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Why Russia’s Military Got Ukraine So Wrong

September 13, 2022
Notes
Transcript

Eric and Eliot discuss what they have been writing lately (links below), the situation in Ukraine, the reasons for why Russia analysts got things wrong while military historians got them right, prospects for a renewed Iran nuclear agreement, and whether or not the the United States can handle two near peer adversaries at the same time.

Shield of the Republic is a Bulwark podcast co-sponsored by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Email us with your feedback at [email protected].com.

Links:

Eliot’s Rough Magic Lecture Series (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lfcEzFWztU)

First Makers of Modern Strategy (https://www.amazon.com/Makers-Modern-Strategy-Military-Machiavelli/dp/0691069077)

Second Makers of Modern Strategy (https://www.amazon.com/Makers-Modern-Strategy-Machiavelli-Nuclear/dp/0691027641/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2ALK0J51PARKY&keywords=paret+makers+of+modern+strategy&qid=1662946787&s=books&sprefix=paret+makers+of+modern+strategy%2Cstripbooks%2C58&sr=1-1&ufe=app_do%3Aamzn1.fos.006c50ae-5d4c-4777-9bc0-4513d670b6bc)

The New Makers of Modern Strategy (Including Eric’s Essay) (https://www.amazon.com/New-Makers-Modern-Strategy-Ancient/dp/0691204381/ref=asc_df_0691204381/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=598250015901&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=16909503583947157478&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9008163&hvtargid=pla-1720916906283&psc=1)

Eric’s Testimony on JCPOA (https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Edelman_08-04-15.pdf)

Shay Khatiri’s Article on Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program (https://www.thebulwark.com/irans-nuclear-sites-are-vulnerable-and-iran-cant-deter-an-attack-for-now/)

Eric, Eliot, and Ray Takeyh’s 2016 Essay on Iran (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iran/2015-12-14/time-get-tough-tehran)

Eliot’s “The Return of Statecraft” (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2022-04-19/return-statecraft)

Eric’s 2010 CSBA Paper on Primacy (https://csbaonline.org/research/publications/understanding-americas-contested-primacy)

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This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:07

    Welcome to Shield of the Republic, a podcast sponsored by The Work and the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, and dedicated to the proposition articulated by Walter Liptman during World War two, that a strong and balanced foreign policy is the shield of our Democratic Republic. I’m Eric Edelman. I’m counselor at the center for strategic and budgetary assessments. A nonresident fellow at the Miller Center and a Bulwark contributor. And I’m joined in this podcast by my colleague, Elliot Cohen, who’s the Arleigh Burke Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as well as the Oz Good Professor of Strategic Studies at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:47

    Elliott, great to see you this morning. Eric, it’s great to to see you as well. We we have a lot of stuff to talk about. We do. Although, I know you’ve been putting the finishing touches on your new book, rough magic, about Shakespeare and Political Power.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:03

    I’ve been reading the galleys, and it’s gonna be a great book. When is the publication date? Well, thank you.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:09

    So we’re gonna it’ll be within about a year. I’m actually just putting the final tweaks on the very final draft. I know that to the publisher by the end of September, beginning of October. And then, you know, I think it will depend a little bit on the vagaries of the market. It’ll be coming out with basic books.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:27

    So but I I appreciate the the praise and the commentary that made it better. I wanna congratulate you too. You’re gonna have a piece on nuclear strategy coming out in the makers of modern strategy. Third edition, edited by our colleague Halbrands, who’s a professor at Sis. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, that’s a veterable text.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:50

    I remember when I was a freshman reading the very first edition, which went back to nineteen forty three. There was a second edition, I believe, in the nineteen eighties, and this is gonna be the third updated version. And we’ve got a lot of other stuff to talk about Eric, but your chapter on nuclear strategy, I think, is gonna be particularly important. In fact, so important that on a future episode of Shield of the Republic, I think it’s time for us to talk about nukes. I’ll look forward to doing that with
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:21

    you. I mean, I wrote this essay with some trepidation. I mean, in the first addition of acres of modern strategy that which came out during World War two that you referenced, there, of course, was no chapter on nuclear strategy because there were no nuclear weapons. And in the nineteen eighties edition, you know, the chapter was written by our friend, Lawrence Friedman. So I, you know, I’m waiting into this contested area with with great trepidation, but
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:46

    I think you’ll hold
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:47

    your own. I’m I’m looking forward to to the book coming out and all the hate mail I’ll get from the arms control community, but never mind. You know, we’re we’re recording this in the, you know, sad aftermath of the news yesterday that Queen Elizabeth the second had passed at the age of ninety six as the United Kingdom’s longest raining monarch. Although, I don’t think she holds the world record for length of monarchical rains. I think she’s second to Louis the fourteenth, if I’m not mistaken.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:16

    But I think he had a sort of I think it’s like, you know, baseball with the asterisks on the homerun records because I think Louie was king at age five or something, which wouldn’t happen in the modern era. So I I think she probably, you know, deserves a lot of credit for the role she played in holding, you know, the United Kingdom together and providing a symbol of national unity for a nation that has gone through a very tough time after World War two and recovered, but still has lots of challenges. First, that’s that’s clearly the case. That, you know, if
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:54

    you if you look at what how Britain experienced its post Imperial Period. They got off a lot easier than a lot of other countries did, and I think that’s in part because of the strength of the continuity of the institutions, and she was a living symbol of that. But I think she was also there’s something more to that. I mean, you know, all the commentary talks about her her sense of duty right to the very end. I mean, she greeted her new Prime Minister, Liz Trust, just two days before she passed.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:22

