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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More on the NIE and the "fueling" of terrorism 


Extending a bit on my short notes of a few hours ago, I was delighted to see Stratfor make essentially the same point($) (since, after all, nothing is more delightful than somebody who agrees with me):

This report and the debate surrounding it go to the heart of Bush's strategy, of course. He has argued that the Iraq war helped disrupt terrorist attacks against the United States by diverting the jihadists' energies to Iraq -- while his critics have argued that the war created a breeding ground for both anti-Americanism and Islamic radicalism, swelling the pool of potential recruits. It would appear that this is an argument in which only one side could be right; but in fact, both sides could have part of the picture correct.

There is no question but that anti-Americanism increased in the region as a result of the war, as did Islamic fundamentalism. The pool of people willing to carry out terrorist attacks in Iraq certainly grew. The pool of people willing to carry out such attacks in the United States also grew. What is not clear is whether the pool of willing people capable of carrying out such attacks also grew. It is not the number of people who want to carry out an operation that matters, nearly as much as the number of people able to carry out the operation.

Begin by distinguishing strategic terrorism attacks from tactical terrorism attacks. A tactical terrorism attack is characterized by being carried out within a society where the attacker is able to blend in, on a scale that is relatively easy to organize and that causes limited casualties. A suicide bomber in Iraq or Israel who causes a few dozen casualties is tactical. By itself it does not destabilize a society. It rises to the strategic level only when a very large number of such attacks take place. Thus, in Iraq, a large series of tactical events combine to create strategic destabilization.

A strategic terrorist attack has three characteristics. It is carried out at some distance, and certainly outside the geographical area where the attacker is at home. It causes massive casualties, sufficient to destabilize a society simply by itself. In order to protect it from penetration by security, a relatively few conspirators are involved. The obvious example of a strategic attack was 9/11, an attack carried out on an intercontinental basis outside the attackers' society, causing massive casualties and involving relatively few people.

The key to the 9/11 attacks was not the attackers' willingness to die. It was the ability to organize a small number of people to penetrate the United States undetected, to conceive of the attacks and to execute them. The primary skill was not carrying box cutters through security; it was the ability to operate covertly in enemy territory for an extended period of time and then execute the attack. If you think that's easy, imagine an American team of 19 people (plus support personnel) moving to Saudi Arabia or Iran and pulling off a 9/11-style attack. Strategic terrorism is hard to do.

There has been a massive increase in tactical terrorism in Iraq. That means that there has been a huge number of attacks in Iraq by Iraqis and by other Arabs and some Iranians. These attacks have certainly destabilized Iraq, but these attackers either have not been able to, or have chosen not to, conduct strategic attacks against the United States. This does not mean they will not do so later, nor that they will not succeed. It does mean that to this point, the very real upsurge in radical Islamist sentiment in Iraq has been tactical and not strategic in nature.

In this sense, the NIE is certainly correct if it winds up saying there has been a massive increase in the terrorist pool. Bush is correct in saying that, while this might be the case, it has not so far risen to the level of strategic operations. It might also be argued that the type of people being recruited are unsuited for strategic operations because of background or training. That argument is not altogether persuasive, as we would suspect that you could find 20 potential candidates in Iraq, assuming you had the training infrastructure needed to prepare them for strategic operations without detection.

The argument should be phrased this way. The number of tactical terrorists in Iraq has soared because of the war. The number of radical Islamists in the region has also risen by an indeterminate but substantial amount. This does not by itself translate into a strategic threat to the United States, because sentiment turns itself readily into tactical attacks but not into strategic ones....

In this vein, readers may want to re-visit my extended post on the measurement of strategic progress and victory in the war on terror. May I humbly suggest that it has stood up quite well as a framework for analyzing progress, or lack thereof, in the war on terror.

19 Comments:

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Wed Sep 27, 10:43:00 AM:

The other thing nobody seems to care much about, but which is absolutely significant ot the prosecution of the offensive War on Al Qaeda, and that Afghanistan and IRaq have allowed us, is the opportunity to kill or capture the generals.

If you think about Al Qaeda, it has political leadership in Bin Laden and Zawahiri, it has military leadership and it has troops. It is the troops who ultimately carry out tactical and strategic operations. But it takes generals and colonels -- leaders -- to plan them both, and ithose leaders are needed in strategic ops as well.

