Category Archive 'Stratfor'
05 Mar 2012
Are any of them telling the truth?
Algemeiner reported several days ago:
The website WikiLeaks has continued releasing for a fourth day what it says will eventually be 5 million e-mails sent between July 2004 and late December 2011 by the private intelligence company Stratfor. ...
Wikileaks claims that Osama bin Laden’s body was transferred to Dover, Delaware on a CIA plane. An email dated May 2, 2011 states the body will then be moved “…to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda.” Two US Air Force Airlift Wings are based at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware. In another email dated May 2, 2011 a Stratfor staff member expresses doubt that Bin Laden’s corpse was buried at sea and mentions, “We would want to photograph, DNA, fingerprint, etc. His body is a crime scene and I don’t see the FBI nor DOJ letting that happen.”
caught up today:
According to leaked secret files of Statfor, a US security agency, Osama was not buried at sea in an Islamic ceremony but his body was shifted to the military mortuary in Dover, DE, on a CIA plane.
Then it was shifted to the medical institute of US armed forces in Maryland for examination.
At 5:26 a.m. on May 2, the morning after Barack Obama announced the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, Stratfor CEO George Friedman sent an email that said: “Reportedly, we took the body with us. Thank goodness.”
Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice president for intelligence, followed that up at 5:51 a.m. with an email titled “[alpha] Body bound for Dover, DE on CIA plane” that said: “Than [sic] onward to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda.”
At 1:36 p.m. Burton replied to a thread named “Re: OBL’s corpse” with the message: “Body is Dover bound, should be here by now.”
That contradicts the official story that bin Laden’s body was handled in accordance with Islamic tradition and released into the sea from a U.S. Navy vessel.
If this is true, we need to elect another president from Yale who can see to it that Osama’s skull winds up (along with those of other enemies of the United States like Geronimo) preserved for long-term private appreciation and ridicule inside a certain windowless building on High Street in New Haven, Connecticut.
05 Oct 2010
Stratfor’s George Friedman discusses the purpose and significance of the October 3rd alert warning of possible terrorist attacks in Europe and contemplates the broader problem.
The world is awash in intelligence about terrorism. Most of it is meaningless speculation, a conversation intercepted between two Arabs about how they’d love to blow up London Bridge. The problem, of course, is how to distinguish between idle chatter and actual attack planning. There is no science involved in this, but there are obvious guidelines. Are the people known to be associated with radical Islamists? Do they have the intent and capability to conduct such an attack? Were any specific details mentioned in the conversation that can be vetted? Is there other intelligence to support the plot discussed in the conversation?
The problem is that what appears quite obvious in the telling is much more ambiguous in reality. At any given point, the government could reasonably raise the alert level if it wished. That it doesn’t raise it more frequently is tied to three things. First, the intelligence is frequently too ambiguous to act on. Second, raising the alert level warns people without really giving them any sense of what to do about it. Third, it can compromise the sources of its intelligence.
The current warning is a perfect example of the problem. We do not know what intelligence the U.S. government received that prompted the warning, and I suspect that the public descriptions of the intelligence do not reveal everything that the government knows. We do know that a German citizen was arrested in Afghanistan in July and has allegedly provided information regarding this threat, but there are likely other sources contributing to the warning, since the U.S. government considered the intelligence sufficient to cause concern. The Obama administration leaked on Saturday that it might issue the warning, and indeed it did.
The government did not recommend that Americans not travel to Europe. That would have affected the economy and infuriated Europeans. Leaving tourism aside, since tourism season is largely over, a lot of business is transacted by Americans in Europe. The government simply suggested vigilance. Short of barring travel, there was nothing effective the government could do. So it shifted the burden to travelers. If no attack occurs, nothing is lost. If an attack occurs, the government can point to the warning and the advice. Those hurt or killed would not have been vigilant.
I do not mean to belittle the U.S. government on this. Having picked up the intelligence it can warn the public or not. The public has a right to know, and the government is bound by law and executive order to provide threat information. But the reason that its advice is so vague is that there is no better advice to give. The government is not so much washing its hands of the situation as acknowledging that there is not much that anyone can do aside from the security measures travelers should already be practicing.
The alert serves another purpose beyond alerting the public. It communicates to the attackers that their attack has been detected if not penetrated, and that the risks of the attack have pyramided. Since these are most likely suicide attackers not expecting to live through the attack, the danger is not in death. It is that the Americans or the Europeans might have sufficient intelligence available to thwart the attack. From the terrorist point of view, losing attackers to death or capture while failing to inflict damage is the worst of all possible scenarios. Trained operatives are scarce, and like any strategic weapon they must be husbanded and, when used, cause maximum damage. When the attackers do not know what Western intelligence knows, their risk of failure is increased along with the incentive to cancel the attack. A government warning, therefore, can prevent an attack. ...
the warning might well have served a purpose, but the purpose was not necessarily to empower citizens to protect themselves from terrorists. Indeed, there might have been two purposes. One might have been to disrupt the attack and the attackers. The other might have been to cover the government if an attack came.
