America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies

The Daily Demarche asked me to help out with some guest blogging – which motivated me to do a total rewrite on this original post.

I’m much happier with the do-over, as I took the time to type in enough of America’s Secret War for the reader to get a sense of how Friedman approaches the issues. So for the latest, and much better version of this post, please go to Getting By With A Little Help From Our Friends.

America’s Secret War could be one of the most important books on "the long war" against the Islamists. The author, George Friedman, is the founder of Strategic Forecasting Inc (the ‘shadow CIA’ as Barron’s calls it, usually referred to as Stratfor). Friedman’s biography is here at Johns Hopkins’ Principles of War Seminars where he is a speaker.

Why an important book? A fairly small portion of the book is material you may have seen elsewhere. Much of it is may be old news to CIA hands who work the Middle East.

But they cannot write about it, while Stratfor can. The US administration may not be able to say "X", but Stratfor can. And recall that one of the most effective military methods is deception. I think there is a corollary principle in diplomacy.

The book is compact at 341 pages, because Friedman doesn’t spend a lot of words justifying his assertions. The prose gets short when you can say regarding Osama bin Laden that "His goal was to minimize the center of gravity – to try to deny the enemy an accessible point that, if reached, could destroy the entire organization". In this book that assertion is not padded with two pages of justification.

But is it true? I think it represents Stratfor’s best assessment as of summer 2004, reasoning as follows:

  1. This is a Stratfor book, authored by the founder and chairman.
  2. Stratfor makes a living selling geopolitical assessments.
  3. Within, say, 5 years the truth of many of the assertions will be known.
  4. Some will be known sooner, at least to a few people, some of which may write op-eds.
  5. Note also, the CIA has proven very capable of getting any message it wishes published.
  6. If material portions of the book turn out to be rubbish, the financial impact on Stratfor is not good.
  7. So, there may be bad calls, but I’ll wager that Stratfor gave it their best shot.

Here are a few representative Friedman points – not in the order presented:

  1. The US is running a far deeper, more Machiavellian strategy than it appears. A correct strategy by Friedman’s lights, though there are execution problems. E.g., in 2002 sensible people (like Ken Pollack) asked "why Iraq right now?" An important part of the answer according to Friedman was to light a blowtorch under the Saudis. Within weeks after 9/11 it was clear to the NSC task force that the cooperation of the Saudis was essential: on intelligence and on cutting the Islamist flow of funds. But the Saudis were not cooperating. Like Bin Laden, they believed the US would bluster but would not use force to back up their words. US strategists reasoned that deposing Saddam would both demonstrate US determination, and position US power right next to the Saudi kingdom. The coercion would effect not only Saudi, but Iran, Syria and Pakistan.
  2. Al Qaeda’s primary risk is discovery by intelligence. Al Qaeda is intimately familiar with US/allied intelligence – they were taught by the CIA in the Afghan war. They had, and likely continue to have, good access to Saudi Intelligence – with whom the CIA has been working closely since early in the Cold War. Its simple – if the Saudis know it, Al Qaeda knows it.
  3. Al Qaeda’s primary skill is "evading the CIA and allied intelligence agencies."
  4. Al Qaeda is designed to survive a massive counterattack by the US, and is "prepared to lose a good portion of its leadership".
  5. At the same time, because the number of Al Qaeda’s key operatives is small, AQ is quite risk averse regarding mission compromise. Allied intelligence has used this against AQ to stop operations. E.g., by leaking that the CIA is interrogating "X", since AQ doesn’t know whether "X" has compromised an operation, they are likely to cancel it to avoid the risk. See Lee Smith article below for more…

Friedman
confirmed some of the conclusions I had reached regrading Iraq and regime change:

  1. The US national security team post 9/11 quickly came to the conclusion that "homeland defense" was impossible. Attenuate threats yes, stop them no. Thus the only viable policy option was offense – to destroy the Islamist support structure across the globe – a multigenerational strategy.
  2. WMD was not central in US Iraq strategy. WMD was chosen as the best public argument to build the needed political support, because it was rested on the history of UN resolutions and Saddam’s lack of compliance. This was critical for shoring up the legal case – very essential for Tony Blair, while also offering at least a non-zero chance of Security Council support.
  3. The US did, of course, believe that Saddam had WMD, with most confidence being on chemical [that the military was seriously worried is obvious by requiring troops to outfit in that truly awful hazmat gear]. The worry about nuclear was future – after the collapsing sanctions were lifted. Bio weapons were a maybe.

