The “War on Terror” – A Fresh Approach

Having been up to my eyeballs in work I’ve had less time than usual and have yet to finish reading the entirety of General Petraeus’ statement before the Senate Armed Forces Committee which he made on 16th March. Subtitled, The Posture of U.S. Central Command, I was principally reading it for insight on current strategy in Afghanistan and the “War on Terror” as I work on another look at the country and the nature of the conflict in the wider region.

A couple of things struck me at first, and I’ll leave the rest of the report until I have time to address it much more fully, but in his introduction Petraeus makes this observation on U.S. interests and “the Most Significant Threats to Them”

Because of the CENTCOM AOR’s (Area of Responsibility) geography, control of much of the world’s energy reserves, and propensity for instability, the United States has substantial strategic interests in, and related to, the region.  Chief among these are:

1. The security of U.S. citizens and the U.S. homeland.

2. Regional stability.

3. International access to strategic resources, critical infrastructure, and markets.

4. The promotion of human rights, the rule of law, responsible and effective governance, and broad-based economic growth and opportunity.

Strategic resources, of course, means oil but it’s rather refreshing to hear someone in charge openly talk about its strategic importance instead of mumbling about “freedom”. That’s not to say there aren’t things of concern for me in his statement. Merely as a start you could highlight at the first three of his points above and observe how those interests can negatively impact the fourth and have done for some time.

As an example, Petraeus observes in the section dealing with Afghanistan that…

The Taliban have been resilient, with their activities fueled by revenues from outside the region as well as from narcotics-trafficking… This drug money has been the  “oxygen” in the air that allows these groups to operate.  With the extension of authority granted to U.S. forces to conduct counter-narcotics operations, we are able to more closely work with the Afghan government to disrupt the illicit narcotics industry though interdiction of the narco-trafficking network.

Presumably the “authority” granted to the U.S. forces has been given by President Karzai’s administration with, perhaps, the expert advice of Karzai’s half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai who is rumoured to have accumulated his fortune and power through that self same “oxygen”. It is a complex and convoluted world.

And one which the average American citizen, informed by a media who serve news as fast food rather than nourishment, could hardly be expected to follow with any accuracy. And perhaps this is why, when given the opportunity to contribute to fighting the “War on Terror”, they have a slightly skewed expectation of what can be achieved.

The U.S. Defense Department, in their wisdom, became aware they have a vast resource unavailable to the “Enemy”. The collective power of the American People™. The Pentagon, therefore, has allowed visitors at their website to provide feedback and give suggestions. Here are my favourites…

Would there be time to construct a Noah’s Ark Biosphere in North America if there is an emerging Global War starting in the Middle East? I don’t know … I only know that I have worked on such a project for many years now… The problem is it takes a lot of resources to build a modern day Noah’s Ark … and lots of planning and development.

Who better to suggest it to, than the U.S. Defense Department? They’ve spent far more money on far sillier things before now. The Men Who Stare at Goats, anyone?

Other contributors are keener on bravely revealing the darker work going on behind the scenes…

Has anyone at the Department of Defense noticed that the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, and that when you dial emergency services in the USA you dial 911? If so, is this merely a coincidence?

An interesting point, well made.

Others are less suspicious of their country’s military, however, and rather keen to find out more…

So do you have any top scret information you would to like to tell me? i am doing a project for my senior economics class, and was just wondering…email me back.

I wonder what he found out. More importantly, I wonder what happens to the world when he, and the rest of his “senior economics class”, ends up working in the world’s banks. More of the same, perhaps…

But I will leave you with my hands down favourite. A fresh approach to the “War on Terror” that could change everything. And what I particularly admire, is this keen amateur military genius does not presume success is easy.

No. He anticipates the possibility there may be some snag in his plan. He identifies that one potential flaw and suggests not one, but two, excellent solutions…

Bears have scent detection that is far superior to bloodhounds! Trained bears with GPS and day/night cameras around their necks might be able to hunt down the scent of Usama Bin Laden, even in and through any caves and tunnels!!! Overnight, Parachute some bears into areas UBL might be.

Attempt to train bears to take off parachutes after landing, or use parachutes that self-destruct.

America, Fuck yeah!

Victoria Cross winner back in the combat zone

Arriving to receive the Victoria Cross 2007

A couple of thoughts on Victoria Cross winner SAS Corporal Willie Apiata now the debate over publication of his photo after a firefight in Kabul last week has blown over (storm in a teacup really).*

Firstly, he looks like a real salty hombre when he’s tooled up compared to the almost shy demeanour demonstrated when receiving his medal a couple of years ago.

