Note From The
Raptor: This is a very efficient analysis regarding
President Bush's handling of the GWOT - For Bush Apologists it is
a must read
is Winning the War, and How Can Anyone Tell?
years have passed since al Qaeda attacked the United States.
It is difficult to remember a war of which the status has
been more difficult to assess.
Indeed, there are reasonable people who argue that the
conflict between the United States and al Qaeda is not a war at
all, and that thinking of it in those terms obscures reality.
Other reasonable people argue that it is only in thinking
in terms of war that the conflict makes sense -- and these people
then divide into groups: those who believe the United States is
winning and those who believe it is
the war. Into this
confusion we must add the question of whether the Iraq war is part
of what U.S. President George W. Bush refers to as the "war
on terrorism" and what others might call the war against al
Even the issues are not clear. It is a war in which no one
can agree even on the criteria for success or failure, or at
times, who is on what side.
of this dilemma is simply the result of partisan politics.
It is a myth that Americans unite in times of war:
Anyone who believes they do must read the history of, for
example, the Mexican War. Americans
people and, while they were united during World War II, the
political recriminations were only delayed -- not suspended. The issue here is not partisanship, however, but rather that
there is no clear framework against which to judge the current
us begin with what we all -- save for those who believe that the
Sept. 11 attacks were a plot hatched by the U.S. government to
justify the Patriot Act -- can agree on:
Al Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, by
hijacking aircraft and crashing or trying to crash them into
Since Sept. 11, there have been al Qaeda attacks in Europe and
several Muslim countries, but not in the United States.
The United States invaded Afghanistan a month after the strikes
against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- forcing the
Taliban government out of the major cities, but not defeating
them. The United
has failed to capture Osama bin Laden, although it captured other
key al Qaeda operatives. The Taliban has regrouped and is now
conducting an insurgency in Afghanistan.
The United States invaded Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration
claimed that this was part of the war against al Qaeda; critics
have claimed it had nothing to do with the war.
The United States failed to win the war rapidly, as it had
expected to do. Instead, U.S. forces encountered a difficult
guerrilla war that, while confined generally to the Sunni regions,
nevertheless posed serious military and political challenges.
Al Qaeda has failed to achieve its primary political goal -- that
is, to trigger an uprising in at least one major Muslim country
and create a jihadist regime. There has been no general rising in
the Muslim world,
most governments are now cooperating with the United States.
There have been no follow-on attacks in the United States since
Sept. 11. Whether this is because al Qaeda had no plans for a
second attack or because subsequent attacks were disrupted by U.S.
intelligence is not
is not intended to be an exhaustive list, but rather to provide
what we would regard as a non-controversial base from which to
proceed with an assessment.
the beginning, then, it has been unclear whether the United States
saw itself as fighting a war against al Qaeda or as carrying out a
criminal investigation. The
two are, of course, enormously different.
is a critical problem.
administration's use of the term "war on terrorism"
began the confusion. Terrorism
is a mode of warfare. Save
for those instances when lunatics like Timothy McVeigh use it as
an end in itself, terrorism
a method of intimidating the civilian population in order to drive
a wedge between the public and their government.
Al Qaeda, then, had a political purpose in using terrorism,
as did the British in their
bombing of Germany or the Germans in their air raids against
London. The problem
in the Bush administration's use of this term is that you do not
wage a war against a method of warfare.
A war is waged
an enemy force.
there are those who argue that war is something that takes place
between nation-states and that al Qaeda, not being a nation-state,
is not waging war. We
tend to disagree with this view.
Al Qaeda is not a
but it is (or has been) a coherent, disciplined force using
violence for political ends.
The United States, by focusing on the "war on
terror," confused the issue endlessly.
But the critics of
war, who insisted that wartime measures were unnecessary because
this was not a war, compounded the confusion.
By the time we were done, the "war on terror" had
extended itself to include campaigns against
rights groups, and attempts to prevent terror attacks were seen as
violations of human rights by the ACLU.
is odd to raise these points at the beginning of an analysis of a
war, but no war can be fought when there isn't even clarity about
what it is you are doing, let alone who you are fighting.
