Belmont Club

The War of the Green Men

What if the world were at war and didn’t know it?

Such an idea seems preposterous.  Shouldn’t we know if we were in one? But the last major war in human memory was World War 2, which, as this visualization shows,  was so obviously devastating it actually constituted one of the “peak” catastrophes of  the human species. It’s an outlier. To use The Big One as the semantic threshold would be to filter out the majority of conflict in history.


Since the ability to attack without actually triggering a response confers a distinct advantage, Russia has actually designed a form of warfare to evade the threshold of cultural psychology and avoid the detection of legalistic minds like President Obama’s.  The approach is called hybrid warfare.  “Hybrid warfare is a military strategy that blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyberwarfare. … By combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts, the aggressor intends to avoid attribution or retribution.”

The Kremlin has already employed this mode of conflict in the Ukraine. Recently, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite warned the West to be on the lookout for “little green men”.  He needs to say this or Washington might not notice.

Lithuania held a simulation in May of separatist groups attacking installations near Russia’s enclave of Kaliningrad, a base of Moscow’s Baltic fleet which is connected to the rest of Russia by a train line through Lithuania.

The exercise was modeled on last year’s capture of Crimea by Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms, who came to be known as the “little green men” when Moscow denied their identity until the takeover was complete.

“We need to learn lessons which we learned in Crimea, which we partly see in the east of Ukraine. Any possible attack, in any form, needs to be taken seriously,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite told Reuters in May. “What makes sense for us is to be prepared for anything.”

Once the World War 2 high pass filter is removed, a plethora of events will readily jump out at the observer. Chinese government hackers, for example, have stolen the personal details of 4 million current and former federal employees, possibly in order to identify individuals who can be corrupted, blackmailed or pressured into working for Beijing.  The problem of classifying this event is vexing the administration right now.  Chances are that since they can’t categorize the hack, they’ll throw the fact away.

It was the second major intrusion of the same agency by China in less than a year and the second significant foreign breach into U.S. government networks in recent months.Last year, Russia compromised White House and State Department e-mail systems in a campaign of cyber­espionage.


CNN wrote “the massive hack that may have stolen the personal information of four million federal employees appears designed to build a vast database in what could be preparation for future attacks by China against the U.S., cybersecurity experts advising the government told CNN Friday afternoon.”  Attack is not a word in the administration’s dictionary unless it comes on December 7, 1941.  And even then, maybe not.  China casually announced “that Beijing could set up an air defense zone above disputed areas of the South China Sea if it thought it was facing a large enough threat, according to Chinese news media.”

In November 2013, to the dismay of Japan and the United States, China declared an air defense identification zone over disputed waters in the East China Sea. Chinese military aircraft began requiring all other aircraft flying through the zone to identify themselves, and commercial airliners complied, though the United States sent B-52 bombers through the zone without advance warning to challenge Beijing.

In late May, Chinese officials told the United States to stop sending surveillance flights near land formations that China claims as its territory. American officials say the flights have been over international waters.

What they’ll do beyond observing the fact is problematic. Iran, with whom the administration is in negotiations, undertook to “freeze” its nuclear stockpile and then promptly increased it by 20%. “With only one month left before a deadline to complete a nuclear deal with Iran, international inspectors have reported that Tehran’s stockpile of nuclear fuel increased about 20 percent over the last 18 months of negotiations, partially undercutting the Obama administration’s contention that the Iranian program had been ‘frozen’ during that period.”

They will probably continue the negotiations notwithstanding because “a bad agreement is better than no agreement.” The Associated Press describes the president’s touching faith in pieces of paper:

JERUSALEM — U.S President Barack Obama reached out to a skeptical Israeli public in an interview aired Monday saying that only an agreement, not military action, can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. …

“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it,” he said in excerpts from his interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV’s investigative program “Uvda.”


The architects of hybrid warfare knew paper would be their friend.  They understood that the liberal West was controlled by lawyers operating under the concept of a “rules-based international order”. This legalistic system could only “see” certain facts and was blind to the others. In May 2013, President Obama  demonstrated this selective vision by claiming victory in the “war on terror” (which he soon declared at an end) based on the belief he had degraded “core al-Qaeda”.

He said, “their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us.”  Asked about other terror groups, he took shelter in definitions.  But as Marc Thiessen at the Washington Post wrote, Obama’s claim was a distinction without a difference. And indeed, within a few months, the “less capable” al-Qaeda affiliates — the “jayvee team” as Obama called them — had eclipsed the original and taken over large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

An unbroken sequence of evacuations, alliance collapses and the capture of equipment including the abandonment of whole countries like Yemen were described as mere “setbacks” in an overall record of stunning success.  It was as if the administration could not see certain things at all.  The Washington Post’s Liz Sly wrote that “while nobody was looking, the Islamic State launched a new, deadly offensive” against the remaining US backed rebels in Syria. Many US backed rebels are throwing in the towel in dismay.

