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Four Years War Page Created March 20th, 2007 Modified March 20th, 2007


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

Four Years On:

Who is Winning the War, and How Can Anyone Tell?

By George Friedman


Four 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

losing 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

Qaeda.  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.


Part 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 are a

fractious 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 war.


Let 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:


1. Al Qaeda attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, by hijacking aircraft and crashing or trying to crash them into well-known buildings.


2. Since Sept. 11, there have been al Qaeda attacks in Europe and several Muslim countries, but not in the United States.


3. 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

States 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.


4. 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.


5. 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.


6. 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,

and most governments are now cooperating with the United States.


7. 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





This 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.


From 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.

This is a critical problem.


The 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

is 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

nighttime 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

against an enemy force.


Now, 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

nation-state, 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

the 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

animal rights groups, and attempts to prevent terror attacks were seen as violations of human rights by the ACLU.


It 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.


Out 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).














The 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

with 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 ideologue.  Cooperation 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

Bill Clinton.  He dodged that criticism, though, because the media couldn't remember Kosovo or spell it any more by the time Iraq rolled around.



Bush's 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

and generated fantastic theories because they couldn't figure it out any more than Bush could explain it.


Stratfor readers know our view was that the invasion of Iraq was intended to serve three purposes:


1. 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

Saudi Arabia was intended to drive home the seriousness of the situation.


2. 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 al Qaeda.


3. 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

aware that the invasion of Iraq would enrage the Muslim world, but banked on it also frightening them.


Let's 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

same thing in Iraq.


It 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.


That 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.


The 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

Pentagon -- 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.


The 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.


We 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, with

each 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 didn't materialize.


What 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

constitute a strategy, is indicative of Bush's major problem.


The 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,

but 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.






Figuring 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

States 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.


But even as U.S. politics seize up in one of these periodic spasms, these facts are still clear:


1. The United States has not been attacked in four years.

2. No Muslim government has fallen to supporters of al Qaeda.

3. The United States won in neither Iraq or Afghanistan.

4. Bin Laden is still free and ready to go extra rounds.


So 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.






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