Skip to comments.The Bush-Kerry Consensus
Posted on 10/12/2004 5:24:44 PM PDT by Axion
During the two debates held so far, we have learned three things. First, that George W. Bush never made a mistake. Second, that John Kerry would never have made any of the mistakes Bush made, and that he does not intend to make any mistakes in the future. Third, and most important, that there is precious little substantial disagreement between the two candidates on war strategy going forward. Whatever Kerry has had to say about Bush's execution of the war in the past, he has made it clear that he will continue what Bush calls the "War on Terror" and that he will not abandon the war in Iraq.
This last is by far the most important thing to have emerged during the campaign from a geopolitical and strategic point of view. However much the candidates argue over who would be better at fighting the war, it has become clear that the war will go on regardless of who is elected or re-elected -- and that that includes the Iraqi campaign. Neither is promising a radical redefinition of the war. Each is claiming simply to be the more effective in executing the war.
Therefore, on this fundamental level, the election has become unimportant. What is important is how the war will be executed after the election. Neither candidate has been particularly enlightening on this subject. There has been no substantial discussion of follow-on campaigns or operations either in the general war or in Iraq. From an American point of view, this should be comforting. Underneath the storm and stress, the two parties have -- as unbelievable as this might sound -- agreed that the war must continue unabated. They have also agreed, in effect, that discussing war plans during a debate would not serve anyone's interest. For whatever reason -- patriotism or political expediency -- the campaign is being carried out within careful, prudent boundaries. The future of the war is not being debated. The campaign is being confined to vicious personal invective.
Since we know that the war will continue, it falls to us to consider how it will be executed after Nov. 2. One fundamental fact must be borne in mind: Since the war will not be abandoned, it will be the war, not the candidates, which will determine the course of events. What we mean is simply this. The war has an inherent logic that constrains policy-makers. If you continue to fight this war, there are certain things that you must do, and certain things that are impossible. The choices are much fewer than what one might imagine. Therefore, having agreed on the basic strategy that the war will continue, most of what follows from this decision will apply to either a President Bush or a President Kerry. If you are going to make fried chicken, there aren't that many ways to do it.
U.S. and al Qaeda War Aims
The primary American war aim is simple: The United States wants to secure its homeland against any further attacks by al Qaeda or any other group using its tactics. It is a clear and simple war aim. The goal is easy to define, but far more difficult to achieve. The United States is full of potential targets and al Qaeda is a very small and dispersed group. Defending the homeland -- in the sense of physically preventing the penetration of the United States by al Qaeda operatives -- is difficult to achieve, and it is even harder to know whether you have achieved it. Since al Qaeda is a global, sparse network consisting of covert operatives skilled at evading U.S. intelligence, an offensive strategy is equally difficult to execute. It is not merely a question of destroying al Qaeda. It is more a matter of knowing when you have destroyed all of al Qaeda that you need to destroy. At this point in the war, no reasonable person would claim the United States has achieved its primary war aim.
Al Qaeda's war aim is more complex. Its goal is to trigger a massive uprising in the Islamic world that will sweep away at least one and preferably several existing Muslim governments, replacing them with jihadist regimes. These countries would serve as the nucleus for the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate that would both restore the authority of Islamic law -- understood in al Qaeda's terms -- while setting the stage for the political reconstruction of Islamic greatness.
Thus far, al Qaeda has failed in its war aim. Contrary to dire forecasts, the single most important fact of the war has been a negative: There has been no rising in the Islamic streets of sufficient substance to endanger any established Islamic government (Iraq is excluded inasmuch as it lacks an established government). Not a single Islamic government has shifted its stance in support of al Qaeda while many -- some overtly like Libya, some covertly like Syria -- have moved toward suppressing al Qaeda on their territory.
Since al Qaeda initiated the war, it is critically important to understand that it has completely failed to achieve its strategic goals. From a purely political standpoint, the war has thus far been a disaster for al Qaeda. At the same time, assuming that al Qaeda has not lost the ability to carry out operations, the United States has not yet secured the homeland from follow-on attack. This is more a military-security failure than a political one, but it remains a failure. To this moment therefore, al Qaeda is losing the war from a political point of view, while the United States has failed to win the war from a military point of view.
