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Entries in terrorism (31)

1:23PM

WSJ: "Terror Fight Shifts to Africa" (I told you so . . . in 2005)

Front-page story on the 7th of December, with subtitle "U.S. Considers Seeking Permission for Military Operations Against Extremists."

This is what I wrote in the early part of 2005, published in October of that year in Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating:

CENTCOM’s AOR encompasses the Persian Gulf area extending from Israel all the way to Pakistan, the Central Asian republics formerly associated with the Soviet Union, and the horn of Africa (from Egypt down to Somalia). This is clearly the center of the universe as far as the global war on terrorism is concerned, and yet viewing that war solely in the context of that region alone is a big mistake, one that could easily foul up America’s larger grand strategic goals of defeating terrorism worldwide and making globalization truly global. Here’s why: CENTCOM’s area of responsibility features three key seams, or boundaries, between that collection of regions and the world outside. Each seam speaks to both opportunities and dangers that lie ahead, as well as to how crucial it is that Central Command’s version of the war on terrorism stays in sync with the rest of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The first seam lies to the south, or sub-Saharan Africa. This is the tactical seam, meaning that in day-to-day terms, there’s an awful lot of connectivity between that region and CENTCOM’s AOR. That connectivity comes in the form of transnational terrorist networks that extend from the Middle East increasingly into sub-Saharan Africa, making that region sort of the strategic retreat of al Qaeda and its subsidiaries. As Central Command progressively squeezes those networks within its area of responsibility, the Middle East’s terrorists increasingly establish interior lines of communication between themselves and other cells in Africa, as Africa becomes the place where supplies, funds (especially in terms of gold), and people are stashed for future use. Africa risks becoming Cambodia to the Middle East’s Vietnam, a place where the enemy finds respite when it gets too hot inside the main theater of combat. Central Asia presents the same basic possibility, but that’s something that CENTCOM can access more readily because it lies within its area of responsibility, while sub-Saharan Africa does not. Instead, distant European Command owns that territory in our Unified Command Plan, a system constructed in another era for another enemy. Those vertical, north-south slices of geographic commands were lines to be held in an East-West struggle, but today our enemies tend to roam horizontally across the global map, turning the original logic of that command plan on its head.

Central Command’s challenge, then, is to figure out how to connect these two regions in such a way as to avoid having Africa become the off-grid hideout for al Qaeda and others committed to destabilizing the Middle East. By definition, such a goal is beyond CENTCOM’s pay grade, or rank, because it’s a high-level political decision to engage sub-Saharan Africa on this issue—in effect, widening the war. And yet solving this boundary condition is essential to winning the struggle in the Middle East. What the Core-Gap model provides Central Command is a way of describing the problem by noting that transnational terrorism’s resistance to globalization’s creeping embrace of the Middle East won’t simply end with our successful transformation of the region. No, that struggle will inevitably retreat deeper inside the Gap, or to sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is this observation important? It’s important because it alerts the military to the reality that success in this war won’t be defined by less terrorism but by a shifting of its operational center of gravity southward, from the Middle East to Africa. That’s the key measure of effectiveness. Achieving this geographic shift will mark our success in the Middle East, but it will also buy us the follow-on effort in Africa. You want America to care more about security in Africa? Then push for a stronger counterterrorism strategy in the Middle East, because that’s the shortest route between those two points.

Ultimately, you’re faced with the larger, inescapable requirement of having to connect Africa to the Core to run this problem to ground, otherwise today’s problem for CENTCOM simply becomes tomorrow’s distant problem for EUCOM. When you make that leap of logic, the next decision gets a whole lot easier: America needs to stand up an African Command. Now, I know that sounds like a huge expansion of our strategic “requirements,” but when you consider the boundary conditions in this way, the discussion shifts from if to when.

The WSJ says the Obama Administration is thinking about asking Congress for expanded hunting authority to likely include Mali, Nigeria, Libia and others.  The focus is naturally al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) expanded geographic reach.

AFRICOM was authorized a little over a year after my book came out. I'm not drawing a line of causality- just pointing out I got it right.

What I got wrong about Africa back then was the speed: I saw this fight shifting over a much longer time and I saw globalization's successful embrace of Africa taking much longer.  In short, my combined optimism/pessimism was simply too slow.