Friedman did not discuss one of my key conclusions re: "why Iraq soon?", that containment via the sanctions regime was essentially finished – while diplomacy dictated that US leadership not state this central fact. France, Russia and China had been tunneling around the sanctions since 1992. All three were committed to ending the sanctions regime, thus allowing Saddam to resume his dream of leading the Arab world, and controlling the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf. Whether a nuclear Iraq was 2 or 10 years away after the fall of sanctions one can debate – but the end result was very clear – a nuclear Iraq at the hinge of the Middle East.

CORRECTION: Thanks to an informed reader comment, the following paragraph in the orginal post is incorrect. Please see my reply, and this new article Is Saddam’s Bombmaker a Fraud? for the details.

For an insiders history of Saddam’s nuclear ambitions, see: "Saddam’s Bombmaker– The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda" by Khidhir Hamza, Saddam’s chief scientist, now a free man.

Further background and comment: Any book review or commentary links left in the comments would be most appreciated.

I should note that I’ve seen a couple of comments since about Oct., 2004 stating to the effect of "the Saudis started to play ball for the first time when it became clear we were going into Iraq".

Barron’s Feb. 21, 2005 interview with Friedman "World of Worry" has a number of useful tidbits. Among these are comments on the US coercion strategy:

As a political scientist and admirer of realpolitik, Friedman feels that the U.S.’s aggressive action and military presence in Iraq has inestimably helped the war on terror by, among other things, motivating reluctant allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan and erstwhile enemies like Syria and Iran to help the U.S. by cutting off their support of al Qaeda and serving up better intelligence to Western governments.

"I call it the coalition of the coerced, but the tempo of timely arrests of al Qaeda operatives around the world, and the fact that the U.S. suffered no terrorist attacks running up to last year’s election, can in good part be attributed to better intelligence from the Islamic world," Friedman avers. "Our victory in Afghanistan was insufficient. We had to show the Islamic world that we meant business by putting large numbers of troops into the Mideast, into harm’s way, rather than cutting and running such as the U.S. had done previously in its rapid pull-out from Beirut in the 1980s and Somalia in the ‘1990s.

An informed 10/06/2004 book review by David Warren, who himself has pretty good sources on the region:

In America’s Secret War, Dr. Friedman argues that the enemy grew out of the Cold War, an artefact of Jimmy Carter’s decision to use Saudi Arabian money and Pakistani expertise to create a guerrilla army that could harass the Soviets then occupying Afghanistan. "Al Qaeda", the product, mastered the art of covert operation, and as the Soviets collapsed, began turning it against the West, biting the hand that fed them. Their large ambition is the creation of a new, pan-Muslim caliphate, however, and they attack Western targets as a means of advancing an Islamist revolution at home.

There are some thoughtful related comments by Lee Smith at Slate on Aug. 13, 2004: "Does the U.S. press know we’re at war?" Lee Smith did good research for this article. He dug up a few tidbits not published elsewhere. Example, regarding the threat of a 2004 pre-election "Madrid attack":

George Friedman, chairman of Stratfor, a private global intelligence company, learned that it was the latter. "There was a decision in the U.S. intelligence community to roll up the al-Qaida networks we know about now and push them out of a pre-election attack," he told me.

That is to say, the most important information that came from Khan was not about the five potential financial-sector targets in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., that al-Qaida had chosen as far back as four years ago to attack. What U.S. intelligence learned is that there was an extremely serious, imminent operation in the advanced-planning stages. The information placed in the Times, Friedman explains, "was part of a systematic series of leaks, designed to confuse al-Qaida. They don’t know what we know and what we don’t know. Since their operational principle is never attack into a highly secure environment, the assumption is that they’d abort this operation."

I asked Friedman… why other intelligence professionals were skeptical of the government’s actions. For instance, CIA officer Robert Baer argued, "You get no benefit from announcing an arrest like this."

Friedman explains that there are two sides to any debate in the intelligence community: intelligence and security. "The gut of an intel guy like Baer is that you never shut down an operation by going public," says Friedman. "The security people have a narrower point of view: The best way to make al-Qaida go on tilt is to reveal that they have been penetrated. In this particular case, I see the need to let al-Qaida know that we know something. Otherwise, they will continue their operation, thinking they are secure. Maybe we sweep the board before the operation is executed, and maybe we get hit hard. Better to force them to abort their operation even if we lose intelligence opportunities. I see Baer’s point of view, but in this case, I’m with the security guys."

