Tag Archives: george friedman

Stratfor thinks about the unthinkable: a U.S.-Iranian deal

It says much about Americas foreign policy — both fearful and belicose — that a respected geopolitical analyst can describe a deal with a major power as “unthinkable.”  Talleyrand, Metternich or Bismark would laugh at our foolishness.

Thinking About the Unthinkable: A U.S.-Iranian Deal

By George Friedman, Stratfor, 1 March 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

The United States apparently has reached the point where it must either accept that Iran will develop nuclear weapons at some point if it wishes, or take military action to prevent this. There is a third strategy, however: Washington can seek to redefine the Iranian question.

As we have no idea what leaders on either side are thinking, exploring this represents an exercise in geopolitical theory. Let’s begin with the two apparent stark choices.

Diplomacy vs. the Military Option

The diplomatic approach consists of creating a broad coalition prepared to impose what have been called crippling sanctions on Iran. Effective sanctions must be so painful that they compel the target to change its behavior. In Tehran’s case, this could only consist of blocking Iran’s imports of gasoline. Iran imports 35 percent of the gasoline it consumes. It is not clear that a gasoline embargo would be crippling, but it is the only embargo that might work. All other forms of sanctions against Iran would be mere gestures designed to give the impression that something is being done.

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Stratfor looks at “The Utility of Assassination”

In this otherwise excellent article, Stratfor ignores the key factors about assassination:  if we assassinate the leaders of our enemies, eventually our enemies will assassinate our leaders.  When the inevitable happens, only hypocrites will cry about the evil of our enemies.  Those terrorists!   In other words, such sentiments will flood the airwaves of American and their din fill the halls of Congress.  It’s possible the desire to conceal this dynamic led to the deliberate confusion and evasions of the Warren Commission, least Americans learn that Castro (perhaps) gave tit-for-tat to President Kennedy.

The Utility of Assassination

By George Friedman, Stratfor, 22 February 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

The apparent Israeli assassination of a Hamas operative in the United Arab Emirates turned into a bizarre event replete with numerous fraudulent passports, alleged Israeli operatives caught on videotape and international outrage (much of it feigned), more over the use of fraudulent passports than over the operative’s death. If we are to believe the media, it took nearly 20 people and an international incident to kill him.

STRATFOR has written on the details of the killing as we have learned of them, but we see this as an occasion to address a broader question: the role of assassination in international politics.

Defining Assassination

We should begin by defining what we mean by assassination. It is the killing of a particular individual for political purposes. It differs from the killing of a spouse’s lover because it is political. It differs from the killing of a soldier on the battlefield in that the soldier is anonymous and is not killed because of who he is but because of the army he is serving in.

The question of assassination, in the current jargon “targeted killing,” raises the issue of its purpose. Apart from malice and revenge, as in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the purpose of assassination is to achieve a particular political end by weakening an enemy in some way. Thus, the killing of Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto by the Americans in World War II was a targeted killing, an assassination. His movements were known, and the Americans had the opportunity to kill him. Killing an incompetent commander would be counterproductive, but Yamamoto was a superb strategist, without peer in the Japanese navy. Killing him would weaken Japan’s war effort, or at least have a reasonable chance of doing so. With all the others dying around him in the midst of war, the moral choice did not seem complex then, nor does it seem complex now.

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Stratfor: “The Khost Attack and the Intelligence War Challenge”

This Stratfor articles discusses a critical component of our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan:  intelligence.   At the end are links to other posts about this subject.

As usual, Stratfor gives an authorative analysis on the several dimensions of this topic.  But the authors “bury the lede”, putting their most disturbing conclusions deep in the article:

The United States cannot hope to reach any satisfactory solution in Afghanistan unless it can win the intelligence war. But the damage done to the CIA in this attack cannot be overestimated. At least one of the agency’s top analysts on al Qaeda was killed. In an intelligence war, this is the equivalent of sinking an aircraft carrier in a naval war. The United States can’t afford this kind of loss. There will now be endless reviews, shifts in personnel and re-evaluations. In the meantime, the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan will be attempting to exploit the opportunity presented by this disruption.

