The Ukraine, Taiwan and the East-West Confrontation

The Wall Street Journal recently had two articles which peaked my interest in writing about the connection between the war in Ukraine and the shift in centers  of  world power…at  least the impression  of it happening. Insofar as the Middle East is concerned they are increasingly putting their money for security on a China-Russian power bloc at the expense of the Western Powers. The long standing weakness of Western Europe in military power has been extant since WWII, but that was redressed by American military prowess. But the  idea of omnipotent and omnipresent American military power providing a security umbrella for those who chose to ally with it, has been severely eroded by two lost wars, the grinding and unsuccessful counterinsurgency in Iraq, and the debacle in Afghanistan.  Perhaps even more importantly the demonstrable weakness and incompetence of current American political and military leadership is palpably obvious to any one who cares to look beyond White House press releases. As has become obvious, Middle Eastern rulers have no confidence whatsoever in American security guarantees. American implied threats and or promises are simply brushed aside, and that includes Israel, which increasingly is going its own way. The Chinese leadership sees the United States as a power in rapid decline and their attitude is shared by what use to b e called the  the Third World, developing countries, emergent nations, etc. Many of them were former colonies or long dependent on  Western largesse, which they accepted with ill-concealed ingratitude and contempt. This is the crux of the East-West divide and the Ukrainian war has defined it as the epitome of  the perennial East-West struggle.

 

In the WSJ an article on the progress of the Ukrainian offensive ( Saturday 17-18 June 2023)  admits the going for the Ukrainians is “hard.” For the WSJ, like almost all big dailies in the US, has been panglossian over the Ukrainian prospects in the war. Certainly  The gallant Ukrainian soldiers  deserve the kudos they get, but in a strategic sense the Ukrainians stated goal of  restoring pre-2014 borders, especially Crimea, is not feasible. Reading the well- researched book by Walter Dunn, Stalin’s Keys to Victory was very informative. Stalin lost two complete armies against the Germans in WWII, but he was able to put out a third army which was well trained, armed and led, eventually overwhelming the  German army, without doubt the most effective  fighting machine of the 20th century, possible of all times.  The optimist will say– quite rightly—- The Russians of today are not the Russians of WWII,  but neither are the Germans, British and Americans, being eaten from within by marxist, and inchoate “woke” ideologies.   The Russians  still have the centralized control and a strongman in charge using omnipresent propaganda of “mother Russia” reclaiming their historic heartland  which works well with the  susceptible Russian people.

The  despotic and  authoritarian leadership of the third world, intuitively alert to changes in wind direction,  sense the way the war in the Ukraine is going and they see it not as a resolute united  Western  alliance  against Russia but as a epic battle of the East against Western arrogance and hubris.  Yaroslav Trofimov, a top notch journalist, wrote in the WSJ noted above, that ….”Western strategists hope that Russia’s failure and the strong response  from the West will give Beijing second thoughts about tracking Taiwan.”  But as he wrote The Chinese leaders see the Taiwan issue in a different light that the Ukraine issue. But missing from Trofimov’s article is my assessment that the Chinese along with most of the “East” do not see the Western support of Ukraine as particularly resolute and they do share the Western confidence ( perhaps contrived) in a Ukrainian victory.

The point- to reiterate -is that Russia has been able to exploit ( or invent) the East-West age old conflict to depict  the Ukrainian struggle as  the embodiment of this struggle.

How the Russians view the West I wrote as part of my presentation at the 2022 ASMEA  conference, detailing  the Russian military failure in the Middle East and how it has affected their military effectiveness in Ukraine.  it is at https://www.academia.edu/95183895/The_Russian_Tar_Baby_in_the_Greater_Middle_East.

A portion continues below;

The conventional view sees the Russian   interests centering on Europe, but the intensity of the Russian interest in the Greater Middle East has been surfaced more recently by historians using new information. They have concluded that the Soviets were willing to risk nuclear war to support Egypt in their war against Israel.  In fact, the great Russian thinkers have always evidenced a fascination with the Islamic world from Tolstoy to the present. The entire paper is at

One factor usually missed in assessing the Russian interest in the Middle East are the congruities in Russian and Middle eastern culture. The one that stands out is the historical animosity and /or indifference to the West. Bernard Lewis in the Crisis of Islam captured the Middle Eastern ignorance of the West, by an indifferent Islamic civilization, and Isaiah Berlin described  the  Russian xenophobia, writing, “with the possible exception of Turgenev, there is no great Russian writer, who did not suffer from Xenophobia, amounting at times to acute hatred of the West.”  Tolstoy believed the West was in rapid decline and rotting.  Pushkin , the father of the Russian soul   was adamantly anti -Western in his writings. I believe this factor played out in the general reluctance of Islamic Middle Eastern nations  to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.  As always, The secular West’s ignorance of the power of religion and culture in world events is intrinsic to many our miscalculations.

In the paper I identify a number of other cultural congruities, particularly fatalism, that affect, or in fact afflict, both Russian and Arab militaries,  such as the absence of a professional Non Commissioned officer corps, and a mediocre junior officer corps. Like the Middle Eastern armies, The Russian senior officers are largely politically vetted for regime loyalty with widely varying degrees of competence. Both Middle Eastern and Russian armies are guardians of the regime but at the same time pose a  threat.  This requires top heavy centralized command  resulting in a loss of individual initiative at division or corps training levels.

Russians in Afghanistan

Stalin lost two armies to the Germans as in the early stages of Ukraine due to incompetence of his leadership, but the third one drove the Germans out and reached Berlin

The West and the American people need to know…what next? To what degree is the West willing to support Ukraine? When one reads of the thousands of tanks involved in the Eastern Ukrainian front in WWII, the paltry numbers being given to the Ukrainians and then ballyhooed by the press as a decisive event would be laughable if not so tragic. More importantly we must look more closely at the human element. How long  can the Ukrainians continue to maintain their ardor and effectiveness  with the losses they are sustaining? What next for the Western powers? When the numbers of troops available to fight  begin to be the main factor what is the next step for the West–direct involvement? The East , Third world etc. does not think so and they are betting on Russia . In the Middle East the Islamist radical clerics have long harangued their followers describing  the Western civilization as effete and cowardly. They may be proven correct unless there is some sort of moral rearmament in the West to protect and courageously defend its civilization.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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