This Friedman interview plugging the book, is on the book website.

A bit dated now, CNN did an online interview-chat with Friedman on Nov 21, 2001. An interesting Q&A, including still-unanswered issues like this:

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How much do you think intelligence played a part in the rapid retreat of the Taliban from most of Afghanistan?

FRIEDMAN: That has to be stated two ways. To what extent did the Taliban retreat as part of its own strategy of reverting to guerilla warfare, and to what extent did they retreat under U.S. military pressure. Remember that they pulled out of cities that were not under particularly heavy attack. So, the real question is whether or not this is an attempt by the Taliban to execute its own war plan, and whether or not that attempt will be successful. That really is the intelligence question now. Have the Taliban collapsed, or have they repositioned themselves for an extended guerilla war?

There is the Epilogue/final chapter, published online Oct 4 to update readers on events since the book was written. You can obtain the Epilogue online here by signing up for a free trial Stratfor subscription [30 second signup]:

Excerpt from the Epilogue:

The most important mystery about the war concerns the Bush administration. In some ways, we find the other players much easier to understand than Bush. The administration has been portrayed as strategically simplistic and politically adroit and opportunistic. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be the case, from our point of view.

Strategically, the United States appears to have a well thought-out approach that makes the most of a very weak hand. The trend lines are satisfactory, particularly considering where they started. We suspect that very few people on September 12, 2001, would have thought that the situation would be as well contained today as it is. Apart from a low but tolerable level of violence in Iraq, the broader war has evolved very much in favor of the United States. This is partly due to the nature of the war and partly due to the strategic and operational choices made by the administration.

Politically, the administration has acted with massive incompetence. Its failure to give a plausible defense to a policy that can certainly be defended is amazing. Instead, the administration has stumbled through a series of untenable and incoherent justifications for its actions until the political foundations of its war plans have been undermined. From WMD to democratizing Iraq, the administration has constantly undermined its own credibility.

28 thoughts on “America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies

  1. ” … Note also, the CIA has proven very capable of getting any message it wishes published. …”

    So, Freidman is a CIA ventroloquist’s dummy?

  2. The last excerpt blames the adminstration for not defending it’s policy. This is not entirely the administrations fault because the media that forms public opinion does not report facts correctly. The rational for for the iraq invasion is supported by the facts that wmd programs were in extant and terrorists were being supported by iraq. The lack of wmd stock piles is not important. You don’t need huge stockpiles of contagious bio weapons, development programs are a real threat. . Unfortunately incompetent, biased, and market driven news media gave a different version of the facts. Antiamericanism is created to a large extent by mass media disinforming the public in order to make a profit.

  3. I would suggest some additional reading, a book complementary to this one. That would be “Bush vs. the Beltway” by Dr. Laurie Mylroie. She is constantly complaining about the point addressed in the final paragraph of the “Epilogue” above.

  4. I found the final quoted paragraphs the most interesting.

    Strategically, the United States appears to have a well thought-out approach that makes the most of a very weak hand.

    Politically, the administration has acted with massive incompetence. Its failure to give a plausible defense to a policy that can certainly be defended is amazing.

    The public image of the Bush administration is that they are masterful politicians. Karl Rove is supposed to have almost god-like powers to sway public opinion. This line of thinking has always seemed absurd to me. Luckily for us all, a majority of the American people seem to “get it” without needing to be sold on our course of action. But the political shortcomings of this administration have probably added to the length and cost of the war.

  5. Many thanks for the comments!

    To David:
     
    So, Freidman is a CIA ventroloquist’s dummy?

    I was thinking of the CIA leaks and anonymous sourced press reports. OTOH, Stratfor surely has CIA contacts – what influence they have on Stratfor’s analysis I don’t know. From published items it’s clear Friedman is highly critical of the CIA. See these notes from the Johns Hopkins "Principles of War" Seminar series (PDF).
     
    To name:
     
    The last excerpt blames the adminstration for not defending it’s policy…Antiamericanism is created to a large extent by mass media disinforming the public in order to make a profit.