The American strategy has been driven by a realization that the United States does not by itself have the intelligence and covert capabilities needed to destroy the al Qaeda network. Without the active support of Muslim governments, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the United States cannot hope to destroy al Qaeda and secure the homeland. By the same token, many of these countries have little appetite for a vicious back-alley war with al Qaeda. Such a war threatens the survival of their regimes by increasing the chance that either al Qaeda will strike directly at the political leadership, or that the covert war will trigger a backlash that will create an uprising among the masses.
U.S. strategy has therefore focused on inducing or coercing these governments not only to strike out at al Qaeda and jihadists in general, but also to have them work in tandem with U.S. intelligence so their combined capabilities can be that much more effective. In order to do this, these countries had to become certain of three things: First, that the United States would punish them severely if they did not cooperate; second, that they had more to fear from the United States than from al Qaeda; and finally, that the United States was willing to bleed with them.
We can argue endlessly at this point about the wisdom of the Iraq campaign or about the Bush administration's justifications for it. Stratfor readers know our view of this well. This fact, however, is incontestable: Prior to the Iraq campaign, the key country, Saudi Arabia, was not cooperating with the United States in trying to crush al Qaeda. After the Iraq campaign the Saudis did begin to cooperate with increasing intensity, the proof of which has been the jihadist attacks in Saudi Arabia. There were not attacks before the war. There were increasing attacks after the war. Clearly the Saudis were taking actions that the jihadists didn't like.
What we are seeing is coalition warfare in the fullest sense. However, it is not the "traditional allies" (France and Germany) that can bring the needed resources to bear. It is the Islamic countries whose intelligence services have the most knowledge of jihadist networks, and who are the most valuable allies in this war. Coalitions change depending on goals and in this war that means joining with Islamic powers.
This is not a coalition of the eager, or even of the willing. In many cases it is a coalition of the blackmailed, bullied and coerced. Some countries, like Egypt, are deeply hostile to al Qaeda and the jihadists. Others, like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, have little appetite for this conflict and will cooperate only to the extent that they are forced and induced to do so. Al Qaeda can be crushed only to the extent that these countries are induced to cooperate. At this moment, most Islamic countries -- even Syria and, at times, Iran -- have with great reluctance done what they were forced to do.
President Bush or Kerry, if he chooses to continue to prosecute the war, will have to continue to carry out a strategy of coercion against those Islamic countries whose participation is essential. It is a fantasy to believe that countries like Saudi Arabia will risk their internal tranquility on behalf of the interests of the United States. Their interests diverge from America's. Therefore, all strategies will have to focus on maintaining the pressure for cooperation. Kerry will have an opportunity for a few months of creative diplomacy before returning to this course; Bush will simply continue this course. But in the end, the United States will have to frighten these countries more than al Qaeda does, while demonstrating its ability and willingness to protect the regimes.
If the United States were to simply withdraw from Iraq at this point, it would undermine U.S. credibility with these regimes. Therefore, as both Bush and Kerry have stated, they will remain in Iraq. Bush's rhetorical flights notwithstanding, this will not be about building democracy. The one obvious lesson learned in Vietnam is that you do not do nation-building in the midst of a guerrilla war. The purposes of remaining in Iraq now are:
1. Creating a psychological atmosphere in which Islamic countries do not doubt American will.
2. Setting rational, achievable goals.
3. Matching goals with resources.
Leaving Iraq is not an option. Defining the mission effectively is an option. The United States will neither bring an end to the guerrilla war, nor will it bring democracy to Iraq. However, the actual intensity of the guerrilla war, compared to such wars in Vietnam or Algeria, is much lower. The United States has -- in about 18 months -- lost fewer than 2 percent dead compared to Vietnam. The goal for the United States in Iraq is not to end violence but to reduce U.S. casualties even further. That means reducing the exposure of U.S. forces by reducing their security responsibilities.
This does not require fully trained Iraqi troops to take the place of U.S. forces. Since violence cannot be eliminated, trading somewhat higher levels of violence for lower U.S. casualties is clearly the option that will be pursued. Bush is currently mounting an offensive to set the stage for this by attacking guerrilla strongholds. This offensive will create a temporary window that will allow the United States to become less intrusive; however, the guerrillas appear to have substantial recuperative powers, at least at the relatively low levels of effectiveness at which they are currently operating.