But it wasn’t that “nobody was looking.” The raw intelligence data was probably there and the military could “see” the raw facts, but their superiors couldn’t recognize its significance.  They stuck in the high pass filter and voila, no signal.

Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the head of Air Combat Command said … F-22 flew surveillance missions tracking fighters on the ground, used its advanced sensors to redirect other aircraft and call for additional strikes, passed along data on its missions and escorted bombers to their targets.  …

Since August, coalition forces have conducted about 4, 200 strikes and dropped 14,000 weapons, Carlisle said. About 13,000 enemy fighters have been killed, and about 25 percent of territory has been retaken. Carlisle’s optimistic statements come, however, as Islamic State fighters have been able to retake other ground, like the Iraqi city of Ramadi, and is still able to heavily recruit to their ranks, both locally and internationally.


The narrowness of the body-count like metrics speaks to the insularity of the administration’s thinking. They can only detect objects within a limited range of frequencies. Everything else is discarded. Foreign Policy noted this on display at a recent summit of Gulf allies.  The adminstration vow that “the security and sovereignty of the GCC states constitutes a red line for the United States” was almost completely obviated by what he said next. FP wrote:

And short of an outright attack? Well, that’s where things got a bit more interesting. Truth be told, the odds of Iran launching a conventional assault across the Gulf are low, all things considered. Why risk triggering a direct confrontation with a vastly more powerful U.S. military, after all? The far more likely scenario: covert penetration and interference, subversion, sabotage, terrorist attacks, and local proxies instigating destabilizing acts of civil unrest and low-level violence. Those are Iran’s preferred tools. Where possible, its modus operandi has generally been to keep its hand hidden, its role plausibly deniable.

So what will the U.S. do when the Shiite-majority cities and towns of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province — i.e., where all the oil is — erupt in wide-scale protests against the royal family, with Iranian media, politicians, and clerics agitating them on? While the issue was certainly not addressed directly at the summit, in his introductory presentation Obama made an unsolicited point that caught his guests by surprise and left them somewhat bemused. He told them fairly bluntly that the United States would find it very hard to intervene on behalf of their regimes should they one day wake up and find themselves in a showdown with large masses of their own people. The message: Absent a smoking gun of Iranian interference, the Gulf monarchies will be on their own in the face of any domestic uprising that threatens their rule.

The administration’s visual limits are painfully obvious: it can only “see” conventional war. When al-Arabiya asked President Obama why he has been so passive in preventing the Syrian civil war, Obama answered like a lawyer. To act would have been in violation of “international law”.


Q So forgive me, Mr. President, when people rise and they demand their rights, they look up to the United States.


Q They don’t look to any other country. And especially after President Assad used chemical weapons, people felt they’ve been let down. The civil war did not start from day one. They felt that you could have done something in the beginning and you didn’t.

THE PRESIDENT: But if you look at the history of the process, essentially what they’re arguing is that we should have invaded Syria and overthrown the Syrian regime — which, by the way, would be a violation of international law, and undoubtedly we would then be criticized for that, as well.

None of this has escaped Russian, Chinese or radical Islamic notice.  They have got the president’s obvious limits down pat. Obama’s approach to aggression is to give proxies a bunch of weapons and training at arms length, then “run out the clock”. The administration’s preferences were exemplified by Bill Gertz’s recent story on the secret Presidential Study Directive-11, which apparently believes Islamic extremism can be headed off by throwing US support behind the Muslim Brotherhood.

President Obama and his administration continue to support the global Islamist militant group known the Muslim Brotherhood. A White House strategy document regards the group as a moderate alternative to more violent Islamist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The policy of backing the Muslim Brotherhood is outlined in a secret directive called Presidential Study Directive-11, or PSD-11. The directive was produced in 2011 and outlines administration support for political reform in the Middle East and North Africa, according to officials familiar with the classified study.

Efforts to force the administration to release the directive or portions of it under the Freedom of Information Act have been unsuccessful.

That’s why ISIS is now exterminating Obama’s Syrian rebels.  Once they chop off his timid little tentacles, they are home free. The administration’s inability to perceive hybrid warfare coupled with its penchant for secrecy has created an extraordinarily impotent foreign policy. The world stands, according to security pundit Bruce Schneier, on the brink of a global cyber-war, of which China’s attacks are but the opening salvos. But so what?


In the meantime, Putin’s “little green men” are poised to go on the offensive for a second straight year. Michael Weiss asks, “can anyone stop Putin’s new Blitz? A shaky cease-fire in Ukraine was shattered Wednesday morning with a new offensive by Russian-backed troops. How will the White House respond?”

How will they respond? Simple. By doing nothing. By giving a speech. By increasing domestic surveillance. By denying there’s anything to respond to, that’s what. Beware the combo of little green men from the Kremlin and the small-minded men from Chicago.  It’s the perfect storm.

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