Casualties happen in war, and casualties are not an argument against war. However, when the center of gravity in a war is intelligence, and an episode like this occurs, the ability to prevail becomes a serious question. We have argued that in any insurgency, the insurgents have a built-in advantage. It is their country and their culture, and they are indistinguishable from everyone else. Keeping them from infiltrating is difficult.

This results in part from a fundamental conceptual error — pure arrogance — from the beginning of our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  It was perfectly expressed by David Kilcullen in his famous article:

“Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.”
— “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency“, David Kilcullen, Military Review, May-June 2006

This is delusional on several levels.  First, no outsider can match the knowledge of locals without many years of experience and training. 

Second, it is backwards.  The information advantage lies with our enemies.  Thousands of people from the Middle East have studied and worked in America during the past fifty years.  A larger number have some familiarity with us and our culture:   have seen our movies, read our literature, or have dealt with American.  Even worse, for the best of them the combination of deep familiarity plus some cognitive and emotional distance might give them perspectives on America that we lack.

Intelligence is one of our inherent weaknesses, not (as usually described) one of our advantages.

So we come to today’s feature article:  “The Khost Attack and the Intelligence War Challenge“, George Friedman and Scott Stewart, Stratfor, 11 January 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

As Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi exited the vehicle that brought him onto Forward Operating Base (FOB) Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, on Dec. 30, 2009, security guards noticed he was behaving strangely. They moved toward al-Balawi and screamed demands that he take his hand out of his pocket, but instead of complying with the officers’ commands, al-Balawi detonated the suicide device he was wearing. The explosion killed al-Balawi, three security contractors, four CIA officers and the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID) officer who was al-Balawi’s handler. The vehicle shielded several other CIA officers at the scene from the blast. The CIA officers killed included the chief of the base at Khost and an analyst from headquarters who reportedly was the agency’s foremost expert on al Qaeda. The agency’s second-ranking officer in Afghanistan was allegedly among the officers who survived.

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Can we defeat our almost imaginary enemies?

George Friedman describes the jihadist threat, omitting any reference to their strength or numbers, their military or financial resources.  Nor does he cite any evidence for his speculation.

Next week:  an analysis of the dragon and orc threats. (While Jihadists obviously exist, unlike dragons and orcs, there is no evidence they exist in strength sufficient to warrant the trillions of dollars we’re spending on the long war to defeat them.  Any more than the Oklahoma City bombing would have warranted large-scale measures.)

Friedman is just working his rice bowl, as do most of America’s geopolitical analysts.  Laughter is, I fear, the only thing that will stop them.

The Jihadist Strategic Dilemma“, George Freidman, Stratfor, 7 December 2009 — Reposted in full with permission.

With U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement of his strategy in Afghanistan, the U.S.-jihadist war has entered a new phase. With its allies, the United States has decided to increase its focus on the Afghan war while continuing to withdraw from Iraq. Along with focusing on Afghanistan, it follows that there will be increased Western attention on Pakistan. Meanwhile, the question of what to do with Iran remains open, and is in turn linked to U.S.-Israeli relations. The region from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush remains in a war or near-war status. In a fundamental sense, U.S. strategy has not shifted under Obama: The United States remains in a spoiling-attack state.

As we have discussed, the primary U.S. interest in this region is twofold. The first aspect is to prevent the organization of further major terrorist attacks on the United States. The second is to prevent al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups from taking control of any significant countries.

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Stratfor: The U.S. Challenge in Afghanistan

This is a superlative job of myth-making.  Not just fictionalizing the past (the staple work of US geopol experts), but proactively creating a myth to explain future actions.  Nobody does this better than George Friedman.  For instance, the description of the 3 phases of American strategy in Iraq is priceless — painting as a strategy our ad hoc reactions to 5 years of unanticipated developments.   Esp phase 3, which exists largely in the imagination of Americans.

For those oddities in the audience who dislike pleasing myths (the images on the wall), I suggest reading the following.  They provide excerpts written about Vietnam that illuminate our current situation better than anything now being written.

Today’s reading 

The U.S. Challenge in Afghanistan“, George Friedman and Reva Bhalla, Stratfor, 20 October 2009 — Reposted in full with permission.