The need to reduce the exposure of U.S. forces by withdrawing to bases -- as in Afghanistan -- or to the west of the Euphrates is not simply conditioned by Iraqi reality. It is also conditioned by the U.S. force structure. The first problem either Bush or Kerry will face as president is the fact that the U.S. military -- particularly the Army and Marine Corps -- is too small for the war. A mistake was made under the Bush administration, and will not be rectified by either president. This will not mean a draft. Apart from political consequences, this is not World War II. The kind of troops needed take a long time to train and mature. They need to be highly motivated and capable. The volunteer force will have to be massively expanded through a vast increase in the defense budget. Kerry or Bush will propose this early on.
There is no choice, particularly because al Qaeda's strategy must now be to counter the United States in the Islamic world. As the attacks in Egypt last week showed, jihadists are expanding operations in the Islamic world. If they cannot topple the Saudi, Pakistani or Egyptian governments through an uprising, they will try to sap their strength through ongoing, low-grade conflict. At a certain point -- and the point is unpredictable -- the United States might have to suddenly intervene in any of a host of Islamic countries in order to stabilize exhausted regimes. At this moment, the United States does not have the manpower to do so. The expectation that the United States will have the option of whether or not to intervene is unrealistic. Events will determine what the United States has to do, and al Qaeda -- having failed thus far -- is not giving up. It intends to shape events. This excludes the possibility that a U.S.-Iranian confrontation might suddenly explode.
If all goes well -- and it has not gone nearly as badly as some would say -- there remains the endgame, in which the United States destroys the command cell of al Qaeda. That cell is by all reports in northwestern Pakistan, and the Pakistanis show no appetite for going in and getting it. The United States will have to commit forces to the task in the end, and right now the forces aren't there.
Having agreed that the war will continue and that there will be no withdrawal from Iraq, these things simply follow. The pressure on reluctant allies in the Islamic world will continue. The United States will not leave Iraq, but will reduce its exposure. Forces must be held in reserve for al Qaeda countermoves. Kerry might well hold a meeting with the French. Bush will undoubtedly make speeches about building democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Politicians must be granted their little pleasures. Democrats seem to love European summits, which seem to remind them of John F. Kennedy or something. Republicans love to call things evil, which seems to remind them of evil. Neither French help nor rhetorical gestures will make the slightest difference. Whether they know it or not, Bush and Kerry have agreed on one thing: The only thing they have to offer is blood, toil, sweat and tears.
Copyrights 2004 - Strategic Forecasting, Inc. All rights reserved.
Wrong. There is what Kerry says, and then there is what Kerry does. The two are WORLDS apart. Sorry, STRATFOR, but banking on a position taken by John Kerry in the midst of a presidential campaign without looking at his 20-year record is like, well, taking the word of a mad-man like Saddam Hussein.
I must assume that this is what you get on the subscriber end.
Hey , I'm nobody, but the entire statement fails to include that perhaps the "Bush" Administration has already looked much further down the road, and during a lame duck final four years, will implement and unleash the entirety of our US military and intelligence to root out and destroy evil.
I'm always interested in Friedman's views. I just received his book today "America's Secret War." Very interesting.
While it is tempting to compare Iraq to Vietnam, the more important comparison, which everyone seems to miss, is to SOMALIA.
It was our withdrawal from Somalia that emboldened all of our enemies. When your enemy is beyond reasoning with, all he will understand is useless death. This is what needs to be visited upon all islamofascists. Withdrawal, or any kind of "Spain Syndrome", will only lead to more attacks and more intransigence.
And who do you think would be more likely to withdraw from Iraq, the ghosts of his Vietnam guilt harrying his every move?
It seems that Friedman has put himself in a box of his own making. Why he believes Kerry would be forced to prosecute the war rather than piss away the strategic advantage, Kerry's natural inclination, is not stated.
The ONLY evidence of Kerry's willingness to get tough against terrorism are his words. Even those times that he talks tough about Iraq and terrorism are amply contradicted by some other crap he spouts off about.
Friedman has a lot invested in his theory that Dubya is not engaged in nation building even when it is apparent to the world, i.e., A'stan.
I don't have any confidence at all that Kerry would be a good war leader or be forced by reality to persue the Bush strategy. I have no idea why Friedman thinks otherwise.