‘Drinking The Kool-Aid’ On The War In Ukraine

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via Moon of Alabama

In Summer 2004 Col. (ret.) Patrick Lang published Drinking the Kool-Aid which described the way in which group think had led to the war on Iraq. The idiom itself has a sinister background:

[Jim Jones, a self-styled “messiah” from the United States] called together his followers in the town square and explained the situation to them. There were a few survivors, who all said afterward that within the context of the “group-think” prevailing in the village, it sounded quite reasonable. Jim Jones then invited all present to drink from vats of Kool-Aid containing lethal doses of poison. Nearly all did so, without physical coercion. Parents gave their children the poison and then drank it themselves. Finally Jones drank. Many hundreds died with him.

Many have never heard of that story or have forgotten it. The idiom’s meaning had changed:

What does drinking the Kool-Aid mean today? It signifies that the person in question has given up personal integrity and has succumbed to the prevailing group-think that typifies policymaking today. This person has become “part of the problem, not part of the solution.”What was the “problem”? The sincerely held beliefs of a small group of people who think they are the “bearers” of a uniquely correct view of the world, sought to dominate the foreign policy of the United States in the Bush 43 administration, and succeeded in doing so through a practice of excluding all who disagreed with them. Those they could not drive from government they bullied and undermined until they, too, had drunk from the vat.

With regards to the war in Ukraine Pat himself has sipped the Kool-Aid. It has clearly clouded his judgment.

In a recent comment at his blog, Pat writes:

ChubaI never let patriotism or any other sentiment cloud my analysis. Russia is past the “culminating point” of its offensive and is subject to a sudden reversal of fortune.

The ‘culminating point’ is a term of art described in the book “On War” by Carl von Clausewitz. Born in 1780 Clausewitz served in Prussian army. He later joint the imperial Russian army in its war against Napoleon before returning as chief of staff to the Prussian military:

Clausewitz was a professional combat soldier who was involved in numerous military campaigns, but he is famous primarily as a military theorist interested in the examination of war, utilising the campaigns of Frederick the Great and Napoleon as frames of reference for his work.

Even today “On War” is still a must-read for any military officer.

The culminating point is discussed in Book VII ‘The Attack’, Chapter V ‘Culminating Point of the Attack‘:

The success of the attack is the result of a present superiority of force, it being understood that the moral as well as physical forces are included. In the preceding chapter we have shown that the power of the attack gradually exhausts itself; possibly at the same time the superiority may increase, but in most cases it diminishes. The assailant buys up prospective advantages which are to be turned to account hereafter in negotiations for peace; but, in the meantime, he has to pay down on the spot for them a certain amount of his military force. If a preponderance on the side of the attack, although thus daily diminishing, is still maintained until peace is concluded, the object is attained. There are strategic attacks which have led to an immediate peace but such instances are rare; the majority, on the contrary, lead only to a point at which the forces remaining are just sufficient to maintain a defensive, and to wait for peace. Beyond that point the scale turns, there is a reaction; the violence of such a reaction is commonly much greater than the force of the blow. This we call the culminating point of the attack.

The attacker, in Clausewitz’s description, has a moral and physical force advantage at the start of the battle. But as it attacks it usually also has the disadvantage of taking more losses than the defending side. (One rule of thumb is that the attacker needs a power ratio of 3 to 1 over the defender to win a battle.) Taking more losses than the defending side means that the relative advantage of the attacker diminishes over time.

As the battle (or war) proceeds the actual power ration shrinks from 3 to 1 to 2 to 1 and then to 1 to 1 or even lower. There comes a point where the attacker is down to the minimum force needed to keep the other side away. Beyond that is the culminating point of the attack. If the battle or war does not end before that point is reached it will likely end in the defeat of the attacker.

Pat Lang claims that Russia has reached the culminating point and has thus exhausted it forces to the point where it has no longer advantages and is now likely to see a reversal of its fortune. But that presumes that we are seeing a typical war like those Clausewitz took part in or Napoleon’s or Hitler’s marches towards Moscow, the first of which, depicted below by Charles Minard, Clausewitz certainly had in mind.

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Napoleon’s grande armée indeed suffered attrition, from 450,000 down to 10,000 men, that exceeded the culminating point.

But the war in Ukraine is a ‘special military operation’ and very untypical for several reasons.

Russia attacked with a force that was smaller than the Ukrainian forces. Over all roughly 120 Battalion Tactical Groups (BTG) from Russia with 1,000 men each plus some 50,000 soldiers from the Luhansk and Donetzk republics took part in the war. At the begin of the war the Ukrainian forces had 250,000 soldiers and they have since mobilized several hundred thousand more.

Russia uses far more sophisticated weapons than the Ukrainian side. These are long range weapon and cruise missiles that hit supplies and incoming troops in the rear of the frontline as well as strategic targets. It has an excellent and nearly impenetrable air defense and electronic war fare capabilities that a high ranking U.S. officer described as ‘eye watering’. Russia has a huge advantage in artillery capabilities and a sufficient amounts of ammunition to sustain a high rate of fire over years. It can also outproduce the ‘west’ with regards to new weapons and supplies.

All this has led to the very unusual effect that the Russian advantage on the battlefield has increased over time. It may have been 1 to 1 at the beginning of the battle but it has since increased to about 2 to 1 or even higher.

In his latest briefing (vid) the head of the Austrian military academy Colonel Reisner shows how the ratio of forces has changed over time. At 7:10 min in he shows this chart.

