Posts belonging to Category World Events



Reflections on the Iranian Assassination Plot

Interesting analysis from STRATFOR of a story that’s creating lots of confusion.

Reflections on the Iranian Assassination Plot

By Scott Stewart

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that two men had been charged in New York with taking part in a plot directed by the Iranian Quds Force to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, on U.S. soil.

Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri face numerous charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives), conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism transcending national borders and conspiracy to murder a foreign official. Arbabsiar, who was arrested Sept. 29 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, is a U.S. citizen with both Iranian and U.S. passports. Shakuri, who remains at large, allegedly is a senior officer in Iran’s Quds Force, a special unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) believed to promote military and terrorist activities abroad.

Between May and July, Arbabsiar, who lives in the United States, allegedly traveled several times to Mexico, where he met with a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confidential informant who was posing as an associate of the Mexican Los Zetas cartel. The criminal complaint charges that Arbabsiar attempted to hire the DEA source and his purported accomplices to kill the ambassador. Arbabsiar’s Iranian contacts allegedly wired two separate payments totaling $100,000 in August into an FBI-controlled bank account in the United States, with Shakuri’s approval, as a down payment to the DEA source for the killing (the agreed-upon total price was $1.5 million).

Much has been written about the Arbabsiar case, both by those who believe the U.S. government’s case is valid and by those who doubt the facts laid out in the criminal complaint. However, as we have watched this case unfold, along with the media coverage surrounding it, it has occurred to us that there are two aspects of the case that we think merit more discussion. The first is that, as history has shown, it is not unusual for Iran to employ unconventional assassins in plots inside the United States. Second, while the DEA informant was reportedly posing as a member of Los Zetas, we do not believe the case proves any sort of increase in the terrorist threat emanating from the United States’ southern border.

Unconventional Assassins

One argument that has appeared in media coverage and has cast doubt on the validity of the U.S. government’s case is the alleged use by the Quds Force of Arbabsiar, an unemployed used car salesman, as its interlocutor. The criminal complaint states that Arbabsiar was recruited by his cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai, a senior Quds Force commander, in spring 2011 and then handled by Shakuri, who is Shahlai’s deputy. The complaint also alleges that, initially, Arbabsiar was tasked with finding someone to kidnap al-Jubeir, but at some unspecified point the objective of the plot turned from kidnapping to murder. After his arrest, Arbabsiar told the agents who interviewed him that he was chosen for the mission because of his business interests and contacts in the United States and Mexico and that he told his cousin that he knew individuals involved in the narcotics trade. Shahlai then allegedly tasked Arbabsiar to attempt to hire some of his narco contacts for the kidnapping mission since Shahlai believed that people involved in the narcotics trade would be willing to undertake illegal activities, such as kidnapping, for money.

Reflections on the Iranian Assassination Plot is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

It is important to recognize that Arbabsiar was not just a random used car salesman selected for this mission. He is purportedly the cousin of a senior Quds Force officer and was in Iran talking to his cousin when he was recruited. According to some interviews appearing in the media, Arbabsiar had decided to leave the United States and return permanently to Iran, but, as a naturalized U.S. citizen, he could have been seen as useful by the Quds Force for his ability to freely travel to the United States. Arbabsiar also was likely enticed by the money he could make working for the Quds Force — money that could have been useful in helping him re-establish himself in Iran. If he was motivated by money rather than ideology, it could explain why he flipped so easily after being arrested by U.S. authorities.

Now, while the Iranian government has shown the ability to conduct sophisticated operations in countries within its sphere of influence, such as Lebanon and Iraq, the use of suboptimal agents to orchestrate an assassination plot in the United States is not entirely without precedent.

For example, there appear to be some very interesting parallels between the Arbabsiar case and two other alleged Iranian plots to assassinate dissidents in Los Angeles and London. The details of these cases were exposed in the prosecution and conviction of Mohammad Reza Sadeghnia in California and in U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks pertaining to the Sadeghnia case.

Sadeghnia, who was arrested in Los Angeles in July 2009, is a naturalized U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who at one point ran a painting business in Michigan. Sadeghnia was apparently recruited by the Iranian government and allegedly carried out preoperational surveillance on Jamshid Sharmahd, who made radio broadcasts for the Iranian opposition group Tondar from his residence in Glendora, Calif., and Ali Reza Nourizadeh, who worked for Voice of America in London.

Sadeghnia’s clumsy surveillance activities were a testament to his lack of tradecraft and were noticed by his targets. But even though he was fairly inept, a number of other factors seem to support claims that he was working as an agent for the Iranian government. These include his guilty plea, his international travel, and the facts that he conducted surveillance on two high-profile Iranian dissidents on two continents, was convicted of soliciting someone to murder one of them and then returned to Tehran while on supervised release.

Sadeghnia’s profile as an unemployed housepainter from Iran who lived in the United States for many years is similar to that of Arbabsiar, a failed used car salesman. Sadeghnia pleaded guilty of planning to use a third man (also an Iranian-American) to run over and murder Sharmahd with a used van Sadeghnia had purchased. Like the alleged Arbabsiar plot, the Sadeghnia case displayed a lack of sophisticated assassination methodology in an Iranian-linked plot inside the United States.

This does raise the question of why Iran chose to use another unsophisticated assassination operation after the Sadeghnia failure. On the other hand, the Iranians experienced no meaningful repercussions from that plot or much negative press.

For Iranian operatives to be so obvious while operating inside the United States is not a new thing, as illustrated by the case of David Belfield, also known as Dawud Salahuddin, who was hired by the Iranian government to assassinate high-profile Iranian dissident Ali Akbar Tabatabaei in July 1980. Salahuddin is an African-American convert to Islam who worked as a security guard at an Iranian diplomatic office in Washington. He was paid $5,000 to shoot Tabatabaei and then fled the United States for Iran, where he still resides. In a plot reminiscent of the movie Three Days of the Condor, Salahuddin, who had stolen a U.S. Postal Service jeep, walked up to Tabatabaei’s front door dressed in a mail carrier’s uniform and shot the Iranian diplomat as he answered the door. It was a simple plot in which the Iranian hand was readily visible.

There also have been numerous assassinations and failed assassination attempts directed against Iranian dissidents in Europe and elsewhere that were conducted in a rudimentary fashion by operatives easily linked to Iran. Such cases include the 1991 assassination of Shapour Bakhtiar in Paris, the 1989 murder of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna and the 1992 killing of three Iranian-Kurdish opposition leaders at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.

All that said, there was a lengthy break between the Iranian assassinations in the West in the 1980s and 1990s and the Sadeghnia and Arbabsiar cases. We do not know for certain what could have motivated Iran to resume such operations, but the Iranians have been locked in a sustained covert intelligence war with the United States and its allies for several years now. It is possible these attacks are seen as an Iranian escalation in that war, or as retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in Iran, which the Iranians claim were conducted by the United States and Israel.

South of the Border

One other result of the Arbabsiar case is that it has re-energized the long-held U.S. fears of foreign entities using the porous U.S.-Mexico border to conduct terrorist attacks inside the United States and of Mexican cartels partnering with foreign entities to carry out such attacks.

But there are reasons this case does not substantiate such fears. First, it is important to remember that the purported Iranian operative in this case who traveled to the United States, Arbabsiar, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is not an Iranian who illegally crossed the border from Mexico. Arbabsiar used his U.S. passport to travel between the United States and Mexico.

Second, while Arbabsiar, and purportedly Shahlai, believed that the Los Zetas cartel would undertake kidnapping or assassination in the United States in exchange for money, that assumption may be flawed. Certainly, while Mexican cartels do indeed kidnap and murder people inside the United States (often for financial gain), they also have a long history of being very careful about the types of operations they conduct inside the United States. This is because the cartels do not want to incur the full wrath of the U.S. government. Shooting a drug dealer in Laredo who loses a load of dope is one thing; going after the Saudi ambassador in Washington is quite another. While the payoff for this operation seems substantial ($1.5 million), there is no way that a Mexican cartel would jeopardize its billion-dollar enterprise for such a small one-time payment and for an act that offered no other apparent business benefit to the cartel. While Mexican cartels can be quite violent, their violence is calculated for the most part, and they tend to refrain from activities that could jeopardize their long-term business plans.

One potential danger in terms of U.S. mainland security is that the Arbabsiar case might focus too much additional attention on the U.S.-Mexico border and that this attention could cause resources to be diverted from the northern border and other points of entry, such as airports and seaports. While it is relatively easy to illegally enter the United States over the southern border, and the United States has no idea who many of the illegal immigrants really are, that does not mean that resources should be taken from elsewhere.