In either case, it has to be recognized that this sort of warning breeds cynicism among the public. If the warning is intended to empower citizens, it engenders a sense of helplessness, and if no attack occurs, it can also lead to alert fatigue. What the government is saying to its citizenry is that, in the end, it cannot guarantee that there won’t be an attack and therefore its citizens are on their own. The problem with that statement is not that the government isn’t doing its job but that the job cannot be done. The government can reduce the threat of terrorism. It cannot eliminate it.
This brings us to the strategic point. The defeat of jihadist terror cells cannot be accomplished defensively. Homeland security can mitigate the threat, but it can never eliminate it. The only way to eliminate it is to destroy all jihadist cells and prevent the formation of new cells by other movements or by individuals forming new movements, and this requires not just destroying existing organizations but also the radical ideology that underlies them. To achieve this, the United States and its allies would have to completely penetrate a population of about 1.3 billion people and detect every meeting of four or five people planning to create a terrorist cell. And this impossible task would not even address the problem of lone-wolf terrorists. It is simply impossible to completely dominate and police the entire world, and any effort to do so would undoubtedly induce even more people to turn to terrorism in opposition to the global police state.
Will Rogers was asked what he might do to deal with the German U-boat threat in World War I. He said he would boil away the Atlantic, revealing the location of the U-boats that could then be destroyed. Asked how he would do this, he answered that that was a technical question and he was a policymaker.
Read the whole thing.
George Friedman is clever and cynical as always, but I think he’s wrong about the United States and her Western allies being unable to boil the Islamic sea.
Terrorism is really war by another name, and war is labor intensive and consequently costly. Terrorism exists because funding, weapons, material support, and ultimately safe havens are made available by the only entities capable of providing the necessary scale of support: governments.
We are in denial about the collusion of hostile states like Iran and supposedly friendly states. A major debate occurred some years ago in foreign policy and intelligence circles on the possibility of the existence of non-state actors operating in complete isolation from any state or government. The liberal side of the debate was articulated most prominently by Paul Pilar, chief of analysis at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and expressed most completely in his book Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy.
Pilar’s position, that unicorns exist and spontaneously generate, has become the Intelligence Community’s orthodoxy and it is nonsense. The Taliban have been able to pay their fighters more than than the Afghan government pays members of its security forces. The Taliban have an estimated 20,000-30,000 fighters. $300 a month times 20,000-30,000 men is $6,000,000-$9,000,000 or $72,000,000-$108,000,000 in minimum base salaries alone per annum before adding in higher compensation for officers and ncos, arms and ammunition, clothing, rations, and medical supplies.
We have a multi-hundred million dollar per year enterprise underway in the Afghan mountains and other insurgencies operating in Iraq, in the Arabian Peninsula, in Africa, and to some extent in Europe and the United States. A certain amount of all this activity is self-funded by kidnapping, robbery, and extortion, but it must be obvious that enormous amounts of monetary and material support are coming from somewhere.
It is also obvious that what makes the expenditure on NGO terrorism possible for governments, groups, and wealthy citizens of the Islamic world is the vast transfer of wealth from the civilized and developed world exchanged for oil at artificially high prices created by the manipulation of prices and supplies by the OPEC oil cartel.
To boil the sea that terrorism swims in, the US government merely needs to destroy OPEC, return petroleum to prices to the mercies of the real world market, and thereby reduce the economic surplus that flatters Islamic egos and enables Islamic extravagances.
The first step, of course, would be to defeat the liberal security orthodoxy that protects state supporters of terrorist surrogates and immunizes them by enabling deniability.
13 Jul 2010
George Friedman of the security consultancy Stratfor discusses the differences between the Russian approach of using very long-term, deep-cover recruitments and the US reliance on technical intelligence. It’s a lot easier to find Russians willing to acquire perfect English and reside for decades in the United States than to find Americans able to speak Russian like a native and willing to spend virtually their entire adult lives living as a Russian.
Interestingly, one of the recently exchanged Russian spies made a try to penetrate Stratfor. In that case, though, the Russians were apparently trying for technical surveillance.
One of the Russian operatives, Don Heathfield, once approached a STRATFOR employee in a series of five meetings. There appeared to be no goal of recruitment; rather, the Russian operative tried to get the STRATFOR employee to try out software he said his company had developed. We suspect that had this been done, our servers would be outputting to Moscow. We did not know at the time who he was. (We have since reported the incident to the FBI, but these folks were everywhere, and we were one among many.)
Thus, the group apparently included a man using software sales as cover – or as we suspect, as a way to intrude on computers. As discussed, the group also included talent scouts. We would guess that Anna Chapman was brought in as part of the recruitment phase of talent scouting. No one at STRATFOR ever had a chance to meet her, having apparently failed the first screening.
Read the whole thing.
18 Feb 2010
That Skull and Bones balloting box was not actually sold. Apparently, Christie’s withdrew it from the sale late last month, IvyGate reports, after receiving a mysterious “title claim.” The Russell Trust has plenty of lawyers.
Hot Air (one of the most important conservative blogs) has been sold to Salem Communications. Congratulations and good luck.
As part of the Carnival celebration, preceding the beginning of Lent, in the Spanish village of Laza, “Peliqueiros” or ancient tax collectors, are portrayed wearing warning cowbells and prepared to beat the villagers with sticks. 39 Carnival photos.