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He explains that at the beginning of the battle for Donbas in April the force ratio was 93 Russian BTGs against 81 Ukrainian BTG equivalents. On June 26 the ratio of forces was 108 Russian BTGs versus 60 Ukrainian battalion equivalents. Russia had increased the size of its engaged forces while the Ukrainian side had lost 25% of its capabilities. So according to the Austrian military the force ratio at the start of the ‘special military operation’ was 1.15 to 1 and on June 26 it was at 1.8 to 1.

What we are seeing is the opposite of the decrease of the ratio of forces that Clausewitz described as the path to the culminating point.

A recent talk by a high ranking Ukrainian general confirms the high rate of attrition of the Ukrainian army. He says that ‘western’ weapon deliveries only cover 10 to 15% of the Ukrainian losses. In fact the ‘west’ can no longer produce enoughnew weapons and ammunition to cover those losses.

In Foreign Affairs Prof. Barry Posen writes about Ukraine’s Implausible Theories of Victory:

Ukraine’s backers have proposed two pathways to victory. The first leads through Ukraine. With help from the West, the argument runs, Ukraine can defeat Russia on the battlefield, either depleting its forces through attrition or shrewdly outmaneuvering it. The second path runs through Moscow. With some combination of battlefield gains and economic pressure, the West can convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war—or convince someone in his circle to forcibly replace him.But both theories of victory rest on shaky foundations. In Ukraine, the Russian army is likely strong enough to defend most of its gains. In Russia, the economy is autonomous enough and Putin’s grip tight enough that the president cannot be coerced into giving up those gains, either.

Ukraine’s leaders and its backers speak as if victory is just around the corner. Butthat view increasingly appears to be a fantasy. Ukraine and the West should therefore reconsider their ambitions and shift from a strategy of winning the war toward a more realistic approach: finding a diplomatic compromise that ends the fighting.

Lt.Col. (ret) Daniel Davis agrees with Posen:

In short, there is no valid military path through which Ukraine can hope that trading space for time will result in stopping Russia’s methodical progress through Ukraine – much less reverse it. To continue contesting every town and city is to ensure the Ukrainian casualties continue to mount and its urban areas destroyed. In the end, Russia is still likely to achieve a tactical victory.

It is necessary, in light of these physical realities, for U.S. and Western policies to change. Continuing to give verbal support to Ukraine and claiming that eventually, Kyiv’s side will win the war is not likely to change the outcome and is likely to result in a policy failure for Washington.

Prof. Posen criticizes the false numbers that various organizations put out to show high losses of Russian forces:

Early on during the war, boosters of Ukraine argued that Russia could be defeated through attrition. Simple math seemed to tell the story of a Russian army on the verge of collapse. In April, the British defense ministry estimated that 15,000 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine. Assuming that the number of wounded was three times as high, which was the average experience during World War II, that would imply that roughly 60,000 Russians had been knocked out of commission. Initial Western estimates put the size of the frontline Russian force in Ukraine at 120 battalion tactical groups, which would total at most 120,000 people. If these casualty estimates were correct, the strength of most Russian combat units would have fallen below 50 percent, a figure that experts suggest renders a combat unit at least temporarily ineffective.These early estimates now look overly optimistic. If they were accurate, the Russian army ought to have collapsed by now. Instead, it has managed slow but steady gains in the Donbas.

The numbers and other claims that the British defense ministry puts out get repeated in the U.S. by the neo-conservative Institute for the Study of War. Nearly every U.S. media quotes one of those two sources.

They are serving the Kool-Aid Pat Lang, TTG and other around them have been drinking since the beginning of Russian operation.

They also presume that Russia could not intensify the war. The president of Russia disagrees with them:

Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. Well, what can I say? Let them try. We have already heard a lot about the West wanting to fight us ”to the last Ukrainian.“ This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, but that seems to be where it is going. But everyone should know that, by and large, we have not started anything in earnest yet.At the same time, we are not rejecting peace talks, but those who are rejecting them should know that the longer it goes on, the harder it will be for them to negotiate with us.

True to form the British defense ministry used that to serve more Kool-Aid:

“Despite President Putin’s claim on 7 July 2022 that the Russian military has ‘not even started’ its efforts in Ukraine, many of its reinforcements are ad hoc groupings, deploying with obsolete or inappropriate equipment,” an assessment from Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.One sign the defense ministry pointed to was its expectation that fresh Russian troops would be deployed with MT-LB armored vehicles. The MT-LB, first designed in the 1950s to pull artillery, is not heavily armored and can mount only a machine gun to protect its forces.

I bet that we will not see any MT-LB at the front line. I doubt that we will see any at all. Russia still has thousands of tanks, real ones, that it can send should there be any need for them.

All the Kool-Aid drinkers also forget that this war is about much more than this or that town in Ukraine or even Ukraine itself.

As Putin said:

But here is what I would you like to make clear. They should have realised that they would lose from the very beginning of our special military operation, because this operation also means the beginning of a radical breakdown of the US-style world order. This is the beginning of the transition from liberal-globalist American egocentrism to a truly multipolar world based not on self-serving rules made up by someone for their own needs, behind which there is nothing but striving for hegemony, not on hypocritical double standards, but on international law and the genuine sovereignty of nations and civilisations, on their will to live their historical destiny, with their own values and traditions, and to align cooperation on the basis of democracy, justice and equality.Everyone should understand that this process cannot be stopped. The course of history is inexorable, and the collective West’s attempts to impose its new world order on the rest of the world are doomed.

No Kool-Aid served in Washington or London will change that. It is thus better to stay away from it.

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