Monthly Archives: September 2010

9/11 and the 9-Year War

This report was republished with the permission of STRATFOR.

By George Friedman

It has now been nine years since al Qaeda attacked the United States. It has been nine years in which the primary focus of the United States has been on the Islamic world. In addition to a massive investment in homeland security, the United States has engaged in two multi-year, multi-divisional wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, inserted forces in other countries in smaller operations and conducted a global covert campaign against al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups.

In order to understand the last nine years you must understand the first 24 hours of the war — and recall your own feelings in those 24 hours. First, the attack was a shock, its audaciousness frightening. Second, we did not know what was coming next. The attack had destroyed the right to complacent assumptions. Were there other cells standing by in the United States? Did they have capabilities even more substantial than what they showed on Sept. 11? Could they be detected and stopped? Any American not frightened on Sept. 12 was not in touch with reality. Many who are now claiming that the United States overreacted are forgetting their own sense of panic. We are all calm and collected nine years after.

At the root of all of this was a profound lack of understanding of al Qaeda, particularly its capabilities and intentions. Since we did not know what was possible, our only prudent course was to prepare for the worst. That is what the Bush administration did. Nothing symbolized this more than the fear that al Qaeda had acquired nuclear weapons and that they would use them against the United States. The evidence was minimal, but the consequences would be overwhelming. Bush crafted a strategy based on the worst-case scenario.

Bush was the victim of a decade of failure in the intelligence community to understand what al Qaeda was and wasn’t. I am not merely talking about the failure to predict the 9/11 attack. Regardless of assertions afterwards, the intelligence community provided only vague warnings that lacked the kind of specificity that makes for actionable intelligence. To a certain degree, this is understandable. Al Qaeda learned from Soviet, Saudi, Pakistani and American intelligence during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and knew how to launch attacks without tipping off the target. The greatest failure of American intelligence was not the lack of a clear warning about 9/11 but the lack, on Sept. 12, of a clear picture of al Qaeda’s global structure, capabilities, weaknesses and intentions. Without such information, implementing U.S. policy was like piloting an airplane with faulty instruments in a snowstorm at night.

The president had to do three things: First, he had to assure the public that he knew what he was doing. Second, he had to do something that appeared decisive. Third, he had to gear up an intelligence and security apparatus to tell him what the threats actually were and what he ought to do. American policy became ready, fire, aim.

In looking back at the past nine years, two conclusions can be drawn: There were no more large-scale attacks on the United States by militant Islamists, and the United States was left with the legacy of responses that took place in the first two years after 9/11. This legacy is no longer useful, if it ever was, to the primary mission of defeating al Qaeda, and it represents an effort that is retrospectively out of proportion to the threat.

If I had been told on Sept.12, 2001, that the attack the day before would be the last major attack for at least nine years, I would not have believed it. In looking at the complexity of the security and execution of the 9/11 attack, I would have assumed that an organization capable of acting once in such a way could act again even more effectively. My assumption was wrong. Al Qaeda did not have the resources to mount other operations, and the U.S. response, in many ways clumsy and misguided and in other ways clever and targeted, disrupted any preparations in which al Qaeda might have been engaged to conduct follow-on attacks.

Knowing that about al Qaeda in 2001 was impossible. Knowing which operations were helpful in the effort to block them was impossible, in the context of what Americans knew in the first years after the war began. Therefore, Washington wound up in the contradictory situation in which American military and covert operations surged while new attacks failed to materialize. This created a massive political problem. Rather than appearing to be the cause for the lack of attacks, U.S. military operations were perceived by many as being unnecessary or actually increasing the threat of attack. Even in hindsight, aligning U.S. actions with the apparent outcome is difficult and controversial. But still we know two things: It has been nine years since Sept. 11, 2001, and the war goes on.