Stratfor: Tradecraft in Dubai Assassination
07 Apr 2009
Stratfor’s George Friedman observes that Barack Obama’s European summit negotiations had little hope of accomplishing anything.
The spin emerging from the meetings, echoed in most of the media, sought to portray the meetings as a success and as reflecting a re-emergence of trans-Atlantic unity.
The reality, however, is that the meetings ended in apparent unity because the United States accepted European unwillingness to compromise on key issues. U.S. President Barack Obama wanted the week to appear successful, and therefore backed off on key issues; the Europeans did the same. ...
Two fundamental issues divided the United States and Germany. The first was whether Germany would match or come close to the U.S. stimulus package. The United States wanted Germany to stimulate its own domestic demand. Obama feared that if the United States put a stimulus plan into place, Germany would use increased demand in the U.S. market to expand its exports. The United States would wind up with massive deficits while the Germans took advantage of U.S. spending, thus letting Berlin enjoy the best of both worlds. Washington felt it had to stimulate its economy, and that this would inevitably benefit the rest of the world. But Washington wanted burden sharing. Berlin, quite rationally, did not. Even before the meetings, the United States dropped the demand — Germany was not going to cooperate.
The second issue was the financing of the bailout of the Central European banking system, heavily controlled by eurozone banks and part of the EU financial system. The Germans did not want an EU effort to bail out the banks. They wanted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bail out a substantial part of the EU financial system instead. The reason was simple: The IMF receives loans from the United States, as well as China and Japan, meaning the Europeans would be joined by others in underwriting the bailout. ... The United States therefore essentially has agreed to the German position. ...
The reason there was no bargaining was fairly simple: The Germans were not prepared to bargain. They came to the meetings with prepared positions, and the United States had no levers with which to move them. The only option was to withhold funding for the IMF, and that would have been a political disaster (not to mention economically rather unwise). The United States would have been seen as unwilling to participate in multilateral solutions rather than Germany being seen as trying to foist its economic problems on others. Obama has positioned himself as a multilateralist and can’t afford the political consequences of deviating from this perception.
But wooing Turkey is key to competing with Russia for European influence.
Turkey is the key to all of this. If Ankara collaborates with Russia, Georgia’s position is precarious and Azerbaijan’s route to Europe is blocked. If it cooperates with the United States and also manages to reach a stable treaty with Armenia under U.S. auspices, the Russian position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for natural gas to Europe opens up, decreasing Russian leverage against Europe.
From the American point of view, Europe is a lost cause since internally it cannot find a common position and its heavyweights are bound by their relationship with Russia. It cannot agree on economic policy, nor do its economic interests coincide with those of the United States, at least insofar as Germany is concerned. As far as Russia is concerned, Germany and Europe are locked in by their dependence on Russian natural gas. The U.S.-European relationship thus is torn apart not by personalities, but by fundamental economic and military realities. No amount of talking will solve that problem.
The key to sustaining the U.S.-German alliance is reducing Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas and putting Russia on the defensive rather than the offensive. The key to that now is Turkey, since it is one of the only routes energy from new sources can cross to get to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. If Turkey — which has deep influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, the Middle East and the Balkans — is prepared to ally with the United States, Russia is on the defensive and a long-term solution to Germany’s energy problem can be found. On the other hand, if Turkey decides to take a defensive position and moves to cooperate with Russia instead, Russia retains the initiative and Germany is locked into Russian-controlled energy for a generation.
Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of options. Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia’s junior partner.
This is why Obama’s most important speech in Europe was his last one, following Turkey’s emergence as a major player in NATO’s political structure.
23 Feb 2009
I commonly link George Friedman’s penetrating and insightful analysis of foreign policy and military strategy in Stratfor essays, so I was interested to see their author deliver a series of long-term prognostications on this 4:29 video issued last November in association with the release of his new book, The Next 100 Years.
Friedman predicts even greater American world influence due to our naval supremacy and… solar energy from space (!). Less good news is that the Ottoman Empire is coming back. And the really bad news is that Mexico is going to challenge the United States. (I wonder if Mexico becoming a failed state in the near future might not impact the last predicted development.)
I tend to agree with more of Mr. Friedman’s essays than I do with all this. Frankly, in this case, he lost me right after the Influence of Sea Power on History. Besides, who is going to take seriously a guy who makes videos in the library of the Army & Navy Club not wearing a tie?
Hat tip to Bird Dog.
16 Jul 2008
George Friedman’s latest Stratfor analysis is available in full here.
In some sense, the United States has created what it said it wanted: a strong Iraqi government. But it has not achieved what it really wanted, which was a strong, pro-American Iraqi government. Like Iran, the United States has been forced to settle for less than it originally aimed for, but more than most expected it could achieve in 2006.
This still leaves the question of what exactly the invasion of Iraq achieved. When the Americans invaded, they occupied what was clearly the most strategic country in the Middle East, bordering Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Without resistance, the occupation would have provided the United States with a geopolitical platform from which to pressure and influence the region. The fact that there was resistance absorbed the United States, therefore negating the advantage. The United States was so busy hanging on in Iraq that it had no opportunity to take advantage of the terrain.