    I’m not sure the "profit" motive influences the degree of anti-Americanism. The most virulent strain is on the far-left. These are the people who wanted the Soviet empire to cover the planet, and today are aligned with the Islamists because they are anti-
     
    To Jeff M:
     
    I would suggest some additional reading “Bush vs. the Beltway”
    Thanks, heaps mate. I just found it at the Bainbridge library and put it on hold. BTW, have you read America’s Secret War yet?
     
    Cheers, Steve

  6. To Flenser:
    I found the final quoted paragraphs the most interesting….But the political shortcomings of this administration have probably added to the length and cost of the war.
    That is an excellent summary – to me it is one of the biggest mysteries of the Bush administration: why are they so inept at explaining their policies (both inside the US and "public diplomacy")? We may have to wait for the historians for the answers.
    The Daily Demarche has a "curl your hair" post today on public diplomacy – Iran is doing a killer job, see the video examples.
    One of the comments from Solomon2 refers to his Dec. post of ideas on public diplomacy – with some good points.
    Cheers, Steve

  7. Nice analysis. Two points, though.

    1-Regarding the CIA, Stratfor is tough critic. They’ve repeatedly slammed them. A good example is in it’s three major intelligence failures during OIF listed here:
    http://www.paulieworld.com/blog/archives/001638.html

    2-Stratfor’s (and Friedman’s) biggest bombshell to me was that the purpose of OIF was to coerce the Saudis into policing their own better. They had been extremely recalcitrant.

  8. I, too, think that George Friedman is an enormously creative thinker, and I agree with much of what he writes. That having been said, he is not a supporter of Bush’s strategy to “drain the swamp” through democratization. He believes that it cannot succeed, and that America will be more successful achieving its ends through the coercion of the existing governments. In this I both think and hope that he is wrong.

    FWIW, I put up a post a couple of months ago that outlined Friedman’s misgivings about the democratization project, including the elections in Iraq. That post went up before the elections at the end of January. I have not seen whether Friedman has revised his view since then.

  9. Very interesting piece which jibes quite well with what I have been thinking for some time, but obviously couldn’t substantiate. I don’t know that you have be Machiavellian to employ this strategy. For that matter, I think it is now becoming quite obvious what the Bush Administration’s intent has been on Iraq and the harvest is starting to come in…

  10. [ From WMD to democratizing Iraq, the administration has constantly undermined its own credibility. … }

    Who suppllied “the adminstration” bad intel. re WMD’s?

    [ Stratfor’s (and Friedman’s) biggest bombshell to me was that the purpose of OIF was to coerce the Saudis into policing their own better. They had been extremely recalcitrant. … ]

    If the the Royal Court of Washington wanted to get wake and shake the Saudis in 2003 and after, why not take much more direct action against Saudi A?

    Friedman’s apologetics reek of the “It really is a war for oil” line of thought: take over Iraq’s oil and keep on being nice nice nice to SA, so they’ll keep their black gold flowing.

  11. That’s a very interesting article, and I’ll follow with another bit of conjecture via The Adventures of Chester. I’m very impressed as far as the intelligence aspect goes…its sometimes difficult to consider the intelligence efforts hidden behind even the spec ops stuff. OTOH, with Al Queda’s fairly recent nod to Islamic jihad rules and norms, such as Hamid bin al-Fahd’s fairly recent blessing of WMD attacks on the US and Osama’s recent adjuncts to convert to Islam and repent our infidel ways, presumably to justify another ‘spectacular’ and with the presence of intransigent and hopelessly hostile powers in the vital region of the Middle East, I wonder just how much of the remainder of the issue is a intel problem…and how much more is it a military issue.

    Alot of the overflights of Iran appear to be Predator and I-Gnat drones, of CIA origin. While the justification of Iraq may have been WMD, the primary legal justification that is, although the constant no-fly zone hostilities certainly consitute a resumption of hostilities in my book, WMDs are the only real cassus belli that we have with Iran and North Korea…and OIF, did enough damage to everyone on the issue that WMDs may not be enough to mount any sort of interdiction or strike to defeat these two key potential AQ suppliers on that basis alone. And that’s from a die-hard supporter of OIF and conservative-fascist-war-mongering-Bushitler-chimpy-loving rethuglican ;).

    It’ll be very interesting to see the next moves, maybe we have enough daylight that the intel goons can have their way with the turbaned-Ayatollahs-o’-doom with needing JDAMs while Iraq continues to send out ripples of democratic destruction throughout the region.

