Whos Winning The War on Terror?

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by AndyPipkin, Sep 14, 2005.

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  1. Interesting article from Stratfor:

    'By George Friedman

    Four years have passed since al Qaeda attacked the United States. It is difficult to remember a war of which the status has been more difficult to assess. Indeed, there are reasonable people who argue that the conflict between the United States and al Qaeda is not a war at all, and that thinking of it in those terms obscures reality. Other reasonable people argue that it is only in thinking in terms of war that the conflict makes sense -- and these people then divide into groups: those who believe the United States is winning and those who believe it is losing the war. Into this confusion we must add the question of whether the Iraq war is part of what U.S. President George W. Bush refers to as the "war on terrorism" and what others might call the war against al Qaeda. Even the issues are not clear. It is a war in which no one can agree even on the criteria for success or failure, or at times, who is on what side.

    Part of this dilemma is simply the result of partisan politics. It is a myth that Americans unite in times of war: Anyone who believes they do must read the history of, for example, the Mexican War. Americans are a fractious people and, while they were united during World War II, the political recriminations were only delayed -- not suspended. The issue here is not partisanship, however, but rather that there is no clear framework against which to judge the current war.

    Let us begin with what we all -- save for those who believe that the Sept. 11 attacks were a plot hatched by the U.S. government to justify the Patriot Act -- can agree on:

    1. Al Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, by hijacking aircraft and crashing or trying to crash them into well-known buildings.
    2. Since Sept. 11, there have been al Qaeda attacks in Europe and several Muslim countries, but not in the United States.
    3. The United States invaded Afghanistan a month after the strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- forcing the Taliban government out of the major cities, but not defeating them. The United States has failed to capture Osama bin Laden, although it captured other key al Qaeda operatives. The Taliban has regrouped and is now conducting an insurgency in Afghanistan.
    4. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration claimed that this was part of the war against al Qaeda; critics have claimed it had nothing to do with the war.
    5. The United States failed to win the war rapidly, as it had expected to do. Instead, U.S. forces encountered a difficult guerrilla war that, while confined generally to the Sunni regions, nevertheless posed serious military and political challenges.
    6. Al Qaeda has failed to achieve its primary political goal -- that is, to trigger an uprising in at least one major Muslim country and create a jihadist regime. There has been no general rising in the Muslim world, and most governments are now cooperating with the United States.
    7. There have been no follow-on attacks in the United States since Sept. 11. Whether this is because al Qaeda had no plans for a second attack or because subsequent attacks were disrupted by U.S. intelligence is not clear.

    This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather to provide what we would regard as a non-controversial base from which to proceed with an assessment.

    From the beginning, then, it has been unclear whether the United States saw itself as fighting a war against al Qaeda or as carrying out a criminal investigation. The two are, of course, enormously different. This is a critical problem.

    The administration's use of the term "war on terrorism" began the confusion. Terrorism is a mode of warfare. Save for those instances when lunatics like Timothy McVeigh use it as an end in itself, terrorism is a method of intimidating the civilian population in order to drive a wedge between the public and their government. Al Qaeda, then, had a political purpose in using terrorism, as did the British in their nighttime bombing of Germany or the Germans in their air raids against London. The problem in the Bush administration's use of this term is that you do not wage a war against a method of warfare. A war is waged against an enemy force.

    Now, there are those who argue that war is something that takes place between nation-states and that al Qaeda, not being a nation-state, is not waging war. We tend to disagree with this view. Al Qaeda is not a nation-state, but it is (or has been) a coherent, disciplined force using violence for political ends. The United States, by focusing on the "war on terror," confused the issue endlessly. But the critics of the war, who insisted that wartime measures were unnecessary because this was not a war, compounded the confusion. By the time we were done, the "war on terror" had extended itself to include campaigns against animal rights groups, and attempts to prevent terror attacks were seen as violations of human rights by the ACLU.