That is why the critical question for the United States is how many troops it can retain in Iraq, for how long and in what locations. This is a complex issue. From the Sunni standpoint, a continued U.S. presence is essential to protect Sunnis from the Shia. From the Shiite standpoint, the U.S. presence is needed to prevent Iran from overwhelming the Shia. From the standpoint of the Kurds, a U.S. presence guarantees Kurdish safety from everyone else. It is an oddity of history that no major faction in Iraq now wants a precipitous U.S. withdrawal—and some don’t want a withdrawal at all.
For the United States, the historical moment for its geopolitical coup seems to have passed. Had there been no resistance after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, the U.S. occupation of Iraq would have made Washington a colossus astride the region. But after five years of fighting, the United States is exhausted and has little appetite for power projection in the region. For all its bravado against Iran, no one has ever suggested an invasion, only airstrikes. Therefore, the continued occupation of Iraq simply doesn’t have the same effect as it did in 2003.
But the United States can’t simply leave. The Iraqi government is not all that stable, and other regional powers, particularly the Saudis, don’t want to see a U.S. withdrawal. The reason is simple: If the United States withdraws before the Baghdad government is cohesive enough, strong enough and inclined enough to balance Iranian power, Iran could still fill the partial vacuum of Iraq, thereby posing a threat to Saudi Arabia. With oil at more than $140 a barrel, this is not something the Saudis want to see, nor something the United States wants to see.
Internal Iraqi factions want the Americans to stay, and regional powers want the Americans to stay. The Iranians and pro-Iranian Iraqis are resigned to an ongoing presence, but they ultimately want the Americans to leave, sooner rather than later. Thus, the Americans won’t leave. The question now under negotiation is simply how many U.S. troops will remain, how long they will stay, where they will be based and what their mission will be. Given where the United States was in 2006, this is a remarkable evolution. The Americans have pulled something from the jaws of defeat, but what that something is and what they plan to do with it is not altogether clear.
Read the whole thing.
06 Jun 2008
Violence in Iraq has dropped to pre-Insurgency levels. General Petraeus’s tactics have clearly worked at killing off terrorists on the ground in Iraq, but more is going on. Reinforcement by new jihadis seeking martyrdom has also plummeted, so insurgent casualties are no longer being replaced.
Two recent articles explain how US military success is being supplemented by an ideological counter-offensive within the Islamic World.
Stratfor’s George Friedman explains that Saudi money is being used very actively to purchase peace and the right kind of theology.
At current oil prices, the Saudis are absolutely loaded with cash. In the Arabian Peninsula as elsewhere, money buys friends. In Arabia, the rulers have traditionally bound tribes and sects to them through money. At present, the Saudis can overwhelm theological doubts with very large grants and gifts. The Saudi government did not enjoy 2004 and does not want a repeat. It is therefore carefully strengthening its ties inside Saudi Arabia and throughout the Sunni world using money as a bonding agent. ...
With crude prices in the range of $130 a barrel, the Saudis are now making more money on oil than they could have imagined five years ago when the price was below $40 a barrel. The Saudis don’t know how long these prices will last. Endless debates are raging over whether high oil prices are the result of speculation, the policy of the U.S. Federal Reserve, conspiracy by the oil companies and so on. The single fact the Saudis can be certain of is that the price of oil is high, they don’t know how long it will remain high, and they don’t want anything interfering with their amassing vast financial reserves that might have to sustain them in lean times should they come.
In short, the Saudis are trying to reduce the threat of war in the region. War is at this moment the single greatest threat to their interests. In particular, they are afraid of any war that would close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large portion of the oil they sell flows. The only real threat to the strait is a war between the United States and Iran in which the Iranians countered an American attack or blockade by mining the strait. It is assumed that the United States could readily deal with any Iranian countermove, but the Saudis have watched the Americans in Iraq and they are not impressed. From the Saudi point of view, not having a war is the far better option.
The Saudis are engaged in a massive maneuver to try to pacify the region, if not forever, then for at least as long as oil prices are high. The Saudis are quietly encouraging the Syrian-Israeli peace talks along with the Turks, and one of the reasons for Syrian participation is undoubtedly assurances of Saudi investments in Syria and Lebanon from which Damascus can benefit. The Saudis also are encouraging Israeli-Palestinian talks, and there is, we suspect, Saudi pressure on Hamas to be more cooperative in those talks. The Saudis have no interest in an Israeli-Syrian or Israeli-Hezbollah conflict right now that might destabilize the region.
Finally, the Saudis have had enough of the war in Iraq. They do not want increased Iranian power in Iraq. They do not want to see the Sunnis marginalized. They do not want to see al Qaeda dominating the Iraqi Sunnis. They have influence with the Iraqi Sunnis, and money buys even more. Ever since 2003, with the exception of the Kurdish region, the development of Iraqi oil has been stalled. Iraqis of all factions are aware of how much money they’ve lost because of their civil war. This is a lever that the Saudis can use in encouraging some sort of peace in Iraq.