Secondly, I know that Special Forces often go “native” when in combat zones, but given the fact that there are trigger-happy American forces on the ground, is it a good idea to accessorise yourself with a Taliban-style beard? Continue reading

Religious Rifles: Flashback to 1857

The news that Western military forces have been using rifle sights inscribed with references to biblical verses has garnered column inches and news coverage around the world this week. The lucrative contract with the Pentagon has seen Trijicon provide more than 300,000 rifle sights to the Continue reading

Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires – Case Study #1 – A very British catastrophe

In the scurry to avenge 9/11, concerns about a military occupation of Afghanistan were swept to one side. The human rights abuses and opium trade connections linked to the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, also known as the Northern Alliance, were seen as the lesser of two evils compared to Continue reading

Would you pay $400 for a gallon of gas?

I'd rather walk

Ever wanted to know why it costs billions of dollars a week to wage a war? Check out these figures from the Pentagon as reported in The Hill this week: Continue reading

Top Ten Failed States

Failed States

Foreign Policy magazine has just released its annual Failed States Index (it comes with an excellent interactive map which you can use to get the ranking of every country in the world).  The index is constructed by rating a number of different criteria including demographic pressures, economic decline, public services, and human rights.  Coming in at first place for the second year running is Somalia. Yay, Somalia! I guess when your main source of income is derived from piracy, you can’t expect much better.

Foreign Policy magazine finishes its article with the following paragraph, part of which points out that the ratings should be used as “a starting point for a discussion” about what should be done about failed states:

The Failed States Index does not provide all the answers, nor does it claim to be able to. But it is a starting point for a discussion about why states fail and what should be done about them—a discussion, sadly, that we might be having even more frequently this year.

So, a discussion question, then, to kick things off.  Should the presence of failed states concern us much?

I tend to think probably not, because history shows that states can move from stability to failure and back again really quite rapidly. Look at the disintegration of the Balkans or the USSR less than 20 years ago. Now, many of those newly independent countries are seen as relatively stable nations.

Or look at Rwanda and how quickly it has bounced back after the genocide in 1994 – it now sits in 48th place in the index, supposedly even less likely to fail than Egypt.

And one more example. Look at Kenya and how much it has fallen in the past four years, from 34th place in 2006 down to 14th this year. Corruption and famine can quickly push a state over the edge into anarchy.

So, following this up with a second question: Do failed states get a bad rap?

To this, I would say yes, particularly in recent history. I say this because failure may not be all bad. Sometimes countries need to fail badly so they can remake themselves, hopefully better and stronger. After all, back in the 1860s, the USA would probably have occupied first place on such an index for a number of years as it tore itself apart in civil war. Then it rebuilt itself….

We must also remember that the idea of a failed state is, historically speaking, quite a recent concept. It can only come into existence when we have an idea of what a whole, integrated or successful state might look like.  And this idea only really starts to gain currency with the advent of organisations such as the United Nations.

The recent “panic” that surrounds the idea of a failed state arises after 9/11, mainly through fear that such places will become havens for terrorism. But let’s think about this a little more. Don’t you think it would be just as hard for a terrorist to try and survive inside a failed state as the rest of the populace? Turns out that this is, in fact, the case, as Foreign Policy has revealed:

Take Somalia, once again the No. 1 failed state on this year’s index. A recent report by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, drawing on captured al Qaeda documents, revealed that Osama bin Laden’s outfit had an awful experience trying to operate out of Somalia, for all the same reasons that international peacekeepers found Somalia unmanageable in the 1990s: terrible infrastructure, excessive violence and criminality, and few basic services, among other factors. In short, Somalia was too failed even for al Qaeda.

Too failed for Al Qaeda! Who would have thought? This means that instead of trying to save Afghanistan, the U.S. should be trying to make it worse. The Pakistanis would probably prefer this, as for them American intervention in Afghanistan has been a nightmare. Now, Pakistan has to deal with threats on several borders (instead of just the Indian border) as well as internal problems caused by Taliban and Al Qaeda entering the country to escape the Americans.

This destabilising effect is now reflected in the index, with Pakistan heading into the top ten. The law of unintended consequence at work here, perhaps?

Knowing what they know now, I’m sure the U.S. regrets not negotiating more with the Taliban back in 2001 in order to get them to hand over Osama bin Laden. It would have been less costly and less harmful to America’s standing in the Islamic world. And the failed state of Afghanistan would probably still be a failed state. Oh, that’s right, it is!

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