12:02AM

(WPR Feature) Skipping Out on the Bill: Obama's Cost-Free Drone Wars

Thanks to the Obama administration’s aggressive use of classified leaks to the press, we are encouraged to believe that President Barack Obama has engineered a revolutionary shift in both America’s geopolitical priorities and our military means of pursuing those ends. As re-election sales jobs go, it presses lukewarm-button issues, but it does so ably. But since foreign policy has never been the president’s focus, we should in turn recognize these maneuvers for what they truly are: an accommodation with inescapable domestic realities, one that at best postpones and at worst sabotages America’s needed geostrategic adjustment to a world co-managed with China and India.

Read the entire article at World Politics Review.

8:50AM

WPR's The New Rules: In Tough Times, America's 'Dirty Harry' Streak Re-Emerges 

President Barack Obama has presented himself as the ender of wars. Moreover, where the preceding administration went heavy with its military power, the Obama administration goes laparoscopically light. And as if to culminate a quarter-century trend of U.S. military interventions that have all somehow devolved into manhunts of some sort, America now simply skips the intervention and gets straight to hunting down and killing bad guys. We stand our ground, as it were, on a global scale. Give us the wrong gesture, look, attitude or perceived intention, and wham! One of ours might kill one of yours -- in a heartbeat. You just never know.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:49PM

Time's Battleland: Why America should go slow on declaring victory in Libya - or making promises

[co-written with Michael S. Smith II of Kronos Advisory LLC]

The demise of Col Qaddafi, a despicable despot who should have met this or a worse fate sooner, will likely give rise to power grabs in Libya by groups whose agendas will often be anything other than what meets the eye. Despite many power holders' claims of “secularist” and democratic aims, Washington's policy makers would be wise to exercise great caution when assessing who should be trusted inside Libya. For, at present, it would appear Libya is taking on a political atmosphere that will carry a high Salafist quotient.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

6:01AM

Iran crossing a line on attacks inside the US?

You've probably heard the reports coming over the various "wires."  Here's a link to ABC's version

Gist:  FBI and DEA (yes, the DEA!) say they disrupted an Iran sponsored plot to attack Saudi and Israeli diplomatic reps/buildings in Washington.  Naturally, if true, this would be a major-league line-crossing by Tehran, which has always been fairly "correct" - if such a term can be used here - in its anti-West/US/Israeli terrorism, meaning Iran has typically displayed a certain recognition that these targets will get you that indirect response from your opponents while those targets will place you in serious jeopardy of a direct response. Again, if true, these plots are of the level that can easily trigger some serious direct responses.

As way of background, here's a statement on these developments from a colleague of mine, Michael Smith. I repost in full with his permission. You will remember Mike from a piece we co-wrote on Syria a while back for WPR. I also wrote about Mike's report (mentioned again below) in another WPR column.

Statement from Kronos Principal and Gray Area Phenomena Subject Matter Expert Michael S. Smith II*

 

Regarding the linkage of the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force to the terror plot targeting embassies located in Washington, DC

*Entered into the Congressional Record on September 23, 2011 by U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan, in April 2011 Kronos Principal Michael S. Smith II presented members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus a report on Iran’s ties to al-Qa’ida and Affiliated movements titled “The al-Qa’ida Qods Force Nexus.” A redacted version of this report is now available online.

Background

The Qods Force (QF) is an elite and clandestine special operations unit nominally within the command of the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). QF is Tehran’s top ambassador to the realm of Islamist terrorism. Its commanders serve as chief liaisons between the Government of Iran and organizations like Hizballah (which was formed with substantial support from the IRGC), as well as the leaders of Sunni militant groups such as Core al-Qa’ida and the Afghan Taliban. 

Operating globally, QF was created with a mandate to bolster the development and operations of Islamist terrorist groups that target Iran’s enemies in the Middle East and beyond. To that end, and frequently in collaboration with Hizballah — which has developed a substantial presence in Latin America and the Caribbean — QF provides financial, training, and tactical support to these groups, several of which are responsible for hundreds of attacks targeting American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

QF commanders report directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamene’i, the top official among the most powerful cadre of government officials in Iran:  The Islamic Republic’s “unelected” theocratic leaders who do not rely on the popular vote to secure their positions of authority. QF purportedly maintains such a secretive existence that few Iranian government officials are aware of its membership numbers, which are assessed to range between 2,000 – 20,000. Its ranks are said to be comprised of Iran’s most highly skilled special operations and intelligence officers. High-profile officials affiliated with QF include Iran’s current minister of defense, Ahmad Vahidi, who previously served as a commander of this paramilitary unit and is known to have a decades-long relationship with Core al-Qa’ida Commander Ayman al-Zawahiri.

