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[Amy Zegart (guest-blogging), September 12, 2007 at 2:59pm] Trackbacks
Why Haven't We Been Attacked Since 9/11?

Why haven't we been attacked since 9/11? The Bush administration has suggested two main reasons: dumb and dumber.

Argument #1: "we're fighting them over there so they don't attack us over here." Yes, and the Tooth Fairy is real. This argument takes the prize for being both misleading and stupid, suggesting that Iraq's civil war and regional instability are offset by that invisible fence in Anbar province that magically corrals the world's terrorists and keeps them right where we want them.

Argument #2: "We've hardened the target by making dramatic improvements in homeland security, intelligence, and counterterrorism here at home." This one sounds more reasonable on the face of it. We've seen a number of changes since 9/11. Among them: The FBI has doubled its analyst corps, the intelligence budget has increased an estimated 25%, and counterterrorism "fusion" centers are popping up like mushrooms--with more than 40 of them across the U.S.

Two problems here. The first is your view of progress. Government officials love to report about the half full glass. It's the half empty part that worries me more.

Take the FBI: Yes, the Bureau has twice as many analysts today as it had on 9/11. But analysts --the lifeblood of domestic intelligence — are still treated as second class citizens. 9/11 Commission poo-bahs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton made this point in last Sunday's Washington Post. The Justice Department's Inspector General also highlighted the problem — with data, and specific recommendations — in its April 2007 report. At Quantico, new analysts and special agents still don't train together (unless you count one 4-hour exercise over a several week course). And as of last year, I'm told they even wore different colored shirts (analysts wore tan, agents wore blue). Nothing says "not on the same team" more loudly. Hiring more analysts sounds good. But dot connecting can't be valued unless the dot connectors are.

The more alarming problem is logic.

Just because we haven't experienced tragedy does not prove we are doing things right. This is causality 101, and it's something we drum into UCLA MPP students in their first year. Causal connections have to be examined, not assumed, or you'll get into trouble.

My 92 year-old grandmother, whom I love dearly, still drives a car in Miami. Incredibly, she's had no accidents since 9/11. But I'd never conclude that her driving acumen is responsible for her traffic record, or that she's become a better driver over the past 6 years.

The "we haven't been attacked" argument suffers from the same logical weaknesses. Why haven't we seen another 9/11 since 9/11? A million possible reasons. Many it's al Qaeda's long planning cycles. Maybe it's the disruption of al Qaeda Central in Afghanistan. Maybe it's sheer dumb luck. Maybe it's those ziploc bags at the airport. But the most dangerous explanation is the one that works backwards, inferring causes from outcomes and suggesting success when there may be none.

FantasiaWHT:
I'd be absolutely fascinated to learn how you would prove that the government is taking the right steps to prevent terrorist attacks other than looking at whether or not it has prevented terrorist attacks.
9.12.2007 4:09pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
It is true though that in the 6.5 years before 2001 we had 4 major attacks on US targets but since then there have been no major attacks on US targets (outside of the war zone).

Pressure on the opposition can be distracting to them.
9.12.2007 4:10pm
WWJRD (mail):
Ruh-roh Amy. or Stop Making Sense!
The Conspirator fans will surely give you push-back on this one. We're a Fred family here, donchaknow? Military makes us safer. Period.
9.12.2007 4:12pm
Dave Griffith (mail):
I'd be absolutely fascinated to learn how you would prove that the government is taking the right steps to prevent terrorist attacks other than looking at whether or not it has prevented terrorist attacks.

See this rock? It keeps tigers away.
9.12.2007 4:20pm
gr101 (mail):
Anthrax?
9.12.2007 4:21pm
Lugo:
I'd be absolutely fascinated to learn how you would prove that the government is taking the right steps to prevent terrorist attacks other than looking at whether or not it has prevented terrorist attacks.

Yeah, but where are the foiled plots and the arrested conspirators? If we've had no attacks but we've caught a bunch of guys trying to attack, that's one thing, but if we haven't even caught anyone trying to attack, that's another thing entirely.

The most notable foiled plot I can think of is those clowns at Fort Dix, who were foiled not because of our awesome homeland security and intel, but because the guy at Circuit City was on the ball.
9.12.2007 4:23pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
Since you've pointed out the fallacy of government justification for counterterrorism activities ("it prevents attacks") is by definition always a conjecture and therefore a bogus measure of effectiveness, then it's clear that no counterterrorism activities will provide any measurable improvements in security, because all the 'proof' of prevented attacks is bogus. Since we can't achieve any objectively *measurable* improvements in security, why bother?

Interestingly, should we go the next 100 years without a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, your argument will be equally valid - "the government can't prove that any of its security measures made us safer." There could be a million reasons why we went a hundred years with no attacks.

Just out of curiosity, what would you accept as evidence that counterterrorism efforts are working? Is there any metric you would find acceptable?
9.12.2007 4:24pm
IB Bill (mail) (www):
Initially I was offended, but then I saw the point ... and I'd fundamentally agree. The nature of terrorism (and of many things in life) is that you really only get confirmation of failures. I'm not much on root-cause analysis after the fact, anyway.

Sort of related: I served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Central Africa. In my house, I kept the windows open at night. My neighbors warned me (seriously) that I should close my windows like everyone else at night because otherwise vampires could get in. They meant this -- they weren't playing a joke on me.

So I took a clove of garlic and put in on a window-sill and explained, "Vampires don't like garlic. They won't be able to come in now."

You know what? My entire two-year tour, not a single vampire came into my house, and I had the windows open the whole time. QED.
9.12.2007 4:25pm
The General:
because we have a president more interested in protecting the country than getting blowjobs.
9.12.2007 4:25pm
Tracy Johnson (www):
Is that dumb and dumber respectively versus #1 and #2? Because more effort seems to have been put in to the #2 argument. If #2 were dumber, I would think less analysis was needed. Not a problem for me if you had the two reversed accidentally.

Now if Mike McConnell is correct, loss of the current FISA rules is supposed to lower our intelligence capability by 50%. If so, then the obverse is true, we are 50% better off "now" in intelligence capability without it.

Perhaps this represents the "full" portion of the half empty glass?
9.12.2007 4:26pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
BTW, the same evidentiary argument you make is useful if you're trying to reduce police presence in your neighborhood. While heavy police presence may *strongly correlate* with greatly reduced crime rates, there's no *proof* whatsoever that having a cop on every corner actually reduces crime, just evidence that point towards the inference of more cops = less crime.
9.12.2007 4:28pm
Hunter McDaniel (mail):
The administration's answers may be dumb, but then so is the question.

I happen to think that taking down Saddam was the right move, strategically, and you don't. But neither position is provable, and that doesn't change if AQ gets lucky tomorrow as they haven't been for the last six years. But eventually they will get lucky again, unless we can wipe them out first.

I can't remember where I read this observation but the general trend of technology to place ever greater mayhem within the reach of ever smaller groups. Regrettably, that is the challenge which civilization must face in our age.
9.12.2007 4:28pm
Mason 78:
Amy:

I found your earlier post much better written and much more persuasive. Not having been attacked again I think does mean something, however that doesn't mean everything is working right.
9.12.2007 4:29pm
D Balsam:
It's very easy to call everyone else dumb and critique their reasons, while offering none of your own.

Is your answer ("A million possible reasons.") to "Why Haven't We Been Attacked Since 9/11?" any better than "I don't know"?

Surely it's acceptable to not have a reasonable answer to the question you yourself pose. But if you don't, and don't even have a reasonable discussion of the best possibilities, then what are you adding to the debate other than calling Bush dumb - which is not really adding anything new to the debate, even if true?

So I'll offer a possible answer. In my opinion an answer to "Why Haven't We Been Attacked Since 9/11?" is, actually "We" have. Remember that in the enemy's calculus, "We" is the entire Western non-Islamic world. Although the US is the Great Satan, there are also plenty of lesser Satans, such as England, Spain, Germany, Australia, Russian schoolchidren, etc.

Then, one good answer to the follow-on question, "Why Hasn't US Soil Been Attacked Since 9/11?" is, there are lots of other targets of Islamist terrorism which have been chosen instead.
9.12.2007 4:31pm
ejo:
it seems the above is an exercise in carping that really proposes absolutely nothing. "the government sucks" isn't a policy position or a prescription for change. it's just the musing of a smartass and, essentially, points out the obvious. al maviva hit it right on the head.
9.12.2007 4:32pm
Anderson (mail):
IB Bill gets it.

My dad worked for the feds most of his life, and he said a great deal of what goes on is "elephant prevention." You bloat your budget with elephant-preventing measures, and when you're queried as to why, you proudly cite to the 0% occurrence of elephants.
9.12.2007 4:32pm
Maniakes (mail):
Those arguments are overstated, but I don't think they should be dismissed completely.

Reformulate 1 as "Al Qaeda is focusing resources on fighting in Iraq, and has fewer resources available to distribute because they lost most of their support structure in Afghanistan," and it's plausible as a contributing factor.

Argument 2, that targets in the US are now harder to hit because of improvements in counterterrorism, is plausible even though there are a lot of improvements left to make.

You are right to point out that there are other possible reasons, and that there isn't enough data to draw firm conclusions, but I don't think it's appropriate to call these arguments dumb.
9.12.2007 4:32pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Lugo wrote:

The most notable foiled plot I can think of is those clowns at Fort Dix, who were foiled not because of our awesome homeland security and intel, but because the guy at Circuit City was on the ball.
And Jose Padilla, and the Goose Creek arrests, and the DC Sniper, and in upstate New York, and Oregon--there's actually been quite a few arrests and convictions, but the mass media have done their best to give them little press.
9.12.2007 4:34pm
b.:
why?

perhaps because the global response to 9/11 has raised marginally the cost of committing acts of terror on u.s. soil; while, at the same time, anti-terror operations abroad have undermined the ability of al Q et al to form the capital necessary to commit the acts they either (a) are best at perpetrating, or (b) most interested in perpetrating.

might as well hit europe, asia, and the middle east instead.

$$$!
9.12.2007 4:35pm
Fco (www):
Argument #1 is perfectly valid. Right now enemies of the US, like Iran, have far more to gain from seeing the American enterprise in Iraq fail, than from direct attacks to US soil. Therefore many of their resources are directed into the conflict in Iraq. Assuming there is no fight in Iraq, these resources can then be put to attacking/disrupting the west in their own land.

As for argument #2, I fail to believe that Al Qaeda has not planned anything at all in the past 6 years. Specially when their threats keep saying otherwise. There have been several potential attacks thwarted in the past years, so they must be doing something right.