    Her fifteenth Prime Minister. And yeah. I mean, her her two Prime Minister’s at either end, were born over a century apart. Right. Something to think about.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:32

    But but you know, I think even for those of us who are not, you know, part of the commonwealth, she represented a kind of commitment to public service and duty that’s truly extraordinary. And it’s only matched and so it mays by those popes who’ve gone John Paul the second, you know, who just stuck it out to the bitter end even when he was terribly ill. And I think there’s a, you know, in in a era when we could use a very large dose of the traditional values of sense of duty and responsibility and stoicism and and even a kind of a certain reserve, she symbolized all that. So I We send our condolences to our friends in Great Britain and elsewhere who are mourning the loss of their monarch and And I guess I’ll say one other thing which is, you know, I think both you and I are sentimental and judicious Anglia files, but anglia files nonetheless. And appreciate what Great Britain has offered world and has offered us.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:43

    And it’s you know, and you see that even even today, maybe this can be a transition to our next topic. In Ukraine where you really have to say that after the polls and us, of course, it is the brits. Who have really exercised a great deal of leadership and courage and, you know, whatever else you think about Boris Johnson, the fact that he went there repeatedly,
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:05

    that he said the right things, It tells you something essential about Great Britain. As did Liz Trust, whose record otherwise, I would say, is maybe a little you know, spotty and not necessarily what one would have anticipated as the prelude to becoming the now the king’s first minister in the United Kingdom. Before we leave the topic though, Elliot, I want to ask you a question which is about the staying power of the monarchy and what that might portend for the future of of the United Kingdom. I mean, after all, have been persistent efforts for Scotland to declare, you know, independence. You know, one of the issues over Brexit has got to do with Northern Ireland, which is very complex.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:53

    And I mean, Lids Trust, interestingly, when not that long ago in the mid nineties when she was still in university was actually before she became a Tory. She was the head of the University lived down party and was an outspoken Republican. I mean, she called for the disestablishment of the of the monarchy. And I guess the question that lingers in my mind, Elizabeth, for all the reasons you described, you know, her devotion to duty, to country, to the church that she was the head of, you know, symbolized national unity in a way that I wonder whether her son, you know, King Charles the third now will be able to do and whether this is the beginning of either a transition in the monarchy or beginning to open a door to, you know, people in Britain who are in pretty tough economic circumstances right now saying why are we paying all this money to support these people who basically do nothing, but you
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:00

    know, live off the public trust. So this is very uncharacteristic with me, but I’m actually rather optimistic in some respects. First thing, actually, you know, you mentioned Scotland. I remember there was an interview with Alex Salmon early on, a leader of the SMP. And he was asked about the monarchy, and he was not a Republican.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:21

    He said, well, no. She remained the queen of Scotland. Mhmm. And Well,
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:25

    of course, the family was rooted in Scotland. Family’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:28

    rooted there, but but, you know, in other places too. So efforts say in Australia, which is an inherently Republican kind of place with the small r have always failed. Yeah. So I think there’s something about the enduring appeal of the modern game. I mean, Elizabeth was unique because of the personality.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:46

    I think also because of her the link to the World War two generation. You know? And there are a number of ways in which she may she would make references to that, you know, at the beginning of COVID, for example, you know, where she’s quoting a famous song from world war two. That said, I think Charles may be somewhat underestimated. First, he sounds silly.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:08

    He he looks the part. He is a distinguished old gentleman. He also, I think, has the public service ethos. He’s actually done quite a bit with philanthropy. He he has been a bit more outspoken Well, consider I would say more outspoken than his mother, although in ways that people, I think now kinda like, you know, he you called out, you know, horrible modernist architecture for what it is, famously describing, I think, a proposed extension to what was it national gallery or something like that as a giant card bundle.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:41

    And guess what had killed it? That was a good thing. You know, he’s been sensitive on environmental issues. Some of the other things he’s probably a little bit loopy on, but but I think the main thing about the British monarch and about that family. It has been a very adaptable institution.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:58

    And they have been very self aware, and Elizabeth was self aware, about what are the things that you need to do to adapt to modernity? And one thing about Charles is he has, I think, made it quite clear that he wants to see his slimmed down monarchy. And which is a good idea because a lot of the members of the royal family turned out to be a pretty scruffy lot And so I think he he will limit that. And I think the British conception of monarchy will continue to work for Britain. That is not quite like the Scandinavian, you know, bicycle riding kings.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:36

    But, you know, embodying continuity. I that’s well, okay. This is the kind of thing a conservative would say. I think in
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:46

    a
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:46

    country like Great Britain or for that matter, the United States in a different way, people want some sense of fundamental stability and continuity in in a world of upheaval. And I and I think the the British royal family can serve that purpose. Now what may happen, I can I can imagine, is that there’ll be other countries which decide that they don’t want to have the royal connection, the way you say India did it from the outset. The the only problem with that is you know, the monarchy does serve a very useful role of having the the dignified part of government, as Badger said. While the politicians get on with the efficient part, the kind of the messy work of governing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:30

    And one of the things I know the Australians ran into in their debates about this was Okay. Well, exactly what kind of system do we want to create
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:39

    that
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:39

    we’ll have, you know, where you’ll have somebody filling that head of state function, given that you’ve got a, you know, a Westminster parliamentary system with prime ministers and so forth. So I’m I’m a bit more optimistic.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:53

