A Howl of Respect to All:
It is natural to use anniversaries for taking stock of things and we approach the third anniversary of Flight 93.
Those of you who read the WW3 thread know that from time to time I post things from www.stratfor.com
It is not cheap, but I recommend it highly. What follows is one of their ongoing "freebies" that they use to show the level that they are at.
In my humble opinion, this is a superb analysis that all of us of all tendencies will find well worth the read.
THE GEOPOLITICAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT
September 11: Three Years Later
September 9, 2004
By George Friedman
The U.S.-jihadist war is now nearly three years old. Like most
wars, its course has been an unfolding surprise. It is a war of
many parts -- some familiar, some unprecedented. Like all wars,
it has been filled with heroism, cowardice, lies, confusion and
grief. As usual, it appears to everyone that the levels of each
of these have been unprecedented. In truth, however, very little
about this war is unprecedented -- save that all wars are, by
definition, unprecedented. Only one thing is certain about this
war: Like all others, it will end. The issue on the table on the
third anniversary is: What is the current state of this war, and
how will it end?
The war was begun by al Qaeda, and therefore its state must be
viewed through al Qaeda's eyes. From that standpoint, the war is
not going well at all. Al Qaeda did not attack the United States
on Sept. 11 simply to kill Americans. Al Qaeda wanted to kill
Americans in order to achieve a political goal: the recreation of
at least part of the caliphate, an empire ruled by Islamic law
and feared and respected by the rest of the world.
Al Qaeda's view was that the real obstacles to such a caliphate
were the governments of Muslim countries. These governments
either were apostates, were corrupt or were so complicit with
Christian, Jewish or Hindu regimes that not only did they not
represent Islamic interests, but they had sold out the immediate
interests of their own people.
From al Qaeda's point of view, the power of these regimes resided
in their relationship with foreign powers. Moreover, the
perception of these foreign powers -- particularly the United
States, which had become the latest edition of Christianity's
leading foreign power -- was that they were irresistible. Muslim
countries had not defeated a Christian power in war for
centuries. Hatred ran deep, but so did impotence. Al Qaeda was
far less interested in increasing hatred of the United States
than in showing that the United States was vulnerable -- that it
could be defeated. Al Qaeda argued that the mujahideen had
demonstrated this in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, and
the Soviet Union collapsed as a result. If al Qaeda could
demonstrate America's vulnerability, a sense of confidence would
infuse the Islamic world and regimes would fall or change their
The Sept. 11 attacks were designed to demonstrate the
vulnerability of the United States. They also were designed to
entice the United States to wage multiple wars in the Islamic
world while pursuing al Qaeda directly and indirectly, further
opening the United States up to attack and attrition. Al Qaeda
did demonstrate American vulnerability, and the United States did
surge into the Muslim world. It did encounter resistance and took
But al Qaeda completely failed to achieve its strategic goals.
There was no rising in the Islamic street. Not a single Muslim
regime fell. Not a single regime moved closer to al Qaeda's
position. Almost all Muslim regimes moved to closer cooperation
with the United States. Viewed through the lens of al Qaeda's
hopes and goals, therefore, the war so far has been a tremendous
failure. In various tapes and releases, al Qaeda officials --
including Osama bin Laden -- have expressed their frustration and
their commitment to continue the struggle. However, it is
essential to realize that from al Qaeda's strategic point of
view, the last three years have been a series of failures and
This is the objective reality. It is not the American perception.
The first reason for this perception gap is the definition the
administration has given the war: It is a war on terrorism. If
the goal of the war has been to deny al Qaeda strategic victory,
then the United States is winning the war. If, on the other hand,
the goal of the war is to protect the homeland against any
further attacks by al Qaeda or other groups, then that goal has
not been achieved.
Al Qaeda's primary operational capability is its ability to evade
U.S. intelligence capabilities. This is not a trivial capability.
Three years into the war, the precise shape and distribution of
al Qaeda and related organizations are still not transparent to
U.S. intelligence. However much more the United States knows
about al Qaeda, it does not appear that its abilities are
sufficient to guarantee the security of the United States or
allied countries against enemy attacks. There are too many
potential targets, and al Qaeda remains too invisible to
Therefore, on a purely operational level, the United States does
not see itself as winning the war. During World War II, for
example -- by 1943 or even earlier -- the United States was
secure from German or Japanese attacks against the homeland. That
is not the case in this war. Therefore, there is an interesting
paradox built in. On the strategic side, al Qaeda is losing --
and thus the United States is winning -- the strategic war, and
this, of course, is the decisive sphere. On the operational side,
even though there has thus far been no repeat of the Sept. 11
attacks in the United States, the war is at a stalemate. Public
perception is more sensitive to the operational stalemate than to
the strategic success.
This has led to a crisis of confidence about the war that has
been compounded by a single campaign -- Iraq -- which has dwarfed
the general war in apparent importance. As readers of Stratfor
know, our view of the Iraq campaign has been that it was the
logical next step in the general war and that the Bush
administration knew that by February 2002, when it became
apparent that U.S. intelligence could not strike globally to
destroy al Qaeda. It has also been our view that the Iraq
campaign was marred by extremely poor intelligence and planning.
We have also argued that such failures are not only common in war
but inevitable, and that these failures, however egregious, were
to be expected.
We have also argued, and continue to be amazed, that the single
greatest failure of the Bush administration in this war has been
its inability to give a coherent explanation of why it invaded
Iraq. The public justification -- that Iraq had weapons of mass
destruction -- was patently absurd on its face. You do not invade
a country with a year's warning if you are really afraid of WMD.
