The United States had been secretly bombing Cambodia for years, though it wasn’t much of a secret to the Cambodians when The New York Times exposed the practice in May 1969. President Richard Nixon and national security advisor Henry Kissinger believed they had a game changer that would bring the victory the army failed to deliver, but of course, they were wrong, as usual.
In Ukraine, godless, ruthless, and hairless as Col. Kurt, the fictional Green Beret in Apocalypse Now, 56 year old Sergei Vladimirovich Surovikin has taken control, so everything is sure to be alright.
Surovikin was in charge of setting up the military police, a new organisation within the Russian Army and is credited with handing Putin victory in Syria, where he led the Russian expeditionary force.
The general’s tour of duty includes military misadventures from Afghanistan through Chechnya to Syria but begins with his role in the 1991 coup that tried to preserve the Soviet system. Aged only 24 at the time, Surovikin had nothing to do with the plot itself, but as a junior officer, he ordered his troops to open fire at demonstrators, reportedly killing three. This tale leaves Putin aching for the golden era of the fallen Soviet Union and for the casual violence he sees as an everyday inconvenience.
Last week’s blast on the bridge between Russia and Crimea seems to have enraged Putin, who has appointed Surovikin to clean up the mess, but with a license to create an even bigger mess first, doing in Ukraine what he did in Syria: slaughtering civilians.
On appointment, the general immediately got all the toys out of his toy box and launched massive missile and drone attacks on 20 cities and towns between Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the east. It’s not so much a strategy as a heady mix of impulsiveness, frustration and wrath.
Surovikin has no remedy for the army’s uselessness on the battlefield, nor low motivation, poor training and substandard weaponry. That is why he is steering the war away from conventional battles, to blowing up thousands of civilians in their homes and butchering the survivors.
So what began as a raid on the catastrophically incompetent Ukrainian regime and became an unintended confrontation with the Ukrainian army now becomes a war on the Ukrainian people. It worked in Syria, it’ll work here.
In Cambodia, the Americans are not known to have deliberately targeted the civilian population. They were just dropping bombs on trees, with malice toward none, with charity for all. They managed to convince themselves that they were targeting guerrillas.
In Syria, the Russian-led offensive on behalf of the Assad regime appears to have deliberately targeted civilians in rebel-held areas, in schools, hospitals and residencies. And it worked. The Assad regime was saved, Russia salvaged its Middle East foothold, and Surovikin became a hero of the Russian Federation. There is nothing uniquely Russian about dropping bombs on doctors, nurses and their patients. Paul Tibbets, who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Russia has repeated America’s early mistakes in Vietnam, underestimating the enemy, misreading its people, and responding to military quality with inefficient quantity. Now Russia is set to America’s most tragic Vietnamese mistake, the delusion that what the army couldn’t do on the ground the air force will do from the air.
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