As noted in my April 2011 report on the Qods Force’s ties to al-Qa’ida for members of the United States Congress:  According to the U.S. Department of Defense, QF has been “involved in or behind some of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the past 2 decades.”1 QF was behind the two U.S. Embassy truck bombings in Beirut, the 1983 Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 U.S. soldiers, and most of the foreign hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s and early 1990s. It is also known to have directed Saudi based Hizballah al-Hijaz, an organization created by the IRGC, to plan attacks against Americans. This directive is said to have manifest the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers that killed 19 Americans and wounded another 372. An attack which authors of the 9/11 Commission Report suggested al-Qa’ida may have played a role in.

Statement Regarding Allegations of QF Involvement

It would be highly unusual for Qods Force operatives to be involved in such an operation as the recently uncovered plot targeting facilities and foreign officials in Washington, DC without the knowledge and consent of the Supreme Leader of Iran. Moreover, given the president of Iran’s ties to the IRGC, in which he previously served as an officer, coupled with his efforts to elevate IRGC officials’ roles in the Iranian government since he was first elected president, it is reasonable to speculate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would have been apprised of such a plot.

If the Qods Force is indeed involved with the plot to bomb embassies based in Washington, DC this would represent a substantial and very alarming shift in Tehran’s use of terrorism as an instrument of the Islamic Republic’s foreign statecraft. Historically — although the Government of Iran vis-à-vis QF and its terrorist proxies has targeted American interests in the Middle East and South Asia — the Government of Iran has typically avoided involvement in plots targeting the U.S. Homeland. (Note:  A lawsuit in which plaintiffs assert the Government of Iran was involved with the 9/11 plot was recently initiated in a U.S. court.)

 

USG national security managers and policy makers should take Iran’s alleged involvement in this plot just as seriously, perhaps more so, than similar plots to strike the U.S. Homeland spearheaded by al-Qa’ida and Affiliated Movements. 

During the past three decades, Washington has failed to take appropriate action in responses to Iran’s involvement in successful terror plots that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of American troops, as well as American civilians. And additional economic sanctions will only strengthen the Government of Iran, which in recent years has transformed the country from a theocratic state into a garrison enterprise by enabling the IRGC to acquire substantial stakes in virtually all important sectors of the country.

If the Iranian (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force was behind this recent terror plot, failure to issue a forceful response will only empower the Government of Iran in its all too well-known pursuits of opportunities to inflict harm on Americans and our allies. This, as Tehran is dangerously dabbling with the development of nuclear capabilities. 

If investigators have indeed confirmed the Qods Force played a collusive role in this plot, officials would be well advised to regard this as an (attempted) act of war.

Kronos is a strategic advisory firm established in 2011 by Medal of Honor recipient MajGen James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret) and Congressional counter-terrorism advisor Michael S. Smith II — online at kronosadvisory.com

Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran. U.S. Department of Defense. April 2010. Online via http://www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/IranReportUnclassified.pdf 

Coverage of The al-Qa’ida-Qods Force Nexus report was produced in May by the following news organizations:

Agence France-Presse (AFP) “Report Highlights Alleged Iran Force’s al Qaeda Links” (4 May 2011)
Link to report: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5ghRPhpAicLLjQad84KP5hwCja97A?docId=CNG.c4e5aaec1a6b9ae498dbebf05c7cebdc.1121

The Jerusalem Post “U.S. congressional report:  Iran offering support to al-Qaida” (5 May 2011)
Link to report:  http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?ID=219255&R=R1

Al Arabiya “Report from Congressional panel says Iran’s Revolutionary Guard helps Al-Qaeda” (5 May 2011)
Link to report:  http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/05/05/147902.html

9:09AM

Time's Battleland: Arab Spring with same impact as "big bang strategy": Islam at war with self - not West

 

Nice piece in the NYT at the end of September pointing out that the primary impact of the Arab Spring is that, in giving people chances to rule themselves and not be subject to dictators, Islamic activists find themselves splintering from within . . .

