The Threat of Islamic Terrorism
Terrorism is an ignis fatui, a will `o the wisp. It is the boogeyman for the contemporary political demagogue.
Terrorists pose a trivial threat to America. Its all in our head. As FDR so succinctly put it in 1941: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Doubt that?
Allow me to put it into perspective. Every year America disregards the deaths of over 300,000 people from tobacco-related illness - more than 100 times as many people as died on 11 September 2001. No one has ever proposed that the 18th Airborne Corps or Delta Force hop down the road from Ft Bragg to Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem to take out the corporate headquarters of the tobacco moguls. Moreover, every one of these deaths is preventable - yet the purveyors of this mortal commodity were until recently subsidized by the Government (as though tobacco wasn't a profitable crop). Every year Americans disregard the deaths of 50,000 people in automobile accidents. No one has seriously proposed that we reduce the speed limits universally to 25 mph. We have made a collective evaluation that the lives of these people are not worth our convenience and prosperity. So, clearly, losing 3000 people to terrorists - just that once - is not the big deal we have made it. We, as a nation, should get over it. If you didn't personally lose a loved one, get over it. Sound heartless? Sickeningly callous? You may not like what I am saying, but you cannot dispute the truth of it.
I am not insensitive to the grief felt by those who lost loved ones, but a distinction ought to be made between personal sympathy for the grieving and collective, national cowardice or unbridled emotion. I have seen anger from Washington, but no tears for the grieving. I have seen a shaken leadership and one committed to vengeance (or the show of it), but no defiant assertion of our superior values. To whit: the wanton murder of 3000 innocents does not justify the wanton slaughter of 30,000 innocents from aerial bombardment (we have dropped about that number of 2000 lb and 1000 lb bombs on Afghanistan and Iraq). We owe our children a better example of courage, compassion and well-governed resolution under duress than the indiscriminate use of violence. That is the same reasoning used by terrorists.
It probably shouldn't be mentioned in the same thought as the human toll, but the economic damage that we suffered as a result of the September 11 attacks was almost entirely the result of our own fear-mongering and selfishness. It was self-inflicted. Al-Qaeda did not cause airlines to collapse into bankruptcy or vacation spots to suffer from lack of business. Cowardice (and corporate mismanagement) did that. Al-Qaeda did not cause oil prices to increase, or impact oil production in any way. Greedy oil merchants and petroleum producers did that.
The same can be said for our political fallout. Al-Qaeda poses no threat to my or your liberty. How could it? Al-Qaeda cannot conquer our nation or replace our government. The only threats to American liberty on this Earth reside in Washington (and in Hometown, USA). Last time I looked, al-Qaeda was not running any candidates for Congress or the White House (though the Bush administration may as well have been on the payroll). Al-Qaeda did not force us to adopt draconian (and feckless) security measures at airports. That was our decision. Al-Qaeda did not pass the hypocritically-entitled Patriot Act to suspend our constitutionally "guaranteed" civil liberties. That too was our decision. We collectively endorsed the abolition of constitutional checks and balances and our core liberties in a pathetic, disgraceful grasping after security. The sacrifices of more than 200 years of real American patriots, who suffered and died to make us free and keep us free, have been trodden and spat on by this craven and weak-willed generation. Unless you actively fought against it, you allowed it to happen. Most of us endorsed all of this and would endorse a great deal more.
It is never appropriate to compromise liberty for security. Liberty is far too precious.
If we can afford to lose over 350,000 of our fellow citizens every year to matters of convenience and commerce, how do we rationalize the infringement of our Constitutional civil liberties over a single terrorist incident? We are either stupid or cowards, or both. Let al-Qaeda attack every day of the year, but give me liberty.
The most appropriate way to deal with terrorists is to ignore them, at least publicly. They are analogous to unruly children misbehaving in a public place, their tantrums calculated to exert psychological and political pressure on the institutions of authority. Responding directly and overtly to them affirms their power. We say that we do not negotiate with terrorists, yet by publicly becoming aroused and devoting vast amounts of force and materiel (and political rhetoric) to engaging them, we have done something that is equally as satisfying to the terrorist - we have legitimized their standing as a threat and a political entity. We have made them our equal.
If we engage terrorists, it should be by covert, or better yet clandestine, means. No one should ever know that we played any part in the action. Ideally, it should look like a group of bombers were hoist by their own petard, literally, or that a rival faction of insurgents took out another. But to do it properly you must resist the urge to crow. Our leaders cannot seem to do that.
When we engage terrorist by overt action, it should be by paramilitary forces for law enforcement, to deliver them to the judicial system. Muslim extremists long for a martyr's death. They should be denied that goal at all costs - including the cost of our pride. Witness this statement by Usamah bin Laden: "I have sworn to only live free. Even if I find bitter the taste of death, I don't want to die humiliated or deceived". These mujahedin dread the prospect of confinement in an infidel prison. Zacharias Moussaoui has done all in his power to cast himself as an arch-terrorist so as to ensure his martyrdom. He fears life in prison, and I pray that is what he receives.