Finally, when you make your argument, drop the sarcasm and don't call anyone (or anything) stupid. Specially ideas and theories that many people with equal or greater understanding of the problems have come to differing conclusions. Comments like "that invisible fence in Anbar province that magically corrals the world's terrorists and keeps them right where we want them." reek of simple-minded, juvenile arrogance.
9.12.2007 4:35pm
FantasiaWHT:
Al Maviva made the point I was trying to make much better, thank you.

And Lugo, is there a reason you're ignoring the foiled terror plots and people arrested in connection with them?
9.12.2007 4:37pm
John (mail):
These posts are unfair without some standards being set. For example, what counts as evidence that the Iraq war is making us more secure than we would be without the Iraq war? What counts as evidence that our internal policies or practices are making us more secure than if we didn't have those policies or practices?

Let's agree on what would count as evidence and then go look to see what the story is. All this other stuff is just a lot of smoke.
9.12.2007 4:38pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
After a certain number of correlations all going the same way, it becomes efficient to depend on the cause as causing the effect, even if the mechanism is not understood.

For example, it used to be said that heavy items fall faster than light items because they were heavier. This is false, until you take into account air resistance. Then it's a matter of sectional density and smaller items are likely to have less sectional density than larger items of the same material. And larger items are heavier than smaller items of the same material, and...fall faster. Right result, empirically validated all day long, wrong mechanism.

It would seem reasonable to think that, when OBL calls on his followers to go to Iraq, some who otherwise would come here follow his direction and go to Iraq. And that wouldn't be happening if we weren't fighting there. That's speculation. I can't prove it, short of finding somebody's diary reflecting his change in plans.
9.12.2007 4:40pm
A.S.:
Wow, this Amy Zegart is both alarmist AND offensive. Nice twosome, there!

In any case, as Zegart is reminding us that we must prove causal connections... I note that Zegart doesn't provide a shred of evidence that the item she specifically mentions as problematic - that analysts "are still treated as second class citizens" - has any causal connection whatsoever with solving the problem. Where's the evidence that wearing the same color shirts would help more effectively fight terrorism?

Zegart complains about certain explanations as lacking causal connections to the fight against terrorism... and yet she herself fails to provide causal connections for the items she recommends as beneficial against terrorism.

Over all, quite a weak post.
9.12.2007 4:41pm
Jam:
Maybe because they exhausted their means to achieve any significant damage?
9.12.2007 4:41pm
D Balsam:
Oh, and I missed this the first time:


The more alarming problem is logic.


Do you really find that a logical fallacy is "more alarming" than actual terrorist attacks and the proper allocation of government resources to prevent them?

I don't think the rhetorical use of "alarming" in reference to others' poor logic helps your own argument. If one must be alarmed, there is plenty of real danger to be alarmed about.
9.12.2007 4:45pm
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
Wow. My blog consists of rants. I would never write a rant on this website. Amy's rant is sorely misplaced on this website that is usually devoted to clear thinking and reasoning.

Amy, Al Qaeda has publicly and repeatedly claimed as their goal to attack the United States again. In fact, several attacks have been thwarted. No attacks have occurred, thus Al Qaeda has not been successful. We know that Al Qaeda is busy in Iraq now (and this is undebatable).

So Amy may not agree with the extent of our presence in Iraq being responsible for Al Qaeda's failure to attack us in the US, but it is not "dumb" to conclude that there is a link.
9.12.2007 4:46pm
ejo:
simple minded juvenile arrogance-isn't that what you get with academia?
9.12.2007 4:46pm
Steve:
Prof. Zegart: I've found your posts very interesting. I think if you simply wait and repost them once a Democratic President is in charge, you'll find this audience much more willing to accept your criticisms.
9.12.2007 4:49pm
A.S.:
Anthrax?

Where was it recently that I saw a post questioning whether anthrax was a terrorist act? To be terrorism, the act must have some reason behind it to force some political act or to intimidate a populace. Does this apply to the anthrax attack? I dunno. In that way, it seems to me to be somehwat more like the DC sniper than a terrorist.
9.12.2007 4:52pm
WWJRD (mail):
lol Steve nails it.
9.12.2007 4:55pm
Thales (mail) (www):
This is a sober, thoughtful post that doesn't warrant the invective directed against it in some of the comments. I'd be curious to know the poster's thoughts of some of the "foiled plots" we have heard about, including the one last summer involving Heath Row. In particular whether any were of the potential sophistication and danger of 9/11 or whether any were more along the lines of foiled "wanna-be" terrorists and easily detectable plots that one ought not to cite as persuasive evidence of a betterment of our capabilities? Or are you in any position to know, given how tight lipped police agencies and governments are about this stuff?
9.12.2007 4:55pm
D Balsam:
Thales: Sober and thoughtful?

The second sentence is "The Bush administration has suggested two main reasons: dumb and dumber."
9.12.2007 4:57pm
Bpbatista (mail):
Why is Argument #1 misleading and stupid -- because Amy says so! Good enough for me.

Seriously, it is not utterly implausible that AQ is now sending its best and brightest to Iraq, along with money and other resources, rather than sending them to flight schools in Minnesota and Florida. In fact, OBL's and Zawahiri's video screeds focus on fighting us in Iraq.
9.12.2007 4:58pm
ras (mail):
Why no more attacks? Two plausible and possibly complementary theories:

1. Terrorist groups are not the spontaneous freelancers they've been made out to be; they are privateers under license from certain ME countries, and the rulers in those countries, seeing US troops on their borders, have called off the dogs for now. They saw what happened the first time.

This also explains more accurately why Iraq was invaded - Saddam was a terror sponsor, yes, but no moreso than the House of Saud or the mullahs - in that by placing troops in each of Afg and Iraq, the US is now positioned on pretty much every dictatorship's doorstep in the region. Toppling him was the path of least resistance to this (not necessarily low resistance, just least).


2. AQ means, roughly, "the base" and was not the decentralized org is was made out to be. To the contrary, it was possibly the most over-centralized org one can imagine; "co-workers" could not even know each others' names beyond the handful they worked with, and all direction came from above.

By taking out their command central in Afg, the remainder of the org has been hamstrung as they don't know if they should try to reorganize - risking detection - or wait. This also explains why the US has not taken credit for killing OBL: if his terrorists followers still think he might be alive, they are more likely to do nothing as they wait. This point weakens with time, tho, and with the almost laughable videos that AQ now releases, each of which further promotes the argument that he's dead.
9.12.2007 5:06pm
ejo:
what did the LOL types find so interesting or fascinating as opposed to the Invectors? was it the statement of the obvious? was it that the professor refrained from referring to the Bush Administration as a bunch of poopy heads, limiting herself to just calling them dumb? the invective crowd seems to have found quite a few facts to put into their posts while conceding the possibility that the professor just might be right (albeit with no facts, just conclusions).
9.12.2007 5:08pm
CM:
Amy Zegart has a very impressive bio that indicates she is a premier expert on national intelligence. Sadly, her expertise is not well articulated in this post.

For those who are labeling critics of the Zegart posts as partisan Republicans or labeling her the opposite, Zegart's comments target the government institutions, not a particular party.
9.12.2007 5:11pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Dumb and dumber? Perhaps, but the dumbest by far is Amy Zegarts comments on the issue. This strikes me as one of those posts where one tries to get points from the like-minded for cleverness. It is a clever commentary, but it's really dumb. Amy fails to demonstate the same level of intellectual horsepower as the other Volokh Conspirators.
9.12.2007 5:14pm
Eliza:
We haven't been attacked since 9/11 because GWB has the sort of credibility with AQ that Clinton never had. In OBL's declaration of war against us he bangs on and on about how pathetic we are, and I suppose he has a point. Here's a sample:

Few days ago the news agencies had reported that the Defence Secretary [William Perry] of the Crusading Americans had said that "the explosion at Riyadh and Al-Khobar had taught him one lesson: that is not to withdraw when attacked by coward terrorists".

We say to the Defence Secretary that his talk can induce a grieving mother to laughter! and shows the fears that had enshrined you all. Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place on 1983 AD (1403 A.H). You were turned into scattered pits and pieces at that time; 241 mainly marines solders were killed. And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you to leave Aden in lees than twenty four hours!

But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; where- after vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order- you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge , but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.

Bush is sort of like America's Ahmadinejad. AQ thinks he's crazy and they figure they'll wait until he's out of office before cranking up the jihad over here again.
9.12.2007 5:23pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
Can I say Amy's argument is stupid if she is saying that Bush and his supporters' argument is stupid?

Obviously, if the potential terrorists are streaming into Iraq to fight US forces then they aren't coming to the US to kill US civilians. What could be clearer than that?
9.12.2007 5:25pm
WWJRD (mail):
Ejo: I agree with Amy's post. Just lol'ing at the (predictable) reaction here. It's a FredFamily here (= macho, macho man. More military spending, not less.), what we're not supposed to notice that?
9.12.2007 5:28pm
confused:
I don't see how one of Amy's million reasons: "Maybe it's the disruption of al Qaeda Central in Afghanistan." is different than dumb argument #1.

How is the disruption of al Qaeda Central in Afganistan not "fighting them over there"
9.12.2007 5:28pm
ras (mail):
Regardless of what of thinks of Amy's analysis, the q in the title of her post is an important one. The success in avoiding further attacks has been so complete as to boggle the mind, considering the enemy: a large and well-financed terror org filled with suicide bombers worldwide ... and ... yet ... nothing, or almost nothing, for years.

That's why I favor arg # 1 in my comment above: if AQ were truly freelancers, some of them would have surely struck by now.
9.12.2007 5:30pm
Anderson (mail):
We haven't been attacked since 9/11 because GWB has the sort of credibility with AQ that Clinton never had.

That is the funniest thing I'll read today.

When it looked as if Bush might lose in 2004, OBL got his video out to try to influence the election in Bush's favor.

The week before the Petraeus report, when it looked as if Congress might be swayed to stop the Iraq war, OBL got a video out encouraging the Dems to do so, again to help Bush.

George W. Bush is OBL's dream come true.
9.12.2007 5:35pm
r4d20 (mail):

AQ means, roughly, "the base" and was not the decentralized org is was made out to be. To the contrary, it was possibly the most over-centralized org one can imagine; "co-workers" could not even know each others' names beyond the handful they worked with, and all direction came from above.


This couldn't be farther from the truth.
9.12.2007 5:35pm
Lugo:
And Jose Padilla, and the Goose Creek arrests, and the DC Sniper, and in upstate New York, and Oregon--there's actually been quite a few arrests and convictions, but the mass media have done their best to give them little press.