What happened was that an act of terrorism was allowed to redefine U.S. grand strategy. The United States operates with a grand strategy derived from the British strategy in Europe — maintaining the balance of power. For the United Kingdom, maintaining the balance of power in Europe protected any one power from emerging that could unite Europe and build a fleet to invade the United Kingdom or block its access to its empire. British strategy was to help create coalitions to block emerging hegemons such as Spain, France or Germany. Using overt and covert means, the United Kingdom aimed to ensure that no hegemonic power could emerge.

The Americans inherited that grand strategy from the British but elevated it to a global rather than regional level. Having blocked the Soviet Union from hegemony over Europe and Asia, the United States proceeded with a strategy whose goal, like that of the United Kingdom, was to nip potential regional hegemons in the bud. The U.S. war with Iraq in 1990-91 and the war with Serbia/Yugoslavia in 1999 were examples of this strategy. It involved coalition warfare, shifting America’s weight from side to side and using minimal force to disrupt the plans of regional aspirants to gain power. This U.S. strategy also was cloaked in the ideology of global liberalism and human rights.

The key to this strategy was its global nature. The emergence of a hegemonic contender that could challenge the United States globally, as the Soviet Union had done, was the worst-case scenario. Therefore, the containment of emerging powers wherever they might emerge was the centerpiece of American balance-of-power strategy.

The most significant effect of 9/11 was that it knocked the United States off its strategy. Rather than adapting its standing global strategy to better address the counterterrorism issue, the United States became obsessed with a single region, the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush. Within that region, the United States operated with a balance-of-power strategy. It played off all of the nations in the region against each other. It did the same with ethnic and religious groups throughout the region and particularly within Iraq and Afghanistan, the main theaters of the war. In both cases, the United States sought to take advantage of internal divisions, shifting its support in various directions to create a balance of power. That, in the end, was what the surge strategy was all about.

The American obsession with this region in the wake of 9/11 is understandable. Nine years later, with no clear end in sight, the question is whether this continued focus is strategically rational for the United States. Given the uncertainties of the first few years, obsession and uncertainty are understandable, but as a long-term U.S. strategy — the long war that the U.S. Department of Defense is preparing for — it leaves the rest of the world uncovered.

Consider that the Russians have used the American absorption in this region as a window of opportunity to work to reconstruct their geopolitical position. When Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008, an American ally, the United States did not have the forces with which to make a prudent intervention. Similarly, the Chinese have had a degree of freedom of action they could not have expected to enjoy prior to 9/11. The single most important result of 9/11 was that it shifted the United States from a global stance to a regional one, allowing other powers to take advantage of this focus to create significant potential challenges to the United States.

One can make the case, as I have, that whatever the origin of the Iraq war, remaining in Iraq to contain Iran is necessary. It is difficult to make a similar case for Afghanistan. Its strategic interest to the United States is minimal. The only justification for the war is that al Qaeda launched its attacks on the United States from Afghanistan. But that justification is no longer valid. Al Qaeda can launch attacks from Yemen or other countries. The fact that Afghanistan was the base from which the attacks were launched does not mean that al Qaeda depends on Afghanistan to launch attacks. And given that the apex leadership of al Qaeda has not launched attacks in a while, the question is whether al Qaeda is capable of launching such attacks any longer. In any case, managing al Qaeda today does not require nation building in Afghanistan.

But let me state a more radical thesis: The threat of terrorism cannot become the singular focus of the United States. Let me push it further: The United States cannot subordinate its grand strategy to simply fighting terrorism even if there will be occasional terrorist attacks on the United States. Three thousand people died in the 9/11 attack. That is a tragedy, but in a nation of over 300 million, 3,000 deaths cannot be permitted to define the totality of national strategy. Certainly, resources must be devoted to combating the threat and, to the extent possible, disrupting it. But it must also be recognized that terrorism cannot always be blocked, that terrorist attacks will occur and that the world’s only global power cannot be captive to this single threat.

