Special Feature - Terror Attack Aftermath
A Puzzling War
Seeing the World Anew
|Success Against Taliban Hinges
Emerging From the Wreckage
Economist Global Agenda
The American military campaign in Afghanistan has been criticised from both sides: for bringing unnecessary civilian deaths, and for being half-hearted. But with winter and Ramadan approaching, the bombing is being stepped up
THE pictures conjure up unwelcome memories of the American war in Vietnam. Billowing clouds of smoke swathe a mountainside outside Kabul, the Afghan capital, marking strikes by a B-52, a giant bomber. B-52s are flying from their base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to lend their terrifying loads of 1,000lb bombs to the American onslaught on the ruling Taliban. The carpet-bombing in recent days of Taliban front-lines represents a shift in tactics, and a new urgency in the military campaign by America and its allies.
There are several reasons for that urgency. The most obvious is that, so far, the campaign has not scored any obvious successes. It does not appear to have brought America and its partners any closer either to their immediate goalof capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and his closest henchmenor to the parallel goal of toppling the Taliban regime that has harboured his al-Qaeda network. American and British leaders point out that they always said that this would be a long-drawn-out war, and that the bombing campaign, which did not start until October 7th, has not yet been sustained nearly as long as, for example, the aerial bombardment of Serbia in 1999. But the failure so far to deliver results in Afghanistan is fuelling criticism of American strategy at home and abroad.
That criticism comes from both sides. America is attacked both for prosecuting the war too vigorously, and for pulling its punches. Among those urging it to do moreand cheering from their own front-lines as the B-52 roared overare Americas military allies in Afghanistan, the fighters of the United Front or Northern Alliance. The Alliance has complained that American restraint in bombing Taliban troops has held them back from mounting a ground assault on both Kabul and the strategic northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif. It is certainly true that America and its allies have been nervous about what might happen if the Alliance took power before negotiations have been completed on a post-Taliban power-sharing arrangement.
The Alliance, dominated by members of minority ethnic groupsUzbeks, Tajiks and Hazarasis feared and reviled by many members of the largest group in the country, the Pushtuns. It is also opposed by Pakistan, the most important of Americas front-line coalition partners. Efforts to forge a broader anti-Taliban front, incorporating Pushtun groups, are stuttering. Zahir Shah, an octogenarian former king who lives in exile has offered himself as a figurehead. But no Southern Alliance has formed within Afghanistan; exile groups remain fractious; and Abdul Haq, a Pushtun leader, whom outsiders looked to as a moderate unifying force, was captured and killed by the Taliban last week while trying to rally Taliban defectors. As so often in Afghnistan's past, outside powers also want a say in the composition of a future government. Pakistan inists that some moderate members of the Taliban should have a role. Iran, India, Russia and others will resist that.
The other line of criticism that the war effort is half-hearted comes not from Afghan fighters but from influential voices on the right of American politics. John McCain, a Senator and former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has called for the deployment of ground troops. He and some congressional colleagues have argued that bombing alone will not be enough to bring Mr bin Laden to justice. To do that, America would need to establish a base within Afghanistan from which its soldiersprobably in large numberscould conduct a search.
Unlike in Kosovo in 1999, America and Britain have been careful not to rule out the use of ground troops. Indeed, two weeks ago, they mounted one well-publicised commando raid, and Donald Rumsfeld, the American secretary of defence, has confirmed that some special-forces soldiers are operating within Afghanistan, as, in effect, forward air-controllers for the bombing raids. Special-combat forces from Britain, Canada, Australia and now TurkeyNATO's only Muslim memberhave also been made available. But all this is still a far cry from the sort of commitment that Mr McCain and others are calling for, which would put large numbers of American soldiers at risk. Such was the horror of the attacks on America of September 11th that the public would almost certainly back a campaign that cost lives. But only if it succeeded.
Meanwhile the American conduct of the war faces mounting criticism of a more predictable kind: for being not too ineffectual, but too destructive, and, in particular, for causing too many civilian deaths. Politicians have pointed out that more than 3,000 bombs have been dropped on Afghanistan, of which only a handful have gone astray. But each misdirected strike is a propaganda victory for the Taliban. Sympathy for Afghan civilians is heightened by their dreadful plight. Already one of the worlds poorest people, Afghans have suffered more than 20 years of war, five years of calamitous misrule by the Taliban and three years of drought. Some 7.5m are estimated to be at risk of starvation this winter. So there have been calls from politicians and aid agencies for a humanitarian pause in the bombing, to allow relief supplies to reach the people who need them.
The bombing has also been criticised on tactical as well as humanitarian grounds, for playing into the terrorists hands. As Sir Michael Howard, a British military historian, put it this week, if terrorists succeed in provoking the use of overt armed force against them, they are in a win-win situation Either they will escape to fight another day, or they will be defeated and celebrated as martyrs. Moreover, however careful it is, this argument goes, bombing will harm innocent civilians, and this will breed fresh anti-American resentment, and new generations of terrorists. It also undermines the strenuous efforts Britain and America have made to ensure that the campaign is seen as directed at terrorists and terrorism, not at Muslims and Islam.
That is a second reason for the urgency of demonstrating military progress: the need to hold together a remarkably broad but fragile global coalition, many of whose most important members are predominantly Muslim. In countries such as Pakistan, Egypt and Indonesia, extremist Islamic groups represent only a small minority of the population. But the acquiescence of moderate Muslim governments in the bombing of fellow Muslims lends a useful political tool to their opponents. So Pakistans president, General Pervez Musharraf, keeps saying he wants the bombing to be short-lived. Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesias president, has called for a pause. Britains prime minister, Tony Blair, on a tour of the Middle East, has found Arab leaders ready to condemn the September 11th attacks. But even Saudi Arabia, a western-aligned monarchy, has failed openly to support the bombing of Afghanistan. Syrias president, Bashar Assad, bitterly attacked it.
Islam also plays a part in the third reason for urgency: the calendar. The holy month of Ramadan will begin around November 17th, and there have been suggestions that America might show its sensitivity towards Muslims by stopping or moderating the bombing during the fast. Geoff Hoon, Britains defence minister, has said we should indicate to the states in the region that we are taking account of Ramadan. But other coalition leaders, including Mr Rumsfeld, have rejected suggestions of a pause, pointing to historical instances of wars between Muslim countries that have continued unabated through Ramadan.