As STRATFOR has noted before, many terrorist plots have originated in Canada — far more than have had any sort of nexus to Mexico. These include plots involving Ghazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, a Palestinian who was convicted of planning a suicide bombing of the New York subway system in 1997; Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested when he tried to enter the United States with explosives in 1999; and the so-called Toronto 18 cell, which was arrested in 2006 and later convicted of planning a string of attacks in Canada and the United States.

Moreover, most terrorist operatives who have traveled to the United States intending to participate in terrorist attacks have flown directly into the country from overseas. Such operatives include the 19 men involved in the 9/11 attacks, the foreigners involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the follow-on New York landmarks bomb plot, as well as failed New York subway bomber Najibulah Zazi and would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. Even failed shoe bomber Richard Reid and would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to fly directly into the United States.

While there is concern over security on the southern U.S. border, past plots involving foreign terrorist operatives traveling to the United States have either involved direct travel to the United States or travel from Canada. There is simply no empirical evidence to support the idea that the Mexican border is more likely to be used by terrorist operatives than other points of entry.

Reflections on the Iranian Assassination Plot is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Twitt

Yemen: Fallout from the al-Awlaki Airstrike

Yemen: Fallout from the al-Awlaki Airstrike

By Scott Stewart

U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an ideologue and spokesman for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen, was killed in a Sept. 30 airstrike directed against a motorcade near the town of Khashef in Yemen’s al-Jawf province. The strike, which occurred at 9:55 a.m. local time, reportedly was conducted by a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and may have also involved fixed-wing naval aircraft. Three other men were killed in the strike, one of whom was Samir Khan, the creator and editor of AQAP’s English-language magazine Inspire.

Al-Awlaki has been targeted before; in fact, he had been declared dead on at least two occasions. The first time followed a December 2009 airstrike in Shabwa province, and the second followed a May 5 airstrike, also in Shabwa. In light of confirmation from the U.S. and Yemeni governments and from statements made by al-Awlaki’s family members, it appears that he is indeed dead this time. We anticipate that AQAP soon will issue an official statement confirming the deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan.

As STRATFOR noted Sept. 30, the deaths of both al-Awlaki and Khan can be expected to greatly hamper AQAP’s efforts to radicalize and equip English-speaking Muslims. The group may have other native English speakers, but individuals who possess the charisma and background of al-Awlaki or the graphics and editorial skills of Khan are difficult to come by in Yemen. The al Qaeda franchise’s English-language outreach is certain to face a significant setback.

The deaths of al-Awlaki and Khan and the impact they will have on AQAP’s outreach efforts provide an opportunity to consider the importance of individuals — and their personal skill sets — to militant organizations, especially organizations seeking to conduct transnational media and ideological operations.

Bridging the Gap Between Militant Ideology and Operations

When considering militant groups with transnational objectives and reach such as AQAP, we need to recognize that there are several components necessary for such groups to conduct successful operations, including finances, logistics, planning, training and intelligence. But at a higher level, there is also the distinction between those elements of the group that are dedicated to operations on the physical battlefield and those who are focused on operations on the ideological battlefield. While physical operations are important for obvious reasons, the ideological component is also critically important because it allows a group to recruit new members, maintain the ideological commitment of those already in the group and help shape public perception through propaganda. Because of this, the ideological component is especially important for the long-term viability and continuity of a group or movement.

Groups such as the al Qaeda core and AQAP appreciate the importance of the ideological struggle. Published three days before the airstrike against Khan and al-Awlaki, the seventh edition of Inspire contains an article written by Khan titled “The Media Conflict,” wherein he quotes AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi (aka Abu Basir) as stating, “media work is half of the jihad.”

The role of the media in propagating militant ideology has been revolutionized by the Internet, which allows small groups in remote corners of the globe to produce and broadcast material that is almost instantly available to people all around the world. Indeed, jihadists have succeeded in radicalizing and recruiting people from disparate countries. Products such as Inspire or the video and audio recordings of militant leaders such as al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri are a giant leap forward from the way militants communicated 25 years ago, when groups like November 17 would send communiques to the newspapers and Hezbollah would release videos via major television networks of Western hostages they had kidnapped.

Interestingly, militant groups quickly recognized the significance of this media democratization and were early adopters of the Internet. By the mid-1990s, white supremacists in the United States had established Stormfront.org and in 1996, jihadists inaugurated azzam.com, a professional-looking website that allowed them to provide inspiration, news and instruction to adherents to their ideology and to potential recruits. Azzam.com eventually became an important mechanism through which funds for jihadist groups could be raised and willing volunteers could find ways to link up with jihadist groups in places like Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.

Thus, the Internet began to serve as a bridge that connected the ideological battlefield with the physical battlefield. When we look back at AQAP’s media activities, we can see that they, too, were intended to bridge this gap. For example, the group’s Arabic language magazine Sada al-Malahim (meaning “Echo of Battle”) regularly contained not only articles intended to propagate and defend the jihadist ideology but also articles designed to give practical and tactical guidance. And when al-Wahayshi in October 2009 began advocating that jihadists in the West practice a leaderless-resistance style of operations rather than traveling to places like Yemen or Pakistan for training, they promoted that tactical shift via Sada al-Malahim.

Khan’s and Al-Awlaki’s Significance for Inspire

In July 2010, AQAP launched the first edition of Inspire magazine. Khan, a longtime publisher of jihadist material, was chosen to spearhead the Inspire project for AQAP. (Khan was born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents but raised in the United States.) Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Khan began to publish an English-language pro-jihadist blog and eventually established jihadist websites and an Internet magazine called Jihad Recollections. It was the artistic similarities between Jihad Recollections and Inspire that helped identify Khan as the editor of Inspire. Khan left his parents’ home in Charlotte, N.C., in 2009 to move to Yemen after he learned the FBI was investigating him for his connections to jihadist groups.

Inspire was established intentionally to help further al-Wahayshi’s vision of jihadists adopting the leaderless resistance model. Its stated purpose was to radicalize and recruit young, English-speaking Muslims and then inspire and equip them to conduct attacks in the West.

Khan was only 16 years old when he began his jihadist propaganda activities in 2002, and he essentially grew up on the ideological battlefield. By the time he immigrated to Yemen in 2009, he was an experienced cyber-jihadist. In addition to his advanced computer security skills, Khan also energized the Inspire magazine project, and his youth, colloquial American English competency, graphic design flair and knowledge of American pop culture gave Inspire magazine an edgy quality that appealed to young, English-speaking Muslims.

Notably, Khan did not produce most of the written content for Inspire. In fact, he relied heavily on the speeches of al Qaeda figures such as al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, the books of Abu Musab al-Suri and interviews with AQAP figures such as al-Wahayshi and al-Awlaki. However, it was the way in which Khan packaged these materials that made them so appealing. Certainly, there may have been others working with Khan to produce Inspire, and other people undoubtedly can continue to translate portions of al Qaeda speeches or interview AQAP leaders, but Khan was the driving creative force behind the project. His death thus likely will have a substantial impact on the content and feel of Inspire — if the magazine continues at all.

AQAP’s Arabic-language propaganda efforts suffered a blow in December 2010 when Nayf bin Mohammed al-Qahtani, the founder and editor of Sada al-Malahim and the founder of Malahim media, was killed in a battle with Yemeni security forces. Sada al-Malahim had been publishing an edition roughly every two months since its inception in January 2008. However, since the release of its 16th edition in February 2011, possibly an edition al-Qahtani had worked on, the promised 17th edition has yet to be published. It is possible Inspire will meet the same fate.

However, Khan was not the only American-born jihadist living in Yemen who possessed unique talents that were useful to AQAP’s outreach efforts to English-speaking Muslims. Al-Awlaki had been the imam of congregations in Denver, San Diego and Falls Church, Va., but left the United States in 2002 after being investigated for his ties to two of the 9/11 hijackers and links to a number of other jihadist figures and plots. Al-Awlaki initially moved to the United Kingdom, where he continued to preach, but as authorities began to clamp down on radical preachers in what has been termed “Londonistan,” al-Awlaki moved to Yemen, his ancestral homeland, in 2004.

During his years in the United States and the United Kingdom, al-Awlaki had become a high-profile imam known for his intellect, charisma and ability to appeal to young, English-speaking Muslims. His sermons became very popular, and audio recordings of those sermons were widely distributed on the Internet via his personal website as well as several other Islamic websites. (Thousands of these videos have been posted to YouTube and have received tens of thousands of hits.) Despite his being under investigation by the U.S. government, in 2002 al Awlaki was asked to lead a prayer service at the U.S. Capitol and to speak at the Pentagon on the topic of radical Islam. These engagements reflected al-Awlaki’s popularity and added to the mystique that surrounded him. He was seen as a bit of a celebrity in the English-speaking Muslim world, and his presence in Yemen undoubtedly played a big factor in al-Wahayshi’s decision to expand AQAP’s outreach to al-Awlaki’s audience.