    It is odd to raise these points at the beginning of an analysis of a war, but no war can be fought when there isn't even clarity about what it is you are doing, let alone who you are fighting. Yet that is precisely how this war evolved, and then degenerated into conceptual chaos. The whole issue also got bound up with internal name-calling, to the point that any assertion that Bush had some idea of what he was doing was seen as outrageous partisanship, and the assertion that Bush was failing in what he was doing was viewed the same way. Where there is no clarity, there can be no criteria for success or failure. That is the crisis today. No one agrees as to what is happening; therefore, no one can explain who is winning or losing.

    Out of this situation came the deeper confusion: Iraq. From the beginning, it was not clear why the United States invaded Iraq. The Bush administration offered three explanations: First, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; second, that Iraq was complicit with al Qaeda; and finally, that a democratic Iraq -- and creation of a democratic Muslim world -- would help to stop terrorism (or more precisely, al Qaeda).

    The three explanations were untenable on their face. Contrary to myth, the Bush administration did not rush to go to war in Iraq. The administration had been talking about it for nearly a year before the invasion began. That would not have been the case if there truly was a fear that the Iraqis might be capable of building atomic bombs, since they might hurry up and build them. You don't give a heads-up in that situation. The United States did. Hence, it wasn't about WMD. Second, it wasn't about Iraq's terrorist ties. Saddam Hussein had no problem with the concept of terrorism, but he was an ideological enemy of everything bin Laden stood for. Hussein was a secular militarist; bin Laden, a religious ideologue. Cooperation between them wasn't likely, and pointing to obscure meetings that Mohammed Atta may or may not have had with an Iraqi in Prague didn't make the case. Finally, the democracy explanation came late in the game. Bush had campaigned against nation-building in places like Kosovo -- and if he now believed in nation-building as a justification for war, it meant he stood with Bill Clinton. He dodged that criticism, though, because the media couldn't remember Kosovo or spell it any more by the time Iraq rolled around.

    Bush's enemies argued that he invaded Iraq in order to (a) avenge the fact that Hussein had tried to kill his father; (b) as part of a long-term strategy planned years before to dominate the Middle East; (c) to dominate all of the oil in Iraq; (d) because he was a bad man or (e) just because. The fact was that his critics had no idea why he did it and generated fantastic theories because they couldn't figure it out any more than Bush could explain it.

    Stratfor readers know our view was that the invasion of Iraq was intended to serve three purposes:

    1. To bring pressure on the Saudi government, which was allowing Saudis to funnel money to al Qaeda, to halt this enablement and to cooperate with U.S. intelligence. The presence of U.S. troops to the north of Saudi Arabia was intended to drive home the seriousness of the situation.
    2. To take control of the most strategic country in the Middle East -- Iraq borders seven critical countries -- and to use it as a base of operations against other countries that were cooperating with al Qaeda.
    3. To demonstrate in the Muslim world that the American reputation for weakness and indecisiveness -- well-earned in the two decades prior to the Sept. 11 attacks -- was no longer valid. The United States was aware that the invasion of Iraq would enrage the Muslim world, but banked on it also frightening them.

    Let's put it this way: The key to understanding the situation was that Bush wanted to blackmail the Saudis, use Iraq as a military base and terrify Muslims. He wanted to do this, but he did not want to admit this was what he was doing. He therefore provided implausible justifications, operating under the theory that a rapid victory brushes aside troubling questions. Clinton had gotten out of Kosovo without explaining why signs of genocide were never found, because the war was over quickly and everyone was sick of it. Bush figured he would do the same thing in Iraq.

    It was precisely at this point that the situation got out of control. The biggest intelligence failure of the United States was not 9-11 -- only Monday morning quarterbacks can claim that they would have spotted al Qaeda's plot and been able to block it. Nor was the failure to find WMD in Iraq. Not only was that not the point, but actually, everyone was certain that Hussein at least had chemical weapons. Even the French believed he did. The biggest mistake was the intelligence that said that the Iraqis wouldnÕt fight, that U.S. forces would be welcomed or at least not greeted hostilely by the Iraqi public, and that the end of the conventional combat would end the war.

