From Rubin Reports.Blogspot.Com
Panic in Washington: Is Iran and Syria’s Regime Winning and What to Do?
Posted: 14 Jun 2013 07:21 AM PDT
By Barry Rubin
A case can be made that the Syrian rebels must not be defeated because it would be an Iranian victory. But what is disturbing is that even if one could argue that the rebels must be helped it is a policy being conducted dishonestly. People do not know that the weapons given by the United States will almost all end up in the hands of pro-Muslim Brotherhood units. How would the American people feel if they knew that truth? At this point, almost 100 percent of the fighters on the front lines–are radical Islamists. The exiled political leadership is overwhelmingly Muslim Brotherhood. This is a choice of Sunni anti-Christians, anti-Americans, and antisemites rather than Shia anti-Christians, anti-Americans, and antisemites. The United States–after Egypt and Tunisia–is now promoting the Muslim Brotherhood as regional hegemon. This is not a good idea and certainly not one to be made by honestly debating whether the United States wants to do this.
A new, important development has taken place in the Syrian civil war: Western panic that the rebels are losing has replaced optimism. This has spurred a desire to do something about the war. But how can the West do enough to prevent the feared rebel defeat? It isn’t going to intervene directly, nor with a big enough effort to save off a defeat. Anyway, is a defeat imminent?
This has been a war in which every week somebody different is proclaimed the victor. I don’t believe that the Syrian regime is poised for a victory but a lot of people in Washington and other world capitals do.
What this round has done, however, is to raise alarms, both in the West and in the Sunni Muslim world, that the Shia Muslim side is winning, that is Iran is emerging triumphant over the United States. What are the implications?
Remember some important points. Iran is not going to take over the Middle East nor is it about to win a lot of Sunni followers. Iran’s limit of influence is mainly in Lebanon and Syria (where its ally only controls half the country) and to a lesser extent Iraq. Tehran can fool around in Yemen, Bahrain, and southwest Afghanistan a bit, too. But that’s about it. There are real limits.
Why, though, has the Iran bloc seemed to have been winning?
First, Iran’s proxies are better organized than the Syrian rebels. They are unified, with Hizballah and the Syrian government coherent forces and a new People’s Army as a single militia. In contrast, the rebels are divided into a dozen groups which may cooperate but also battle among themselves and don’t coordinate very well.
Second, the Iran bloc gives more support to its proxies than the Sunni bloc or the West. Among the Sunnis, they are also divided into Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, and al-Qaida) and what might be called non- or anti-Islamists. The United States will not intervene in a big way. Remember that in Libya, NATO had to hand the rebels’ victory by destroying their regime enemies. Nothing like this will happen in Syria. The Obama Administration will face a defeat rather than do so.
Third, this also means that the United States has worse and weaker proxies than the other side. In part, this is because the Obama Administration accepted their destruction, as in the dismantlement of the Turkish army’s power, the overthrow of the Egyptian regime, the subverting of Israel’s leverage, and the failure to support moderates or non-Islamist conservatives all over the region. Iraq has also been turned into a Shia power. In short, Obama helped dismantle the old strategic order and replaced it with one where enemies of America rejoiced.
So what happens if U.S. policy exaggerates a Sunni defeat, intensified by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan—those who backed the Syrian rebels–begging it to do more?
Let me point out that once again this shows that the Arab-Israeli conflict is unimportant in the contemporary Middle East. This idea simply doesn’t seem to penetrate the brains of Western leaders. Perhaps Secretary of State John Kerry has turned into a full-time “peacemaker” because he thinks that defusing the conflict will shore up the Sunni Muslim side,
That’s ridiculous. There’s not going to be any progress on peace—if for no other reason the Palestinian Authority is terrified of either Islamist or Shia Islamist conquest of the region. Even if they wanted to make a deal—and they don’t—they’d be scared off by thinking peacemaking is suicidal.