Through his work on the ideological battlefield, Al-Awlaki was able to draw men to the physical battlefield. These men could be sent on on suicide missions, such as would-be Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, or encouraged to conduct simple attacks where they live, as in the case of Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan.

It is important to remember that al-Awlaki was not AQAP’s primary theological authority. The group’s mufti, Suleiman al-Rubaish, a Saudi cleric with a degree in Islamic law, fought with al-Wahayshi and bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001 before being captured and spending five years in captivity at Guantanamo Bay. After being returned to Saudi Arabia in 2006, al-Rubaish completed the Saudi rehabilitation program and then promptly fled the country to Yemen after his release. Moreover, AQAP’s Shariah Council, of which al-Awlaki was a member, is chaired by a Yemeni cleric named Adel bin Abdullah al-Abab.

Al-Rubaish maintains serious credibility among jihadists because of his friendship with bin Laden, his survival at Tora Bora and his time served in Guantanamo, and al-Abab is a respected Yemeni cleric. However, neither of the men possesses the native-English language ability of al-Awlaki. They also lack the ability to culturally relate to and motivate Muslims in the West in the same way that al-Awlaki did — and continues to do, via his messages that live on in cyberspace. Because of this, al-Awlaki will not be easily replaced.

AQAP’s Operational Ability Intact

This brings us to the ideas of leadership and succession in militant groups. Some have argued that arresting or killing key members of militant networks does not impact such groups, but experience seems to indicate that in many cases the removal of key personnel does indeed make a difference, especially in the near term and if pressure is maintained on the organization. This dynamic has been reflected by the ongoing post-9/11 campaign against the al Qaeda core and their inability to conduct their oft threatened, and purportedly more deadly, follow-on attacks to 9/11. It has also been demonstrated by the operations mounted against regional jihadist franchise groups in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The removal of key personnel such as Saudi leader Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin and Indonesian jihadists Hambali and Noordin Top have had substantial impacts on those regional franchises.

Of course, while AQAP’s English-speaking outreach will be severely crippled following Khan’s and al-Awlaki’s deaths, the core of its physical battlefield operational leadership remains intact. Al-Wahayshi is a competent and savvy leader. His military commander, Qasim al-Raymi, is an aggressive, ruthless and fierce fighter, and his principal bomb maker, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri is creative and imaginative in designing his innovative explosive devices. There were rumors circulating that al-Asiri had been killed in the airstrike directed against al-Awlaki, but they proved to be unfounded. If al-Asiri had been killed, the airstrike would have impacted both the ideological and operational abilities of the group.

The recent increase of U.S. airstrikes, including the one that killed al-Awlaki and Khan, will serve to keep AQAP’s leaders focused on survival, as will the conventional warfare in which the group is currently engaging as it fights for control over areas of Yemen. However, the AQAP leadership undoubtedly still desires to attack the United States and the West — perhaps even more so now to avenge their fallen comrades. If they are given the time and space to plot and plan, the AQAP leadership will continue their efforts to attack the United States. They certainly retain the capability to do so, despite the loss of two ideological leaders.

Yemen: Fallout from the al-Awlaki Airstrike is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Twitt

9/11 and the Successful War

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 dramatically changed both foreign and domestic policy in the  United States; and politicians and pundits will question those changes for decades.  One of the most dramatic–and by far the most costly–decisions coming out of the attacks was for America to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq in an effort to disrupt the enemy’s ability to wage such attacks and, perhaps–although this is certainly debatable–to bring such stability to those countries that future terrorist activity would be difficult if not impossible.

The following article from the good folks at STRATFOR offers an excellent analysis of what occurred and how the U.S. response, flawed as it may have been, succeeded in preventing future attacks.  Like most material from STRATFOR, this article is long; however, it should be read by all who want to better understand U.S. policy towards war and what the future may hold. I appreciate Stratfor’s willingness to share their research and conclusions.

9/11 and the Successful War

By George Friedman

It has been 10 years since 9/11, and all of us who write about such things for a living are writing about it. That causes me to be wary. I prefer being the lonely voice, but the fact is that 9/11 was a defining moment in American history. On Sept. 12, 2001, few would have anticipated the course the resulting war would take — but then, few knew what to think. The nation was in shock. In retrospect, many speak with great wisdom about what should have been thought about 9/11 at the time and what should have been done in its aftermath. I am always interested in looking at what people actually said and did at the time.

The country was in shock, and shock was a reasonable response. The country was afraid, and fear was a reasonable response. Ten years later, we are all much wiser and sure that our wisdom was there from the beginning. But the truth is that, in retrospect, we know we would have done things superbly had we the authority. Few of us are being honest with ourselves. We were all shocked and frightened. Our wisdom came much later, when it had little impact. Yes, if we knew then what we know now we would have all bought Google stock. But we didn’t know things then that we know now, so it is all rather pointless to lecture those who had decisions to make in the midst of chaos.

Some wars are carefully planned, but even those wars rarely take place as expected. Think of the Germans in World War I, having planned the invasion of France for decades and with meticulous care. Nothing went as planned for either side, and the war did not take a course that was anticipated by anyone. Wars occur at unpredictable times, take unpredictable courses and have unexpected consequences. Who expected the American Civil War to take the course it did? We have been second-guessing Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee and all the rest for more than a century.

This particular war — the one that began on 9/11 and swept into Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries — is hard to second-guess because there are those who do not think it is a war. Some people, including President George W. Bush, seem to regard it as a criminal conspiracy. When Bush started talking about bringing al Qaeda to justice, he was talking about bringing them before the bar of justice. Imagine trying to arrest British sailors for burning Washington. War is not about bringing people to justice. It is about destroying their ability to wage war. The contemporary confusion between warfare and criminality creates profound confusion about the rules under which you operate. There are the rules of war as set forth in the Geneva Conventions, and there are criminal actions. The former are designed to facilitate the defense of national interests and involve killing people because of the uniform they wear. The latter is about punishing people for prior action. I have never sorted through what it was that the Bush administration thought it was doing.

This entire matter is made more complex by the fact that al Qaeda doesn’t wear a uniform. Under the Geneva Conventions, there is no protection for those who do not openly carry weapons or wear uniforms or at least armbands. They are regarded as violating the rules of war. If they are not protected by the rules of war then they must fall under criminal law by default. But criminal law is not really focused on preventing acts so much as it is on punishing them. And as satisfying as it is to capture someone who did something, the real point of the U.S. response to 9/11 was to prevent anyone else from doing something — killing and capturing people who have not done anything yet but who might.

Coming to Grips

The problem is that international law has simply failed to address the question of how a nation-state deals with forces that wage war through terrorism but are not part of any nation-state. Neither criminal law nor the laws of war apply. One of the real travesties of 9/11 was the manner in which the international legal community — the United Nations and its legal structures, the professors of international law who discuss such matters and the American legal community — could not come to grips with the tensions underlying the resulting war. There was an unpleasant and fairly smug view that the United States had violated both the rules of war and domestic legal processes, but very little attempt was made to craft a rule of warfare designed to cope with a group like al Qaeda — organized, covert, effective — that attacked a nation-state.

As U.S. President Barack Obama has discovered, the failure of the international legal community to rapidly evolve new rules of war placed him at odds with his erstwhile supporters. The ease with which the international legal community found U.S. decision makers’ attempts to craft a lawful and effective path “illegal and immoral” (an oft-repeated cliche of critics of post-9/11 policy) created an insoluble dilemma for the United States. The mission of the U.S. government was to prevent further attacks on the homeland. The Geneva Conventions, for the most part, didn’t apply. Criminal law is not about prevention. The inability of the law to deal with reality generated an image of American lawlessness.

Of course, one of the most extraordinary facts of the war that begin on 9/11 was that there have been no more successful major attacks on the United States. Had I been asked on Sept. 11, 2001, about the likelihood of that (in fact, I was asked), my answer would have been that it was part of a series of attacks, and not just the first. This assumption came from a knowledge of al Qaeda’s stated strategic intent, the fact that the 9/11 team had operated with highly effective covert techniques based on technical simplicity and organizational effectiveness, and that its command structure seemed to operate with effective command and control. Put simply, the 9/11 team was good and was prepared to go to its certain death to complete the mission. Anyone not frightened by this was out of touch with reality.

