Saturday, October 29, 2011

Third Time, Lucky?

The US tried.  It failed.  Ethiopia tried (with US backing.)  It failed.  Now it is Kenya's time.  The third country up in an attempt to restore some semblance of order to the bloody chaos called "Somalia."  Will this effort end as did the two predecessors with failure, humiliating withdrawal, and the leaving of a geographic expression with no real reason to exist as a state in even more of a sanguinary mess?

The US failed as a combination of mission leap, one disastrously ill-planned operation, and the lack of both a policy focus and political will in and around the Oval.  When Bill Clinton inherited the "humanitarian" operation initiated by George H.W. Bush, he neglected to define the goal of the force deployed in country.  For reasons which escape rational analysis, his administration decided it was necessary to engage in regime change.  This was odd as there was no real regime to change but rather a welter of tribal leaders engaged in a robust contest for supremacy.  The man on the top at that moment was particularly unpleasant but no threat to the long term prospects for the Somali people.

In a fit of absent mindedness, someone decided--and others farther up the food chain confirmed this choice--to go after the Unpleasant Guy On Top.  The result was the loss of nearly two dozen special forces troops, the bodies of whom were depicted being pulled around, naked, in the dirt of the streets by gangs of cheering women.  This nauseating vision was displayed on the televisions of Americans with the result that Clinton and Company determined to cut and run rather than take proper action against the Somalis responsible.

This loss of political nerve was not justified and counterproductive, not only in Somalia but all over the Arab and Muslim world.  It was this ostentatious failure of testicular and policy fortitude which gave the muscle to Osama bin Laden and his odious outfit as well as other advocates of violent political Islam.

With American support and assistance, the Ethiopian army invaded Somalia in the opening years of this century.  They were successful in toppling the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) which was an effective government albeit given to policies and means antipathetic to American and Western norms.  The ICU was speedily replaced by "the Youth" better known as al-Shabaab.  This crew was orders of magnitude more dedicated to the cause of austere, violent political Islam than the ICU had been.

The Ethiopians rapidly found out that they had bitten off far more than they (or their now preoccupied American sponsors) could chew and swallow conveniently.  For two years the Ethiopians held on, never secure even in their own bases, unable to broker a coalition of Somali tribal leaders willing to take over the burden of freeing their own country from the ever less popular zealots of al-Shabaab.  Finally, the Ethiopians tossed in their towel and departed, leaving the field to the victorious "Youth."

From there it has been all down hill not only for the people caught in Somalia but for the West generally.  As international diplomats played the game of creating a government and the African Union--well at least two member countries--deployed "peace keeping" forces to the center of Mogadishu, al-Shabaab consolidated its hold on the southern third of the country while pinning the Transitional Federal Government and its AU troops to a few blocks around the presidential palace.

During the same time, ambitious Somalis found a new and very profitable line of work--piracy.  Even now with warships of several dozen navies on patrol, the maritime marauders commandeer ships every week with tens, no, hundreds of millions of dollars of ransom collected.  The consensus of "experts" around the world is the pirates will not be defeated unless and until there is a functioning government with effective control of the Somali coast.

In recent months, the Gangbangers of Somalia, both landbased and maritime, have expanded their actions to include the kidnapping of Westerners frequenting expensive Kenyan resorts within in a convenient distance of Somalia.  This has perturbed the Kenyans mightily.  Even more disconcerting to Nairobi has been the tsunami of refugees flowing over the border.  The tidal wave has grown since the drought enhanced famine has been worsened by al-Shabaab's stopping of food aid by international agencies.

The hundreds of thousands of Somalis self-dumped on Kenya is an unacceptable economic burden on the country.  More, it represents a clear national security threat given Somali claims on the northern portion of Kenya and the large number of al-Shabaab agents living in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Kenya has clear reasons to see the end of al-Shabaab at least in the southern portion of the place.  With this in mind, Nairobi aimed at the Somali port city of Kismayo.  The port is the major source of al-Shabaab revenue: taxes on trade, particularly charcoal, headed for Yemen.  It is also a prime source of pirates.

With its invasion, Kenya is doing a service not only for itself but for the West generally.  Al-Shabaab is a threat not only to African states and the sea lines of communication but more broadly.  Not only is it "officially" allied with al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab has direct operational links with al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and Nigeria's Boko Haram.  Adding al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to the mix is apparently in the works.  Given the widespread proliferation of weapons including MANPADS from the old Libyan arsenals, it is to be expected that al-Shabaab's military competence and potential for transnational terror will grow.

The biggest question is simply: Will Kenya succeed where others have failed?

The prognosis is, at best, mixed.  The Kenyan armed forces have no real experience with war, even the limited sort of which al-Shabaab is capable.  The forces are large, reasonably well equipped and trained, but without combat experience, it is hard to see if these factors are all that important.  The launch of the invasion just as the annual rains were scheduled to start (they commenced on time) shows a lack of proper planning.  The two thousand men across the border have been bogged down in the mud for some days now with the mechanical transport totally immobilized.

Overall the force (ten thousand at most) seems too small to deal with a highly mobile opponent along with the demands of MOUT--if the Kenyans do reach Kismayo.  The Kenyan air dominance will not matter once their ground forces are in close contact with al-Shabaab fighters.  The fight will become a slogging match between the mechanized, fire power heavy Kenyans and the more mobile, lightly equipped guerrilla opponents.

