Military Intelligence Book

My latest book – a study of military intelligence – is now out!

Co-edited with Ruslan Pukhov, the book is published in Russian by the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) in Moscow. It consists of an introduction written by me, which quickly surveys the world of military intelligence and the main issues connected to it, and then about a dozen chapters by different authors which look at the military intelligence systems and capabilities of various countries, such as China, South Korea, Japan, France, Germany, and the UK.

If you read Russian, you can find details here, including how to buy it (there is a 2 for 1 offer running until 16 August!). The newspaper Kommersant has published a review of the book, which you can read here.

On the Failings of Political Philosophy

I an article today for RT (that you can read here), I discuss Joe Biden’s claim that the leaders of China and Russia, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, are “banking” on autocracy triumphing over autocracy. I point out several flaws in the argument:

1. China and Russia have very different political systems – you can’t lump them together like that, let alone divide the world neatly into two categories: democracy and autocracy.

2. One can rightly criticize Putin for non-democratic practices, but he has never said a word against democracy in principle, let alone proposed some alternative to it. He has also never sought to contrast democracy and autocracy on the international stage.

3. And this is where we get the crux of the matter as far as this post is concerned: democracy and autocracy are different categories. Democracy is about how power is distributed, autocracy is about where it is distributed. Autocracy just means rule by one person. One can have a democratic autocracy, a liberal autocracy, a limited autocracy, etc. In fact, Russia’s current autocracy, if you can call it that, was created in 1993 by liberal democrats who wanted to concentrate power in the hands of Boris Yeltsin. So, Biden is comparing things that aren’t properly comparable.

Which brings me on to the point of this post. The more I study political philosophy, first for my book on Russian conservatism, and now for my forthcoming book on Russia liberalism, the more I realize that the language of political philosophy isn’t up to task. As I say in my RT article, we bandy about words like “liberalism,” “conservatism,” and “fascism,” as if we know what they mean, but they are such loose categories as to be of decidedly limited value. Indeed, often they confuse far more than they enlighten.

Take liberalism. What counts for liberalism today is often the direct opposite of what counted for liberalism 150 years ago. But at the same time, the old definition still exists, meaning that you have “liberals” who are in direct contradiction to one another. Political philosophers try to get around this mess by looking for some “core” that unites all these different strands of liberalism, but not only is the core elusive but when somebody does claim to have found it, it’s easy enough to show that it’s hardly unique to liberalism. Liberty, equality, justice, whatever – all these alleged “cores” are just as much cores of socialism. Conservatives also often care for liberty and justice (equality less so). But just you try defining conservatism! It too is remarkably resistant to attempts to do so.

Political ideologies in other words are amorphous and often self-contradictory. They also often overlap. Fascism and liberalism – yup, you can find people combining elements of both. Conservatism and communism – why not? There are lots of conservative communists. And so on.

If the language of political ideologies doesn’t do a good job of describing reality, it’s especially problematic in the specific case of Russia. As I explain in my book, Russian conservatism is a philosophy of organic growth, which essentially means it favours development in a manner fitting Russia’s history and traditions. That in turn tends to mean rejecting the arbitrary implantation of Western models. Conservatism in a Russian context thus has a tight link to anti-Westernism (while not necessarily being anti-Western).

By contrast, Russian liberalism (like Russian socialism too) has tended towards a positivist view of historical development, which sees history as marching inexorably towards a single end – namely, Western liberalism. Thus what we call Russian liberalism is inherently Westernizing.

In short, liberalism v. conservatism probably isn’t the best way of describing the divide in Russian political thought. Organicism v. positivism, or anti-Westernism v. Westernism probably fit the bill better. Even these comparisons aren’t very adequate, as liberal positivism isn’t the same as communist positivism, and so on. But still, it seems that when we discuss Russian politics, we’re probably not using the right vocabulary.

These are just speculative musings. If I was to want to turn them into an academic piece, they would need a lot deeper analysis. But I throw them out there as a means of getting my own brain to work on the issue, as well as in the hope that somebody has some good input to add. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and say that terms like liberalism and conservatism are meaningless. They point to something we instinctively sense – that North Korea, say, is less free than Canada, or that some people resist change whereas others don’t. Nevertheless, I am increasingly of the view that the vocabulary at our disposal for describing for political ideas isn’t very good. Perhaps this is because we are stuck with a bunch of “-isms” from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which no longer reflect the modern world. Perhaps there’s some other reason. At any rate, political philosophers have some work to do.