The incoherence of the justification was self-evident prior to
the war, and the failure to find WMD was merely icing on the
cake. The consequence was a crisis of confidence that was a very
unlikely outcome after Sept. 11 and which the administration
built for itself. In other words, the decision to invade Iraq
was, from our point of view, inevitable following the failure of
the covert war. What was not inevitable was the catastrophic
failure to explain the invasion and the resulting crisis of
The clearest explanation for this failure has to do with Saudi
Arabia and the U.S. relation to the kingdom -- a relationship
that goes far beyond the Bush family or either political party.
Saudi Arabia was one of the reasons for the invasion. The U.S.
intent was to frighten the Saudis into policy change,
demonstrating (a) that the Saudis were now surrounded by U.S.
troops and (b) that the United States was no longer influenced by
the Saudis. The goal was to force the Saudis to change their
behavior toward financing al Qaeda. Stating this goal publicly
would have destabilized the Saudi regime, however, and the United
States wanted policy change, not regime change. Therefore,
Washington preferred to appear the fool rather than destabilize
If this is the explanation -- and we emphatically do believe,
from all analysis and sources, that the administration did have a
much more sophisticated strategy in place on Iraq than it has
ever been able to enunciate -- then it was one with severe costs.
Apart from the specific failures in the war, the generation of a
massive crisis of confidence in the United States over the Iraq
campaign has become a strategic reality of the wider war. To the
extent that this is a war of perception -- and on some level, all
wars are -- the perception that the United States is deeply
divided is damaging. The actual debate is over the Iraq campaign
and not the war as a whole, but this has increasingly been lost
in the clamor. There is much more consensus on the war as a whole
than might appear.
Therefore, we can say that al Qaeda has failed to achieve its
strategic goals. At the same time, the United States is facing
its own strategic crisis. Since Vietnam, the fundamental question
has been whether the United States has sufficient will and
national unity to execute a long-term war. One of the purposes of
the Iraq invasion was to demonstrate American will. The errors in
what we might call information warfare -- or propaganda -- by the
Bush administration have generated severe doubts. The
administration's management of the situation has turned into a
strategic defeat -- although not a decisive one as yet.
Massive dissent about wars has been the norm in American history.
We tend to think of World War II as the norm, but, quite the
contrary, it was the exception. The Revolutionary War, Mexican
War, Civil War, Vietnam War and others all contained amazing
levels of rancor among the American public. The vilification
among the citizenry of Washington's generalship or Lincoln's
presidency during the action was quite amazing. Thus, it is not
the dissent that is startling, but the perception of U.S.
weakness that it generates in the Islamic world. And the
responsibility does not rest with the dissidents, but with the
president's failure to understand the strategic consequences of
public incoherence on policy issues. Keeping it simple works only
when the simple explanation is not too difficult to understand.
Let us therefore consider the salient points:
Al Qaeda has failed to reach its strategic goals.
The United States has not secured the homeland against attack.
There has been a major realignment in the Muslim world's
governments, due to U.S. politico-military operations that have
favored the United States.
There has been no mass uprising in the Islamic world as a result
of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Iraq campaign has involved massive failures, but the casualty
rate remains less than 2 percent of the total killed in Vietnam.
That places the problem in perspective. In addition, the
political situation is increasingly manageable in Iraq.
The strategic management of information operations has been the
major U.S. failure. It is serious enough to threaten the
strategic thrust of the war against al Qaeda. The inability to
provide a coherent explanation for Iraq has substantially harmed
the war effort.
At the same time, this should not be overestimated. It is
interesting to note the problem that John Kerry is having in
articulating his own challenge to the president over Iraq and the
war in general. He has three potential strategies:
Reject the war in general
Reject the Iraq campaign but embrace the rest of the war
Accept Iraq and the war and argue that he would be more competent
in executing both
Kerry vacillates between the last two positions for a reason. If
he takes the first position, he risks alienating the center,
where voters are uncomfortable with any anti-war position but
want superior leadership and execution. If he accepts the third
position, he can take the center but risks the possibility that
hard-core anti-war leftists will stay home on Election Day.
Therefore, he is avoiding a strategic decision between the last
two positions -- shifting tactically between the two, hoping to
bridge the gap. This is a difficult plan, but it seems the only
one open to him. It is also the factor that will limit the extent
of strategic damage stemming from Bush's presentation of the Iraq
campaign. Kerry won't be able to effectively exploit that damage
because of his own political problems.
Therefore, at this moment, we would argue that the war, on the
whole, is being won by the United States or, more precisely, is
being lost by al Qaeda. The purely military aspects of the war
are going better for the United States than is the politico-
military effort, primarily due to the complexity of coercing
allies without causing them public humiliation. But that is also
the weak point of the U.S. campaign and the point at which al
Qaeda will try to counterattack. That covert coercion could, al
Qaeda hopes, energize a political movement it is trying to
The war is far from over. The snapshot of the moment does not
tell us what either side may do in the future. The United States
clearly intends to move into Pakistan to find bin Laden's command
center. Al Qaeda clearly intends to destabilize Saudi Arabia and
any other target of opportunity that might open up -- Pakistan or
Egypt. And in the end, as in all wars, there will be a
negotiation. It is impossible to really envision what that
negotiation would look like or who the parties would actually be,
but -- returning to the point that this war, like all others,
will end -- complete victory by either side is the least likely
Whatever the outcome, this much must be understood. On Nov. 8,
the United States will have a president who will never again
stand for re-election. He may have the office for four more years
or for only two more months. In either case, we can expect that
an attempt at decisive action will occur. Win or lose, Bush will
be looking for his place in history. A Bush acting without
political constraints will be the wild card in the next phase of
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