    That was the really significant intelligence failure. Hussein, or at least some of his key commanders, had prepared for a protracted guerrilla war. They knew perfectly well that the United States would crush their conventional forces, so they created the material and financial basis for a protracted guerrilla war. U.S. intelligence did not see this coming, and thus had not prepared the U.S. force for fighting the guerrilla war. Indeed, if they had known this was coming, Bush might well have calculated differently on invading Iraq -- since he wasnÕt going to get the decisive victory he needed.

    The intelligence failure was compounded by a command failure. By mid-April 2003, it was evident to Stratfor that a
    guerrilla war was starting. Donald Rumsfeld continued vigorously to deny that any such war was going on. It was not until July, when Gen. Tommy Franks was relieved by John Abizaid as Central Command chief, that the United States admitted the obvious. Those were the 45-60 critical days. Intelligence failures worse than this one happen in every war, but the delay in recognizing what was happening -- the extended denial in the Pentagon -- eliminated any chance of nipping it in the bud. By the summer of 2003, the war was raging, and foreign jihadists had begun joining in. Obviously this increased anti-American sentiment, but not necessarily effective anti-American sentiment. Hating the United States is not the same as being able to run secure covert operations in the United States.

    The war did not and does not cover most of Iraq's territory. Only a relatively small portion is involved -- the Sunni regions. At this point, the administration has done a fairly good job in creating a political process and bringing the Sunni elders to the table, if not to an agreement that will end the insurgency. But the problem is that American expectations about the war have been so strangely set that whatever esoteric satisfaction experts might take in the evolution, it is clear that this war is not what the Bush administration expected, that it is not what the administration was prepared to fight, and that the administration is now in a position where it has to make compromises rather than impose its will.

    We believe that a war started on Sept. 11, 2001. We believe that from a strictly operational point of view, al Qaeda has gotten by far the worst of it. Having struck the first blow, al Qaeda has been crippled, with each succeeding attack weaker and weaker. We also think that the U.S. invasion of Iraq achieved at least one of Washington's goals: Saudi Arabia has behaved much differently since February 2003. But the ongoing war has undermined the ability of the United States to use Iraq as a base of operations in the region, and the psychological outcome Washington was hoping for obviously didn't materialize.

    What progress there has been is invisible, for two reasons. First, the Bush administration had crafted an explanation for the entire war that was based on two premises -- first, that the American public would remain united on all measures necessary after Sept. 11, and second, that the United States would achieve a quick victory in Iraq, sparing the administration the need to explain itself. As a result, Bush has never articulated a coherent strategic position. Furthermore, as the second premise proved untrue, the failure to enunciate a coherent strategic vision began to undermine the first premise -- national unity. At this point, Bush is beginning to face criticism in his own party. Sen. Chuck Hagel's statement, that the promise to stay the course does not constitute a strategy, is indicative of Bush's major problem.

    The president's dilemma, now, is this. He had a strategy. He failed to explain what it was because doing so would have carried a cost, and the president assumed it was unnecessary. It turned out to be necessary, but he still didn't enunciate a strategy because it would at that point have appeared contrived. Moreover, as time went on, the strategy had to evolve. It is hard to evolve an unarticulated strategy. Bush rigidified publicly even as his strategy in Iraq became more nimble.

    Figuring out how the war is going four years after 9-11, then, is like a nightmare fighting ghosts. The preposterous defense of U.S. strategy meets the preposterous attack on U.S. strategy: Claims that the United States invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the people competes with the idea that it invaded in order to give contracts to Halliburton. Nothing is too preposterous to claim.