All that said, I think our action in Afghanistan was, in the main, politically and morally defensible. It was also much too little, and too late (and heedless of civilian casualties). As a result, the Taliban is in resurgence and will likely overthrow the government we helped to install in Afghanistan. Bush was holding back for the invasion of Iraq, which he had planned before even taking office (Richard Clark, former White House counter-terrorism chief, indicates that invasion of Iraq was on the agenda of the very first national security meeting in January of 2001). Had I been in his place I would have taken Kabul in the dead of night in the style of the 1968 invasion of Prague by the Soviet VDV Osnaz, killed the leaders of the Taliban and dropped every BLU-82/B "Daisy Cutter" in the inventory on the camps of the militants. All at night, all in the same night and all within a week of the 11th of September. And, I would probably have done it in Sudan as well as Afghanistan. I would not have permitted Usamah Bin-Ladin and his lieutenants to escape vengeance for years on end. Our failure has more to do with bureaucracy and rice bowls than lack of timely intelligence. Incidentally, did you observe that the British caught all of the perpetrators of the 7 July 2005 attacks on the Underground and city buses within a couple of weeks?
Nothing that happened on September 11 should have come as a shock to anyone in Washington, nor really to any American. Unfortunately, we are so self-absorbed that few of us anticipated it or were prepared to deal with it, psychologically or otherwise. Yet we had ample warning.
On 26 February 1993 a group of Islamic terrorists detonated a 1200 lb bomb in a rental truck beneath one of the towers of the World Trade Center in an attempt to cause it to collapse. A few months thereafter, the FBI arrested a group of conspirators as they were preparing several more such weapons to be detonated in New York at places like the UN, the Manhattan Federal Building, the Holland Tunnel and the Lincoln Tunnel. The perpetrators of these deeds were our former allies in Afghanistan and directly, knowingly funded by our present allies, the Saudis. Confused?
The irony of this for me is that I knew in the early 1990s (from openly published articles in Jane's Intelligence Review) that the Saudis were giving Islamic fundamentalist militants hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to keep the wolf away from the door. Better to send them on "jihad scholarships" in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia than to have them foment unrest back home. Additionally, these Saudi patrons had an agenda to spread the extreme Wahabbi form of Sunni Islam. Many of these fighters have more than 10 years of near constant insurgency training in actual conflict. And now, having tangled three times with a superpower (whose fall is more to their credit than to our own) and emerged unscathed if not always victorious, they are returning to the Middle East with an agenda of their own.
In 1992, I observed that for the foreseeable future the principal threat to the US would be posed by radical, fundamentalist Islamic militants and not by the governments of Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea launching ballistic missiles. Only a few months later the first attack on the World Trade center occurred. Since that time, the only damage that this nation or its overseas deployed assets has suffered from an enemy as a result of proactive offensive operations has been caused by Islamic extremists.
We Americans have seized on a host of reasons for why these things are happening to us. Characteristically, we generally think that bad things are happening to us because of our values of liberty and justice for all. Suggest that bad things are happening to us because, perhaps, we are doing bad things ourselves and you will be treated to vituperation and accusations of being un-American. It is no accident that these things are happening to us and not to the Swiss or the Portuguese or the Venezuelans, but it isn't because we are a bastion of liberty and that that offends the Islamic world.
The Iraqi Connection
We are spending more than $80 billion per year on a conflict in Iraq, on the pretense that our invasion and continued presence is justified and necessary to forestall terrorism back home. However, prior to the invasion, there were no terrorists in Iraq. Saddam Hussein wouldn't tolerate them. Now it is estimated that there are as many as 100,000. Not one of the terrorists involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks was from Iraq. All but four of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia. Hussein's regime had absolutely nothing to do with the September 11 attack.
For the record, there never existed any contacts between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaeda.
All such allegations of an Iraqi-al Qaeda connection derive from a single al-Qaeda prisoner, who was providing bogus information that seemed to please his captors. Its incredible how many Americans still believe this nonsense. Everyone who has taken the time to study Islamic fundamentalist terrorism has always known this to be utter rubbish. Islamic extremists do not play well with secular, socialist pan-Arab nationalists (like Iraq's Ba'ath Party). They are fierce opponents. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, as Sun-Tzu says.
So, what is the Iraqi connection? There are two answers. From the perspective of al-Qaeda, we know the answer. In a fatwa published on 23 February 1998, Usamah Bin-Laden provided the causes for his war against America:
Observe that US domestic policy and American values aren't mentioned. Islamic extremists despise our values, but what infidels do in their own country doesn't terribly concern them. We are presently embarked on a course to aggravate each of these cited grievances. There can be little doubt that terrorist action in the US will result, whether by al-Qaeda or some other group of essentially identical character, such as al-Gamaa al-Islamiya or Hizb-Allah.
Here is a taped statement by Usamah Bin-Laden:
- The perpetual desecration of the soil of the holy land of Arabia by infidel armed forces who use it as a staging base for attacks against neighboring muslim states
- The continuing oppression of Iraq by embargo and bombardment, and the consequent cost in civilian lives
- The US protection of Israel, against even UN sanction, resulting in Israeli oppression of and atrocities against Palestinians, committed with impunity, and in enduring control over Jerusalem
Does this statement suggest to you that the war in Iraq has made America more safe or less safe from attack by muslim extremists? Bin-Laden sees a natural connection between US bombs that kill muslim civilians and al-Qaeda attacks that kill American civilians.