It is not that Saudi Arabia has become pacifist by any means. Nor are they expecting (or, frankly, interested in) lasting peace. They are interested in assuring sufficient stability over the coming months and years so they can concentrate on making money from oil.
Meanwhile, as Lawrence Wright describes in the New Yorker, the Islamic theologian who wrote the books inspiring al Qaeda’s jihadist movement last year published a new book, “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World,” featuring a major change of heart.
The premise that opens “Rationalizing Jihad” is “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property.” Fadl then establishes a new set of rules for jihad, which essentially define most forms of terrorism as illegal under Islamic law and restrict the possibility of holy war to extremely rare circumstances. His argument may seem arcane, even to most Muslims, but to men who had risked their lives in order to carry out what they saw as the authentic precepts of their religion, every word assaulted their world view and brought into question their own chances for salvation.
In order to declare jihad, Fadl writes, certain requirements must be observed. One must have a place of refuge. There should be adequate financial resources to wage the campaign. Fadl castigates Muslims who resort to theft or kidnapping to finance jihad: “There is no such thing in Islam as ends justifying the means.” Family members must be provided for. “There are those who strike and then escape, leaving their families, dependents, and other Muslims to suffer the consequences,” Fadl points out. “This is in no way religion or jihad. It is not manliness.” Finally, the enemy should be properly identified in order to prevent harm to innocents. “Those who have not followed these principles have committed the gravest of sins,” Fadl writes. ...
To Muslims living in non-Islamic countries, Fadl sternly writes, “I say it is not honorable to reside with people—even if they were nonbelievers and not part of a treaty, if they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum with a decent life and other acts of kindness—and then betray them, through killing and destruction. This was not in the manners and practices of the Prophet.”
It is to this recent book by Dr. Fadl that Ayman Zawahiri has been responding indignantly in his taped messages.
15 Jan 2008
George Friedman of Stratfor’s latest:
Iranian speedboats reportedly menaced U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 6. Since then, the United States has gone to great lengths to emphasize the threat posed by Iran to U.S. forces in the strait — and, by extension, to the transit of oil from the Persian Gulf region. ...
According to U.S. reports and a released video, a substantial number of Iranian speedboats approached a three-ship U.S. naval convoy moving through the strait near Iranian territory Jan. 6. ...
The New York Times carried a story Jan. 12, clearly leaked to it by the Pentagon, giving some context for U.S. concerns. According to the story, the United States had carried out war games attempting to assess the consequences of a swarming attack by large numbers of speedboats carrying explosives and suicide crews.
The results of the war games were devastating. In a game carried out in 2002, the U.S. Navy lost 16 major warships, including an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious ships — all in attacks lasting 5-10 minutes. Fleet defenses were overwhelmed by large numbers of small, agile speedboats, some armed with rockets and other weapons, but we assume most operated as manned torpedoes.
The decision to reveal the results of the war game clearly were intended to lend credibility to the Bush administration’s public alarm at the swarming tactics. It raises the issue of why the U.S. warships didn’t open fire, given that the war game must have resulted in some very aggressive rules of engagement against Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz. But more important, it reveals something about the administration’s thinking in the context of Bush’s trip to the region and the controversial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program. ...
One of (President Bush’s) purposes (in traveling to the Middle East) is to create a stronger anti-Iranian coalition among the Arab states on the Arabian Peninsula.
The nuclear threat was not a sufficient glue to create this coalition. For a host of reasons ranging from U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq to the time frame of an Iranian nuclear threat, a nuclear program was simply not seen as a credible basis for fearing Iran’s actions in the region. The states of the Arabian Peninsula were much more afraid of U.S. attacks against Iran than they were of Iranian nuke s in five or 10 years.
The Strait of Hormuz is another matter. Approximately 40 percent of the region’s oil wealth flows through the strait. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the tanker war, in which oil tankers moving through the Persian Gulf came under attack from aircraft, provided a sideshow. This not only threatened the flow of oil but also drove shipping insurance rates through the roof. The United States convoyed tankers, but the tanker war remains a frightening memory in the region.
The tanker war was trivial compared with the threat the United States rolled out last week. The Strait of Hormuz is the chokepoint through which Persian Gulf oil flows. Close the strait and it doesn’t flow. With oil near $100 a barrel, closing the Strait of Hormuz would raise the price — an understatement of the highest order.
We have no idea what the price of oil would be if the strait were closed. Worse, the countries shipping through the strait would not get any of that money. At $100 a barrel, closing the Strait of Hormuz would take an economic triumph and turn it into a disaster for the very countries the United States wants to weld into an effective anti-Iranian coalition. ...
the Iranian naval threat is a far more realistic, immediate and devastating threat to regional interests than the nuclear threat ever was. Building an atomic weapon was probably beyond Iran’s capabilities, while just building a device — an unwieldy and delicate system that would explode under controlled circumstances — was years away. In contrast, the naval threat in the Strait of Hormuz is within Iran’s reach right now. Success is far from a slam dunk considering the clear preponderance of power in favor of U.S. naval forces, but it is not a fantasy strategy by any means.