Yet there have been no further attacks. This is not, I think, because they did not intend to carry out such attacks. It is because the United States forced the al Qaeda leadership to flee Afghanistan during the early days of the U.S. war, disrupting command and control. It is also because U.S. covert operations on a global scale attacked and disrupted al Qaeda’s strength on the ground and penetrated its communications. A significant number of attacks on the United States were planned and prosecuted. They were all disrupted before they could be launched, save for the attempted and failed bombing in Times Square, the famed shoe bomber and, my favorite, the crotch bomber. Al Qaeda has not been capable of mounting effective attacks against the United States (though it has conducted successful attacks in Spain and Britain) because the United States surged its substantial covert capabilities against it.

Obviously, as in all wars, what is now called “collateral damage” occurred (in a more civilized time it would have been called “innocent civilians killed, wounded and detained”). How could it have been otherwise? Just as aircraft dropping bombs don’t easily discriminate against targets and artillery sometimes kills innocent people, covert operations can harm the unintended. That is the nature and horror of war. The choice for the United States was to accept the danger of another al Qaeda attack — an event that I am certain was intended and would have happened without a forceful U.S. response — or accept innocent casualties elsewhere. The foundation of a polity is that it protects its own at the cost of others. This doctrine might be troubling, but few of us in World War II felt that protecting Americans by bombing German and Japanese cities was a bad idea. If this troubles us, the history of warfare should trouble us. And if the history of warfare troubles us, we should bear in mind that we are all its heirs and beneficiaries, particularly in the United States.

The first mission of the war that followed 9/11 was to prevent any further attacks. That mission was accomplished. That is a fact often forgotten.

Of course, there are those who believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy carried out by the CIA in order to justify interference in our liberty. But an organization as capable as they believe the CIA is would not need a justification to abridge liberty. That was a lot of work to justify something, and the truly powerful don’t need to justify anything. Nor do they need to leave people who are revealing the truth alive. It is striking that the “doubters” believe 9/11 was created in order to crush American freedoms but that the conspirators are so incompetent they cannot shut down those who have discovered the conspiracy and are telling the world about it. Personally, if I were interested in global domination triggered by a covert act like 9/11, I would silence those revealing my secret. But then I’m not that good at it, and the doubters all have reasons why they are blogging the truth and are not dead or languishing in a concentration camp.

I take this detour for four reasons. First, doubters should not be ignored but answered. Second, unless they are answered, they will be able to say the CIA (or whoever they think did it) needed one attack to achieve its goals. Third, the issue the doubters raise is not the structural integrity of a building but the underlying intent of the CIA in carrying out the attack. The why is everything to them, and it is important to point out that it is their explanation of motive that makes no sense. Finally, I am engaging the doubters here because I enjoy receiving an abundance of emails containing fascinating accusations and the occasional threat.

Considering the Failures

But to return to the main theme, it is important here to consider not only the successes but also the failures of the war, and here Iraq comes to mind. There is a case to be made that the Iraq campaign was not irrational, but even more interesting, I think, is the fact that no war is without its disastrous misjudgments, even successful wars. In my mind, the U.S. invasion of the Philippines in 1944 was a major mistake. It did little to contribute to the fall of Japan, cost far more than the 4,000 American lives lost in Iraq, and it could have actually delayed the end of the war. It was opposed by senior commanders and was essentially something Gen. Douglas MacArthur insisted on for political reasons. The Battle of the Somme in World War I cost 600,000 British and French casualties, with 60,000 in one day. Their total gain during the battle was perhaps six miles. And in the American Civil War, the federal drive into Virginia turned into a disaster.

Every successful war is built around a series of defeats and miscalculations. The perfect war is built around deeply flawed and unnecessary campaigns. My own personal selections are not as important as the principle that all successful wars contain massive mistakes. If we simply write off Iraq as one of these, that in itself does not change the fact that the American homeland was not attacked again. Did Iraq contribute to that? This is a question that warrants a long discussion. But conceding that it had no effect simply makes the post-9/11 war normal and, in that normality, tragic.

What has not been normal has been the length of the war. Heavy fighting continues in Afghanistan, Iraq is not quite done and new theaters for covert operations are constantly opening and closing. It is the first U.S. campaign — Afghanistan — that actually poses the most vexing problem, one that is simple to express: When is the war over? That, of course, depends on the goal. What is the United States trying to achieve there?

The initial goal of the invasion was to dislodge al Qaeda, overthrow the government that had supported it and defeat the Taliban. The first two goals were accomplished quickly. The third goal has not been accomplished to this day, nor is it likely that the United States will ever accomplish it. Other powers have tried to subdue Afghanistan, but few have succeeded. The Taliban are optimized for the battlefield they fight on, have superior intelligence and have penetrated and are able to subvert government institutions, including the Afghan military. They have the implicit support of elements in a neighboring major nation — Pakistan — that are well beyond American means to intimidate. The United States has no port from which to supply its forces except the one controlled by Pakistan and only complex and difficult supply routes through other countries.

On the other hand, the Taliban cannot defeat the United States, which can stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. But the major U.S. mission in Afghanistan is concluded. Al Qaeda has not used Afghanistan as a primary base since 2002. Al Qaeda in Pakistan, according to the United States, has been crippled. The Taliban, products of Afghanistan for the most part, have no international ambitions. Al Qaeda has relocated to other countries like Yemen and Somalia.

Given this, continued combat in Afghanistan cannot be linked to al Qaeda. It could be said that the reason to go to war in Afghanistan was to prevent al Qaeda’s return. But the fact is that it doesn’t need Afghanistan, and if it did return to Afghanistan, it would be no more dangerous to the United States than it currently is with its bases elsewhere.

In wars, and especially in counterinsurgencies, the mission tends to creep upward. In Afghanistan, the goal is now the transformation of Afghan society into one that is democratic, no longer corrupt by American standards and able to defend itself against the Taliban. This goal does not seem attainable given the relative forces and interests in the country.

Therefore, this war will go on until the United States decides to end it or there is a political evolution in Kabul in which the government orders us out. The point is that the goal has become disengaged from the original intent and is unattainable. Unlike other wars, counterinsurgencies rarely end in victory. They usually end when the foreign forces decide to leave.

There is talk of a long war against radical Islam. It had better not be. The Islamic world is more than a billion people and radical Islam is embedded in many places. The idea that the United States has the power to wage an interminable war in the Islamic world is fantasy. This is not a matter of ideology or willpower or any other measures. It is a matter of available forces, competing international interests and American interests.

Ultimately, there are three lessons of the last decade that I think are important. The first is the tremendous success the United States has had in achieving its primary goal — blocking attacks on the homeland. The second is that campaigns of dubious worth are inevitable in war, and particularly in one as ambiguous as this war has been. Finally, all wars end, and the idea of an interminable war dominating American foreign policy and pushing all other considerations to the side is not what is going to happen. The United States must have a sense of proportion, of what can be done, what is worth doing and what is too dangerous to do. An unlimited strategic commitment is the definitive opposite of strategy.

The United States has done as well as can be expected. Over the coming years there will be other terrorist attacks. As it wages war in response, the United States will be condemned for violating international laws that are insensate to reality. At this point, for all its mistakes and errors — common to all wars — the United States has achieved its primary mission. There have been no more concerted terrorist attacks against the United States. Now it is time to resume history.

9/11 and the Successful War is republished with permission of STRATFOR.”

Twitt

Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy

Classical political economists like Adam Smith or David Ricardo never used the term “economy” by itself. They always used the term “political economy.” For classical economists, it was impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics. The two fields are certainly different but they are also intimately linked. The use of the term “economy” by itself did not begin until the late 19th century. Smith understood that while an efficient market would emerge from individual choices, those choices were framed by the political system in which they were made, just as the political system was shaped by economic realities. For classical economists, the political and economic systems were intertwined, each dependent on the other for its existence.

The current economic crisis is best understood as a crisis of political economy. Moreover, it has to be understood as a global crisis enveloping the United States, Europe and China that has different details but one overriding theme: the relationship between the political order and economic life. On a global scale, or at least for most of the world’s major economies, there is a crisis of political economy. Let’s consider how it evolved.

Read more: Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy | STRATFOR

Twitt

Does China Pose a Threat to the U.S.?

While much has been written about the growth of the Chinese economy and its potential to become an economic superpower, does China pose a threat to the U.S.? Having unseated Japan as the second largest economy in the world, experts predict the country to surpass the U.S. by 50 percent within the next decade.  And while China may provide a growing market for American made goods and services, the trade imbalance between the two countries is only getting wider, with a 2010 trade deficit of $273 billion.

A Growing Power

China is now the world’s largest consumer of energy, coal, gold, steel, stainless steel, tin, copper, aluminum, cement, automobiles, platinum jewelry, solar panels, PVC, tungsten, paper and numerous other commodities.  They are also the world’s largest creditor nation (a position once held by the U.S. until we chose to become the world’s largest debtor nation), and the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter and the second largest importer.