It isn't Iraq per se, or Saddam Hussein's regime, it is rather what we have done to the Iraqi people and, by proxy, to the Palestinians, that impels Islamic fundamentalists to attack us. Our policies in the Middle East also continually increase the power of fundamentalist mullahs and imams, expand the ranks of militants by polarizing the muslim underclass and reinforce their extremist ideologies. We are feeding the bears. I made the observation after the 1991 Persian Gulf War that we were destabilizing and weakening the few secular, Westward-leaning governments in the Islamic world. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was the most liberal, most free, most secular state in the Middle East. Women wore western dress, owned property, received advanced education, held jobs, drove cars. No one feared religious extremism. The one area where liberty was constrained was in political diversity - but that is common to all authoritarian regimes. Yet Iraq had been our closest ally in the region and we had destroyed her, sending a clear signal that the US was a treacherous ally. I was not alone in voicing that concern, but none of us were heeded. While my concern that the more secular governments of the region might be toppled has not come to pass (yet), the threat of Islamic extremism has indeed emerged as our most grave threat and one we remain ill adapted to confront.
I attempted to warn our leaders about the repercussions of invading Iraq, when in July of 2002 I learned from the news that we had already positioned over 100,000 troops in the Persian Gulf and were amassing the materiel requisite for war (you don't make such preparations on the off chance that you will go to war - it was a done deal even then). This is what I wrote to my senators:
- I say that this war is the joint responsibility [emphasis added] of the people and the governments. While the war continues, the people renew their allegiance to their rulers and politicians and continue to send their sons to our countries to fight us ... and they continue their financial and moral support while our countries are burned and our houses are bombed and our people are killed.
All of my pre-war predictions have come true, including my observation that "we are about to learn the upside of tyranny" (meaning that Iraq was as properous and liberal as it was precisely because Hussein was a despot - as is amply demonstrated by the result since the power center collapsed). It didn't take a genius at intelligence analysis to see that much, but somehow the White House missed it. They claim that they had faulty intelligence regarding the WMDs and the response of the Iraqi populace to the invasion. Indeed. Strangely, I knew better on both counts.
The programs to develop nuclear weapons and biochemical agents within Iraq were very effectively dismantled by the UN inspection teams, such that since 1997 no such weapons existed in Iraq. This was repeatedly attested by the head of the UN inspection efforts, Hans Blix, and by IAEA head, Mohamed el-Baradei. We chose to dispute these first-hand, on-the-ground depositions in favor of dubious interpretations of fuzzy photographs taken from low Earth orbit and allegations made by Iraqi expatriates with a vested interest in our overthrow of Hussein, since they planned to assume power in his place.
All organizations develop a social dynamic. Most such dynamics have at their core the principle of pleasing the authority. Over time all organizations selectively filter for certain traits and behaviors and filter out other behaviors and traits. It is not necessary for management to overtly say, "Bring me some bogus intelligence estimates that tell me what I want to hear". All that is required is for
subordinates to clearly understand, via interest level, facial expression, body language or tone of voice, what is and what is not pleasing to the boss. They will naturally comply. When an analyst presents facts and conclusions that do not support the political objectives of an administration, those facts and conclusions will be viewed with increased scrutiny and criticism.
- "Should we pursue this course we will certainly be compelled to engage in protracted urban conflict. Considering our extreme aversion to US military casualties, I predict that the Defense Department will, on encountering resistance in built up areas, commence a bombardment campaign preparatory to ground force insertion. This will result in civilian casualties on a scale far exceeding that of DESERT STORM and the systematic destruction of the major urban centers of Iraq, reducing its infrastructure to complete ruin. If America then withdraws, we cannot be sure what political entity will follow Hussein and the cost in human terms will be unacceptable. If we remain to rebuild, we will find ourselves trying to prevent a general civil war as Kurds and Shiites threaten secession, and the costs of rebuilding will be prodigious." [emphasis added]
At all levels, everyone quickly learns precisely what sort of intelligence assessment meets with eager approval and what sort receives cold or antagonistic reception. Most people prefer positive feedback. I am confident that the rank and file intel analysts tried to tell the truth about the WMDs and post-war consequences. Its mainly the management chain that corrupts the message, because these bureaucrats are trying to climb the ladder. A typical example (this actually works both ways, to amplify and to water down assessments):
- "Are you 100% sure you got those facts correct?"
- "What makes you so confident that your assessment is correct and
these others are off base?"
- "Is it not possible that these signals could be interpreted to
indicate the presence of a test program?"
- "Are you willing to stake your career and the lives of millions
of Americans on that assessment?"
Possibly because of my background at the time of DESERT STORM, I was able to see the events leading up to the war with a different perspective than generally held by my fellow citizens. Its not that what I am about to say was confidential or privileged information, all of what follows was gleaned from published information.
