Sunday, January 25, 2004

The next steps in the war on terror, according to Stratfor 

Stratfor posted one of its "free sample" analyses the other day, and it is well worth reading in its entirety. In the essay, Stratfor reviews the strategic purpose (as opposed to the rationale) for the Iraq war, where we have travelled geopolitically since then, and the next likely steps.

The purpose for the war, according to Stratfor, was two-fold. First, "the United States had to establish its ability to carry out extensive military operations to the conclusion, despite casualties." This was necessary to counter widespread belief in the Islamic world, promoted heavily by Al-Qaeda, that the U.S. no longer had the stomach to sustain casualties. Indeed, our conduct of the war in Afghanistan did nothing to allay this belief, so we needed a second step.

The Iraq war's second strategic purpose was, in Stratfor's view, geopolitical. "The United States knew it could not defeat al Qaeda on the retail level. They were too well dispersed, too few and too secure. Defeating al Qaeda meant inducing several enabling countries -- particularly Saudi Arabia. These countries had little interest in the internal destabilization that engaging al Qaeda would entail, and in some cases, they sympathized with al Qaeda."

Without any real direct means to exert pressure on the region, the United States had no chance to defeat Al-Qaeda -- there were too many refuges. "Iraq -- bordering on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran -- was the single most strategic country in the region, and a base from which to exert intense pressure throughout the region."

So the successful prosecution of the Iraq war would counteract, and even reverse, the perception that the United States would not fight the war to its conclusion, and it would give us a massive base in the heart of the Arab Middle East from which we could influence the policies of the regimes bordering Iraq, and others besides.

Stratfor believes that the situation on the ground in Iraq has improved sufficiently since the dark days of October and November that it is much more likely than it was in the fall that the U.S. will achieve the first objective -- the reversal of the impression that we will run from a fight when casualties are involved. More importantly, we have dramatically influenced the policies of the important countries in the region, including Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, and most significantly from Stratfor's perspective, "threats that an explosion in the Islamic world would follow a U.S. invasion of Iraq proved to be in error. The single most important fact is that the genuine anger in the Islamic street has not had any political repercussions. Rather than trending away from the United States, the political behavior of Islamic states has been toward alignment. This tendency has accelerated since the decline in guerrilla activity until it is difficult to locate an Islamic state that overtly opposes the United States. When even Syria is asserting its desire to cooperate with the United States, the situation is utterly different than what some expected in February 2003, before the war began."

The Stratfor essay also discusses the next likely military action in the war on terror, but if you're interested you'll have to go to the source (I'm getting tired here). Suffice it to say that Stratfor predicts it will involve Al-Qaeda's last truly safe haven, northwest Pakistan, and that any new U.S. initiative in that part of the world will have to wait until after the November election.

Stratfor's analysis of the current state of affairs is probably correct, although only history will reveal whether the changes in the region that we have catalyzed in the Iraq war will help or hurt the cause of peace in the long-term. Only time (at least ten months, apparently) will tell whether Stratfor's prediction is also on target, and there is the little matter of an intervening presidential election before then.


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