But the wider issue could convince policymakers to enter an open alliance with Sunnis—including the Muslim Brotherhood—to counter the Shias. The Saudis and others would be pressured to get along with the Muslim Brotherhood; Israel would be pushed not to do anything to disrupt the grand alliance. Again, this could happen but it won’t work if it does.
There is, however, an alternative: the United States would understand that only Israel is just about the only reliable ally in the Middle East. It might take another president to do that.
What other implications does an apparent Syrian government victory have?
–It again reminds us that we are in an era characterized by two phenomena: the battle in each country between Islamists and non-Islamists, and the battle between Sunni and Shias. The old Arab nationalist era, extending from 1952 to 2011, is over.
–The United States should recognize that the increasingly repressive Erdogan regime has led it into a mess in Syria. The White House, however, won’t do that though there are many in the State Department who understand.
–Both Sunni and Shia Islamists are against U.S. interests but U.S. policymakers don’t quite get this and if they do what are they going to do about it?
–U.S. policy will probably become more favorable to the Muslim Brothers ruling Egypt (lots more military aid) and those wanting to rule Syria. They are becoming increasingly designated as “good guys” by the United States even though they are becoming more repressive and unpopular.
–The violence is growing in Iraq, where Sunnis are looking at Syria and saying, “We thought we couldn’t win but maybe we were wrong.” That country might also be destabilized. Ironically, the United States and Iran are both on the same side there, for a Shia regime against al-Qaida.
–The (Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese) Christians, (Iraqi and Syrian) Kurds, and Syrian Druze are going to look for a protector increasingly. But the United States will probably ignore them.
–Internal violence is growing also in Lebanon along Sunni-Shia lines. Perhaps the United States should reconsider a strategy which has indirectly supported Hizballah. Indeed, maybe it should consider covert operations to work with the Christians and mainly moderate Sunni Muslims to subvert Hizballah. But it won’t do that either.
Note: To my knowledge despite massive coverage of this Syria story, there has not been one article or even quote in any mass media outlet questioning whether the United States should arm Syrian rebels who are 95 percent either Muslim Brotherhood, Salafist Islamists, or al-Qaida. There was never any coverage of the idea that the United States should, before the civil war began, try to punish Syria and after the civil war began to support the non-Islamist moderates and Kurds, not the Muslim Brotherhood.This is the way foreign policy debates are conducted in the United States today. If one raises questions like this, or whether there really is a live Israel-Palestinian peace process, or whether U.S. policy should support the overthrow of the Egyptian government, or whether the Turkish regime’s policy is bad for the United States, or that there were an astonishing number of pro-terrorist American Muslims being consulted and courted by the U.S. government, etc., you will be blacklisted and never before appear in the mass media. Incredible but it is really pretty much true. We are not talking about outrageous, crackpot positions here but about well-documented arguments and about the most basic policy choices that have to be made. These are not really even innately partisan issues since, for instance, Senator John McCain is a leader in calling for arming the rebels. Can one say that there is a real foreign policy debate in America any more, at least over the Middle East?
If you don’t get value for money or enhanced security while freedom is being reduced and the enemy is getting stronger it certainly isn’t a bargain.
How to Understand Islamism: Read What its Leaders Really Say
Posted: 13 Jun 2013 06:51 AM PDT
By Barry Rubin
To read Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s 1984 book, Islamic Education and Hasan al-Bana, is to get an Islamic education. Nobody should be allowed to talk about Islam or political Islamism without having read this or similar texts. Just as Marx claimed in the “Communist Manifesto” for his movement, the Islamists, too, disdain to conceal their aims. Yet those who don’t read their actual texts, speeches, and debates but only their public relations’ misinformation know nothing.
It’s easy to see why al-Qaradawi is the leading Sunni Islamist thinker in the world today, the spiritual guide behind Egypt’s Islamist revolution. He knows how to express his ideas clearly and persuasively. Here is his depiction of the Muslim world before the rise of revolutionary Islamism to power and prominence:
‘’Just imagine a waste land which has no sign of leaf or tulip or hyacinth far and wide, but which blossoms forth immediately with the first sprinkle of the rains of blessing, and fields of flowers begin to bloom. Lifeblood starts circulating in its lifeless body…..