I would say we have not had a lot of arrests and convictions of foreign terrorists (and specifically, of foreign terrorists provably associated with al Qaeda) who were involved in major, 9/11-scale plots. We have had a lot of home-grown guys and obvious buffoons trying to do small-scale stuff. If that is the kind of thing we're trying to stop, then the resources devoted to the "war on terror" are vastly disproportionate to the threat.

Lugo, is there a reason you're ignoring the foiled terror plots and people arrested in connection with them?

Which plots? That's what I'm asking! Where are all the highly trained badasses who are trying to execute spectacular, devastating, mass casualty attacks?
9.12.2007 5:37pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
Prepare to be offended.

We have not been attacked since 9/11 for the same reason we were not attacked before 9/11:

Because the people who carry out such attacks are largely incompetent.

9/11 only happened by a conflation of pure dumbass luck in the first place. A series of bad decisions inherited from the Clinton administration lowered the bar just enough that one group of terrorists could actually get something done, but beyond that there were literally hundreds of places the terrorists screwed up and should have been caught. They weren't caught, not because they were so slick and sneaky, but because they just plain got lucky. Sooner or later, someone inevitably wins the lottery. Not because they did such a great job of picking the numbers, but just because.

Our single greatest weapon in the war on terror is the sheer ignorance of the enemy. You can't send a rational thinking person to America on a mission like this; intelligent people come to America and say "hey, this is kind of cool" and gradually lose their desire to blow us up. They don't necessarily think we're "all that", but they do generally walk away with an idea that America is quite probably worth something and should continue to exist.

No, if you want someone to come to America and keep hating it, you have to send a desperate loser with barely enough brainpower to remember his name. Usually, whatever his plan was, he borks it up and we never know about it.

This isn't new. We're just more aware of it today.
9.12.2007 5:44pm
Brendan (mail) (www):
I'd just talk about number one:

1. Amy's argument itself is full of logical fallacies. The Bush administration doesn't claim that terrorists are contained in Anbar (magically or otherwise.) Rather it has said that terrorists are receiving training and materials in Syria and Iran - by implication stating that terrorists have freedom to move and do so in and out of the combat area. The admin instead argues that these terrorists focus on attacking our troops in Iraq. This is born out by the numbers in Iraq, unless you believe that Iraq War has increased terrorists by the killed rate (hard for me to believe, but a defensible position) - I don't see how you can challenge this.

2. Additionally look at the American interests that were attacked, high value domestic targets, war ships, embassies. It's plausible that as part of the war effort the embassies and ships at least have been hardened.

3. An often unrealized part of the GWOT is a continuous and sustained effort in the banking world to locate resources used by terrorists and prevent access. As the global center for banking, the US can very effectively carry out the enforcement of this. Coupled with denying terrorists safe haven like they had in Afghanistan and forcing them to work hard just to stay alive, its entirely reasonable to believe that GWOT has made carrying out (at least complex) attacks (like 9/11).

4. Additionally, knowing Sadam as we did, its not unreasonable to have expected him to welcome terrorists and use them as part of his continued effort to subvert the UN sanctions? Historically terrorist attacks don't happen the same twice, denying a potential ally like Sadam MAY have helped prevent a future attack.

5. Clearly there is AQ in Iraq based on high profile targets captured and killed, as well as all the foot soldiers. It's completely reasonable to believe that important intelligence has been captured as part of this effort - but also perfectly reasonable that the administration doesn't go into great detail (from time to time I've seen small news stories along these lines) to not poison the tree. This ties into point #2 you made about analysts, they need sources to work off.

At any rate there is enough to support that "fighting them over there" helps keep them from fighting us here, that it can't just be declared "stupid and misleading" and then dismissed. Clearly AMy needs to flush out the reasons and logic behind why it is "stupid and misleading" if she wants us to accept that point. It sounds like a visceral and not cerebral argument, and is not up to snuff for the usual quality of posts at VC, and I'm sure below her own standards.
9.12.2007 5:47pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
My bet is on a combination of things:

- We probably are a little bit better prepared and willing to have analysts connect the dots, even if it sometimes means politically incorrect things, such as profiling.

- Part of the Islamic world is likely a bit scared of the cowboy from Texas, esp. seeing what he did in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sure, he may be forced to withdraw troops from Iraq, but that really doesn't help Saddam Hussein, his two sons, or his Ba'athist party there.

- Iraq really is the center of the Islamic Middle East, and what we are doing there is a lot more dangerous to Islamofascists (I started using that word after our discussion yesterday) than almost anything else we could have done to them. It is not surprising that OBL and other al Qaeda leaders have made a point that the struggle should be centered in Iraq.

- I am sure that some are biding their time, hoping for a Hillary, or, even better, an Obama or Edwards, presidency.

- It is also probably good strategically for the Islamic terrorists to bide their time, since hitting us right now at home is likely to reenergize the American people, at a time when many have become tired of this War on Terror.

- Finally, Blind Luck.
9.12.2007 5:48pm
Henry Bramlet (mail):
Amy should be explaining to us why one of her 1 Million other reasons are more likely to be true than the fact that the government killed a bunch of AQ in Afghanistan, destroyed their training camps, and now seems to be fighting them in Iraq.

When one looks for causality in correlation, one must typically ask "Does the suspected cause have empirically verifiable mechanisms?" If Amy thinks its dumb to look at the loss of a training base, and the regular fights with AQ in Iraq, then she has a whole other definition of Dumb than I've ever seen.

I think that it is incumbent on Amy to offer a different mechanism than the one proposed by others- or at least try to disprove those that people have discussed. Instead she invents a strawman argument, suggesting that Bush-sympathizers believe there are "magic barriers" keeping the enemy in Iraq. Would she make the same argument if someone asked why Japan hadn't managed a significant attack on US Soil post Pearl Harbor? ("There are millions of reasons why Japan might not have attacked again...but to say its because we are fighting them at Midway is just plain dumb!")

A more constructive tact would be to confront the ACTUAL argument: AQ has limited resources, and right now those resources are concentrated in Iraq where porous borders and an arabic populous make it easier for them to do battle than in the US.

Does Amy ever respond to these comments?
9.12.2007 5:57pm
Lonely Capitalist (mail):
Maybe Eugene asks people to guest blog when they want his opinion of their work and he doesn't have the heart to tell them what he really thinks.
9.12.2007 5:59pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
With all due respect to the guest, the "92-year old grandma" analogy is much too juvenile for this blog.
9.12.2007 5:59pm
ras (mail):
r4d20.

AQ is geographically dispersed, but is not decentralized. To be clear about the semantics; it is the decision-making authority by which I classify an org as centralized/decentralized, not the geographic dispersal of its membership.
9.12.2007 6:07pm
Eliza:
You honestly think AQ is employing reverse psychology, Anderson? I think you're crediting OBL with a subtlety he doesn't have, has never had. Islamists are the most literal people on earth, and his clearly articulated hatred for Bush is unmistakable.

He really does want the US out of Iraq, it gives AQI a freer hand; he really does want Bush out of office, it makes America more biddable; he really does want the west to convert to Islam, it brings the goal of a global caliphate that much nearer.

And face it. If he had said he wanted Bush to stay in office and he didn't want the US to withdraw, you'd never have doubted his sincerity for a moment. Because it suits you to believe it. You just can't accept the fact that in some areas you and AQ share common ground, and it's your efforts at self-deception that I find amusing.
9.12.2007 6:07pm
Pete Guither (mail) (www):
My theory is that there has been no further attack because there is no need.

If we posit that AQ hated America's freedoms and wanted them destroyed, wanted to make Americans fearful, and turn most of the rest of the world against America, and wanted a fertile long-term staging ground full of angry occupied people who had lost loved ones and therefore could be easily recruited into radical Islamic violence...

Well, then, we've been doing exactly what he wanted. Why would AQ attack us when we're being so cooperative?
9.12.2007 6:19pm
ejo:
amazing the logical answers given above by a bunch of knuckle dragging submoron george bush acolytes-how could these people give such answers, many of which actually make sense and have use big words, when the original post is authored by a top flight intelligence analyst (sharing these high honors with Jamie Gorelick).
9.12.2007 6:22pm
ras (mail):
Amy's args are weak, but if I may paraphrase them to the better - mostly cuz I think the q itself is too important to be sidetracked on - why have there been no more major attacks at all? Keeping them fighting in Iraq will dilute their efforts, but not to zero, and there are many AQ members long since dispersed to pts in the US. Why are all of them so silent at the same time?

Back to my orig arg - that the sponsors have called off the terrorists for now - if the cells were truly decentralized freelancers, then surely at least some of them would have switched tactics by now and gone for a string of lesser successes instead - e.g. derailing trains, blowing up power stations, etc - but not one of them has.

Not one; that says something. So many terrorists are egotists, too, that it's hard to imagine them all ignoring the many opportunities they see every day, other than to surmise that they act on orders originating from an extremely small number of order-givers, who in turn must have had a very good reason to go quiet.

A true freelance terrorist outfit has no reason to go quiet simply because a country, such as Afg or Iraq, was attacked; a state sponsor does.
9.12.2007 6:23pm
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
Lugo, had we stopped the 9/11 murderers before they boarded the planes, we would have called them amateurs and "obvious buffoons" trying to hijack airplanes armed with nothing but box cutters.
9.12.2007 6:25pm
Morat20 (mail):
Hmm...Two words: Anthrax attacks.

Those went down the ole' memory hole. I'm surprised they're never brought up. Sniper attacks (just another spree killer, really). Idiots with blowtorches and plans to destroy the brooklyn bridge, and obvious incompetents whose entire plan was basically "hope really hard".

But successful anthrax attacks with no one ever found? Shocking, sudden silence.
9.12.2007 6:31pm
ras (mail):
Morat20,

The level of the "attacks" you cite suggests at most a few wannabes and copycats, not AQ itself. BTW, when did AQ claim credit for the (rather low-level, really) anthrax attacks? Perhaps I missed a news report; could you offer a link? thx.
9.12.2007 6:35pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
if AQ were truly freelancers, some of them would have surely struck by now.

I guess you missed the 7/11 attacks in England, and the foiled liquid bomb plot of last August. That's two self-recruited (or homegrown radicalized) AQ-related plots stopped in England. Then there is the Lackawanna Six, the Northern Virginia jihadists, and the loons in Florida and New Jersey. Adam Gadahn, Jose Padilla, and the Beltway 'Snipers'were all self-recruited into Padilla. The Germans were in the news last week after breaking up a ring of 16 mostly homegrown AQ volunteers, and a similar but much smaller ring was broken up in Denmark last week as well. It doesn't appear they the freelancers, so-called, are not trying. It looks more like they are getting caught.