Explaining the Latest Political Clamp-Down in Russia

In my latest piece for RT, which you can read here, I seek to explain the latest political clamp-down in Russia. This has seen a bunch of individuals and organizations labelled as ‘extremist’, ‘undesirable’, or ‘foreign agents’. I conclude that it has less to do with the authorities being afraid that the oppositionists in question pose a serious political, let alone electoral, threat, and more to do with the international situation. Specifically, it’s a product of the perception that those targeted for repression are working on behalf of foreign governments.

As I say, whether the Russian authorities are right to believe in the existence of a foreign ‘fifth column’ is not really the point. What matters is that the authorities believe that this fifth column exists. For what it’s worth, I think that they are wrong – Cold War 2.0 has bred a lot of paranoia both in Russia and the United States – but that’s what they believe.

Anyway, I look forward to your comments, which will doubtless be more intelligent than most of those that normally appear on the RT website!

Crackpot Theory no. 12: Civilizations

In an article yesterday for RT, my Ottawa colleague Professor Piotr Dutkiewicz discussed the influence of Lev Gumilev on the thinking of Russian president Vladimir Putin, particularly in terms of the idea that the world is divided up into distinct ‘civilizations’. In this, Professor Dutkiewicz notes that,

‘The Russian leader believes that the long period of the last three centuries in which the West has been a dominant economic, cultural, and political force is not only ending but is being replaced by a new paradigm. This paradigm features the emergence of the civilizational model of international relations and regional dialogue, in which cultural/civilizational similarities and differences will possibly influence global patterns of collaboration, confrontation, and dependence.’

I’ve discussed Gumilev before in my Crackpot Theory series, both in relation to Eurasianism and the concept of ‘passionarity’, but today I want to move beyond him to this broader concept of civilizations, as it seems to me to be decidedly dodgy.

The idea that the world is made up of distinct civilizations dates back to at least the late nineteenth century and Nikolai Danilevsky’s book Russia and Europe. Danilevsky rejected the historical determinism of Western liberalism that saw the world as a whole as progressing towards a single end (normally defined in terms of Western liberalism, though communists gave it a different spin). Instead, he claimed that the world was divided up into distinct ‘cultural-historical types’ that progressed according their own particular dynamics. Variations on this idea were then developed by the likes of Konstantin Leontiev, Arnold Toynbee, and in more recent times Samuel Huntington.

The initial problem with the theory is that the very idea of a ‘civilization’ is extremely vague. Dutkiewicz comments that, ‘Civilization rests on its participants’ faith in joining a specific stream of history. While the final historical destination is unclear, an embedded sense of belonging forms the base upon which members of a civilization ground their sense of purpose.’ One might ask what then distinguishes a civilization from a nation, given that nations are also founded on a ‘sense of belonging’. The answer might be that civilizations are not individual nations, but groups of them. But to what extent can it truly be said that groups of nations anywhere share an ’embedded sense of belonging’ and ‘sense of purpose’? At times, they may come together in alliances for specific reasons, but beyond that ‘civilizations’ as such are rather intangible and hard to identify.

To a certain extent, I think, this idea is one that is transposed from the West to the rest of the world. There is some sort of sense of ‘the West’ as a collective whole, founded on a common Graeco-Roman and Christian heritage, and nowadays bound by commonly accepted liberal values which provide a sense of universalizing historical mission. But it’s hard to see how this model applies elsewhere. Take a look at the civilizations identified by Huntington – these include such amorphous ‘civilizations’ as ‘Orthodoxy’ (many of whose members are now part of the ‘the West’), and ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’ and ‘Latin America’ (are these really areas with an ’embedded sense of belonging and obvious sense of common destiny?). Huntington’s ‘Muslim World’ is not a unified whole, and others of his ‘civilizations’ are actually single states – China, India, and Japan.

In short, civilizations are not just hard to define, they’re even hard to locate.

They are also decidedly fungible – states move in and out of them. Britain was part of the EU; now it’s not. Do Brits really feel ‘European’? Clearly, a lot of them don’t. Can you lump Ukraine in with Russia as part of ‘Orthodox’ civilization, when it’s obvious that a large part of the Ukrainian population has decided to throw in its lot with Western Europe? And in any case, is Russia really that different from the West? It seems to me that whatever the differences, they are less than they were 40 years ago when I first visited Russia. Back then, in Soviet times, it was a far more alien place than it is now.