  12. “Instead, the administration has stumbled through a series of untenable and incoherent justifications for its actions until the political foundations of its war plans have been undermined. From WMD to democratizing Iraq, the administration has constantly undermined its own credibility.”

    I am a big supporter of Bush’s war policies, but I think this last sentence is very true. I said the very same thing to my wife on more than one occasion when Bush failed to defend himself with a strong hand. It just seemed pathetic at times how he failed to press home even simple responses that would have countered pointed questions.

  13. Consider this statement:

    “…. The US national security team post 9/11 quickly came to the conclusion that “homeland defense” was impossible. Attenuate threats yes, stop them no. Thus the only viable policy option was offense – to destroy the Islamist support structure across the globe – a multigenerational strategy. …”

    My question is,. how the eff does Prof. Friedman know that to be the true conclusion of ” the US national security team post 9/11″? Are we supposed to assume that he is blessed with uncany, almost onmniscient wisdom, or that he is passing alongt The Word from some unnamed source in Washington?

    I assume the latter. But why should anyone trust unnamed sources? Unnamed sources told New York Times reporter Judith Miller that the CIA was sure that Iraq had WMD’s. With regard to Friedman, Judith Miller, et al., It’s as if the Wizard of Oz is claiming to know all and see all, when all he is really doing is parroting what the Wicked Witch told her flying monkeys to tell the phoney Wizard.

    Friedman’s been wrong before. Back in 1999, he was predicting a”stalemate” in Kosovo — that was his word, “a stalemate” — shortly before Milososonovabitch capitulated. Some wizard. My opinion of Prof. Firdman is that he’s just another NeoCon . Not at all great and powerful.

    And how convenient to say that Homeland Defense is impossible if part of one’s Neocon agenda is to promote war in Iraq while finding an excuse to keep the Mex border open so cheap labor can keep on swarming in to the US.

    My politics? I voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004, because he was the evil of two lessers, as George Jr. might say, compared to Commodore Kerry or Handsome Prince Albert. I suppose it’s too late too quit now in Iraq. I am very disappointed that no WMD’s have been found there.

    — David Davenport

  14. To: Capt Trevett
    1-Regarding the CIA…is in it’s three major intelligence failures during OIF listed here:
    Thanks mate – for the comments and the The Crisis in the CIA bulletin. Extracting from your post of Friedman’s points:

    The consistent inability of the CIA to capture hard-to-source discontinuities is not a charming foible, but an unacceptable shortcoming. Being good in the small things doesn’t matter if you can’t do the big things. On that basis alone, the CIA should be rebuilt.

    My understanding is the CIA has been conditioned for 30 yrs to be very risk-averse. Nothing good happens to you if you stick your neck out to call a discontinuity (say Soviet collapse). Very bad things happen if you are found to have violated any of the inch thick congressional restrictions. In that environment I cannot imagine how you would get anything other than extrapolations of accepted wisdom.
    How do you fix the CIA?
    2-Stratfor’s (and Friedman’s) biggest bombshell to me was that the purpose of OIF was to coerce the Saudis into policing their own better.
    Yes! It makes sense – and highlights the difficulty we have assessing the truth of US-policy, or of the state of play inside Saudi. I’ll state this inflamatory thesis: the Islamist threat to the west is directly due to Saudi-funded export of Wahhabism.

    Question: has Saudi shut down funding of the madrassas in Indonesia, Pakistan, …? My take is the funding continues at about the pre 9/11 level (that’s certainly implied by the hate indoctrination available in Saudi-funded US mosques)
    Question: what should be US Saudi policy?

    Question: how do we assess the accuracy of Friedman’s assertions in America’s Secret War?

    Cheers, Steve

  15. To TigerHawk
    I put up a post a couple of months ago that outlined Friedman’s misgivings about the democratization project, including the elections in Iraq. That post went up before the elections at the end of January. I have not seen whether Friedman has revised his view since then.

    You raised a really important point. I had planned to get into the "Facing Realities in Iraq December 30, 2004" bulletin as a separate post. TigerHawk has already been there long ago! My reticence is w/r/t publishing material from my subscriber-only Stratfor briefs – they make their living off the subscriptions (no ads) so I’m nervous about quoting much.

    I share your questions.Friedman’s optimism meter was pegged on "eject, eject" on Dec 30. Given that the elections came off Very Well, by any sane standard, and coalition-forming negotiations seem to be tracking, my optimism meter has ticked a bit more plus. All of the cautions Friedman raised (well summarized at TigerHawk) look valid to me. I fear he is correct, and hope he is wrong.