The problem isn't that AQ 2.0 "freelancers" are either in AQ, or unaffiliated. The problem is the 'freelancers' may have been radicalized through a local mosque, may have self-selected for one reason or another, may have gotten tips on weapons and training off an AQ website, and may even have gotten guidance from AQ 1.0 leaders and associated individuals - clerics for instance - prior to starting their operational life. They might not appear on AQ's rolls. Then again, they might transition over to an operational element under more direct AQ control, like AQ in Iraq - a number of British freelancers morphed into AQ fighters in that way. It doesn't appear to be an either/or proposition, except in the case of some completely unafilliated but AQ-sympathetic loons like the Beltway 'Snipers.'
9.12.2007 6:36pm
Eliza:

If we posit that AQ hated America's freedoms and wanted them destroyed, wanted to make Americans fearful, and turn most of the rest of the world against America, and wanted a fertile long-term staging ground full of angry occupied people who had lost loved ones and therefore could be easily recruited into radical Islamic violence...

I think the people making that argument are barking up the wrong tree. OBL states his beef with the US fairly clearly in his declaration of war. The gist of it is he wants America to stop supporting the Saudi royal family and mucking around in the Middle East. That's the point Ron Paul's been rather clumsily trying to make in the debates. So 9/11 has been counterproductive on that score.

But having started a terrorist war on America and repeatedly vowed to continue it, I don't really see how he can back down from it now. We should be hearing from him soon, probably right after the new president takes office.
9.12.2007 6:44pm
ras (mail):
I guess you missed the 7/11 attacks in England

As politely as I can say this: England is not in the US; no snark intended.

It sounds like - and here I think we agree - over time, other groups are reorganizing themselves towards similar goals. But they are shying away from pursuing this in the US and the q is why?

I would offer that it is because the US would retaliate in force for an attack on its own soil, its people would demand as much, but not for an attack in England, which tends to strengthen the "terrorism is war-by-proxy" arg, not weaken it.
9.12.2007 6:44pm
ejo:
in response to the knuckle dragging bush acolytes, with those logical and factual responses, you get those above who think they can channel Osama Bin Laden. then you get the ones who want to get a giggle in for anything involving Bush. not a fact to be found in the bunch-just carping and no recognition that the day after a new president assumes power, we will still have the same enemy.
9.12.2007 6:57pm
FantasiaWHT:
For people saying the foiled plots in America weren't AQ, where did Amy ask "Why hasn't Al Qaeda attacked us?"

I wonder if she'll comment, either in this thread or in a later post?
9.12.2007 7:07pm
Bombast:
I am an alum of 2 UCLA graduate programs, with my 20th year alumni weekend coming up in October.

Seeing a post as juvenile and hackneyed as this, from a Respected Expert In The Field, depresses me greatly.

I fear my daughter is correct in her decision to skip UCLA as she applies for college.
9.12.2007 7:11pm
r78:
Two points 1) anthrax, 2) the 3,700+ soldiers killed in Iraq count as attacks, I would think.
9.12.2007 7:46pm
Morat20 (mail):
Morat20,

The level of the "attacks" you cite suggests at most a few wannabes and copycats, not AQ itself. BTW, when did AQ claim credit for the (rather low-level, really) anthrax attacks? Perhaps I missed a news report; could you offer a link? thx.


They didn't. No one did. To date, no one has ANY clue who did them. And they weren't copycats -- there were two waves, five letters mailed on September 18th, 2001, and two more dated October 9th.

The original wave was aimed at newspapers, the second wave was letters to two Democratic Senators. The stuff in the second wave of letters was actually very refined, compared to the first wave.

5 people died, 17 people were infected.

All the Anthrax from all 5 letters was of the Ames strain, and genetic sequencing showed the Anthrax came from Fort Derick (not any of the other 20 labs that had that strain) and was cultured no more than two years prior to their mailing, and was mixed with water from the North Eastern United States.

It was unweaponized, and no one has ever been arrested. Despite killing postal workers, journalists, and even ending up at the offices of the Senate -- it's gone nowhere.

I find that disturbing, with all the talk of "Terrorism" and "Are we safer". Post-9/11, there were two major incides -- the Beltway sniper and the Anthrax. The first seemed more like a particularly nasty killer out for PR than terrorism, but the latter?

All the talk about chemical and biological weapons, and we've never actually learned how Anthrax got out of Fort Derick and got sent to journalists and Senators. (Thankfully, it wasn't actually weaponized).

I find that a particularly chilling thing to recall.
9.12.2007 7:52pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
This is an amazing post. Yes, I agree, there might be some other reason why we haven't had a successful attack on the U.S. since 9/11 (but there was the shoe bomber). Still, which is more likely the reason?

1. Al-Qaeda, after a series of progressively more severe attacks on U.S. interests around the world, did 9/11, and then lost interest.

2. Al-Qaeda's central leadership is fighting for its life in Afghanistan, and every available Islamofascist in that part of the world is fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

If al-Qaeda had a large force of available terrorists to carry out 9/11 who were already in the U.S., why didn't they use them? Why go to the substantial cost and risk of bringing in Arabs to train here, and risk getting caught because they stood out? Why not use American residents for that operation? That 9/11 was done entirely with non-resident aliens, and that nothing equivalent has been successfully completed since then, suggests that the efforts made by Homeland Security have been at least partly successful.
9.12.2007 7:53pm
ras (mail):
If al-Qaeda had a large force of available terrorists to carry out 9/11 who were already in the U.S., why didn't they use them?

Just a hypothesis, but, for an intl org, AQ sure made a pt of openly using Saudis for 9-11, as many as possible. Perhaps their goal was to get their far enemy, the US, to attack their near enemy, Saudi Arabia, so that they, AQ, could mop up afterward.

The US attacking Afg instead - correctly so - means that the ruse didn't work, but nonetheless, perhaps the overloading of the 9-11 hijack team w/Saudis was by design rather than necessity. An American attack on S.A., home of Mecca, could have united the Muslim world behind AQ, which was certainly AQ's goal.
9.12.2007 8:22pm
rarango (mail):
correlation causality comes to mind--of course you cant prove in neither a logical nor statistical sense that anything has made us safer since 9/11. That seems to me to be a pretty dumb argument and for anyone to spend the time parsing it doesnt cast them in a very good light. The advantage will ALWAYS be to the determined terrorist. We undoubtedly will be hit at some point in the future. Its the cost of a free society. The question, ultimately unanswerable is this, I think: Are we spending the right amount of resources for the "GWOT" given the demonstrated returns. This is not a factually based question nor a logical one--it is a value judgment. Really asinine original post IMO.
9.12.2007 8:22pm
Enoch:
For people saying the foiled plots in America weren't AQ, where did Amy ask "Why hasn't Al Qaeda attacked us?"

Right at the bottom, where she says, "The "we haven't been attacked" argument suffers from the same logical weaknesses. Why haven't we seen another 9/11 since 9/11? A million possible reasons. Many it's al Qaeda's long planning cycles. Maybe it's the disruption of al Qaeda Central in Afghanistan." Manifestly her post concerns al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists, not homegrown fruitcakes.

Al-Qaeda's central leadership is fighting for its life in Afghanistan, and every available Islamofascist in that part of the world is fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Except that AQ's central leadership is not in Afghanistan, it is in Pakistan.
9.12.2007 8:46pm
LM (mail):
Amy,

Thanks for belying the specious claims of "mission accomplished" for our homeland security efforts. I'll be forever indebted if you'll blog next on the equally illogical canard that liberals caused the Cambodian genocide.
9.12.2007 8:54pm
LM (mail):

It is true though that in the 6.5 years before 2001 we had 4 major attacks on US targets but since then there have been no major attacks on US targets (outside of the war zone).

Yes, and outside of that war zone, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
9.12.2007 9:15pm
LM (mail):

The more alarming problem is logic.

Do you really find that a logical fallacy is "more alarming" than actual terrorist attacks and the proper allocation of government resources to prevent them?

I think her point was, giving our leaders the benefit of the doubt that they believe their own arguments, that such a failure of logic might suggest inadequate intellectual resources to execute effective homeland security, irrespective of the tangible resources allocated.
9.12.2007 9:35pm
Bart (mail):
Amy:

Don't quit your day job to become a military strategist.

Argument #1: "we're fighting them over there so they don't attack us over here." Yes, and the Tooth Fairy is real. This argument takes the prize for being both misleading and stupid, suggesting that Iraq's civil war and regional instability are offset by that invisible fence in Anbar province that magically corrals the world's terrorists and keeps them right where we want them.

This is patent nonsense.

To start, Strategy 101 dictates that you bring the battle to where the enemy conducts business. In order to launch effective attacks against the United States, al Qaeda needs sanctuaries to plan, recruit, finance, train and supply its units and those places are in the Islamic countries, primarily in the Middle East. If you degrade or deny al Qaeda its sanctuaries, then its ability to project force into our countries is severely compromised.

Second, Patton is reputed to say that his strategy was to hold the enemy by the nose and kick him in the ass. By "holding them by the nose," Patton meant to fix the enemy by engaging him. So long as we are engaging the enemy where he lives, killing them and chasing the rest to ground, the enemy has very little chance to go on the offense against us.

This strategic truism is assisted by the fact that the enemy's template for victory is engaging and defeating the infidel in a Muslim country and with a popular guerilla war as the Mujahideen did to the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. Thus, when our military entered Afghanistan and then Iraq, the enemy came to us with a literal religious fervor. However, rather than leading a popular guerilla war against the US, al Qaeda thoroughly alienated the locals in both countries by murdering their civilians. As a result, the locals are largely helping the US hunt down and destroy the al Qaeda invaders. Afghanistan and Iraq have proven to be al Qaeda's graveyard instead of ours.

Argument #2: "We've hardened the target by making dramatic improvements in homeland security, intelligence, and counterterrorism here at home." This one sounds more reasonable on the face of it. We've seen a number of changes since 9/11. Among them: The FBI has doubled its analyst corps, the intelligence budget has increased an estimated 25%, and counterterrorism "fusion" centers are popping up like mushrooms--with more than 40 of them across the U.S.

Perhaps you have heard the maxim that the best defense is a good offense. Any static defense can be overcome by an enemy which is free to field an attack force and plan a way around the defenses. In our open society, this would be easier than in many other places. Thus, it is wiser to attack the enemy and deny him the ability to field a competent force and plan their way around your defenses. As a result of our going on offense, the attacks which the enemy has attempted are largely franchised out to local untrained cells who are outmatched by our homeland defenses.
9.12.2007 9:55pm
Randy R. (mail):
The General : "because we have a president more interested in protecting the country than getting blowjobs."

