Category Archives: al qaeda

The Half-Life of Nuclear Terror

A Quick Observation on the National Security Strategy” discussion, by CRK et al, Whirled View, 16 April 2005,

Mark at Zen Pundit blog was kind enough to email me a post on detering nuclear attack, now and in the past

The consequences of a terrorist nuclear attack would be far less than those of a Cold War first strike. It is unlikely that terrorists would be able to get their hands on one nuclear weapon, let alone several. Losing a large part of any city would be unacceptable. But how unacceptable? Unacceptable enough to launch a preventive strike on Iran? Unacceptable enough for an attack on North Korea?

Early in the Cold War, the argument was made that the United States could not accept the consequences of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, and that therefore the United States should pre-emptively attack. President Eisenhower decided that that was not the right course. We need to think the unthinkable, as the Cold War strategists did, and not flinch.

Mark Safranski’s comment was fascinating

The question of what deters al Qaida is essentially what costs would they find not worth paying in exchange for nuking, say New York city? Not their own lives, obviously nor do they care about the lives of fellow Muslims per se because they would be, in the zany Qutbist-Salafist world ” martyrs”.

All I’ve been able to come up with as a potential deterrent is the their having the knowledge of certain retaliatory destruction of Islam’s holiest sites – bin Laden and Zawahiri would shrink from paying that price.

This would seem at first blush, a terrible response but we once contemplated, with equanimity(!), incinerating hundreds of millions of Russians who had far less moral complicity in the policies of the Politburo than Saudi citizens have with supporting al Qaida. I raised this suggestion recently with Steve Coll ( Ghost Wars) and he responded ” This is exactly the question that I hope is being discussed in the National Security Council”.

We need to get serious about making the idea of nuking an American city and killing millions of Americans unimaginable once again. I have too much of a sense that this kind of action is viewed in some quarters as potentially an acceptable, if high-risk, gambit if enough cut-outs are used to muddy the waters.

I responded by noting that we have attacked other faiths in the past, and may do so again

After World War II America participated in the total destruction of two “enemy” religions (National Reich Church and State Shinto). In each case the ban was not merely a vertical shock — banning the faith — but an horizontal, ongoing effort to prevent its reemergence. NRC is still illegal in Germany, and SCAP (the American-led Coalition in Japan) stamped out several “unofficial” offshoots of State Shinto.

America rightly protects religious freedom at home, but it would not always be wise to protect the rights of enemy religions abroad. The full consequences of a holy-site strike should be considered (including the obvious blow-back), but the obliteration of enemy religions should remain a valid tool of American statecraft.

Let Muslim Brothers Run

Al Qaeda’s Grand Strategy,” by Tigerhawk, Tigerhawk, 31 March 2005, (from Glittering Eye).

After the Iraqi elections, I blogged President Bush’s olive-branc to the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important that the Muslim Brethren be allowed to contest Egyptian elections fairly. If they are engaged as a democratic organization, the Jamiat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun will begin the integration of significant portions of Egyptian society with the rest of the world. Else, the Society of Muslim Brothers could revert back to terrorism.

I’m not alone in this belief

How do al Qaeda intellectuals explain what has happened in Afghanistan?

“They do not explain this well. This is why I think we will win in the long run. There are some things they do not think well about. They don’t trust the average Muslim. They do not have a good example. Whenever something bad happens to them, they say ‘The situation is clarified.’ They always say this. They also do not think very clearly about the sectarians. They are going to lose in Iraq because their message is not attractive to the Kurds and the Shiites.”

How is this going to play out in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is advocating democracy?

“There is a difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and the radicals. It is kind of the tap root of these organizations, but it is not itself radical. Al Qaeda hates the Brotherhood, because it operates within a nationalist framework, which al Qaeda is very much against.”

Dr. was reportedly denied tenure by a Leftist academic department for his critical work on al-Qaeda. He isn’t some dove.

Every success in the Cold War came from using nationalists against ideologues. In China and Yugoslavia we helped turn a radical ideology into a patriotic party. We can do so against in Egypt.

In the new Egyptian elections, let the Muslim Brothers run.

Our Enemy Pakistan?

Tora Bora and Nuclear Nightmares,” by George Friedman, America’s Secret War, pg 223, 2004.

Pakistan pays tribe al-Qaeda debt,” BBC News,, 9 February 2005.