As Ramadan starts, or soon thereafter, so will the snows. The bitter Afghan winter is a further complication military strategists have to take into account as they plan for a campaign that, as Mr Hoon repeated on November 1st is for the long haul. After the Gulf War and the war over Kosovo, America and its allies have come to expect relatively quick wars that do not cost the lives of their own soldiers. That is perhaps why the use of the B-52s, so much a feature of the war in Vietnam, the last long American military engagement overseas, has raised such haunting memories.
|Success Against Taliban Hinges on
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Pentagon officials are signaling that the war in Afghanistan will be hard and long. Questions have been raised as to why the Taliban does not believe its position is hopeless. The Taliban believes it is possible, with strategic luck, not only to survive but also to draw the United States into a quagmire. The key to all of this is Pakistan.
It is now official: The Taliban fighters are tough. Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff, recently expressed surprise at how doggedly they were resisting U.S. attacks, saying, "They are proving to be tough warriors.''
He understates the matter. In a nation of warriors toughened by culture, heritage and experience, the Taliban battled its way to power and held it. Even more important, the Taliban does not intend to give up power willingly, nor does it expect to lose the war.
Stufflebeem's statement is an important punctuation mark in the Afghan war. The Bush administration had hoped that an intense bombing campaign carried out prior to winter might shatter the Taliban's hold on power, and Stufflebeem is now conceding that this is not likely. In other words, the Joint Chiefs have signaled to the public that the United States probably will not be able to knock the Taliban out quickly by pounding the regime from the air. The war in the Afghan theater will go on into the winter and certainly into 2002 at least.
Stufflebeem expressed surprise that the Taliban does not seem to understand it cannot win. The fact is, it believes it can. The Taliban's view of the war is fairly simple: The air campaign is unpleasant but not, by itself, decisive. Air campaigns rarely are. They are particularly ineffective when aimed at a well dug-in infantry force. When we add to that Washington's overwhelming political need to minimize civilian casualties in order to keep Islamic states in the U.S.-led coalition by, the Taliban understands that the ability of the United States to strike decisively from the air is severely limited.
In the worst-case scenario, U.S. air power will allow Northern Alliance troops to take Kabul. Even were that to happen, the nucleus of Taliban power is not in Kabul -- a city notoriously hard to hold -- but in the southern city of Kandahar. The southern elements who are considering which way to jump do not want to side with a loser. Right now, various allies in Afghanistan are carefully evaluating U.S. actions to judge how committed and capable the United States is. They are in no rush to judge. Therefore, the Taliban feels fairly secure in southern regions.
As for Kabul, the Taliban understands an assault by the Northern Alliance would have more to do with the Pakistani government than with the Northern Alliance itself. Pakistan helped create the Taliban. If the regime were to fall, the last people the Pakistanis would support for control of Afghanistan are the members of the Russian-dominated Northern Alliance. Islamabad has made it clear to Washington that the use of Pakistani facilities depends on the United States preventing the creation of a government founded on the Northern Alliance.
This has forced the United States into the strange position of trying to create a new Afghan government before it has overthrown the old one. Because everyone is waiting to see whether the Taliban can be ousted before they commit themselves to the American cause, an insane situation has been created. The Taliban cannot be destroyed before a coalition government is waiting in the wings. Many people in Afghanistan won't risk membership in an anti-Taliban coalition until after the United States has demonstrated that the Taliban can be defeated. The Taliban is, of course, fully aware of the situation and is therefore in no hurry to capitulate. In fact, it really doesn't think it will lose.
There is, however, a deeper reality beneath the temporary comedy. The United States is not going to disengage; it would be absolutely impossible either from a domestic political or geopolitical perspective. The United States also cannot afford to create an Iraq-type situation of endless air campaigns leading nowhere. A solution must be found.
The heart of the problem is not in Afghanistan. It is in Pakistan. This is not just because the United States needs Pakistani territory for its military campaign or because of Pakistan's political influence inside Afghanistan -- although both of these are extremely important. Rather, it is because the Taliban cannot survive a protracted struggle without protected sanctuary and a source of strategic supply. Pakistan is the center of gravity for the Taliban's military machine.
Parallels to this war are found, in part, in Vietnam and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. In both cases, light infantry forces defeated more powerful military machines that enjoyed complete air superiority and were able to emerge victorious from virtually any engagement. Despite absorbing much higher casualties than the Americans and Soviets, the Vietnamese and Afghans were able to win because they had a much greater political tolerance for casualties over time than did their opponents. This defined the conditions for their victories.
The ability to sustain combat over time was essential for victory. For this, Vietnamese and Afghans needed two things. The first was the supply of weapons and other materiel from outside the country. The second was the availability of secure staging areas from which to recruit and train new troops. For the North Vietnamese, the solution was the delivery of weapons from the Soviet bloc to North Vietnam, followed by transfer to the combat theater over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In the case of Afghanistan, weapons were transferred from the United States, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere and then carried into Afghanistan -- while Pakistan served as sanctuary, recruiting depot and training base.
Guerrilla armies live off the land. True guerrilla armies that defeat great powers are rare. Infantry armies supplied from outside can defeat great powers. Therefore, the heart of the matter for the Taliban is whether Pakistan will supply the wherewithal to resist the United States. If the United States manages to cut off that support and deny sanctuary, the Taliban's future will be much bleaker -- even hopeless. But if Pakistan does keep providing the needed resources, the Taliban could win.
The future of Pakistan in this war is very much in doubt. Recent reports that U.S. helicopters were fired at on the ground in Pakistan may well signify a Taliban-orchestrated campaign against U.S. forces there. This could give rise to a situation in which the Pakistani government sides with the United States but cannot or will not control its own countryside along the frontier. Pakistan could both serve the United States and supply the Taliban.
Under this scenario, the United States would have three options. One would be to accept the situation. The second would be to conduct operations to stop the flow of arms into Pakistan without attempting to clear the border area of Taliban base camps. The third would be to extend the war into Pakistan. The logic of the situation requires the third option because enough weapons can seep into Pakistan --or are already there -- to support the Taliban's efforts. Of course, this would require the deployment of massive numbers of troops in Pakistan, which Islamabad would oppose.
This option, however, would delight the Taliban and al Qaeda. It would drag the United States deeper into the quagmire while allowing opponents to claim that this was proof the United States was not anti-Taliban but anti-Islamic. This is obviously the last thing the United States would want. On the other hand, a fight in Pakistan would be much easier than a fight in Afghanistan, and it would undoubtedly have the vigorous support of a real strategic asset: India. A victory in Pakistan would cut off sanctuary and create the real foundation for defeat of the Taliban. However, it would also tear apart the coalition, driving many Islamic countries from a position of uneasy support to active hostility toward the United States.
All actions against the Pakistanis -- particularly those involving India -- inevitably must take into account the nuclear dimension. Thus, apart from political considerations, joint U.S.-Indian operations against Pakistan would either have to take out Pakistani nuclear capabilities with a high degree of certainty or be prepared to accept a nuclear threat. This further decreases the probability of operations directed against Pakistan.
