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February 25, 2022

If you have never studied war, then the Russian aerial bombardments might have been shocking. So too the long lines of would-be refugees jamming every highway; even more, the horrid specter of blood-stained Ukrainian citizens desperately seeking to save their lives.

But having studied war for most of my adult life, particularly Soviet and Russian military science, the opening hours of the attack contained few surprises. Just as western analysts expected, the Russians opened with heavy missile bombardments against command-and-control targets. Shortly thereafter, armored forces moved smartly across border outposts, rapidly converging into strategic axes from three different directions. Their probable objective: a decapitation strike aimed at the capital of Kiev, where a Russian puppet would presumably be installed.

However, my dominant initial impressions were that the initial phases of the attack seemed short of the massive firepower - particularly artillery, the vaunted Red God of War - that has always commenced attacks since the Soviet era. As the progenitors of information warfare - explored as “radio-electronic combat” - one also would have expected Internet websites, GPS and all social media across Ukraine to have “gone dark” from the war’s first moments. Why did it not?

Remembering my days at NBC News, I watched as my latter-day successors sketched out the advances of Russian combat formations, some of which seemed more tentative than an all-out blitzkrieg. Occasionally, someone would note that Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe. Actually, it’s even larger than Texas, which is where I live. Has anyone remembered to check the scale of those maps, remembering how quickly terrain can challenge even the most mobile ground forces? Remember above all: countries may be easy to invade but much tougher to conquer, particularly against insurgents who are well-armed and intent on selling their lives dearly. Bottom Line: We haven’t yet seen Russian “shock and awe” so stay tuned!

That said: My dominant Day One impression was that Joe Biden is horribly miscast as a wartime president. In his televised remarks from the East Room on Thursday, he mostly conveyed the impression that he was channeling Neville Chamberlain, holding out the forlorn hope that economic sanctions might achieve “peace in our time.” For the record, folks, there are only two kinds of sanctions: the ones that don’t work at all; and the ones that do but cause wars. So which ones are you announcing, Mr. President, and why on earth do you think Vladimir Putin regards you and the people around you with anything less than contempt? My friend Fred Fleitz, formerly Chief of Staff for the National Security Council, said yesterday that Biden needs to sack most of his national security team “because they are second stringers.” Former Speaker Newt Gingrich was one of several Fox analysts to recommend that Biden reverse his support of climate change and use American energy capabilities to drive Russian oil companies out of business.

I smiled when the Speaker said that. While teaching at West Point, I invited a visiting Texas oilman to tell my cadets something I hope they still remember. Raring back in his cowboy boots, the oilman pulled out his wad of greenbacks, brandishing a hundred-dollar bill. “You boys need to remember that the ultimate form of American power is NOT you and your M-16. It’s this thing right here!” Amen!

NOTE: Colonel Allard is the author of Command, Control and the Common Defense, winner of the 1991 National Security Book Award. After leaving active duty, he became an on-air military analyst for the networks of NBC News

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