The World (War) Series of Poker

Is he bluffing? (Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Our never-ending (not to mention nearly fruitless) bombing campaign against ISIS is having at least one nasty unintended consequence:

“We remain increasingly concerned that our demand for replenishment of critical precision munitions continues to put a strain on service budgets,” General Lloyd Austin, head of CENTCOM, told Congress on 8 March.

Gen Austin also expressed concern regarding the defence industry’s “capacity to produce key precision munitions” that are in demand by CENTCOM, other combatant commands, and US partner states.

He said his command works with individual service headquarters “to prioritise precision munitions and continue to seek increases in the procurement and AOR [area of responsibility] allocation of our most sophisticated and precise weapon systems”.

Specifically, Gen Austin cited the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM), Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptor as in-demand weapons.


With our cupboard this bare, you have to wonder how badly we’re tempting Putin to bet big once again against the West.

You probably know the old poker expression: Play the player, not the cards. That is, a sharp player with weaker cards can often beat a less-observant player with stronger cards. Noticing the other guy’s tells, keeping control of your own tells, betting strategically… these skills have a lot more to do with who ends up at the final table of the World Series of Poker than who gets dealt the best cards.

Putin holds a weak hand. Russia’s economy is shrinking, its defense budget faces painful cuts, and worst of all Russia’s demographics are an unsalvageable mess. The ethnic-Russian population is unhealthy, short-lived, and its numbers are shrinking.

Nevertheless, Moscow has managed in the last couple of years to annex the strategic Crimea, neuter Western guarantees of Ukraine’s sovereignty, save his Syrian ally, help unleash a destabilizing wave of “migrants” on the European Union, and humiliate the West generally and the Obama administration specifically on a number of occasions.

Putin isn’t playing his hand; he’s playing the other players — a selection of feckless Western “leaders” who fold good hands on the smallest raise, and whose tells can be spotted from orbit without the aid of a spy satellite.

So on top of Putin’s boldness comes today’s story of yet more fecklessness. We won’t up our bombing campaign to meet the ISIS threat, but we won’t maintain our stores of smart weapons, either.


Here we sit at the table with Aces over Kings: The world’s most powerful military. But we haven’t been watching our stacks, and now we’re not sure if we have enough to cover what’s already in the pot. If Putin makes a big bet somewhere — Turkey, the Donbas, the Baltics, Sweden…

Will we count our chips and fold, or go all in against the guy who’s been winning most of the big bets?


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