The United States badly wants the Pakistani government to continue its policies and to gain complete control of its frontiers on its own. This is absolutely critical to the United States. It is equally critical to the Taliban that this either be prevented, or that the United States be forced to push the Pakistani government aside and take matters into its own hands.
Thus, as the war moves beyond the initial phase, the Pakistani frontier region will be crucial. This is where the war will be decided. If the area cannot be sealed off, the Taliban will continue to enjoy sanctuary and receive supplies, possibly fighting the United States to a standstill. If, on the other hand, the frontier is sealed except to U.S. forces and to supplies for U.S. allies, Afghanistan can be finished off.
Kabul is therefore a sideshow, as is the air campaign. Pakistan is the heart of the matter. At this moment, it does not appear to STRATFOR that the Pakistani government has the ability or the will to seal the border. Indeed, it is not clear to us that U.S. assets in Pakistan are fully secure.
However, changing the situation on the ground in Pakistan would merely be difficult, not impossible. And that change is the key to creating despair in the ranks of the Taliban.
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Oct 26th 2001
The Economist Global Agenda
After three weeks of bombing, it has become clear that hunting down Osama bin Laden and defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan is proving to be more complicated than expected. Will it be a short war or a long one? This is only one of the questions confusing, and sometimes dividing, America and its allies
AS AMERICAN bombs and missiles rained down on Afghanistan for a third week, it seemed that two different views of the waror, at least, two different presentations of the same factswere emerging in Washington, London and other friendly capitals. Civilian leaders, diplomats and those most sensitive to the feelings of queasy allies are hoping that the air war will be restrained, surgical and swift, and that military efforts can soon give way to a different task: namely, building a new regime in Afghanistan, broadly supported within the country and generously assisted from outside. In contrast, military commanders, such as Americas General Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and the politicians who are closest to them, have been warning that the campaign could be long, complex and messy.
Vice-President Dick Cheney deepened the gloom by saying that the heightened threat of terrorism might need to be confronted for decades. General Myers has hinted that the campaign in Afghanistan alone might last well beyond next summer. Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of Britains defence staff, has said that commando raids by allied ground troops inside Afghanistan may have to go on for days or weeks at a time in order to find Osama bin Laden and destroy his terrorist network. This is in contrast to the few hours duration of the first publicly acknowledged raid on October 19th.
On October 26th, the British government announced that 200 of its commandos were immediately available for action, and 400 more were put on a state of high readiness to join their American comrades in possible ground operations in Afghanistan. It is believed that Mr bin Ladens terrorist trainees are now fighting alongside the Taliban army as a single force, said Rear-Admiral John Stufflebeem, briefing reporters at the Pentagon. Mr bin Laden was believed to have aligned his fighters, and his fate, more closely than ever with Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Talibans leader. Id be surprised if one could survive without the other, said the admiral.
With only a few weeks to go before the holy month of Ramadan, by which time Pakistans President Pervez Musharraf and other Muslim leaders would like to see the bombing stopped, and another week or two before the onset of heavy snow, the Taliban have yet to suffer any decisive reverse. American forces have somewhat intensified their bombing of Taliban positions north of Kabul, though with less force than the Northern Alliance of Tajik and Uzbek fighters would like. There is comparatively little fighting on the ground. Since September 11th, front-lines in most of the country have not moved far.
Much of the fighting between Afghan forces seen on television in the West is in fact no more than target practice kindly staged for visiting cameras. Where territory has changed hands, military action has not always been the chief reason. The Taliban gained control of Afghanistan in the first place largely thanks to their financial clout: where they are losing ground now, the reason is often that they are being outbid, one way or another, for local commanders loyalties.
What may be the most important battle in this peculiar war is almost unseen by outsiders. A road 2,000km (1,250 miles) long snakes round Afghanistans central mountains and is the artery that connects the Taliban-controlled regions in the north and the south. The central idea of the Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban coalition that runs the north-east and most of the middle of the country, is to cut this road as it runs through the western province of Herat. That would detach the Taliban-controlled areas in the north, such as Mazar-i-Sharif and Taloqan, from supplies and reinforcements coming from the Taliban strongholds in the south.
According to Mahajudin Mahdi, a senior Northern Alliance official in the capital of neighbouring Tajikistan, the alliance has gained more than 200,000 square kilometres in the centre of the country in the past two weeks, more than reversing the gains made by the Taliban in the aftermath of the assassination of the oppositions military commander, Ahmad Shah Masoud, just before September 11th. The main objective now is to cut off Mazar-i-Sharif, by taking the town of Qaleh-ye Now, he says. The opposition commander in charge of this offensive is Ismail Khan, a moderate figure well-regarded in the West, who would be a central figure in any post-Taliban settlement.
Mr Mahdi said that the Northern Alliance would not launch an offensive from its mountain strongholds towards nearby Taloqan, its capital until the town was captured by the Taliban last year. That will be the last place that we capture, he said, citing fears of civilian casualties and the concentration of Taliban forces and foreign fundamentalist volunteers willing, indeed eager, to fight to the death. He estimated the number of foreigners (chiefly Pakistanis and Arabs) fighting on the Taliban side at 20,000, and the total Taliban forces in the north at 60,000.
There is little sign anywhere in the opposition-controlled territories of foreign military aid. Even if it crossed the border, or was landed at the oppositions only airstrip, in Faizabad, bringing it to the front line would be a gruelling logistical task, and all but impossible when winter arrives early next month. The Anjoman pass that connects the Panjshir valley, and thus the approaches to Kabul, with the rest of the north-east is already thick with snow and barely passable. Neither side is equipped for high-intensity mountain warfare.
Despite that, Mr Mahdi and other military commanders say that winter will favour the anti-Taliban forces. Cold weather makes a Taliban counter-attack in the mountainous regions of the country very difficult. The places that the Taliban are defending, such as Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and cities elsewhere such as Kandahar and Jalalabad, are flatter and warmer, meaning that winter will prove less of an obstacle to the attacking side.
Real military co-ordination between the opposition and the Americans is far from evident on the ground. There is practically no sign of American military advisers, trainers, or intelligence officials, as there was in the Yugoslav wars. If there were, it would be hard to know who or what they might co-ordinate with. Even a charismatic commander such as Masoud found difficulty in marshalling his chieftains behind a coherent strategy. Under the current, much less impressive, leadership, central command is even more fragmented. The costs of this weakness are plain in the fighting around Mazar-i-Sharif, where quarrels between Abdul Rashid Dostum and other warlords have blunted the oppositions offensive and allowed the Taliban to regroup and counter-attack.