Wrongo. The 9/11 attacks on W's watch, not Clinton's. Stop blaming everything on Clinton.

Clayton: "And Jose Padilla, and the Goose Creek arrests, and the DC Sniper, and in upstate New York, and Oregon--there's actually been quite a few arrests and convictions, but the mass media have done their best to give them little press."

Clayton, you are getting SOOOO boring with your lies and distortions. Everyone in Washington was saturated with stories about the DC Sniper, and I live here, so I know. The Lackawanna folks got tons of press. Ashcroft even interupted a press conference to announce Jose Padilla, and he has been in the news quite a bit.
9.12.2007 10:13pm
Randy R. (mail):
This is the most astonishing argument:

"So Amy may not agree with the extent of our presence in Iraq being responsible for Al Qaeda's failure to attack us in the US, but it is not "dumb" to conclude that there is a link."

First, we know that Al Qaeda was not present or at least not very active in Iraq before we invaded them. After we invaded them, they moved in. Now, if the argument is true, then we are indeed fighting them instead of over here.

So in other words, we started a war for no reason at all to stop something that wasn't going to happen. There have been about 40,000 US casualties (dead and wounded). Several hundred thousands of civilians dead and wounded. All just to avoid attacks here in the us.

So my question to you: I guess that means we can NEVER leave Iraq, since leaving will free them to attack the US, right? So we will continue with the US casualties to .... avoid US casualties.

IF what you are arguing is true, it is THE DUMBEST way to fight terrorism ever concocted, as is is the most wasteful and inefficient way possible. And it hasn't stopped them, of course, because there were attacks in London and Spain, and Germany just avoided a major attack.

But then, stupid planning is the Bush adminsitration way of life.
9.12.2007 10:23pm
Randy R. (mail):
"I would offer that it is because the US would retaliate in force for an attack on its own soil, its people would demand as much, but not for an attack in England, which tends to strengthen the "terrorism is war-by-proxy" arg, not weaken it."

Oh really? We went from Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, to he doesn't really matter any more. We gave up on hunting him down, thank you George Bush!, and he knows it, and if anything, it has made him stronger. NOw he can tell his recruits that he is so tough, even George Bush is afraid to take him on.

That's a rather powerful argument.
9.12.2007 10:30pm
fishbane (mail):
This strategic truism is assisted by the fact that the enemy's template for victory is engaging and defeating the infidel in a Muslim country and with a popular guerilla war as the Mujahideen did to the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.

I think you need to google for "John Robb". He's one of the best analysts on this stuff that posts in public. Strategy has shifted since Patton's day. A big component of terrorist/insurgent strategy is now systems disruption - how to use a relatively small action to create a large problem for your enemy. We saw this with 9/11 - a relatively cheap attack caused the US to spend an enormous amount of money. We're seeing this in Iraq - attack the power grid somewhat randomly, hit and run on the occupation force, terrorize defenseless local populations, etc. and eventually you end up with a completely failed state. (This applies even if you buy the up-is-down spin that Iraqi insurents == Al Qaida.)

Additionally, the distributed nature of of the insurgency allows a huge amount of iterative learning. The net makes successful tactics easy to share. This is why we are starting to see them in Mexico.

In all, it is an economic attack, with the goal to break nation states, and on the evidence so far, it is working pretty well.
9.12.2007 10:34pm
Randy R. (mail):
You want patent nonsense? Read Bart's quote: "Thus, when our military entered Afghanistan and then Iraq, the enemy came to us with a literal religious fervor."

Then why invade Iraq? Why not invade Israel, or Egypt? Or better yet, why not invade Saudi Arabia, where most of the terrorists actually came from?

"However, rather than leading a popular guerilla war against the US, al Qaeda thoroughly alienated the locals in both countries by murdering their civilians. As a result, the locals are largely helping the US hunt down and destroy the al Qaeda invaders. Afghanistan and Iraq have proven to be al Qaeda's graveyard instead of ours. "

it's proven to be quite a graveyard to our soldiers. So now your'e saying that was all part of the plan? Why didn't you say this in 2002? Nope -- you just made it all up to justify what has happened since then. Not a single person, not ONE, made the argument that you are making at the time of the invasion.

And if it WERE true, then you would have to admit that Bush lied to us about going to war.
9.12.2007 10:35pm
Randy R. (mail):
Personally, I like Caliban's explanation the best: We all assume that the terrorists are all brilliant and competent. They aren't. Anymore than all our military planners and White House administrators are all brilliant and competent. They aren't.

After having worked in the government for almost 18 years, I can attest that most people don't care about making programs work. They care about year end evaluations more than anything else. To assume that any gov't program will work at peak efficiency is a fallacy.

Yet, we have many people here who have argued this exact argument their entire lives, which is why they are conservatives, but today, because Bush is in the White House, they must argue that our gov't is suddenly operating perfectly and doing exactly what should be done. It's amazing how this war makes hypocrites of us all.
9.12.2007 10:39pm
Moi:
A weak argument, unworthy of the usually excellent posts on this blog (not all of which are ones with which I agree). I hope that the author responds to the criticisms in the comments.
9.12.2007 11:03pm
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
Randy R.,

It doesn't matter if Al Qaeda was there before we got there or not. They are there now. It is a legitimate argument that tying them down in Iraq has had an effect on their ability to attack us here. You may or may not agree with the strategy, but to claim there is no link is not "dumb."
9.12.2007 11:21pm
SenatorX (mail):
I am surprised by most of the comments here because I thought the post was pretty good. The analyst/agent dynamic for example was interesting. If we are going to "counter the enemy" and they are distributed while we are rigid/structured/centralized/clunky then we are setting ourselves up for failure. Haven't we had some "luck" so far with local prevention? Do grand strategies ever work anyway?

Much more attention to "best process" would be a good start.
9.12.2007 11:23pm
Brian K (mail):
now seems to be fighting them in Iraq

but they weren't even in iraq in the first place. instead of targetting the US itself they target our soldiers much more easily in Iraq...only now everytime AQ kills an american its classified as a war related casualty, not a terror related casualty. we haven't decreased the number of terrorist attacks at all...we've just started calling them something different and people magically believe that there hasn't been any terrorist attacks on US.
9.12.2007 11:33pm
Bart (mail):
fishbane (mail):

BD: This strategic truism is assisted by the fact that the enemy's template for victory is engaging and defeating the infidel in a Muslim country and with a popular guerilla war as the Mujahideen did to the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.

I think you need to google for "John Robb". He's one of the best analysts on this stuff that posts in public. Strategy has shifted since Patton's day. A big component of terrorist/insurgent strategy is now systems disruption - how to use a relatively small action to create a large problem for your enemy. We saw this with 9/11 - a relatively cheap attack caused the US to spend an enormous amount of money. We're seeing this in Iraq - attack the power grid somewhat randomly, hit and run on the occupation force, terrorize defenseless local populations, etc. and eventually you end up with a completely failed state.


Mr. Robb does have an interesting blog. However, al Qaeda's tactics are not particularly novel and have failed every time they were used in the past by other groups. No past and present terrorist bombing campaign waged against a civilian population and infrastructure has succeeded in either forcing the government to surrender to the terrorists or caused a nation state to "fail." Such bombing campaigns just make life very unpleasant. Indeed, the afflicted population often rebels against the terrorists senseless violence. See the IRA, ETA, Tamil Tigers, the Palestinian Intifada and now Iraq.

Some rules simply do not change. To take a country you still need to defeat the country's military and hold the territory. al Qaeda is lucky if they can muster 20,000 worldwide with the largest fraction of that in Iraq. The enemy is not about to take anything larger than a city on a temporary basis.

(This applies even if you buy the up-is-down spin that Iraqi insurents == Al Qaida.)

al Qaeda is easy to identify in Iraq. They are almost all foreigners and they are the only ones who commit suicide bombings.

In all, it is an economic attack, with the goal to break nation states, and on the evidence so far, it is working pretty well.

Not quite.

Our economy has grown by about 15% since 9/11 while our additional spending on this war might amount to 1% of GDP and does not even approach our Cold War spending. Consequently, there has been no net economic sacrifice. Rather, we are financing this war from the pocket change of our growth. We could keep this war up indefinitely.
9.12.2007 11:54pm
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
Brian K,

Actually, Al Qaeda was in Iraq. They were not associated with 9/11, but they had been negotiating (at the very least) with Saddam Hussein.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, and knowing that Saddam hated the US, there's no doubt that if we had not destroyed his regime, he would have stepped up support of Al Qaeda even more with areas for training and possibly funding.

This is or is not a wise reason to invade Iraq, but it is not "dumb" to associate the invasion of Iraq with success at keeping Al Qaeda from succeeding further in their attempts to attack us here.

We stirred up a hornets nest in Iraq, to be sure. A legitimate question is whether the hornets were dangerous before we stirred them up or not. To say that those hornets, terrorists, weren't dangerous before we stirred them up is one opinion. To say that by stirring them up we focused the enemy's efforts in an area we preferred to fight them in is another. Neither opinion is "dumb."

Amy has perhaps shown with her analysis why Al Qaeda kept getting stronger and bolder during the Clinton administration if she was involved in advising the president back then. I'm not sure what she did to get so many accolades for her biography, and I'm not familiar with the pedigree of those accolades, but this blog entry is more the type written by an undergraduate with more beer than experience and is not what one would expect of a supposedly lucid and worldly expert on the topic. Frankly, her analysis is dumb.
9.12.2007 11:57pm
Michael B (mail):
Amy, you have two problems, academic self-parody and worse academic self-parody. E.g., why wouldn't you credit your grandmother's driving acumen? No doubt she's not up to Formula-1 driving standards, but if she hasn't been in a wreck for six years it at least serves to suggest her acumen meets some minimal level that has helped to keep her out of accidents, regardless whether or not other factors, perhaps including some luck, have also been present.

And carrying the parody tack further still, how can we be so sure you love your grandmother? Simply because you make some statement that says so when your ageism (or is your issue women drivers in general?) seems to suggest otherwise? No, such general statements simply won't do, better reasoned proofs are needed.
9.13.2007 12:14am
Bart (mail):
Randy R. (mail):

You want patent nonsense? Read Bart's quote: "Thus, when our military entered Afghanistan and then Iraq, the enemy came to us with a literal religious fervor."

Then why invade Iraq?


