Saturday, February 04, 2012

Reading :: America's Secret War

America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies
By George Friedman

George Friedman is the CEO of Stratfor, an Austin-based provider of geostrategic analysis. Stratfor has unfortunately been in the news lately because it was hacked over the holidays, about a week after I read this fascinating 2004 book on the Global War on Terror.

America's Secret War describes "the Fourth Global War," the current war that the US faces against Islamic extremists. The first three wars were World War I, II, and the Cold War - and perhaps it's a function of the book's 2004 publication date that Friedman sees the GWOT as a similarly scaled struggle.

In any case, Friedman tells a compelling story of how al Qaeda prepared for September 11, what drove them and their allies, what space they operated in, and what strategic and tactical decisions they made. He then turns his attention to the Bush Administration's response, also in strategic and tactical terms. What I appreciate about this account is its Machiavellian evaluation of how these strategic and tactical responses worked and how they operated within the larger geostrategic context. For instance, Friedman builds the case that the Bush Administration invaded Iraq in large part because doing so would help them put substantial pressure on the Saudis to crack down on AQ supporters. Friedman reports these decisions dispassionately: in a characteristic statement, for instance, he says that "The decision to invade Iraq was not a good one and very few in the administration thought it was. It was simply the best decision available given the limited menu." If that statement seems overly generous to the administration, compare it to the discussions on how the administration trusted Chalabi - Friedman is neither a Bush apologist or antagonist, but simply a geostrategic analyst.

How accurate is his analysis? I have no idea. I'm not a geostrategic analyst myself, and Friedman provides few citations to help us independently verify his points. But as an account that provides a starting point for  understanding the strategic and tactical choices of all players - al Qaeda, the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Europe, etc. - this book is intriguing and highly readable. See what you think.

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