Impatience with American tactics is mounting on the Northern Alliance side. Few Afghans in the north show much confidence in the efficacy of the bombing strikes. Increasingly they see America as pursuing its own interests, careless of the Afghan civilian populations well-being, and with little chance of success. Attacks on concentrations of Taliban fighters have been too timid, in the Northern Alliances view; attacks on the cities, they say, may actually be counter-productive.
Partly because of the air raids, carefully directed as they may be, life in Kabul, the capital, and Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold, is becoming miserable and chaotic. Sebghatullah Saiq, the security chief in the provisional northern capital, Faizabad, wants an immediate stop to bombing in the towns. It will unite people against America, he argues. His colleague, Abdul Mussadiq, the military commander in the nearby town of Argun, says the same: Americans believe they are targeting the Taliban and their so-called guests, but the television pictures show that the main victims are civilians.
The dilemma this poses for the United States is obvious. Pentagon officials are already growing concerned that their enemy is becoming more elusive. Rear-Admiral Stufflebeem said there were plausible reports that the Taliban were melting into the civilian community, holing up in the centre of towns or even in mosques, so as to make it more difficult to attack them without causing civilian casualties.
Even now, tragic and politically embarrassing accidents are happening, the Pentagon acknowledged, as it reacted defensively to an allegation by the United Nations that a hospital had been hit in the western city of Herat. What the Pentagon admitted was that a stray bomb had landed outside an old peoples home, perhaps close enough to cause casualties.
Meanwhile there have been signs of progress, but no real breakthrough, in diplomatic efforts to construct a post-war regime. In London, Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, made a bid to put Britain at the centre of this attempt when, in a speech on October 22nd, he set out a series of principles to govern the countrys reconstruction. Afghanistans future should be determined by its own people, but a global coalition would be needed to rebuild the country. The United Nations would set the process in motion, with the wealthy nations of the world digging deep to provide the resources. Having delivered this message, Mr Straw flew to Washington to confer with the State Department about how to put his lofty ideals into practice.
Almost simultaneously, a moderate veteran of the anti-Soviet struggle in the 1980s, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, was convening a meeting of mainly Pushtun notables in the frontier city of Peshawar in the hope that the anti-Taliban (or at least potentially anti-Taliban) Pushtuns could be stitched together into a more effective political and military force. Because the Taliban themselves are Pushtunan ethnic group that accounts for nearly half the countrys population, and for millions of people in adjacent areas of Pakistanthere can be little hope of drawing support away from the current regime unless something like Mr Gailanis effort bears fruit. He is close to Muhammad Zahir Shah, the 87-year-old former king who has been cultivated by the Americans.
Interviewed in Islamabad this week, Hedayat Amin-Arsala, a former foreign minister who is now a special envoy for the ex-king, said he had been in indirect contact with elements of the Taliban who might switch sides if a serious alternative, under the leadership of the former monarch, were in sight. A 120-strong council, mooted as an organ of transitional authority, could be expanded to make it more representative, he suggested.
While insisting that anti-Taliban Pushtuns were doing what they could to organise a resistance, Mr Amin-Arsala expressed frustration that American help had yet to materialise. But he still believed that the Taliban rule could collapse like a house of cards once a clear alternative was in place, and that this collapse might only be a few weeks away. But the effort to strengthen ethnic-Pushtun opposition to the Taliban suffered a serious setback on October 26th. Abdul Haq, a famous opposition commander, was captured and killed by Taliban forces after slipping back into Afghanistan from exile in Pakistan.
The implosion of Taliban rule, and their replacement by a government still with Pushtun representation but more amenable to the West, can hardly come too soon for the hard-pressed government of Pakistan. There were signs this week that Pakistan and Afghanistan might yet become a single war zone. An American helicopter came under fire in Pakistan while on a mission to recover another, damaged, chopper, the Pentagon disclosed on October 23rd. And at least eight members of a Pakistan-based group of Islamic militants were killed in an American raid on Kabul.
Amid the difficulties, the crucial tactical question is this: how far does America want its allies in Afghanistan to march, and how soon? Colin Powell, the secretary of state, confirmed on October 21st that America was keen to see Mazar-i-Sharif change hands, whereas the desirability of an assault on Kabul, the capital, by Northern Alliance forces, was still an open question. Mr Powell noted that the alliance wanted at least to investan old-fashioned word for a mild sort of siegethe Afghan capital. Whether they actually go into Kabul, or whether thats the best thing to do or not, remains to be seen, he added.
Decoded, this suggests that America is striving for an understanding with the Northern Alliance: we will help you, or at least attack your immediate enemies, but in return you must hold back from marching straight into Kabul. Mr Powell spelt out more bluntly than before the shortcomings of the alliance as a basis for a national government; he said it represented only about 15% of the countrys population.
In certain quarters the alliance still has friends. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, reaffirmed support for the northerners by flying to Tajikistan to meet its leaders and treating them as though they were already the masters of Afghanistan. This show of friendship was angrily observed in Pakistan, whose intelligence service remains extremely suspicious of the old Russian enemy. The possibility that the Talibans defeat will lead not to a stable, broad-based coalition underpinned by the international community, but to another round of tribal blood-letting, and geopolitical competition, remains all too real.
( back )
the World Anew
Oct 25th 2001
The Economist Global Agenda
The terrorist attacks of September 11th changed the way America, its friends and its rivals think about their place in the world. The diplomatic repercussions will reverberate for years. But already it is clear some relationships will change far more than others
NIGHT fell on a different world. That was how President George Bush put it, and he was right. Whether the events of September 11th are seen merely as an attack on the worlds most powerful country or, as many have argued, an attack on civilisation itself, no governmentfront-line state or bystander, friend or foehas been immune from the repercussions.
The military, diplomatic, financial and intelligence campaign America is leading against Osama bin Laden and the Talibanthe first war of the 21st century, as Mr Bush describes itis barely under way. Yet, reverberating out from Afghanistan through Central Asia and the Middle East to Europe and Asia, unexpected diplomatic shifts and accelerated changes are already happening. Something of the shape of the new world Mr Bush talked of can already be discerned through the fog of the global war on terrorism.
Britains prime minister, Tony Blair, is determined that out of the shadow of this evil, should emerge lasting good. Pakistans president, General Pervez Musharraf, whose own regime has helped to sustain the Taliban, has sided with America against them. Russias president, Vladimir Putin, has seized the moment to try to transform relations with America. Elsewhere, the spotlight on terrorism has seemed to change the terms of just about every conflict, from Northern Ireland to Macedonia and Kashmir. Even countries long hostile to America have been quietly recalculating the costs and benefits of trying for a new diplomatic breakthrough.