As the world’s largest consumer of automobiles, China expects sales to explode within the next decade, rising to more than 20 million vehicles per year.  And while that may bode well for the auto industry, millions of additional cars point to increasing global oil consumption and rising gasoline prices, a commodity directly tied to U.S. economic health.

The incredible growth of China’s economy hasn’t come without problems—social unrest, pollution and corruption continue to haunt them—but the country’s sheer size and depth of its resources command respect; and their ownership of more than a trillion dollars of U.S. debt gives them undeniable leverage in negotiations. Chinese officials have quietly ignored requests to curtail their sales of military hardware to rogue nations, and they regularly supply weapons to America’s enemies, including the Taliban.  And their offerings haven’t been limited to conventional weaponry; the country has also contributed to the spread of nuclear technology, supplying both materials and expertise to North Korea, Iran and Pakistan.

Perhaps the most ominous threat from China has been their rapidly expanding involvement in cyber espionage.  A March 2009 article in the Telegraph, “China sees electronic spying as area where it can defeat America,” included this quote from a Chinese military strategist, “Thanks to modern technology, such as the development of information carriers and the Internet, many can now take part in fighting without even having to step out of the door.”  The article described how China anticipated recruiting hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens into an army of hackers who could overwhelm the defenses of an adversary.  Some now estimate China’s cyber espionage capabilities to have already surpassed that of the United States.

Although Chinese diplomats have denied such claims, investigations into the thefts of thousands of documents from military contractors, the State Department and the Pentagon have all pointed to operations based in China.  The costs of such breaches extend not only to the loss of sensitive material, but can be measured in significant financial costs as well.

A 2009 report in the Wall Street Journal indicated that China may have compromised the security of our nation’s electrical grid with the intention of identifying weaknesses that could be used to disrupt the American economy or completely disable the grid in times of war.  And China’s cyber espionage isn’t limited just to the U.S., some experts believe that their efforts extend to more than a hundred countries and that It’s growing daily.

Does China pose a threat to the U.S.?  Accumulated evidence seems to indicate that they are deliberately undermining the United States, from supplying weapons to our enemies and attempting to manipulate our economy to racing to lead the world in cyber espionage; the Chinese may no longer be willing to accept second-class status.  The danger to the U.S. and to the rest of the world is that China could ultimately be more interested in domination than peaceful coexistence.


Twitt

Obama’s Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal

Following President Obama”s announcement of the planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, critics from both the left and right attacked the plan as either too risky or insufficient.  However, most seem to ignore the realities of removing thousands of troops and their support mechanisms and more importantly how the drawdown will ultimately impact U.S. security.  Those who would like more in-depth information than is available from the limited and biased reporting of traditional media will find the following article a worthwhile read.

Obama’s Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal

By Nathan Hughes

U.S. President Barack Obama announced June 22 that the long process of drawing down forces in Afghanistan would begin on schedule in July. Though the initial phase of the drawdown appears limited, minimizing the tactical and operational impact on the ground in the immediate future, the United States and its allies are now beginning the inevitable process of removing their forces from Afghanistan. This will entail the risk of greater Taliban battlefield successes.

The Logistical Challenge

Afghanistan, a landlocked country in the heart of Central Asia, is one of the most isolated places on Earth. This isolation has posed huge logistical challenges for the United States. Hundreds of shipping containers and fuel trucks must enter the country every day from Pakistan and from the north to sustain the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied forces stationed in Afghanistan, about half the total number of Afghan security forces. Supplying a single gallon of gasoline in Afghanistan reportedly costs the U.S. military an average of $400, while sustaining a single U.S. soldier runs around $1 million a year (by contrast, sustaining an Afghan soldier costs about $12,000 a year).

These forces appear considerably lighter than those in Iraq because Afghanistan’s rough terrain often demands dismounted foot patrols. Heavy main battle tanks and self-propelled howitzers are thus few and far between, though not entirely absent. Afghanistan even required a new, lighter and more agile version of the hulking mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle known as the M-ATV (for “all-terrain vehicle”).

Based solely on the activity on the ground in Afghanistan today, one would think the United States and its allies were preparing for a permanent presence, not the imminent beginning of a long-scheduled drawdown (a perception the United States and its allies have in some cases used to their advantage to reach political arrangements with locals). An 11,500-foot all-weather concrete and asphalt runway and an air traffic control tower were completed this February at Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion in Helmand province. Another more than 9,000-foot runway was finished at Shindand Air Field in Herat province last December.

Obama's Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal
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Meanwhile, a so-called iron mountain of spare parts needed to maintain vehicles and aircraft, construction and engineering equipment, generators, ammunition and other supplies — even innumerable pallets of bottled water — has slowly been built up to sustain day-to-day military operations. There are fewer troops in Afghanistan than the nearly 170,000 in Iraq at the peak of operations and considerably lighter tonnage in terms of armored vehicles. But short of a hasty and rapid withdrawal reminiscent of the chaotic American exit from Saigon in 1975 (which no one currently foresees in Afghanistan), the logistical challenge of withdrawing from Afghanistan — at whatever pace — is perhaps even more daunting than the drawdown in Iraq. The complexity of having nearly 50 allies with troops in country will complicate this process.

Moreover, coalition forces in Iraq had ready access to well-established bases and modern port facilities in nearby Kuwait and in Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally. Though U.S. and allied equipment comes ashore on a routine basis in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, the facilities there are nothing like what exists in Kuwait. Routes to bases in Afghanistan are anything but short and established, with locally contracted fuel tankers and other supplies not only traveling far greater distances but also regularly subject to harassing attacks. They are inherently vulnerable to aggressive interdiction by militants fighting on terrain far more favorable to them, and to politically motivated interruptions by Islamabad. The American logistical dependence on Pakistani acquiescence cannot be understated. Most supplies transit the isolated Khyber Pass in the restive Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal Areas west of Islamabad. As in Iraq, the United States does have an alternative to the north. But instead of Turkey it is the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which runs through Central Asia and Russia (Moscow has agreed to continue to expand it) and entails a 3,200-mile rail route to the Baltic Sea and ports in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Obama's Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal
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Given the extraordinary distances involved, the metrics for defining whether something is worth the expense of shipping back from Afghanistan are unforgiving. Some equipment will be deemed too heavily damaged or cheap and will be sanitized if necessary and discarded. Much construction and fortification has been done with engineering and construction equipment like Hesco barriers (which are filled with sand and dirt) that will not be reclaimed, and will continue to characterize the landscape in Afghanistan for decades to come, much as the Soviet influence was perceivable long after their 1989 withdrawal. Much equipment will be handed over to Afghan security forces, which already have begun to receive up-armored U.S. HMMWVs, aka “humvees.” Similarly, some 800,000 items valued at nearly $100 million have already been handed over to more than a dozen Iraqi military, security and government entities.

Other gear will have to be stripped of sensitive equipment (radios and other cryptographic gear, navigation equipment, jammers for improvised explosive devices, etc.), which is usually flown out of the country due to security concerns before being shipped overland. And while some Iraqi stocks were designated for redeployment to Afghanistan or prepared for long-term storage in pre-positioned equipment depots and aboard maritime pre-positioning ships at facilities in Kuwait, most vehicles and supplies slated to be moved out of Afghanistan increasingly will have to be shipped far afield. This could be from Karachi by ship or to Europe by rail even if they are never intended for return to the United States.

Security Transition

More important than the fate of armored trucks and equipment will be the process of rebalancing forces across the country. This will involve handing over outposts and facilities to Afghan security forces, who continue to struggle to reach full capability, and scaling back the extent of the U.S. and allied presence in the country. In Iraq, and likely in Afghanistan, the beginning of this process will be slow and measured. But its pace in the years ahead remains to be seen, and may accelerate considerably.

Obama's Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal
(click here to enlarge image)

The first areas slated for handover to Afghan control, the provinces of Panjshir, Bamiyan and Kabul — aside the restive Surobi district, though the rest of Kabul’s security effectively has been in Afghan hands for years — and the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Lashkar Gah and Mehtar Lam have been relatively quiet places for some time. Afghan security forces increasingly have taken over in these areas. As in Iraq, the first places to be turned over to indigenous security forces already were fairly secure. Handing over more restive areas later in the year will prove trickier.

This process of pulling back and handing over responsibility for security (in Iraq often termed having Iraqi security forces “in the lead” in specific areas) is a slow and deliberate one, not a sudden and jarring maneuver. Well before the formal announcement, Afghan forces began to transition to a more independent role, conducting more small-unit operations on their own. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops slowly have transitioned from joint patrols and tactical overwatch to a more operational overwatch, but have remained nearby even after transitions formally have taken place.