“The condition of the Muslim nation was like a wasteland in the middle of the fourteenth century Hijri (mid-nineteenth century). The pillars of caliphate had broken which was the last display of unity under the fiag of Islamic belief. Islamic countries were breathing their last under the talons of capitalist countries like Britain, France and others, so much so that Holland, whose population was [small] dominating over the ten million strong population of Indonesia with the help of force and weapon. It had spoilt the face of Islamic decrees and putting Quran behind was busily engaged in its disrespect. Blind imitation of self-made Western laws and appreciation of foreign values had set over the lives of Muslims. The youths and lovers of new culture who were bearers of the so-called modern culture were particular victims of this. Western domination upon the field of education and means of communication was producing heaps of Westernized `Khan Bahadur” (honorable people) whose names were no doubt Islamic but brains were West-bred.’”
There is a huge amount to analyze in this passage. Notice his different angle on what for the Western author would be a tale of Western imperialism and on the technological and organizational backwardness of Muslim peoples. Al-Qaradawi does not put the emphasis on Western strength or even injustice but on Muslim weakness. He does not flinch from facing the humiliations of the situation. He promises–as the Arab nationalists did sixty years ago–that his doctrine will bring rapid development and tremendous power. Like Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once said, al-Qaradawi pledges to the West, “”We will bury you.”
Islamism is a formula to turn inferiority into superiority, to make the Muslim world number one in the world. It uses religion and is formed by key themes in Islam but ultimately it has nothing to do with religion as such. This is a political movement.
Al-Qaradawi is not upset by recent U.S. policy but by Western policy for well over a century. This bitterness is not going to be conciliated. The problem is not in Western actions—which any way cannot be undone—but with the interpretation of these actions. They are seen as rooted in a desire to destroy Islam, as being based on a permanent enmity, and no gesture by contemporary Western leaders can lead to the end of this view. On the contrary, such things will be interpreted through the prism of this view, as a trick or a sign of retreat and weakness.
Moreover, al-Qaradawi does not talk about the need for urbanization, the equality of women, modern education, and greater freedom as the solution. Indeed, his view is totally contrary to a leftist or liberal or nationalist Muslim who would stress the need to borrow any ideas and methods other than purely technological ones, from the West in order to gain equality and even superiority. Think of how Asia has succeeded–Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and now even China–through eagerness to blend borrowings, adaptation, and its own historic culture. No, for al-Qaradawi the issue is completely one of the abandonment of Islam.
Equally, while defeat in World War Two taught Japan to forget about military conquest and China’s decades of relative failure taught it to change course, al-Qaradawi favors blood and violence, revolution and tottalitarianism.
Note, too, that al-Qaradawi is far more sophisticated than a demagogic firebrand. He does not criticize the Muslims who wanted to become Westernized. Rather he feels sorry for them, calling them “victims.” That’s how one builds a movement with a wider base of support, though the actual Islamists in the field rarely show such a tolerant pity.
Moreover, as a man of religion, al-Qaradawi feels no need—at least consciously so—to create a new ideology. Indeed, human action is not at all the fountainhead of their view of history: Nevertheless, al-Qaradawi refers to the movement as revolutionary. He knows that its goal is to seize state power and then use that position and the compulsion it offers to transform the society.
“When circumstances reached this limit, God’s will came into action. He took over the responsibility of the protection of Islam….To revive Islam, to put life in the dead spirit of the nation, and to carry it to the climax of success and development He chose Hasan-al-Banna who laid the foundation of the [Muslim Brotherhood] movement.”
This passage is notable for claiming that al-Banna was divinely inspired, literally a prophet. If Muslim Brotherhood supporters honestly believe that they certainly cannot deviate from diamond-hard hatred of Christians, Jews, and the West. Yet there is an important clue here, too. To say that al-Banna was divinely inspired implies that he altered Islam, moved it in a different direction. This would be an admission of heresy since Muhammad is supposed to be the last of the divinely-inspired prophets.
