… nell’analisi della Stratfor.
Assessing the Leaked NIE
U.S. President George W. Bush announced Tuesday that he will release a classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was partially leaked to The New York Times and published on Sunday. The NIE reportedly says the war in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism by increasing the number of people who have been radicalized and are willing to be recruited by militant Islamist organizations. Bush argued Tuesday that, had there not been a war in Iraq, radical organizations simply would have recruited operatives elsewhere, and he reasserted the claim that the United States is safer from attack because of the Iraq war.
This report and the debate surrounding it go to the heart of Bush’s strategy, of course. He has argued that the Iraq war helped disrupt terrorist attacks against the United States by diverting the jihadists’ energies to Iraq — while his critics have argued that the war created a breeding ground for both anti-Americanism and Islamic radicalism, swelling the pool of potential recruits. It would appear that this is an argument in which only one side could be right; but in fact, both sides could have part of the picture correct.
There is no question but that anti-Americanism increased in the region as a result of the war, as did Islamic fundamentalism. The pool of people willing to carry out terrorist attacks in Iraq certainly grew. The pool of people willing to carry out such attacks in the United States also grew. What is not clear is whether the pool of willing people capable of carrying out such attacks also grew. It is not the number of people who want to carry out an operation that matters, nearly as much as the number of people able to carry out the operation.
Begin by distinguishing strategic terrorism attacks from tactical terrorism attacks. A tactical terrorism attack is characterized by being carried out within a society where the attacker is able to blend in, on a scale that is relatively easy to organize and that causes limited casualties. A suicide bomber in Iraq or Israel who causes a few dozen casualties is tactical. By itself it does not destabilize a society. It rises to the strategic level only when a very large number of such attacks take place. Thus, in Iraq, a large series of tactical events combine to create strategic destabilization.
A strategic terrorist attack has three characteristics. It is carried out at some distance, and certainly outside the geographical area where the attacker is at home. It causes massive casualties, sufficient to destabilize a society simply by itself. In order to protect it from penetration by security, a relatively few conspirators are involved. The obvious example of a strategic attack was 9/11, an attack carried out on an intercontinental basis outside the attackers’ society, causing massive casualties and involving relatively few people.
The key to the 9/11 attacks was not the attackers’ willingness to die. It was the ability to organize a small number of people to penetrate the United States undetected, to conceive of the attacks and to execute them. The primary skill was not carrying box cutters through security; it was the ability to operate covertly in enemy territory for an extended period of time and then execute the attack. If you think that’s easy, imagine an American team of 19 people (plus support personnel) moving to Saudi Arabia or Iran and pulling off a 9/11-style attack. Strategic terrorism is hard to do.
There has been a massive increase in tactical terrorism in Iraq. That means that there has been a huge number of attacks in Iraq by Iraqis and by other Arabs and some Iranians. These attacks have certainly destabilized Iraq, but these attackers either have not been able to, or have chosen not to, conduct strategic attacks against the United States. This does not mean they will not do so later, nor that they will not succeed. It does mean that to this point, the very real upsurge in radical Islamist sentiment in Iraq has been tactical and not strategic in nature.
In this sense, the NIE is certainly correct if it winds up saying there has been a massive increase in the terrorist pool. Bush is correct in saying that, while this might be the case, it has not so far risen to the level of strategic operations. It might also be argued that the type of people being recruited are unsuited for strategic operations because of background or training. That argument is not altogether persuasive, as we would suspect that you could find 20 potential candidates in Iraq, assuming you had the training infrastructure needed to prepare them for strategic operations without detection.
The argument should be phrased this way. The number of tactical terrorists in Iraq has soared because of the war. The number of radical Islamists in the region has also risen by an indeterminate but substantial amount. This does not by itself translate into a strategic threat to the United States, because sentiment turns itself readily into tactical attacks but not into strategic ones. Therefore, until now, Bush’s argument is compatible with the NIE.
The problem with Bush’s argument is the phrase “until now.” Bush can have no confidence that another team may not be in place or on its way. But his critics also cannot make the argument that if they are on the way, it was because of the Iraq war. After all, Osama bin Laden had no problem recruiting a strategic team prior to 9/11, without the Iraq war. Having a larger pool does not necessary increase or decrease the strategic threat.
There are many reasons to criticize the war in Iraq and Bush’s execution of it; but even though on the surface this seems to be one of the strongest arguments against it, it seems to us to be one of the weakest. Strategic covert operations do not depend on large recruitment pools. They depend on strong expertise in strategic covert operations. Few people have that, few people are suitable for it — and al Qaeda did not need a huge pool to hit the United States painfully.
Qui la parte del National Intelligence Estimate declassificata.