    So, yeah, Badger being the British constitutional historian of the late nineteenth century in terms of your reference, let’s turn to Ukraine. And let me I mean, we’re at a in interesting, I think, perhaps inflection point as we record this. The Ukrainians are making some apparently pretty dramatic territorial gains in the east, south and east of Karkiv, threatening the city of Kupianz, which is a, you know, major railroad junction that is crucial to Russia’s ability to resupply its forces there. They’ve pushed a very deep salient outside of a car cave that might ultimately encircle the Russian not in the northeast, I mean, hear some, where they might ultimately encircle the Russian defenders and cut them off. So we may be at a kind of inflection point, a little hard to tell because the, you know, Ukrainians have been very good on the information side and We’re seeing a lot of video that they’re releasing if they want us to see.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:53

    There’s also indications when, you know, you read what journalists who have been able to get close to the front, which is very you, but that the Ukrainians are taking a lot of losses too and are complaining Ukrainian troops complaining that they of chronic shortages of ammunition. So I don’t want to, you know, give way to rational exuberance or anything, but it does seem like we may be at this inflection point. And it that Ukrainian performance is just very different than everything we were told by the, you know, Russia military experts in the run up. To February twenty fourth and then in the immediate aftermath. So Elliott, tell me why do you think people got this so wrong?
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:33

    And why is it that in in terms of not the, you know, maybe granular bean counts of, you know, equipment and troops that, you know, military historians seem to have done a better job of explaining kind of the course of this conflict than, you know, some of the so called military experts?
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:55

    Howard Bauchner: So that’s a really interesting question. I’ve been actually working on a project with a friend of mine who’s military historian, Philip O’Brien from Saint Andrews, who actually I would like to bring on on to the Shield of the Republic sometime. He’s a historian of world war two. And I think you’re right. I think the military historians, people like Phil, and a couple of retired generals.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:18

    I’d point to McRyan, who I’m glad to say he got a master’s degree in size, retired Australian two star, Ben Hodges. Former commander of US Army Europe, Mark Currentling, also have gotten more right. So I think there are a number of reasons. First, a lot of those Russian military experts knew nothing about Ukraine. Some of them had ever never even been there.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:42

    And I think they tended to absorb a certain amount of the Russian dismissiveness towards the Ukrainians. And that, you know, one of the things that’s so striking about Ukrainian performances make you realize, they really are very western, you know. They they are part of the west, and it shows in a number of ways, I think including their attitude towards casualties, but also their agility, their their values. And that I think that Part of this is is a general underestimation of the Ukrainians. And I think people like Ben Hodges and Mark Hartling who had had some experience of dealing with the Ukrainians had a more optimistic view.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:25

    But I think with the with the Russian military analysts, there are several things work. One is You know, like most analysts, they were looking at a lot of the stuff you can count and that’s tangible. So they were look at numbers of tanks and whatnot. And, you know, those pieces of Russian kit, which at at the upper end are quite good. I mean, the Russians do make when they work at their best, you know, great missiles and and so forth.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:58

    And I would say another thing. You know, if analysts tend to be intellectuals, like most intellectuals, they tend to overvalue ideas. And I think they fell in love with Russian military doctrine, which is very sophisticated. I mean, the brand of the Russian military is quite good. And so if you look at someone like Valerie Grasimov, the chief of the general staff, oh, the guy writes articles.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:21

    He writes books. He’s undoubtedly very smart. But but that has nothing to do with the texture of the military itself. I think military historians tend to instinctively understand that militaries broadly speaking, with exceptions and cut outs, reflect the societies from which they emerge. And so first things I would say, these historians, I think I have a much more nuanced set of instincts about you know, the way in which Russia’s corruption and brutality gets reflected in some ways even magnified.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:02

    One can argue in the Russian military and and its performance. So and I think the military historians also tend to understand that, you know, you may have all the clever ideas in the world. What’s gonna matter is is actual implementation. And then finally, I think they have a sense of perspective that, you know, I think the historian’s looking at at the Russian lay down of force and said, wow, you’re gonna try to take over a country the size of France with a hundred and fifty thousand troops really? And, you know, the numbers just didn’t, in that sense, the overall numbers didn’t add up.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:41

    Now the analysts have kind of pulled in their horns considerably because they were they were really proven to be wrong on a number of things. So I think there’s more of a convergence now. I am I wouldn’t give away the irrational exuberance, but I think, you know, a degree of rational exuberance may be called for. I think the Ukrainians have done extraordinarily well. And I’ll say it here, and I’ve I’ve said it in other cases.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:08

    You know, this could go any of a number of ways. It could still go very badly for the Ukrainians, obviously. It could settle just into complete stalemate where it does move. I think it’s equally possible that you’re gonna see Russian collapses, and some of them may already be happening. We have masterrenders.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:24

    They’ve undoubtedly been mutinies, you know, people shooting their officers, that kind of thing. And the Russians are now in this situation where they don’t have the time to rebuild their military. And so they’re throwing together scratch units. They’re throwing in regionally recruited units, which they’ve never done before. They always typical imperial power.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:45

    They wanted a mix of people from different parts. They don’t have. They’ve lost their most experienced officers. And so and so they’re I think they’re caught in a sort of a vicious circle of military decay. And, you know, that eventual when when that happens, eventually, units just crack.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:09

    What do you
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:09

    think? No, I agree. And and we’ve talked about it a couple of times in previous podcasts with other other of our guests, you know, Dan Fried, and John Hertz, but there is historical precedent, you know, for this. In in nineteen seventeen, the Russian imperial army just sort of melted away. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:28