Because Saddam, al Qaeda and other jihadis, and WMD were in one place. (Before you start regurgitating the usual spin, Iraq had at minimum the 500+ rounds of sarin and mustard gas our military did recover, which is enough to kill tens of thousands. Tons of UN tagged WMD materials were shipped out of Iraq to Syria just before the war. Guess where the rest of the WMD is? In any case, al Qaeda/al Insar was in Iraq for months if not years prior to our liberation. Go read Linda Robinson's book Masters of Chaos. She has a chapter on Operation Viking Hammer, where the SF and the Kurd Peshmerga engaged 1500 al Qaeda and captured their base, which included a chemical WMD lab with arabic manuals, chem suits and nerve gas antidote. There are also several dozen captured and translated Iraqi intelligence documents which detail the al Qaeda and other Jihadis in Iraq)

Why not invade Israel, or Egypt? Or better yet, why not invade Saudi Arabia, where most of the terrorists actually came from?

You may recall the Bush Doctrine is join us in fighting al Qaeda in your country or we will treat you like the terrorists. The countries you named are all killing al Qaeda. Iraq was sheltering them.

BD: "However, rather than leading a popular guerilla war against the US, al Qaeda thoroughly alienated the locals in both countries by murdering their civilians. As a result, the locals are largely helping the US hunt down and destroy the al Qaeda invaders. Afghanistan and Iraq have proven to be al Qaeda's graveyard instead of ours. "

it's proven to be quite a graveyard to our soldiers.


Not really. Our casualty rates in Iraq are literally a tiny fraction of those we suffered in every previous war of this length. Indeed, we lost more troops in an hour of D-Day.

So now your'e saying that was all part of the plan?

Not at all. Its just how it worked out.

We went into Iraq to depose the Baathist dictatorship, remove the WMD and clean out the terrorists there. We thought it would be a fairly straight forward conventional war ala the Persian Gulf War. However, our intelligence had no idea that Saddam's had created an extensive terrorist infrastructure of Iraqi militias and foreign jihadis waiting for us. Saddam had hoped that we would cut and run after a few months of terrorism and he would emerge from hiding to take over again.

Plans rarely survive contact with the enemy for either side.

We won the conventional war, but ended up with a terrorist war for which we were ill prepared. It took us three years to get our act together and develop a viable counter insurgency strategy which we started to implement in a piecemeal fashion in 2005, backed off to avoid casualties during the 2006 election year and then fully implemented with the 2007 Surge offensive.

However, Saddam's plans did not fare much better. His terrorists were only good at murdering civilians and our troops slaughtered them in face to face battle with very few losses to ourselves. Without Vietnam level losses and with a rather stubborn President, the US did not cut and run as Saddam planned and he ended up dangling at the end of a rope rather than returning to power.
9.13.2007 12:20am
Brian K (mail):
Mike,

It is a legitimate argument that tying them down in Iraq has had an effect on their ability to attack us here.

We haven't tied them down at all...they freely move between iraq and all neighboring states and from there they can move anywhere they want. they are in iraq because they choose to be not because we are somehow containing them there. and your hornet's nest analogy is flawed because there were no hornets in there to begin with...we turned a bunch of wax and honey into a real hornet's nest.

Actually, Al Qaeda was in Iraq. They were not associated with 9/11, but they had been negotiating (at the very least) with Saddam Hussein.
Actually, no they were not. you are making highly dubious inferences from data that can support many different more highly plausible interpretations. much of the rest of your post follows from this falsehood so there is no reason to refute it.

it is not "dumb" to associate the invasion of Iraq with success at keeping Al Qaeda from succeeding further in their attempts to attack us here.
it's not smart either. we have provided al qaeda with tons of tactical training and experience at our expense.
9.13.2007 12:57am
Brian K (mail):
whoops...i had some formating errors so here is the corrected post

It is a legitimate argument that tying them down in Iraq has had an effect on their ability to attack us here.

We haven't tied them down at all...they freely move between iraq and all neighboring states and from there they can move anywhere they want. they are in iraq because they choose to be not because we are somehow containing them there. and your hornet's nest analogy is flawed because there were no hornets in there to begin with...we turned a bunch of wax and honey into a real hornet's nest.

Actually, Al Qaeda was in Iraq. They were not associated with 9/11, but they had been negotiating (at the very least) with Saddam Hussein.
Actually, no they were not. you are making highly dubious inferences from data that can support many different more highly plausible interpretations. much of the rest of your post follows from this falsehood so there is no reason to refute it. and your hornet's nest analogy is flawed because there were no hornets in there to begin with...we turned a bunch of wax and honey into a real hornet's nest.

it is not "dumb" to associate the invasion of Iraq with success at keeping Al Qaeda from succeeding further in their attempts to attack us here.
it's not smart either. we have provided al qaeda with tons of tactical training and experience at our expense.
9.13.2007 12:59am
LM (mail):

Not really. Our casualty rates in Iraq are literally a tiny fraction of those we suffered in every previous war of this length. Indeed, we lost more troops in an hour of D-Day.

That's only relevant if, like WWII, the Iraq war is one we had to fight. If, on the other hand, it was an ill-conceived war of choice, then the relevant comparison is to how many would have died if we just stayed home and devoted even a little of the Iraq war money and manpower to shoring up our borders, ports, infrastructure and other soft targets for AQ.
9.13.2007 12:59am
Ryan Waxx (mail):

Argument #1: "we're fighting them over there so they don't attack us over here." Yes, and the Tooth Fairy is real. This argument takes the prize for being both misleading and stupid, suggesting that Iraq's civil war and regional instability are offset by that invisible fence in Anbar province that magically corrals the world's terrorists and keeps them right where we want them.


That's only "misleading and stupid" to a person of such great and towering intellect that he cannot mentally grasp the idea that maybe terrorists have limited resources.
9.13.2007 1:01am
Brian K (mail):
Ryan,

perhaps you can enlighten all of us as to why al qaeda has to stay in iraq. in other words, what is preventing them from leaving beyond their own desire not to? as soon as you realize that you can't answer this question, you'll realize why "we're fighting them over there so they don't attack us over here" is a stupid justification.
9.13.2007 1:07am
Enoch:
they weren't even in iraq in the first place. instead of targetting the US itself they target our soldiers much more easily in Iraq...

So, you'd rather that they come to the US and target American civilians than go to Iraq and fight armed soldiers?

there were no hornets in there to begin with...we turned a bunch of wax and honey into a real hornet's nest.

Oy. As if Saddam's Iraq was a hive of peaceful, productive honey bees. In fact there were hornets in there, too - though of a different type.

we have provided al qaeda with tons of tactical training and experience at our expense.

Dumb assertion. No matter where and when you fight the enemy, you will provide this sort of "training" (he will learn something).
9.13.2007 1:14am
fishbane (mail):
Bart:

See the IRA, ETA, Tamil Tigers, the Palestinian Intifada and now Iraq.

You're omitting several coups in South America, Africa, and the Pacific Rim, all of which employed some degree of systems disruption. (The difference between the Tamil Tigers and the Pinochet regime? Pinochet won.) Systems disruption is getting a lot easier, and so tactics are changing, as are the goals - instead of taking the governmental infrastructure, the goal becomes to destroy it. Information access and the international financial system, formal and informal, are also great magnifiers today.

Bottom line is that the projection of serious force against a sophisticated nation state is no longer limited to other nation stated.

al Qaeda is easy to identify in Iraq. They are almost all foreigners and they are the only ones who commit suicide bombings.

- The last reliable report (admittedly, from 2 years ago) pegged foreign insurgents at 4-10%. I'm going to wait for independent review before I credit the White House report that's been the talk of the town on much of anything.

- Why are you only counting suicide bombings? I have no knowledge of whether your statement is correct or not, but that's a pretty arbitrary way to cut up the violence.

Our economy has grown by about 15% since 9/11 while our additional spending on this war might amount to 1% of GDP and does not even approach our Cold War spending. Consequently, there has been no net economic sacrifice. Rather, we are financing this war from the pocket change of our growth. We could keep this war up indefinitely.

I was unclear - I was referring to Iraq as the increasingly failed state, not the US. Obviously a much, much different beast. But I think you're missing a few things:

- The ratio you're looking at isn't a constant. The military is seriously limping, and has been running on sunk investment. There's no way "[w]e could keep this war up indefinitely" - that's an absurd proposition.

- As Iraq continues to sink into trouble, costs will go up. A simple analogy: is it cheaper to maintain a functional power grid, or rebuild it constantly, under fire?

- I'm going to avoid commentary on taxation vs. military and other spending, because that's a completely different hornet's nest, but suffice to say, the Laffer curve isn't going to pay for infinite total war.

- Another cost is defense. We've nearly broken our military on an offensive war, with no visible end in sight. What if an antagonistic opportunist runs a successful coup in Russia? Or pick your favorite paranoid war-gamed scenario for a serious threat.

- finally, simple question: Assuming we need to kill insurgents in Iraq indefinitely, like zombies in a video game, doesn't that suggest that one's strategy for "winning" isn't exactly a winner? (This question assumes one doesn't think spending real blood and treasure is the same as a video game.) Followup question: do you think insurgents are capable of learning our tactics, adapting, and becoming a stronger enemy over time? Think Petri dishes and forced evolution, but add pre-existing intelligence.
9.13.2007 1:16am
Brian K (mail):
So, you'd rather that they come to the US and target American civilians than go to Iraq and fight armed soldiers?
So you think the life of a soldier is worthless?

Oy. As if Saddam's Iraq was a hive of peaceful, productive honey bees. In fact there were hornets in there, too - though of a different type.
yes, a type whose poison could not harm us.

Dumb assertion. No matter where and when you fight the enemy, you will provide this sort of "training" (he will learn something).
Equally dumb assertion. the tactics they are learning now are much deadlier to us than the tactics they would be learning had we not attacked them.
9.13.2007 1:33am
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
Brian K,

The wikipedia link you suggested (as though wikipedia is worthwhile for highly charged political references) agrees with my assertion. It says,


While Saddam was not involved in the September 11 attacks, members of his government did have contacts with al-Qaeda over the years; many of the links, as will be seen below, are not considered by experts and analysts as convincing evidence of a collaborative operational relationship.


This implies that many of the links are considered by experts and analysts as convincing evidence of a collaborative operational relationship. And the source of the claimed "many" that are not is Richard Clarke, who has proven to be a very partisan and unreliable source on the topic.
9.13.2007 1:37am
Brian K (mail):
Mike

"contacts" do not equal "negotiating (at the very least)". this alone makes the rest of your post moot as you have shifted what you were arguing in the first place.

This implies that many of the links are considered by experts and analysts as convincing evidence of a collaborative operational relationship.
hence my statement: "you are making highly dubious inferences from data that can support many different more highly plausible interpretations."

