“Epilogue,” by George Friedman, America’s Secret War, http://www.americassecretwar.com/about_book_finalchapter.html, 4 October 2004.
Coming Anarchy must be on a George Friedman kick, first with a dual-review of America’s Secret War and Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map, and then with a shout-out to his dated The Coming War With Japan.
I do not know what to make of Friedman. While my reaction to The Pentagon’s New Map was the sort of rah-rah enthusiasm I last had for The Lexus and the Olive Tree, and I met Embracing Defeat was the slack-jawed horror similar to We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Murdered With Our Families, the epilog to America’s Secret War was a strange combination: slack-jawed enthusiasm. I do not know what to make of it. I will need to buy the full book to understand the author’s arguments (unlike the ignoramouses at Washington Monthly, I like to know what I am talking about). But for now, some excerpts with minimal comments
The Two Foes
BETWEEN AUGUST AND OCTOBER 2004 , all eyes were focused on the Iraq campaign. The basic strategic reality, however, on October 1, 2004, is this: Al Qaeda has failed to achieve its strategic goals; there has been no rising in the Islamic world; virtually all Muslim intelligence services are working with the United States against Al Qaeda; and Al Qaedaâ€™s credibility and operational integrity are being questioned everywhere.
On the other hand, the United States has not achieved its own fundamental strategic goal: It cannot guarantee the security of the United States against an Al Qaeda attack. It has not broken Al Qaeda with any degree of confidence. Indeed, in the worst-case scenario, it has not been able to guarantee that Al Qaeda
does not have weapons of mass destruction.
The Most Dangerous Month
Credibility, timing and the reality on the ground made it imperative for Al Qaeda to do something, and to do it before the U.S. election. Now, there is a peculiarity about American political life. In the immediate wake of any national crisis, a presidentâ€™s approval rating soars, as Americans rally around him. Over the next months, depending on the presidentâ€™s performance, that approval can bleed off rapidly. Therefore, attacking immediately before the election would increase Bushâ€™s chances of winning. Attacking weeks or, better yet, months ahead of the elections could potentially destroy his chances of winning.
The United States is not Spain. The question among analysts was whether Al Qaeda knew this. After
studying the documents about Spain, most analysts were unprepared to dismiss Al Qaedaâ€™s intellectual
capabilities. It was assumedâ€”with good reason, considering the sources in the United Statesâ€”that Al Qaeda
had a sophisticated understanding of American political culture. This meant, in practical terms, that Al Qaeda
would attackâ€”if it couldâ€”by August 31, in order to allow enough time for Bushâ€™s support to bleed off. In
fact, the assumption was that the ideal time was in early August, simply from the standpoint of political
It came down to this. It had to be assumed that there was a direct threat to the United States. You had to go with the worst-case scenario. You didnâ€™t know for sure who was a threat and who wasnâ€™t. In the best of all worlds, you would wait until you got clarity. But in the summer of 2004, waiting had become an unaffordable luxury. Moving against known networks, regardless of how uncertain the knowledge, might disrupt an attack. Waiting and watching might improve knowledge in the long run, but the long run was a long way off. Therefore the argument was decided in favor of the security people. The United States was going to try to disrupt al Qaedaâ€™s network using imperfect knowledge and imprecise tools.
U.S. intelligence had a blurry vision of Al Qaeda, but it wasnâ€™t completely blind. On the other hand, al Qaeda could not be certain exactly how much the United States knew. Since it was risk-averse, it also drew worst-case conclusions. An interesting statistical game began. In July, the United States, working with regional intelligence and security services, began arresting suspected Al Qaeda members. From Pakistan to Virginia, people who had been on watch lists were being interrogated, arrested, deported to other countries and generally rousted about.
The United States knew that many of them had little or no connection to Al Qaeda. On the other hand, it
had enough intelligence to know that statistically, some of them had to be deeply involved. Precisely who was
involved was unclear, but the odds were that some of those being interrogated or arrested were involved.
The United States knew that Al Qaeda was watching the global operationâ€”and that while the United States might be unclear on who was who, Al Qaeda was not unclear. They knew if the United States had captured someone significant. What they did not know is if the United States knew who they had. Neither did they know if the person might have talked. However, working from worst-case, they had to assume both, and therefore any operation that these people might be involved in or have knowledge of had to be aborted.
That was the U.S. goal. They did not expect to destroy Al Qaeda. They did expect to disrupt its security system sufficiently to abort operations that were planned prior to the election. Starting in July and peaking in early August, the United States and its allies rolled up network after networkâ€”with the networks being generously defined. Some intelligence was gained, but the hope wasâ€”and this was reasonableâ€”that Al Qaedaâ€™s knowledge of its own network would cause it to shut down operations.
Our real Iraq goals, Iran’s real Iraq goals, Sistani’s real Iraq goals?
As we have discussed, the primary point of the war was not to stabilize Iraq, and certainly not to democratize it. The primary goal was to create a base of operations that would bring overwhelming pressure to bear on Saudi Arabia, as well as on Syria and Iran. The administrationâ€™s surprise over guerrilla war in Iraq caused it to lose its balance and allow mission creepâ€”from strategic bases to democracy. But beneath the perception, the reality of Iraq, while not pleasant, was not as bad as it appeared.
The last three months have been spent on three issues. First, and most important, they were spent in defining Iranâ€™s role in Iraq and the role of the Shiite community. In April 2004, the United States reversed itself on guarantees made to the Iranians and Iraqi Shia about domination of the Iraqi government. This occurred in the context of a rising by Muqtada al-Sadrâ€™s Mehdi Army in Najaf. The rising was encouraged by Iran and the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Both were hoping that the rising would be crushed by the Americans, but would increase U.S. dependence on Sistani and Iran. The exact opposite happened: The United States refused to deal with Sadr, leaving him to fester, and refused to deal with Iran and Sistani.
The weaking insurgency? The worst insurgency? The clock-work insurgency?
There had been three major guerrilla offensives in Iraq. There was the Ramadan offensive of October-
November 2003. There was the Fallujah-Najaf offensive in April. And there has been the September-October
election offensive. It is interesting to note that the offensives were divided by four months, end to beginning.
That is not accidental. It took that long to recruit and train fresh recruits. It was also interesting to note that
each offensive was weaker than the preceding one.
The Ramadan offensive was a massive surprise, and created near panic in the U.S. command structure.
While geographically contained, it was intense and effective, involving larger units as well as small units. The
April offensive had a relatively lower level of violence, although more widely dispersed. The election
offensive, while perceived to be uncontrolled, was actually significantly weaker in small unit operations and
concentrated on relatively low-risk bombings and kidnappings.