    You kind of anticipated my question. I was gonna ask you kind of a variant of the question that our former colleague, Dave Petrella, asked, Linda Robinson. You know, how does this end? Tell me how this ends. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:43

    And, I mean, I you know, my own view for what it’s worth is
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:48

    you
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:48

    know, it ends one of of kind of two or three ways. I mean, one one is the variant we’ve just discussed. The Russian military just collapses. Now whether Putin recognizes that or not, you know, or whether he tries to maintain the fiction that something is continuing, but in effect, the Russians end up, you know, they may still hold Crimea, but pretty much not much. And maybe some of Donetsk and Lugans, but not much else.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:15

    You know, another way possibly as Putin finally gets the message that his military is not capable of doing this. And you have, you know, some kind of negotiation. I think we’re a ways away, you know, from that. I mean, most likely to me, is he decides to just hunker down and hope that the west fragments and that the economic cost to Ukraine is just too great and that the West will not allow I mean, right now, Ukraine is and is likely to be for some time economically award of the international community. I mean, because their economy has been in effect destroyed.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:58

    And so, you know, the question is, how long can that go on for
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:02

    I agree. I think those are all plausible. I think it’s, you know, one of there’s so many unknowns in this. One of the biggest unknowns is what’s the state of Kremlin politics. And whether there are things going on.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:14

    I mean, I tend to think that there are so there was, like, recently a petition by half the city councilors in Saint Petersburg to you know, in dike Putin for treason or something like that. There what’s his name? The Arch, propagandist, mister Solovyev. Shows up beaten up. I mean, he’s got bruises all over his face.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:37

    This is a definitely a guy who has a bodyguard with him all the time. Which tends to make me think that somebody wanted to send him a message. So I think there’s probably you know, there’s a process underneath. I I doubt that Putin fully understands what’s going on. I and I I will add, you know, one thing in this was gonna add this to the original analysis.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:00

    You know, I think the all of us, but but actually probably put more than anybody else in the West. You know, they’re operating with the overhang of world war two, and the kind of a mental image of the Russian army is yeah, maybe stupid in some places, maybe clumsy, maybe heavy handed, but boy, just relentless and, you know, we’ll just persist and they’ll they’ll take terrible casualties, but they can take terrible casualties and nothing much will happen. And and that has informed a lot of the poor analysis in the west, but it may also be poisoning Putin’s understanding of his own world. I know
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:39

    we want we need to move on, but the losses here, just to foot stop something you said, have been staggering. And for our, you know, listeners, I you know, to put it in some perspective. I believe, you know, from discussions have had with some senior Pentagon officials, you know, they believe the Russians have had you know, somewhere, you know, up to a north of eighty thousand casualties, probably close to fifty thousand killed. Now that’s pretty close to the number the Ukrainians are carrying, and I just saw it yesterday, and there’s a allegedly a Russian Ministry of Finance document that claims — No. — that that the Ministry of Defense has provided them with information.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:21

    And this was as of late August, that forty eight thousand would be killed. So that’s pretty close again to the Ukrainian number. And for a force that began, as a force of about a hundred and fifty to a hundred and seventy five thousand. I mean, this is astronomical casualty. Some of their very best units their specialized units have been decimated.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:42

    Yeah. So, I mean, in some sense, you know, if Putin really understood what was going on, he had a he would under stand that, you know, the Russian military, you know, put aside its nuclear forces for a second, its conventional military is is, you know, just being destroyed and its ability to defend against any other threat as being reduced to almost nothing. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:08

    You know, if you think that they’ve taken around fifty thousand dead, and even if you don’t use the usual and in the United States, it’s an eight:one ratio, of dead to wounded, but world war twos like three:one. Even if you say it’s less than that because of catastrophic kills and terrible battlefield medicine, If they are taking fifty thousand dead, you have to assume that there’s at least that many seriously wounded. And and maybe more than that. You know, you you add that up. I mean, this means that over ten percent of the entire pre war Russian military.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:43

    Has either been killed or wounded. We haven’t even talked about captured. You know, and that’s everybody. That’s the strategic rocket forces. It’s the air force and so on.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:53

    So it’s it is undoubtedly a military and crisis. They’re clearly finding it very hard to fill the ranks. You know, if they’re going around to prisoners, there’s one report of psychiatric hospitals. As recruiting stations, it’s a new one for me. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:08

    Yeah. So I think they’re I think they’re in trouble. I think, you know, we’re gonna have a lot to talk about Ukraine, I think, over the probably next few months, but particularly in the next couple of weeks. I was wondering if we could shift a bit to another issue. And that’s something that you and I have both spend time on in government and then since then and that’s the Iranian nuclear program.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:33

    I I think you and I were in agreement that we thought that the JCPOA, the sort of the agreement that was cut by the Obama administration with the Iranians, was a terrible agreement. In a number of ways that it didn’t really constrain the the Iranians. I think we were in agreement that we thought that the way the Trump administration simply tore that up, wasn’t particularly productive in its own way. We now face a situation where the Biden administration is clearly trying to come to sort some sort of deal with the Iranians. I think both of us would agree that you simply cannot trust them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:09

    And you’re probably not gonna be able to have an inspections regime that will seriously limit them. And finally, that the uranium regime is for reasons which we certainly can understand, even if we don’t approve of, really are serious about getting nuclear weapons. That’s really kind of a core tenet of their national security policy. So my question to you is Okay. What do we do about that?
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:38