Under the current training regime, Afghan units continue to require advice and assistance, particularly with matters like intelligence, planning, logistics and maintenance. The ISAF will be cautious in its reductions for fear of pulling back too quickly and seeing the situation deteriorate — unless, of course, Obama directs it to conduct a hastier pullback.

As in Afghanistan, in Iraq the process of drawing down and handing over responsibility in each area was done very cautiously. There was a critical distinction, however. A political accommodation with the Sunnis facilitated the apparent success of the Iraqi surge — something that has not been (and cannot be) replicated in Afghanistan. Even with that advantage, Iraq remains in an unsettled and contentious state. The lack of any political framework to facilitate a military pullback leaves the prospect of a viable transition in restive areas where the U.S. counterinsurgency-focused strategy has been focused tenuous at best — particularly if timetables are accelerated.

In June 2009, U.S. forces in Iraq occupied 357 bases. A year later, U.S. forces occupied only 92 bases, 58 of which were partnered with the Iraqis. The pace of the transition in Afghanistan remains to be seen, but handing over the majority of positions to Afghan forces will fundamentally alter the situational awareness, visibility and influence of ISAF forces.

Casualties and Force Protection

The security of the remaining outposts and ensuring the security of U.S. and allied forces and critical lines of supply (particularly key sections of the Ring Road) that sustain remaining forces will be key to crafting the withdrawal and pulling back to fewer, stronger and more secure positions. As that drawdown progresses — and particularly if a more substantive shift in strategy is implemented — the increased pace begins to bring new incentives into play. Of particular note will be both a military and political incentive to reduce casualties as the endgame draws closer.

The desire to accelerate the consolidation to more secure positions will clash with the need to pull back slowly and continue to provide Afghan forces with advice and assistance. The reorientation may expose potential vulnerabilities to Taliban attack in the process of transitioning to a new posture. Major reversals and defeats for Afghan security forces at the hands of the Taliban after they have been left to their own devices can be expected in at least some areas and will have wide repercussions, perhaps even shifting the psychology and perception of the war.

When ISAF units are paired closely with Afghan forces, those units have a stronger day-to-day tactical presence in the field, and other units are generally operating nearby. So while they are more vulnerable and exposed to threats like IEDs while out on patrol, they also — indeed, in part because of that exposure — have a more alert and robust posture. As the transition accelerates and particularly if Washington accelerates it, the posture and therefore the vulnerabilities of forces change.

Force protection remains a key consideration throughout. The United States gained considerable experience with that during the Iraq transition — though again, a political accommodation underlay much of that transition, which will not be the case in Afghanistan.

As the drawdown continues, ISAF will have to balance having advisers in the field alongside Afghan units for as long as possible against pulling more back to key strongholds and pulling them out of the country completely. In the former case, the close presence of advisers can improve the effectiveness of Afghan security forces and provide better situational awareness. But it also exposes smaller units to operations more distant from strongholds as the number of outposts and major positions begins to be reduced. And as the process of pulling back accelerates and particularly as allied forces increasingly hunker down on larger and more secure outposts, their already limited situational awareness will decline even further, which opens up its own vulnerabilities.

One of these will be the impact on not just situational awareness on the ground but intelligence collection and particularly exploitable relationships with local political factions. As the withdrawal becomes more and more undeniable and ISAF pulls back from key areas, the human relationships that underlie intelligence sharing will be affected and reduced. This is particularly the case in places where the Taliban are strongest, as villagers there return to a strategy of hedging their bets out of necessity and focus on the more enduring power structure, which in many areas will clearly be the Taliban.

The Taliban

Ultimately, the Taliban’s incentive vis-a-vis the United States and its allies — especially as their exit becomes increasingly undeniable — is to conserve and maximize their strength for a potential fight in the vacuum sure to ensue after the majority of foreign troops have left the country. At the same time, any “revolutionary” movement must be able to consolidate internal control and maintain discipline while continuing to make itself relevant to domestic constituencies. The Taliban also may seek to take advantage of the shifting tactical realities to demonstrate their strength and the extent of their reach across the country, not only by targeting newly independent and newly isolated Afghan units but by attempting to kill or even kidnap now-more isolated foreign troops.

Though this year the Taliban have demonstrated their ability to strike almost anywhere in the country, they so far have failed to demonstrate the ability to penetrate the perimeter of large, secured facilities with a sizable assault force or to bring crew-served weapons to bear in an effective supporting manner. Given the intensity and tempo of special operations forces raids on Taliban leadership and weapons caches, it is unclear whether the Taliban have managed to retain a significant cache of heavier arms and the capability to wield them.

The inherent danger of compromise and penetration of indigenous security forces also continues to loom large. The vulnerabilities of ISAF forces will grow and change while they begin to shift as mission and posture evolve — and those vulnerabilities will be particularly pronounced in places where the posture and presence remains residual and a legacy of a previous strategy instead of more fundamental rebalancing. The shift from a dispersed, counterinsurgency-focused orientation to a more limited and more secure presence will ultimately provide the space to reduce casualties, but it will necessarily entail more limited visibility and influence. And the transition will create space for potentially more significant Taliban successes on the battlefield.


Obama’s Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Twitt

The Palestinian Move

While some see hope in the recent Middle East turmoil, others see it as part of a overall plan from which neither Israel nor the U. S. will benefit; and it could come with some disastrous consequences for both.
Read this excellent article from STRATFOR.

By George Friedman

A former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, has publicly criticized the current Israeli government for a lack of flexibility, judgment and foresight, calling it “reckless and irresponsible” in the handling of Israel’s foreign and security policies. In various recent interviews and speeches, he has made it clear that he regards the decision to ignore the 2002 Saudi proposal for a peace settlement on the pre-1967 lines as a mistake and the focus on Iran as a diversion from the real issue — the likely recognition of an independent Palestinian state by a large segment of the international community, something Dagan considers a greater threat.

What is important in Dagan’s statements is that, having been head of Mossad from 2002 to 2010, he is not considered in any way to be ideologically inclined toward accommodation. When Dagan was selected by Ariel Sharon to be head of Mossad, Sharon told him that he wanted a Mossad with “a knife between its teeth.” There were charges that he was too aggressive, but rarely were there charges that he was too soft. Dagan was as much a member of the Israeli governing establishment as anyone. Therefore, his statements, and the statements of some other senior figures, represent a split not so much within Israel but within the Israeli national security establishment, which has been seen as being as hard-line as the Likud.

In addition, over the weekend, when pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the Golan Heights tried to force their way into Israeli-held territory, Israeli troops opened fire. Eleven protesters were killed in the Golan, and six were killed in a separate but similar protest in the West Bank. The demonstrations, like the Nakba-day protests, were clearly intended by the Syrians to redirect anti-government protests to some other issue. They were also meant to be a provocation, and the government in Damascus undoubtedly hoped that the Israelis would open fire. Dagan’s statements seem to point at this paradox. There are two factions that want an extremely aggressive Israeli security policy: the Israeli right and countries and militant proxies like Hamas that are actively hostile to Israel. The issue is which benefits more.

3 Strategic Phases

Last week we discussed Israeli strategy. This week I want us to consider Palestinian strategy and to try to understand how the Palestinians will respond to the current situation. There have been three strategies on Palestine. The first was from before the founding of Israel until 1967. In this period, the primary focus was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on the destruction of Israel by existing Arab nation-states and the absorption of the territory into those states.

Just a few years before 1967, the Palestine Liberation Army (PLO) came into existence, and after Israel’s victory in the June 1967 war, the Arab nations began to change their stance from simply the destruction of Israel and absorption of the territories into existing nation-states to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The PLO strategy at this time was a dual track divided between political and paramilitary operations and included terrorist attacks in both Israel and Europe. The political track tried to position the PLO as being open to a negotiated state, while the terrorist track tried to make the PLO seem extremely dangerous in order to motivate other nations, particularly European nations, to pressure Israel on the political track.

The weakness of this strategy was that the political track lost credibility as the terrorist track became bound up with late Cold-War intrigues involving European terrorist groups like Italy’s Red Brigade or Germany’s Red Army Faction. Their networks ranged from the Irish Republican Army to the Basque terrorist group ETA to Soviet bloc intelligence services. The PLO was seen as a threat to Europe on many levels as well as a threat to the Arab royal houses that they tried to undermine.

For the Palestinians, the most significant loss was the decision by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to shift from the Soviet alliance and make peace with Israel. This isolated the Palestinian movement from any significant regional support and made it dependent on the Soviets. With the Cold War winding down, the PLO became an orphan, losing its sponsorship from the Soviets as it had lost Jordanian and Egyptian support in the 1970s. Two main tendencies developed during this second phase. The first was the emergence of Hamas, a radically new sort of Palestinian movement since it was neither secular nor socialist but religious. The second was the rise of the internal insurrection, or intifada, which, coupled with suicide bombings and rocket fire from Gaza as well as from Hezbollah in Lebanon, was designed to increase the cost of insurrection to the Israelis while generating support for the Palestinians.