Mr Bush himself has talked more prosaically of the interesting opportunities the anti-terrorism campaign affords: to end the chronic instability that Afghanistan has brought to all of Central Asia; to warm frost-bitten relations between India and Pakistan; to stop the cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians; to shake terrorism loose from state sponsors (by which America means Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba). As this months dangerous flare-ups in disputed Kashmir and between Israel and the Palestinians show, some problems will be harder to work on than others. But progress in any of them could bring widespread knock-on benefits.
How much progress is made will influence how successfully America can damage the international terrorist network around Osama bin Laden. So will the help America gets from others. As Mr Bushs weekend talks in Shanghai with Mr Putin and Chinas Jiang Zemin showed, there are now broader opportunities: to refashion relations with Russia; to strike up a more constructive dialogue with prickly China; and as a result to rebalance responsibilities around the world with allies in Europe and Asia.
Whether a new order is being forged, or simply a remake of the old one, success will depend just as much on America itself. Does Mr Bush have the vision, and America the staying power, to seize the opportunities that present themselves?
Define your moment
Doubters claim that, before September 11th, Mr Bush had a narrow domestic agenda and a divisive view of Americas role in the world. Allies took offence when he refused to ratify international agreements the previous administration had signedon an international criminal court, a nuclear-test ban and the emission of greenhouse gases. In many ways, this was a caricature. (The previous administration may have signed the Kyoto accord, for example, but did so knowing that it would be impossible to uphold.) Still, Mr Bush and his team debated whether America should try to bring others along or simply go it alone. And they let all else in foreign policy seem bent towards a single end: the presidents unswerving determination to build new missile defences.
What came across to the outside world was an unnerving unilateralism. Now that America has a second focusthe fight against terrorismthis will have to change. Otherwise, some of those interesting opportunities Mr Bush has talked of will close off fast.
He sounds just as determined in the second cause as the first. We have found our mission and our moment, he says. To other governments he has been equally uncompromising: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. But this mission is different. Going after the bin Laden group and those who harbour them, and mounting a concerted global assault on terrorism in general, as Mr Bush has promised, will not be accomplished either easily or quickly. Or by America alone, since the al-Qaeda network is said to operate in more than 60 countries.
On the contrary, this campaign, rather like the cold-war mission to contain communismlikewise a military, political and ideological strugglewill need to be broad and sustained. It has already set new budget priorities at home, and has begun to reshape the deployment of American military and diplomatic power abroad. It has reanimated a debate on military reforms and will accelerate the priority given to more mobile, differently equipped forces. It will reinforce the shift in Americas military footing from Europe, which is stable, towards Asia, which is less so. More broadly, says the secretary of state, Colin Powell, it sets a new benchmark for American diplomacy, a new measure of friend and foe.
There is nervousness among some front-line states in Central Asia and even among Americas close allies that the hyper-engagement of recent weeks will turn out to be no more than a means to pursue short-term military ends. During the Gulf war many governments, including Arab ones, joined the American-led coalition against Saddam Husseins Iraq, only to find themselves dealing with the same dangerous regime when the war was over. The worry now is that, having pulled much of the world together to defeat al-Qaeda, Mr Bush will decide at a point convenient only to America to declare victory and leave others to pick up the pieces.
Such fears fail to see that America has changed irrevocably because of September 11th. Americans no longer feel safe at home. Turning their backs on the world no longer works. Nor will simply knocking hell out of the Taliban. Even such a confirmed do-it-yourselfer as Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, admits that retaliation alone cannot solve this problem.
But there are other worries. One is that, under the cold-war logic of my enemys enemy is my friend, America will miss the real world-reshaping opportunities, doling out favours and arms to unsavoury regimes, falling silent over Russias tactics in Chechnya, or overlooking Chinas poor record on human rights. American officials deny this, and Mr Bush pointedly reminded Mr Putin in Shanghai that a war on terrorism should not be used as cover for a clampdown on minorities.
Might Americas military strategy and its diplomatic strategy find themselves at war with each other? Mr Bush was being lobbied even before September 11th by an influential group among his advisers to try to topple the Iraqi regime. A bash-Iraq group is now pressing to extend the war to take care of this unfinished business. Since the biological attacks on America, Iraq has fallen under suspicion as a likely source (there are other possibilities) of the anthrax spores used, though Iraq denies it.
Broadening the war would transform the campaign against terrorism, but not make it easier to win. So far Mr bin Laden has failed in his declared aim of forcing a confrontation between the Islamic world and the West. However, if military strikes were widened to other targets, such as Iraq, without clear evidence of a direct link to the recent terrorist attacks, even the non-Muslim parts of the coalition supporting America would fracture badly.
Short of a new front opening in the war on terrorism, Afghanistan itself is already proving a first, difficult test of whether there is more to the anti-terror coalition than words of sympathy. Al-Qaeda may have reserved its worst atrocities for America, but all the neighboursRussia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Iran and even farther away Indiahave accused Islamic extremists trained in Afghanistans camps of causing trouble for them too.
Russia, Iran and Pakistan have long supported competing factions among the warring Afghan tribes. With the Taliban discredited and under American attack, all now profess themselves keen to see a broadly-based government (meaning no victory for their opponents). All are wary, not only of each other, but also of Americas motives. They would like American aid, but not an increase in American influence at their own expense.
The very complexity of the Afghanistan mess is forcing a rethink all round. Not even Pakistan, chief supporter of the Taliban, has an interest in seeing the country slip back into civil war. There is talk from European officials of a mini-Marshall Plan for Afghanistan once the war is over. Even Mr Bushs officials, who derided the hands-on nation-building favoured by the Clinton administration, are anxious to find a stable replacement for the Taliban. Since none of the locals trusts each other, and America has no desire to get stuck in Afghanistan as Russia did, thoughts are turning to the United Nations (UN).
Bringing stability and development to Afghanistan is just the sort of job the UN might have been designed for. But bad experience in Somalia and Bosnia, and better ones in East Timor and Kosovo, have taught a still-hesitant UN that the job it can do is only as good as the co-operation and support it gets from others, especially the bigger powers.
America will not submit its military plans for UN approval but, heartened by swift and unanimous condemnation in the UN Security Council of the September attacks and UN help in tracking down terrorist finances, the Bush administration seems inclined to work with it on at least the civilian job to be done. With support rather than criticism for Americas approach from a newly friendly Russia, acquiescence from China, cash from Europe and Japan, and security within the country guaranteed by otherspossibly a mainly Muslim peacekeeping force led by Turkeythere could at least be a chance to break Afghanistans cycle of strife.
For now, all this is on hold. That it can be contemplated at all is due to the biggest gain for the anti-terrorism campaign so far: Pakistans decision to end its support for the Taliban regime.