Yes, there are differences between Russia and Western states, but there are huge differences between Western states themselves. There are large cultural divides even between states as close as Canada and the USA – not to mention, of course, the cultural divides within Western states, especially contemporary America.

This brings us on to another problem: ‘civilizations’ are not constant. What counts for Western civilization today isn’t what counted for Western civilization 100 years ago, let alone 200 or 1,000 years ago. When something changes that much, does it make sense to consider it a single thing?

Beyond that, when I listen to Russians trying to explain why they are a distinct ‘civilization’, most of what they say isn’t distinctively Russian at all. For instance, they say things like ‘Russia has a more collective culture than the individualistic West, exemplified in its attitude to social welfare.’ Yet not only is this disputable in and of itself (some commentators consider Russian culture to be highly individualistic), but collectivism, social welfare etc, are visible in many Western states – e.g. Canada where I live.

Or take another so-called aspect of ‘Russian civilization’ people talk about – ‘family values’. Russia has a very high (though declining) abortion rate, lots of divorce, marital violence, etc etc – hardly proof of ‘family values’. As for Russians attitudes to LGBT issues, they are merely where the West was 20-30 years ago. That’s proof of a time-lag but not of a distinct ‘civilization’.

In other words, the idea that Russia and the West are distinct ‘civilizations’ doesn’t meld with reality.

Nor it is obviously the case that alleged civilizational distinctions determine geopolitics. Japan is part of the ‘the West’ in geopolitical terms, for instance. Many Asian, African, Middle East, and Latin Amerian states are also closely allied with the West. Meanwhile, as Chinese influence spreads, it will among states that have nothing to do with Chinese ‘civilization’ – e.g. in Africa. ‘Civilization’ per se isn’t, and wont’ be, the primary determinant in international affairs.

The Western liberal model of history sees everybody starting off in different places and then gradually converging, albeit retaining some national peculiarities. The civilizational model of history views things the opposite way – Danilevsky compared it to roads leading out of a common town square, i.e. diverging not converging. On the whole, despite its many imperfections, I think that the former model is rather closer to reality.

What we in the West get wrong is trying to force the pace of change on others, and also assuming that convergence means convergence towards the West, rather than mutual convergence. But despite those failings, I don’t buy into the civilization discourse. I see its popularity in Russia as being founded on its ability to excuse Russian divergence from some Western norms, as well as on its ability to justify Russian resistance to Western geopolitical pressure. But its utility as a political tool doesn’t make it right from a historical/philosophical point of view. Civilizational theory fits the political zeitgeist of Cold War 2.0, but to my mind competing national interests have far more to do with the current state of East-West relations than amorphous ideas of civilizational difference.

Latest RussiaGate Allegation

In an article today on the RT website (which you can read here), I discuss the latest Russiagate allegation coming out of the stable of Luke Harding and The Guardian. This takes the form of a claim that the Guardian has seen top secret Kremlin documents which detail a decision by the Russian National Security Council in 2016 to exert all efforts to ensure Donald Trump’s election as US president.

I assume Harding isn’t lying about seeing some documents. But are they real? Or are they forgeries? Without seeing them, without knowing a lot more about how the Guardian got them, and without a whole lot more additional information, we just can’t tell. How can one assess something one only knows about from somebody else? One can’t. But as I explain in my article, there are some reasons to doubt their veracity – not to 100% rule out the possibility that they’re real, that’s kind of hard when we know next to nothing about them – but certainly to treat the story with a large dose of salt.

What makes me take this stance is not just the source of the information – Harding is not no. 1 on my list of reliable journalists (see my review of his book Collusion for an explanation of why). Deeper than that, my issue is that the documents seems to me to be exactly what some Russiagate conspiracy theorist would come up with if s/he was to sitting in his/her basement trying to imagine what a Russian plot to steal the US election would look like. In that sense, they seem to be a reflection of anti-Trump American views of the world, rather than Russian ones. That doesn’t mean they’re fake, but it’s a reason not to take the Guardian’s claims at face value.

Let me explain.

First, as I say in my article, there’s no mention of Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton and her perceived hostility to Russia. Nor is there any discussion of Trump’s election promises to improve relations with the Russian Federation. This is odd. One would have thought that this would have been a prime motivation for any Russian conspiracy to elect Trump.