The decision over whether to send more U.S. troops into Afghanistan may wait until the contested Afghan election is resolved, U.S. officials said Oct. 18. The announcement comes as U.S. President Barack Obama is approaching a decision on the war in Afghanistan. During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Obama argued that Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong time, but Afghanistan was a necessary war. His reasoning went that the threat to the United States came from al Qaeda, Afghanistan had been al Qaeda’s sanctuary, and if the United States were to abandon Afghanistan, al Qaeda would re-establish itself and once again threaten the U.S. homeland. Withdrawal from Afghanistan would hence be dangerous, and prosecution of the war was therefore necessary.

After Obama took office, it became necessary to define a war-fighting strategy in Afghanistan. The most likely model was based on the one used in Iraq by Gen. David Petraeus, now head of U.S. Central Command, whose area of responsibility covers both Afghanistan and Iraq. Paradoxically, the tactical and strategic framework for fighting the so-called “right war” derived from U.S. military successes in executing the so-called “wrong war.” But grand strategy, or selecting the right wars to fight, and war strategy, or how to fight the right wars, are not necessarily linked.

Afghanistan, Iraq and the McChrystal Plan

Making sense of the arguments over Afghanistan requires an understanding of how the Iraq war is read by the strategists fighting it, since a great deal of proposed Afghan strategy involves transferring lessons learned from Iraq. Those strategists see the Iraq war as having had three phases.

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America’s dominance of the sky slowly erodes – inevitable or avoidable?

How can the USAF leaders write these things without risking laughter by their readers?  It does not take a Billy Mitchell or Doolittle to see that the rise of UAV’s — unmentioned by General Deptula — begins a new cycle in air warfare, ending the dominance of manned fighters.  Perhaps someone reading this either explain, or link to an explanation.

U.S. Air Dominance Eroding“, DoD Buzz, 15 September 2009 — Excerpt:

The U.S. military’s historic dominance of the skies, unchallenged since around spring 1943, is increasingly at risk because of the proliferation of advanced technologies and a buildup of potential adversary arsenals, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the service’s chief for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Speaking today at the Air Force’s annual convention in the Washington area today, he provided a wide ranging assessment of what the QDR team is calling “high-end, asymmetric threats.”

Emphasizing the increasing capabilities of “anti-access weapons,” such as long range precision missiles, Deptula said pilots in future wars will not operate in the “permissive” threat environments of current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Deptula, best known for crafting the Desert Storm air campaign, said potential opponents have learned from U.S. operations and will use precision arsenals to stop a buildup of U.S. airpower near their borders before a war even begins.

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Stratfor looks at Obama’s foreign policy, sees Bush’s foreign policy

Many on the right wing describe President Obama in extreme terms, as if he has made large changes from Bush’s policy.   Obama-fuhrer, socialist, nihilist, and extreme leftist are some of the labels they use.

With a few exceptions, their premise is incorrect.  While Obama promised change, he has delivered continuity.  Quite a disappointment for many who voted for him.

In this article George Friedman examines Obama’s foreign policy.    Stratfor’s message is clear:  US foreign policy is set by our ruling elites, and remains immutable by elections so long as the voters remain sheep.  It’s the status quo that you can believe in.

Obama’s Foreign Policy: The End of the Beginning“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 24 August 2009 — This post first shows an exact, the second shows the full article.  Reposted with permission.

(1)  Key quotes

As August draws to a close, so does the first phase of the Obama presidency. The first months of any U.S. presidency are spent filling key positions and learning the levers of foreign and national security policy. … Then September comes and the world gets back in motion, and the first phase of the president’s foreign policy ends. The president is no longer thinking about what sort of foreign policy he will have; he now has a foreign policy that he is carrying out.

We therefore are at a good point to stop and consider not what U.S. President Barack Obama will do in the realm of foreign policy, but what he has done and is doing. As we have mentioned before, the single most remarkable thing about Obama’s foreign policy is how consistent it is with the policies of former President George W. Bush. This is not surprising. Presidents operate in the world of constraints; their options are limited. Still, it is worth pausing to note how little Obama has deviated from the Bush foreign policy.

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