Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beware of Russian Bears, Bearing Advice

An article, Russian Advice on Afghanistan, was published in the NYT one day before the current 7.0 Richter news cycle erupted in Haiti swept everything aside into obliteration. It was a column by Boris Gromov and Dmitry Rogozin, two gentleman who know whereof they speak.

Gromov is currently governor of the Moscow region, but during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, he did three tours of duty (1980-1982, 1985-1986, 1987-1989), and was best known for his two years as the last Commander of the 40th Army in Afghanistan. Gromov was the last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan, crossing on foot the Friendship Bridge spanning the Amu-Daria river on 15-Feb-1989, the day the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan was completed. He received the highest military award – the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union - after Operation Magistral had lifted the siege of the city of Khost in eastern Afghanistan.

Dmitry Rogozin is Russia’s ambassador to NATO. His background, too, is of interest. In 2003, Dmitry Rogozin became one of the leaders of the Rodina (Motherland) "national-patriotic" coalition. Under Rogozin, Rodina shifted towards the far right wing of Russian politics and became one of the country's most successful parties.

When I read the original article, the advice from the Russians struck me as unusually solicitous.

I think that's what Michael Cohen had in mind when he wrote his brief rejoinder, The Story of Boris and Dmitry - A Play in One Act , in which he tries to reconstruct how this article came to be written. It goes like this:

Boris Gromov (governor of the Moscow region and commander of the 40th Soviet Army in Afghanistan) and Dmitry Rogozin (Russian Ambassador to NATO) are having a drink in a smoky Moscow bar.

So Dmitry, you look well. How are things in Brussels?

Well, you know, Boris, Brussels is lovely this time of year but I am increasingly worried.

Tell me more Dmitry.

Well it seems the Europeans are increasingly concerned about the war in Afghanistan; they are no longer convinced that it is in their national interest to fight an intractable war with the Taliban. I worry Boris . . . they might want to bring their troops home.

You don't say.

Yes, it is very concerning. After all if NATO isn't bleeding themselves in Afghanistan they might turn their attention to Mother Russia. Better to be bogged down in South Asia than poking their heads into the Caucuses or Ukraine.

Yes, yes. Quite true.

I have a thought. Let's write an op-ed for the New York Times in which we argue that NATO must stay in Afghanistan . . . . let me say . . . . what's the right phrase . . . ?

How about, "until the necessary conditions are provided to establish state local authorities capable of independently deterring radical forces and controlling the country."

Yes, that's it! And what's more, we could challenge the very manhood of NATO; call them "peace-loving" and selfish for not sending their young men to fight in a country that is of tangential importance to their national interests.

But Dmitry, that will take forever and cost the Europeans billions of dollars.


[Much laughing and guffawing ensues.]

How about we say that if NATO doesn't stay and fight it will be a "moment of truth" for NATO and the alliance might not survive. We can ever use the phrase "raison d'etre." I love that expression!

You know maybe it's the vodka talking, but why don't we also write that a "pullout would give a tremendous boost to Islamic militants, destabilize the Central Asian republic and set off flows of refugees, including many thousands to Europe and Russia?

[More merriment ensures.]

You know, Dmitry, this is a brilliant idea. But as long as we are arguing that NATO should stay, why don't we also whitewash the history of the Soviet occupation Afghanistan?

Interesting. What do you have in mind?

Well we could say that "we were fighting against the father of today's Taliban militants face-to-face, whereas Western armies prefer to fight from air."

[A long pause]

But Boris, this is not correct. Everyone knows that we dropped millions of mines on Afghanistan, specifically targeting civilians. We conducted air strikes and regular artillery barrages that killed ever more civilians. An estimated one million people died. The Americans try to do the opposite. Why would a fine paper like the New York Times allow us to make such an argument in their pages?

Dmitry, the Americans have short attention spans - our war was more than 20 years ago. Who remembers these things?

Maybe you are right. But you know if we're going to write something like that; we should really double down and also say that we "managed to deter the onslaught of Islamic fundamentalists for a full 10 years".

Oh Dmitry; now you go to far. Didn't our war in Afghanistan actually encourage and embolden Islamic fundamentalists?

Oh Boris, you're so naive.


Readers, please don't inquire why I didn't reproduce the original article. Didn't Shakespeare have Hamlet say,
I'll have grounds
More relative than this—the play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.


  1. Obama has advisers like ZBIG and Albright, who are still living the [Cold WAR]. Both originate from Eastern European countries. Both despise Russia, both promote a bigger global role for NATO. They believe in encroaching and containing Russia, and China. Neither will work. Russo-Sino pact is sitting on the side lines watching our own self inflicted destruction.

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  3. LOL! Vigil you are sure reaching! One would think you had family serving in Afghanistan. Oh wait! That's me!

    What complete nonsense this is....

  4. Reality Zone, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said this week that he was drawn to the Bush White House only as a part-time consultant as a 'courtesy' and that,

    But I remember conveying my view that, one, we have to go in to eliminate al-Qaeda, but do not stay in, because I know what happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan. And I said, "Do not stay in. No nation-building, democracy promotion in addition to eliminating al-Qaeda. Go in, knock 'em off, and get out." And that is my view.

    He goes on to admit that,

    I sympathize with the president's [Obama's] dilemma. And then, last but not least, add to it the following: The president now has a very polarized country here. We are very divided as a country. We don't have a bipartisan foreign policy anymore, for a variety of domestic reasons. If he precipitously disengages from Afghanistan, he'll be labeled as a defeatist president, as a president who's cut-and-run. And if things deteriorate dramatically in Pakistan, that would be added to the set of charges, and we could then end up, in reaction, doing even more irrational things. So I think he was over a barrel.+

    Ironically, Obama has weakened the impact of his new approach by maintaining more-or-less similar tactics to his predecessor. Even in Afghanistan, where you see the most difference because the neo-cons never cared about Afghanistan, the policy is very similar to the Bush administration's strategy for Iraq: surge and withdraw.

  5. Vig, this is a most entertaining piece. Thanks so much for the hat-tip on MLK's "Beyond Vietnam" speech.

  6. I actually think RZ is right about a certain portion of his comment. My cousin married a Russian girl who was attending college here in the States.

    Her family still lives in St.Petersburg and her parents come over fairly often to see their grandchild. Neither speak english and along with their daughter who is very patriotic about her homeland and has kept her Russian citizenship they find our recent overseas adventures rather funny.

    I find them irritating.

  7. Vigilante... I wish everyone had your honesty and your integrity. I learned long ago that you ALWAYS put PRINCIPLE ABOVE PARTISAN POLITICS.

    This piece is excellent.

    I don't agree with you 100% on Afghanistan, but I come here for reasoned and grounded discussion, which I always find in abundance.

  8. Thanks Robert! I HEART your site as well, I trust you know!