The initial response was understandable and necessary. The United States must continue its intelligence gathering and covert operations against militant Islamists throughout the world. The intelligence failures of the 1990s must not be repeated. But waging a multi-divisional war in Afghanistan makes no strategic sense. The balance-of-power strategy must be used. Pakistan will intervene and discover the Russians and Iranians. The great game will continue. As for Iran, regional counters must be supported at limited cost to the United States. The United States should not be patrolling the far reaches of the region. It should be supporting a balance of power among the native powers of the region.

The United States is a global power and, as such, it must have a global view. It has interests and challenges beyond this region and certainly beyond Afghanistan. The issue there is not whether the United States can or can’t win, however that is defined. The issue is whether it is worth the effort considering what is going on in the rest of the world. Gen. David Petraeus cast the war in terms of whether the United States can win it. That’s reasonable; he’s the commander. But American strategy has to ask another question: What does the United States lose elsewhere while it focuses on the future of Kandahar?

The 9/11 attack shocked the United States and made counterterrorism the centerpiece of American foreign policy. That is too narrow a basis on which to base U.S. foreign policy. It is certainly an important strand of that policy, and it must be addressed, but it should be addressed through the regional balance of power. It is the good fortune of the United States that the Islamic world is torn by internal rivalries.

This is not dismissing the threat of terror. It is recognizing that the United States has done well in suppressing it over the past nine years but at a cost in other regions, a cost that can’t be sustained indefinitely and a cost that could well result in challenges more threatening than a rising Islamist militancy. The United States must now settle into a long-term strategy of managing terrorism as best as it can while not neglecting the rest of its interests.

After nine years, the issue is not what to do in Afghanistan but how the global power can return to managing all of its global interests, along with the war on al Qaeda.

America: Changes in the Political Landscape

America is changing, but then again, America is always changing. Two major factors historically guide American political changes: generation gaps in personal and societal expectations, and the occurrence of significant events which impact the minds of the majority of Americans. Both of these factors are operating now.

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Societal views change over time. That is why we are no longer burning witches in Salem or running slave auctions in Mobile. The cultural norms of American society bring concrete political changes with them in a delayed fashion. Therefore the shifts in societal norms are a leading indicator of shifts in political alignments to come. The corollary to this is that legal and political changes are trailing indicators of culutral shifts which have already occured.

The generational changes taking place now have to do with the base definitions of social acceptance, self identification, lifestyle choice, and the political association of terms such as “liberal,” and “conservative.” In my parents’ generation the anti-war movement was tied very closely to other, almost exclusively liberal, social movements. While you didn’t have to be a free-lover or a pot head to be against the war, you couldn’t show up at an anti-war rally and start talking trash about animal rights activists.

By the late 80’s a whole new generation who never experienced the Vietnam war directly but was interested in civil disobedience and protesting had latched on to new issues but largely continued to retain the same social cues and emulate the war protesters of two decades before. This sort of protest culture came to be identified with student movements, the open-pot 4:20 culture, a desire for government assistance for the disadvantaged, etc. In short, liberal populism was the realm of the pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-legalization, pro-social services, anti-religion (often this really means simply “anti-Christian”), anti-gun, and sometimes pro-socialist camp and that camp is what the Democratic Party decided to latch on to as a support group.

Standing against that was the other half of the country. They tended to be a collection of people whose agreements began with a universally anti-populist view and who stood for limiting government in all areas possible, including borderline support for economic anarchist efforts. Their agreements ended when it came to issues such as abortion, religion in government (again, generally Christian), gay rights and related social issues. The resolution to conflict on social issues was to focus less and less on social issues and more on concrete issues that affect business, law, and civil governance — specifically adopting a political policy which denies the government involvement in as many areas of civil life as possible. The pro-Christian camp was all about limited government involvement with social issues, as the current legal structure tended to be in agreement with heterosexual Christian life choices and therefore no significant disagreement was to be found between the Christian Right and the Republican Party.