I am aware, for instance, that when Ambassador April Glaspie was summoned by President Saddam Hussein and apprised of his intent to use force against Kuwait after years of egregious violations of conventions governing the oil quotas for the respective countries and other matters, she indicated to Hussein that she had been explicitly instructed by Secretary of State James Baker to convey the message: "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait." - effectively giving a tacit approval to the planned Iraqi military action. Ms. Glaspie was severely reprimanded for revealing the substance of this exchange, which was published in the New York Times on 23 September 1990 (i.e., prior to the war). Yet, if we stood behind what we stated, then we should be comfortable with its publication. Clearly, the Bush administration did not want it widely known that it had failed to discourage Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait.
I am also convinced that much of Saddam Hussein's military power at the time of the Persian Gulf War was subsidized by the CIA via the BCCI bank as part of our decade-plus clandestine proxy war against Iran. I have gathered this from the investigative reporting efforts of journalists. Don't believe me? Perform a Google search of the terms "BCCI" and "CIA"; see if you don't make the same judgment that I have made. Here are a few starter links:
- Original Assessment: "While there is no evidence of a clandestine nuclear development program, it of course remains hypothetically possible that such an effort is ongoing."
- Branch Chief Edit: "It is probable that a clandestine nuclear development program is ongoing."
- Department Chief Edit: "The evidence indicates that it is probable a clandestine nuclear development program is ongoing."
- Division Chief Edit: "The evidence indicates that it is highly probable a clandestine nuclear development program is ongoing."
- Agency Chief Edit: "Credible evidence provides confidence in asserting that it is nearly certain a clandestine nuclear development program is ongoing."
- White House Staffer Edit: "Irrefutable evidence, based on credible intelligence, demonstrates beyond any doubt that a clandestine nuclear weapons development program is ongoing."
When George H. W. Bush became President in 1988, he at once embarked upon a course of covering up the loose ends of this episode of clandestine activity which threatened to embarrass his administration, hence the criminal prosecution of BCCI officials and also of defense contractors connected with "illegal" arms sales to Iraq, also arguably orchestrated by the CIA (I am convinced that Operation JUST CAUSE was conducted for very similar reasons after Manuel Noriega attempted to blackmail the President concerning the Contra-cocaine connection from all the Reagan years of black ops in El Salvador and Nicaragua).
I am further aware (also from published accounts) that the original UN inspectors assigned to investigate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were highly cleared representatives of the Defense Department and did not divulge any substantive details of their findings to the UN, again because (in my judgment) a significant measure of Hussein's success in the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction can be attributed to clandestine funding and arrangement of expertise by the CIA. Their real task, I am convinced, was elimination of the audit trail back to the CIA.
In short, DESERT STORM was primarily an exercise in political damage control to cover a decade of arguably illegal intelligence operations (overseen by the then Vice-President Bush). These facts cast our moral legitimacy for conducting DESERT STORM, regardless of UN sponsorship, in a most doubtful light.
Now for the truly tragic part, the history that has been vigorously suppressed in this country, but which is well known elsewhere in the world. The cost of DESERT STORM, in terms of civilian lives lost, has been obscured from the very beginning. Beth Osborn Daponte, the Census Bureau specialist assigned the task of estimating the casualties of the conflict, was dismissed after she published her findings. Her initial estimates, disclosed in January 1992, were that 39,612 women and 32,195 children died as a direct result of the war, with 13,000 being killed during the six weeks of the war and the remainder dying from disease, malnutrition and other war-induced health factors in the intervening months. Daponte alleged that the officially released version of her report on casualties had been rewritten, with the death toll lowered and data on women and children removed. After a more comprehensive analysis, she later increased the estimate of civilian deaths to more than 110,000. [Daponte, Beth Osborne. "A Case Study in Estimating Casualties from War and Its Aftermath: The 1991 Persian Gulf War." Physicians for Social Responsibility Quarterly (June 1993): 57.] For a time the official US estimate of civilian casualties, corroborating this figure, was posted by the CIA on their website, but it was pulled around the time of the invasion of 2003. All of those deaths occurred in the first year.
At the urging of the US, the United Nations effectively laid siege to the nation of Iraq for a decade. Numerous international organizations, including UNICEF, have estimated that the consequence of these economic sanctions has been a sharp rise in the mortality of children under the age of five. The most conservative figure for the ten years' increase in the death toll (relative to pre-war rates) of this one age group is approximately 100,000 - with the most likely figure being at least twice this many.
All political posturing and rhetoric aside, there is no question but that we as Americans are responsible for these deaths. The US is the world leader in the UN and these actions have been orchestrated, demanded and enforced by our political will and military might. In comparison with such a statistic, the loss of life on September 11 pales to inconsequence. Even if it were true that Saddam Hussein was solely responsible for the September 11 attacks, the deaths of 225,000 Iraqi children and untold numbers of other ages, is more than sufficient cause for killing 3000 Americans - certainly by our own measuring stick.