Well, let me tell you what, we have killed or captured almost all their generals -- Atef, KSM, Zarqawi, Hanbali, Al Farouq, Zubaydah...the list is really long. Furthermore, our decision to go on offense in the region, coupled with the related diplomatic and policy initiatives in Saudi, Egypt and other countries, has helped serve up most of the military leadership.

Eventually, the suicide troops, um, run out of bullets (see Gaza).

I think Islamic fundamentalism was always there...it was simply suppressed by tyranny. But tyrants like the Shah lost out to fundamentalist tyrants like Khomeini, and the region as a whole was and is vulnerable to the same risk. Freedom does release alot of fundamentalism -- not our offensive operations per se -- and the bet we're making is that the majority is not fundamentalist and would simply prefer to bypass the whole theocracy bit.

The majority simply needs to hold its own (call it "the center") and beat down the violent theocratic ambitions of the fundamentalists.

That's why the Pope jumping in and calling for Islamic faith to adopt reason as a weapon rather than jihad and the sword is so interesting and important.


Big stuff. We need the Gaddises and B Lewis's to write and explain it to people rather than politicians and journalists.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Wed Sep 27, 12:15:00 PM:

I'm not sure about this distinction between tactical and strategic, at least not to point where I would write off increases in terrorist activity as mere tactical ones. The main distinction between the two seems to be scope and leadership. So I'll agree with CP that's it's good to be killing the generals, but it's not like terrorists come separately in tactical or strategic flavors. Bin Laden spent years and years as a "tactical terrorist" fighting the Russians. Al-Qaida learned from the Russians, and developed the skills and leadership it would use later against us.

If greater numbers of people are incited to terrorism, some of them will be leaders. Iraq will test them and while the incompetents die, the survivors will learn. Some will graduate to strategic terrorism. We've provided them a cause, an organization, and a training ground. That worries me. At the moment they appear focused on Iraq (which is their choice, not ours), but if they decide to look abroad, these professional killers are a thousand times more dangerous than a shoebomber who can't figure out how to ignite his footwear.

Iraq increases support and sympathy for terrorists throughout the Muslim world. For every additional terrorist, there are numerous lesser losses. Maybe some Pakistani's dislike (or distrust) of the US keeps him from selling out his terrorist brother-in-law. Maybe a weathly Indonesian banker isn't the warrior type, but decides to open his pockets to them, or advises them of better laundering techniques. We should be severing those ties, not strengthening them. If you view terrorism as a war, then it's hard to put a happy spin on an enemy's strengthened recruitment, resolve, or international support. The true silver lining to this bad news is that we care enough to identify and analyze this problem. Hopefully we can engage and respond intelligently.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Wed Sep 27, 12:34:00 PM:

Lanky - the news is both better and worse than you think. On the "worse" side of the ledger, I think these guys didn't learn from the Russians...they learned from us. The CIA (and Pakistani ISI) trained alot of these numbnuts to torture the Russians in Afghanistan. Musharraf wrote in his book that Omar Saeed (Pearl's kidnapper) was rumored to have been trained by British intelligence. I think that's behind much of CIA intransigence, incompetence and embarrassment in the war on terror. They gave birth to the Muj.

The better news, about which you and I disagree I think, is that by actively, daily fighting them on their soil, we impose a serious cost on terrorists and their enablers. For 30 years, we ignored or tactically supported these guys in the Cold War. There was no cost to their decision to engage in terrorism until 9/12. I assure you, there is today a heavy cost that we impose on them. And, in the same way as our massive defense outlays in the 80s ultimately bankrupted the USSR on an accelerated basis, so will actively fighting islamic fundamentalists break them. They can't defeat us, and they can't afford to fight forever. Furthermore, by killing many more of their own (which they are bound to do on their soil), they become increasingly unpopular. Overtime, this stymies, rather than stimulates, recruiting.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Sep 27, 02:01:00 PM:

"It is not the number of people who want to carry out an operation that matters, nearly as much as the number of people able to carry out the operation."

One problem with this thinking is its short-sightedness. If a people feel oppressed and under attack, they will attack back in like kind. Thus is human nature. If people are oppressed and under attack and they are UNABLE to attack back in like kind, they will find other ways to return violence with violence.