At that point, it will be what all asymmetrical wars must be--a contest of political wills.  Already there are indications that the Kenyan opinion molding elite lack the stomach for a protracted war, which is exactly what the invasion will become without a game changer.

There is only one game changer which might be available.  Not the African Union.  Not the other states of the Horn of Africa.  Nobody local is capable of altering the nature of the war.

The role of game changer properly belongs to NATO.  Fresh off its "victory" in Libya, most of the NATO combatants already have a dog in the fight--the pirates.  Certainly NATO ships have been heavily involved in the anti-pirate patrols and have actually killed pirates!

The leaders of France, the UK, the US and perhaps some of the others will be well advised to man up and back the Kenyan play.  NATO has the aircraft, the ships, the logistics, the special forces, the intelligence assets necessary to change the game in Somalia quickly and surely.  The pirates along with the bloody hands of the brutal killers of al-Shabaab provide more than enough justification for entering the war, even for invoking the doctrine of R2P.

There is no need to invoke the UN.  Even the opposition of the AU can be ignored with impunity.  The morass of Somalia is intolerable now--and will only get worse should the Kenyans suffer the same fate as did the Americans and Ethiopians.  A robust NATO effort will be gratefully acknowledged (even if privately only) and might even silence some of the loud voices criticizing the alliance's efforts in Libya.

Get on with it, Messers Sarkozy, Cameron, Obama--the history books are waiting.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Foreign Policy Success? What Successes?

The MSM have been spilling a lot of ink over the "success" of Obama's "leading from behind" doctrine as exhibited in Libya.  Some experts in the field of geopolitics have gone so far as to extend the Libyan outcome as being but the latest in a string of unappreciated but real "successes" or at least non-failures attributable to the Nice Young Man From Chicago.

All things considered, there has been one real victory achieved by President Obama.  His combination of responding to domestic political pressures--particularly the pervasive Democrat fear of being seen as "weak" on national security--combined with lofty, progressive rhetoric of the Bill Clinton sort has removed foreign policy from the election table.  From his decision to allow the lethal takedown of Osama bin Laden to the murky way in which the US backed into the Libyan adventure in regime change, Obama responded more to the dictates of the public's political mood than any realistic assessment of US diplomatic needs and goals.

While it is no doubt true that defense and foreign policy will not play any discernible role in the 2012 election, which is a misfortune to say the least, the canny political sense of the incumbent in denying the Republicans any point of legitimate attack constitutes a real advantage to the Obama campaign.  Also offering powerful assistance to the president's reelection effort is the combination of amazing ignorance and retro thinking which typifies the current elephantine field in its collective consideration of America's role in the world.

It is to be regretted greatly that none of the current GOP aspirants have yet gone after the record of failures which is the record of the present administration.  The universe of discourse is both vast and central to the near and mid-term future of the US.

Consider Iraq.  Yes, we are out of the place.  That is good.  But the cost of our exit has been to see failure left in the wake of the endeavor.  True, the initial blunder belongs for all eternity to George W. Bush and his neocon ninny soulmates.  But the Obama people knew the withdrawal date fixed by the Status of Forces Agreement was looming.  They also knew that total withdrawal would be dangerous, perhaps fatally so for Iraq.  So did the Iraqis.  Yet, with nearly three years to act, the administration failed to find a formula which would allow sufficient troops to stay with the requisite legal immunity.  Rather than search for the obvious alternatives to an act by the Iraqi parliament, Obama opted to get out of Dodge--and place the blame on the Boys In Baghdad.

Some success that--for the mullahs in Tehran and their local Iraqi henchmen.

In Afghanistan, the Obama authorized "surge" provided two results.  The first was a short duration set of battlefield victories, which were meaningless given the publicly announced draw down and pull out dates giving the adversaries all they needed to know to stay the course.  The second accomplishment of the Obama surge was to provide political cover and advantage as the surge forces come home before the elections.

The result was to embolden both the Taliban and Haqqini network as well as their Pakistani handlers.  A second result was to undercut the will of the Karzai government to conduct the needed reforms, to develop an effective national force, or to prosecute the war with vigor.  Along with the totally wrongheaded firing of General Stanley McChrystal, the date certain withdrawal schedule did nothing to enhance either the will or the operational ability of US and other foreign forces to conduct their mission with high morale and the most effective approaches on both the tactical and operational levels.

What a "success."  Yes, for Islamabad and their proxies in Afghanistan.

Then there is Israel and the Palestinians.  The Obama policy not only froze a bad dynamic in place, it worsened matters to a point that the two state solution has become even more unlikely now than at the end of the reign of George W.  The truckling Cairo speech raised Arab expectations to a level that could not be met by a mere American president, particularly one whose guiding star was provided by domestic politics.  As if that were not bad enough, the president has a very bad personal as well as political relationship with the Israeli prime minister, which in no way made it probable that Israel would go along with Washington's policy preferences.

What a success--if you are Palestinian head of government Abbas.