Instead, the supposed motivation for the Russian campaign of election ‘meddling’ is to ‘destabilize’ the US. As I see it, Russian leaders have never shown any particular interest in this. I’m not aware of anyone in authority ever even have expressed a preference for an unstable America. On the contrary, they tend to emphasize stability. So, the internal condition of the USA is not an obvious Russian concern.

But it is an American concern. Paranoia about internal instability became a big thing during Trump’s rule. But – and here’s another thing – it took a bit of time for that to happen. In other words, it was a big American concern, but not until a bit after the 2016 election. In that sense, the idea that the Kremlin was plotting in early 2016 to ‘destabilize’ the USA seems like a retroactive reflection of the later worries of American anti-Trumpers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Kremlin hierarchy wasn’t amazingly prescient, nor that it wasn’t saying one thing while secretly believing another. But it’s certainly a reason for a being a little bit suspicious.

Then, there’s a bit in the documents in which the Russians supposedly call Trump ‘mentally unstable’ and revel in the chaos that having such a lunatic in the White House will cause in America. Again, this strikes me as a particularly anti-Trump American take on things. Trump’s crazy – all anti-Trumpers know that. But would that have been how Russian officials in early 2016 looked at things? Well, maybe. One can’t rule it out. But I have to wonder.

And finally, there’s the implication in the documents that the entire Russiagate plot to ‘interfere’ in the US elections was a highly centralized, carefully coordinated campaign directed by Putin himself.

Yes, indeed, it is possible that such a thing was decided centrally and supervised from the very top. But the concept of Russia as an autocratic system in which Putin and his inner circle decide everything strikes me once again as fitting very neatly into Western conceptions of how Russia operates rather than what is necessarily the case.

I’m not going to say that the Guardian’s documents are fake. As I said, you can’t do that without much more information. But do I think that anybody can use them as proof of a Russian plot against American democracy? No, not without a whole lot more corroboration. Claim after claim about the alleged Trump-Russia relationship has been used to ‘prove’ that Russia got Trump elected and that Trump colluded with the Russians in the process, and claim after claim has been shown to be total bunk. In the circumstances, scepticism seems to me to be the only justified response.

Putin’s Futile Effort to Win Back Ukraine

Russian president Vladimir Putin clearly fancies himself as a bit of a historian. A while back he wrote a piece on the origins of the Second World War for the National Interest magazine, and now he’s penned (or at least he and his helpers have penned) a great long tome discussing the historical origins of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. The purpose of it all is to prove that Russia and Ukraine are truly one, and that their current division is the product of the malicious activities of outside powers – the Poles and Austrians in olden times, the West as a whole nowadays.

I discuss the piece in an article for RT that you can read here. In this I speculate that Putin is trying to appeal to ordinary Ukrainians over the head of their government. Millions of Ukrainians think positively of Russia, he says, but they are intimidated into silence by the despotic regime in Kiev, which is trying to turn the country into an ‘anti-Russia’. It seems that Putin believes that there are large numbers of Ukrainians who share his point of view, and that this is his attempt to speak directly to them in an effort to win Ukraine back for Russia.

Personally, I think it’s a giant waste of time.

Putin may be right that a large segment of the Ukrainian population doesn’t share the anti-Russian stance of its government. One suspects that if – God forbid – Russian tanks were ever to roll into Odessa, while some would fight them, some others would crawl out of the woodwork and declare that they always loved Russia all along. But the thing is that the opinion of the ordinary Joe (or Ivan, or whatever the Ukrainian equivalent is) isn’t that important.

Ordinary Joes don’t run any country anywhere. Political elites compete for their votes, but by and large they live in a different world, with a different frame of mind, shaped far more by what the educated classes think than by the average guy on the street.

At this point, I will admit that I’m not a Ukrainian expert, so I may be entirely wrong about this, but from a distance I get a very strong sense that the Ukrainian educated classes, and with them the political elite, have swallowed the Maidan ‘anti-Russia’ stance with a vengeance. Basically speaking, there are precious few people left who are willing or able to represent the ‘pro-Russia’ point of view.

This isn’t just because it’s been repressed, though it has been – as seen by the arrest of Mr Medvedchuk. It’s more that this representation doesn’t exist in any meaningful form. And without that representation, it doesn’t really matter how many ‘pro-Russian’ people are out there. Politically speaking, their prospects are zilch.