    How shall we know, except to wait and see?

    Cheers, Steve

  16. Re. the nuclear dimension of Iraq’s WMD threat, in my opinion anyone who takes Hamza seriously has left the reality-based community.

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  18. To Ralph Hitchens:
    Many thanks, mate – I had completely missed the Hamza story. Prompted by your alert I have found some of the testimony supporting your conclusion. I’ve made a new post on this "Is Saddam’s Bombmaker a Fraud?", which links to your comment above.
    Cheers, Steve

  19. [ Yes! It makes sense – and highlights the difficulty we have assessing the truth of US-policy, or of the state of play inside Saudi. I’ll state this inflamatory thesis: the Islamist threat to the west is directly due to Saudi-funded export of Wahhabism. ]

    We xenophobes might reply that the Islamist threat to the West is directly due to accepting a swarm of imported humans, including Wahhabis or Wahabbits or whatever you call ’em.

    I prepeat, if the Bush admin. wants to get tough on SA, why not get tough on SA in a much more forthright manner?

  20. To: David Davenport, who wrote:

    My question is,. how the eff does Prof. Friedman know that to be the true conclusion of the US national security team post 9/11? Are we supposed to assume that he is blessed with uncany, almost onmniscient wisdom, or that he is passing along The Word from some unnamed source in Washington?

    David, thanks heaps for taking the time to think and comment on this topic! To affirm or negate the Friedman assertions is my motivation for this post on America’s Secret War. As I wrote in the post-intro "In this book that assertion is not padded with two pages of justification. But is it true?" This is typical of Stratfor reports, which I’ve been reading for a couple of years. I can’t recall ever seeing in one of these reports either source attribution, or footnote references.

    If the thrust of what he writes is true, that puts our policy-choosing in a new light. If it is false – in what way is it false? Does it mean that the consensus we read in the legacy media is accurate? Or better, if false, then what is true?

    I assume the latter. But why should anyone trust unnamed sources? Unnamed sources told New York Times reporter Judith Miller that the CIA was sure that Iraq had WMD’s.

    That’s probably not the best example of the "unnamed sources" problem. My understanding is that all of the western intelligence agencies had arrived at the same conclusion. Many ME academics saying much the same. As did Clinton, his advisors, and John Kerry. Consider Ken Pollack’s "The Threatening Storm". Ex-spook Pollack had arguably the best access to the top spooks of anyone other than the administration. He laid out the case very thoroughly – certainly I confess I found it compelling. We all wish the CIA, MI6 had known exactly was going on – but I can cut them some slack when I consider that Saddam’s generals also thought Iraq had chemical weapons and was quite ready to use them.

    It’s also very important not to tar the Bush administration with the "intelligence failure" brush – the policies that are responsible for the unfortunate condition of US intelligence came primarily from Clinton’s watch, but also go back as far as Carter’s watch.

    Friedman’s been wrong before. Back in 1999, he was predicting a "stalemate" in Kosovo — that was his word, “a stalemate” — shortly before Milososonovabitch capitulated.

    Surely Stratfor/Friedman will be wrong again (the Stratfor Dec 31 Report "Facing Realities in Iraq" is a real worry – I very much hope he is wrong in that one. A post on that is forthcoming soon). Stratfor seems to be in the business of making risky forecasts – shouldn’t we expect some "oops" in their output (more below on the risky bit). A fair number of the ex-CIA spooks who are now punditing believe one of the biggest unsolved CIA problems is the culture of risk-advoidance (Reuel Marc Gerecht, Robert Baer, and of course George Friedman come to mind). It is very easy to end up on the sharp end of a Congressional committee.
    As to the "stalemate" in Kosovo, if you could point me to that background I would really appreciate it. I’ve been searching for almost an hour without success. The most relevant I’ve found is a Mar 30, 1999 Salon interview with Friedman. I know little of Kosovo so I can’t comment on the interview content.

    My opinion of Prof. Friedman is that he’s just another NeoCon .

    I’m curious why you categorize Friedman as a NeoCon? I would have put him more in the Realist foreign policy camp – more a Kisinger than a Wolfowitz?

    Not at all great and powerful.

