Tag Archives: george friedman

Did we just surrender in the War on Terror?

Summary:  The United States cannot fight a war against radical Islamism and win.  That’s obvious, but we’re doing it anyway.  Here Chet Richards looks at our Grand Strategy as described by George Friedman of Stratfor.

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There are those who will tell you that if you can’t sit in on meetings of our national security apparatus, the best alternative is to read George Friedman. So his most recent column in Stratfor, “Avoiding Wars that Never End“, might be taken as a trial balloon for a less intrusive policy for dealing with the treat posed by radical Islam. Friedman proposes returning to the strategy that proved successful in the two great wars of the twentieth century:

The United States cannot fight a war against radical Islamism and win … But the United States has the option of following U.S. strategy in the two world wars. The United States was patient, accepted risks and shifted the burden to others, and when it acted, it acted out of necessity, with clearly defined goals matched by capabilities. Waiting until there is no choice but to go to war is not isolationism. Allowing others to carry the primary risk is not disengagement. Waging wars that are finite is not irresponsible.

Read the article. Although it seems like a welcome, if belated, exercise in 21st century realpolitik, if you read carefully, you find the same failed grand strategy that got us into our present condition: We will still be fighting an “ism,” primarily with military force.

As Friedman himself notes, this was not our original goal:

That goal was not to deny al Qaeda the ability to operate in Afghanistan, an objective that would achieve nothing. Rather, the goal was to engage al Qaeda and disrupt its command-and-control structure as a way to degrade the group’s ability to plan and execute additional attacks.

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Do America’s leaders say “Apres moi, le deluge”?

Summary:  Today Chet Richards looks a recent Stratfor post about the crisis of the middle class, and from there explores some of the challenges facing 21st century America.

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George Friedman, Founder and CEO of Stratfor, is always worth reading for the same reason that, say, James Kilpatrick was: You might not have agreed with much that he wrote, but there were usually a few nuggets amidst the infuriation, and he wrote so amazingly well. In fact, in his later years, his columns on writing were all I remember.

Friedman has an important column  in Stratfor, The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power. He opens with:

I received a great deal of feedback, with Europeans agreeing that this is the core problem and Americans arguing that the United States has the same problem, asserting that U.S. unemployment is twice as high as the government’s official unemployment rate. My counterargument is that unemployment in the United States is not a problem in the same sense that it is in Europe because it does not pose a geopolitical threat. The United States does not face political disintegration from unemployment, whatever the number is. Europe might.

And proceeds to argue most eloquently that the United States faces exactly that. This was also something the late John Boyd (Colonel, USAF) worried about. For examples, here’s part of his discussion of the prerequisites for an insurrection.  From his presentation Patterns of Conflict, slide 94:

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“Terrorism, Vigilance and the Limits of the War on Terror”

Summary:  Some say that America suffers from a disability, the inability to learn even simple things from history or the example of other nations.  Such as our inability to construct a rational health care system (a task solved one or more generations ago by our peers), and the rodeo clown show we call a “foreign policy”.  This new article from Stratfor suggests that times are changing, and nine years after 9-11 we’ve begun to learn a little about the nature of modern terrorism. 

Today’s recommended reading is an excerpt from “Terrorism, Vigilance and the Limits of the War on Terror“, George Friedman, STRATFOR, 5 October 2010 (republished with permission).  While an excellent and valuable article, Chet Richards gave a deeper analysis in If We Can Keep It – A national security manifesto for the 21st century (2008).  While brilliant, like most American geopolitical analysis the writer adopts the clean-minded idealism of freshman.  Freidman never hints that our anti-terrorism mania might benefit elements of our ruling elites.  Businesses profiting from high-margin contracts.  Bureaucrats seeking larger empires.  And in general, those benefiting from a larger and more powerful government.

Excerpt

What the government is saying to its citizenry is that, in the end, it cannot guarantee that there won’t be an attack and therefore its citizens are on their own. The problem with that statement is not that the government isn’t doing its job but that the job cannot be done. The government can reduce the threat of terrorism. It cannot eliminate it.  This brings us to the strategic point.

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America takes another step towards war with Iran, towards the dark side of its soul

Summary:  All we need do is to strike Iran with all our hatred, and our journey towards the dark side will be complete.

After years of propaganda the US population has become eager for war, much like the people of Europe were in 1914.  The wars of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st barely touched America, leaving most of us ignorant of war’s terrible consequences.  We cannot even see the rising fear of the US among the world’s peoples, shown in this June 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center — including supposed allies like Pakistan (see details here).

We’re at a point like early 2003 when our geopolitical experts casually discuss the likelihood of war, in a by-now familiar delusional way.  No matter how good, card-carrying US geopolitical experts must shill for the next war (see examples for the Iraq war here).  As in this report by George Friedman of Stratfor:  “Rethinking American Options on Iran“, 31 August 2010 (logical and well-written, as usual).  It has many levels worth examining.  Note the three key elements.

(1)  Our grasping at straws, such as Friedman’s belief that following a massive US strike at Iran …

  • the US military can reliably take down Iran’s military and keep the Strait of Hormuz open.
  • the risk of reprisals by Hezbollah has been “mitigated.”
  • a Iraq government will be “quickly formed and Iranian influence quickly curtailed” (before or immediately after a strike).

(2)  Our myopia concerning Iran’s retaliatory options.   Friedman discusses the 3 mentioned above, but Iran is not limited by our lack of imagination.

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Statfor discusses “The 30-Year War in Afghanistan”

Summary:  Here is an interesting analysis by Stratfor of our expedition to Afghanistan.  Note how — deep in this report — Friedman mildly mentions that crushing al Qaeda is not our goal in Afghanistan.  Now that we’re enmeshed in a failing war, the war’s advocates can quietly slide away from the Big Lie.  Other posts about the war are listed at the end.

