Fat Steve's Blatherings

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Guest Blogging

      Blogging may be light for the next few days, as we here at Casa St. Onge cope with various personal matters. Meanwhile, I have a few things some friends have sent me that I think are worth your time.

      We'll start with Mike's Book Corner.  Mike Quinn, a Canadian screenwriter, copied this letter to me in January, and the description was intriguing enough that I decided to read the book.  I have it now, and like it (though I haven't had time to read much).  I'll have some additional comments at the end.

      Now, Mike:

Drew,

      I much enjoyed reading George Friedman's book "America's Secret War".  Thanks for the recommendation.  I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in a remarkable behind the scenes glimpse at what is in store over the next four years.

      The first third or so was devoted to an excellent overview of the post cold-war strategic situation.  While focusing mainly on the U.S. perspective, Friedman also gives us an insight as to what the world now looked like from the Russian, Chinese and other p.o.v.'s.  (See Barnett's book "The Pentagon's New Map" for a very good, and somewhat more detailed discussion on this as well.)

      A fairly detailed overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the US intelligence system followed.  I got a lot of insights here.  Then, a riveting blow-by-blow of Al-Qaeda's exploration and exploitation of these weaknesses culminating in 9-11.  Here Friedman mixes-in a discussion of the rise of Al-Qaeda as a continuation of the 1980's mujahadin movement combined with a revival of pan-Muslim anti-western militancy.  So far nothing earth-shatteringly new but an excellent overview nevertheless.

      I was fascinated by Friedman's account of the Afghan campaign.  The intricacies of US special operation force infiltrations to build alliances with local warlords was right out of a Tom Clancy novel.  However Friedman characterizes the Taliban's dispersal into the Afghan countryside after the fall of Mazar-I-Shareef as a "strategic withdrawal".  Perhaps it was in the Taliban's eyes but as such it was an utter failure since they never were able to effectively regroup or mount a prolonged guerilla counter-offensive.  I think Friedman is selling the US effort a bit short here.  Their success in Afghanistan was historic, if not epic.  Very often fortune favors the bold.  By applying just the right kind of leverage at just the right places the whole structure of the Taliban regime collapsed.

      Friedman also seems to contradict himself when he characterizes Tora Bora as a U.S. failure since earlier on he describes the operation as long-shot with negligible chance of success.  It is true that Bin Laden escaped, but odds were that he would anyways.  So far as I know the U.S. and allied forces were able to inflict heavy casualties on the Taliban and route the rest.  As you pointed out Friedman debunks Kerry's accusation that Bush dropped the ball in Tora Bora.  It was simply not diplomatically or logistically possible to move a heavy force into that mountain fastness in a short period of time, if at all.  Kerry and many of the anti-war Democrats must of known this but did not hesitate to politicize the issue.  Given their options the US strategy was remarkably adaptive and creative.  Bottom line is Taliban and Al-Qaeda no longer have a secure base to operate from in Afghanistan.

      Friedman follows this with a gripping account of the India-Pakistan crisis in the months immediately following the Afghan campaign.  He describes how the Bush administration went into crisis management mode upon receiving widely-sourced intelligence that Al-Qaeda was seeking Russian suitcase nuclear weapons, including serial numbers and dates of manufacture - which were confirmed by the Russians!  Bush executed a masterful triangulation between his own administration, Pakistan and India, playing each against the other in order to bring Musharaf to heel, break open the Pakistani nuclear black-market, run down the suitcase-nuke threat through Pakistani intelligence... and diffuse a potential nuclear war between India and Pakistan in the process!!  This was almost as intense as some of the accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis I have read.  I remember these events as they were unfolding, including the story of the dirty bomb found in a park in the Republic of Georgia in early 2002.  It occurred to me back then that if Al-Qaeda had nukes they would have used them instead of planes on 9-11, since they would have caused far greater death and disruption.  And once the US was alerted (by 9-11), it would be much harder to execute a WMD attack on US soil.  Still, Friedman argues persuasively that little could have been done to defend US cities if in-fact Al-Qaeda did possess suitcase nukes, and I am glad that Bush put this at the top of the priority list.  The end result was the breakup of A.Q. Khan's nuclear smuggling ring so it's all good...