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

1:10PM

Time's Battleland: Might al-Zawahiri's al-Qa'ida come to view future nuclear power Iran as THE perfect sanctuary?

This post was co-generated with Michael S. Smith II of the strategic advisory firm Kronos

As al-Qa'ida leaders the world over signal their intent to stay the course — challenging assumptions that the integrity of their network has been perhaps irreversibly jeopardized by the death of bin Laden — national security managers must remain focused on denying its core leaders a safe base of operations. Meanwhile, due to growing ties between al-Qa'ida's regional network and defense officials in Iran, the strategic dimension of the West's counter-terrorism efforts is likely to grow significantly in the years ahead. Unless Washington is prepared to confront Iran directly on this issue, al-Qa'ida may logically seek to achieve an untouchable strategic sanctuary within a nuclearized Iran.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


10:33AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Counterterror Stance Ain't Broke, So Don't Fix It  

Despite the rush right now to declare important milestones or turning points in the fight against terrorism, the best handle we can get on the situation seems to be that al-Qaida is near dead, but its franchises have quite a bit of life in them. The implied situational uncertainty is to be expected following Osama Bin Laden's assassination, as he was our familiar "handle" on the issue for more than a decade. But although it is normal that we now seek a new, widely accepted paradigm, it is also misguided: In global terms we are, for lack of a better term, in a good place right now on terrorism, meaning we don't need to unduly demote or elevate it in our collective threat priorities. Instead, we need to recognize the "sine wave" we're riding right now and seek no profound rebalancing in our security capabilities -- other than to continue protecting the "small wars" assets that we spent the last decade redeveloping.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:16AM

Another take on the expanded AQ-Iran relationship

Per the piece I wrote for WPR a while back, leveraging some work by Michael Smith of Kronos, this AP story in USA Today (HT to Mike) lays out a very similar analysis:

Since 2001, Iran has appeared a somewhat reluctant host for senior al-Qaeda operatives who fled there after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, keeping them under tight restrictions. Now, though Iran remains on the edge of al-Qaeda's orbit, it seems to be a more comfortable haven for those operatives.

The turning point was the negotiations for the release last year of a senior Iranian diplomat held by the Taliban. As I noted in the WPR piece, top AQ strategist Saif al-Adel, allegedly held under arrest in Iran, has started to travel with Iran's blessing to Pakistan.  As the USA Today article further notes:

Despite his travel to Pakistan, al-Adel has so far chosen to remain based in Iran with his wife and family, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

This suggests that al-Adel and perhaps lower-level al-Qaeda figures now consider Iran a viable outpost, with fewer restrictions and the added security that a U.S. commando raid or drone strike on Iranian soil is unlikely. Al-Adel, an Egyptian who allegedly helped mastermind the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, is among the FBI's most-wanted terrorists and the U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for his capture.

"There are a number of reasons an al-Qaeda leader would feel comfortable these days in Iran," said Theodore Karasik, a regional affairs expert at the Dubai-based Institute forNear East and Gulf Military Analysis. "Chief among them is a mutual enemy: America."

The life of the al-Qaeda-linked exiles in Iran is still very much a blind spot to Western intelligence agencies. Very few firm details have emerged, such as how much Iran limits their movements and contacts.

Iran has made no public comments on bin Laden's family members believed to be on its soil, nor about al-Adel and others in the al-Qaeda braintrust believed to have spent time in the country and may still be there. They include Atiyah Abdul-Rahman, a Libyan high in the al-Qaeda hierarchy; Abu Mohammed al-Masri, a top figure in the al-Qaeda's "Military Committee," which al-Adel is believed to head; and Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, a senior spiritual adviser in the terror network.

"The story of al-Qaeda and Iran is one that often is hard to figure out," said Karasik. "But there is a sense that Iran is not just a bystander. Links to top figures like al-Adel gives Iran channels to al-Qaeda's inner workings if they want to go on that path."

With al-Zawahri leading the al-Qaeda, al-Adel is likely to remain a behind-the-scenes organizer and planner of possible new attacks.