We have dropped tens of thousands of dumb and precision guided bombs in Iraq, most of them either 2000 or 1000 lb variants. Bombs of this size have a huge lethal footprint - 50 to 100 meters in radius. Even if the weapon has an accuracy of less than 10 meters, it will totally destroy the house or apartment that it hits, and all the houses or apartments adjacent to it. If only one civilian casualty resulted on average from each of these weapons (and its generally many), dropped in crowded urban areas, then that would be thousands of Iraqi civilians we killed or maimed. We don't know the actual number of civilian deaths and injuries, because this time around the US government has elected not to collect and assess that data.
The ruin of Iraq is entirely our fault. We did it. Not Hussein. No one compelled us to do it. Supposedly, the Iraqi people should be thankful for the freedom that we have bestowed on them. They can vote, if they are willing to risk being murdered by venturing out on polling day. They have freedom of political expression, but no reliable electricity or water. In one of the world's top three oil exporting nations, gasoline is scarce. How sensible is it to ask Iraqis to endure such extreme deprivation and be thankful for freedoms that we are abolishing pell-mell in America at the mere possibility of a terrorist act? Obviously America doesn't value those liberties enough to risk even one terrorist attack. What hypocrisy!
Now, to the point. It is argued that Saddam Hussein is a monster and cannot be permitted the possession of weapons of mass destruction. In point of fact, he has possessed both chemical and biological weapons. Moreover, he obtained them with our assistance. It is alleged that he has used them against his own people, resulting in thousands of deaths. (The most notable incident is the Halabja massacre in 1988, in which 5000 died - although Stephen Pelletiere, the CIA's chief political analyst on the Iran-Iraq War, makes a compelling case that it was the Iranians who perpetrated this act, since the people of Halabja died from cyanosis, not nerve poisoning, and Iraq did not use cyanide agents while Iran did. The evidence for this incident is so shaky that Hussein is not being charged with it in his trial.) But in any event, we have killed many times that number of undeniably innocent civilians (children under the age of five cannot be imagined to be accountable in any respect for the excesses of their political leaders, even in a democracy). Consequently, our arguments in favor of invasion and regime change were and are specious. Additionally, there is no moral basis for launching an offensive campaign in the anticipation of what a political figure might do.
The world abounds with ruthless dictators and history bears witness that we (or our intelligence agencies and executive leaders) have supported them despite gross violations of human rights for decades. Saddam Hussein was just the most recent. Few have we removed from power and none because they posed a vague threat to world peace.
Given that the US retains thousands of nuclear weapons, each of which is approximately one hundred times more powerful than anything that Hussein could have created had he succeeded, our demand that Iraq abandon its nuclear ambitions was at best hypocritical and at worst, tyrannical (we are repeating that hypocrisy with Iran at present). Indeed, the UN Security Council represents nothing so much as the "nuclear club", minus the latest additions of Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea - none of whom are we presently threatening with invasion or sanction.
It is my considered opinion that Operation IRAQI FREEDOM was the attempt by a Government, frustrated in its efforts to combat a foe that it is (still) not prepared to engage, to instead conduct a war on terms with which it is more familiar.
It is actually worse than that. We weren't really motivated to finish off al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, for reasons I'll explain in the next section, any more than we were motivated to finish off Hussein in 1991.
The Iraqi connection from the US standpoint is two-fold. George W. Bush held private reasons for committing this nation to an indefensible invasion and post-war stability operation; reasons more to do with Hussein's attempt to assassinate his father and ten years of criticism by armchair campaigners to the effect that "we should've kept going on to Baghdad!". Reasons that add up to nothing but family pride.
More importantly though, George W. Bush's cabal of advisors (more accurately, his minders) had their own reasons, and they can be distilled to one word: economics. Ever wonder why the first objective seized in Baghdad was the Oil Ministry? Europe, including Russia and our NATO allies, had been illegally buying Iraqi oil, under the table of the embargo as it were, for years. While the Europeans publicly decried our invasion, after we seized the Oil Ministry and held the Damocles Sword of exposing their black market dealings over their heads, they didn't press the point too firmly. In the fall of 2000, Saddam Hussein stopped using the US dollar as the standard medium of exchange for oil transactions. He converted to the Euro. This made sense from his perspective, from both a practical and a strategic standpoint. Europe was buying his oil, not the US. Also, a conversion of international oil transactions from the US dollar to the Euro would severely damage the dollar in international markets. A large measure of American economic prowess at present is secured by the fact that practically all international oil sales are transacted in dollars, no matter who is buying or selling. Its always inaccurate to ascribe wars to simple causes, however, the true decision makers behind US policy decided to invade Iraq fundamentally because select US financial interests could not afford to have the Euro replace the dollar for a major oil market and because the oil reserves of Iraq are the third largest in the world.
If you still believe that we invaded Iraq either to depose a ruthless dictator or because we actually believed that we were threatened by nuclear weapons, ask yourself why we haven't deposed Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe or Kim Jong Il in the DPRK. The reason is that there is nothing in those countries except trouble. No oil, to be blunt. Both leaders are more oppressive than Saddam Hussein, particularly Kim - and we know that he has nuclear weapons and truly is insane. Iraq offered what Washington ideologues call "strategic interests", and seemed to their minds to be a country that would favor us for deposing Hussein. Columnist Tom Friedman has called Operation IRAQI FREEDOM a conscious experiment in regional regime change by the neo-conservatives. If it succeeded, our global political stock would soar. However, the ideologues should have reckoned on what would happen if we failed. As Friedman put it so cogently, no one in that region is going to attempt any sort of democratic reform for a long, long time.