And its consequences are immediate and affect the Islamic states in ways that a nuclear strike against Israel doesn’t. Getting the Saudis to stand against Iran over an attack against Israel is a reach, regardless of the threat. Getting the Saudis worked up over cash flow while oil prices are near all-time highs does not need a great deal of persuading. ...
If it can establish the threat, the United States goes from being an advocate against Iran to being the guarantor of very real Arab interests. And if the price Arabs must pay for the United States to keep the strait open is helping shut down the jihadist threat in Iraq, that is a small price indeed.
Read the whole thing.
03 Jan 2008
George Friedman’s latest from the Stratfor subscription service.
The endgame of the U.S.-jihadist war always had to be played out in Pakistan. There are two reasons that could account for this. The first is simple: Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda command cell are located in Pakistan. The war cannot end while the command cell functions or has a chance of regenerating. The second reason is more complicated. The United States and NATO are engaged in a war in Afghanistan. Where the Soviets lost with 300,000 troops, the Americans and NATO are fighting with less than 50,000. Any hope of defeating the Taliban, or of reaching some sort of accommodation, depends on isolating them from Pakistan. So long as the Taliban have sanctuary and logistical support from Pakistan, transferring all coalition troops in Iraq to Afghanistan would have no effect. And withdrawing from Afghanistan would return the situation to the status quo before Sept. 11. If dealing with the Taliban and destroying al Qaeda are part of any endgame, the key lies in Pakistan.
U.S. strategy in Pakistan has been to support Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and rely on him to purge and shape his country’s army to the extent possible to gain its support in attacking al Qaeda in the North, contain Islamist radicals in the rest of the country and interdict supplies and reinforcements flowing to the Taliban from Pakistan. It was always understood that this strategy was triply flawed.
First, under the best of circumstances, a completely united and motivated Pakistani army’s ability to carry out this mission effectively was doubtful. And second, the Pakistani army was — and is — not completely united and motivated. Not only was it divided, one of its major divisions lay between Taliban supporters sympathetic to al Qaeda and a mixed bag of factions with other competing interests. Distinguishing between who was on which side in a complex and shifting constellation of relationships was just about impossible. That meant the army the United States was relying on to support the U.S. mission was, from the American viewpoint, inherently flawed.
It must be remembered that the mujahideen’s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan shaped the current Pakistani army. Allied with the Americans and Saudis, the Pakistani army — and particularly its intelligence apparatus, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — had as its mission the creation of a jihadist force in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. The United States lost interest in Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet Union, but the Pakistanis did not have that option. Afghanistan was right next door. An interesting thing happened at that point. Having helped forge the mujahideen and its successor, the Taliban, the Pakistani army and ISI in turn were heavily influenced by their Afghan clients’ values. Patron and client became allies. And this created a military force that was extremely unreliable from the U.S. viewpoint.
Third, Musharraf’s intentions were inherently unpredictable. As a creature of the Pakistani army, Musharraf reflects all of the ambivalences and tensions of that institution. His primary interest was in holding on to power. To do that, he needed to avoid American military action in Pakistan while simultaneously reassuring radical Islamists he was not a mere tool of the United States. Given the complexity of his position, no one could ever be certain of where Musharraf stood. His position was entirely tactical, shifting as political necessity required. He was constantly placating the various parties, but since the process of placation for the Americans meant that he take action against the jihadists, constant ineffective action by Musharraf resulted. He took enough action to keep the Americans at bay, not enough to force his Islamist enemies to take effective action against him. ...
the United States now faces its endgame under far less than ideal conditions. Iraq is stabilizing. That might reverse, but for now it is stabilizing. The Taliban is strong, but it is under pressure and has serious internal problems. The endgame always was supposed to come in Pakistan, but this is far from how the Americans wanted to play it out. The United States is not going to get an aggressive, anti-Islamist military in Pakistan, but it badly needs more than a Pakistani military that is half-heartedly and tenuously committed to the fight. Salvaging Musharraf is getting harder with each passing day. So that means that a new personality, such as Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, must become Washington’s new man in Pakistan. In this endgame, all that the Americans want is the status quo in Pakistan. It is all they can get. And given the way U.S. luck is running, they might not even get that.
Read the whole thing.
22 Dec 2007
Stratfor’s Fred Burton and Scott Stewart assess the accuracy of their 2007 predictions and survey probable developments in the year to come.
Given the relative ease of getting an operative into the United States, the sheer number of soft targets across the vast country and the simplicity of conducting an attack, we remain surprised that no jihadist attack occurred on U.S. soil in 2007. However, we continue to believe that the United States, as well as Europe, remains vulnerable to tactical-level jihadist strikes — though we do not believe that the jihadists have the capability to launch a strategically significant attack, even if they were to employ chemical, biological or radiological weapons.
Jihadists have shown a historical fixation on using toxins and poisons. As Stratfor repeatedly has pointed out, however, chemical and biological weapons are expensive to produce, difficult to use and largely ineffective in real-world applications. Radiological weapons (dirty bombs) also are far less effective than many people have been led to believe. In fact, history clearly has demonstrated that explosives are far cheaper, easier to use and more effective at killing people than these more exotic weapons. The failure by jihadists in Iraq to use chlorine effectively in their attacks has more recently underscored the problems associated with the use of improvised chemical weapons — the bombs killed far more people than the chlorine they were meant to disperse as a mass casualty weapon.