Something to keep an eye on.

10:13AM

Time's Battleland: Drones + biometrics: Weapons that conquer globalization's frontiers

Cool NYT story on the US military's use of biometrics (eye scans, etc.) to create unforgeable identification records of roughly one-in-five fighting-age Iraqi and Afghani males, creating databases that can be perused in seconds by a handheld device at a border crossing. Naturally, there is much interest and some desire to use the same technology here in the States, along with the usual fears of loss of privacy.  Trust me, along with drones, these frontier-settling technologies will most definitely infiltrate our society in coming years, just like the military's Internet and GPS did before.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

I first wrote about this concept in Blueprint for Action in the final chapter called "blogging the future."

6:15AM

Time's Battleland: Future grand strategists speak: Why US withdrawal from Afghanistan would stabilize Pakistan

In my continuing role as Head Judge  for the online strategy community Wikistrat's month-long International Grand Strategy Competition featuring roughly 30 teams from top-flight universities and think tanks around the world, I get to peruse all manner of provocative thought from some of tomorrow's best and brightest thinkers.  And yeah, full disclosure, I get paid to judge as the firm's chief analyst.

Well, this last week, our participating teams drew up elaborate national trajectories and regional trajectories for their 13 countries (Brazil, China, EU, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and US), and the two entries that really jumped out at me in their immediate dueling were the two Pakistani teams populated with grad students from Claremont Graduate University (CA) and Yale (CT).  Let me tell you why.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


11:47AM

Time's Battleland: "Does al-Qaeda go the way of AIDS?"

Nice piece in WAPO about Ayman al-Zawahiri taking over al-Qaeda from the recently assassinated Osama bin Laden. Story leads with remembrances from a guy who knew him back in the day:

He was arrogant, angry and extreme in his ideas,” said Azzam, 40, son of a radical Palestinian ideologue who had become bin Laden's mentor. “He fought with everyone, even those who agreed with him.”

Thus, experts are now saying that al-Qaeda will suffer under his leadership:

U.S. intelligence officials, terrorism experts and even the Egyptian's former cohorts say a Zawahiri-led al-Qaeda will be far more discordant, dysfunctional and perhaps disloyal than it was under bin Laden.

Just to cover rear-ends, though, the story's next statement leaves open the question whether or not the group will be more or less effective (terrorism experts must always do this to make sure they can win big when the next strike comes and they told us so!).

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

6:00AM

Time's Battleland: "The future of Fifth Generation Warfare: Follow the food!"

Everybody thinks that the future is going to see fights over energy, when it's far more likely to be primarily over food. Think about it: The 19th century is the century of chemistry and that gets us chemical weapons in World War I. The 20th century is the century of physics and that gets us nuclear weapons in World War II. But the 21st century? That's the century of biology, and that gets us biological weaponry and biological terror. My point: obsessing over nuclear terrorism is steering by our rearview mirror.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

9:44PM

Kronos report to Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus on Iran-AQ Nexus

Download here.

Made available here as part of tomorrow's WPR column.

4:28PM

Esquire's The Politics Blog: Obama's Middle East Speech Text, Decoded Line-by-Line

Expectations couldn't have been lower for President Obama's Middle East speech on Thursday, and yet it was a work of "realist" beauty that recognized: a) how little influence America actually has over these types of events, and b) where we stand at the beginning of what is likely to be a long process of political upheaval and — hopefully — economic reform that addresses the underlying issues driving the entire region. Yes, Obama took a pass on Palestine and Israel (his historic referencing of Israel's pre-'67 borders is the Mideast equivalent of a "world without nuclear weapons"), but he's got several touch points in the coming days (the Netanyahu meeting, another speech, Netanyahu's speech to Congress) with which to address that, so this was more of a broad-strokes laying out as to what America stands for, and what it's willing to do amidst its current fiscal realities. And — again — it was a great mix of stated idealism, expressed in long-haul terms, and political pragmatism that recognizes the here-and-now realities that must temper any sense of America coming to anybody else's immediate rescue.

Obama's was a well-crafted message — one that reassured both the world and Americans that this administration knows its limits and its responsibilities to history. It was, in a word, presidential.

And now, so you don't have to sit through it again, a little deconstruction of the most compelling sections excerpted (from the prepared remarks) at length....