There is another consequence. Had we confined our retaliation against al-Qaeda to Afghanistan, and especially had we deployed sufficient forces in a timely manner to kill or capture Usamah bin-Laden, we would have appeared nearly invincible, a terrible opponent capable of exacting swift and certain retribution. Instead, we now have shown the limits of our endurance, intelligence and resources. We have allowed the enemy to make us bleed. We are no longer viewed as an invincible superpower to the Islamic insurgent. On the ground in Iraq, we are very mortal and very limited in our powers to interdict and thwart our enemies. That was a mistake.
Here is the proof:
- BCCI, the CIA and Foreign Intelligence
- The BCCI Affair: Executive Summary
- Wikipedia: Bank of Credit and Commerce International
- BCCI: Bank of Crooks and Criminals
"The insurgency in Iraq was able up to this moment to stand against the United States Army. And this has taught a lesson to the others. It has changed the whole equation in the Middle East," said Nabil Samman, head of the Center for Research and Documentation, a Damascus think tank.
"We're not talking about open war with the United States. We're not adventurists. We know very well our limitations," said Mohammed Habash, an independent member of parliament and director of the Islamic Studies Center in the Syrian capital.
Quoted in "United Against the U.S., Israel", Kim Murphy, The Los Angeles Times, 20 July 2006.
Warfare in American Policy
We are our own worst enemy. War, more than any other human endeavor, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Si vis bellum, para bellum. We have a vast and powerful military, postured for global power projection rather than homeland defense, so we find opportunities to use that power. Have you ever wondered why Brazil or Norway isn't menaced by al-Qaeda? Or why we take no precautions against attack by Canada or Mexico? We are only focused on global power projection and that is why foreign radicals take issue with us. It is because we are in their streets with bombs and guns, not because they are in ours and despise our liberty.
We don't want the boogeyman to go away. We love the boogeyman. The boogeyman is good for business.
The terrorism boogeyman justifies our role as global enforcer and obscures the fact that we would still be brandishing a sword over the heads of every other country even if there were no terrorists at all. When the Soviet Union had its abortive coup in 1989, a panic broke out in the intel community. The 10 foot tall Russian had spontaneously combusted. Their reason for being was suddenly thrown into doubt (i.e., no secrets left, no boogeyman). It was impossible. People in that circle tried to convince me that it was a trick by those wily Soviets, to lure us into making ourselves vulnerable. Secretly, they were really still in power and up to some nefarious scheme of such unspeakable cunning that it would astound everyone when it came to light. Other folks were less paranoid, but still in denial. They persisted in calling it the "former Soviet Union", and acting as if nothing had changed and all the various republics had not gone their separate ways. Eventually the truth became clear and Congress began to salivate, thinking of all the ways it could spend the "peace dividend" when it reduced the military back to pre-World War II levels. I am convinced that the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Operation DESERT STORM, was conjured as a means of hastily creating a new boogeyman, emblematic of the so-called Rest-of-the-World (ROW) threat, in order to maintain the status quo.
Here is a pithy quote from one of our founding fathers:
Throughout its history America has made many serious errors of policy, yet the American principles of liberty and justice and benevolence have overshadowed our periodic indiscretions as the world has seen our willingness to heal the wounds of war, forgive old enemies, rebuild vanquished nations, and magnanimously extend our wealth to impoverished peoples. We have a well deserved reputation for doing right.
Nevertheless, no nation is destined to do right inexorably, nor can we assume that our motivations and actions are and will always be intrinsically just.
I do not know whether you believe in divine providence or judgment. I do. Regardless, even were one to consider the present circumstance with a secular mind, it is clear that our generation stands in jeopardy of abolishing the US reputation for justice, honesty and equity, even in the minds of the West. It is no surprise to me that a large portion of the world already regards America with fear and loathing. Most Americans remain ignorant of the causes for these feelings of vehement antipathy for our nation. Each of us must become more cognizant of the larger scope of human affairs and become motivated to act in the best interests, not only of the present hour, but of future generations also.
- Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes... known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. -- James Madison, Political Observations, 1795
What Happens Next
I am going to once more predict the future, as I did in 1992. These are my projections for the next 3 to 5 years, with probabilities of occurrence:
Observe that I don't put dates or sequence on these events. Depending on the sequence in which some of these happen, it can affect the likelihood and timing of others to follow. For instance, if the US presses hard for action against Iran in the near-term it vastly accelerates the dissolution of Iraq and nearly ensures that Moqtada al-Sadr will assume power. If either the US or Israel attacks Iran almost anything can happen, include worldwide jihad against the US and the West generally. Hopefully, even Israel appreciates the madness of going down that road (though it now seems that the White House has lost any sense of sound reasoning in this regard, and is bent on repeating the folly of Iraq on a much more dangerous level).