Al-Zawahiri’s messages over the past year clearly have reflected the pressure that the group is feeling. The repeated messages referencing Iraq and the need for unity among the jihadists there show that al-Zawahiri believes the momentum has shifted in Iraq and things are not going well for al Qaeda there. Tactically, al Qaeda’s Iraqi node still is killing people, but strategically the group’s hopes of establishing a caliphate there under the mantle of the Islamic State of Iraq have all but disappeared. These dashed hopes have caused the group to lash out against former allies, which has worsened al Qaeda’s position.
It also is clear that al Qaeda is feeling the weight of the ideological war against it — waged largely by Muslims. Al-Zawahiri repeatedly has lamented specific fatwas by Saudi clerics declaring that the jihad in Iraq is not obligatory and forbidding young Muslims from going to Iraq. In a message broadcast in July, al-Zawahiri said, “I would like to remind everyone that the most dangerous weapons in the Saudi-American system are not buying of loyalties, spying on behalf of the Americans or providing facilities to them. No, the most dangerous weapons of that system are those who outwardly profess advice, guidance and instruction …” In other words, al Qaeda fears fatwas more than weapons. Weapons can kill people — fatwas can kill the ideology that motivates people.
There are two battlegrounds in the war against jihadism: the physical and the ideological. Because of its operational security considerations, the al Qaeda core has been marginalized in the physical battle. This has caused it to abandon its position at the vanguard of the physical jihad and take up the mantle of leadership in the ideological battle. The core no longer poses a strategic threat to the United States in the physical world, but it is striving hard to remain relevant on the ideological battleground.
In many ways, the ideological battleground is more important than the physical war. It is far easier to kill people than it is to kill ideologies. Therefore, it is important to keep an eye on the ideological battleground to determine how that war is progressing. In the end, that is why it is important to listen to hours of al-Zawahiri statements. They contain clear signs regarding the status of the war against jihadism. The signs as of late indicate that the ideological war is not going so well for the jihadists, but they also point to potential hazards around the bend in places such as Pakistan and Lebanon.
05 Dec 2007
Stratfor’s George Friedman elucidates the differences between the 2005 NIE and the 2007 NIE.
Nuclear sabre-rattling previously served Iranian interests.
The assumption was that Iran wanted to develop nuclear weapons—though its motivations for wanting to do so were never clear to us. First, the Iranians had to assume that, well before they had an operational system, the United States or Israel would destroy it. In other words, it would be a huge effort for little profit. Second, assume that it developed one or two weapons and attacked Israel, for example. Israel might well have been destroyed, but Iran would probably be devastated by an Israeli or U.S. counterstrike. What would be the point?
For Iran to be developing nuclear weapons, it would have to have been prepared to take extraordinary risks. A madman theory, centered around the behavior of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was essential. But as the NIE points out, Iran was “guided by a cost-benefit approach.” In simple terms, the Iranians weren’t nuts. That is why they didn’t build a nuclear program.
That is not to say Iran did not benefit from having the world believe it was building nuclear weapons. The United States is obsessed with nuclear weapons in the hands of states it regards as irrational. By appearing to be irrational and developing nuclear weapons, the Iranians created a valuable asset to use in negotiating with the Americans. The notion of a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands appeared so threatening that the United States might well negotiate away other things—particularly in Iraq—in exchange for a halt of the program. Or so the Iranians hoped. Therefore, while they halted development on their weapons program, they were not eager to let the Americans relax. They swung back and forth between asserting their right to operate the program and denying they had one. Moreover, they pushed hard for a civilian power program, which theoretically worried the world less. It drove the Americans up a wall—precisely where the Iranians wanted them.
Now, suddenly, the US Government apparently has decided that this is a convenient time to move beyond quarreling with Iran over Iranian nuclear ambitions to try to make a deal concerning Iraq. So, voilá! here is a new NIE determining that the Iranian nuclear threat is not quite so great as was previously feared. They probably won’t have the bomb until the middle of the next decade. Almost certainly not for another 18-to-24 months (when it will be another administration’s problem). Time to rachet down the confrontation.
The recent U.S. successes in Iraq, however limited and transitory they might be, may have caused the Iranians to rethink their view on dealing with the Americans on Iraq. The Americans, regardless of progress, cannot easily suppress all of the Shiite militias. The Iranians cannot impose a regime on Iraq, though they can destabilize the process. A successful outcome requires a degree of cooperation—and recent indications suggest that Iran is prepared to provide that cooperation.
That puts the United States in an incredibly difficult position. On the one hand, it needs Iran for the endgame in Iraq. On the other, negotiating with Iran while it is developing nuclear weapons runs counter to fundamental U.S. policies and the coalition it was trying to construct. As long as Iran was building nuclear weapons, working with Iran on Iraq was impossible.
The NIE solves a geopolitical problem for the United States. Washington cannot impose a unilateral settlement on Iraq, nor can it sustain forever the level of military commitment it has made to Iraq. There are other fires starting to burn around the world. At the same time, Washington cannot work with Tehran while it is building nuclear weapons. Hence, the NIE: While Iran does have a nuclear power program, it is not building nuclear weapons.
