Russian war machine. Nobody is calling for NATO troops on the ground right now, merely asking dear Western Europe, led by Germany, to stop funding Putin’s war-crime machine by hundreds of millions of Euros daily! It’s Germany’s selfish and short-sighted energy policies and unilateral disarmament in the past decade that are a major factor that got us into this mess, and it’s their money that funds Putin’s crimes. As usual, others pay the price for their disgusting behavior. Ukrainians are being raped and murdered and Germany is not even willing to take a moderate hit to their pocket.

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

This is just false. Germany has taken a hit to their pocket. Germany was a huge exporter to Russia. That's almost all stopped. 40% of German imports from Russia weren't energy. That's also largely stopped.

Your comments on WW2 are equally inaccurate. At the end of WW2 a force not much less evil than Nazi Germany (Stalinist USSR) was occupying half a dozen European countries and the Allies chose to do nothing about it. Allied troops forced liberated POWs from Communist countries onto trains heading east.

Life is not a morality tale.

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"Allies chose to do nothing about it."

What should we have done?

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

I'm not saying they *should* have done anything. But they *could* have done a lot. There was a very powerful Allied force in Europe.

The Allies kept supplying the Soviets way past VE D-Day; and territorially, Eisenhower ordered American forces in Germany to stop advancing, to reduce the risk of conflict with the Soviets. Had they chosen a different policy, they would have been in an even stronger position to taken on the Soviets.

The point is, even during WW2, the most moral of wars, compromises were being made left and right. There's just no avoiding it.

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Fighting the Soviet army would have been ill-advised. Not just because they were massive (they had just destroyed the Wehrmacht!) but because our first step after V-E day was to pull forces out of Europe to get ready to invade the Japanese homeland.

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'Nobody is calling for NATO troops on the ground right now'

Haven't seen too may demanding that, definitely seen more demanding a no-fly zone though.

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

The "pretext" point is also historically inaccurate. I'll be amazed if you are able to provide ex-ante justifications of either invasion on the grounds you cite. I'll grant that Imperial Germany did make a pretence of liberating countries during its peace with Russia. Nazi Germany most certainly did not.

Nazi Germany and its allies killed 30 million people in their invasion of Eastern Europe. How they justified it is of pretty marginal importance to the scale of the abomination.

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

I bought into Mancur OIson when I was a libertarian but, over time, I've come to see him as... premature? I'm not really sure what the word should be.

I think Olson, et al underestimate the wisdom of a small-c conservative approach and see an inability to chase every new policy fad as evidence of sclerosis. Decision-making is often seen as purely crisis-driven, at best, and "unresponsive". But what I've concluded over time is that:

1. The marginal value of any of these changes is often much smaller than their proponents (and opponents) claim. For example, the US is largely incapable of getting its transit house in order. While true, doing so is almost meaningless: our house is sprawling Victorian manor where every function is carefully separated from every other, so the transit impact you see in places with dense clusters of people and services just doesn't exist here.

2. A lot of proposals are actually just chasing transient features of the economy or society. During the 1990s and again in the 2000s there were a number of proposals to chase innovative ideas like government-backed investment accounts. Each of these proposals was undone by the bursting of a bubble.

3. Most proposals go nowhere because people aren't even known, not because a quagmire of veto points and interest lobbying has arisen. Nearly all the policy discussion is within elite circles and never really leaves it. At best, it will penetrate down to blog-reading sub-elites like me. (And I, at least, am not a political actor but some jackass trying to look smart at parties.) Maybe 1% of the population is aware enough of the discussion to recall it without prompting.

4. Even when known, no one is being persuaded. Very little work ever goes into persuasion at all and my only real theory about this is that the persuasion happened among the original discussants, who now assume it's as well-known outside as within their subculture of political junkies.

So nothing gets done because there's no real reason for it to rather than because a dense web of decision-making procedures impedes progress. Either the policy is not important enough for anyone to push, it really shouldn't be in the first place, or it simply lacks the kinds of penetration into the public that set politics into action long term.

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This is a fine piece, and I agree with it.

However, how can America have a reasonable political discussion where the biggest thing is the ridiculous "Groomers" slur in our discourse?

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By having it. No sense in waiting for the loons to became less loony.

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Would it be fair to say that the latest iteration of Olson's "distributional coalitions" dynamic is the prevalence of the "equity lens" in all public policy discussions? Not that equity doesn't deserve attention, but... I spent decades is the union movement, so I know how righteous one can feel in fighting for "shares." But I also know the limitations of that quest, when one's single lens diverts attention to the need for greater purpose, more "moon shot" projects, more scientific discoveries and innovation, more growth --- and, to Matt's harping on this theme, more immigration, more workers, more jobs.

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Just a little deeper dive into the natural gas graph. The "industry feedstock" part (about 1/3) is essentially fertilizers. That's where the cheapest ones come from. Nuclear, solar and wind won't replace that. Right now farmers are scrambling to find other sources, like natural manures, but that will take time. Unlike driving your car fewer miles or turning down the thermostat a notch to stretch other energy sources to go farther, such actions won't help 8 billion people who need to eat today. So, while farmers are already seeing increased fertilizer costs over last year in the 200-300% range, and while we in the US and Europe won't see retail food prices go up that much (because the farm price is a small portion of our value-added retail price), folks in developing countries who rely on basics (as well as Ukrainian wheat to help keep all wheat prices lower) will face real costs. This is a bigger deal than many realize and not easily solvable without immediate replacements for natural gas. So, just a little aside to point out it isn't just about finding other energy substitutes for heating German homes.

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Apr 7, 2022·edited Apr 7, 2022

Matt compares Ukraine to Afghanistan, but I think a better comparison would be with Croatia in the early 90s. As far as I understand, Croatia began its war in 1991 against a well-equipped state army (JNA) and associated militias. Croatia's own military did not really exist at the time--they resorted to making armored vehicles out of metal pipes and dropping bombs out the doors of old biplanes. Nevertheless, the JNA (which I think was having its own problems by then) was unwilling or unable to completely destroy the Croatian force. The war settled into a trench phase by late 1991, and a ceasefire began in early 1992 which lasted for several years. During this time the Croatian military reformed itself with help from an American firm. In 1995 the Croats launched a massive attack against Serbian militias in the Krajina, which was so successful that some people think that NATO planned it for them.

The Croatian case seems to be quite similar to the Ukrainian one. The two countries both had an established (if slightly corrupt) state administration and a homogeneous population with a common enemy. They therefore didn't have to worry about organizing tax collection, conscription or police at the same time as fighting a war, and didn't have to worry about defections from the military. It was probably also helpful that the two countries each had a low-intensity trench war occupying a small, defined part of their respective territories. They could rotate units through that area to give them combat experience, without worrying about the war spilling out and disrupting government or economic activity in other regions.

So I don't think it's the case that the defeat of the Afghan government was due entirely to poor decisions by it and by its allies, or to the lack of foreign assistance. I imagine that "former communist government suffers near-death experience, fights trench war for a few years and develops surprisingly effective military" may actually be a pretty common outcome.

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Afghanistan did successfully kick out the invader (the US) by creating multipolar compromises with the Taliban involving hundreds of factions. It was an example of unification to defeat an outside force.

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