The "Arab Spring" had to be a success, right?  After all it was the triumph of democracy over autocracy, and how can anybody see that as other than a success?  Sure, it was--if you are a member of an austere, political Muslim group.  As was the case in Iran all those long years ago, the legendary power of the people, the voice of the democratic ballot box, the exercise of free voting, will most probably bring austere Muslims into power. And, once there, it will take more than merely voting to get them out.  (Once again see Iran as the paradigm.)

How about the "war on terror?"  Fortunately our intelligence, law enforcement, and military forces are highly competent, so we have not suffered a homeland hit for ten years now.  None of this is due to brilliant policy on the part of Mr Obama and his "team."  On the policy level, the Obama administration has been every bit as clueless as its predecessor.  BH Obama is no more willing than was George W to acknowledge that terror and other forms of asymmetrical war we have faced for more than a decade have been and are predicated on the religion. The same religion serves as the motivation of the various austere, political Islamists who carry out the acts of war and terror.  Failure at the basic level of knowing the nature and character of the enemy assures the overall war will not be successful.

OK, the Geek hears you object, what about the standing of the US in the eyes of the world?  It's gotta be better now than when Cowboy George was in the Oval.

You betcha, bucko.  It is.  And, more importantly, it is not.  But that is a subject for a different post.  Maybe tomorrow if the weather and the tetchy computer allow.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Hardest Thing To Do--Nothing

The signs of ascendant, austere, political Islam are unmistakable in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.  The sharply Islamist party, the Renaissance Party, is expected to hold a plurality if not an outright majority in the new constituent assembly in Tunisia.  In Libya, the outgoing head of the National Transitional Council (NTC) announced changes in banking and family law to make Libya more Shariah compliant.  In Egypt, the Salifists who are the granddaddy of all the austere, politically oriented Muslim groups, are battling with the Muslim Brotherhood for the number one spot in the forthcoming government, with the inevitable result being the triumph of austere political Islam as the two entities share far more than not.

Throughout both Egypt and Libya, both Christian and Muslim communities are under direct, physical attack.  The Sufi shrines, venerated graves, and mosques in both countries have been vandalized, even destroyed by armed men bearing the symbols of Salifist affiliation.  As the world well knows, the Coptic Christians of Egypt have been brutalized, killed even, not only by mobs of the austere and violent but by security force personnel as well.  In Egypt as in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, Christians have become a highly endangered species, occupying the same slot in the local social and political ecology formerly possessed by Jews.

There can be no doubt but the austere groups--the Salifists, the Wahhibists, the Deobandis--are well on their way to establishing operational dominance in the countries of the "Arab Spring" as they are in Pakistan and the Arab Peninsula.  The Shia equivalents have done the same in Iraq.  The outcome in the next few months will not meet the expectations of the Western leaders and governments which embraced the purportedly democratic fervor of the "Arab Spring."

In the context of looming disappointment, the opinion molders of the West would be well advised to consider a chain of events which hit the tipping point twenty years ago in Algeria.  Back in 1991, Algeria was experiencing the same basic problems as ignited the "Arab Spring."  There was very high unemployment, particularly among the educated youth.  The economy was stagnant despite oil riches.  Internal divisions of tribal and class origin split the nation.  The long running autocratic government was out of ideas, and, more importantly, out of perceived legitimacy.

The government decided to call for elections.  The campaign was loud, enthusiastic, energetic.  Algerians went to the polls with joy, believing a real future beckoned.  When the votes were counted, the government, its supporting elite, and the armed forces were shocked.  The parties of the austere, political Islamists had won.

The army nullified the elections.  Next it took power directly.  Then, quite predictably, violent unrest started.  By the time the shooting stopped, more than 150,000 Algerians were dead.  Scores of thousands more had been wounded.  Even more had been jailed.  Many of these had been tortured.

Even today, more than a decade after the internal war ended, the scars remain.  Despite the return of a semblance of democracy, a sort of "guided democracy," the echoes of the police state soldier on.  Voices are quiet and furtive.  After sunset, streets are weirdly quiet, a testament to the curfews of the period of military rule.  The government supported Gaddifi until the bitter and bloody end.  And, jobs are still scarce, the economy still in doldrums, regardless of the special relation with France.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

There is no real probability that rule by austere Muslims will see the end of the myriad economic and social problems which propelled the demonstrations which brought down ben-Ali, forced the military to toss Mubarak to the wolves, and led to the NATO enhanced violence in Libya.  Prayer, beards, and putting women in garbage sacks will not assure jobs--particularly for the over educated, Western oriented youth which served as the shock troops in Tunisia and Egypt or provided many of the trigger pullers of the revolt in Libya.

Islam and the Koran will not, pace the Muslim Brotherhood's two best known slogans, be the answer.  When the faces of disappointed revolutionaries are rubbed in the mud of reality, the most probable result will be another round of violence.  Also, topping the list of outcomes to be expected will be the charges levied by the austere Muslims running affairs.

The folks in charge will accuse a sinister conspiracy on the part of the "Zionists" and the US for any and all failures.  There will be calls for jihad to defend the new, faith based governments against the cabal of Jews and Americans.  The path blazed by Iran (and to a lesser extent, Pakistan) will be traveled by the incoming regimes of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt.