    But even as U.S. politics seize up in one of these periodic spasms, these facts are still clear:

    1. The United States has not been attacked in four years.
    2. No Muslim government has fallen to supporters of al Qaeda.
    3. The United States won in neither Iraq or Afghanistan.
    4. Bin Laden is still free and ready to go extra rounds.

    So far, neither side has won -- but on the whole, weÕd say the United States has the edge. The war is being fought outside the United States. And that is not a trivial point. But it is not yet a solution to the president's problems.
    Send questions or comments on this article to analysis@stratfor.com.
  2. This is a continuation of the dangerously open statement "Fighting it there so we don't do it here"

    It only takes one fair sized car bomb in a shopping mall to make a mockery of that statement.
  3. Sounds like the domino theory all over again..

    Of ocurse there is no proof that Muslim govenments where ready to fall, or would have if the US hadn't jumped on Iraq.

    It seems the term "Muslim Govenment" is a bit missused here? I would surgest that Middle easten govenments fall into two wide groupings.

    Either secular dictatorships that use Islam as national religion, or a therocracy (SP?) that use's all the tricks of dictatorship, but imposes strict islamic law. Neither seem likely to fall to a terrorist group.
  4. The goal of Osama Bin Laden on 9/11 was to provoke the United States into attacking Afghanistan. The theory was that, after the US bombed Afghanistan - a Muslim country - the rest of the Muslim world would be radicalised to fight against Western influence and culture through political and other means. However, Osama Bin Laden didnt achieve his vision of mass-radicalisation because of the American bombings of Afghan., because it was widely appreciated that the war was jsutified and necessary.

    The war on Iraq, and especailly its aftermath in regard to the instability in Iraq and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, has played into the hands of the extremists and therefore thousands of Mulims have volunteered to fight against the west using weapons, while millions of others have decided to wage thier personal jihad through boycotts of American goods or through political channels. Therefore the Iraq war was an own goal by the Americans, and strengthened Bin Ladens position and helped him to achieve his aims of mass radicalisation.

    The fact that Osama Bin Laden has not been caught does not make any difference - although he is respsonsible for 3000 deaths in the US and should be brought to jsutice. Even before 9/11 Bin Laden was merely one of many Islamic extremists operating from Afghanistan - the reason why the US did not pay much attention to him. But in reality 'al Qaeda' is not a network in which cutting off the head will kill the body. 'al Qaeda' is merely a label for a global Islamic phenonomon, comprising of millions of angry Muslim men, women and children who turn thier back on Western influence in order to follow the Koran and Hadith. Terrorism is simply a tactic used by a very small majority of extremists, who have been given the label of 'al Qaeda.' This label creates the belief that Islamic Extremism can be destroyed using conventional miilitary hardware and means that the west, especially the US, do not have to admitt that thier policies are indirectly contributing to terror. It basically means that they do not have to change thier policies in the middle east as long as the belief remains that 'al Qaeda' wil soon die off.

    Nor is the war on terror between 'al Qaeda' and the US. The US and its allies are merely being attacked for getting involved in the affairs of Muslim countries and for supporting the governments of places like Egypt and Saudi. Terrorist attacks are extremists way of saying '**** off or you will get more'. They believe that, once western support is withdrawn from governments in the ME, they will be able to topple those governments and install thier own Islamic governments that follow Sharia law similar to the Taliban.

    I dont think its a question of who is winning and who isnt - in a hundred years time (not counting on global nuclear war or armageddon) the US and Islamic extremism will still exist. However, the US and its allies are less safe now than on 9/11. The fact that the US hasnt been hit again on its own soil doesnt mean anything. That just means homeland secuirty is now better. However, thousands of people have been killed as a result of Islamic militancy in close to 100 countries accross the globe, including Iraq, Spain, the UK, Thailand, Indonesia, Saudi, Egypt, Kenya, Lebanon, to name a few. This wont be a battle with a conclusion.