Is Pakistan an enemy of the United States in the Global War on Terrorism? George Friedman seems to think so

Most countries of concern to the Untied States granted access to U.S. agents and troops to search for and secure nuclear facilities. Some did not, and the United States began to think of ways to destroy facilities in these countries — Iraq, Iran, LIbya, and, above all, Pakistan . Pakistan was the key, because it had the closest connections to Al Qaeda and the least cooperative intelligence service, in spite of the apparent cooperation of Pakistan’s President Musharraf. The United States didn’t really think that the Iranians would provide Al Qaeda with nuclear weapons. The Iranians were too cautious, and their own program was too undeveloped. The Iraqis were a greater threat, but they seemed not to have extensive contact wiht Al Qaeda. The North Koreans were much too concerned with regime survival to risk it — and they were being watched too carefully. Pakistan was seen, of all these ountries, as the most unstable, most pro-Al Qaeda, with the greatest threat of nuclear proliferation, making it the biggest problem. It was not the only one, just the most immediate.

More dangerous than Iran or Iraq and less rational than North Korea. That’s saying something!

Why, with that description, we could expect Pakistan to be making cash payments to al Qaeda

Pakistan says it has paid 32m rupees ($540,000) to help four former wanted tribal militants in South Waziristan settle debts with al-Qaeda.


French Terrorists

Defending the Holemand: Crisis and Irrelevance: War or Crime?,” by George Friedman, America’s Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and its Enemies, ppg 121-122, 2004.

The laws of war do not apply to terrorists, in part because they fall outside the Geneva Convention. As George Friedman writes

The Geneva Convention clearly didn’t apply to Al Qaeda. The Geneva Convention of 1949 states in Article 2 that fighters will be considered combatants so long as the following conditions apply:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
(c) That of carrying arms openly;
(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war

Why? Because Europe has a history of terrorism and knew what was illegal. Friedman continues about franc tireurs — while they were indeed french terrorists, the phrase is a false cognate — it means “free shooters”

The Geneva Convention deliberately intended to exclude soldiers in disguise with hidden weapons from its protections because the framers of the Convention regarded such behavior as outside the bounds of civilized warfare. The “franc tireurs” who had carried out terrorist actions against uniformed soldiers were regarded as engaged in illegal actions under the rules of law. The phrase had originated in the Franco-Prussion War of 1871 and was specifically used by the framers of the Geneva Convention to distinguish those protected by the Convention from those who weren’t. Al Qaeda did not qualify for protection under the Geneva Convention — except those fighting openly in places like Afghanistan.

For more modern examples of Froglandish treachery, Riding Sun has the scoop.

Update: Francophonic unlawful combatants in the Great War

The officer in command of the force holding the town came, just before we started, to warn us to beware of bicyclists who might be encountered near Tirlemont.

“They are all franc-tireurs — those Belgians on wheels,” he said. “Some of them are straggling soldiers, wearing uniforms under their other clothes. They will shoot at you and trust to their bicycles to get away. We’ve caught and killed some of them, but there are still a few abroad. Take no chances with them. If I were in your place I should be ready to shoot first.”

Cyberwar Within the Context of Everything Else

Gaming War Within the Context of Everything Else,” Fire and Movement, Issue 134, by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Horse and Musket,, 2004.

Of content flows and rodeos,” by Stuart Berman, My Kids’ Dad,, 4 February 2005.

Stuart Berman is an insightful thinker, and I recently added his blog to my reading list. But this suggestion is dangerously wrong.

2) The analogous layer – should the Internet remain ‘wide open’ or should we adopt Barnett’s model?

Barnett emphasizes the role of technologies in fostering the war of connectivity although he concentrates on the geophysical context (the Internet has multiplied the effects of globalization but those effects tend to be geographic thus the Gap and Core are mostly bounded by national boundaries with special position given to those countries on the border – ‘seam states’). This makes sense as long as the war is fought along physical lines, but some (including myself) are concerned about the impact of cyberwar – that is what happens when the connectivity war starts ‘backflushing’ upstream? Examples above are one aspect of this. In the cyberworld (electronic communications) there is very little relationship between the physical (location and infrastructure) and the virtual (the content and flow) so the seams or the frontlines are almost imperceptible. (A Korean may have her Hotmail account with all of it’s data reside in Seattle and is handled the same way as if it belonged to a man in Iowa.) Clearly China has tried to alter this architecture – the question is should the architecture take into account analogous geophysical global situations or even try to model the architecture along the thinking Barnett offers (in the virtual world regardless of your physical location are you a Core player, a Gap player or a Seam player -> your behavior determines your status not any other factor[nationality, religion, skin tone, gender])? The first option (China) involves firewalling and content control at the physical borders, the second option requires development of identity architectures and virtual firewalling (ala Jericho Forum).

If I am reading this right, the suggestion is dangerously wrong. We have to fight war in the context of everything else. That means cyberwar within the context of too. Dr. Barnett has written

Instead of just gaming war within the context of war, you’d have to game war within the context of everything else—Risk meets Monopoly meets Life meets . . ..