    It is a big question. I guess, first, I would say in full disclosure for our listeners, I testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee in August of twenty fifteen when they were holding hearings that just completed just negotiated JCPOA against the deal. I was on a panel with our former colleague ambassador Nick Burns, now our US ambassador People’s Republic of China with Richard Haas, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and with Michael Hayden the former director of of CIA. You know, all of them had reservations about the deal. I was the only one who basically counseled members of the senate to vote against it if they had the opportunity, which they didn’t because the Biden or the Obama administration, excuse me, chose not to have a vote because even though yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:32

    Because they they would have lost the vote, even though the vote wouldn’t really have stopped them from negotiating. So look, The agreement was bad to begin with, and it was bad for a couple of reasons. One, the timelines that it set the so called sunset clauses that would expire the various limitations on different aspects of Iranian nuclear development would expire after eight, ten, and fifteen years. And that was in twenty fifteen where seven years on. So you know, limitations that would expire in ten years in twenty fifteen will expire in three years now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:12

    And so the timeline has, you know, moved a pace and the Iranian program has advanced dramatically because since president Trump pulled out in twenty nineteen, the Iranian’s have been enriching more and more uranium at higher and higher levels of enrichment coming closer and closer to those levels that they would need to have thistle material to make a weapon. And using more advanced centrifuges that enable you to do this if they’re deployed at scale you know, in a much more rapid time frame. And the Biden administration and Democratic platform on which they were elected, promised to have a agreement that would be longer and stronger But it’s hard to see, you know, how they’re gonna do that. I mean, if they get back into this agreement as, you know, in as much as we can understand what has been agreed so far, in these indirect talks because the Iranians refused to talk to us. It it’s gonna be a weaker agreement and the prospect of getting a longer and stronger one will be undercut by all the sanctions relief that they’re gonna get for coming back into the old bad agreement.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:24

    So, you know, we’re in a we’re in a very bad place on this. The question of course that then presents itself is sort of well, you know, what’s the alternative to an agreement. That, you know, the Obama administration when they negotiated this made the argument that The only alternative to this was war. And the Biden administration hasn’t quite been that stark in the way they’ve presented it, but their position is basically the same. Rob Mowley, the negotiator, when he testified a few months ago before the Congress, basically said, there is no non diplomatic alternative.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:06

    We only have a diplomatic, you know, alternative. And my concern here is that the Biden administration is gonna settle on a strategy that will be to pretend that negotiations are continuing even though nothing really of substances going on Iranians are making you know, they’re demanding more and more, including in particular. And this is something I think the administration is kind of stumbling over. They’re insisting that the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy’s Investigation, into the evidence that has been presented that the Iranians have, you know, man made enrich uranium particles in a number of military facilities and to investigate why that would happen because that would be testimony to militarization activities that the Iranians have repeatedly denied that they’ve engaged in. And would, you know, sort of, give the lie to the notion that because of some thought by the supreme leader, they’re not making nuclear weapons.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:13

    Iranians want that to be shut down. They don’t want that negotiation or that investigation by the CIA to continue. The administration, I think, that the European position on this, by the way, is very interesting. Their position is, well, that’s outside the JCPOA. Let’s get back into the JCPOA, and then we’ll figure out what to do about this IAE investigation.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:33

    The administration, I think, to its credit, is saying, no, we can’t do that. The reason however they’re doing it is not, I don’t believe, because I’ve got a really principled position on the, you know, on the importance of investigating this. It’s because they know the domestic politics of this or poisonous for them. And, you know, our producer, shekateri, has an article in bullwork. I think it was yesterday or maybe the day before, in which he talks about, you know, what what is the alternative really?
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:03

    And and, you know, the alternative to a bad agreement, you know, might be to actually go after the Iranian facilities, which he argues are not as well defended. The Iranian he thinks are not well positioned to defend against a attack by either the US or Israel for that matter. I’m not quite there yet. I mean, in terms of, you know, attacking. But I do think our our I I think two things.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:30

    One, I think we need a policy towards Iran that is not solely focused on the nuclear program. You know, we need to have a comprehensive strategy for for Iran. When we dealt with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, We didn’t just have an arms control policy. We we had a economic policy. We had a human rights policy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:54

    We had you know, policies had to do with maintaining our alliances, and then we also had arms control to deal with the nuclear problem and we had our own modernization. We need something like that, and I do believe you and I and our friend, Rachel, actually argued that case about five years ago, in in or six years ago, maybe. Yeah. It’s in foreign affairs.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:19

    Yeah. But that was then. And I let me press you on this because I think even if we did all that, and even if we squeezed the regime. I mean, that is the policy that I, you know, you and I favored, indeed, back in the Bush administration, and certainly throughout the Obama administration. Given how far along the Iranians are, I mean, isn’t there something to the argument that we’re now facing a point where either, you know, we’re gonna do something.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:51

    I mean, it’s actually sort of like that North Korean nuclear reaction crisis. Either we do something violent or the Israelis do something violent or we kind of recognize ours, you know, we try some diplomatic something rather, which will also fail. And we would say we’re gonna live with it in a world where the Iranians have nuclear I mean, aren’t those really the only the only three real real choices out there?
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:17

    Yes. I think that’s right, but I think the question is, what time frame are you thinking about operating in? I guess I would say the following about it. One, I do think our diplomacy all along has been disabled to some degree by the fact that I don’t think the Iranians have ever, including in the Trump administration, thought that we had a credible military threat that we would might, you know, follow-up on and use against them. Even, you know, the things the Biden administration has done I mean, the one exception, of course, is the Soleimani raid, but that was kind of Sui generous.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:58