In other words, Ukraine is a lost cause from the Russian point of view. Its upper classes have made up their minds – at least for a generation (perhaps something will change when the promised integration into the West never happens, but even then one can’t be sure). Putin can appeal over the government’s head to the Ukrainian people as much as he likes, but I don’t see it changing a thing.

Russian Liberal Infighting Continues

In an article this weekend for RT (which you can read here), I discuss the latest bout of infighting among Russia’s small liberal opposition. In this instance, the Yabloko Party has refused to let associates of Alexei Navalny run as candidates for the party in forthcoming elections. In addition, party leader Grigory Yavlinsky declared that he didn’t even want Navalny supporters’ votes. “Whoever wants to vote for Navalny, don’t vote for us,”  he said. In my article, I discuss what might lie behind Yabloko’s anti Navalny stance.

Enjoy!

Low Oil Price – BAD for Russia. High Oil Price – Bad for Russia Too!

I’m sure that you remember how back in 2014 the oil price collapsed and pundits left, right, and centre lined up to tell us that Russia was doomed. The Russian economy was overdependent on hydrocarbons, they said. They constituted most of Russian exports and provided the Russian state with most of its funds. Before long, Russia would be bankrupt. The state would have to use up all its reserves. In two years, they’d be exhausted, and there would be nothing left to pay anybody. Social discontent would explode. Yada yada yada.

It was true in part: the collapse of the oil price caused a huge drop in the value of the ruble, creating inflationary pressures, to which the Russian central bank responded by shoving up interest rates, so dampening consumer demand, and causing a recession. The impact was indeed bad.

But it wasn’t nearly as bad as we were told to expect. Incomes stagnated, but unemployment stayed low. Inflation was kept under control. And the state budget hardly suffered at all – indeed, before long, state reserves were as full as ever. Russia learned to cope with lower oil prices, and until the covid pandemic came along and messed things up again, life seemed to be returning more or less to normal, even if not quite up to the boom times of the 2000s.

Like me, you may have noticed that filling up your car has become more expensive recently. The reason is simple. The price of oil has gone back up again, albeit not as far as before 2014. And guess what? Whereas once I read lots of articles telling me how low oil prices were bad for Russia, now I’m seeing articles telling me the opposite – high oil prices are bad for Russia.

Well, blow me down with a feather. Who’d have thunk it?

As a case in point, I draw your attention to a piece published this week on the website “Riddle” , a source of fairly consistent criticism of the condition of modern Russia. Written by the liberal Russian political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev, it bears the title ‘The Perfect Trap’, and it’s full of foreboding about the dangerous long term implications of high commodity prices.

The danger, says Inozemtsev, is that with high oil prices, the Russian state becomes flush with cash, at which point it starts spending with abandon. Everything seems hunky dory, and the state becomes complacent and doesn’t bother about reform. Oil money is like a ‘magic wand’ and, says Inozemtsev, “The return of high commodity prices for the third time since the 2000s and early 2010s may finally convince Russian ­leaders that this ‘magic wand’ works without fail.” Consequently, the state will commit itself to ever rising expenditures.

The problem, Inozemtsev argues, is that the high commodity prices can’t last. Modern economies are switching to low-energy production as well as to non-hydrocarbon sources of energy. Down the road, the bottom will fall out of the hydrocarbon market and the Russian state will be left with enormous financial commitments it can’t afford. At that point, Russia will suffer the fate of countries like Venezuela that have fallen into a similar trap – i.e. that spent like crazy when prices were high only to then suffer a calamitous collapse once the price went down.

To be frank, I’m not totally convinced about demand for hydrocarbons being in long-term decline. Maybe that’s the case in Western Europe, but that’s hardly representative of the world as a whole, where poorer nations are growing fast and with that developing a powerful appetite for more and more energy. Inozemtsev is a typical Russian liberal who views Western Europe as the model of the world’s future. But if so, it’s a future the rest of the world is far away from.

But putting that aside, there is actually something to this analysis. Excessive reliance on natural resource income comes with potential problems, such as the infamous ‘Dutch disease’, in which oil profits drive up the value of the national currency and thereby ruin the profitability of domestic industry by making their exports more expensive while also making imports cheaper. There is also a link between natural resources and ‘rentier states’ – such states are often corrupt and autocratic in nature and survive by buying off opposition, a system that works until the cash runs out, at which point everything falls apart. Venezuela is a case in point.