These definitions made relative sense throughout the 80’s, 90’s but started becoming a little shakier as the 2000’s came on. Folks born in the late 1970’s and 80’s were often a lot less enamored with religion, had different views on the role of government in private life and also had different expectations about how their lives would turn out that their parents had. It was no longer necessary to identify Christianity with support for gun rights or tie support for gay rights to a desire to inflate government provision for social services. In fact, in the modern day we see a large shift and a huge number of confused voters whose social agenda is very different from their economic and policy agenda. Christian Right voters who would like to see a constitutional prohibition against gay marriage are running into foundational Republican arguments against government involvement in social and religious issues. Gay rights advocates are running into trouble rectifying their desire to be left alone by the government with the long-standing Democratic arguments for populist support efforts which place the government in the middle of family affairs.

For this reason we are seeing now a broad shift in political leanings and the way those leanings are expressed. We have Libertarian and Anarchist movements detaching from the Democratic base and agitating on their own because they do not agree with the Obama administration’s handling of a broad swath of foreign policy and business issues. On the other hand we have the Tea Party movement swelling its ranks and pulling away from the standard Republican base. Because we have a largely binary political system in the US it is still expected that the Tea Party will vote Republican (despite the misgivings of the Christian Right which forms the significant majority of the Tea Party base*) and that Libertarians and Anarchists will vote more or less in line with the Democratic Party for lack of a better fit that will actually have an impact (they will feel they are splitting the liberal voting base by voting on an independent or off-brand party — and they are right).

* To understand just how mixed up the current political climate is one should be aware that the original Tea Party, call it v1.0, was originally founded on the Federalist, almost libertarian, impulses to be found in old-corps Republicanism, which differs significantly from the way the Tea Party plays things today. Tea Party 2.0 has increasingly identified with social (usually Christian) conservatism which stands in strict contrast to the libertarian-style policies actually mandated by small government Federalism.

Both movements, however, are not insignificant. If anything the existence of the Tea Party is far more distinguishable than the existence of the Democratic dissident columns, but that is merely a reflection of how disorganized the Democratic Party in general is at the moment, contrasted by how relatively intact the Republican Party is. The fact that a new generation with new social definitions is stepping into the shoes of political franchise and exerting their influence is clear.

So what will happen?

I expect the Tea Party to continue to grow in strength, but take on an even more Christian Right feel to it. This will be the quickest way for the Christian Right to find a group it can dominate and will also be the fastest way for the Tea Party to swell its ranks and remain politically significant during elections. The Tea Party, being more based on religion than business, will accordingly begin to focus on socially divisive issues more than concrete policy and present a front that is more or less focused on being anti-abortion, anti-gay, etc. The old Republican tenents of gun ownership and limited governance will continue, but there will come a point when a desire to have the government directly prohibit certain aspects of civil life (such as the choice to marry gay) will overrule the desire to have government remain small. That will be a turning point and signify a split with the Republican base.

On the flip side of the aisle the gay rights, liberterians, economic anarchists, etc. will continue to be increasingly disenchanted by what they perceive to be “all talk, no action” on the part of the Democratic Party on foreign policy issues. They will also increasingly take issue with the broad attempts of the Democrats to regulate industries that affect techhies — which a huge number of this group are. Specific issues such as digital rights management, limits on information privacy and personal encryption (which amounts also to prohibition on personal mathematical exploration) which are being argued in Congress and negotiated at the Executive level internationally will scare the bejeesus out of the personal-rights camp. The most natural fit for them politically would be to eventually split and move to the Republican base once it is generally free of the Christian Right (which, to this point, has been the key article of distaste for the personal-rights advocates).