Yet that is precisely how this war evolved, and then
degenerated into conceptual chaos.
The whole issue also got bound up with internal
name-calling, to the point that any assertion that Bush had some
idea of what he was doing was seen as outrageous partisanship, and
the assertion that Bush was failing in what he was doing was
viewed the same way. Where
there is no clarity, there can be no criteria for success or
failure. That is the
crisis today. No one
agrees as to what is happening; therefore, no one can explain who
is winning or losing.
of this situation came the deeper confusion: Iraq. From the beginning, it was not clear why the United States
invaded Iraq. The
Bush administration offered three explanations:
First, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq;
second, that Iraq was complicit with al Qaeda; and finally, that a
democratic Iraq -- and creation of a democratic Muslim world --
would help to stop terrorism (or more precisely, al Qaeda).
three explanations were untenable on their face. Contrary to myth, the Bush administration did not rush to go
to war in Iraq. The
administration had been talking about it for nearly a year before
the invasion began. That
would not have been the case if there truly was a fear that the
Iraqis might be capable of building atomic bombs, since they might
hurry up and build them. You
don't give a heads-up in that situation. The United States did. Hence,
it wasn't about WMD. Second,
it wasn't about Iraq's terrorist ties. Saddam Hussein had no problem
the concept of terrorism, but he was an ideological enemy of
everything bin Laden stood for.
Hussein was a secular militarist; bin Laden, a religious
between them wasn't likely, and pointing to obscure meetings that
Mohammed Atta may or may not have had with an Iraqi in Prague
didn't make the case. Finally,
the democracy explanation came late in the game.
Bush had campaigned against nation-building in places like
Kosovo -- and if he now believed in nation-building as a
justification for war, it meant he stood with
Clinton. He dodged
that criticism, though, because the media couldn't remember Kosovo
or spell it any more by the time Iraq rolled around.
enemies argued that he invaded Iraq in order to (a) avenge the
fact that Hussein had tried to kill his father; (b) as part of a
long-term strategy planned years before to dominate the Middle
East; (c) to dominate all of the oil in Iraq; (d) because he was a
bad man or (e) just because.
The fact was that his critics had no idea why he did it
generated fantastic theories because they couldn't figure it out
any more than Bush could explain it.
readers know our view was that the invasion of Iraq was intended
to serve three purposes:
To bring pressure on the Saudi government, which was allowing
Saudis to funnel money to al Qaeda, to halt this enablement and to
cooperate with U.S. intelligence.
The presence of U.S. troops to the north of
Arabia was intended to drive home the seriousness of the
To take control of the most strategic country in the Middle East
--Iraq borders seven critical countries -- and to use it as a base
of operations against other countries that were cooperating with
To demonstrate in the Muslim world that the American reputation
for weakness and indecisiveness -- well-earned in the two decades
prior to the Sept. 11 attacks -- was no longer valid.
The United States was
that the invasion of Iraq would enrage the Muslim world, but
banked on it also frightening them.
put it this way: The key to understanding the situation was that
Bush wanted to blackmail the Saudis, use Iraq as a military base
and terrify Muslims. He
wanted to do this, but he did not want to admit this was what he
was doing. He
therefore provided implausible justifications, operating under the
theory that a rapid victory brushes aside troubling questions.
Clinton had gotten out of Kosovo without explaining why
signs of genocide were never found, because the war was over
quickly and everyone was sick of it.
Bush figured he would do the
thing in Iraq.
was precisely at this point that the situation got out of control.
The biggest intelligence failure of the United States was not 9-11
--only Monday morning quarterbacks can claim that they would have
spotted al Qaeda's plot and been able to block it.
Nor was the failure to find WMD in Iraq.
Not only was that not the point, but actually, everyone was
certain that Hussein at least had chemical weapons.
Even the French believed he did.
The biggest mistake was the intelligence that said that the
Iraqis wouldn't fight, that U.S. forces would be welcomed or at
least not greeted hostilely by the Iraqi public, and that the end
of the conventional combat would end the war.
was the really significant intelligence failure. Hussein, or at least some of his key commanders, had prepared
for a protracted guerrilla war.