    But even that was in Iraq. Right? It wasn’t in Iran. So I think the Iranians have judged and I don’t know that they’ve been wrong. That that US political leaders lack the will to actually do anything mean and nasty, you know, militarily to them or to the program.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:16

    And that I think has sort of disabled the diplomacy. Don’t
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:20

    you say, oh, let’s hold on right there for a moment. Don’t you think that you should only threaten that kind of thing if you really mean it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:27

    Yes.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:28

    Yes. So what are the circumstances under which you would say advise president Biden to launch the B-2s or whatever it would be. So if you think I mean, so here’s the problem, I think. American presidents
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:43

    going back, you know, multiple administrations of both parties have said it is US policy not to allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And I think the problem is we because of the uncertainty that you’ve pointed out, you know, whether we would act yeah. We should only threaten only, you know, cock a loaded gun at someone if you’re ready to pull the trigger.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:08

    And
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:08

    I think some of our presidents might have been willing to do that. I think a lot of them have not. And I think, overall, the Iranians have concluded for a variety of reasons. That we lack the black the will will to do it. I guess where I come down is, we may very well.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:28

    I mean, the consequences of wowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and deploy it, I think, that mean that the one unambiguous achievement of arms control, you know, in the post nineteen forty five era, the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, will be a dead letter. And we will have to start contemplating living in the nightmare world that Jack Kennedy described in in nineteen sixty three, six months before he died, with, you know, not just the nine nuclear powers we have now, but maybe fifteen or twenty. I mean, it it it I do think you will have a cascade of of, you know, nuclear weapons development first in the Middle East and then maybe elsewhere. So
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:12

    so let me ask And so I think
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:14

    so I think just to finish the thought, Elliot, I would like before we get to, you know, the military options to actually give one chance to diplomacy that’s actually backed by some serious force and an overall policy. Not just, you know, focus on the nuclear question and and
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:34

    and leave everything else sort of in abeyance as we have done. So two questions. First one, just should take a short answer. Do you think the Biden administration is capable of following the policy line you just laid out?
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:47

    Probably not. Okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:49

    Second question is, okay, let’s assume Biden has a change of heart or something. And the b two’s and whatever else we throw at them fly and, you know, there’s five days of hard pounding and, you know, underground centrifuge hauls being smacked to smithereens and going. Well, what happens next?
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:14

    Yeah. I think, you know, people are kind of used to these raids like Oseric and El Cubar that you and I, you and I were part of the second episode. And have that in mind as how this will happen. I I don’t think so. I think what you’re gonna have here is because so much of this is deeply buried and you know, anything that you do militarily will only drive the Iranians to reconstitute and and and re up their effort in even deeper underground facilities.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:43

    I I think you’re gonna have to go back and mow the lawn. This is gonna be more like what the Israelis call mowing the lawn. You know, you you’ll have to have occasional repeated raids against their facilities as long as the Molla’s regime is in power. And
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:57

    do you think that the Iranians would be able to retaliate in
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:02

    any meaningful way either in the neighborhood or anywhere else for that matter? They certainly have the means to do that, and and I think that’s one of the fears that have preoccupied. American administrations, their ability to attack US forces, you know, in Iraq and Syria. But I think actually there’s less to meet, you know, less than meets the eye on that, and they have less capability. First of all, we have we we have less forces in the region to be held hostage.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:32

    Second, I think we have means to deal with it. Third, I think it’s very self defeating. The more the Iranians do this, for instance, in Iraq. The more I think that they generate anti Iranian feeling, you can see some of that playing out in the current political crisis that’s going on, you know, in Iraq. So I, you know, I think that there are I don’t worry about that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:56

    And the final thing I would say is and you and I, I think, you know, lived through a bit of this. The Iranians have shown over the years that really strong you know, demonstrations of military power, including things that weren’t intended to intimidate them, like the shoot down of the of the Airbus in nineteen eighty eight, I think it was.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:19

    Well, and the urban well, the Iraq War that kind of clearly scared the dailies have them. And even if you remember when they picked up the Arabil five, the, you know, these five Iranian agents I mean, it it clearly caused a panic. And I I think that may be right. But I think it’s you know, this would be a a serious, serious move.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:40

    Let me I mean, there was also just to just to add, there was also the episode after the bombing of CohBar Towers in Saudi Arabia, by Iranian Hezbollah when US intelligence forces went out all around the world and rattled the cage of the MOIS and said knock knock this crap off. And and suddenly there was a huge drop off in Iranian activity around around the world.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:03

    Yeah. Okay. Let me let me use that as a to segue into our last topic you and I were gonna talk about today. So you are yet again a member of the National Defense Strategy Commission. We are waiting for the Democrat that you’re one of the four Republican appointees.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:24

    The we’re waiting for the Democrats to appoint the others. This is something that’s required by law. I have a bipartisan commission that looks at our defense strategy and and grades it. I have to say, you know, historically, it’s been a remarkable it has been a remarkably bipartisan effort and and it has been critical of both of those both Republicans and Democrats. I you know, I think one thing that both you and I have been thinking about is the way in which The environment in the United States is now operating in.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:02

    It’s gotten a lot more complicated. That won’t go away. You and I were just talking about Iran. Clearly, we’re in a very different place vis à vis the Russians that we were, you know, in twenty twenty one, and that’s no matter how Ukraine turns out, and we’re gonna have to think about Russia as a kind of a malignant, dangerous actor in a way that we haven’t in very long time. There’s the continuing challenge from China.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:29