General Musharraf admits that Pakistan had no choice but to back retaliatory strikes. In doing so he took a calculated risk that he could face down the inevitable street protests by Islamic militant groups and win a resumption of the aid and assistance Pakistan lost, first for secretly building nuclear weapons, then for testing them in response to India in 1998, and then for ousting the civilian government in his own coup.
So far, the gamble has paid off. Once virtually a pariah state, Pakistan is back in the mainstream, and aid of various sorts is flowing. But the changes will need to go further. For years, Pakistan has used Islam to encourage the creation of friendly governments in neighbouring Afghanistan, but also used extremist groups on its own soil to further its much more important foreign-policy objective: to challenge Indian rule over disputed Kashmir. Indeed Afghanistan has been a useful training ground for some of these groups. Pakistan has always denied involvement in the violence in Kashmir. India claims not only to have killed Pakistani militants on its side of the line of control, but also Afghans, Sudanese, Saudis and others.
To Indias fury, since its government was one of the first to back Mr Bush, America aims merely to keep a lid on such simmering regional bile. When he visited the region earlier this month, Mr Powell insisted that Americas focus for now would remain on Afghanistan and al-Qaeda. But eventually, given the nuclear-tipped rivalry between the two countries, Pakistan is bound to come under strong pressure to end the incursions. Given the influence of Islamists in Pakistans intelligence services and the armed forces, that will be tricky.
Early hopes that the fight against terrorism emanating from Afghanistan might help reinforce a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians, and even finesse a new peace deal, were likewise premature. Yasser Arafat was quick to condemn the attacks on New York and Washington. But the cycle of violence in the Middle East, like that in Kashmir, has a dynamic all its own. This week, America was scrambling to prevent worsening fighting between Israelis and Palestinians from damaging the support it has been able to win from Arab governments for its strikes against Afghanistan. The Israeli government, meanwhile, has been trying just as hard to persuade American public opinion that it too has the right to hit back at terrorists.
The Middle East conflict is one of the issues on which the terrorism of al-Qaeda and other groups feeds. Before the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration was preparing to answer criticism that it was doing too little to halt the recent Israeli-Palestinian violence by ratcheting up its engagement. If there were to be a second front in the diplomatic war on terrorism, this is it. But the prospects for success seem far from bright.
Not taking offence
They could, however, be worse. One consolation is that in the new war against terrorism, unlike during the cold war, the dangers of big-power confrontation are greatly reduced. Indeed it is in the relationships between America and Russia, and between America, Russia and China, that change is happening fastest. The knock-on effects are already being felt.
Impatient with the constraints of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty on his plans for new missile defences, at their meeting in Slovenia in June Mr Bush had offered Russias president the prospect of a new strategic bargain: move beyond the ABM treaty and make deep cuts in American and Russian nuclear stockpiles. Mr Putin was tempted, but not convinced.
Russia had been slow to acknowledge that the threats to its security come more these days from long-range missiles in the hands of unpredictable regimes rather than from America. Unlike China, however, it has never opposed such defences outright. Its aim, rather, has been to bind America into talks that preserved Russias last remaining claim to superpowerdom: strategic parity with America. Increasingly, the stand-off over missile defences was getting in the way of Mr Putins other aims: to end Russias marginalisation in world affairs, to be accorded a bigger say in European security, and to give priority to economic development and trade.
The common fight against terrorism has given Mr Putin a chance to break the log-jam. He moved quickly to offer America diplomatic and intelligence help against al-Qaeda, as well as use of Russian airspace. But he has also signalled an interest in broader changes, by announcing the thinning out of Russian troops in the Balkans and by toning down Russias opposition to the enlargement of NATO.
It is in the relationships between America and Russia, and between America, Russia and China, that change is happening fastest
How far might all this go? When they meet in Texas next month, Mr Bush and Mr Putin may be unable to strike a final deal on nuclear weapons and missile defencesand America may go ahead anyway with the expected announcement that it intends to withdraw from the ABM treaty. But Russia has already indicated that it could put up with this, and that the two can keep talking.
Similarly, giving up its futile attempt to claim a veto over NATOs future shape does not mean that Russia would be happy to see the Baltic states, once part of the Soviet Union, join the western alliance. If they do, expect Russia at a minimum to keep up criticism of their treatment of their own Russian minorities. Yet by cutting up less rough about who gets in and who does not at next years NATO summit in Prague, Russia may actually help undermine the lobby in Congress that until now has argued for taking in as many newcomers as Russia opposes.
NATO too has a chance to think more clearly about its own future. Some have argued that by invoking Article 5 of its founding treaty for the first time, thereby declaring last months terrorist attacks on America to be an attack on all, the alliance merely underscored its irrelevance. Though America has the right to ask its allies for assistance, critics note, it has actually asked for very little. It has preferred instead to rely on bilateral help from Britain, and on smaller contributions from others.
But the nature of last months attacks took America by surprise too. At American prodding, new security threats are already officially part of NATOs military mission. Diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic are starting to think what that might mean: since the threats can come from anywhere, might a reorganised NATO, one better suited to the deployment of special forces rather than tank brigades, be prepared to go anywhere?
Such thinking might not please Mr Putin, who prefers to see NATO as increasingly a political rather than a military alliance. There are plenty of other tricky issues still on the Russia-America agenda too, from the war in Chechnya to Russias patchy record in preventing the proliferation of missile, nuclear and other dangerous technologies. And Russia still chooses its friends, from Iran and Iraq to Myanmar, in unhelpful places. Still, the presumption of co-operation on key issues, rather than confrontation, would itself be progress.
A Chinese headache
Reordering the Russia-America agenda under the heading of anti-terrorism at least enables Mr Putin to present such changes as being to the benefit of both sides. Ironically, however, for now the biggest repercussions of Mr Putins shifting thinking are being felt not so much in Europe as in Asia.
Over the past two years China has worked hard to build a common front with Russia against America on missile defences. Earlier this year, on Chinas initiative, the two countries signed a new friendship treaty, the first since the 1950s. Mr Putins readiness to consider a new strategic bargain with America now puts China on the spot. It may respond by extending the modernisation of its nuclear arsenal, already under way. Or it may try to complicate Americas plans by developing, and helping others to develop, counter-measures to defeat any new defences. But China can ill afford to seem isolated on such an important issue. Russias decision to negotiate may prompt China to do the same.
The anti-terrorism campaign affects Chinas relations with America less directly than Russias, since the main issues in dispute between the twothe future of Taiwan and Chinas territorial ambitions in the South China Seaare unconnected and less susceptible to compromise. At their first meeting, in Shanghai, Mr Bush and Chinas Mr Jiang seemed largely to talk past each other. Yet two important, if little-noticed, precedents have been set.