If the violence increases, those under the thumb of the attackers will resort to increasingly outrageous horrific means. Terrorism. Terrorism against innocent folk.

To be the ones responsible for birthing terrorism is a horrible thing and should be a matter for deep contrition and penance.

I don't expect to see that from the crowd in power in the US. Instead, I expect to see further escalation of violence.

There are better answers out there, it's time we actively seek them out and invest in them.

(And because the response to what I just wrote is: "So, what's your answer?!" I'd suggest you could look up what the mennonites and quakers or other peacemaking groups are advocating. They have some solid, plausible answers that will have a good chance of working in the real world - unlike our current answers.)  

By Anonymous Michael Davies, at Wed Sep 27, 02:21:00 PM:

Every day the jihad movement grows stronger while we grow poorer and more divided.

Bin Laden believes that jihad in Afghanistan brought down the Soviet Union, not competition with the U.S. The Russians fought ten years in Afghanistan, spent billions and right after they withdrew from Afghanistan the Soviet Union disintegrated. Bin Laden believes that if he can spend enough of our national treasure and cause enough political dissent in the US that we also will collapse or at least lose our will to fight. This strategic initiative is now in play on two fronts: Afghanistan and Iraq. He would love to expand this strategy to an Iran and Venezuela front. He engages us with a few young hot-heads and we spend billions. This strategy works. Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?

Is there a defense against this strategy?  

By Blogger Escort81, at Wed Sep 27, 03:29:00 PM:

A couple of points:

Dan - Having gone to a Quaker school, I am reasonably familiar with the pacifist philosophy to which I think you refer. In one sense, pacificism is an incredibly noble and disciplined set of beliefs, insofar as it requires the practitioner to overcome the basic animal instinct to strike back. It's almost a third option in the "fight or flight" trigger that behaviorists talk about -- it's "sit still." That said, pacifism can realistically exist only in a utopian society that faces no outside threats, or within a society such as ours where there are always others to take up arms, for better or worse, defensively or offensively. In fact, during WWII, approximately 50% of Quaker men who were age eligible for military service did serve in combat postitions. What's the difference between an early Christian martyr (the old joke -- Lions 23, Christians 0) and a modern Islamic martyr? The early pacifist Christian turned the other cheek while the Roman lion swiped a lethal paw at him, while the modern Islamic martyr blows himself up in the hopes of killing many others.

CP - when you say they can't defeat us, I take that to mean that we will never see Sharia law here, and I certainly agree with that. But they may well fight us to a draw in their backyard for the next 5-10 years, or for as long as there is a petroleum- based world economy, because that is the ultimate source of their funding. It is now contrary to our values to engage in the type of warfare that resulted in the relatively fast unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany roughly 3.5 years after U.S. entry into WWII -- we won't see the equivalent of the firebombing of Dresden that killed six digits of German civilians (and I do not question that operation here, I just point to it as the type of thing that happens in history to get to the goal of the unconditional surrender of the opposing force). Admittedly, this is a different type of war, and no one is currently advocating the mass slaughter of civilian Muslim populations (particularly since they don't manufacture weapons [or much else] used in theatre, unlike the natives in Dresden, who did), but in a case such as Fallujah a few years back, there were ROEs that were pretty distant from stand-off carpet bombing. We didn't kill the village to save the village, we tried to negotiate ad infinitum, and when that didn't work, had the Marines (with some air support) go street to street in the toughtest kind of urban fighting. As long as terrorists have a consistent source of cash and recruits, they'll hang in there and be able to make tactical attacks, and we won't be able to stop 100% of them here or there.  

By Blogger John M Reynolds, at Wed Sep 27, 04:06:00 PM:

But the newly recruited terrorists are staying there targetting troops and muslim civilians. The troops should expect it and be prepared to handle it. The civilians are getting tired of being targetted. As well, the Sunni's and Shiites are targetting each other. When the civilians get tired of being in the cross fire/blast radius, they will act against the terrorists. It has happened in limited amounts so far.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Sep 27, 04:58:00 PM:

Glad to hear that you're at least familiar with pacifism straight from some of the horse's mouths, so to speak. There is, of course, many varieties of pacifism and Just Peacemaking, but speaking in generalities...you said:

"That said, pacifism can realistically exist only in a utopian society that faces no outside threats or within a society such as ours where there are always others to take up arms..."

