One of the puzzles from the Great War is how the leaders on both sides allowed themselves to get drawn into the war. There are plenty of reasons why each country would want war, including the infamous one that caused a certain Austrian fellow to coin the term “the big lie.” The problem with all of the reasons is they made little sense in light of the obvious costs of war. As a result, the Great War is a great example of how events can tale on a life of their own.
The remarkable thing about that war is that once it settled into trench warfare no one realized the hopelessness of it. One can understand how the initial events would spiral into a global conflict. That is not a new phenomenon. Similarly, you can see how the initial moves in the war made a lot of sense to the leaders on both sides. This was the first industrial war, so they had a lot to learn. New weapons needed new tactics but few people realized that at the start of the war.
The great puzzle of the war is that the sides did not see the hopelessness of the situation once in settled into a stalemate. Both sides were losing tens of thousands of men with each attack, only to gain a few yards of ground. The Battle of the Marne and the subsequent race to the sea made sense. The losses were high, but both sides had hope for quick victory. Two years later the French and Germans lost over a million men at Verdun and the winner got nothing for their trouble.
A century on and we are getting some fresh insight into why the Western leaders in the Great War were incapable of seeing things clearly. The war in Ukraine is proving to be nothing like Western planners imagined. They assumed the Ukrainians would stall the Russians into a stalemate of urban warfare. The world would rally to the sanctions regime and it would quickly be a question of how long the Russians could suffer the economic consequences of the sanctions.
After just one month it is clear this is not happening. The Russians did not fight like the NATO planners imagined. Instead of rushing to Kiev, they pinned the Ukrainian army in the north, using classic maneuver tactics. Meanwhile their main army is systematically destroying the Ukrainian army in the south and east. It also appears the Russians were well prepared for the Ukrainian tactic of digging into urban areas. It is now just a matter of time before the Ukrainian army in the east is lost.
That is just one miscalculation by the West, but it should be concerning. The Russians are not doing anything novel in Ukraine. They are using classic tactics that have been used in Europe since Napoleon. Further, they are following a doctrine they evolved in the Second Chechen war. That was a doctrine Vladimir Putin created as the guy running that war for Russia. It seems that no one in the west bothered to study the man they claim is the new Hitler.
That is only one small part of the miscalculation. The decision to cutoff the Russian central bank appears to have been a massive blunder. The Russians, faced with the threat of their dollar and Euro assets being seized by Western banks have told the West they must pay for goods in rubles. Otherwise, they are forced to send product to the West but not be paid for it. Alternatively, they would have to make concessions in order to get their assets unfrozen by the West.
Why anyone in the West thought this was a good idea is a mystery. It turns out that the Biden administration did not consult with the Federal Reserve. Europe appears to have just followed along without questioning the policy. Now that Russia has countered their move, Europe is in a terrible position. They either support the ruble with massive purchases or they face an imminent shortage of natural gas. That means rationing of energy products could happen as soon as next month.
Of course, the words “shortage” and “rationing” will trigger the natural response, which is hording and price gouging. That will also mean a political response. The German political elite appear to be embracing their inner Marie Antoinette by telling the Germans to wear a sweater as they shiver in the dark. Presumably, they will tell the people to eat bugs when the food shortages hit this summer. Maybe German TV will start celebrating the Turnip Winter as a way to motivate the public.
In fairness, we have to no idea how the Russians and Chinese are viewing this thing as Western media refuses to cover that aspect. We should assume the lack of food riots and social unrest in Russia means they are not teetering on collapse. This was the prediction at the start of this war. The best and brightest in the American managerial elite predicted the Russians would have collapsed by now. They also assumed China would be wavering in their support at this stage.
The point is, we are seeing in real time how supposedly clever political leaders can stagger from one blunder to the next. Unlike the Great War, this war has one side that seems to have updated its thinking since the last century. The Russians are planning for tomorrow, while the West is planning for 1985. The Biden people actually thought his speech in Poland would be his Brandenburg Gate moment. That is the most terrifying event of this crisis so far.
There we see the best parallel to the Great War. The men moving pieces on the board were men of a prior age. They were trying to fight the old wars. Similarly, the political leaders were operating in a 19th century mindset. The trouble was they were armed with 20th century weaponry. Today, the West is led by 20th century men desperate to maintain 20th century arrangements. Their opponent is not Russian, China or the new world order, but the passage of time.
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