- Expect more successful Al-Qa’ida operations, of increasing sophistication
- Rise of the Petro-Empires!
Forecast #1: Expect more successful Al-Qa’ida operations, of increasing sophistication
It’s easy to scorn Al-Qa’ida as bit players on the global stage, inflated by western Governments for their own purposes. Note al-Qa’ida’s resemblance to standard Hollywood villains: the rich mad genius and his secret global organization of faceless bad guys. In this view the news of foiled plots and numerous arrests represent a victory over this threat, however serious or minor it might have been.
There is another possibility. The label “al-Qa’ida” may refer to the entire global Islamic Fundamentalist insurgency, of which al Qaeda is just the current flagship. Exactly what they seek is disputed. Perhaps there is no answer yet, even to be found among it adherents.
Here I’ll assume the broadest possible definition, that its members are Islamic Fundamentalists in revolt against the western ideologies that dominate most modern societies, and threaten to render extinct all competing ways of life. Capitalism. Democracy. Individualism. Moral relativism. Feminism.
This will prove difficult for our elites to contain. Our secular elites have grown accustomed to their domesticated Christians. Tax money can be spent on an exhibit titled “Piss Christ” and they’ll laugh as infuriated Christians write futile letters to the their congresscritters. Perhaps a mild demonstration, which if not ignored by the mainstream media, will be characterized as attempt by ignorant boors to censor Art.
Muslims have learned that western elites respect only force (an odd parallel to what we’re told about the people in Iraq). They riot about some offensive cartoons; get apologies and censorship to prevent additional indignities. Bombs in Spain; Spanish troops withdrawn from Iraq. Bombs in the UK; increased Government efforts to appease “safe” radical groups and ignore moderate (hence “inauthentic”) moderate Muslim groups.
Can they win?
Victory of insurgents, cultural or political, depends on many factors, but two of the most important are:
- The strength of the personal fires that animate it, and
- The amount of its fuel – the base population from which it recruits.
If the too weak, the security services grind the insurgency down – decapitating its leadership and reducing its numbers. The late 19th century anarchist movement died out, perhaps as its nihilistic nature – offering no realistic vision of society – appealed only to wackos – a base too small for sustained action.
On the other hand, a different dynamic emerges if its appeal and base are sufficiently large. The early 20th century communist movement proved more appealing, with its roots in humanity’s utopian aspirations for liberty, equality, and fraternity. Despite its attractive theology, it lost to the capitalist-democratic competitor. Communism was unable to meet the material aspirations of its people. Perhaps worse, its communitarian aspects proved spiritually stifling. For example, the predominant share of the 20th century’s finest art came from capitalist-democratic societies, whose emphasis on individual freedom outweighed their roots in bourgeois materialism.
How do successful insurgencies differ from the above examples? The ones that “liberated” so many western colonies were driven by the powerful force of anti-colonialism (faux-nationalism), providing an enemy understood by most of their local population – all classes and ethnicities. This brought into play a Darwinian “ratchet”, in which the security forces power the insurgency.
The Darwinian Rachet
The security services cull the pack of insurgents. They eliminate the slow and stupid, clearing space for the “best” to rise in authority. That is, those most able to survive, recruit, and train new ranks of more effective insurgents. The more severe our efforts at exterminating the insurrection, the more ruthless the survivors.
Hence the familiar activity pattern of a rising sine wave, seen in Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, and a dozen other places: successes by the security forces, a pause in activity, followed by another wave of activity – but bigger and more effective. For more about the “ratchet” on this see Another “must-read” presentation by Kilcullen about COIN.
Our expedition to Iraq
This was the basis of my November 2003 forecast that the Iraq insurgency would prosper despite the worst we could do to them. Our wealth, our technology, our overwhelming military forces, and our sophisticated interrogation techniques – all these would only force the insurgency to more rapidly evolve.
We fueled the insurgency, providing both its casus belli and the incentive to constantly improve. In just three years they’ve developed a new mode of war consisting almost entirely of standoff weapons (i.e., mortars, IEDs, suicide bombers) to an extent not seen since the extinction of the Mongol horsemen.