The changes in how the generation that is coming to power now perceives itself and perceives society will have a delayed impact on how the government functions and who get installed in power there. I would not be at all surprised if in the future we have a shift in social rulings that lower the age of consent, legalize certain recreational drugs, loosen the government’s stance on digital rights management (specifically repeal the DMCA), legalize gay marriage and polyamory, and otherwise move to a more socially hands-off policy on society and individual lifestyle. I would also not be surprised if some sort of semi-federalized healthcare option were eventually put in place, though to conform with the Constitution it will have to be seriously limited in scope as compared to the impractical pile the Obama administration was able to sign in to law recently (which can never be practically implimented anyway).

The shifts I detailed above will eventually become geopolitically significant in ways that we can’t foresee just yet, but not because they are happening inside the United States. The same generational shifts which give rise to these complex dynamics of change are occurring everywhere that matters: Europe, China, Japan, SE Asia, even in the Middle East. While the American policy game will likely not change (America is already largely adjusted to its international role, the discussion above just details an internal national monologue), Europe may well become far more conservative and even hawkish over the next decade, China will likely experience a political and economic collapse (with an attending revolution), Japan will find a new tack on quite a few things, and SE Asia might see a few of its risers actually getting with it enough to project power (specifically Thailand and Malaysia).

And an aside on how I first noticed this:

Changes are on the way. For older voters who do not choose to recognize this, just consider that my generation grew up in an *igger society. That’s totally different than a nigger society — its missing a whole “n.” Being a nigger doesn’t have anything (or at least very little) to do with color these days. We now have wiggers, spigger, chiggers, miggers and niggers. While older, out of touch black leaders still like to hear themselves talk in “black studies” courses at pro-Panther universities which offer such things, all the progressive black folks my age were in different schools or in the Army studying up on real subjects that matter, like mathematics, computer science, music theory, etc. Learning new skills instead of just learning how to be properly blacker. On the flip side of that we’ve had white, brown and yellow kids (not to mention the legion of mixed kids) who grow up enamored with black gang culture and rap turn the whole culture upside down. All that is a reality. And its not really bad or good, it just is. When my Dad was a kid Asians were study and work machines — nothing else. In my generation they have these amazing things called personalities and first names. Whoa! Huge change there. Even in the Army nobody tends to notice race, they notice which group a person self-elects to identify with. The same goes for the fags. Being a fag has nothing to do with actually liking the cock anymore, and nobody really cares what you do with whatever part of you and your lifepartner in another house. A transgender person (i.e. a dickgirl or “transitioned” woman) who doesn’t have a complex about themselves isn’t going to be discriminated against in a job interview — but the lack of a complex is still critical here — turns out a lot of them take themselves far more seriously than your average difficult-to-manage asperger. The examples in this last bit are meant to be whimsical. If you found them offensive then you’ve probably not absorbed enough modern Americana and can go fuck off — and I mean that in the nicest way.

The Warning Signs of Violence: Ecoterrorist Attack on Discovery Communications

After an attack that affects civil society has occurred it is common for the media to discuss the “warning signs of violence” and how they were ignored or not perceived leading up to the event. Ultimately this is a cry for the authorities to do something, even though if most situations are examined more closely it usually evident that the authorities are ill-equipped and entirely unempowered to do anything prior to an attack. In fact, in almost all cases police forces are not chartered to prevent illegal activity as much as they are there to punish it after it already has occurred. It is a feature of free society that the members of the civil body are given as much personal freedom as possible. This is a powerful thing both for the state and for the individual. Generally speaking, the benefits far outweigh the dangers. But dangers abound. Just like anything else powerful and useful, freedom also means that preventing or pre-empting crime amounts to pre-crimes and that falls outside of the role of policing duties in Western society accept under extreme circumstances.

