Sunday, November 06, 2005

Terror and Circumstance

Fighting in Iraq is not a necessary correction of mistakes of the past. The Bush administration's decision to use military force in Afghanistan and Iraq was made in a historical context and under different circumstances from those of previous adminstrations. Many factors counted in the current admintration's decisions, the attacks of 9/11 being the dominant one. Since the Nixon administration, decades before the 9/11 attacks, there's been constant debate over the appropriate responses to Islamic terrorism. President Nixon formed a counterrorism panel in response to the terrorist attacks at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. This panel compiled a threat assessment in 1972 that included "rumors and unconfirmed reports" of a Palestinian terrorist cell operating inside the US and planning spectacular terrorist attacks on US soil. That initial treat assessment presaged the vast majority of all counterterrorism reports since then; it is the nature of the business most of this reports are based on "rumors and unconfirmed reports".

That's why is so difficult to act on these reports. What's a rumor and what's actionable intelligence? Unfortunately, we can't act everywhere and be strong everywhere. And we can't act on every "unconfirmed report". That's why the US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were only possible after the attacks of 9/11. What kind of support would President Bush (or Clinton) would have been able to garner for a large-scale attack against either one of these countires before 9/11? Probably not a lot. Domestically, imagine how the airlines would have reacted if forced to pay for the security improvements they pay for now, before 9/11.

Now, to move from this "rumors" paradigm we must get to know better our adversaries. How they operate. We need to understand how the terrorists think. We can start by understanding that not all terrorists are crazy fanatics. Were all the Nazis and Japanese that we had to fight during World War II fanatics? How about the communists we fought during the Cold War? No, and no. We must understand terrorism beyond the pychological perspective and begin understanding terrorism from an operational perspective. We beat the Nazis and the Japanese, not because we dismissed them as crazies, but because we closely examined their operational concepts and came up with ways to fight them effectively. Part of the reason why we lost in Vietnam is because we did not understand the enemy, and mischaracterized the conflict. In order to win, we must understand the enemy, and understand the character of the war we are fighting. It also helps to know who are main enemy is. Today, our main enemy is a worldwide network of Islamic jihadists.

Questions: How do the terrorists see the world? How do they see war? What is their strategy? How do they carry out their strategic goals? How do they pick and chose which operations will get a green light, which ones they will put on hold, and which ones are not to be considered. The terrorist can't attack everywhere and they can't be strong everywhere.

I'll expand on this later. I found this really good article that asks the question,
can Al Qaeda endure beyond Bin Laden? My answer: yes. Read the article to see the author's answer. Hint, as with all enterprises, is all about leadership.

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