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


12:00PM

CoreGap 11.12 Released - At the Time of his Demise, OBL was OBE

 

Wikistrat has released edition 11.12 of the CoreGap Bulletin.

This CoreGap edition features, among others:

  • Terra Incognita 11.12 - At the Time of his Demise, OBL was OBE
  • Bin Laden Killing Comes at Pivotal Moment in US Operations in Afghanistan
  • Pakistan’s Longtime Duplicity Comes to Fore with Bin Laden Operation
  • Latest Census in China Triggers Fears of Demographic Decline
  • African Development Bank Group Details Rise of Middle Class There

And much more...

The entire bulletin is available for subscribers. Over the upcoming week we will release analysis from the bulletin to our free Geopolitical Analysis section of the Wikistrat website, first being "Terra Incognita - At the Time of his Demise, OBL was OBE"


It would seem that reports of Osama Bin Laden’s leadership of al-Qaeda these past few years were greatly exaggerated.  By the time the equally shadowy SEAL Team 6 put that bullet through his brain, the great man was living in a million-dollar “cave” whose primary purpose was to keep him decidedly off grid – out of reach and out of touch.  But Osama Bin Laden was overtaken by events a long time ago.

Globalization was more concept than reality a decade ago. “Rising” China? The muffled sound of a train gaining speed in the distance.  One could imagine globalization’s easy reversal thanks to the right bomb exploded in the right place at the right time. Vladimir Lenin, the most pragmatic of revolutionaries, referred to such wishful thinking as “left-wing deviationism – an infantile disorder.” Bin Laden had it bad. 

Pulling off one of the greatest lucky shots in history (both barrels, mind you), Bin Laden sent the West spinning into an orgy of new rules, wild spending, and poorly thought-out postwars (the initial takedowns were works of real artistry). Proving beyond all doubt that we live in a world in which super-empowered individuals can engineer vertical shocks of the highest order, he nonetheless succumbed to the most prosaic of horizontal scenarios – the methodical manhunt that only a vast national security bureaucracy can mount. “Operation Geronimo” was aptly named:  the mythical warrior reduced to a legend’s lonely death.

Read the full piece here

More about Wikistrat's Subscription can be found here

To say that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy plate is full right now is a vast understatement, and it couldn’t come at a worse time for a leader who needs to revive his own economy before trying to resuscitate others (e.g., Tunisia, Egypt, South Sudan, Ivory Coast – eventually Libya?). Faced with the reality that America’s huge debt overhang condemns it to sub-par growth for many years, Washington enters a lengthy period of “intervention fatigue” that – like everything else, according to the Democrats – can still be blamed on George W. Bush.
9:40AM

Failed states keep neighborhoods bad, allowing AQ sanctuary, while rising states allow connections, but it's civil strife that remains AQ's bread-and-butter dynamic

Trio of articles worth differentiating in their meaning. First via Chris Ridlon and other pair from WPR's Media Roundup today.

Underlying question is, Which states do we care about in the Gap?

Some argue that failed states are THE threat. The Patrick piece is clear enough on the record and it's right out of PNM: Yes, at any one time there are several dozen failed states, but, on average, only about a half-dozen fall into the transnational terrorism pool. Why? Only so many in the al-Qaeda network worth mentioning.  

The same dynamic was true in the 1990s, or what I cited in PNM: Usually about three-dozen failures out there, and, on average, the US gets involved in some short-to-medium duration intervention in about a half-dozen each year, mostly on humanitarian grounds.

Why tend to these states?  They are the crack house on the inner-city block:  they bring everybody down to their level on trust, criminality, bad investment climate, and the like.  Regions hook up to the Core in clumps, not individually.  A critical mass of improvement is needed in a region, and failed states prevent that critical mass.  They do, therefore, create conditions that encourage backwardness, disconnectedness, corrupt, smuggling, and civil strife.  These are where AQ do their real business.  Yes, we are concerned about their ability to strike inside the Core, but these are episodes and nothing more.  There is no real struggle to be had there, just good police work. The real struggles are in the Gap.  And so we deal with failed states when they get above the crap-line, otherwise we mostly ignore and hope they eventually present something the Chinese want so they'll come in and rehab the place a bit, like they did in Sudan.  I know, I know. China in Sudan is evil, except Sudan is much better now and the only big delta in experience is Chinese investment and purchasing of oil.  And China has gone along with the divorce - a very good precedent.