    I doubt anyone in the intelligence business would feel "all great and powerful". Who said "if it were fact it wouldn’t be intelligence"? Stratfor has a business model based upon publishing "risky" analyses and forecasts that companies find useful enough to pay their fees. I stress "risky" because that is how I interpret what I read. They stick their neck out – I suspect much further than a CIA analyst would be willing to go. I doubt they would have many Fortune 500 subscribers left if their reports mirrored CIA reports. I know Starbucks subscribes to Stratfor, and those guys definitely don’t throw money around.

    And how convenient to say that Homeland Defense is impossible if part of one’s Neocon agenda is to promote war in Iraq

    Isn’t the Homeland Defense challenge is "impossible" on the face of it? We have to stop 100%, while maintaining the timely, free flow of commerce that makes "just in time" work, so we can keep growing productivity – and thereby fueling the world economy. AQ has to succeed only occasionally.
    It’s useful to remember that, but for some courageous passengers on UA 93, Al Qaeda would have succeeded in decapitating the US government on their last attempt. We probably won’t see the next one coming either. I’m glad I don’t live in DC anymore 🙂

    That’s not at all the same as saying "there’s no point in investing to reduce the risks". My understanding is that much can be done, and likely could have already been done if it was politically feasible. E.g., a lot (too lazy to look it up) has been invested in airline safety. Other than requiring secure cockpit doors, I’m not persuaded there is much ROI on all the rest. But politically, perhaps it was required – to encourage people to start flying again.

    while finding an excuse to keep the Mex border open so cheap labor can keep on swarming in to the US.

    Is there evidence that it is US policy to promote entry of illegal aliens? That’s pretty devious.

    My politics? I voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004, because he was the evil of two lessers, as George Jr. might say, compared to Commodore Kerry or Handsome Prince Albert. I suppose it’s too late too quit now in Iraq. I am very disappointed that no WMD’s have been found there.

    I agree, politically it would have been convenient to find stockpiles of WMD, especially for Blair. I doubt that Bush, Powell, Rice et al thought there was much risk in using the WMD argument in the Security Council (I mean risk of being wrong). Personally, I never thought WMD were important to the logic for regime change. Does anyone question that Saddam would have created a destabilizing WMD capability as quickly as possible after he was let out of his box? If they do, I would recommend they read the ISG reports, both under David Kay, and under Charles Deulfer.

    Cheers, Steve

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  22. To: David Davenport,

    I repeat, if the Bush admin. wants to get tough on SA, why not get tough on SA in a much more forthright manner?

    I share your question – if the Saudis have closed down the funding flows to Al Qaeda and similar it is a well-kept secret. And until there is real evidence, I assume that Saudi nationals continue to provide much of the Al Qaeda infrastructure support. The interior minister and his network are likely part of Al Qaeda-in-KSA. My problem in proposing policy is I don’t know how to turn the blowtorch higher without producing a Wahhabi takeover. I have assummed that was a worse outcome than the Saudi mess we already have (more below on whether this assumption is valid).
    Steven Den Beste has been articulating a much stronger response to the Saudi threat for at least since 2003. Recently Steven has posted a number of thoughtful comments on DailyPundit urging more action, more sooner (see this on March 4, 2005 05:23 PM):

    Saudi Arabia is the "Typhoid Mary" of the Arab/Muslim world. There comes a time when disease fighters have to start thinking about enforced quarantine. "Behind the scenes" and "subtle" and "diplomatic" may not be fast enough or effective enough, given the Saud penchant for meaningless gestures and playing to both sides.
    The House of Saud is sordid and corrupt, and I thought we had abandoned the "…but they’re our sons-of-bitches" principle of foreign policy.

    A bit later Steven wrote another comment which has me rethinking my fear of Wahhabi control of Saudi Arabia. He argues that today we’re trying to strangle the Wahhabis indirectly by working through the royals. Whereas, if we overheated the torch, thus blowing the royals off the throne – that would be a "less worse" situation. Scroll down to find this comment on March 5, 2005 06:09 PM (emphasis mine):

