In Kyiv, exactly the same thing happened, but in reverse

Friday, April 15th, 2022

In the old days, Edward Luttwak notes, a CIA officer appointed to serve in a foreign country whose language he did not know would apply himself furiously to learn as much of it as possible:

But now, very few CIA officers speak any foreign language. Their superiors do not demand that they learn them, and they themselves are too busy chatting with each other to talk with the locals — other than with English-speaking local counterparts who mostly tell them what they want to hear.

This is why Biden paid a high political price for the effortless Taliban conquest of Afghanistan and the rapid fall of Kabul: the CIA told the White House that the Afghan army would hold out on its own for much more than a decent interval, for years perhaps, and said nothing at all to suggest that it might crumble without a fight. Not knowing Tajik, Uzbek, or any Pathan dialect, the CIA officers who uselessly served in Kabul from their offices did not overhear the jokes on the street about the Afghan army, or hilarious accounts of how incompetent fools could become instant officers by paying a modest bribe.

Because American generals, including media-star David Petraeus, flatly refused to call upon the regiments of Pathans, Tadjiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras who might fight out of ethnic solidarity, instead creating a mythical national “Afghan” army, the result was a fraud from day one. When the time came, they did not fight or even flee: they handed over their US-supplied weapons to the Taliban.

In Kyiv, exactly the same thing happened, but in reverse. Just as in Kabul, we had CIA officers with no situational awareness. They did not listen, or understand, or even speak Ukrainian — they proclaimed it unnecessary “because everyone speaks Russian”, before sheepishly admitting that they themselves did not. Hence the CIA told the White House that Zelenskyy would flee, that the government would dissolve, that the Ukrainian army would not fight, and that the Russians would control Kyiv in 24 hours.

Since the White House still gave credence to the CIA in spite of its long history of incompetence, it ordered the urgent, even panicked evacuation of the US diplomatic mission to Lviv. Had they had any idea at all, they might have noticed that the Russians proposed to invade Europe’s largest country with very few troops — 150,000 compared to the 800,000 sent into far smaller Czechoslovakia in 1968 — and told the White House that with a bit of help the Ukrainians would contain the invasion.

But the CIA is highly professional in its press relations, and sure enough the New York Times promptly published an article that featured “former intelligence officers” highlighting the impossibility of ascertaining “fighting spirit”. It was as neat an illustration as any of why Kabul fell, and why Kyiv could too. Unless the US remedies its CIA problem by emptying out and fumigating the place, before restaffing it with people who care enough about the world to learn its languages, the US will continue to fly blind — and crash into the next Ukraine.


  1. A Wild Goose says:

    The language skills of the modern US State Department are similarly embarrassing.

    I speak from first-hand experience.

  2. Arnold says:

    The DOD teaches the idea that a culture defines its world view by language. Therefore, to understand a country one is posted to we should understand it’s language. Nothing new here. The problem is getting language training in the troops. The military can train limited numbers at Monterey, but obviously the civilian agencies require their applicants to develop their own skills. Unfortunately, this is not happening. Unless there is positive support for language training, as well as STEM, the downhill slide will continue unabated.

  3. VXXC says:

    No skin in the game.

    We have elites that haven’t fought since 1945 and they were already hanging back in WW2.

    As for the CIA, it’s run by Ivy Leaguers, and of course they get good press no matter what, except once in awhile when someone who actually leaves the office is working for a GOP president.

    The CIA, I’m sure, has competent people, just like the military does. None of them ever get near a decision-maker to tell them the truth.

    Once Trump went out on a listening tour of the actual enlisted in the Army. When he came back he threatened to fire his Generals.

    By the way, they could speak 50 languages. If you don’t lie, you don’t get promoted.

    It’s not language skills; it’s that they’re liars.

    Multi-lingual liars will not save us.

  4. Longarch says:

    “The CIA, I’m sure, has competent people, just like the military does. None of them ever get near a decision-maker to tell them the truth.”

    “Once Trump went out on a listening tour of the actual enlisted in the Army. When he came back he threatened to fire his Generals.”

    Around 1992, I had the pleasure and privilege of studying foreign languages at a private university alongside a sergeant in the US Army. Whereas I was an excessively clever student who relied too much on talent and not enough on hard work, he was a model student and applied himself with diligence and good sense. He was a man of great wisdom and some cleverness. If the entire US government were composed of sergeants like that man, the USA truly would be a shining city on a hill, inspiring other nations to imitate its example. I do not know whether the US Army’s sergeants still hold that standard, but I am worried that the US military will not be able to fill its ranks with stable, hardworking, courageous men.

    I have few pleasant things to say about US generals, but their enlisted men and some of their lieutenants really are God’s gift to civilization.

  5. VXXC says:


    There’s plenty of sergeants and junior officers like that and a few even more than a few brilliant ones.

    The problem being the dullards and the clever careerists weed them out.

    As for the Generals: they’re alone.
    That much is clear to all of us, they are of the elites and not of us. This is more than common knowledge it is the open consensus. [we've had it].

    It is mad folly and their doom to take the above combination to war but the gods it seems have decreed the elites destruction and made them mad.

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