The countries will either go the way of successfully focusing anger on the mythical enemies in Israel, the US, and Europe or dissolve in a welter of internal war and blood.  In the latter case, it is to be expected that the military will step in to restore order in a manner akin to the process which drew a bright blood red line through Algeria twenty years back.

Absent a miracle of Biblical proportions which will do the impossible--squaring the circle of austere Islam with the real requirements for success in the contemporary world--the picture which will be painted across much of the Mideast and North Africa over the coming months and years will be ugly as hell.  The challenge to opinion molders and senior governmental wallahs will be to watch.  To watch while doing nothing.

Given the past record of Western colonialism, neo-colonialism, or plain vanilla intervention and interference, the West, including the US, has no viable alternative.  Rightly or wrongly, many, perhaps most, citizens of the countries in the regions see the West, its governments, its institutions, its corporations, its policies, its militaries as the props and supporters of dictatorships, the adversaries of indigenous desires, internal perceptions of dignity, as both indirect and direct exploiters, and as "the Crusaders" bent on the destruction of Islam.  The truth or falsity of this belief set is irrelevant.  What is relevant is simply that the beliefs are widely and deeply held.

The only viable option for the West, for the US, is to keep out.  The people in the several countries must travel the very rough road alone.  We must not even seek to use "soft power" methods to shorten the journey or pave over the worst parts of the road.

All we can or should do is make it clear that internal affairs of any and every Muslim majority state is of no concern to us.  Beyond this, we must make it plain that any export of political Islam, most importantly, any export by violent means, will be met by robust, very robust means.  As long as the austere, politically motivated Muslim governments keep it at home, they will be left to their own devices, but should they cross their borders, we will stop them by means of our own choosing.

This posture will be difficult, very difficult for NGOs given to humanitarian goals to accept let alone support.  It is an unfortunate truth that any approach other than patient watching and vigilant guarding of our interests will make life worse both for us and the people who live under the sway of Salifists and others of their ilk.  This is a stinging nettle of the sharpest sort, but we all need to get a grip on it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What Victory(ies)?

Today The Clueless Guy In The Oval announced (as expected) that all US troops other than the embassy guard will be out of Iraq by the end of the year.  Instantly if not sooner, the political flacks which surround the Oval sprang into action averring with straight faces that this was the desired result as well as the fulfillment of a major campaign promise.

What a crock!

As American military and diplomatic officials including both the past and current Secretaries of Defense have maintained with a fair degree of passion, the continuation of a US military presence was essential for assuring that the past nine years, something on the order of a trillion dollars, and, most importantly, over 4,000 lives had not been wasted.  Iraq's internal stability is very fragile on the best of days--and there are damn few of those.  In addition, the Iranians present a clear and present threat against which Iraq has no credible means of either deterrence or defense.  Beyond that, the Iraqi forces need much more training in their new weapons systems as well as in the areas of intelligence, logistics, air support, and communication.

Over the past year, the Obama administration had and threw away numerous opportunities to keep a suitable number of training, combat support, special operations, and combat forces in Iraq.  The alleged block was the unwillingness of the Iraqi government to grant immunity from Iraqi judicial processes to the US personnel.

This, too, is a crock.

The administration--the president--insisted that legal immunity be granted by specific action on the part of the Iraqi Council of Representatives.  This would have been politically impossible as the Obama foreign policy "team" must have known.  There were other means of obtaining the requisite immunity which would have sidestepped the field of mines which constitutes the Council of Representatives as well the total Iraqi parliament.  The simplest means would have been to list the names of each and every spook, special operator, trainer, and trigger puller on the embassy personnel roster, which would have made diplomatic immunity automatic.  The Iraqi ForMin was wide open to this gambit as were other senior members of the Iraqi executive branch.

While it is true that Allawi--the head of the opposition bloc which was narrowly and questionably defeated by Maliki's bloc--complicated the matter, the US had and has sufficient juice with Allawi to end the stall he introduced.  In short, there were no insurmountable obstacles in Baghdad to continuing the American presence even at the level of 20,000 troops.

The real deal was the Nice Young Man From Chicago was and is hoping that by bringing the last troops home against the rhetorical backdrop of declaring victory he will gain political mileage for the upcoming reelection bid.  He has been purposefully willing to toss aside the last nine years, the trillion dollars, and the lives of more than 4,000 Americans for personal, partisan reasons.

The same applies to the specious claims of victory in Libya following the killing of Gaddifi yesterday.  It was not a victory for the US.  Nor was it one for NATO.  While it is true that without the US/UK/French/NATO air campaign, on the ground advisers, weapons and equipment supplies, intelligence support, and diplomatic game playing, "Brother Leader" would still be oppressing the Libyans and haunting the international scene.  But, the only "victors" were the assorted militias who did the fighting and dying--and who will now claim the rewards.

It will be up to these sundry groups of trigger pullers as well as the myriad of tribal and religious leaders who more or less control the men with the AKs to decide which reward will go to who.  The probability of continued and escalating violence is somewhere between high and extremely high.  Rewards will be claimed and fought over.  Payback will be the word of the day for months to come.  The body count, already high, will increase.  The NTC is losing support, in large measure because its actions and decision making are as transparent as a sandstorm.  Regional, tribal, and religious loyalties far exceed any attachment to something called "Libya" or the "Libyan nation."