This is not exactly a historically factual statement. Pacifism has existed throughout the history of the church at least, and likely beyond. The early church lived as pacifists for the first 200+ years of its existence in a sometimes hostile gov't setting. As have the anabaptists for their 500 ish years of existence.

You may argue that there were militaries prepared to take up arms in their stead (although the reality is that they were often as much threatened by the military than protected), but where you argue that the military has "allowed" pacifists to exist, we'd argue (Christian pacifists, that is) that God and God alone allows us the grace to follow God's teachings. That, a military is often as great a hindrance to security as not having a military.

But aside from that, I'm not talking strictly pacifistic answers (even though I'm a pacifist). I'd be satisfied if we'd even strictly observe Just War Theory in our behavior. Or even better, Just Peacemaking practices (which are not entirely pacifistic, just leans that way).

My point was that what we are doing is not working. Even if you assume those in power intended their actions for good (a point I find questionable), the results are the opposite of what we'd hope.

Just Peacemaking practices have a whole series of steps that can work in the real world and have proven themselves to work in the real world. Work perfectly? No. But clearly, war doesn't work perfectly either. WWII with its violent approach to stop Nazism, was "won" at the cost of trillions of dollars and with acivilian toll of ~30 million, and a military toll of about 25 million. Just Peacemakers might say, "THIS is winning?"

If you're interested, here's a link to a major Just Peacemaking paper:

www.peacecoalition.org/facts/PDF/just_peacemaking.pdf

Thanks for the kind discussion.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Wed Sep 27, 05:30:00 PM:

Escort81 -

Thanks for your comments. We're in tune I think. Funnily enough though, the islamists don't win with a draw. And in fact, they are losing. When an Iraqi government and army stand up, and the muj kill all or mostly muslims, they're done. They lose. No sharia, no caliphate, zippo. they didn't set limited goals. When they came here, they set goals which were based upon the Soviet illusion.

Those goals were unrealistic. And I think the muslim populace at large gets that.

Hezbollah and Hamas have similarly unrealistic goals. This notion that they win with a draw is mistaken. They have a constituency. They lose cred with that constituency if they fail to meet goals while incurring an enormous cost in lives and treasure and so forth. Oil alone can't compete.

SO I'm an optimist.  

By Anonymous davod, at Wed Sep 27, 07:02:00 PM:

Dan and others:

"What we are doing is not working." By what standard are you judging this war.

The biggest problem we have is loosing the media battle. The moderate muslim center will never fight back if they see the "West" capitulating to every little perceived slite(sp) against Islam.

And no I do not subscribe to the it's the "Wests" fault because of the predations of European powers at the turn of the 20th Century. If you read or listen to any of the rants of the leadership of the Islamic Radicals you will see they refer back to the furthest advances of Islamic Expansionism. They want it all back and to continue the invasion.

Do you realy think peace now will work with these people.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Wed Sep 27, 08:12:00 PM:

CP, I have to respectfully disagree. The 9/11 terrorists were Saudi, Egyptian, and United Arab Emmeratti. The London bombers were British. We aren't fighting them daily on their soil. We're fighting them daily in Iraq. Can you name an Iraqi al-Qaida terrorist? I can't. Maybe backlash from the violence in Iraq will stymie Muslim support there (make that a big maybe), but I still don't see any costs to the decision to engage in terrorism globally.

On the other hand, you have to admit that US military presence in Iraq is a call-to-arms for jihadis the world over. If the number of terrorists is increasing, I mark it down as bad news.

I do like the idea of trying to bankrupt the ideology, but I'm really skeptical of our methods. (But what do I know, my idea was to flood the country with Baywatch and Jack Daniels.)  

