The fundamental premise of George Friedman's recent insightful book America's Secret War: Inside The Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America And Its Enemies is that the events of 9/11, the Afghanistan war and the Iraq War, are all inter-related and form a coherent pattern. Furthermore, the principal actors such as Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and others are quite aware of what they are doing and are not, as the media would want us sometimes to believe, irrational human beings. We may not agree with their repugnant behavior at times, however, this does not translate into their being stupid, dumb or fools.
As mentioned on its website, Stratfor delivers actionable intelligence rather than reactive information prevalent in much of the media today.
It is with this in mind, that Friedman approaches his subject matter in order to provide a synthesis and make sense of what we have experienced these past few years and what lies ahead.
From the very onset of the book, the author hammers home the point that we are engaged in a Global War, although it may not look like any of the previous wars.
As the author quotes the renowned theorist of war, Karl von Clausewitz "War is politics carried out by other means." In other words, in order to make sense of wars you have to know something about the politics.
Among the highlights of the book is Friedman's take on the Afghanistan War and the events leading up to the war. No doubt, one of the principal reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union was the war's length and brutality sapping its Army of its strength and credibility.
One of the principal outcomes of the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan was the creation of experienced Islamist soldiers, many trained by American Special Force personnel, who were armed with captured Soviet weapons as well as American weapons. Drawing upon this inventory of soldiers and armament, bin Laden succeeded in putting together his fighting forces, which were quite eager to join the eventual Jihad against the United States and other non-Muslim countries. To add a little fuel to the fire, it should be pointed out that many of these operatives were left stranded after the war and found themselves in the unenviable situation of not being welcomed backed to wherever they may have originated.
Moreover, no doubt in hind sight, the decision by the first Bush administration to pull the plug on Afghanistan and give it low priority, was a huge mistake, particularly when you consider the eventual coming into power of the Taliban. Friedman also argues that one of the core defects of American strategy in the 1990s is that it did not fully comprehend that there is no such thing as a neutral intervention. No matter how you intervene, it will ultimately favor one group over another.
With personnel and armament in place, Al Qaeda was able to pursue its objectives in its war against the USA and here again is where there was a monumental screw up on the part of the Americans. The blowing up of embassies and warships were all politically motivated. However, the American political leadership called upon terrorism experts, who focused on the operational and tactical techniques and completely ignored the significance of Al Qaeda and its political objectives.
Clinton's half-hearted measures after these bombings, particularly the USS Cole incident, was another huge error, particularly when he and his administration thought of Al Qaeda as another terrorist gang.
Friedman deals at length with the shortcomings of the American intelligence community and their lack of effectively analyzing data in relation to 9/11.
The author states that it was not the lack of spies or the lack of sophisticated intelligence-gathering systems, that was at fault, but rather the profound lack of language skills and trained sophisticated personnel to figure out what was being said. The information existed; however, no one seemed to know what to do with it.
Another shortcoming of the American intelligence was its failure to believe that a non-state organization could pose a threat to a major state.
As for Iraq, the author points out seven enormous errors on the part of American foreign policy: the failure to comprehend that Ahmed Chalabi was actually an Iranian agent: relying on Chalabi's misleading evidence pertaining to Iraq's WMDs: not being aware of how well organized the Shiites in Iraq had been-thanks to the Iranians: the failure to understand that Saddam Hussein had a war plan following the fall of Baghdad: failing to understand that the war in Iraq would not end with the fall of Baghdad: not admitting for several months after the war that there was an organized resistance in Iraq: not having sufficient troops the U.S. Army could deploy. As mentioned, "for the first time in American history, the United States attempted to fight a global war with a force no larger than the peacetime cadre it began with."
If you are wondering about the words in the title of the book, America's Secret War, the preface to the book, which should probably be re-read after you complete the last chapter, just about sums it up. The secret lies in our lack of understanding of the intentions and behavior of all of the actors involved, the inevitable errors in judgment and the unintended consequences that have created the pattern for the past three years.