Here is a weakness of the movement. For a long time, conservative, traditional Muslims did view Islamism as heresy, but as it gains hegemony there are fewer and fewer such people. In Syria, for example, non-Islamist pious traditionalists in rural areas were transformed into Islamists. The combination of Westerners saying that Islam is merely plagued by a few extremists and those who say that Islam is inevitably radical keeps people from understanding this all-important reality.
Western observers often take for granted or discount the seriousness of a movement claiming that it is a direct instrument of God’s will. They are used to subverting far weaker contemporary Western religious impulses or look at those from the past that crumbled in a test of wills with rationalism, modernism, material interests, and personal hypocrisy.
Yet if it is sincerely and profoundly believed that one’s worldview is a product of divine will—an attitude that not a single leader or party in any industrialized state does—has profound implications. It means that you don’t sell out, get seduced by materialistic lusts, or moderate your ideas and goals, except as a conscious, short-term tactical expedient that you reverse at the first possible opportunity.
The West has not dealt with such a situation of a sincerely held, radical ideology that motivates people for a long time. Our contemporary memory of Communism is as a decayed, cynical movement. The favorite media story about Western religious figures is the expose of their sexual or financial deeds that betray their public beliefs. Even in regard to the Nazis, there were many Germans who didn’t back the movement, even if they never resisted it, and fascism, while rooted in Germany’s political culture, was also so shallowly hegemonic that it totally disappeared after 1945. Islamism doesn’t disappear after defeat, though perhaps it will do so after decades of Muslims experiencing Islamism in power.
Perhaps the last such true confrontation was with Japan in World War Two, a culture where almost everyone deeply believed in the ideology and was willing to give his life for it. I am not saying here that all Muslims support Islamism or that Islamism is the “proper” interpretation of Islam. One can see how in Iran the fact of life under a Sharia regime for three decades plus has eroded the base of support there for that doctrine. Rather, my point is that Islamism must be taken seriously as a sincere movement and not just some rhetoric that nobody believes and is not led by people who are just looking for a bribe or a prostitute.
The suicide bomber has become the symbol of that characteristic which used to be called “fanaticism” and can now merely be summarized as people who really believe what they say and intend to do what they declare even unto death. Al-Qaradawi recognizes this point and writes, “If discourse is but verbal and the characters of such persons are free from those principles which he is propagating, then such invitations [to support these ideas] dash against the ears and become empty echoes.”(p. 4).
In other words, people will not follow leaders who prove to be corrupt hypocrites. And part of being a corrupt hypocrite is to compromise on such goals as creating a Shariah state, driving Western influence out of the region, and wiping Israel off the map. Of course, a leader is still free to set his course, pulling back at times when conditions are unfavorable, avoiding battles that would obviously be lost (though the Islamist might be too confident of winning despite the objective balance of forces), not antagonizing the masses unnecessarily, and forming alliances with others when necessary.
As with Lenin, the question is how well Islamist politicians this strategy. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has pushed too hard, too fast, though still it has come a long way. What is remarkable is that unlike the opponents of Communism, the opponents of Islamism have barely begun their attempt to understand and educate others on this ideology.
It should be stressed that the key challenge is not to cite passages from original Muslim theology to “prove” that Islam is always unchanging and inflexible—though understanding the roots of the radicals’ ideological appeal is important—or to ignore Islam as a factor completely but to look at the movement’s modern strategy and tactics. Almost thirty years after al-Qaradawi explained the movement’s ideas clearly the opponents of Islamism have barely begun their attempt to understand and educate others on this ideology.