Ultimately, the split between Hamas and Fatah, the dominant faction of the PLO that had morphed into the Palestinian National Authority, was the most significant aspect of the third strategic phase. Essentially, the Palestinians were simultaneously waging a civil war with each other while trying to organize resistance to Israel. This is not as odd as it appears. The Palestinians had always fought one another while they fought common enemies, and revolutionary organizations are frequently split. But the Hamas-Fatah split undermined the credibility of the resistance in two ways. First, there were times in which one or the other faction was prepared to share intelligence with the Israelis to gain an advantage over the other. Second, and more important, the Palestinians had no coherent goal, nor did anyone have the ability to negotiate on their behalf. Should Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas engage in negotiations with Israel he could not deliver Hamas, so the whole point of negotiations was limited. Indeed, negotiations were likely to weaken the Palestinians by exacerbating intra-communal tensions.

Post Cold-War Weakness

One of the significant problems the Palestinians had always had was the hostility of the Arab world to their cause, a matter insufficiently discussed. The Egyptians spent this period opposed to Hamas as a threat to their regime. They participated in blockading Gaza. The Jordanians hated Fatah, having long memories about the Black September rising in 1970 that almost destroyed the Hashemite regime. Having a population that is still predominantly Palestinian, the Hashemites fear the consequences of a Palestinian state. The Syrians have never been happy with the concept of an independent Palestinian state because they retain residual claims to all former Syrian provinces, including Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. When they invaded Lebanon in 1976, they were supporting Maronite Christians and trying to destroy the PLO. Finally, the constant attempts by Fatah and the PLO to overthrow the royal houses of Arabia — all of which failed — created massive mistrust between a number of Arab regimes and the fledgling Palestinian movement.

Therefore, the strategic position of the Palestinians has been extremely weak since the end of the Cold War. They have been able to put stress on Israel but not come anywhere close to endangering its survival or even forcing policies to change. Indeed, their actions tended to make Israel even more rigid. This did not displease the Palestinians as an outcome. The more rigid the Israelis were, the more intrusive they would be in the Palestinian community and the more both Fatah and Hamas could rely on Palestinian support for their policies. In a sense, the greatest threat to the Palestinian movement has always been the Palestinians losing interest in a Palestinian state in favor of increased economic wellbeing. The ability to force Israel to take aggressive measures increased public loyalty to each of the two groups. During a time of inherent civil conflict between the two, provoking Israel became a means of assuring support in the civil war.

From Israel’s point of view, so long as the suicide bombings were disrupted and Gaza was contained, they were in an extraordinarily secure position. The Arab states were indifferent or hostile (beyond public proclamations and donations that frequently wound up in European bank accounts); the United States was not prepared to press Israel more than formally; and the Europeans were not prepared to take any meaningful action because of the United States and the Arab countries. The Israelis had a problem but not one that ultimately threatened them. Even Iran’s attempt to meddle was of little consequence. Hezbollah was as much concerned with Lebanese politics as it was with fighting Israel, and Hamas would take money from anyone. In the end, Hamas did not want to become an Iranian pawn, and Fatah knew that Iran could be the end of it.

In a sense, the Palestinians have been in checkmate since the fall of the Soviet Union. They were divided, holding on to their public, dealing with a hostile Arab world and, except for the suicide bombings that frightened but did not weaken Israel, they had no levers to change the game. The Israeli view was that the status quo, which required no fundamental shifts of concessions, was satisfactory.

A New 4th Phase?

As we have said many times, the Arab Spring is a myth. Where there have been revolutions they have not been democratic, and where they have appeared democratic they have not been in any way mass movements capable of changing regimes. But what they have been in the past is not necessarily what they will be in the future. Certainly, this round has bought little democratic change, and I don’t think there will be much. But I can make assumptions that the Israeli government can’t afford to make.

One does not have to believe in the Arab Spring to see evolutions in which countries like Egypt change their positions on the Palestinians, as evidenced by Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah border crossing. In Egypt, as in other Arab countries, the Palestinian cause is popular. A government that would make no real concessions to its public could afford to make this concession, which costs the regime little and is an easy way to appease the crowds. With the exception of Jordan, which really does have to fear a Palestinian state, countries that were hostile to the Palestinians could be more supportive and states that had been minimally supportive could increase their support.

This is precisely what the Palestinians want, and the reason that Hamas and Fatah have signed a grudging agreement for unity. They see the risings in the Arab world as a historic opportunity to break out of the third phase into a new fourth phase. The ability to connect the Palestinian cause with regime preservation in the Arab world represents a remarkable opportunity. So Egypt could, at the same time, be repressive domestically — and even maintain the treaty with Israel — while dramatically increasing support for the Palestinians.

In doing that, two things happen: First, Europeans, who are important trading partners for Israel, might be prepared to support a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders in order to maintain relations in the Arab and Islamic world on an issue that is really of low cost to them. Second, the United States, fighting wars in the Islamic world and needing the support of intelligence services of Muslim states and stability in these countries, could support a peace treaty based on 1967 borders.

The key strategy that the Palestinians have adopted is that of provocation. The 2010 flotilla from Turkey presented a model: select an action that from the outside seems benign but will be perceived by the Israelis as threatening; orchestrate the event in a way that will maximize the chances for an Israeli action that will be seen as brutal; shape a narrative that makes the provocation seem benign; and use this narrative to undermine international support for the Israelis.

Given the rigid structure of Israeli policy, this strategy essentially puts the Palestinians or other groups in control of the Israeli response. The Palestinians understand Israeli limits, which are not dynamic and are predictable, and can trigger them at will. The more skillful they are, the more it will appear that they are the victims. And the conversation can shift from this particular action by Israel to the broader question of the Israeli occupation. With unrest in the Arab world, shifting evaluations of the situation in the West and a strategy that manages international perceptions and controls the tempo and type of events, the Palestinians have the opportunity to break out of the third phase.

Their deepest problem, of course, is the split between Hamas and Fatah, which merely has been papered over by their agreement. Essentially, Fatah supports a two-state solution and Hamas opposes it. And so long as Hamas opposes it, there can be no settlement. But Hamas, as part of this strategy, will do everything it can — aside from abandoning its position — to make it appear flexible on it. This will further build pressure on Israel.

How much pressure Israel can stand is something that will be found out and something Dagan warned about. But Israel has a superb countermove: accept some variation of the 1967 borders and force Hamas either to break with its principles and lose its support to an emergent group or openly blow apart the process. In other words, the Israelis can also pursue a strategy of provocation, in this case by giving the Palestinians what they want and betting that they will reject it. Of course, the problem with this strategy is that the Palestinians might accept the deal, with Hamas secretly intending to resume the war from a better position.

Israel’s bet has three possible outcomes. One is to hold the current position and be constantly manipulated into actions that isolate Israel. The second is to accept the concept of the 1967 borders and bet on the Palestinians rejecting it as they did with Bill Clinton. The third outcome, a dangerous one, is for the Palestinians to accept the deal and then double-cross the Israelis. But then if that happens, Israel has the alternative to return to the old borders.

In the end, this is not about the Israelis or the Palestinians. It is about the Palestinian relationship with the Arabs and Israel’s relationship with Europe and the United States. The Israelis want to isolate the Palestinians, and the Palestinians are trying to isolate the Israelis. At the moment, the Palestinians are doing better at this than the Israelis. The argument going on in Israel (and not with the peace movement) is how to respond. Benjamin Netanyahu wants to wait it out. Dagan is saying the risks are too high.

But on the Palestinian side, the real crisis will occur should Dagan win the debate. The center of gravity of Palestinian weakness is the inability to form a united front around the position that Israel has a right to exist. Some say it, some hint it and others reject it. An interesting gamble is to give the Palestinians what the Americans and Europeans are suggesting — modified 1967 borders. For Israel, the question is whether the risk of holding the present position is greater than the risk of a dramatic shift. For the Palestinians, the question is what they will do if there is a dramatic shift. The Palestinian dilemma is the more intense and interesting one — and an interesting opportunity for Israel.

The Palestinian Move is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Twitt

Should We Really Care About Libya?

Recently, political pundits and  news stories have addressed the issue of whether or not the U.S. should establish a “no-fly” zone in Libya or send weapons and support to the rebels; and some have even suggested an invasion.  Should we really care about Libya? Does it matter which side prevails in the current conflict? Many are legitimately concerned about the loss of innocent lives and the continued danger to the citizens of the country.  Still others point to the need to protect the flow of oil; and with gasoline prices spiking towards record highs, their concerns over the potential impact to our economy are genuine.

