Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action

This 2300 word essay by George Friedman of Stratfor shows the essence of America’s geopolitical engine, the heart of the War on Terror.  I strongly recommend reading it.  The end is especially worth pondering.  More than just reading it, I recommend mailing copies to your elected representatives along with letters of outrage.

Al Qaeda, Afghanistan and the Good War“, George Friedman, Stratfor (26 February 2008) — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.  Excerpts:

…It {the US government} was not after the Taliban but al Qaeda. It appears — and much of this remains murky — that the command cell of al Qaeda escaped from Afghan forces and U.S. Special Operations personnel at Tora Bora and slipped across the border into Pakistan. …Al Qaeda clearly was disrupted and relocated — and was denied its sanctuary. A number of its operatives were captured, further degrading its operational capability.

…The U.S. commitment of troops was enough to hold the major cities and conduct offensive operations that kept the Taliban off balance, but the United States could not possibly defeat them. The Soviets had deployed 300,000 troops in Afghanistan and could not defeat the mujahideen. NATO, with 50,000 troops and facing the same shifting alliance of factions and tribes that the Soviets couldn’t pull together, could not pacify Afghanistan.  But vanquishing the Taliban simply was not the goal. The goal was to maintain a presence that could conduct covert operations in Pakistan looking for al Qaeda and keep al Qaeda from returning to Afghanistan.

…The real issue is the hardest to determine. Is al Qaeda prime — not al Qaeda enthusiasts or sympathizers who are able to carry out local suicide bombings, but the capable covert operatives we saw on 9/11 — still operational? And even if it is degraded, given enough time, will al Qaeda be able to regroup and ramp up its operational capability? If so, then the United States must maintain its posture in Afghanistan, as limited and unbalanced as it is. The United States might even need to consider extending the war to Pakistan in an attempt to seal the border if the Taliban continue to strengthen. But if al Qaeda is not operational, then the rationale for guarding Kabul and Karzai becomes questionable.

We have no way of determining whether al Qaeda remains operational; we are not sure anyone can assess that with certainty. Certainly, we have not seen significant operations for a long time, and U.S. covert capabilities should have been able to weaken al Qaeda over the past seven years. But if al Qaeda remains active, capable and in northwestern Pakistan, then the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will continue.

…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.

It says much about our elites that a leading geopolitical expert could write this.  Perhaps tear stains do not show on the Internet, nor can we hear his groans of frustration and anguish — as we cannot hear the suffering of our soldiers as they attempt to execute these delusional, nonsensical plans.  Or perhaps Mr. Friedman just illustrates the broken OODA loop of America’s elites (Orientation-Observation-Decision-Action loop; see a pdf explanation of the loop here).

In Afghanistan we are in the eighth year of fighting al Qaeda, a foe that might not be there.  That might not even exist in substantial form.  The tribes we actually fight have no grievance against us — and we have none against them, nor any national interests at stake (other than the fight against a possible foe that might be there).  The effort further strains our overstressed forces.  We borrow the money for the war from foreign governments, as our economy slides into a recession.

No intelligence, no rational strategy, no realizable goals.  War without end, without meaning.  This is the tangible expression of an America in decline.

This is an election year.  America need not be run in such a manner.  We have only ourselves to blame if things remain unchanged in 2009.

9 thoughts on “Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action

  1. My wife is a retired nurse. One of her jobs was in Hines hospital, here in Illville. She got to see the GI’s with no arms and legs, living out their years in rocker beds unable to carry out the simplest of bodily eliminations. She goes into a lather, when the war stuff comes on TV. I have never served, but my heart goes out to anyone in a uniform who has to obey the orders from “Versailles on the Potomac” . The present election cycle seems to insure that we will have more of the same. I think all this foolishness will continue until our creditors finally refuse to bankroll us.

  2. What about the ethical responsibility of the United States to the people of Afghanistan – to protect them from the Taliban’s vengeance when they return? I see the rationale for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan similar to that of 1989 after the Soviets withdrew. No geopolitical or strategic imperative, but an ethical imperative.

  3. Sorry, but Taliban ARE the people of Afghanistan, or at least some of them (mostly Pushtuns). And “ethical imperative” never ends. Such a justification would mean America has to permanently colonize any country it invades (or even defends, as Afghanistan before 1989). I think this is practically impossible. And when Americans go, Pushtuns (ie “Taliban”) will again rule Afghanistan.

    I will not discuss the “ethical” aspect of a notion that it is a moral duty of America to conquer and pacify foreign countries. We are NOT talking about defence against external invasion here. In short – this is good enough for a newspaper, but not for a serious policy discussion.

    To return to the topic in question. Al Qaida is quite obviously a secret organization, a conspiracy. Any attempt to defeat it by invading and bombing countries is mistaken. You need an intelligence organization and counterintelligence to fight a conspiracy. Of course, overthrowing or otherwise punishing regimes supporting Al Qaida does make sense, as long as you don’t expect to DEFEAT Al Qaida in this way.