Our expedition to Iraq lies in ruins, with our only hope for a benign defeat being the development of a largely Islamic fundamentalist Government with close ties to one of our greatest enemies (Iran) – and sufficiently strong to crush the insurgency. The insurgents have ended our dreams of a feminist, secular, capitalist, democratic ally in the Middle East.
The same dynamic is at work for al-Qa’ida. The efforts of western Governments to crush it early is only radicalizing more recruits and sifting out the chaff from the grain in its membership. Result: an acceleration in its growth and skill.
There is an alternative course of treatment for this “infection” in western nations.
Let’s reverse our Governments’ policies from multiculturalism to encouragement of assimilation. Our most effective weapon is not our Gestapo-lite security forces, in their dark suits and sunglasses — menaces equally to the insurgents and our freedoms. It’s our culture, which gives individuals access to freedom, money, and sex. Especially intermarriage, which removes women from the stifling control of their parents and opens their children to a new range of choices.
That we’ll push to extinction their way of life is perhaps the fundamentalists’ greatest fear. Unfortunately, to survive we might have to make it so.
Forecast #2: Rise of the Petro-Empires!
The rise of OPEC in the 1970’s oil shocks was only a dress rehearsal for the current cycle. It does not matter if global oil production peaks today or, as the optimists believe, in 2020 – we’ve moved from the age of oil surplus to the age of oil scarcity.
In the first cycle, vast oilfields were discovered long before there was any need for their production. Oil producers struggled to prevent overproduction and collapsing oil prices. Cartels were necessary to allocate production. First the Rockefellers filled this role, then the Texas Railroad Commission, then OPEC.
In the age of scarcity those with oil produce as much as they like; oil prices rise and fall accordingly. Canada eagerly mines bitumen (misleadingly called “oil sands”), turning Alberta into a wasteland (although they promise to restore it when they’re done). The Saudi princes and Russian Government weigh the benefits of excess production – what to do with all that extra cash? – versus keeping the oil in the ground for future generations (aka “political peaking” of oil production).
No matter what they decide, this cycle will see a massive transfer of political power and wealth from oil consumers to oil producers. Watch Russia and Iran, likely candidates for the first Petro-Empires to emerge. We can only guess at their goals. Perhaps they themselves do not yet know.
Let’s remember these words when examining these proto-empires:
People, Ideas, and Hardware. “In that order!”
the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences.
1. Materials: great mineral wealth, especially in oil and natural gas
2. Ideas: Putin is perhaps creating a 21st century form of popular despotism
3. People: The Czars’ realm and the Soviet Union were flawed multicultural Empires. Their people’s aspirations to great power status remain, and now mineral wealth gives them another opportunity.
The first great lesson from Russia’s rise from its 1998 lows: people relying on the mainstream western media (i.e. The Economist, the New York Times) need new information sources stat (for those of you who do not watch American TV, “stat” is a medical term from the Latin statim, meaning immediately). Only after years of denouncing Putin as evil and forecasting doom for Russia have they realized that Putin is rebuilding Russia into a great power – although on non-western lines and with the aid of a long-term rise in oil prices.
To date Russia has paid off its debts, made the rouble convertible for the first time since the czars, and begun to reclaim its traditional sphere of influence.
What’s next? Expect from Russia great and bold things that challenge America’s hegemony.
1. Materials: great wealth in oil and natural gas
2. Ideas: Islamic Fundamentalism
3. People: After 100 generations of rest, perhaps they will again become a great power.
Will someone harness the vast oil wealth and seething popular energies of the Middle East? As we have eliminated the only secular contender among the potential regional hegemons, Iran becomes the most likely candidate to do so.
Many steps remain before they grasp that laurel wreath.
Iran needs nukes, the prerequisite to great power status. So far they have played that game well, dividing the great powers and seizing every opportunity to slow our efforts to build an alliance against them. Of course, these diplomatic games are inherently futile. What could we possibly offer Iran in exchange for nukes? How many nations will risk a global depression by supporting a US military strike at Iran?
Many options beckon once they have nukes. Support uprisings by the oppressed Shiite minorities in the Middle East? Seek to become the leader of an ecumenical alliance of Islamic states?
All we can say with confidence is to expect from Iran great and bold things that challenge America’s hegemony.
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For more about these things, see my archive on Military and strategic theory.