However, before taking action we should face the implications of U.S. intervention, and the ultimate cost in American lives and dollars, and weigh that against the perceived benefits. While it’s impossible to overlook the suffering of the Libyan people, we cannot ignore the consequences to our country.  Any military intervention would carry risks—some much more than others—with the possibility that any action might increase civilian casualties, and would certainly carry the potential for losses of American lives.

As for the benefits, other than the possibility of a reduction in the loss of Libyan lives—and there’s no guarantee that such would be the case—the advantages to our country are minimal at best, and at worst, non-existent.  We only have to look around the Middle East to see that most of its people don’t like the U.S., and in many cases hate us.  Large groups are committed to harming both our nation and our people, and are willing to sacrifice their lives to do so.  Providing either monetary or military support for the current uprising would not suddenly change the mindset of the Libyan people.  We would not be seen or greeted as liberators.  A regime change will only open the door to a different type of leadership—perhaps a protracted civil war—and the resulting government would most likely appear vastly different from our concept of Western democracy.

Recent events in Egypt vividly demonstrate that we cannot buy friendship; the billions we sent did little other than make a despot one of the world’s wealthiest men.  And we can look to Afghanistan and Iraq to see the effects of American military intervention.  While I honor the brave men and women of our armed forces, whose lives and efforts allowed us to depose Saddam Hussein; because of the politics of war, what we achieved wasn’t a victory, but only a partial and temporary suspension of hostilities.  We failed to win the Iraqi people, the majority of whom want the U.S. out of their country immediately.  Yes, they have held elections, and they may experience less persecution than when Saddam was in power; but the sectarian violence and conflict will likely continue for decades.  Both Iraq and Afghanistan are besieged by violence and corruption; any changes that come will be initiated from within, not forced from the outside.

When politics and war converge, the people on all sides are the losers. The dangers of increased involvement in Libya far outweigh any perceived advantages.  While some countries in Europe might benefit, it seems unlikely that any European nation would act without the support and involvement of the U.S.  And while I lament the present suffering and loss of life, armed intervention could, in fact, serve to worsen the situation for the Libyan people.

The U.S. is currently experiencing sufficient internal problems to keep our leaders focused for decades; and restoring our economy is far from a certainty.  Let’s not worsen our situation and potentially worsen that of the people of Libya just because we somehow feel “obligated” to share our misguided compassion.  It’s not that I am an isolationist; nor do I suggest such a path for our nation.  But I am no longer willing to sacrifice the lives of those in our military and the wealth of our nation in an attempt to force our vision of democracy onto countries that have neither the desire nor the inclination to adapt to it.

Our “leaders” are far too willing to  sacrifice our nations treasures, both lives and money; and I’m sick of it.

Twitt

Why Riots in the U.S. May Be Closer than We Think

It’s easy to ignore the current unrest in the Middle East and to think it couldn’t happen here; however, a quick look at the economy, soaring gas and food prices, social unrest and political differences demonstrates why riots in the U.S. may be closer than we think.  And while some in the media may believe that we have advanced beyond such violence, we only have to look to our recent past to know they have overestimated both our wisdom and our self-control.  Civil disorder or worse could be as close as the next legislative action.  Not only could riots happen here . . . they’re likely.

Chaos May Be Closer Than We Think

A quick look at what happened in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries, while grown out of conditions dramatically different from those in the U.S., shows just how easily public opinion and unrest explode into unbridled rage.  What we have seen, as the U.S. experienced in Chicago and 100 other cities in 1968, in Los Angeles twice in recent decades and in the aftermath of Katrina, was an explosion of mob mentality.  And when mobs explode, the collective mind has neither reason nor tolerance.  The chaotic movements and actions of mobs seem to be driven from outside the person, and are rarely planned.  That’s why mobs are dangerous and why reasonable people should be concerned.

We are living in what some are calling an “age of rage,” and it has already spread around the globe.  The “have-nots” want to be “haves,” and the “haves” want more.  Some take their demands to government; others just try to take what they think they deserve.  Consider the recent actions of some union members, even elected officials, whose language and conduct demonstrate their loss of rational thought process.  Aware of the potential for widespread civil disobedience, our military has made preparations for what they call ‘Strategic Shocks,’ events that could erupt within the U.S. due to economic collapse or other calamity.

The uncertainties of our economy and ever-increasing levels of political animosity seem to be driving us towards an ominous collision.  Looking to the future one can imagine several possibilities, any one of which could trigger severe unrest and even rioting.  I’ve listed some of the most prominent:

Food shortages and price increases – Corn, wheat, soybeans, beef, chicken, pork, milk and grains are all experiencing significant increases in prices, some of which have been record breaking.  All we need is a prolonged drought, disruption of our food delivery systems or other natural disaster to create rapid and significant food shortages.

Extreme hikes in gasoline prices or rationing – Chaos in the Middle East has caused a dramatic run-up in oil and gasoline prices, but prices are unlikely to fall back when the unrest subsides.  With China now surpassing the U.S. as the world’s largest auto market and growing at a rate of about 25% per year, oil demand and prices can only increase.  Having made no progress in developing alternative fuel sources or weaning us from foreign oil in the past 4 decades, the only thing our politicians have flowing is political rhetoric.

Reductions in public worker benefits – We only have to look to Wisconsin to see the potential for strife that comes with cutting public worker benefits; and when all our states face the stark reality of meeting their budgets without federal assistance, additional jobs and benefits will be slashed.

Tax increases that affect middle class – With our politicians unable to make budget cuts significant to lower the ever-growing deficit, tax increases are inevitable . . . for DC it appears the path of least resistance.  They’ll avoid the income tax as it’s too obvious, but will look for subtle ways to increase all of our taxes.  And of course, inflation is a significant form of taxation, and inflation is already here.

Continued high unemployment – High unemployment will be with us for years, and at some point, the unemployed may rise up demanding government action.

Perceived curtailing of free speech – Bureaucrats seem to thrive on restricting our freedoms rather than expanding them.  They’re constantly evaluating the Internet, social media, broadcast media, looking for ways to “protect” us.

Our nation is facing a crisis of monumental proportions, and politicians are too cowardly or too bewildered to address it.  Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, they’ve chosen to “kick the can” a bit farther down the road . . . oblivious to the fact that the road they have chosen is a dead-end.  Accelerating to maximum velocity, our “leaders” are guiding our nation, our economy and our people towards a collision that now seems unavoidable.  The only question appears to be one of timing.

Think riots can’t happen here?  Just ask the residents of Chicago, Los Angeles or Seattle who thought their cities were immune.  The issue we face is whether or not we will allow our elected officials to continue leading us towards a growing crisis.  Unless we speak out in sufficient numbers to demand an immediate change, such a crisis seems almost a certainty.

Click on the video to see mob rule in action.



Twitt

Unrest and the Libyan Military

Unrest and the Libyan Military

As the world watches for signs of the collapse of the government of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, those fighting for their freedom continue to be threatened by military force.  There have been several reports of random shooting by mercenaries and aircraft have been ordered to bomb groups of protesters.  Earlier today, two Libyan Air Force officers defected rather than bomb their own people.

We can be certain, however, that Gadhafi will use all available resources—it remains uncertain how many in the military remain loyal—to quell this uprising.  Reports of the dictator’s flight out of the country seem to indicate that even he is unsure of his ultimate triumph.

From the outside, this appears to be a very fluid situation, as various internal factions compete for control.  For additional information read the latest report from www.Stratfor.com and follow their links to additional articles.

Stratfor:

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has ordered the Libyan air force to fire on military installations in Libya, according to what the BBC has characterized as a reliable source. Al Jazeera has suggested that air force fighters have opened fire on crowds of protesters.

Though the latter would be particularly draconian, the more important question is whether these signs reflect a split within the regime and Gadhafi using military force to crush opposition to his regime emerging from the military or other security forces. Similar reports of the Libyan navy firing on targets onshore also are emerging, as well as reports that Gadhafi has given execution orders to soldiers who have refused to fire on Libyan protesters.

The application of conventional weaponry is noteworthy and will warrant scrutiny — particularly in terms of the targets of the attacks and the rationale behind them. The use of these weapons is more appropriate for other armed entities rather than unarmed protesters. Libyan troops are good at instilling fear, but not good at stabilizing a situation, so the military may not be able to get in on the ground due to lost capability.

The situation remains opaque, but these latest developments combined with recent reports of defections of military units to the demonstrators’ side continue to draw STRATFOR’s attention to the possibility that the regime is fracturing.
Read more: Unrest and the Libyan Military | STRATFOR

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