Furthermore, it’s also true that the money from natural resource rents removes incentives for structural change that might be costly in the short term but are of long term benefit. Bit by bit, the country relying on natural resources can end up becoming less and less efficient relative to other states.

So, maybe Inozemtsev is on to something. But then again, countries like Norway and Canada rely heavily on natural resource exploitation without falling into Inozemtsev’s ‘trap’. So it’s not inevitable. It’s all dependent on the policies that states pursue. Inozemtsev thinks that the Russian state will ‘spend, spend, spend’. He writes that, “Expenditures will continue­ to rise (it is important to note that, unlike revenues, expenditures have never declined in the last ­20 years) until it becomes clear that the main source of Russian wealth has dried up.” But Russian state expenditure as a percentage of GDP is a fairly modest 35%, and state debt is one of the very lowest in the world. The scenario Inozemtsev describes is possible, but not in line with current levels of spending.

Anyway, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted a bit too much by technicalities. Maybe Inozemtsev is right; maybe he isn’t. Only time will tell. The really interesting thing about the article isn’t that. What’s actually of note is the article’s very existence – i.e. the fact that as soon as the situation changed, punditry switched 180% from saying ‘low oil prices bad’ to saying ‘No! High oil prices bad!’

To my mind, it’s kind of telling. Whatever happens, Russia is doomed. Is it? I’m not so sure. How about middling oil prices, anyone?

Oh What a Lovely War!

Back in autumn 2006, I attended a conference at the Chateau Laurier here in Ottawa at which a Canadian general waxed lyrical about the just completed Operation Medusa in the Panjwai District of Afghanistan. The Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were the best the country had every produced; the Taliban had been utterly crushed; it was now just a matter of some final mopping up. Victory was ours!

It was a glorious display of triumphalism, echoed in just about every other talk at the conference. It was also completely unjustified. The Taliban were far from defeated, and the Canadian army had to go backwards and forwards in Panjwai for several more years (“mowing the grass” as they called it) before packing up and going home.

Now, the tables are turned, with news emerging from Afghanistan that Panjwai has fallen fully under Taliban control. It’s estimated that Canada spent $18 billion in Afghanistan. 159 Canadian soldiers lost their lives – many more were injured. After the country paid such a price, you might imagine that our press would be interested in the news that the Taleban have captured Panjwai. But not a bit of it. On the CBC website, there’s not a word. In Canada’s premier newspaper, The Globe and Mail, not a word. In my local rag, The Ottawa Citizen, not a word. It’s as if it all didn’t happen.

To my mind, this is deeply problematic. If we are to learn any lessons from the fiasco of the Afghan operation, we first have to admit that there’s a problem. Instead, we seem intent on forgetting.

The military campaign in Afghanistan was a mistake from the very start. It’s tempting to believe that we could have got a different result if we’d committed more resources or tried different tactics. But political limitations meant that more resources were not available. Afghanistan simply didn’t matter enough for the government to be able to persuade the public to commit significantly more to the conflict. As for tactics, different commanders tried a whole succession of different methods; none worked. Failure wasn’t a product of military incompetence. The war was fundamentally unwinnable.

Against this, some might argue that winning was never the point. Canada, like many other NATO members, wasn’t there to defeat the Taliban but to be good allies to the United States. But this isn’t a very effective argument. The only point of showing oneself to be a good ally is so that you get something back in return. But Canada – like, I suspect, other US allies – appears to have got diddly squat. For instance, helping the Americans in Afghanistan didn’t stop Trump from tearing up the NAFTA treaty or stop Biden kicking Canada in the teeth by cancelling the Keystone and Line 5 pipelines (both of great importance to the Canadian economy). Besides, if the point of fighting is to be an ally, you achieve your strategic goal just by turning up. Consequently, what you do thereafter doesn’t matter. Military operations thus get entirely detached from strategy. The result is inevitably a mess. In other words, it’s a poor strategic objective. It’s not one we should have set ourselves.

There is a simple lesson to draw from all this: we shouldn’t have sent our army to Afghanistan. It didn’t help Afghanistan, and it didn’t help us. Let’s not repeat the same mistake somewhere else in the future.

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