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.
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.
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.
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:
Ask any question about cyberwar or computer security, broadly defined. This is a topic area in which, in my experience, there is a great deal of “established wisdom” that is neither wise nor established. We — and others reading the FM website — will attempt to answer it in the comments. All answers welcomed!
- Questions received so far
- Quote of the week
- To start the discussion: articles of interest about cyber-issues
(1) Questions received so far
Click on the title to bring up this post. Then click on the link below to go directly to that queston.
- What’s going on with Stratfor? Are they secure now or what?
- How important are SOPA/PIPA?
- Should I frequently change my password? If so, why?
- Why hasn’t the credit card system been made more secure? How secure are ATM cards?
- How can chip+PIN for debit/ATM cards be safer than credit cards? My liability for credit card fraud is only $50 but unlimited for debit cards.
- Will the current cyber-bashing between the Saudi and Israeli hackers escalate? Will this be repeated elsewhere?
(2) Quote of the week
“Come on, people. I know that China hacking stories are plausible, but the bar for actual evidence should be higher than this. ”
— Bruce Schneier in his “CryptoGram” blog
(3) Some articles of interest to start the discussion!
(a) You leave your right to privacy at the border
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.
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.
Summary: Here are two examples of American geopolitical analysis. Both deserve attention, illustrating the two modes of American thinking about our role in the world.
- “Afghanistan: Why the Taliban are Winning“, Stratfor, 1 September 2010 — Careful, well-supported, logical.
- “Staying Power – The U.S. Mission in Afghanistan Beyond 2011“, Michael O’Hanlon, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2010 — Must be read to appreciate the delusional nature of his analysis.
“Afghanistan: Why the Taliban are Winning“, Stratfor, 1 September 2010 — Careful, well-supported, logical. — Summary
With additional troops committed and a new strategy in place, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is making its last big push to win the war in Afghanistan. But domestic politics in ISAF troop-contributing nations are limiting the sustainability of these deployments while the Taliban maintain the upper hand. It is not at all clear that incompatibilities between political climates in ISAF countries and military imperatives in Afghanistan can ever be overcome. And nothing the coalition has achieved thus far seems to have resonated with the Taliban as a threat so dangerous and pressing it cannot be waited out.
(2) Michael O’Hanlon
“Staying Power – The U.S. Mission in Afghanistan Beyond 2011“, Michael O’Hanlon, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2010 — Summary:
Americans have growing doubts about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan that U.S. President Barack Obama seems to share. But the United States should and will maintain a major presence in Afghanistan for years to come.
Two excerpts from O’Hanlon’s article
Hanlon starts with the critical but never yet well answered questions of why we fight — and can we win at a reasonable cost.
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.
Summary: One cause of our America’s increasing paranoia are the persistent exaggerations of threats by our experts. This is another article in our efforts to help readers become better consumers of news. It combines material from two previous posts, here and here.
An important role of geopolitical experts is to exaggerate threats to the US. Failure to do so results in marginalization, being regarded as unserious. Exiled from conferences, denied exposure in the mainstream media, no longer consulted by politicians. Only the strongest reputation can survive, like Andrew Bacevich’s. On the other hand, As the Team B exercise proved, gross overestimates leads to career success (for more about Team B, see “Team B: The trillion-dollar experiment” and “Team B Strategic Objectives Panel“).
Today’s example: “Man-Portable Air Defense Systems: A Persistent and Potent Threat“, Stratfor, 1 February 2010 – Summary:
For more than three decades, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles have been used to attack civilian as well as military aircraft. While counterproliferation efforts worldwide have focused attention on the threat — and managed to contain it to some extent — these “man-portable air defense systems” remain highly prized and sought-after by militant groups. This is because they provide a cheap, simple and reasonably effective way to bring down an airplane full of people. And while missile technology continues to be refined, counterproliferation efforts are being offset by arms transfers on the black and gray markets.
This article about MANPADS shows a craftsman’s hand at work. Technically detailed and accurate. But skillfully avoiding discussion of actual wars. Especially significant, Stratfor does not discuss why these powerful and easy to get weapons remain unobtainable (except small numbers, mostly obsolete versions) by our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our helicopters make tempting targets should our enemies get them in decent numbers. Insurgents failure to obtain them during a decade of conflict constitutes prima facie evidence that these articles poorly describe the situation.