If we attempt to prevent the dissolution of Iraq, we will fail.
If the Kurds break away before we give up on the new government of Iraq, we may make the mistake of applying force to Kurdistan and then stand by as the Turks invade. That would leave us totally out of the country as far as allies and safe havens. If the Kurds invite us to defend them after everything naturally dissolves, or after the Shia transform Iraq into an Islamic state, then we will hold off the Turks and attempt to maintain a foothold in the region. Syria, Turkey and Iran all have Kurdish minorities in that corner of the world and all of them will likely want to merge (complete with occupied territory) with Kurdistan. Expect that to become a major issue.
The real wild card in the future is Iran and how we respond. Right now we are threatening UN sanctions because of Iran's intransigence regarding its nuclear developments. For the record the evidence is clear that weapons, not power, is their primary goal. Despite President Ahmadinejad's inflammatory rhetoric, I do not think that Iran will nuke Israel just as soon as it has a viable weapon. They know (like everyone does in the region) that Israel has ballistic missiles with thermonuclear warheads, so it would be idiotic to swap Tehran for Tel Aviv. It would also be next to impossible to nuke any part of central Israel without endangering one of Islam's most holy sites and killing a host of Palestinians.
That said, I think it likely that Iran will use its nuclear option to attempt to hold the West at bay while it tries to oust Israel. The value of nuclear weapons is not necessarily in using them. Iran has observed that the US handles nuclear states with kid gloves. It is nearly impossible to invade or otherwise prosecute conventional operations when someone has a nuclear delivery capability. Ahmadinejad is playing to his home crowd and trying to stir up a pan-Islamic foment across the breadth of the Islamic world. Like I mentioned, they call themselves the Islamic Republic, not of Iran, but of the world. Their ultimate goal is for all the muslim world to live beneath the banner of Iran.
While I hold to all of the foregoing arguments, when judging the reasoning processes of muslim extremists one must generously allow for irrationality. It is not inconceivable that Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs actually believe that Allah would not permit nuclear weapons to rain on Tehran because of their zeal. If that is true then conventional forms of deterrence will fail and there is no limit to what they may attempt.
This crisis is entirely our fault, in precisely the same way that Israel is entirely to blame for Hamas coming to power in Palestine. We opposed the nationalists in Iran and got something worse for our efforts. A lot of Americans seem eager to go to war against Iran, arguing that "they have it coming for taking the embassy hostages", but almost no one in this country is aware that after Iran nationalized its oil in 1951 (denying the British Government its more than 50% share of the profits) we toppled the nationalist and secular government of Iran led by Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953 in Operation AJAX, restoring the Shah to power, who thereafter ruled as a ruthless and vainglorious despot until the Islamic revolution in 1979. Funny how our American history education omits all the coups d'etat we arranged and dictatorships we supported with training in torture techniques and political oppression. If anything, they still owe us.
Significantly, Iran is preparing to open a market for its oil trading only in Euros. So, do you really believe all this posturing about nuclear ambitions is the true issue? Remember that North Korea already has nuclear weapons and an insane dictator and that it will be years before Iran will actually have the bomb (if they ever can pull it off - Iran is technologically incompetent).
Is muslim terrorism still in our future? You bet, for generations to come. We have instilled more hatred in the last 5 years under George W. Bush than in all the years prior to his administration, including our war with the Barbary pirates (remember "from the shores of Tripoli"?). You can thank global communications partly for that - its the same reason why the entire Islamic world can be inflamed by cartoons published in a newspaper that none of them have seen, from a country most muslims never knew existed and couldn't find on a map.
But didn't I start this blog by asserting that terrorism was a trivial concern?
It is. Terrorist incidents are like tornadoes. They are ephemeral events that produce locally restricted devastation. Either they hit you or they don't. I live at end one of Tornado Alley, but people in this part of the world don't fret about tornadoes any more than Californians fret about earthquakes. When they come you deal with them. Until then, you go on with life and don't walk around in a constant state of fear.
We have spent a thousand times more money attempting to prevent the unpreventable than it would cost to repair whatever damage that could be caused by terrorism. We are close to spilling the blood of as many dedicated soldiers as the number of people that died on Septemeber 11 and for all that, we are more at risk today than at any time in this nation's history. The War on Terror is a gross failure (just like the War on Drugs), but fools like Rumsfeld and Cheney are talking about actively waging this fight for decades to come. Such stupidity has exacerbated the problem, fanned the flames, spawned a new generation of militants and damaged our economy, devastated our global reputation and deflated our national spirit. The worst thing that we could do now is apply more force. Trust me, our present situation can get worse - not because of terrorists or their attacks, but because of an expanded conflict with the muslim world. We do not possess the economic reserves to wage a global war against Islam and walk away with no more than skinned knees. That would be an open ended conflict, lasting decades (or centuries) unless we resorted to systematic and wholesale extermination of the Islamic world by nuclear attack, which I very much doubt we will ever do.
