Tag Archives: george friedman

Stratfor: “Flotillas and the Wars of Public Opinion”

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

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Freidman of Stratfor writes about “Mexico and the Failed State Revisited”

Another brilliant analysis from Stratfor, about (as Martin van Creveld foresaw two decades ago) one of the major threats to America.  This is a another perspective to the recent articles about the “end of Mexico.”  At the end are links to other articles about Mexico. 

Mexico and the Failed State Revisited

George Friedman, Stratfor, 6 April 2010 — This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

STRATFOR argued March 13, 2008, that Mexico was nearing the status of a failed state. A failed state is one in which the central government has lost control over significant areas of the country and the state is unable to function. In revisiting this issue, it seems to us that the Mexican government has lost control of the northern tier of Mexico to drug-smuggling organizations, which have significantly greater power in that region than government forces. Moreover, the ability of the central government to assert its will against these organizations has weakened to the point that decisions made by the state against the cartels are not being implemented or are being implemented in a way that would guarantee failure.

Despite these facts, it is not clear to STRATFOR that Mexico is becoming a failed state. Instead, it appears the Mexican state has accommodated itself to the situation. Rather than failing, it has developed strategies designed both to ride out the storm and to maximize the benefits of that storm for Mexico.

First, while the Mexican government has lost control over matters having to do with drugs and with the borderlands of the United States, Mexico City’s control over other regions — and over areas other than drug enforcement — has not collapsed (though its lack of control over drugs could well extend to other areas eventually). Second, while drugs reshape Mexican institutions dramatically, they also, paradoxically, stabilize Mexico. We need to examine these crosscurrents to understand the status of Mexico.

Mexico’s Core Problem

Let’s begin by understanding the core problem. The United States consumes vast amounts of narcotics, which, while illegal there, make their way in abundance. Narcotics derive from low-cost agricultural products that become consumable with minimal processing. With its long, shared border with the United States, Mexico has become a major grower, processor and exporter of narcotics. Because the drugs are illegal and thus outside normal market processes, their price is determined by their illegality rather than by the cost of production. This means extraordinary profits can be made by moving narcotics from the Mexican side of the border to markets on the other side.

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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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