    We just saw these recent exercises off Taiwan where they broke a number of precedents, and we’re gonna face his Xi Jinping, who’s now up for his third term and is undoubtedly thinking about his place. In history. And, you know, then there are old favorites like North Korea. And it just seems to me that when you add all those things together with non military related challenges, climate change, for example, the disruptions to the global supply chain caused by COVID. You know, we’re in an extraordinarily turbulent world.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:13

    And that has to have implications for how we think about strategy. And I’ve, you know, I’ve even written a little bit about that. And
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:20

    I’d I’d be curious to know what your views are. To add to your kind of litany of challenges. Another one is that we are, I think, I don’t want to say to an unprecedented degree, but we still are very deeply divided at home in a highly polarized political environment where it’s difficult to get bipartisan consensus on on, you know, whether the sky is blue? Well, you have written about this recently in in foreign affairs and your SA on return of statecraft. You know, I wrote a a paper as I know you recall for for CSBA ten years ago, more than ten years twelve years ago now about the fact that we were entering a period, we were leaving a period, the sort of post cold war period where America’s military primacy was uncontested, and we were entering a period of contested primacy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:19

    And I I would say that still holds true. I think we still are the most by far, the, you know, most powerful military in in the world. But the question is, how do we deal with a world where the problem isn’t sort of just disorder, which was sort of the problem, you know, at the end of the cold war, it was broken glass you know, here or there, where we’re gonna police it up, broken windows, you know, where we’re gonna police it up. We now have two rivals who are maybe not, you know, our peers or yet our peers in the case of of rising China, but are close. And we still have other problems, you know, that as the strike on theiman Oslo jury, points out.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:09

    You know, we still have to worry about, you know, jihadist plotting against the United States. We’ve just been talking about Iran. You could throw in North Korea as well. So how do we size our force and construct our force than we’ve had over the years the notion of a fort sizing construct since the Cold War ended that basically suggested we would be prepared to fight what we used to call two major regional contingencies at the same time. And and that those were sort of placeholders for Iraq.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:44

    And and North Korea or something in the Middle East and North Korea. Now, you know, we have to face the problem of And and it’s not just a theoretical problem about, you know, we’ll be able to do this in two thousand and thirty five. We now have in real time, you know, an indication of what do we do with Russia and Ukraine, and what do we do with you know, China and Taiwan in the aftermath of the all the military activity that China unleashed in the wake of micro Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. The twenty eighteen NDS basically said, well, if we get into conflict with one near peer, we will try and prevail in it and hold the other one, you know, deter the other with our nuclear posture or nuclear force. You know, the the new NDS which is classified still and which has been presented to Congress in a classified version.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:46

    They’ve put out a, I think, a one and a half page unclassified fact sheet that describes it. Without getting into the classified elements of it, the, you know, the document that they published makes it clear that they’re focused on the pacing challenge, which is China, which is a good thing. But they’ve now, you know, events have outrun them because they’ve now had to engage in this major activity in in Ukraine, which is, you know, drawn down a lot of our munitions stocks for for instance. So The question is, how do we think about being able to handle two kind flicks at the same time. And then there’s one answer that’s out there, which is we shouldn’t worry about Europe at all, you know, look how Russia has shown itself to be actually very weak, a paper tiger.
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:39

    So enough to worry about that, let’s just concentrate everything on on China. My own view is that that that we we can’t quite get there yet because among other things, what the Russians are capable of doing across a thousand mile front in a country of forty four million people like Ukraine, very different than what they might be able to do in more constricted geographic space and smaller populations and say Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia with whom we have an actual defense commitment, not just an interest in a kind of moral obligation as we have with with Ukraine. But and, you know, you’ve you’ve talked about how we need to have much more nimble state kraft. How how do you think we should handle this?
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:23

    You know, Eric, I think the the first thing obviously is simply recognizing the nature of the problem. Recognizing the extent to which we’re in a we’ve entered a very different kind of era of international politics. Even than the one that we knew after nine eleven. And that really does require taking stock. You know, this it’s not like that that punctuating moment, okay, the end of World War two or even nine eleven.
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:49

    This is this is something different, and it’s gonna take us a while to fully grasp But to the extent we do and when we do, I agree, the issues are going to be twofold. I think one is simply be willing to think on the scale that’s necessary. There’s no question in my mind. We, you know, you were gonna need a very big defense department. We may need to relook.
  • Speaker 2
    0:49:09

    You’ve you’ve spoken about this. Look, relook at some arms controlled treaties, industrial mobilization, all that sort of stuff because we’re in a different place. But I also believe very deeply, and, you know, you referenced the foreign affairs piece that I had, the May June issue, that we we are going to have to be more agile and able to adapt and move quickly. And that’s – that really is going to require a kind of scrutiny of our institutions that we haven’t had in a long time. And it’s also going to mean, I think, a lot more attention paid than we have really ever to how it is that we train and develop the people who actually are in the business of formulating and executing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:49:55

    And formulating and executing policy. And also, by the way, that means recruiting them as well. You know what I mean? If you look at who is staffing the government, after world during World War two and after it. Forgive me, for example, it’s grown ups who’ve done other kinds of big things in their lives.
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:11

    And you know, who brought that the maturity and the judgment that you need. The way our government works now, particularly when you’re talking about the recruitment of political appointees, but also the way we retain civil servants. It’s it’s very hard to get into government, you know, just the clearance process. You know, his remains and people complain about it, but it can take you two years for people to get the clearances that they should have. The kind of financial sacrifices that people have to make in terms of what they can do after they’ve been in government.
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:48