So, while I assert that terrorism is not a serious issue, I regard the ascendency of extremist Islamic militarism as the most grave political threat for the foreseeable future. Or, to be more pointedly direct, unrestrained militarism by the US Government bent on pursuing Islamic extremism is the greatest threat to American liberty and welfare that this nation has ever faced. There is absolutely nothing in the Islamic world that we want or need except oil, and that is a resource that will not be around for much longer. If we are smart and can get weened of our dependence on oil, we can move toward a bright future, turn our backs on the barbarous muslim world forever and let them wallow in their own self-perpetuated ignorance and intolerance.
Until then, terrorism has a fairly straightforward solution: promote peace, liberty, justice and the welfare of people in developing nations. Do all of this without dropping bombs on cities and villages. If we had instead devoted even a fraction of the resources we've spent fighting in Iraq to advancing the welfare of poor people in muslim countries, do you think we would have more or fewer muslim enemies? It is, unfortunately, a solution we are far too proud and selfish to pursue. We would rather spend ten times as much on killing as any amount on foreign humanitarian aid. We will fight for control of markets and oil, but we do not defend liberty (witness the weak-kneed stance by this administration and Congress during the controversy over the cartoons of Muhammed and the capital trial of the Afghan convert to Christianity). When real liberty is on the line, we're not interested.
One of the principal reasons for our failure in Iraq against the insurgents, beyond the folly of ever invading in the first place, is that US military practice has never followed its own doctrine in regard to low intensity conflict and counter-insurgency, nor learned from those who have waged such conflicts successfully. The US has an extremely poor record for fighting against irregular forces, which is doubly ironic since we have done little else for half a century and won our own independence principally by that style of warfare. It bears no resemblance to conventional operations. Brute force doesn't work. Minimum force is the key. There are internet legends about what Captain (and later, General) John. J. "Blackjack" Pershing did to quell the fierce and savage muslim Moros in the Sulu province of the Philippines in the early 20th century: here is the truth.
Most crucially, you must win the psychological war for the "hearts and minds" of the local populace (hint: pamphlets printed in Arabic, telling the locals that we are the good guys, does not not suffice). You must convert them to your staunch allies, thereby denying the insurgency its support base and reason for existence. To accomplish this your actions must be 100% consistent with your message, you must resist being drawn in by provocations and - here is the key - you must devote more energy to doing good things for the people than in chasing bad guys. Once the good will of the locals is lost, the war is lost.
However, we must get beyond our concern regarding terrorism, insurgency and nation building, either for political ballyhoo, military expansion, national security, redressing wrongs done or whatever reason. We have infinitely more serious challenges to overcome and that is the subject of my Next Blog.
- The civil war (sectarian division) in Iraq will get hot, resulting in the dissolution of Iraq's government (99%)
- The Republic of Kurdistan will secede from Iraq (90+%)
- The Islamic Republic of Iraq, comprising the Shia population, will emerge from the dissolution of the present Iraq (90+%)
- The Shia population will simply merge with Iran (which officially calls itself The Islamic Republic, without reference to geography) (<30%)
- The Sunni Triangle will become the new Bosnia or Lebanon, a civil war torn no-man's land, until the process of sectarian cleansing drives out all of the Sunnis, who will flock as refugees to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf Emirates (or languish in the desert on the border if prevented from immigrating) (90+%)
- The US will attempt to prevent these secessions, dissolutions and revolutions, resulting in the US being caught in the middle of a hopeless conflict and terrible humanitarian crisis (75+% if it occurs during Bush's tenure; <30% if it occurs after the next election) Update: Latter case satisfied - the US will withdraw by 2011 regardless of the situation.
- The Shiite Islamic Republic of Iraq will align itself with Iran (90+%)
- Moqtada al-Sadr will assassinate Grand Ayatullah Sayyid, Ali Husaini al-Sistani, and blame it on either the Sunni insurgents or the US (or both), making himself the new leader of Iraq (50%)
- The US will retreat and retrench its position within the relatively friendly Republic of Kurdistan (90+%)
- Turkey will experience a rise in Kurdish separatism and threaten invasion of Kurdistan, putting two NATO partners in dangerous hostility for the first time since World War II (90+%) Update: Cross border action has already occurred; potential for escalation is very real.
- Iran will develop nuclear weapons (90+%) and openly test one (75%)
- Iran will trade oil in only Euros (99%)
- The US will attempt to build a case for war with Iran (90%) (Update: Occurred) and whether supported by UN sanction or not, will strike Iran in an effort to destroy both its nuclear facilities and its military capabilities generally (50+%) Update: This scenario was averted by a surprise National Intelligence Estimate that took the wind out of the sails of the White House rhetoric; under the Obama administration, the intel community is guardedly "reassessing" the actual threat.
- Failing US attempts to build international enthusiasm for war with Iran, Israel will attack Iran, seeking both to cripple its nuclear capabilities in a preemptive strike and also to force the US to invade (30+%)
- Moqtadr's Islamic Republic of Iraq will defend Iran against US aggression in the event of war and will become hostile to US pressure on Iran (99%)
All of the remarks in this blog are my opinion and judgment, based entirely on openly published information that I perceive to be accurate and truthful. Don't take my word for it. Do your own research. Form your own judgments.
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