They knew perfectly well that the United States would crush
their conventional forces, so they created the material and
financial basis for a protracted guerrilla war.
U.S. intelligence did not see this coming, and thus had not
prepared the U.S. force for fighting the guerrilla war.
Indeed, if they had known this was coming, Bush might well
have calculated differently on invading Iraq -- since he wasn't
going to get the decisive victory he needed.
intelligence failure was compounded by a command failure.
By mid-April 2003, it was evident to Stratfor that a
guerrilla war was starting. Donald
Rumsfeld continued vigorously to deny that any such war was going
on. It was not until
July, when Gen. Tommy Franks was relieved by John Abizaid as
Central Command chief, that the United States admitted the
obvious. Those were
the 45-60 critical days. Intelligence failures worse than this one
happen in every war, but the delay in recognizing what was
happening -- the extended denial in the
-- eliminated any chance of nipping it in the bud. By the summer of 2003, the war was raging, and foreign
jihadists had begun joining in.
Obviously this increased anti-American sentiment, but not
necessarily effective anti-American sentiment.
Hating the United States is not the same as being able to
run secure covert operations in the United States.
war did not and does not cover most of Iraq's territory.
Only a relatively small portion is involved -- the Sunni
regions. At this
point, the administration has done a fairly good job in creating a
political process and bringing the Sunni elders to the table, if
not to an agreement that will end the insurgency.
But the problem is that American expectations about the war
have been so strangely set that whatever esoteric satisfaction
experts might take in the evolution, it is clear that this war is
not what the Bush administration expected, that it is not what the
administration was prepared to fight, and that the administration
is now in a position where it has to make compromises rather than
impose its will.
believe that a war started on Sept. 11, 2001.
We believe that from a strictly operational point of view,
al Qaeda has gotten by far the worst of it.
Having struck the first blow, al Qaeda has been crippled,
succeeding attack weaker and weaker.
We also think that the U.S. invasion of Iraq achieved at
least one of Washington's goals: Saudi Arabia has behaved much
differently since February 2003.
But the ongoing war has undermined the ability of the
United States to use Iraq as a base of operations in the region,
and the psychological outcome Washington was hoping for obviously
progress there has been is invisible, for two reasons.
First, the Bush administration had crafted an explanation
for the entire war that was based on two premises -- first, that
the American public would remain united on all measures necessary
after Sept. 11, and second, that the United States would achieve a
quick victory in Iraq, sparing the administration the need to
explain itself. As a
result, Bush has never articulated a coherent strategic position.
Furthermore, as the second premise proved untrue, the
failure to enunciate a coherent strategic vision began to
undermine the first premise -- national unity.
At this point, Bush is beginning to face criticism in his
own party. Sen. Chuck
Hagel's statement, that the promise to stay the course does not
a strategy, is indicative of Bush's major problem.
president's dilemma, now, is this.
He had a strategy. He
failed to explain what it was because doing so would have carried
a cost, and the president assumed it was unnecessary.
It turned out to be necessary,
he still didn't enunciate a strategy because it would at that
point have appeared contrived.
Moreover, as time went on, the strategy had to evolve.
It is hard to evolve an unarticulated strategy.
Bush rigidified publicly even as his strategy in Iraq
became more nimble.
out how the war is going four years after 9-11, then, is like a
nightmare fighting ghosts. The
preposterous defense of U.S. strategy meets the preposterous
attack on U.S. strategy: Claims that the United
invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the people competes with the
idea that it invaded in order to give contracts to Halliburton. Nothing is too preposterous to claim.
even as U.S. politics seize up in one of these periodic spasms,
these facts are still clear:
The United States has not been attacked in four years.
No Muslim government has fallen to supporters of al Qaeda.
The United States won in neither Iraq or Afghanistan.
Bin Laden is still free and ready to go extra rounds.
far, neither side has won -- but on the whole, we'd say the United
States has the edge. The
war is being fought outside the United States. And that is not a
trivial point. But it
is not yet a solution to the president's problems.