BOOKS
America’s Secret War


America’s Secret War by George Friedman
(Doubleday, 2004)
Review by Ahmad Faruqui


George Friedman says that the US is winning the war on terror and that the war in Iraq is part of this war. Friedman is the founder of STRATFOR, a firm that describes itself as “the world’s most respected private global intelligence firms.” So one cannot reject these claims out of hand.

Friedman presents a theory about the attacks of 9/11. He argues that Al Qaida, born at the end of the Soviet-Afghan War, began to plan the attacks out of frustration with the Gulf War. Friedman says that Al Qaida has nothing against the US way of life. It wants to lure the US into attacking Muslim countries so they can be freed from their illegitimate rulers, allowing for the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate.

The author fails to note that while Al Qaida might think it is speaking for the Muslim world when carrying out its criminal acts, it is only speaking for the lunatic fringe.

Friedman say s that the US is winning because Al Qaida has failed to generate a mass uprising in the Muslim world and because the US has successfully “reshaped the behavior of Islamic regimes.” This ignores the proverbial “pink elephant in the room.” The US war on terror has alienated the entire Muslim world from the US. In addition, Al Qaida has spawned a variety of other extremist organizations.
The author fails to acknowledge that terrorism cannot be overcome through military means. It is a battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims, requiring diplomacy, education and economic assistance, not cruise missiles and bunker-buster bombs.

Friedman argues that the war in Iraq is an integral part of the war on terror. In May 2002, the US redefined the Al Qaida problem as a Saudi problem. To tell the Saudis that it meant business, it decided to take on Iraq in a big way.

He argues that the Bush administration policy is not controlled by the neoconservatives but by people close to the Saudis such as Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. This completely overlooks evidence coming out of several Bush insiders, such as Richard Clarke and Paul O’Neill, on how the administration was focused on attacking Iraq immediately after taking office in January 2001. It overlooks assertions by senior Bush officials that there could be no peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians until Saddam Hussain was overthrown, since “the road to Jerusalem ran through Baghdad.”

Friedman’s assertions are contradictory. On the one hand, the US did not want to invade Saudi Arabia because that would depose the House of Saud. On the other hand, he argues that by placing 138,000 troops in Iraq, the US “would pose a threat that was outside the security paradigm the Saudis had ever considered.” Since the said number of troops is proving insufficient to control the insurgency in Iraq, how could it be expected to threaten Saudi Arabia?

But along the way, he provides the real rationale for the war in Iraq: “The inability to engage al Qaida effectively left no alternative but to invade Iraq.” In one place, he says, “The decision to invade Iraq was not a good one and very few in the administration thought it was.” In another place, he says the decision was a good one.

He analyzes how the US forced Musharraf’s hand. It knew that the Pakistani army had been the mainstay of the Taliban and Musharraf could not survive politically if he openly turned on them. So it asked Musharraf to quietly permit the US to fly missiles and bombers over Pakistani territory enroute to Afghanistan. It also got to establish secret bases on Pakistani soil from which to launch ground operations. Finally it was allowed to recruit Pashtuns into its anti-Taliban coalition. All of this was done to preserve Musharraf’s “deniability.”

Following the failure of the Tora Bora campaign, the US realized that it would be impossible to pursue the war against al Qaida without Musharraf’s active cooperation. The attack on the Indian Parliament by Kashmiri insurgents created a new opportunity. Musharraf was now less afraid of the jihadists than of the possibility that the US would solve its al Qaida problem through an Indian attack on Pakistan. In the midst of the crisis, the US created its own crisis for Pakistan. Unless it turned over these facilities to the US for inspection, it would not stand in the way of an Indian strike at these facilities.

In March 2002, Musharraf buckled and US special operations forces in civilian clothes along with US scientists from NEST “deployed simultaneously to all of Pakistan’s nuclear reactors.” In a nutshell, the US used a “good cop-bad cop” routine on the Pakistanis where India was the bad cop, ready to invade and if necessary, use nuclear weapons. The US was the good cop, ready to hold the Indians back. US officials “wanted Musharraf to cross the that line, because once across, he would become permanently dependent on the United States.” Musharraf proceeded to cross the line and started arresting people, becoming “Busharraf.” Of course, the two attempted assassinations in December 2003, which Friedman does not mention, finally tipped him over.

He says the US planned to invade Pakistan after it had captured Saddam Hussein but the invasion had to be called off because of insufficient reserves. He implies that this mission may be taken up again in the future. Recognizing that this may stir a backlash against Musharraf, he says the US is prepared to move into Pakistan with Indian cooperation.

Because of this “over the top” scenario, the book is likely to generate a lot of buzz in Pakistan. The book contains a few factual errors. For example, Friedman says that the number of Soviet troops in Afghanistan was 300,000 when it was half that number. However, it is the uneven quality of his analysis that causes one to lose confidence in Friedman’s ability “to provide clear perspective on the current geopolitical map.”


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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