The death of the "King of Kings of Africa" removed whatever thin and tenuous glue held the competing factions and their guns together.  Now it is a matter of every region, every tribe, every city, every clan, even every individual for him or itself.  Every man raises his AK or RPG or MANPAD against every other.

There is no "victory" here for the US or France or the UK.  There is and will be only more challenges to regional stability, regional peace, to international efforts on behalf of these worthy end states.  There is utterly and absolutely nothing for the US--or Mr Obama--to crow about or see as a good lesson for tomorrow.

There is only the hope on the part of the president and his advisers that the Libyan adventure in "leading from behind" will bolster his fading reelection chances.  (Note the recent Gallup poll placing his approval rating at the new low of 41%.)

Iraq is frail.  Libya is even worse.  The risks and sacrifices taken and made in both have been in vain by any rational calculus.  One can only hope that the Obama campaign will not be aided by these false "victories."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Once More, Adrift At The Policy Level

"Somebody will have to pay!" So said a high level Saudi royal (is there any other sort of royal?) regarding the Iranian plot to ace the Saudi ambassador to the US.  Secretary of State Clinton as well as Vice President Biden made the customary formulaic statements about somebody, somewhere, somehow being "held accountable," in connection with the same bit of outrageous but normal Iranian diplomatic conduct.

Throughout the rarefied levels of the American government, there has been much bloviating and bleating about just how terribly Iran has violated international law and custom about the corporeal sanctity of diplomatic persons.  This predicate was followed by earnest statements about the need to forge international solidarity against the rapscallions of the Iranian Islamic Republic.  To this end, special missions have been dispatched to brief and enlist the full support of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Gulf Coordination Council (GCC), and the Arab League.

By golly, this will sure show the ayatollahs, mullahs, and imams, won't it?

Of course, the Iranians have not only denied the existence of the plot, they have engaged in the expected counter accusations.  At home a number of Iranians interviewed by the AP indicated there was no way anyone in Iran could have been either so ill-advised or so creative as to have developed the plot, let alone put it into initial operation.

It is easy for a skeptic to doubt the plot, it is too redolent of Hollywood thriller elements to be totally plausible.  The only problem is that it is a very competent covert/clandestine operation completely in line with other previous Tehran initiated assassinations.

The al-Quds component of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is quite experienced, highly motivated, has excellent operational mechanisms, and is well acquainted with the drug trafficking organizations (DTO) of Central and South America.  Given this last consideration, it is to be expected that the IRGC would turn to the drug smugglers of Mexico to actually conduct the mission.  While it is a tad surprising that the men in Tehran turned to an American citizen rather than use one of their agents already resident in Mexico, the use of the dual national did provide some potential advantages.

It was fortunate (almost too convenient) that the DEA had a credible and reliable informant asset on tap to play the role of a Los Zetas member, but that may be clarified as to dynamics and timing as the legal processes unfold.  Manssor Arbabsiar, the dual US/Iranian national, lives in Corpus Christi, so he would have been quite familiar with the Zetas and their extensive record of highly competent killings carried out with the flair and skill of an experienced special operations force.

The hiring of a group with the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct a bombing at a Washington, DC restaurant for a mere 1.5 million dollars is a feat of excellent bargaining.  If the hit on the Saudi ambassador was carried out in conjunction with a set of simultaneous bombings on other, unrelated targets, the net result would have been to decouple any hint of Iranian sponsorship or involvement.

The combination of several, simultaneous bombings with the use of readily available explosives (which category includes military grade munitions such as C4) and equally common electronic components would have complicated the investigation further, reducing the probability of discovering the Tehran connection.  A further fog would have resulted from the inevitable claims of responsibility which would have flooded the ether, an eventuality which would have grown with the size of the body count.  Every group espousing violent political Islam, including those which are totally notional, would have jumped in with an appropriately worded media release.

As the investigation floundered about in the many leveled swamp of false flags, inconclusive forensics and competing claims of authorship, the ayatollahs and their operational tools could have sat back, smiling with grins wider than the Cheshire Cat, knowing the truth, a truth they would keep to themselves.  Of course, the Saudis would have had their suspicions (as would the Americans), but without a case meeting legal standards, neither arrests nor military retaliation would have been politically feasible.

In short, the plot in outline is highly credible in all respects.  Assuming the puppet masters in Iran and the operational assets in Mexico and the US observed standard operational security measures, the probability of detection either before or after the event would have been low.  The probability of attaching the tail to the Iranian donkey would have been even lower.

It was either a matter of awesomely good luck or an intelligence coup of the first water which allowed the plot to have been penetrated so early and so successfully.  The fact that the US did penetrate and did arrest a key conspirator in no way undercuts the brilliance of the concept--nor provide a firm basis for assuming the whole deal was an American confection.

The question which confronts the US (or at least the administration) is what to do now.  Not to go into hyperventilation mode, the Iranian plot does constitute, or did once constitute a cause of war.  The plot was not simply a crime.  It was much more.  It was an act of war.  Asymmetrical war is still war.  And that is what the Iranians intended.  The killing of a third party national of diplomatic status, thus a protected person under international convention, along with a significant but unknowable number of Americans by an infernal machine is every bit as much an act of war as the attacks of 9/11.