The West’s New Syrian War
Posted: 11 Jun 2013 08:23 AM PDT
By Barry Rubin
One day people will ask how the United States and several European countries became involved in mass killings, genocide, corruption, arms smuggling, and the creation of another anti-Western and regionally destabilizing government. Even if a single Western soldier is never sent, the West is on the verge of serious intervention in Syria. The choices are unpalatable and decisions are very tough to make but it appears to be still another in a long history of Western leaps in the dark, not based on a real consideration of the consequences.
At least people should be more aware of the dangers. As I entitled a previous book on Iran (Paved with Good Intentions), the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. People are dying and suffering in Syria. That’s true. But will this make more people or fewer people die and suffer?
So now we are seeing the trial balloons rise. As the Bashar al-Assad regime proves to be holding on—but not recapturing the country or winning the war—the West is panicked into sending aid to the rebels. In fact, the government is merely holding the northwest area (where the ruling Alawite group lives), the region along the Lebanese border (with Hizballah’s help), Damascus (where the best troops are based and there is a favorable strategic situation in the army holding the high ground), and part of Aleppo. It seems that U.S. decisionmakers are panicking over these relatively small gains. If the Syrian army plus Hizballah tries to advance too far it will stretch its resources then and face a successful rebel counteroffensive.
Understandably, the opposition is demanding arms. If the opposition did not consist mostly of al-Qaida, the Salafists, and the Muslim Brotherhood, that would be a good idea perhaps. But since the opposition is overwhelmingly radical—even the official “moderate” opposition politicians are mostly Muslim Brotherhood—this is a tragedy in which the West does not have a great incentive to say “yes.”
President Barack Obama is said to be close to sending weapons to carefully chosen rebel units who are moderates. Now, pay close attention here. The Western options for giving assistance are:
The Syrian Islamic Liberation Front. This is Muslim Brotherhood type people including, most importantly, the Farouk Brigades from the Homs area and Aleppo’s Tawhid Brigade. Around 50-60,000 fighters in total who are autonomous.
Do you want to give arms to them? Weapons that might soon end up in the hands of (other) terrorists? Weapons to be turned against not only Israel, but Jordan, Saudi Arabia, U.S. diplomats, and who knows who else?
Or perhaps you like the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), an alliance of more hardline Islamist forces, including Ahrar al-Sham from the north. Ahrar al-Sham is probably around 15,000 fighters. The SIF as a whole probably around 25,000. These people are Salafists meaning that the Brotherhood is too moderate for them. They are the kind of people who attack churches in Egypt, who want to wage jihad alongside Hamas, and so on.
Do you want to arm them so they can establish another Sharia state?
How about Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda franchise with around 6,000 fighters and reportedly the fastest growing militia.
Want to give guns to those who committed the September 11, 2001, attacks and the Benghazi attack?
Of course not! You want the Free Syrian Army (FSA), headed by the untested General Salim Idris, who Senator John McCain met with. Now those are moderates who, after all, are just led by former officers in the repressive, historically anti-American Syrian army. And the FSA is just not a serious factor in military terms.
The West will say it supports the FSA; the FSA will be pushed aside by an Islamist regime if it wins, its Western-supplied weapons seized even during the course of the war. Moderates–even if we define radical Arab nationalists as moderates–don’t have the troops on the ground. It’s too late to organize and train a moderate force now. That should have been done two years ago.
On the political level, U.S. pressure failed to force the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated exile leadership to add the real political moderates! Even as financial aid is being (temporarily?) withheld the “official” opposition won’t expand its base. How about withholding all money and aid until they yield or choosing a new official leadership? If the United States can’t stop–or doesn’t want to–the Brotherhood from dominating an exile leadership how is it ever going to do after a victory in the civil war?
So that’s not a solution either. Because the FSA is closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood forces. Many of its soldiers are Brotherhood, Salafists, or even al-Qaida sympathizers. Some have even been defecting to al-Qaida, presumably with their weapons. The FSA is not ideologically moderate, consistent, or—except for its officers—anti-Islamists. And it is very weak, weaker even then the al-Qaida supporters.