    It does seem that Bin Laden understood perfectly American policy: “Full transcript of bin Ladin’s speech” (2 November 2004)

    “All that we have mentioned has made it easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I was going to comment, but you said everything I would have — and better.

  4. Holy Kevlar Crusaders! “…As in Vietnam … failed to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail … United States lost the appetite for war … United States might even need to consider EXTENDING the war to Pakistan.” Stay tuned in next week, boys and girls. Same BAT time. Same BAT channel.

  5. Obviously the Taliban are Afghans. So are the people that they fight (other than ISAF). This doesn’t create an ethical imperative to “colonize” every country we invade (although perhaps if we thought of it that way, we’d be more careful about invading). It means that when we invade and topple a government, we better actually topple it rather than just drive it off into a neighboring country where it can come back to exact revenge. I am not OK with toppling the Taliban and leaving anarchy behind, with the justification of “oh well, it’s Afghans fighting Afghans, what can you do.”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You might be ethically correct. Who can say but God? Also, I admire your ability to determine which faction of the Afghanistan people is best suited to rule their nation (we overthrew the Taliban for a specific reason, which is now of uncertain relevance). Being neither of Afghanistan nor an expert on their history and culture, I venture no opinion. However, I doubt that you will find a majority of Americans willing to sacrifice their sons in this probably quixotic quest.

  6. {Foust’s long, interesting, and valuable comment has been moved to its own post. Remaining here are his replies to some previous comments}

    Then there is Adrian, who makes a good point as well. We made significant promises to the people of Afghanistan. If we leave now, it will be a bloodbath and there will be another massive famine in the Hazarajat and Panjshir regions.

    Baduin: It is important to make a distinction between the Taliban and the Pashtuns. Though most Taliban are Pashtun, well over 99.99% of all Pashtuns are not Taliban, and in fact hate them as foreign invaders. Taliban ideology is disconnected from Pashtun history and culture, since it was mostly birthed in the Soviet-ravaged suburbs of Kandahar and the toxic refugee camps of Pakistan. Most Taliban leaders, and almost all of their fighters, are barely-literate rednecks with almost zero comprehension of the Five Pillars, Pashtun history, values, or even families (far too many are war orphans who grew up in madrassas).

    You can see this distinction at play in the Swat valley of Pakistan: peaceful, tourist-friendly Pashtuns have been overrun by crazy zealots from a well-funded madrassa in Waziristan: now they live in fear (they pleaded with Islamabad for months before they sent in a botched military raiding party), their cultural heritage in the form of ancient buddha statues has been destroyed, and their entire tenuous educational and economic infrastructure is being systematically wrecked by Maulana Fazlullah.

    Mikyo has it right: Friedman is {wrong}, and does not appear to be speaking from a position well grounded in understanding the country.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: for those who do not read registan.net, Foust is an expert in Central Asian affairs — and well worth listening to. Regarding Stratfor, as a long-time subscriber I believe it to be a window into the thinking of America’s business and government elites. Like all good service vendors, they stay in close harmony with the views of the customers. The almost dreamlike nature of some Stratfor analysis in recent years reflects, in my opinion, the similarly disordered thinking of US elites about economic and geopoltical affairs. Our national OODA loop is broken in these matters.

  7. David Armstrong (Harpers Magazine Oct 2002) wrote a clear summary of the US’s geopolitical strategy (this had been commented on by a whole range of people before this of course, from both right and left, but it is a good concise summary).

    You can read it again here: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article1544.htm

    Al Qaeda? If they didn’t exist we’d have to invent them, like we did with WMD. Taliban, odious, but who cares. Convenient fictions and rationals for the ‘Great Game’.

    As far as I can tell this is still the plan no matter who is elected and seems to be the dominant belief of the US ‘elite’. Like a supertanker they will not change course easily, economic collapse or not. People do not change their ideas easily, especially if it is personally attractive and emotionally appealing.

    Now doing some ‘back of the envelope’ calculations, to get the US Govt deficit under some sort of control then US military spending (inc the wars, security spending, nuclear weapons programs, et al) will have to be cut by at least half in the very near term. That means pull out of Iraq & Afghanistan, cuts in procurement (bye bye F-35), cuts in personnel, cuts in overseas bases, etc, on a massive scale.

    Is this politically possible in the current climate?

    The danger, to the US and the world, is that the coming economic disaster (depression anyone?) actually increases the desire to “full spectrum – dominate the world” through force in the short term. Who knows, but people can do some very weird things when they panic and when the ‘elite’ finally realise just how bad things have become, they will panic.

    OODA loop broken? I’m not sure they are even in the 1st ‘O’ part.

  8. “This is an election year. America need not be run in such a manner. We have only ourselves to blame if things remain unchanged in 2009.”

    If elections are a sham run by lobbyists and the Diebold Corporation, then we also have the Diebold Corporation to blame.

    It doesn’t matter who casts the votes, it only matters who counts the votes.

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