Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can Decapitation Kill the Beast?

The good news is Atiyah abd al-Rahman, al-Qaeda's number two, was killed recently by a U.S. drone attack in northwest Pakistan.  The Obama administration has been making the argument that since Osama Bin laden was killed in May, the terrorist group may be in its last throws. A few more successes like Bin Laden and al-Rahman and it is game over.

This seems to be more wishful thinking and political rhetoric than sound strategic analysis.  Although I do not fully discount the possibility of intentional misinformation directed at the enemy, it is not likely given liberal's past opposition to potential disinformation tactics discussed during the Bush administration.

The administrations optimism might reflect a misunderstanding of militant Islamism and its adherents. al-Qaeda and similar terrorist groups are not really analogous to the mafia crime families Americans are so familiar with because of "The Godfather" and "The Sopranos." Strip away its mythos, rituals and posturing and the Mafia is a business.  Make the cost of doing business too high through wire taps, arrests and prosecutions and you can cripple it.

Al-Qaeda is not a business concerned with risk versus profit. It is a group attached to a movement - a religious-ideological imperative animated by a sincere belief in the justness of their cause. Militant Islamism exists in a world defined by Allah, the Koran, Mohammed's life and fourteen centuries of history that teaches the waging Jihad until there is nothing but Islam.  There were long stretches of time when this imperative was suppressed by strong infidels, but it always simmered below the surface. Unfortunately we are living in a period where militant Islamism has boiled to the surface with a vengeance.

Conditions are favorable for an ascendent militant Islam that cows Muslims and is misunderstood and even coddled by the largely liberal, multicultural West. Terrorist groups on a mission from God can be destroyed, but is highly doubtful targeted killings and other limited counterterrorism tactics alone will bring strategic victory.  I am a little suspicious that the Obama administration's tactics and rhetoric are designed to allow it to make the case, in time for the 2012 election, that it has effectively neutralized al-Qaeda and won the "Overseas Contingency Operation" formally known as the War on Terror.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Disband the CIA

Congratulations to the dedicated and hard working Central Intelligence Agency and military personnel who worked for years to find Osama Bin Laden and make the mission that killed him possible.  There is a lot of credit to go around going back six or seven years as bits of intelligence were culled from informants, ease dropping, interrogations and captured documents. This is all good news - the bad news is that twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union the CIA has lived out its usefulness as a Cold War institution that looked out on relatively static, bipolar world defined by the United States vs. the Soviet Union.

Static is not a word used much to describe the world after 9/11, but words like upheavals, fluid and fragmented fit pretty well. Since the 1940's the agency has become bureaucratic tangle of regulations, interests and turf battles - a stereotypical Washington concern that employs some spies. Friction and inefficiency define civilian government and although the military is far from perfect, putting intelligence back in the hands of the military is the best solution.

Military intelligence is as old as militaries and worked pretty well much of the time because the military was producing intelligence for use by the military. The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence etc. only add layers and often barrier between the gathering, analyzing, dissemination and eventual use.  "Streamlining" needs to be a watch word just as "jointness" and "net-centric" are.  The fewer the agencies, organizations and people between the collector and user of the intelligence the better.

National security would benefit from a lean intelligence apparatus composed of Army Intelligence and Naval Intelligence.  This reset leaves room for entities like the National Security Agency which is already run by the pentagon. Existing laws would have to be modified by congress to accommodate these changes that would make U.S. intelligence more nimble and more accountable.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Limits of Counterterrorism Operations

The spectacularly successful raid into pakistan by SEAL Team Six that killed Osama Bin Laden highlighted what is best about targeted counterterrorism raids in the War on Terror - a high risk operation that reaped a big reward.  Unfortunately the recent operation in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of more than thirty special operations troops, including more than twenty SEALs underscores the high risk nature of aggressive operations that usually find commando units out numbered and out gunned by enemy forces at the point of attack.  According to accounts Army Rangers needed assistance so the big CH-47 twin rotor helicopter carrying the SEALs was diverted to help them and at some point was shot out of the sky by a Taliban RPG.