Yet that’s not all. Given the mixing up of the groups and their strategic requirements, a weapons’ system that is given to the FSA may easily end up in the hands of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, Syrian Islamic Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra. That may happen due to the necessities of war or sheer bribery or defections.
And when the war is over or deadlocked, those arms are going to flow out of Syria to every terrorist group in the world.
Finally, how many arms will be needed to bring a rebel victory? You can predict what will happen: more and more will be demanded; if just a bigger force is supplied the rebels will promise victory. It’s a slippery slope. And then will the need for direct intervention be demanded since just the supply of weapons alone isn’t sufficient? How directly is the United States willing to confront Russia, Iran, and Hizballah? Is it prepared to do so? Maybe it should be but it’s not.
So the supposedly simple concept—alas, two years too late—of let’s support the moderates doesn’t mean much anymore. Granted if you want to find the least bad solution, backing the FSA sounds good. In the end, though, what will actually happen?
Ethnic massacres? How is the United States going to stop them? The Alawites, Shia (there are a few) Muslims, and Christians are in the greatest danger, so is anyone not sufficiently a pious Sunni Muslim, and perhaps also Kurds and Druze. The FSA cannot or will not prevent massive killings.
Wasn’t it UN Ambassador Samantha Powers the genocide expert (which shows how little you need to know to be hailed as an expert) who talked about “responsibility to protect?” Didn’t she, and U.S. government policy begin by talking about saving Libyan civilians and end with a Libyan murder of American officials?
Meanwhile the UN has asked for $5 billion in humanitarian aid to Syria, much of which will go to neighboring countries to help refugees. There are now said to be 1.6 million refugees with that number perhaps to double by the end of the year. The need is desperate. Up to one-half the population of the country needs help.
But who would administer that help? Presumably, no aid would be handed out to the regime to use in areas it controls so other than Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon to help refugees the money would end up in the hands of al-Qaida, the Salafists, and the Muslim Brotherhood to steal, pay their own people salaries, and use to consolidate their power over different areas.
The United States is considering taking in hundreds of thousands of people who would probably be mostly resettled in California, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Power and National Security Council director Susan Rice are known to favor receiving many refugees.
Yet the policy is based on an illusion. Let’s say that weapons are given to the rebels. Will they win the war? Will that reduce civilian casualties? Which side will kill more people? Is a rebel victory going to make Syria a better place, more of a democracy? How many more refugees would a rebel victory generate? Say about 30 percent are Alawites, Christians, and Druze who would be oppressed by a rebel triumph, as would relatively secular Sunni urban middle class Muslims. They might flee the country. How many new wars will come out of the Syrian civil war?
This does not in any way mean one should want the Assad regime—which is a pro-Iran, pro-Hizballah, oppressive and anti-American government—to win. Yet it isn’t winning the war but merely making local gains to control the minimum territory for its survival.
Let’s put it this way: a U.S. and Western intervention in Syria is more problematic than the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya put together. It very well might produce a worse political solution than in Egypt (where cabinet members discuss how the United States is an enemy against which war might be waged) or Tunisia. It can almost be guaranteed to be worse than Iraq.
This is a very dangerous, risky, and likely failed policy that is being set in motion here.
Why Expanded Government Spying Doesn’t Mean Better Security Against Terrorism
Posted: 10 Jun 2013 04:09 AM PDT
By Barry Rubin
What is most important to understand about the revelations of massive message interception by the U.S. government is this:
In counterterrorist terms, it is a farce.
There is a fallacy behind the current intelligence strategy of the United States, the collection of massive amounts of phone calls, emails, and even credit card expenditures, up to 3 billion phone calls a day alone, not to mention the government spying on the mass media. It is this:
The more quantity of intelligence, the better it is for preventing terrorism.