The first is Chinas acquiescence in Americas air strikes on Afghanistan. Hitherto China has flatly opposed such interference in the affairs of others, fearing perhaps that someday it will face an American intervention to protect Taiwan. The second is Chinas reluctant acceptance of new legislation going though the Diet in Tokyo that will allow Japan to offer logistical help (though not direct military support) to America in a conflict that is far from Japans own shores. China has long sought to oppose the strengthening of Japans security alliance with America, which it sees as its chief rival for influence in Asia.
Japan is not about to volunteer to fight at Americas side. But at least the taboo against far-flung security operations with America has been partly broken. The increasing range of Japans naval supply ships is a good measure of how far the war on terrorism can change things.
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Emerging From the Wreckage
1730 GMT, 011001
STRATFOR uses a net assessment methodology in building and maintaining forecasts. Through geopolitical analysis, we build a virtual model of the world: the net assessment. We then search daily for the anomalies that reinforce, modify or refute this model and the forecasts that emerge from it.
In building the net assessment, we attempt to identify, weigh and factor in all pertinent economic, political, strategic, demographic and geographic variables. Terrorist attacks can be anticipated and factored in. But terrorist attacks of the magnitude the United States experienced Sept. 11 are like asteroid strikes: One cannot plan for them; one can only pick through the wreckage to see what is left to carry forward.
In hindsight, STRATFOR's third-quarter forecast, entitled "Lesser Powers Make Their Voices Heard," seems almost eerily accurate. No, STRATFOR did not forecast the attacks on Washington and New York. Like others, we failed to anticipate the capability or intent of militant extremists to carry out a coordinated attack of this magnitude.
STRATFOR did note that, as the major powers paused in the third quarter to evaluate their relations, " factions such as Islamic militants and Colombian guerrillas will seize this time to make their voices heard and to stake their places in the new global constellation."
However, we anticipated the militants would focus on vying for support among the great and secondary powers. Our forecast continued, " with the United States more aggressively confronting China, Russia and most everyone in between, opportunities for militants to profit from being useful have begun to re-emerge. We anticipate a gradual but steady increase in violent political action through the next quarter and into the foreseeable future."
Clearly, our expectations of militant activity undershot the mark. But overall, our third-quarter forecast was on track.
As STRATFOR forecasted, the third quarter saw the major powers step back and re-evaluate their positions while secondary powers struggled to find their new place in the middle. China -- with World Trade Organization accession and an Olympic bid on the table, and with a succession debate under way -- tried hard to maintain a positive external image. Russia remained placid, still fixed on forging relations with Europe and finding a place alongside the United States. Washington, while not withdrawing from its positions on issues like the Kyoto accord and missile defense, began to temper some of its unilateralist rhetoric.
Although the European Union did not fracture to the extent STRATFOR expected, national interests over those of the union continue to strain the collective fabric of Europe. In Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi presented a series of uninspiring economic reforms and subsequently diluted them. Other secondary and tertiary powers such as Venezuela, Malaysia and India attempted to redefine their roles as regional leaders while Washington, Beijing and Moscow reassessed their global positions.
On the morning of Sept. 11, this slow evolution of international relations was abruptly derailed. Underlying assumptions of countries' political and economic priorities were shattered. Caught off guard by militant extremists who are believed to have had ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network, the United States declared it was going to war.
Over the long term, the strategic interests that shape countries' foreign and domestic agendas will not change. Geography, demographics and economics impose immutable constraints on countries' political options and military actions. But over the short term, and within those constraints, countries are free to order and act on shifting priorities.
The Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington created new challenges and new opportunities for the United States and the rest of the world. Washington has declared a war on an elusive, amorphous and transnational enemy, one that will require substantial trade-offs on other U.S. priorities. Would-be allies are already submitting their bills for cooperation in this campaign, and their demands are costly and often contradictory.
On the economic front, any hope of a U.S.-led global recovery this year is gone, leaving Europe and Japan to sink deeper into recession and threatening the collapse of weaker economies like Argentina or Turkey. U.S. economic fundamentals are still strong and -- bolstered by government defense and disaster relief spending -- will pull the United States out of its recession, but not until next year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. defense, intelligence and foreign policy apparatuses are off-balance, and the time is ripe for an opportunistic strike. Indonesia and the Philippines are high-risk targets for follow-on attacks by the al-Qa'ida network. The conflict in Macedonia, now low on Washington's priority list, could flare up from either side. Chechen militants have already resumed major attacks on Russian forces, complicating Washington's relations with Moscow. And with progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now central to U.S. efforts to build a regional coalition, both sides in that dispute are looking for ways to exploit the situation.
The third quarter ended with the U.S. foreign policy agenda in tatters. The fourth quarter will see Washington attempt to pick up the pieces. It will also see U.S. allies and enemies seek to take advantage of this disruption.
The Military Dilemma
The United States enters the fourth quarter having declared war on terrorism. More specifically, it has declared war on the various groups operating in loose affiliation under the banner of al-Qa'ida and on the countries that aid and abet them as well as on countries that refuse to assist the United States in this campaign.
Tactically, this war is an asymmetric nightmare. Groups and individuals involved in al-Qa'ida are present in some 60 countries, but active combatants number perhaps only in the tens of thousands. The militants' wide dispersal and minimal physical infrastructure limits available targets for U.S. attacks and minimizes the amount of overall degradation to the organization the United States can inflict. Available targets are rarely appropriate for the U.S. military's preferred weapons and tactics, and each strike requires the deployment of massive amounts of political and military resources.
In turn, al-Qa'ida's tactics, deployment and nature make further attacks inevitable but extremely difficult to predict or defend against. al-Qa'ida is a collection of autonomous groups, which in turn operate in autonomous cells, which are already deployed in target countries spanning the globe. It is an organization capable of mustering 19 suicide attackers for a single coordinated operation and simultaneously bombing targets in multiple countries. Al-Qa'ida has demonstrated its capability for tremendous operational secrecy, and it has carried out effective disinformation and psychological warfare campaigns. Its unconventional, small-unit actions can cause disproportionate damage while exposing only a small portion of the group to retaliation.
Al-Qa'ida appears to be developing a new strategy that transcends terrorism. Terrorism is a simple tactic that aims to frighten a population into forcing its government to abandon or alter a policy. It is a psychological technique, and it is difficult to find a case in which that technique has worked. The World Trade Center and Pentagon are symbolic targets, good for terrorist tactics, but they had tangible value as well.
Intentionally or inadvertently, however, the attacks on Washington and New York caused substantial damage to the U.S. financial and transportation infrastructures. They shut down air transport for days and disrupted it for weeks. They closed and then battered the U.S. stock market. The economic effects of the attacks will last well into next year.