Patrick is also right that AQ prefers up-and-comers, or states with just enough connectivity and technology and corruption to give them access to the Core.  Pakistan is perfect in this regard, much better than Afghanistan (my column Monday).  Under the right conditions, we need to worry far more about Pakistan than Afghanistan, which is a solution for locals.  

But as the Yemen article shows, a certain amount of strife is necessary for a semi-connected state (Yemen is valuable for its close location in the Persian peninsula) to be truly useful.  If the state comes together and gets itself a decent government, then the Core security aid will flow and AQ will have its moments but no great advantage.

Better, as the third article suggests, to work a true civil war, where, in the heat of battle, sides get less picky about their allies.

It's been my argument for a while now (meaning about a decade), that AQ is doomed in the Middle East due to demographics - or the middle-aging of the youth bulge. That forces revolutionary change and job creation, because the alternative is too scary for the world, especially with the coming nuclearization of the PG.  In that overall dynamic, AQ becomes an element but a small player. It needs to go "back in time" a bit, like any revolutionary group that is seeing its moment pass (think Lenin looking at Germany and then recognizing the opportunity in Russia).

As the Middle East middle-ages, AQ goes to either Central Asia or Africa.  I say Africa, because in Central Asia, there are too many great powers willing to kill and repress to keep it out (actually, all of them).  In reality, that was the dynamic that led to the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Africa, by way of contrast, is a looser and easier place to infiltrate.  Fortunately, for us, most of the Islam there is relatively mellow and not easily whipped into AQ shape, and yet, AQ must try, because here is the last gasp. What Africa provides is huge churn, a lot of globalization remapping and plenty of opportunities for civil strife - like Libya.  Central Asia will be a backwater by comparison.

No, I'm not worried about Africa.  Many great things happening there, but with the good comes the bad and the processing must occur along the way.  But not any "WWIII" or "perpetual war" or any of that nonsense. It's just what is left over with globalization's continued advance.

10:14AM

Esquire's Politics Blog: Seven Reasons Why Qaddafi Would Be the Best Domino Yet

Please, spare me any dread over this goofy dictator's hopefully looming and well-earned demise. Muammar Qaddafi has had over four decades to do right by his country and he ranks right up there with old-man Castro as one of the worst leaders ever to keep a people down. Team Obama should have zero qualms on this one, no matter what any of our alleged allies in the region may say, because if they're worried about the Qaddafi family's influence powering on, they know damn well what needs to be done (or not done). Here's why you, Mr. and Mrs. American, should cheer on this revolution along with your careful president.

Read the entire post at Esquires' The Politics Blog.

 

12:01AM

The Politics Blog: America in Yemen: The Perfect War We've Been Waiting for?

Before the ink could dry, it seemed like the secret war had already begun. Just a couple of toner cartridges haplessly headed for American synagogues, and suddenly the headlines are shouting it: TIME TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT YEMEN and OUR INVOLVEMENT IS GOING TO HAVE TO BE LONG-TERM. I suppose that's what it's come to in this country these days — that, as soon as an obscure Al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen claims responsibility for some UPS packages in Chicago, Americans assume we have another all-encompassing, mega-expensive affair on our not-so-bloody hands. Because when it comes to nation-building, the United States doesn't do anything small and beautiful anymore.

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.

8:44AM

Report: NATO members foil Mumbai-style wave of attacks on Europe

 

From Michael Smith, the gist of the Sky News report:

 

Intelligence agencies have intercepted a terror plot to launch Mumbai-style attacks on Britain and other European countries, according to Sky News sources.

 

... militants based in Pakistan were planning simultaneous strikes on London and major cities in France and Germany . . . the plan was in the advanced but not imminent stage and the plotters had been tracked by spy agencies "for some time".

Intelligence sources told Sky the planned attacks would have been similar to the commando-style raids carried out in Mumbai . . . the European plot had been "severely disrupted" following intelligence sharing between Britain, France, Germany and the US.

It is not known whether the attackers are already in Europe.

News of the planned strikes came as the Eiffel Tower in Paris was evacuated because of a bomb scare for the second time in two weeks . . .

