Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Stratfor.com is an organization whose work I used to read religiously a few years back, but I somewhat throttled back on my readership after they stopped sending out those convenient email updates and locked most of their content behind the walls of their pay site. It's too bad, though, because if I had kept up on reading the site I wouldn't have missedthis article that Josh Marshall cited today when discussing the possibility not just of a war with Iraq but that the decision in favor of war had already been made and was simply being kept "under wraps", like that Homeland Security bit was.

The article itself is actually a pretty coherent and concise summary of the different factors that are pointing away from an eventual invasion. Part of that includes the elements that would make prosecuting the war itself actually difficult- including the difficulty of actually prosecuting the war without local allies, the near-universal condemnation of the idea outside the United States itself, and the reality that "given its battlefield constraints, Washington could not be sure it could contain a war on Iraq within that country's borders or manage the war's aftermath."

More important than that, however, is the recognition that "Iraq is peripheral to its primary strategic concern: al Qaeda. And while the United States may have the firepower to defeat the Iraqi army, it needs intelligence as much as rifles to defeat al Qaeda. That intelligence comes from allies in the Middle East, and the United States cannot afford for it to dry up." This has been one of the more cogent criticisms of the entire enterprise- that invading Iraq may contain one possible peripheral threat at the expense of letting an acknowledged and very real opponent in the real war on terrorism go unchecked and unwatched. It was Al Qaeda that flew the jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, after all, not Saddam Hussein, and there's no doubt that those in the administration who aren't frantically trying to spin their way into the war on Iraq they've been calling for since Bush left are aware of that. (It's not like the United States could simply pressure middle eastern governments into complying, either, because the outside pressure from the United States would pale in comparison to the domestic pressure generated by compliance with the U.S. in the face of an Iraqi invasion.)

Actually, Stratfor seems to believe that Al Qaeda may make a move soon:

Aside from some small skirmishes in Afghanistan and a few thwarted solo efforts, al Qaeda has been inert since Sept. 11. With elections approaching and the market psychology uneasy in the United States, now would be an opportune time from its standpoint for an attack.

Moreover, al Qaeda has placed itself under pressure to demonstrate that it remains intact and effective, after a spokesman announced in June that the group would strike again soon. And as al Qaeda cannot afford the perception that it was crushed by the United States, Washington cannot afford to expend all its political capital on a war with Iraq only to be blindsided by an al Qaeda attack in the United States.
Disturbing, if true, but it definitely lends itself to their analysis:

While there may have been a logic behind the Iraq campaign, it failed when it came at the expense of the war on al Qaeda. The question is not whether Washington can back down from its Iraq policy. It must. The question is how can it manage the political retreat?
In order to answer this question (and show that the administration has asked it as well), they have a rundown of the signs that the administration itself may be moving away from war, and the difficulty that it faces in doing so. Besides the oft-quoted Scowfield and Kissinger objections and the renewed vigour of the hawk's perennial thorn-in-the-side, Colin Powell, there's the continued reluctance of the administration to actually admit that they've made a decision to invade. Yes, this could be a tactic to disarm and destabilize Saddam, as both Josh Marshall and Steven Den Beste have implied, but I don't think so- the kind of Machiavellian political mastery that this would require isn't something that I've seen demonstrated by this administration; if it were so adept, Homeland Security and that little economic session last week wouldn't have sunk like stones even in the remarkably friendly press environment that Bush currently enjoys. Besides, at this point, Saddam would be more surprised if the invasion didn't happen, and I have little doubt that he's prepared for the invasion to start fairly soon- certainly for the invasion to start in September or October.

Stratfor actually makes an excellent point about some political maneuvering that is quite likelier, though:

CNN's broadcast over the weekend of al Qaeda's video library -- showing chemical gas experiments and explosives-making -- is perfectly timed to help begin refocusing the American public. The democrats will have to think twice before adopting a pro-war stance as a campaign issue while republicans will find it easy to again rally around the anti-al Qaeda campaign.
This somewhat reminds me of the complaints that were often heard this spring about the magical disappearing Osama Bin Laden; regardless, Stratfor is right in that this sort of thing is an excellent way of reminding Americans that Iraq isn't the only target or even the greatest threat, and I agree with them that "a policy reversal should play well for domestic politics."

Where does this leave the blogosphere? It'll probably leave it in quite a disasterous state. Stratfor noted a few key ramifications of this:

-There may be some squabbling within the administration itself, as the unilateralists attempt to defend their positions against Powell and the resurgent coalitionists, but nothing too drastic will emerge....[i]t should not pose much of a problem for U.S. relations with its European allies either, as they will see this as a rare case of Washington knocked to its senses by reality.
One can only imagine how many keyboards will be pounded into submission under the weight of blogger anger.

Then again, some of us will feel a little better. I happen to agree with Stratfor that...
Al Qaeda's strategic goal was to pit the United States against all of Islam, in the process giving the Islamic world a common enemy against which to unite. Washington stumbled into that trap with its Iraq policy, with Arabs and Persians, Sunnis and Shiites uniting against the campaign and thwarting U.S. intentions"
...and I've been worried about whether the United States has been dancing to Osama's tune ever since the Afghani war ended and the administration started casting about for the next opponent. Stratfor is correct in their estimation of the likelihood of diplomatic and strategic difficulties in the region, but I believe that it's far better than the alternative.

Then again, Stratfor might be wrong, but they usually don't screw up that badly, and they'll have put a lot of thought and work into this analysis. It certainly jibes with what I'm seeing, and I've been somewhat of a pessimist about this situation for a while. Yes, it might be disinformation, but I honestly doubt it.

No comments:

Post a Comment