It is no less an act of war by virtue of having been detected and thwarted before culmination.

The US would be fully justified by undertaking a military response.  Such a response is equally justifiable under international norms and law if conducted by covert/clandestine means or by open use of force.  There is, of course, no real possibility of the current administration exercising this latter option.  The American public to say nothing of the federal budget would not sit still for an open act of war.  The possibility of failure would inhibit any low visibility, light footprint response against either the IRGC or its masters.

Inhibition is not the same as prohibition.  The US has engaged in covert/clandestine actions intended to impair the Iranian march to nuclear threshold status.  These serve as a paradigm for a suitable response to the plot.

It is to be hoped that behind the wall of indignant oratory spewing forth in Spindletop fashion from the highest circles inside the District there is some quiet and sober consideration of who might be a suitable candidate for being "held accountable."  Targeted killings of high ranking military or paramilitary figures might be distasteful in some quarters, but there is something far worse.

That something is allowing the senior decision makers of the al-Quds force or the IRGC to be reinforced in their view that the US is nothing more than a "paper tiger."  Unless the US does show its displeasure in a quiet but robust way, we will continue to be seen as week, indecisive, on the decline--and a suitable venue to wage a nasty little war.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Going To Hell In (Allah's) Bucket

Due to cloudy weather, the demands of woodcutting (winter is a-coming on) and the debilities of age, the Geek has been kicking back reading the news from around the world and generally coming to the conclusion that a large segment of the globe and its attendant population is going to hell in a bucket.  And, the hand carrying the bucket is a collective one--the aggregate of the large and rapidly growing advocates of austere, political Islam.  Not to put too fine a point on the knife of reality, the single largest problem resident in the global political order is not the economy, nor is it "global warming," not even American "arrogance" and "unilateralism."

The problem confronting all of us today, whether or not we like the idea, is simply Islam.  Islam is the necessary and sufficient foundation of that most detestable phenomenon, austere political Islam.  In both its violent and non-violent forms, political Islam, particularly the most common sort, the variety growing from the austere roots of Salifism, Wahhibism, and Deobondism, constitutes the single largest threat to international and national stability, order, and peace.

In all the hosannas ringing out during the days of the "Arab Spring," a simple and critical fact was ignored by the political and opinion molding elites in the US and the rest of the West.  That seemingly willfully ignored ground truth was the power of austere political Islam to attract and mobilize adherents during periods of great political, social, and economic turbulence.  Also ignored by all the applause makers of the West was the companion fact: As uncertainty increased due to the many, often violent changes in all aspects of life, the appeal of austere political Islam would necessarily grow.

Humans are genetically programmed to fear uncertainty, to be risk averse, to seek security in the storms of change.  Islam, more than any other religion promises certainty, assures security--if only the rules of the faith are followed absolutely and completely.  Islam also provides a roster of acceptable scapegoats upon whom blame can be foisted and whose persecution onto death is given positive sanction.  The combination of rule based security and approved scapegoats affords a powerful appeal to austere Islam of the Salifist sort or of the Wahhibist variety.

The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt caught it perfectly in its slogan: Islam is the solution.

When fear or apprehension or anxiety or insecurity threaten, the bracing and strict requirements of austere Islam in its political expression do constitute the solution.  The irrefutable fact that life under the rigor of austere Islam is unlivable in practice is no bar to the inherent appeal of the promise given by the faith.  The equally irrefutable fact that Islam is inherently incompatible with modern economics, contemporary technology, or even the oft asserted "universal" rights of all humans is likewise no barrier to its attractiveness to people suddenly confronted with all enveloping upheaval.

We have seen the direct correlation between social and political tumult and the rise of austere political Islam in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, and, over the past nine months, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

It is worth noting that ten and more years ago, Pakistan was peaceful.  Back then, before George W. Bush presented the "with us or suffer the consequences" ultimatum to the government of Pakistan, sectarian violence was essentially unknown.  Also a stranger to Pakistani life was the horrid specter of "honor killings."  Also absent were suicide bombings.  Even the FATA was relatively quiet.  Karachi was not the political murder capital of Asia (or, to err on the side of accuracy, the world.)

The peace left never apparently to return with the influx of Taliban from Afghanistan.  The ISI undoubtedly believed it could continue to exercise full operational control over Taliban, the Haqqani network, and all the other entities predicated on violent political Islam.  ISI and the rest of the military and government committed an error in this belief.  In justification stands the reality that the destruction of critical elements of traditional society and its polity which occurred in the wake of the Afghan invasion promoted an unexpectedly rapid growth in fear and uncertainty which resulted in an ever widening recruit pool for the advocates of austere violent political Islam.  Events outpaced the capacity of ISI to control its monsters.

In the Big Three of the "Arab Spring," Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the organizations of austere political Islamists were not only the only groups ready to take advantage of the new situation.  That was reasonably widely understood even if belittled here in the US and elsewhere in the West.  What went by unnoticed was the automatic appeal of austere political Islam to the uprooted, the suddenly unmoored, the majority of the people living in all three countries.

Islam is the answer,  the solution for those who crave certainty, security, a firm mooring in the new, white waters of "democratic change."  Only austere political Islam pretends quick, easy, certain remedies for all the myriad ills resident in the gales of social, political, and economic change blowing through the high deserts and crowded cities of each and all of the Big Three.  Not surprisingly, the Salifists, the Wahhibists, have gained the most support in record time.