    Just the pay. You know, it it used to be government pay. Wasn’t some respects comparable and less than obviously, which you’re gonna get in the private sector, but not completely out of whack. I think if you’re a senior person now, particularly given all the grief that you’re gonna get from Congress and the press and all that, the compensation is terrible. It really is terrible and inappropriate.
  • Speaker 2
    0:51:14

    And other other governments don’t work that way. I mean, you know, we don’t yeah. And you don’t have to be like Singapore, which, you know, keeps a senior leadership class that’s not particularly corrupt. By just paying them a lot of money. But there needs to be a fundamental adjustment to all that because at the end of the day, it all does come down to you have really high quality people.
  • Speaker 2
    0:51:36

    So I’m inclined to, you know, not to look first at a fix in terms of strategic doctrine, but rather to look at a fix in terms of a, our understanding of the world and be a really close and searching audit of our institutions and personnel systems and then trying to do something about it. What do you think?
  • Speaker 1
    0:52:00

    Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, so just to have two specific kind of examples of the broader problem that you’ve just outlined in the National Defense Strategy Commission four years ago that I co chaired with admiral Gary Ruffhead, the former CNO, our former colleague in government. We pointed to two things in the report both of which have, in the last year, unfortunately, manifested themselves in a way that you know, expose the kind of crisis that we were concerned would accentuate. One was the ability to maintain the all volunteer force.
  • Speaker 1
    0:52:45

    And we were concerned about that because of data that showed that there is a declining propensity to serve and that in the, you know, eighteen, nineteen year old age cohort. There’s a rapidly declining capability of potential recruits to meet the physical physical standards for for military service. And, you know, that’s now become a huge problem. I mean, with the exception of the space force, all the other services are having a a terrible time recruiting. And And although we didn’t point to this per se in the report, there’s also a very strong danger that the recruiting pool will ultimately shrink to only those people whose families have previously served and located in a very small number of states, essentially ten states.
  • Speaker 1
    0:53:53

    And I don’t think we want our military to become essentially a a regional and sociological cast. I mean, I I I think that would among the other dangers our democracy faces, I think that would be you know, add, you know, add to the list. So that’s a problem that we’ve gotta figure out. I mean, a subset of the broader problem you’re talking about of training and recruiting,
  • Speaker 2
    0:54:23

    you
  • Speaker 1
    0:54:23

    know, people to, you know, be able to deal with this strategic situation. The other thing we pointed to
  • Speaker 2
    0:54:33

    is
  • Speaker 1
    0:54:33

    the fact that in the counter isis camp pain. In twenty fifteen, we almost ran out of precision munitions and that we pointed to our supply chain. And that was before COVID and the supply chain issues that have made things even more complicated. But you know, the depletion of our stocks of javelins, our stocks of stingers. You know, the fact that it took eight years essentially to produce the number of stingers that we have shared with Ukraine.
  • Speaker 1
    0:55:02

    And it’s gonna be very difficult to ramp up production to meet these missions in part because or defense industrial base is shrunk. Since the cold war, there are fewer contractors and subcontractors to do this work there’s competition on shop floors before making these munitions, but also, you know, we don’t we we can’t the companies can’t recruit the trained skilled workforce to maintain. That’s actually probably the biggest shortfall. Again, going to this issue of how do we educate, train, and recruit people to, you know, enable us to do this. So we we face enormous challenges along the line that you have suggested.
  • Speaker 1
    0:55:48

    And and I agree, I think actually part of the issue here is not only recognizing the challenge, but for national leadership to articulate it to the American people.
  • Speaker 2
    0:55:57

    Well, I thought maybe that’s gonna be reprovisioned in on this point. I think that’s absolutely right. I mean, I think you know, you can have a mixed view of the Biden administration’s performance on Ukraine. There’s some parts have been very good. He hasn’t said anything really about it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:56:11

    And and he certainly hasn’t articulated. I I hate to say that I don’t think he can. You know, the nature of the the world we’re in and the challenges it faces and the degree to which it requires a certain kind of mobilization. And if there’s one thing we’re relearning, it’s the importance of swace of speech, to fix the end of a president who can stand in front of the American people and say, look, this is the challenge that we face. These are the things we have to do to meet it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:56:41

    Follow me. And I and I don’t think that’s just about bipartisanship. You know, I think both I I will say that I think both Biden and, you know, obviously, not nearly as bad as Trump, but Trump too. We’re just personally incapable of doing this. And, you know, Obama would have been capable of it, but he was too self absorbed.
  • Speaker 2
    0:57:05

    Gored and in many way shallow. George w Bush could rise to those kinds of moments, I think occasionally. You really you know, in many ways, I’m afraid you have to go back to Reagan for somebody who would have been able to really deliver the pitch in the way
  • Speaker 1
    0:57:22

    that it needs to be delivered. So Maybe we get that the next time around how? You address the issue of persuasive speech in rough magic, your forthcoming book. So we’ll have plenty of occasion to return to this subject in in future episodes of Shield of the Republic. I think we’re hoping to have a couple of authors of some recent and some forthcoming books in couple of weeks.
  • Speaker 1
    0:57:49

    But in the meantime, that’s it for shield of the Republic today. Please make sure to email us. We do read the email suggestions at shield of the Republic at g mail dot com. And if you enjoy shield of the Republic, please make sure to go online and leave a review at whatever platform you use to get your podcast. We appreciate that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:58:14

    As well. So for Elliot Cohen and for me, thanks, and welcome back to future editions of Shield of Republic.