Al-Qa'ida may have taken to heart the conventional warfare experience of its affiliated groups on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Chechnya. This could have spilled over into the group's strategic planning. But if the attackers did not plan this outcome, they are now well aware of such potential. Infrastructure attacks will feature prominently in the future.
Targeting al-Qa'ida is a strategic nightmare as well. The organization is not a monolith, single-mindedly targeting the United States out of blind hatred. It comprises groups involved in a number of longstanding and complex regional disputes. To target al-Qa'ida is to take on such intractable struggles as Kashmir, Chechnya, Mindanao and Israel. Each of these conflicts is more than the governments involved have been able to solve. The United States now seeks to confront them all.
The wide dispersal of al-Qa'ida and its supporters makes any attempt to fight it extremely costly. The United States will need assistance in intelligence-gathering. It will need bases and access. It will need help from the banking and legal sectors of dozens of countries. And it will need political support. This marks a major reversal from the first half of this year, when the United States pushed ahead unilaterally with controversial policies that drew the ire of friend and foe.
The rest of the world is well aware the United States now needs assistance, and it is already drawing up the bill. It will not be cheap, nor will it be simple to pay.
India and Pakistan are prime examples. Prior to the attacks, the United States was courting India as a strategic partner. India has a large economy, it has a large navy, and it is emerging as the dominant power in the Indian Ocean basin. India was quick to offer intelligence and bases for U.S. retaliatory strikes. Its price was the inclusion of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed Kashmiri rebels among the list of targets.
However, for an effective attack on Afghanistan and to stabilize Afghanistan after the campaign is over, the United States needs the support of Pakistan -- a country with little to offer but an amateur nuclear program, hordes of Taliban recruits and the keys to Kabul. Moreover, if the United States accepts Indian aid at the expense of Pakistan, it risks losing the support of other Muslim countries throughout the Middle East. In short, the price for just a portion of only the first battle in the war on terrorism is the potential loss of a valuable strategic ally, India.
Russia's bill is higher. Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready to offer the use of bases within the Commonwealth of Independent States as well as Russian intelligence, logistical and possibly even military support for retaliatory actions in Afghanistan. Russia also offers valuable access to the governments of Iraq, Iran and Syria.
In return, Moscow wants free rein to suppress the Chechens as it sees fit, recognition of its sphere of influence in Central Asia, no NATO expansion into the Baltic states or Ukraine, no national missile defense program, more trade and investment and an enhanced role on the international political stage.
Even Washington's NATO allies see the U.S. predicament as a chance to contain Washington's unilateral foreign policy. Sources indicate they have already begun to resist U.S. requests for intelligence support.
Israel poses the biggest dilemma for the United States. Washington needs Israeli intelligence, but it also needs Israel to maintain a low profile so as not to drive away Muslim support for the U.S. campaign. Israel sees this as an opportunity to lock down unambiguous U.S. backing for its actions against the Palestinians. To offer such support, however, would only exacerbate one of the core sources of opposition to the United States in Muslim countries.
The Muslim states, likely battlegrounds in this war on terrorism, present another problem. Support for al-Qa'ida and its agenda runs deep among the populations and sometimes within the governments of these countries. Support for the United States risks enflaming domestic opposition or exposing official complicity in al-Qa'ida's actions. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, both critical to the campaign, are particularly at risk.
The fourth quarter will see little on the military front. The United States lacks the intelligence assets, the basing, the logistics and the forces in theater to begin anything of substance. It must temper its initial actions to maintain an alliance necessary for a protracted campaign. An ill-conceived symbolic strike not only could portray a lack of U.S. options but also could be counterproductive -- proving assumptions of U.S. blind heavy-handedness, destabilizing alliances and risking opportunities to strike effectively in the future.
Winter is approaching in Afghanistan, and activity on the ground is likely to focus on assisting the Northern Alliance in securing positions to survive until spring. This will also serve to establish a beachhead in Afghanistan for a more effective campaign next year. Some effort will have to be expended on tending to the refugee crisis as well, both to build support in Afghanistan and maintain it throughout the Middle East.
Finally, debate is emerging over homeland defense and security measures. This will divert energy from other aspects of the anti-terrorism campaign. Recriminations and restructuring of the U.S. intelligence community will likely slow the U.S. campaign as well.
The Economic Fallout
Until the Sept. 11 attacks knocked the wind out of the U.S. economy, the United States was poised for a comeback. The question had been, would the American recovery come fast enough and be robust enough to ultimately pull the rest of the world back to strong growth?
That is all gone. American consumer confidence and the dollar tumbled predictably. Investments will follow, and the U.S. airline industry will remain on government-subsidized life support for the remainder of the year, at the very least. The United States is now stuck in recession at least until the first quarter of 2002.
The follow-on effects are deep and pervasive. As expected, Japan was already experiencing negative growth during the third quarter. Now, without American consumers to buy Japanese exports, its economic implosion will pick up speed. Japan has run out of feasible monetary policy options and is quite literally begging the United States and Europe to weaken the yen.
Europe was teetering on the verge of recession, with the three largest euro-economies -- France, Germany and Italy -- together averaging negative growth. Europe's near future, though not as dark as Japan's, is also grim. And while Japan only has to worry about Japan, Europe is frantically preparing to launch its new currency. The first real test of European unity under fiscal duress begins now.
The economic crises in Argentina and Turkey will reach breaking points during the fourth quarter, with defaults and devaluations now a foregone conclusion. In Mexico, President Vicente Fox's plans for tighter links to the United States are essentially dead. U.S. security restrictions have not yet seriously impacted cross-border truck trade, but if the United States truly wants to crack down on terrorism, it's only a matter of time before Mexico hears slamming doors.
Although NAFTA will survive, other as-yet-unborn trade agreements will be deferred indefinitely. As nations scramble to defend their economies from the economic fallout, the World Trade Organization might as well cancel its November summit, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas will be left to collect dust. This quarter's themes are security and terrorism; trade will go nowhere.
The oil states could feel the heaviest economic blows. Barring a major U.S. military action against an oil producer, oil prices will plummet mercilessly. With a global recession manifesting and OPEC unable -- at least initially -- to enact cuts, the stage is set for a price glut. Oil producers on any continent will feel the pinch.
U.S. economic fundamentals, however, remain solid. The United States was in the beginning of its recovery, having already trimmed the fat from the markets, particularly in the tech sector. American defense and security spending may pull the United States out of its new recession, but that will not happen this quarter.
Most important, it cannot be forgotten that terrorist attacks are by their very nature disruptive and unpredictable. This forecast assumes that the power behind the Sept. 11 attacks will fail to pull off any other economically significant or substantially damaging attacks against the United States, its allies or its interests.
If that assumption proves false, all bets are off.
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