      I hadn't realized (I guess few of us did) that Bush then drew up secret plans for a global, simultaneous strike against Al-Qaeda.  This included secret deployments of Delta and Green-Berret combat teams to many countries.  But they soon realized that such a strike would not be feasible though they did gain some valuable intelligence in the process, and were able to mount successful, if limited, operations against Al-Qaeda cells and affiliates in the Philippines, Yemen, and other places.  It was only after they realized that a global strike would not work that the plan to invade Iraq started to crystallize.

      You and I concluded a long ago that the primary motive to invade Iraq was never WMD, though WMD did form an important part of the rationale.  Instead we realized that the real motive was as "object lesson".  For instance this was demonstrated why Libya came clean with its secret nuclear weapons program after the fall of Saddam.  However I always assumed that the primary target of the object lesson was the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah nexus, as well as North Korea.  But Friedman convincingly shows that it was in fact Saudi-Arabia.  I.E. that the only to kill Al-Qaeda was to choke off its life-line: the huge flow of cash coming from private, and government affiliated donors in Saudi Arabia who were behind the whole Wahabist, Taliban, Al-Qaeda movement... Since the Saudi Royal House was convinced that the US was a paper tiger and was unwilling to sustain casualties through sustained intervention in the middle-east, it was not motivated to crack down on extremists in its midst, for fear of provoking internal dissent and even civil war.  In short the US suffered from a severe credibility gap in the region and needed to redress that if Saudi Arabia was over going to get on board and come on in for the big win!

      Strategically Iraq was the logical target for the Bush admin. since it was right in the middle of all of the countries in question - Syria, Iran, Saudi-Arabia etc.  And in the process, they would rid themselves of a medium level threat in the form of the Saddam Hussein and his monstrous regime.  I was quite surprised to see that Iran actually favored the invasion, seeing an opportunity to exert influence in the Shi'ite south, but there is a certain logic to it.  Rumsfeld argued that the light-force invasion along the "Afghan" model would work, and would demonstrate US willingness to "go-it-alone", while Powell felt a heavy force was needed and thus a 1991 type coalition had to be built.  In the end a compromise was reached.

      I always assumed Powell was against the war but it turns out he supported the idea.  However he recognized the difficulty of selling the "object lesson" to the world so he chose the WMD argument to convince the UN, and this of course notoriously backfired.  The analysis of the not-so-innocent motives of the other great powers in opposing the war was quite revealing!  The fact that Saddam's WMD were nowhere to be found turned out to be quite an embarrassment.  However since Bush could never publicly admit that this (the Iraqi WMD threat) was actually just a secondary motive for invading Iraq, he had to buck-up and admit the mistake without going into the deeper logic.  I noted that Friedman is quite dismissive of the threat posed by the limited Iraq-Al-Qaeda connection, saying there was little evidence of a 9-11 collaboration and only limited coordination in terms of training and other services between the two entities.  I find this view baffling and this is one of the points where I strongly disagree with Friedman.  As far as I'm concerned ANY solid evidence of collaboration of ANY kind, by ANY entity with Al-Qaeda on ANY basis is in itself sufficient grounds for removal from the planet.

      You know the rest - the intense infighting at the White House as the invasion unfolded, the inevitable setbacks and misteps of all military campaigns, the stunning successes... the harrowing challenges that still lie ahead, and the startling prospects for the near future!

      All-in-all "America's Secret War" was an excellent, lucid, quick & easy read that leaves one with a solid overall picture of the "Jihadist vs. The West" conflict, and the US's controversial, complex, incremental but sound success strategy.  Though not as replete with "deep game" details and insights as Bodanksy's work, Friedman has a far greater sense of narrative and Bodanksy could learn a thing or two from that, at least if he ever wants to make any money!

      I give "America's Secret War" 4-1/2 thumbs up, two stars and a rubber chicken.

M

      And me again.  First, America's Secret War was finished in July, 2004.  Since then, things are changing rapidly.  The fact that we've stuck in Iraq, the re-election of W., and the Iraqi election seemed to have fundamentally changed the situation, as anyone reading the last few days' news is aware of.

      But longterm, the enemy is Islamic fascism, and the governments that have used it against the West to maintain peace at home.  The Sauds must be destroyed, along with the other dictators of the region.  Increasingly, it looks like W. will accomplish that.

      Good.

THE SAUDS MUST BE DESTROYED -- AND WILL BE!

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