Let me give you an even better example. The U.S. Census Bureau says two-thirds of America’s population growth between now and 2050 will come from Latinos immigrating here from Central and South America. Without that flow of bodies, our Potential Support Ratio (PSR) of workers-to-retirees will plummet dangerously. That’s the future economic strength of this country in a nutshell. Guess what happens in response to 9/11? We tighten our borders and already we see a diversion of that flow to Europe. You want to know who made that call? Bin Laden did. He’s playing a game of Risk we don’t understand, because we lack the imagination to do so—because we only understand war within the context of war and not within the context of everything else.

I think Mr. Berman and I agree with Dr. Barnett that disconnectedness defines danger. And we agree that the focus of the Global War on Terror should be spreading connectivity. But firewalling the Core will do not do this. An Internet where Gap and Seam browsers have their face against the electronic glass is not an internet worth creating.

Cybersecurity is important, and some precautions must be taken. But making the Internet geographically-dependent as Berman and Beijing suggest is not in Barnett’s vision. Berman’s “identity architectures and virtual firewalls” would shut the door on those whom globalization would help the most and reinforce ghettosim. The Great Virtual Firewall of the Core and would be be a terrible step backward.

Spreading the Fire

Kuwait fighting leaves six dead,” Gulf Daily News,, 1 February 2005 (from Informed Consent).

Egypt, Militants Clash in Sinai Peninsula,” Associated Press,, 1 February 2005 (from DU).

George Bush is a very brave man.

He talks of spreading the fire of freedom. He has destroyed the status quo ante bellum. But so are the Salafists.

It is ironic that so much of the Bush agenda for the Greater Middle East is coterminus with Osama bin Laden

In his Declaration of War Against the United States, Mr. bin Laden listed the following grievences

  1. U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia
  2. The Iraqi Oil Sanctions
  3. The Israeli Occupation of Palestine

Bush has removed the army from Saudi Arabia, pressed for rapid trade normalization with Iraq, and is seeing Ariel Sharon withdraw from the Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

While bin Laden and Bush have radically different views of “freedom,” they both agree that the decrepit Arab states do not provide it. So it is no suprise that Bush is not the only one spreading the fire, whether in Kuwait…

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwaiti security forces fought their biggest battle yet with suspected Islamist militants yesterday, killing five including a Saudi and arresting the radicals’ spiritual leader, the interior ministry and state TV said. One Kuwaiti civilian was also killed in the gunbattle that raged for nine hours in Al Qurain district, also known as Mubarak Al Kabir, about 25km south of the capital, the ministry said in a statement.

or Egypt…

CAIRO, Egypt – Security forces clashed with Islamic militants in the mountains of Sinai on Tuesday, killing a suspect in last year’s deadly bombings of beach resorts on the peninsula, the government said.

In Iraq the Salafists and Ba’athis view each other as useful idiots. In the rest of the Greater Middle East, the Salafists and the Americans both wish transformation. This is the nature of the Global War on Terrorism.

Shia Satellite, Salafist Black Hole

Sunni Anxieties and the Rise of Shiite Power,” by Shahin M. Cole, Informed Consent,, 31 January 2005.

Iran Expects to Benefit from Iraq Election,” by Nasser Karimi, The Guardian,,1280,-4766740,00.html, 31 January 2005.

The occasionally off-balance Juan Cole is still informative, as shown by a link and a guest editorial

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran strongly criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein and opposed the American occupation of its neighbor, but with Iraqis voting Sunday for a new government, Iran stands to reap huge benefits.

“This is a unique opportunity, not seen for centuries, for Iraqi policy to go in Iran’s favor,” said political analyst Hamid Reza Jalaipour.

Iran’s state-run television hailed the vote as “the beginning of democracy and the end of occupation and insurgency in Iraq.”

Iran has good reason to celebrate. A sun of the Sunna is now a Shia satellite.

The election is likely to propel Iraq’s majority Shiites into power for the first time since modern Iraq came into being in 1921, giving them the leading voice in shaping the country’s future, which Shiite-dominated Iran hopes will lead to friendly relations between the two nations that fought a brutal war two decades ago.

Some Sunni Arab countries worry a new Iraqi government will form a Shiite alliance with Iran, but Iranians say they would be happy with a secular Iraqi government that will simply establish good relations. Most importantly, some said, Iraqis need to decide what they want.

But if the First and Second Battles of Iraq threw Iraq out of the Sunni solar system, for the Salafists it supernovad

Far from seeing the elections as a good thing to be emulated, the Sunni Arab neighbors of Iraq are likely to be alarmed at the rise of Shiite dominance. They will also be disturbed at any close Shiite-American alliance. Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Salafi fundamentalists elsewhere in the Gulf (including Iraq itself), deeply disapprove of Shiite doctrine and practice.