In the real, practical world this is—though it might seem counterintuitive—untrue. You don’t need–to put it in an exaggerated way–an atomic bomb against a flea. And isn’t it absurd that the United States can’t finish a simple border fence to keep out potential terrorists, can’t stop a would-be terrorist in the U.S. army who gives a power point presentation on why he is about to shoot people (Major Nadal Hassan), can’t follow up on Russian intelligence warnings about Chechen terrorist contacts (the Boston bombing), or a dozen similar incidents must now collect every telephone call in the country? A system in which a photo shop clerk has to stop an attack on Fort Dix by overcoming his fear of appearing “racist” to report a cell of terrorists or brave passengers must jump a would-be “underpants bomber” from Nigeria because his own father’s warning that he was a terrorist was insufficient?
And how about a country where terrorists and terrorist supporters visit the White House, hang out with the FBI, advise the U.S. government on counter-terrorist policy (even while, like CAIR) advising Muslims not to cooperate with law enforcement, and are admiringly quoted in the media yet a documented, detailed revelation of this behavior in MERIA Journal by Patrick Poole, which should bring down the government, “Blind to Terror: The U.S. Government’s Disastrous Muslim Outreach Efforts and the Impact on U.S. Middle East Policy.” does not get covered by a single mass media outlet?
Imagine this scene:
“Sir, we have a telephone call about a potential terrorist attack!”
“Not now, Smithers, I’m giving a tour of our facility to some supporters of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Or how about the time when the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem had a (previously jailed) Hamas agent working in their motor pool with direct access to the vehicles and itineraries of all visiting US dignitaries and senior officials.
Instead of this kind of thing the two key tasks of counterterrorism are as follows:
First, it is not the quantity of material that counts but the need to locate and correctly understand the most vital material. This requires your security forces to understand the ideological, psychological, and organizational nature of the threat.
Second, it is necessary to be ready to act on this information not only in strategic but in political terms.
For example, suppose the U.S. ambassador to Libya warns that the American compound there may be attacked. No response. Then he tells the deputy chief of mission that he is under attack. No response. Then the U.S. military is not allowed to respond. Then the president goes to sleep without making a decision about doing anything because communications break down between the secretaries of defense and state and the president, who goes to sleep because he has a very important fund-raiser the next day. But don’t worry because three billion telephone calls by Americans are daily being intercepted and supposedly analyzed.
In other words, you have a massive counterterrorist project costing $1 trillion but when it comes down to it the thing repeatedly fails. In that case, to quote the former secretary of state, “”What difference does it make?”
If one looks at the great intelligence failures of the past, these two points quickly become obvious. Take for example the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. U.S. naval intelligence had broken Japanese codes. They had the information needed to conclude the attack would take place. Yet a focus on the key to the problem was not achieved. The important messages were not read and interpreted; the strategic mindset of the leadership was not in place.
Or, in another situation, the plan of Nazi Germany to invade the USSR in 1941 or of the time and place of the Allied invasion of Normandy beach in 1944 was not assessed properly, with devastating results. Of course, the techniques were more primitive then, but so were the means of concealment.
For instance, the Czech intelligence services, using railroad workers as informants, knew about a big build-up for a German offensive against the USSR. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin overrode the warnings. Soviet analysts predicting a Nazi invasion were punished. Nothing would have changed if more material was collected.
So what needs to be in place, again, is to focus on the highest priority material, to analyze correctly what is available, to have leaders accept it, and to act. If the U.S. government can’t even figure out what the Muslim Brotherhood is like or the dangers of supporting Islamists to take over Syria, or the fact that the Turkish regime is an American enemy, or can’t even teach military officers who the enemy is, what’s it going to do with scores of billions of telephone call traffic to overcome terrorism? It isn’t even using the intelligence material is already has!
If, however, the material is almost limitless, that actually weakens a focus on the most needed intelligence regarding the most likely terrorist threats. Imagine, for example, going through billions of telephone calls even with high-speed computers rather than, say, following up a tip from Russian intelligence on a young Chechen man in Boston who is in contact with terrorists or, for instance, the communications between a Yemeni al-Qaida leader and a U.S. army major who is assigned as a psychiatrist to Fort Hood.