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The alternative to having a police force step outside of its law enforcement duties is to focus the efforts of a privately developed intelligence and security organization on the problem. Private intelligence and security work is not cheap, so this solution is obviously not a good fix for all situations, but then again not every individual and organization is a major target for attack in most cases, either. In the case of Discovery Communications, however, a cursory review of the eco-terrorist agenda reveals that educational media — despite being an industry the average media consumer would quickly rate as a “very low threat group” — is a very high priority target. Everything from the global warming/cooling argument to animal rights to cultural and religious historical studies to extra-terrestrial contact planning are covered extensively by the educational media and all such issues are hot button issues for a wide variety of eco-terrorist, socio-terrorist, anti-human and other specially focused socio-political movements which have in recent years increasingly turned to violent tactics an effort to raise the profile of their issues.

Such groups are unique in that as opposed to supporting their self-belief in righteous violence by referencing divine instruction the way Muslims can (God is a difficult concept to counter through rational argument), the eco-terrorists who subscribe to an anti-human agenda view humans as dirty, a natural aberration and something which should be gotten rid of and this serves as a foundational justification for violence against other humans and their activities. For anyone with an anti-human agenda sexual sterilization is a pre-emptive fix to human existence and execution is a forensic correction to the same problem. Identifying human existence as a crime against nature invalidates human society as a legitimate construct and therefore invalidates the concept of civil criminality.

Warning signs abounded prior to the the Discovery incident, but without a professional and experienced group of intelligence and security experts to assemble the individual tidbits of information and events into a comprehensive mosaic Discovery Communications stood very little chance of doing better than the 500-foot restraining order that was already in place against the perpetrator. The police do not have the resources to run surveillance on every potential attacker, but a large organization such as Discovery does have the resources to contract a permanent private intelligence organization to look out for its interests and raise red flags and recommend other actions once serious threats are identified. As intelligence scales very well from an economic standpoint, it would make very good sense for a consortium of educational media companies to enter a joint contract with an intelligence and security company. The cost of intelligence work can be distributed across the members being serviced, and recommended specific security operations (such as looking deeper into an identified threat such as ELF or the individual perpetrator in this case — or even placing major threats under surveillance for a period to determine whether or not an imminent threat is evolving) can be paid for by the specific organizations affected by a specific threat.

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James Lee protesting the Discovery Channel in 2008

Private intelligence service is not commonly incorporated into corporate security plans for most mid-sized companies in the United States currently, but with the shift in threat profiles, political balance and social norms and perceptions over time a small industry focused on dynamic intelligence and security provision is being created by forward thinking companies such as Sponte. This company is the first so far to structure itself as a complete security solution which is prepared to handle everything from information collection and intelligence development to course of action development and training and extending all the way to tactical team deployment and armed response operations. This goes beyond what the police are capable of providing as they already have one hand full with everything from domestic law enforcement to staffing DARE sessions at local schools and the other hand tied by budgetary constraints and jurisdictional complications. These types of services are also an order of magnitude more in-depth than the typical rent-a-cop security solutions seen across America today.

Through private intelligence and security arrangements described above it is very likely that evolving domestic threats can be identified and accurately assessed. That identification and assessment process is what can assist industries which do not perceive themselves as under threat with identifying where they actually are threatened. In the minds of most Americans Discovery Communications is as innocent a company as could exist and not worthy of worrying about. But in the minds of an emotionally unbalanced (or, far more frightening, in the eyes of an educated, rational, smart and emotionally stable) anti-human activist Discovery Communications is a perfect high-profile target.

Here is a link to a website that the perpetrator had posted at http://savetheplanetprotest.com/. I doubt this link will work well for very long, so I have locally mirrored it here to preserve it. It offers a high degree of insight into the perpetrator, his mental state, his writing ability, worldview and all that taken together gives us a lot more understanding of the individual and others who think like him than we would gain from a 30-second headline spot on the news.

While warning signs are readily apparent after an event such as this one, finger pointing is useless media drama. The only way any organization stands a practical chance of identifying the next James Lee and developing a pre-emptive intervention is to rely on a private intelligence and security service which has the ability to collect and analyse information, advise the highest level of management when necessary, formulate and execute a physical security posture or response and coordinate closely and effectively with local law enforcement.