When the terror plan came to light, the US military began helping its European allies by trying to kill the leaders behind the plot in Pakistan's Waziristan region.

There have been a record 20 missile attacks using drone aircraft there in the past 30 days.

 

Why it's important to pay attention:

 

  • It's long been my contention that extremists operating in NW Pakistan, most likely in some collusion with al Qaeda (not a big leap), will keep trying to make some big splashy strike in the West.  Many experts saw the Times Square bombing attempt as a practice run using an expendable. Figuring how hard that is to pull off--in a relative sense, and with AQ and its net falling from our collective memory thanks to the economy, the default alternative for such groups to regrab the headlines is to do something easy and cheap like Mumbai II and to do it in Europe.  So yeah, I find this whole logic believable.

 

  • I think Obama is right when he says, we can absorb another attack without freaking out.  I don't think we would, having gone through Afghanistan and Iraq since and understanding that such unilateralism just leaves us holding the bag.  So the next strikes, I believe, can lead to more interesting and better cooperative opportunities with Russia, China, India, Turkey, et. al, if done well.  Is Obama the guy to do it?  While I don't think Americans would freak, I fear another attack would simply give the man another chance to come off as far-too-Vulcan for the average American voter.  While I think we're still in philosopher-king political mode and will be for a while, I think his off-putting style will mean we'll stop reaching for the smartest-guy-in-the-room option, because that guy should be the brilliant adviser (which Obama lacks because his smartest-guy-in-the-room mindset attracts other big egos and sycophants and apparently not much in between) and not POTUS himself, who should be all about leading and not aspire to such a title.  Therefore, I do not see a rally-round-the-prez dynamic unfolding when it eventually happens.  That bad feeling will simply be piled upon the existing glut of bad feeling about the economy.

 

  • The other side's ability to sked our counter-reactions is a real problem, because, in our habits, we feel the need to "keep all balls in the air," so terror competes with WMD in NorKo and Iran competes with our growing fears of Chinese military build-up competes with global warming competes with . . .. What was nice about the post-9/11 period was the willingness of great powers to clear the decks on most everything else, keeping them in some big-picture perspective mode, and exploiting the common threat opportunity embodied by AQ to contemplate a serious recasting of the great power relationships for the better.  But then Bush-Cheney went wild on the unilateralism/primacy and that moment was largely wasted.  Can it happen the next time a crystalizing attack occurs?  Sadly, I don't see the leadership anywhere in the world to take advantage, so we go on with the current situation, where everybody is juggling balls and no serious progress is being made on anything. Meanwhile, mutual suspicions pile up, and increasingly we've all got enough gripes with every other great power to make cooperation an almost tortured affair. I'm not secretly wishing for something bad to happen; that is a dangerous intellectual route to go for someone who thinks seriously about the future. The point is, I don't have to. Globalization's penetrating speed has not abated one whit with the great recession--anything but. We're only dimly aware of that here in the States because we think that drawing down in Iraq and hoping to do the same in Afghanistan is a big deal for the system, when, in truth, it barely notices it right now and continues down its aggressive integrating path.  In short, we assume it's Old-Core-does-Gap-or-nobody-does-Gap, when in truth, it's New-Core-does-Gap-systematically and compared to that, the West's efforts are marginal and concentrated in bits and pieces.  I'm not looking to go back to the frantic push the US made after 9/11.  I'm looking for a better marrying up of those two efforts, because the mismatches in resources are vast and the big opportunities for new collaborations are slipping away.  AQ or others will accommodate that need whether we want it or not.  That's the dynamic we're in right now with globalization pushing into previously disconnected places with such force that serious blowback will be the norm for the foreseeable future.  Yes, we can dream it'll all come down to some naval battle in the South China Sea, but that's just habit talking.  And that's what I find so sad right now:  that whole "juggling the balls and keeping all of them in the air" mentality of Clinton and Obama is just a placeholder for real leadership, which events will eventually demand.  Why?  Because they will keep trying and eventually they'll get our attention.  As always, what we'll do in that moment will be far more important than the vertical shock laid on us.  Nation-states still run horizontal scenarios to ground, meaning the question of the day is, "When the next vertical shock comes, where will go with it?"

 

 

And that's why I pay attention to stories such as this.