Equally unsurprising has been the fast boost increase in "honor killings," and overt persecution of Christians, which has been seen with particular drama in Egypt.  While most visible in the Land of the Pharaohs, these uniquely Islamic crimes have been occurring in Tunisia and Libya.  (It is worth noting that fear of the same happening in Syria has motivated Christians and other sectarian minorities to side with the Baathist regime regardless of other considerations.)

In Libya, the values and imperatives of austere political Islam have been demonstrated in the persecution of sub-Saharan Africans.  The rebels have averred repeatedly that the victims (if, indeed, there were any) had been Gaddafi "mercenaries."  This excuse is fantasy.  The vast majority of black Africans singled out for persecution were not fighters but simply guest workers, most of whom happened to be non-Muslim.  This second consideration is non-trivial when assessing the basis of rebel behavior.

The groups advocating austere political Islam will be the new ruling class in each and every of the Big Three.  The inevitable failure of the new regimes to address effectively the economic concerns of the citizenry will be met by charges of "infidel" or "Zionist" or "apostate" directed counter-revolutionary conspiracies.  Blood will flow in attempts to quash dissent or divert attention.  The afflicted countries will, like Pakistan, become less rather than more stable, less rather than more peaceful, less rather than more prosperous.  Dissent and repression will lock in a mutual and deadly embrace.

As the societies grow less stable and life less secure, there will be an accelerating move to more austere, more inclusive forms of political Islam.  Nothing else can be expected given that tumult and fear demand the anodyne of certainty--the only anodyne promised by Salfiism and the rest of the austere ilk.  The predictable failure of Salifism and the rest to provide an effective cure will (as in Iran) result in more and more repression.

The search for outside sponsors of failure along with the religiously sanctioned need for scapegoats will have a high probability of resulting in war.  War with Israel is highest on the list, but there can be other candidates as well--including Turkey which can be cast in the role of the model which failed or branded with interference in internal affairs given Ankara's search for Ottoman Empire 2.0.  The mere fact that the combined armed forces of the Big Three even if augmented by other Arab or Muslim states will be defeated will be of no moment should the austere Islamists running the show see war as the only way to stay in power.

Looking at the Mideast or North Africa or Northwest Asia or almost anywhere austere political Islam has and is making headway provides no pleasure.  Rather, it provokes a strong desire to engage in projectile vomiting.

Only ten years and a month ago, the world looked like a good place to enjoy life.  Thanks to advocates of austere violent political Islam, that all changed.  Worse, there is no way back to the good years before the Muslims of Osama bin Laden's world view forced the entire globe into Allah's bucket on the road to hell.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Small Straws In A Stiff Wind

There are weeks when the Geek has regretted his lifelong interest in matters of war, diplomacy, and the shadow lands of covert/clandestine affairs.  The past month of so has been one of those periods.  It is not that the world has suddenly been infected by a fulminating virus of peace and love.  Quite the contrary.  Rather the intellectual languor has been promoted by the combination of events having unfolded in a drearily predictable factor and the lack of imagination exhibited by the Deep Thinkers and Bold Actors on all sides of all the many conflicts, armed and otherwise.

A useful example of both predictability and the lack of imagination is presented by the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.  The energetic dismantlement of the New Mexican borne cleric is both welcome and long overdue.  The fact that he was accompanied on his trip to paradise by the one time resident of North Carolina, Samir Khan, rendered the event all the more pleasurable.

Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the UAV campaign in the FATA and the building of a base convenient to Yemen from which Agency operated Predators might make their lethal flights well understood that Awlaki's days were numbered, and that the number was small.  The violent death of the genius of Internet (and personal) radicalization became as certain as sunrise when he was placed on the "kill or capture" list last year.  Despite the inevitable wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth by the ACLU and other advocates of human rights above the dictates of real life, and regardless of the equally certain condemnations of "extrajudicial execution" already resounding around the world, the Obama administration by it's listing of the imam let it be known that the governing considerations were those of war--a war in which Awlaki had voluntarily enlisted and waged with ever growing success.

With the failure a few months ago to capture Awlaki by a force of Yemeni personnel backed by USSOCOM assets, the only option was killing, and the only practical tool was provided by a Predator launched Hellfire.  The only time limits were imposed by the requirements for constructing an operational base and gaining from both Yemeni and national technical means sufficient actionable intelligence.  When fractured open source reports out of Yemen a couple of weeks ago indicated a diminishing of drone traffic over the area of Yemen in which Awlaki's tribe holds sway with a ramping up over territory to the country's north, it became evident that the endgame for the preacher was underway.

The removal of Awlaki and Khan from the board is good.  But, it is drearily predictable that it is not much more than that.  The strike in no way lessens the nature or effectiveness of the threat posed by al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP).  Had the reported inclusion of AQAP's chief bombmaker in the body count not been later retracted, the Hellfire would have well and truly hurt the group.  As it is, the most that can be said is the killing has had a marginal beneficial impact by reducing AQAP's capacity to use Internet radicalization with the same effect in the future that it has in the past.