    But Islamic extremism and Islamic political belief (dont confuse the two) have grown rapidly since 9/11 as a direct rsult of Iraq and Afghanistan. 'al Qaeda' as it is commonly known, is stronger than ever while the US has lost a considerable amount of support throughout the Arab countries.
  5. I just hope the war on terror isn't being run by the same guys who organise the war on drugs.
  6. \

  7. Let alone the war on hurricanes...

    The Stratfor article kinda skirts round the issue of who's winning the war on terror. Because the crucial point is that you cannot win a war against a strategy. Al Q'aeda may be on the ropes - certainly, OBL seems to appear a little less frequently than once he did, and it'd be a brave government now that openly admitted support for them as the Taliban once did. But Islamic (and other forms of) terrorism are not, as the London bombings demonstrated. They're likely to have been inspired by AQ, but not carried out by them, and that is the pattern of what the future holds.

    When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, we didn't declare a war on blitzkrieg. That would have been stupid and unwinnable. It would have been a complete ludicrosity. That's why 'the war on terror' is so confused and uncertain. Because it's a ludicrosity.


    NB - I'm not saying that Al Q'aeda should have been left alone, or the Taliban, or the IRA for that matter. I'm not defending terrorist tactics. Merely saying that you've got a much better chance in a war if you define who you're fighting a little more tightly.
  8. Phil Rees, Dining With Terrorists: Meeting the Worlds Most wanted militants - read it.
    Al Qaeda, the True Story of Radical Islam - Jason Burke
    The Axis of Evil: The War on Terror - edited by Paul Moorcraft

    Good reads on the subject of terrorism, the war on terror and al Qaeda.
  9. Smithie wrote

    Germany and who else?

    Ludicrosity? English is developing so fast I'm finding it hard to keep up. :roll:
  10. The USSR. But frankly, by the time they rolled in, the damage had been done, and it's kinda beside the point of my argument. Unless you're getting at something else which I missed. That's eminently possible...

    'Fraid not. My trust online OED tells me that, although rare, ludicrosity has been used since the mid C19th. Admittedly, it only cites examples from 1856, and nothing more recent, so maybe it's gone a little out of fashion... But hey, words from 1856 are cool; so I'm cool. 8)

    (And anyway, 'embiggens' is a perfectly cromulent word...)

  12. 'course the man would. He'd have had it delivered by 800 Lancasters at night. Repeatedly.
  13. Basically trying to stop Islamic militancy through the use of the army, the airforce, the CIA and MI6 is equivelent to trying to stop communism by bombing Vietnam - its only going to make the problem worse. Its not terror that we need to concentrate on - terrorism is a tactic that can onyl be fought with counter-terrorist tactics and the intelligence services. We need to prevent radicalistion, through democratic reform in the ME, not through bombs and bullets.
  14. Smithie wrote;

    I’m pleased that you know that Smithie. It’s unusual for anyone to admit to the alliance between Nazi Germany and Russia. Russia is more often portrayed as heroic resistors of the German invasion. It’s a bummer being double crossed but it doesn’t make you suddenly noble when your former oppos launch >100 divisions on your peace loving frontier.

    So the Russians only got there (Poland) when the damage was done? Probably saving themselves for repaying their double crossing chums in spades five years later. However, they got a bit of practice in first. Google ‘Katyn’.

    Ludicrosity, on the reserve list since 1856. Ye gods and gadzooks Sir. I’d better brush up on the grammar rules for ‘thee’ ‘thy’ and ‘thine’. Otherwise, fair enough. :wink:
  15. Rapierman and Mr Mitty.

    To my mind, ‘terror’ bombing and ‘terrorist’ bombing is not the same thing.

    The good burgers of Dresden had warning, the option of taking shelter and the Luftwaffe and flak gunners would engage identifiable targets. three aspects not available to Osama's targets. And there wasn’t going to be a fifth columnist 'wired for paradise' putting the mockers on the ‘subway as shelter’ idea.