By Blogger phil, at Wed Sep 27, 09:29:00 PM:

No one is going to want to hear this, but the fact is none of these arguments matter. Logic doesn't matter. Facts don't matter. This is political warfare, not some college debate club. The Democrats will never, ever admit they were wrong. The media and Dem politicians will just shift the topic to something else and act as if the original complaint never existed. And while we are absorbed in analyzing and refuting the Left's accusations they are initiating the next attack. From Powerline:

"When Democrats in the bureaucracy illegally leaked misleading portions of the NIE's "key judgments" in hopes of influencing the election, that was fine with Kennedy. But when the administration declassified the entire "judgments" section so that the American people can read it all and judge for themselves, now Kennedy complains that the voters aren't getting "the full story." Absolutely outrageous, but typical of the Democrats' ever more hysterical campaign."

Let's stop being naifs about this. This is a perfect example of how the Left shifts their tactics. The Left is more sophisticated than we are. They run circles around us when it comes to media campaigns. We are always "shocked, shocked" that they are so illogical and unconcerned about facts. None of that matters, this is media warfare. The next leak is coming, the next spin is on the way.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Thu Sep 28, 09:19:00 AM:

"The Democrats will never, ever admit they were wrong."

This, in the face of EVERY reason that Bush presented for going to war in Iraq turning out to be bogus and yet the Republicans remain mostly in lockstep behind him? Where, tell me, have the Republicans ever, ever admitted they were wrong?

And this is not a defense of the Dems in power, who are spineless and without solutions for the most part. It's about your statement lacking credibility. Logic and facts DO matter in the real world, whether or not they do in DC. We, the people, MUST stand in opposition to methods that are having the opposite effect of what we desire. We MUST stand in support of obeying our own laws. We must stand in opposition to immoral policies being enacted in our name.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Thu Sep 28, 01:44:00 PM:

Instead of talking about an unfavorable intelligence finding, let's talk about how the Left is unconcerned about facts and shifts tactics when it suits them.

Let's also be completely oblivious to irony.  

By Blogger Jakester, at Thu Sep 28, 03:41:00 PM:

the 2 black Muslim DC snipers managed to tie up about 10K cops and caused millions to be spent tracking them down, with a budget of about $3000. It doesn't take much to launch some sort of terrorist attack. If we get more of them pissed, some of them will resort to things like shootings, car attacks, and other simple tactics.  

By Anonymous Curious George, at Thu Sep 28, 03:44:00 PM:

hey lanky_sob
since when did the fascist morons on the right get concerned about the truth? Like talking to a hostile nation = appeasment, Spring 2003 = Munich 1938, Saddam = Osama's pal. Take a good look at your unintentional irony if you have one ounce of self knowledge or integrity!  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Thu Sep 28, 04:46:00 PM:

there are competing visions of the future at work in the Middle east as well.

Great leaders have always worked hard to portray a future that makes the current struggles seem worth the effort.

If OBL or Sadr or Hassan Nasrallah or some other muslim/arab leader were to give an arabic version of the "I have a dream" speech, what would they say?

Violence for the sake of violence? A forced adherence to a code of conduct that shifts on the whims of a few "learned" men with deadly results? Economic and cultural stagnation in the name of some angry and bloodthirsty god?

CP is absolutely correct, a draw now is a lose for the atavistic forces within the arab muslim culture: The world is too seductive and the modern life too pervasive.

Ultimately the soviet union could not keep its subjects ignorant of the vast material differences between their lives and ours. The muslim clergy and despots will also fail in this attempt.

If it is ten years of contention between ourselves and the muslims in their backyard, it is also ten years of interaction between them and us.

that's a central part of the Iraq gambit IMHO. We have pierced the veil of isolation surrounding the muslims and shed light on thier life.

Are these interactions consistently positive? No, of course not. cordon and search sucks, even when it's done here in akron. but ultimately the violence will taper off because violence for its own sake has no vision of the future to offer.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Thu Sep 28, 05:08:00 PM:

Dear Curious,
That was sarcasm (mostly directed at Phil).
Hope we can be friends now.
Would be cool to return to the discussion on terrorism.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Fri Sep 29, 07:40:00 PM:

"Ultimately the soviet union could not keep its subjects ignorant of the vast material differences between their lives and ours. The muslim clergy and despots will also fail in this attempt."

There's no ignorance in the Arab world of their material weakness and poverty; they live next to Israel, a great example of a modern democracy, they import all of their cars and computers, and every person with money leaves as often as possible to enjoy themselves in the West. It isn't a secret. But by and large, they value other things more highly. Like killing Jews, for instance.  

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