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.
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”
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
“From Failed Bombings to Armed Jihadist Assaults“, Scott Stewart, Stratfor, 27 May 2010 — “This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR”
One of the things we like to do in our Global Security and Intelligence Report from time to time is examine the convergence of a number of separate and unrelated developments and then analyze that convergence and craft a forecast. In recent months we have seen such a convergence occur.
The most recent development is the interview with the American-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki that was released to jihadist Internet chat rooms May 23 by al-Malahim Media, the public relations arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In the interview, al-Awlaki encouraged strikes against American civilians. He also has been tied to Maj. Nidal Hasan, who was charged in the November 2009 Fort Hood shooting, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the perpetrator of the failed Christmas Day 2009 airline bombing. And al-Awlaki reportedly helped inspire Faisal Shahzad, who was arrested in connection with the attempted Times Square attack in May.
The second link in our chain is the failed Christmas Day and Times Square bombings themselves. They are the latest in a long string of failed or foiled bombing attacks directed against the United States that date back to before the 9/11 attacks and include the thwarted 1997 suicide bomb plot against a subway in New York, the thwarted December 1999 Millennium Bomb plot and numerous post-9/11 attacks such as Richard Reid’s December 2001 shoe-bomb attempt, the August 2004 plot to bomb the New York subway system and the May 2009 plot to bomb two Jewish targets in the Bronx and shoot down a military aircraft. Indeed, jihadists have not conducted a successful bombing attack inside the United States since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Getting a trained bombmaker into the United States has proved to be increasingly difficult for jihadist groups, and training a novice to make bombs has also been problematic as seen in the Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi cases.
The final link we’d like to consider are the calls in the past few months for jihadists to conduct simple attacks with readily available items. This call was first made by AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi in October 2009 and then echoed by al Qaeda prime spokesman Adam Gadahn in March of 2010. In the Times Square case, Shahzad did use readily available items, but he lacked the ability to effectively fashion them into a viable explosive device.
When we look at all these links together, there is a very high probability that jihadists linked to, or inspired by, AQAP and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — and perhaps even al Shabaab — will attempt to conduct simple attacks with firearms in the near future.
Threats and Motives
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
“Setting the Record Straight on Grassroots Jihadism“, Scott Stewart, Stratfor, 13 May 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.
In the wake of the botched May 1 Times Square attack, some observers have begun to characterize Faisal Shahzad and the threat he posed as some sort of new or different approach to terrorism in the United States. Indeed, one media story on Sunday quoted terrorism experts who claimed that recent cases such as those involving Shahzad and Najibullah Zazi indicate that jihadists in the United States are “moving toward the “British model.” This model was described in the story as that of a Muslim who immigrates to the United Kingdom for an education, builds a life there and, after being radicalized, travels to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and then returns to the United Kingdom to launch an attack.
A close look at the history of jihadist plots in the United States and the operational models involved in orchestrating those plots suggests that this so-called British model is not confined to Great Britain. Indeed, a close look at people like Shahzad and Zazi through a historical prism reveals that they are clearly following a model of radicalization and action seen in the United States that predates jihadist attacks in the United Kingdom. In fact, in many U.K. terrorism cases, the perpetrators were the children of Muslim immigrants who were born in the United Kingdom, such as suicide bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain and cyberjihadist Younis Tsouli, and were not first-generation immigrants like Faisal Shahzad.
Now, this observation does not mean that we’re trying to take a cheap shot at the press. The objective here is to cut through the clutter and clearly explain the phenomenon of grassroots jihadism, outline its extensive history in the United States, note the challenges its operatives pose to counterterrorism agencies and discuss the weaknesses of such operatives. It is also important to remember that the proliferation of grassroots operatives in recent years is something that was clearly expected as a logical result of the devolution of the jihadist movement, a phenomenon that STRATFOR has closely followed for many years.
A Long History of Plots