Neither the killings nor the knee trembling on the part of human and civil rights lawyers and groups will change the nature of the ongoing war between advocates of violent political Islam and the civilized states and people of the world.  The bad guys will keep on being bad actors.  The administration and any future one as well will use whatever means are necessary within the broad limits of proportionality to defend the country and its allies against attacks of whatsoever nature.

If there is any alteration in the future, it will be in the direction of placing increased reliance upon UAVs and other means of long range, low signature, low cost of commitment war fighting.  The use of special forces teams and UAVs has been both tested and proven in the harsh laboratory of the FATA as well as the one next door in Pakistan.  Both capabilities can be of great assistance in countering the potential threats resident in AQAP, al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM.)  Both may be required urgently against the latter threat if AQIM demonstrates greater capability as the result of having tapped into the arms stream flowing from the looted arsenals of Libya.

A greater use of UAVs will provoke an enormous consternation on the part of the usual suspects--the NGOs involved with human and legal rights as well as the apologists for countries which wish ill to the US but cannot match the American technological capacities.  There will be more and more political strange bedfellows both domestic and international as the US leans more heavily upon the impersonal, remotely controlled deliverers of death from above.  There will be demands beyond count for new conventions to bar such devices as Predator.  There will be calls for a moratorium on the use of these infernal machines until the law can catch up with the new technologies.

The only reply to those who believe the Predator and its tribe are inhuman and inhumane is,"Phooey!"  It is far better for a single Awlaki to die downrange than to see real war with its effects, unpredictable in detail but certain to include hundreds if not thousands of dead--most of whom will be civilians.

The Predators will continue to fly over Libya even long after NATO's warplanes have packed up and gone home.  They will be overhead to observe not only the intended targets of weapons being smuggled or saboteurs preparing but also the probable agony of protracted internal war as the joy of liberation turns into the pain of political disagreements of a very fundamental nature.

Libya (and its neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt) is also drearily predictable.  Much of the reason for this observation is found in a remark made by a Salifist Tunisian, 23 years old and holder of a degree in engineering who, when interviewed, opined, "We Salifists are the majority.  Democracy is rule of the majority.  Why should we allow the minority (secular oriented Tunisians as well as their non-Salifist fellow countrymen) dictate how we should live?"

By this question as well as similar content expressions by legions of Egyptians, Libyans, Tunisians, and their supporters in the West, the young man demonstrated just why the "Arab Spring" will turn into a Winter, a most harsh and bitter Winter.  The promoters of democracy show they well understand democracy in and of itself but fail to see the necessary corollary: Democracy is the tyranny of the majority.

Unless properly constrained within the firm dikes of a representational republic and held in check by dams formed by both division of powers and an independent judicial system, democracy is tyranny pure and simple in which the rights of the minorities are either non-existent or tenuous at best.  In the rush to embrace democracy without the time necessary to build the essential dikes and dams, no citizen is secure, no rights and liberties are permanent, nothing is safe from the fads and fantasies of public opinion and the winds generated by demagogues.

Libya, unlike Egypt or Tunisia, but quite like Yemen and Afghanistan or other Islamic states, has the additional burden of tribalism.  This is not to say tribalism is bad.  It isn't.  Tribal identity is predominant in several states to the point that they are not real, integrated nation-states but rather collections of tribes sharing a flag.

The attempt to force tribal based societies and polities to pretend they are Western nation-states is doomed to fail.  Don't believe?  Take a look at Somalia.  It is not a failed state because it never was a real state.  Rather it was an artifact created by Western diplomats who used the only model making sense to them--the nation-state.  The same is true of Afghanistan.  Much of the inherent instability there results from ignoring the tribal nature of the human terrain in order to pretend we can make it into a Western style state.

When looking at Libya or Yemen or, to a lesser extent, Syria, the same dynamic is present--tribes forced to act as if their members owed a higher loyalty to the state.  The example of Iraq is instructive here.  As long as we outsiders insist on democracy and the nation-state as the touchstone of legitimacy, we are helping to doom the targets to a long, harsh Winter.

Even if tribalism of the usual sort is absent as it is in Egypt and Tunisia, there is a functional equivalent at work. That is the existence of differing interpretations of Islam and thus the relation of the faith to the state.  The ground truth is Islam carries the seeds of its own failure as a foundation of state.  This actuality has been shown in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  People may think they want to live in a Shariah based system until they are actually in one.  The proponents of austere Islam have and will find that their vision of life is totally unattractive to most people.  Then, they must (as do the austere Islamists of Iran) rely upon naked force to oppress their way to continued power.

Put together, the two forms of tribalism, traditional and religious, along with unchecked democracy point to a long, bitter Winter of pronounced discontents.  This, in turn, implies a high possibility of protracted or episodic internal war in all its manifold and evil forms.  Such is the result of ill-advised exercises in "nation-building" or regime change or support of the "peoples' will.

Coming full circle, the several downsides of either intervention or unthinking support are circumvented completely by using Predators or even special forces units.  These approaches to defending against hostile intents and acts minimize the probability of unintended consequences.  Predators do not engage in "nation-building," neither do they change regimes.  They kill people in serious need of being killed.

To this end, the killing of Awlaki is one important small straw in the very stiff winds of the coming Arab Winter.