That is why the old system of getting warrants, focusing on individual email addresses, or sites, or telephones makes sense, at least if it is only used properly. Then those people who are communicating with known terrorists can be traced further. There are no technological magic spells. If analysts are incompetent, blocked from understanding the relationship between Islam and terrorism, bound up by Political Correctness and fear of career costs, and leaders unwilling to take proper action, who cares how much data was collected?
At a time when American leaders and the social atmosphere are discouraging citizens from reporting potential terrorism (the photo store clerk; the flight school instructor back before September 11, the brave passengers who jumped a hijacker and then had to worry about lawsuits because they violated someone’s civil rights, the attempts to take away guns that wouldn’t stop terrorists), why is a giant facility in Utah going to do a better job?
Decision-makers and intelligence analysts only have so many hours in the day. There can only be so many meetings; only so many priorities. And the policymaking pyramid narrows rapidly toward the top. There is a point of diminishing returns for the size of an intelligence bureaucracy. Lower-priority tasks proliferate; too much paper is generated and meetings are held; the system clogs when it has too much data.
Note the parallelism between this broader terrorism policy and the current philosophy of airport security. In both cases, everyone is considered equally suspect. Profiling is minimized. Instead of focusing on the, let’s say one hundred of those who might be of special interest, a great deal of time, attention, and resources has been spent on ten million others. This has got to reduce effectiveness.
The increased costs of security, Obama has told us, amounts to a cost of $1 trillion. Of course, people would say that such money was well spent. Yet in security as in every other aspect of government, money can be spent well or badly, even counterproductively.
Al-Qaida is even saying openly that it is switching to a strategy of encouraging isolated attacks. Within 24 hours a British soldier is murdered on a street in London after he seeks and fails to obtain terrorist training in Somalia, and a French soldier is attacked. In Toulouse, France, a terrorist kills or cripples soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren. There are dozens of examples.
Vast amounts of money and resources, though, are being spent in preparing for an exact reply of September 11.
And remember that the number of terrorists caught by the TSA hovers around the zero level. The shoe, underpants, and Times Square bombers weren’t even caught by security at all and many other such cases can be listed. In addition to this, the U.S.-Mexico border is practically open.
The ultimate problem is that the number of terrorists is very low and the fact is that for anyone who isn’t insane their characteristics are pretty clear, that is they are about 99 percent revolutionary and violent Islamists.
Obama has now admitted three very important things.
First, the war on terrorism has not been won.
Second, the war on al-Qaida has not really been won, since its continued campaigning is undeniable and it has even grown in Syria, partly thanks to U.S. policy.
Third, the biggest threat on the American homeland is autonomous terrorists who have been inspired by al-Qaida but are not technically part of the nomination. (That allows Obama to claim to be winning the war on al-Qaida).
What he has not yet admitted is that the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist groups or sponsors are controlling Egypt, Tunisia, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Turkey, Sudan, Syria, and Iran, while terrorists run free in the Palestinian Authority, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, is not conducive to the protection of America against terrorism. The fact that his policy promotes some of these problems makes things even worse.
Yet the new, expensive, expansive, and time-consuming technological methods are relatively ineffective against the current priorities of anti-American terrorist groups.
Incidentally, Obama policy has been disastrous against a four factor, radical Islamists—though not al-Qaida taking over places. Compared to the time Obama came to office, the Islamists who support violence against America now rule Egypt, Tunisia, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and perhaps soon Syria. Offenses have been stepped up in Somalia, Yemen; are being maintained in Iraq; and of course still rule over Syria and Iran. In Turkey, an Islamist terror-supporting regime has been embraced by Obama.
This represents a massive retreat even if it is a largely unnoticed one.
So the problem of growing government spying is three-fold.
–First, it is against the American system and reduces liberty.
–Second, it is a misapplication of resources, in other words money is being spent and liberty sacrificed for no real gain.
–Third, since government decisionmaking and policy about international terrorism is very bad the threat is increasing.