Richard Clarke, who has proven to be a very partisan and unreliable source on the topic.
and yet you believe GWB is a nonpartisan and highly reliable source of information?
9.13.2007 2:02am
ras (mail):
Randy R,

"Oh really? We went from Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, to he doesn't really matter any more."

What does your comment have to do w/the arg I put fw about war-by-proxy, the one to which you were purportedly responding?

For the life of me, I see no logical connection between by arg and yours, either as agreement or rebuttal. Did you perhaps reply to the wrong commenter? Or did the program truncate your remarks or something? Cuz otherwise, your comment is a complete non-sequiter.
9.13.2007 2:02am
fishbane (mail):
This implies that many of the links are considered by experts and analysts as convincing evidence of a collaborative operational relationship. And the source of the claimed "many" that are not is Richard Clarke, who has proven to be a very partisan and unreliable source on the topic.

I'm sorry, but this just flunks logic 101.

If you know that there are 100 cars in a lot, and have solid information that 40 of them are not red, are you willing to make assertions about how many of them are red? Most people, I think, would not turn around and assert that many of them are red. Incomplete information - you're soaking in it. (Note that this doesn't mean the other 60 aren't red.)

Richard Clarke, who has proven to be a very partisan and unreliable source on the topic.

I know you're trying to use the "even X on the other side agrees with me" tactic, but it becomes somewhat self-refuting to use an authority that you call unreliable in the same paragraph.
9.13.2007 2:18am
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
Brian K,

Believe what you want, you are impervious to logic. The original point is that Amy's post is not of the quality that one would expect on this blog.

The secondary point is that it is not dumb to think there is a link between our war in Iraq and Al Qaeda's failure to attack us further in the US, though to be civil there are other legitimate opinions out there that are also not dumb.

You seem to want to refute the value of our war in Iraq with someone who has been there and fought it and doesn't really care what you think about it. I've seen Al Qaeda in Iraq with my own eyes, seen their evil and have no problem, no matter who is president, in understanding that we need to kill these people because nothing but death will ever stop them no matter where they go.
9.13.2007 2:18am
Brian K (mail):
fishbane,

I know you're trying to use the "even X on the other side agrees with me" tactic, but it becomes somewhat self-refuting to use an authority that you call unreliable in the same paragraph.
it appears that i mis-read this part of mike's argument and that you provided the correct refutation to his claim. (instead of me who refuted a different claim that he didn't make)
9.13.2007 2:38am
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
fishbane,

Your parking lot analogy is clever but not quite right. Say you're inside a building with a huge parking lot, so big that you can't easily see the entire lot and 100 people come from outside. Many of the people say they didn't see any red cars in the parking lot where they parked. But many people say that they did see red cars in the parking lot. One of the people saying there are no red cars is a known liar. Because some reports did not contain evidence of there being no red cars does not refute the many others that did see red cars.

Likewise, if there are numerous reports of ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and many of the reports are deemed not showing convincing evidence, then what is the status of the remaining reports? If there were evidence that these reports were inaccurate, they would be included and the report would be that ALL the reported ties are not convincing. Since this is not claimed we must conclude that either they do not know of the accuracy of the reports, or the reports were accurate. Since a lot of time and energy is spent on attempting to refute these reports, it is perfectly reasonable to accept the implication that the remaining reports are indeed accurate or unproven to be inaccurate.
9.13.2007 2:47am
Brian K (mail):
Mike,

you are impervious to logic
how can you judge this when you haven't shown any?

The original point is that Amy's post is not of the quality that one would expect on this blog.
While I disagree that is not the point i was addressing. Her conclusions are sound even if you don't like the way she phrases things.

The secondary point is that it is not dumb to think there is a link between our war in Iraq and Al Qaeda's failure to attack us further in the US, though to be civil there are other legitimate opinions out there that are also not dumb.
Okay. I'm fine with leaving it at this.

You seem to want to refute the value of our war in Iraq with someone who has been there and fought it and doesn't really care what you think about it.
You seem to think i care that you in Iraq. I wouldn't expect an infantry grunt to understand high level strategic and tactical planning and especially not geopolitical repercussions of our actions.

I've seen Al Qaeda in Iraq with my own eyes, seen their evil and have no problem, no matter who is president, in understanding that we need to kill these people because nothing but death will ever stop them no matter where they go.
And i know many intelligent people, some of whom also have served in iraq, that disagree with you.
9.13.2007 2:48am
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):

I wouldn't expect an infantry grunt to understand high level strategic and tactical planning and especially not geopolitical repercussions of our actions.


Yeah, that snobbery says it all, Brian K.
9.13.2007 2:53am
Brian K (mail):
Likewise, if there are numerous reports of ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and many of the reports are deemed not showing convincing evidence, then what is the status of the remaining reports? If there were evidence that these reports were inaccurate, they would be included and the report would be that ALL the reported ties are not convincing. Since this is not claimed we must conclude that either they do not know of the accuracy of the reports, or the reports were accurate. Since a lot of time and energy is spent on attempting to refute these reports, it is perfectly reasonable to accept the implication that the remaining reports are indeed accurate or unproven to be inaccurate.

so it appears my refutation was correct after all. it was just a little premature. you are assuming that the person giving us these reports is giving us the whole report and not holding anything back. this assumption is definitely false. (i can selectively redact a report to make it say anything i want to)
9.13.2007 2:56am
Brian K (mail):
Yeah, that snobbery says it all, Brian K.

I was only returning the serve. or have you already forgotten that you said "You seem to want to refute the value of our war in Iraq with someone who has been there". the implications of your statement are obvious.
9.13.2007 2:58am
Mike Rentner (mail) (www):
No, Brian K, the implication clearly wasn't obvious to you.

I implied that I didn't care about YOUR opinion about the war. No, wait, I SAID that I didn't care about YOUR opinion about the war, because I'm not trying to debate the war as a primary point.

You, however, insulted an entire class of people that have served in the infantry by saying they're not smart enough to understand whatever divinations you've conjured up based on . . . well, based on whatever wikipedia says.
9.13.2007 3:12am
Brian K (mail):
if you don't care what my opinion is, then why argue with me in the first place? i made a comment about one of your posts, if you don't care then why reply? or why reply to my reply? your actions belie your words. (however, in the interest of civility i will apologize if you turn out to be the first person i have ever met who can carry out a 5 hour long debate on something that you don't care about at all)

You, however, insulted an entire class of people that have served in the infantry by saying they're not smart enough to understand whatever divinations you've conjured up based on
that's not true. my very next line, which you conveniently ignored, shows that my true feelings are much less extreme than the insult i used against you.
"And i know many intelligent people, some of whom also have served in iraq, that disagree with you."
but if you want to knock down a caricature, be my guest.
9.13.2007 3:30am
Ken Arromdee:
Clayton, you are getting SOOOO boring with your lies and distortions. Everyone in Washington was saturated with stories about the DC Sniper, and I live here, so I know.

The snipers themselves got press. The connection of the snipers to jihad, however, didn't.
9.13.2007 3:58am
tyree (mail):
"Argument #1: "we're fighting them over there so they don't attack us over here." Yes, and the Tooth Fairy is real."

Most of the soldiers I have read say this is a contributing factor to our success.

Amy is right that there are probably a million reasons why we haven't been attacked. However, a million reasons are impossible to debate, so they must be summarized. When they are summarized some reasons have to be taken out of the debate. That process does not mean that the remaining reasons do not exist or are "dumb".

I would submit that no one has yet proved that endless debate stops terrorism. The terrorists are not debating us, they are killing, or trying to kill us. So decisions must be made, on flawed analysis, by imperfect people in an imperfect world.

So lets have some of our people kill them faster over there, and have some of our people increase the efficiency of our intelligence operations, and then move on to reason #3, and #4 and #5. Then repeat as often as necessary.

But surrender is not an option, the Vietnam solution is not an option, for some of us. The first Democrat who comes up with a plan to stop terrorism besides running away, gets my attention. The first candidate who summarizes that plan in two perfect arguments that cannot be rebutted, gets my vote. I will probably have to settle for the lesser of two evils again, but hey, who wants the greater of two evils?
9.13.2007 8:03am
LM (mail):
Why is AQ fighting us there instead of here? As others have suggested, it's because they want to. Close to a million refugees have fled Iraq. Does anybody doubt AQ could find the door if they wanted to? Of course not. But while there may be no sign of external impediments to AQ's departure, I'll bet they were enjoying themselves too much watching us caught in a trap of our own making to want to go anywhere.

So far we've lost close to four thousand lives, and many times that number seriously injured. We've spent around half a trillion dollars. We've pretty much exhausted our army, the rehabilitation of which will take years and more billions of dollars. We've tied ourselves up militarily for more than four years, severely limiting our strategic options elsewhere. Robbing Peter to pay Paul has meant giving back much of what we gained at great expense in Afghanistan, putting stability there back at risk, though not, apparently OBL. We've lost influence, prestige and sympathy just about everywhere. Who knows the opportunity cost of our collective expenditure of time, manpower, creative thought and, not least of all, domestic partisan rancor, on this war?

How did we accomplish such a catastrophe? Leverage. By planting ourselves in the middle of Iraq and pulling out the pins that held the country together, we gave AQ a terrible weapon to use against us, one they'll never have access to here: somebody else's army. Militias actually, but still, in the aggregate a much bigger force than their own. All that remained for them to do was manage a light calendar of suicide massacres to stoke sectarian hatred, and the resulting civil war would do the rest.

And what has all this cost AQ? Sure, our military kicks their asses in bunches when we find them, but so what? Do they even care? They'd happily blow themselves up to keep us from seeing the end of a television cliff hanger. Imagine how much cred and admiration they're soaking out of the illusion of standing up to us in Iraq.

What's the likelihood AQ's next incursion here will be as productive for them as Iraq has been? Certainly less than 100%. So why would anyone believe that but for our influence AQ would be pulling the plug on their Iraq enterprise, and saving us in the process, just to chance trying to kill us someplace else? If they had a nuke, sure. In fact I'm afraid that only if and when they do get their hands on a nuke will we all finally learn the hard way just how pinned down in Iraq they weren't.
9.13.2007 8:37am
rho (www):
However, our intelligence had no idea that Saddam's had created an extensive terrorist infrastructure of Iraqi militias and foreign jihadis waiting for us.

That's a staggering assertion. Saddam's intelligence service authored the insurgency? Balderdash.
9.13.2007 9:16am
Bart (mail):
fishbane (mail):

Bart: Mr. Robb does have an interesting blog. However, al Qaeda's tactics are not particularly novel and have failed every time they were used in the past by other groups. No past and present terrorist bombing campaign waged against a civilian population and infrastructure has succeeded in either forcing the government to surrender to the terrorists or caused a nation state to "fail." Such bombing campaigns just make life very unpleasant. Indeed, the afflicted population often rebels against the terrorists senseless violence. See the IRA, ETA, Tamil Tigers, the Palestinian Intifada and now Iraq.