It gets better

The Gulf monarchies are afraid of the Khomeini-inspired trend in Shiism to say that “there can be no kings in Islam.” If these Sunni hardliners had an “axis of evil,” the Shiites of Iraq and Iran would be in it. Many Sunnis fear Shiite power more than they ever feared Saddam’s predations. Many of them also view the United States as an imperial power in the region. A Shiite-American alliance is their worst nightmare, and many of them will see the Iraqi Shiites as puppets of the US. The elections, which the Bush administration sees as the solution to a whole host of problems, have upset the sectarian balance of power in the Middle East, and may well bring new kinds of instability in their train.

Madame Cole believes this is a bad thing

The differences and conflicts between the Wahhabi branch of Islam (prevalent in Saudi Arabia and Qatar) and Sunnis (who account for ninety percent of the world’s Muslims) are not widely appreciated. Sunnis and Wahhabis have often been at odds. The rise of a Shiite-dominated Iraq supported by American power could well create new alliances between Sunnis and Wahhabis that will radicalize both. The US CIA is already predicting that Iraq is becoming the new training ground for international terrorism.

Attacking radicalizes. Germans were much more prepared to shoot down Allied Aircraft after we bombed their cities. FDR’s declaration of war on Imperial Japan had a similar effect on the Pacific.

We are at war with an ideology of murder. We wrestle with principalities and powers that oppress their citizens. We fight for a connected and global world — an end to national ghettos.

Every struggle must be fought differently. The war of ideas is a different type of confrontation than walking with slowly liberalizing regimes or supporting content flows. But this not an excuse for us to shy away.

The wahabis are salafists are already radicalized. Under al Qaeda and affiliated groups they have the will and capacity to bring war to our shores and death to our skies. We have decided not to appease our enemies, so they we must destroy them. We have identified radical wahabism as an ideology of death, and we know how to deal with those. State Shinto, the National Reich Church, and the Ku Klux Klan are just three of the cults we have destroyed. We can do so again.

When Iran preaches freedom, they are right. When the Wahabis see a free Iraq as a threat to their rule, they are right. When they see American intervention as protecting rituals and beliefs they deeply disaprove of they are right.

Our big bang strategy has forever altered the constellation of the most repressive region of the world. They tyrants hate this. Good.

America’s Secret War?

Epilogue,” by George Friedman, America’s Secret War,, 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 Qaeda’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 president’s approval rating soars, as Americans rally around him. Over the next months, depending on the president’s performance, that approval can bleed off rapidly. Therefore, attacking immediately before the election would increase Bush’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 Qaeda’s intellectual
capabilities. It was assumed—with good reason, considering the sources in the United States—that Al Qaeda
had a sophisticated understanding of American political culture. This meant, in practical terms, that Al Qaeda
would attack—if it could—by August 31, in order to allow enough time for Bush’s support to bleed off. In
fact, the assumption was that the ideal time was in early August, simply from the standpoint of political

Worst-Case Scenarios

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 didn’t know for sure who was a threat and who wasn’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 Qaeda’s network using imperfect knowledge and imprecise tools.

U.S. intelligence had a blurry vision of Al Qaeda, but it wasn’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 operation—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 network—with the networks being generously defined. Some intelligence was gained, but the hope was—and this was reasonable—that Al Qaeda’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 administration’s surprise over guerrilla war in Iraq caused it to lose its balance and allow mission creep—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 Iran’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-Sadr’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.


Hitler’s ‘Amerikabomber’,” by Dieter Wulf, The Atlantic Monthly,, May 2004 (from NWO).

U.S. terror war ‘over-reaction,’ top judge says: Gives criminals special status,” by Olivia Ward, Toonto Star,, 17 January 2005 (from DU).

The American-led war on terrorism is a threat to international justice and a challenge to the rule of law in the 21st century, says one of the world’s most eminent jurists.

Sept. 11 led to a major overreaction by politicians in many countries,” said Richard Goldstone, the first chief prosecutor at the war crimes tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

“Terrorism must be fought for what it is, that is, criminality. To use the analogy of a real war is to elevate the status of the terrorists, and hand them the advantage,” says Goldstone. In a time of crisis, he added, “the role of the judiciary is always weakened, and that is exactly when you need it.

I’m not going to comment on the sophistry of the judge’s comments, or how system perturbations require rule set resets, or any of that.

But when a declared enemy succeeds in creating an Amerikabomber


It’s a pretty good indication that we are in a war.