Friedman also thinks, plausibly enough, that something happened that they are not telling us.
22 Nov 2007
The Financial Times is one of many media outlets reporting a “Phenomenal” Drop in Iraq Violence.
How did this come about?
Stratfor’s George Friedman (11/13) explains:
The important question is whether we are seeing a turning point in Iraq. The answer is that it appears so, but not primarily because of the effectiveness of U.S. military operations. Rather, it is the result of U.S. military operations coupled with a much more complex and sophisticated approach to Iraq. To be more precise, a series of political initiatives that the United States had undertaken over the past two years in fits and starts has been united into a single orchestrated effort. The result of these efforts was a series of political decisions on the part of various Iraqi parties not only to reduce attacks against U.S. troops but also to bring the civil war under control.
A few months ago, we laid out four scenarios for Iraq, including the possibility that that United States would maintain troops there indefinitely. At the time, we argued against this idea on the assumption that what had not worked previously would not work in the future. Instead, we argued that resisting Iranian power required that efforts to create security be stopped and troops moved to blocking positions along the Saudi border. We had not calculated that the United States would now supplement combat operations with a highly sophisticated and nuanced political offensive. Therefore, we were wrong in underestimating the effectiveness of the scenario.
The Bush Administration appears to be not nearly as incompetent in executing foreign policy as is widely believed.
09 Nov 2007
George Friedman of Stratfor suggests that Western readers get past the simplistic sloganeering of the Western bien pensant press, and look at the realities of the situation in Pakistan in the light of History.
The British withdrawal created a state called Pakistan, but no nation by that name. What bound its residents together was the Muslim faith—albeit one that had many forms. As in India—indeed, as in the Muslim world at the time of Pakistan’s founding—there existed a strong secularist movement that focused on economic development and cultural modernization more than on traditional Islamic values. This secularist tendency had two roots: one in the British education of many of the Pakistani elite and the second in Turkish founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who pioneered secularism in the Islamic world.
Pakistan, therefore, began as a state in crisis. What remained of British rule was a parliamentary democracy that might have worked in a relatively unified nation—not one that was split along ethnic lines and also along the great divide of the 20th century: secular versus religious. Hence, the parliamentary system broke down early on—about four years after Pakistan’s creation in 1947. British-trained civilian bureaucrats ran the country with the help of the army until 1958, when the army booted out the bureaucrats and took over.
Therefore, if Pakistan was a state trying to create a nation, then the primary instrument of the state was the army. This is not uniquely Pakistani by any means, nor is it unprincipled. The point that Ataturk made—one that was championed in the Arab world by Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser and in Iran by Reza Pahlavi—was that the creation of a modern state in a traditional and divided nation required a modern army as the facilitator. An army, in the modern sense, is by definition technocratic and disciplined. The army, rather than simply an instrument of the state, therefore, becomes the guarantor of the state. In this line of thinking, a military coup can preserve a constitution against anti-constitutional traditionalists. ...
Although the British tradition of parliamentary government fell apart in Pakistan, one institution the Britons left behind grew stronger: the Pakistani army. The army—along with India’s army—was forged by the British and modeled on their army. It was perhaps the most modern institution in both countries, and the best organized and effective instrument of the state. As long as the army remained united and loyal to the concept of Pakistan, the centrifugal forces could not tear the country apart.
Musharraf’s behavior must be viewed in this context. Pakistan is a country that not only is deeply divided, but also has the real capacity to tear itself apart. It is losing control of the mountainous regions to the indigenous tribes. The army is the only institution that transcends all of these ethnic differences and has the potential to restore order in the mountain regions and maintain state control elsewhere.
20 Oct 2007
Stratfor: Terrorism Intelligence Report – October 17, 2007 by Fred Burton and Scott Stewart:
The summer of 2007 was marked by threats and warnings of an imminent terrorist attack against the United States. In addition to the well-publicized warnings from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and a National Intelligence Estimate that al Qaeda was gaining strength, a former Israeli counterterrorism official warned that al Qaeda was planning a simultaneous attack against five to seven American cities. Another warning of an impending dirty bomb attack prompted the New York Police Department to set up vehicle checkpoints near the financial district in Lower Manhattan. In addition to these public warnings, U.S. government counterterrorism sources also told us privately that they were seriously concerned about the possibility of an attack.
All these warnings were followed by the Sept. 7 release of a video message from Osama bin Laden, who had not been seen on video since October 2004 or heard on audio tape since July 2006. Some were convinced that his reappearance — and his veiled threat — was the sign of a looming attack against the United States, or perhaps a signal for an attack to commence.
In spite of all these warnings and bin Laden’s reappearance — not the mention the relative ease with which an attack can be conducted — no attack occurred this summer. Although our assessment is that the al Qaeda core has been damaged to the point that it no longer poses a strategic threat to the U.S. homeland, tactical attacks against soft targets remain simple to conduct and certainly are within the reach of jihadist operatives — regardless of whether they are linked to the al Qaeda core.
We believe there are several reasons no attack occurred this summer — or since 9/11 for that matter.
Read the whole report.