The advocates of Af-Pak War, Stratfor amongst them, have devised a long series of reason for the war.  Al Qaeda was first and primary, of course — preventing it from staging another 9/11 (although Afghanistan was of little relevance to 9/11), punishing it, preventing it from conquering Pakistan.  As Friedman said in February 2008:

It is a holding action waiting for certain knowledge of the status of al Qaeda, knowledge that likely will not come. Afghanistan is a war without exit and a war without victory. The politics are impenetrable, and it is even difficult to figure out whether allies like Pakistan are intending to help or are capable of helping.   Thus, while it may be a better war than Iraq in some sense, it is not a war that can be won or even ended. It just goes on.

With the government now admitting that only a few hundred al Qaeda remain in Afghanistan, new reasons for the war must be found.  Friedman, as always a window to the thinking of our elites, attempts to explain.  The result is excellent analysis, concluding in a muddle.  Perhaps he does not dare to follow his own logic and recommend withdrawal of combat forces — with continued financial and military support.

The 30-Year War in Afghanistan“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 29 June 2010 — Red emphasis added.  This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

Introduction

The Afghan War is the longest war in U.S. history. It began in 1980 and continues to rage. It began under Democrats but has been fought under both Republican and Democratic administrations, making it truly a bipartisan war. The conflict is an odd obsession of U.S. foreign policy, one that never goes away and never seems to end. As the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal reminds us, the Afghan War is now in its fourth phase.

The Afghan War’s First Three Phases

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Stratfor: “Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion”

Summary:  As I wrote 3 years ago, America has made many geopolitical mistakes, some very serious.  Nothing critical for a superpower, so long as we do not make too many.  But Israel operates far closer to the edge.   Small, geographically and economically vulnerable, surrounded by enemies, and heir to millennia of western antisemitism (Passages from Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies could be read with applause at some American universities).  This insecurity makes them more likely to take bold gambles — and increases the odds of mistakes having horrible consequences.  They may have just made a big mistake, with potentially horrible consequences.

The forces at work were described in The Fate of Israel (July 2006) and Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran (December 2007).    Stratfor describes how this plays out today.

 “Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 31 May 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

On Sunday, Israeli naval forces intercepted the ships of a Turkish nongovernmental organization (NGO) delivering humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Israel had demanded that the vessels not go directly to Gaza but instead dock in Israeli ports, where the supplies would be offloaded and delivered to Gaza. The Turkish NGO refused, insisting on going directly to Gaza. Gunfire ensued when Israeli naval personnel boarded one of the vessels, and a significant number of the passengers and crew on the ship were killed or wounded.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon charged that the mission was simply an attempt to provoke the Israelis. That was certainly the case. The mission was designed to demonstrate that the Israelis were unreasonable and brutal. The hope was that Israel would be provoked to extreme action, further alienating Israel from the global community and possibly driving a wedge between Israel and the United States. The operation’s planners also hoped this would trigger a political crisis in Israel.

A logical Israeli response would have been avoiding falling into the provocation trap and suffering the political repercussions the Turkish NGO was trying to trigger. Instead, the Israelis decided to make a show of force. The Israelis appear to have reasoned that backing down would demonstrate weakness and encourage further flotillas to Gaza, unraveling the Israeli position vis-à-vis Hamas. In this thinking, a violent interception was a superior strategy to accommodation regardless of political consequences. Thus, the Israelis accepted the bait and were provoked.

The ‘Exodus’ Scenario

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Freidman of Stratfor writes about “Mexico and the Failed State Revisited”

Another brilliant analysis from Stratfor, about (as Martin van Creveld foresaw two decades ago) one of the major threats to America.  This is a another perspective to the recent articles about the “end of Mexico.”  At the end are links to other articles about Mexico. 

Mexico and the Failed State Revisited

George Friedman, Stratfor, 6 April 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

STRATFOR argued March 13, 2008, that Mexico was nearing the status of a failed state. A failed state is one in which the central government has lost control over significant areas of the country and the state is unable to function. In revisiting this issue, it seems to us that the Mexican government has lost control of the northern tier of Mexico to drug-smuggling organizations, which have significantly greater power in that region than government forces. Moreover, the ability of the central government to assert its will against these organizations has weakened to the point that decisions made by the state against the cartels are not being implemented or are being implemented in a way that would guarantee failure.

Despite these facts, it is not clear to STRATFOR that Mexico is becoming a failed state. Instead, it appears the Mexican state has accommodated itself to the situation. Rather than failing, it has developed strategies designed both to ride out the storm and to maximize the benefits of that storm for Mexico.

First, while the Mexican government has lost control over matters having to do with drugs and with the borderlands of the United States, Mexico City’s control over other regions — and over areas other than drug enforcement — has not collapsed (though its lack of control over drugs could well extend to other areas eventually). Second, while drugs reshape Mexican institutions dramatically, they also, paradoxically, stabilize Mexico. We need to examine these crosscurrents to understand the status of Mexico.

Mexico’s Core Problem

Let’s begin by understanding the core problem. The United States consumes vast amounts of narcotics, which, while illegal there, make their way in abundance. Narcotics derive from low-cost agricultural products that become consumable with minimal processing. With its long, shared border with the United States, Mexico has become a major grower, processor and exporter of narcotics. Because the drugs are illegal and thus outside normal market processes, their price is determined by their illegality rather than by the cost of production. This means extraordinary profits can be made by moving narcotics from the Mexican side of the border to markets on the other side.

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