    The idea that an invasion of Iraq would put "the fear of God" into all the neighboring countries is not a new one. It was obviously one of the reasons why Iraq was the right target for the second battle of the war. The question is whether that, and other measures, were really enough to force the House of Saud to actually start taking risks to work against the radicals inside their own borders.
    The answer appears to be "yes and no", but mostly no. They finally, FINALLY, admitted that the terrorist attacks which had been happening in their borders were actually being made by al Qaeda, rather than by westerners involved in smuggling alcohol, which was what they had been blaming it on. They’ve been finding and taking out terrorist cells.
    That’s all to the good, I guess, but it’s more for their benefit than for ours. And they have been and still are up to their eyeballs in formally subsidizing the export of extremism to the rest of the world. That hasn’t really changed, and that’s what’s got to stop.
    They have made token gestures towards stopping a bit of the funding that was flowing out of Saudi Arabia, but then nearly everything they’ve done has been token.
    Our problem is that the Sauds fear the Wahhabis more than they fear us. That’s what’s got to change, and it ain’t gonna change as long as we deal with them with velvet gloves.

    I think that is accurate. That’s why Friedman’s assertion re US Iraq strategy made sense to me on first reading. Still, I’m looking for a no regrets policy that we can implement with a good probability of a better outcome. More from Steven…

    Kissing off Assad and the Syrians was a cheap gesture for the Sauds. It didn’t really cost them anything, and in fact none of the "cooperation" they’ve given us has actually cost them anything significant. They’re making token gestures in hopes of reducing the heat and pressure being applied to them from outside without being forced to start applying heat and pressure to the real source of this war, the Wahhabis inside Saudi Arabia. The Sauds are acting like a layer of insulation between us and the Wahhabis.
    Arguably the Sauds are to the Wahhabis what the Taliban were to al Qaeda: a semi-legitimate government which is covering for and protecting the organizational core of an international extremist terrorist movement. Part of the point of the destruction of the Taliban was to establish the precedent that we would not tolerate that kind of thing from any (semi)legitimate government. So why are we tolerating it in Saudi Arabia?
    If we increased the pressure and the Sauds were deposed, and a new extremist government took over, that would be an improvement because there would no longer be any insulation. It would become possible for us to apply heat and pressure directly to the extremists, and it would remove a diplomatic fiction which is binding our hands in the war.
    That’s why we need more stick, less carrot; more pressure, less diplomacy and encouragement, more demands and fewer requests, and above all less tolerance for empty or cheap gestures. The House of Saud is a luxury we can no longer afford as long as it continues to act like insulation and continues to protect the Wahhabis.
    And I’m not really too concerned about the economic side effects of major disruption of oil sales, mostly because even a new extremist government of Saudi Arabia would need to sell oil because the nation has no other significant source of revenue. Since oil is fungible, it wouldn’t matter if they refused to sell it to us.

    I’m also not concerned about oil disruption – the Saudis need all their current income (unless they were to really implement the medieval lifestyle the Wahhabis promote) so cutting production is an unhappy option. We are indifferent who contracts Saudi oil.
    But, very specifically what is the tactical worklist to apply more stick, less carrot; more pressure? We cannot be considering an outright military invasion of Arabia. I think US policy w/r/t Iraq has been unilateral only in the eyes of the left. A Saudi invasion would be real unilateralism, where the coalition of the willing might be one. And I’m not ready to engage the doctrine of defensive jihad globally against every devout muslim.
    Joe Katzman has suggestions on the worklist – for a separate comment.
    David, what’s your take – what do you prescribe for the worklist?
    Cheers, Steve

  23. To close the Mexican border we would need to start machine gunning Mexicans at the border.

    Since that is not going to happen and too much fuss would be raised by making it easier for Mexicans to cross legally expect status quo.

    A realistic policy would make it easy for those wanting work to cross. In addition reducing smuggling incentives (the drug war) would help reduce the probing of the borders. Since neither policy is amenable to change expect the holes in the border to continue.

    The perfect (absolute control of the borders) is the enemy of the good (keeping the bad guys out).

  24. Pingback: ThankTank » Blog Archive » Late Tuesday GWOT rant

  25. Nick,

    Thanks for the comment. I read your review, excellent. I’ll have more time tonight to enjoy your site resources – looks quite interesting, good links too!
    The Daily Demarche asked me to do a guest post – which motivated me to do a total rewrite on the various Friedman resources, predictions, etc. We’re still working on Blogger formatting gremlins, so I’m not sure of the permalink. Right now it is the top post Getting By With A Little Help From Our Friends.
    I’m much happier with the do-over, as I took time to actually type in enough of America’s Secret War for the reader to get a sense of how Friedman approaches the issues. I’m keen to know what you think!
    Cheers, Steve D.

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