Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Where We Stand with Al Qaeda 

George Friedman from Stratfor ($) wrote a thoughtful bit of analysis regarding Al Qaeda's recent offensive which I would recommend reading (though it is by subscription). In summary, he argues that Al Qaeda has launched a desperate offensive comparable either to i) Germany's attack of American forces in the Ardennes Forest, known as the Battle of the Bulge, or ii) North Vietnam's attack against American and South Vietnamese forces, known as the Tet Offensive.

Friedman's point is that, in each case, the enemy understands that it is losing and cannot win. However, by launching an aggressive and high risk offensive, it hopes to alter the political calculus of the US, extend the duration of the conflict, and prepare the field for a better political settlement.

It's good and thoughtful analysis, and it may apply. But I don't buy it. Megalomaniacs like Hitler and Osama never think they're losing. Ever. They don't brook dissent and they surround themselves with sycophants (Saddam too, by the way). It's a recurring characteristic of tyrants. Those surrounding them might understand reality a little better, but they forge ahead out of fear.

Leaders of that sort take irrational risks, overreach and miscalculate, paving the way for their eventual losses. Due to their megalomania, they overestimate themselves and underestimate their enemy. Hitler invaded to the west and east inviting both Americans and Russians to Europe. So did Napoleon. Saddam invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, inviting the wrath of the US. They don't balance the prospect of a "better" political settlement. They're pushing all their chips to the middle of the table. They actually believe they can and will win. Osama did that when he attacked NY and Washington. Think about it -- 2 days before, he had finally, after years of primitive effort, secured Afghanistan with the successful assassination of Massoud -- and then he launches an attack on the US? Strategically, that's just nuts. Within weeks he's toast in Afghanistan, then he has 150,000 US troops in the middle of Arabia. And he spends the rest of his days crawling around in caves and making videotapes.

The Vietnamese situation was different and Stratfor's retrospective analysis holds more water, but it is an incomplete view. The Tet Offensive completely failed militarily. However, LBJ and his administration lost their political will after Tet. Why this happened I can only speculate. My own opinion is that the Vietnamese succeeded in dividing not the American electorate in general, but the Democratic Party (from which it has not healed and recovered), which was running the country. There continues to this day an incorrect, media driven perception that the US population didn't have the political will to fight the war. In my estimation, that is bulls--t - delusions of grandeur from the media and the far left. The truest indication of American political will was Nixon's 49 state landslide victory in 1972, having expanded the war, and McGovern's antiwar disaster-of-a-candidacy. Similarly, GWB's electoral victory despite an unmitigated media assault on his administration, its policies and the American military reflected the political will of the American electorate. Kerry at least learned that he couldn't be a McGovern antiwar candidate (that would have been Dean), so he acted a little more like a Hubert Humphrey - and lost like one.

Stratfor's analysis is always thoughtful, but lacks an emphasis on leadership and popular will on both sides. Friedman is assuming the islamists think like he does, and I think he's wrong. Al Qaeda is losing (on this we agree), but the radical islamist is not just playing for field position in a political chess match they think they've lost. They are trying to reestablish a caliphate - a notion that went out with the Dark Ages - and are playing for all the marbles. And they are inflaming not just Western sentiment (the US, UK, even the Pope at this point is annoyed), but Muslim sentiment as well. They've picked a fight with everybody that they can't win. They'll do some damage along the way, but they're clearly failing. They underestimated American will. They're not the first, nor will they be the last.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 27, 07:14:00 PM:

People often compare the political islam with the Nazies, although their are simmelarities there is also a big difference.

At the time Hitler and his Nazi party changed germany, they created the wellfare state and brought prosperity to most German people. At that moment and for that period it improved the living conditions dramaticaly in Germany.

But the political islam has never provided anything like that, it always brough economic stagnation and made the living conditions worse (Iran, Afganistan, etc). So why they have so much attraction?

This is an important fact and shows us that this a totaly different kind of beast. From a very different kind of world!  

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