Some rules simply do not change. To take a country you still need to defeat the country's military and hold the territory. al Qaeda is lucky if they can muster 20,000 worldwide with the largest fraction of that in Iraq. The enemy is not about to take anything larger than a city on a temporary basis.

fishbane: You're omitting several coups in South America, Africa, and the Pacific Rim, all of which employed some degree of systems disruption. (The difference between the Tamil Tigers and the Pinochet regime? Pinochet won.) Systems disruption is getting a lot easier, and so tactics are changing, as are the goals - instead of taking the governmental infrastructure, the goal becomes to destroy it. Information access and the international financial system, formal and informal, are also great magnifiers today.


You have just proven my point that a bombing campaign is insufficient to take a country. Rather, you need an army as those coups to which you referred demonstrate.

Bart: al Qaeda is easy to identify in Iraq. They are almost all foreigners and they are the only ones who commit suicide bombings.

- The last reliable report (admittedly, from 2 years ago) pegged foreign insurgents at 4-10%. I'm going to wait for independent review before I credit the White House report that's been the talk of the town on much of anything.


Your numbers are essentially correct. When compared to the various Iraaqi militias, the foreign al Qaeda make up around 5-10 percent of those forces. However, all you need to do is read the papers to see that the al Qaeda's suicide bombings account for most of the killing and destroyed the Shia holy sites which nearly precipitated an Iraqi civil was last year.

Something that is not well understood in the US because of the lack of coverage from our Green Zone bound media is that the original Saddam insurgency among the Sunni tribes has been defeated and the Sunni are now joining the government against al Qaeda. What is left is primarily al Qaeda and Iranian trained Shia militias. The reason that General Petreaus has been talking primarily about al Qaeda and secondarily about Iranian supported Shia militias is that these are currently the two most dangerous groups and the targets of our Surge offensive.

Bart: Our economy has grown by about 15% since 9/11 while our additional spending on this war might amount to 1% of GDP and does not even approach our Cold War spending. Consequently, there has been no net economic sacrifice. Rather, we are financing this war from the pocket change of our growth. We could keep this war up indefinitely.

I was unclear - I was referring to Iraq as the increasingly [economically] failed state, not the US.


You may want to Google the Iraqi GDP figures, which have exploded over the past 3 years. I believe Iraq is the fastest growing economy in the Middle East. You need to realize that 80% or more of the country is largely at peace and growing like gang busters without even tapping into a substantial part of their oil reserves.

The ratio you're looking at isn't a constant. The military is seriously limping, and has been running on sunk investment. There's no way "[w]e could keep this war up indefinitely" - that's an absurd proposition.

My heavens man, we only have around one percent of our population in the military and are spending maybe one percent of our GDP on the war. We can and are replacing the equipment and the troops. Indeed, we are currently expanding the military by 30,000. Compare these figures to WWII with a far smaller economy and population base.

We've nearly broken our military on an offensive war, with no visible end in sight. What if an antagonistic opportunist runs a successful coup in Russia? Or pick your favorite paranoid war-gamed scenario for a serious threat.

We have not had the troops to fight two wars since the 90s drawdown. Apparently we and the joint chiefs would like to have that ability back. I am willing to spend another 2% of GDP to get back to Cold War era spending to make that happen. Are you?

finally, simple question: Assuming we need to kill insurgents in Iraq indefinitely, like zombies in a video game, doesn't that suggest that one's strategy for "winning" isn't exactly a winner?

The classic counterinsurgency strategy which we are using is to clear and hold land to deny the enemy a sanctuary from which to wage war. The fact that the enemy is dying in enormous numbers is a bonus.
9.13.2007 9:38am
Lugo:
So, you'd rather that they come to the US and target American civilians than go to Iraq and fight armed soldiers?
So you think the life of a soldier is worthless?


If they're going to fight somebody, far better they should fight armed soldiers than unarmed civilians.

Oy. As if Saddam's Iraq was a hive of peaceful, productive honey bees. In fact there were hornets in there, too - though of a different type.
yes, a type whose poison could not harm us.


Absolute rubbish. However unattractive the situation in Iraq now, it is far less harmful than if we'd left Saddam in power.

Dumb assertion. No matter where and when you fight the enemy, you will provide this sort of "training" (he will learn something).
Equally dumb assertion. the tactics they are learning now are much deadlier to us than the tactics they would be learning had we not attacked them.


More absolute rubbish. What they're doing isn't all that hard, and what they're learning in Iraq isn't anything they wouldn't have learned anyway in Afghanistan, where we certainly didn't have the option "not to attack them".
9.13.2007 10:36am
Elliot123 (mail):
LM: "Thanks for belying the specious claims of "mission accomplished" for our homeland security efforts."

That claim would indeed merit refutation. Can you tell us who made the claim?
9.13.2007 5:52pm
LM (mail):
LM:

That claim would indeed merit refutation. Can you tell us who made the claim?

Dick Cheney, from Meet the Press, 9/10/2206: "Well, Tim, I think we've done a pretty good job of securing the nation against terrorists. You know, we're here on the fifth anniversary, and there has not been another attack on the United States."
9.13.2007 7:29pm
LM (mail):
Elliot123:

LM: "Thanks for belying the specious claims of "mission accomplished" for our homeland security efforts."

That claim would indeed merit refutation. Can you tell us who made the claim?

Dick Cheney, from Meet the Press, 9/10/2206: "Well, Tim, I think we've done a pretty good job of securing the nation against terrorists. You know, we're here on the fifth anniversary, and there has not been another attack on the United States."
9.13.2007 7:33pm
Chester White (mail):

"Just because we haven't experienced tragedy does not prove we are doing things right. This is causality 101, and it's something we drum into UCLA MPP students in their first year. Causal connections have to be examined, not assumed, or you'll get into trouble."

OK, Amy Zegart, if that is your real name, let's try a thought experiment, shall we?

Assume we've been hit several times since 9/11, with everything else held constant.

Would you not be arguing, with equal passion, that the more recent attacks had occurred because "They hate us more now" or "We were distracted by Bush's bad priorities" or "The military and DHS screwed up" or "Our resources are stretched" or any of 1000 other things?

In my thought experiment, you'd be lambasting something else. And if you are to be consistent, you'd have to accept my reworking of your first sentence to read "Just because we HAVE experienced tragedy does not prove we are doing things WRONG."

But you wouldn't, would you? You'd be yelling EVEN LOUDER about Bush. Logic is a b!tch, ain't it?

Perhaps you are familiar with the expression, "Heads I win, tails you lose."
9.14.2007 12:06pm
Smokey:
Anderson:
''When it looked as if Bush might lose in 2004, OBL got his video out to try to influence the election in Bush's favor.''
Wow! OBL is a Bush supporter -- confirmed by one who apparently could read OBL's mind. The things you can learn on the VC! Myself, I would have advised the long-deceased OBL to support Kerry, an absolute do-nothing if there ever was one.
9.14.2007 8:07pm
SenatorX (mail):
I don't care who Amy is, her logic is correct. Refute the logic or sound like an idiot.

Her post makes me think of something that comes up in psychology/philosophy in that "you don't know what you don't know". I prefer the Nietzsche phrase "it's hardest to see around ones own corner". And yet if your job is counter intelligence isn't that part of your job? The enemy (whoever they may be) will certainly be trying to think how you think and therefore exploit your gaps.
9.14.2007 9:47pm
Michael B (mail):
Decidedly to the contrary, there is a solipsistic and even a pathetic quality to Amy's "logic." For broader perspectives, Norman Podhoretz in OpinionJournal and Bill Roggio in the aptly titled The Long War Journal. But such references are merely the tip of the tip of the iceberg of the terms, grounds and broader perspectives that are lacking in Amy's "logic."

(And in narrower terms, in the vein of "keeping us safer" at home, no one - outside of academic and ideologically truncated confines looking for strawmen arguments - imagines such statements by the admin., as represented in the original post, are forwarded in the vein of deductive logic. To the contrary, such statements are offered up for general consumption together with the conscious awareness that the breadth and complexity of the situation very much limits the application of any type of simplified, narrow and deductive "logic.")
9.15.2007 8:18am
SenatorX (mail):
As usual Michael you do your best work against yourself.
9.15.2007 11:07am
Michael B (mail):
Coy.
9.15.2007 3:06pm
LM (mail):

And in narrower terms, in the vein of "keeping us safer" at home, no one - outside of academic and ideologically truncated confines looking for strawmen arguments - imagines such statements by the admin., as represented in the original post, are forwarded in the vein of deductive logic. To the contrary, such statements are offered up for general consumption together with the conscious awareness that the breadth and complexity of the situation very much limits the application of any type of simplified, narrow and deductive "logic."

I don't think I've ever seen lying so elegantly described. Kudos.
9.16.2007 4:46pm
Michael B (mail):
If you intended that to be a back-handed compliment (as your earlier comments would suggest) you should have chosen something like the term "defended," rather than "described." As it stands it sounds both unironic and sincere. And to be clear I did not and would not charge Amy with lying. Something far more endemic, more fundamental, is involved.
9.16.2007 6:05pm
LM (mail):
Michael B,

I convinced somebody last week with an argument I was trying to lampoon, which suggests I may indeed need a thinner veil on my irony. So point taken.

That said, although "defend" or "rationalize" also would have been accurate, I did mean "describe." My point was that statements [...] offered up for general consumption together with the conscious awareness that the breadth and complexity of the situation very much limits the application of any type of simplified, narrow and deductive "logic" are nonetheless lies (elegantly described) when they are knowingly illogical. Determining that an issue is ill-suited to framing succinctly according to deductive logic isn't a license to address it free of logical constraints. It's fair to impute a general understanding that administration comments are less than complete, but not that additional information is needed to make them logical or otherwise accurate.

To be clear, I'm not saying the Administration lied, unless they did what you described, using the reasoning you suggested, and I have no idea whether that's what they did. Also, I didn't think you accused Amy of lying. If my comment suggested otherwise, I may have problems with my writing beyond just a tendency to bury irony.
9.16.2007 8:17pm
Michael B (mail):
Well, I'm agreeing with the administration; to be terse, suggesting inductive and abductive reasoning additionally needs to be applied. That's exemplified in the links already provided (here and here), also via Crittenden, such as here and here.

But to end on an agreeable note, we do agree concerning the problems associated with communicating irony in forums such as this.
9.17.2007 9:53am