Jewish World Review March 18, 2004 / 25 Adar, 5764

Stratfor Intelligence Brief by
George Friedman

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U.S. pressure on Pakistan is counterstroke in global terror war | The U.S. alliance is shuddering under the weight of the al-Qaida attack in Spain, as Honduras announced that it was following Spain's lead in withdrawing its troops. Obviously Honduras is not a major player, but the announcement adds to the sense that the attack put in motion processes that will undermine the United States.

The United States obviously is going to have to counter. As the week wears on, U.S. diplomatic representations to the incoming socialists will pick up in intensity. The United States has some cards to play in its relationship with Spain.

At the same time, there is another process under way. There is an obvious question being raised in Spain: To what extent did the voters, under the pressure of the moment, capitulate to the attackers? This gives the socialists a vulnerability - and their opposition an opportunity. They can try to delegitimize the socialist victory by arguing that it was not their policies but al-Qaida that gave them political power.

Fair or not, the socialists are aware of this potential evolution. One of their solutions would be in some way to reshape their withdrawal so as to deflect the charge of capitulation. Washington undoubtedly is aware of the potential and will try to exploit it. A withdrawal cannot be avoided, but the timing or some other variable might be reshaped.

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Right now, Washington would view any modification of the Spanish decision to withdraw - regardless of how minor - as a victory, helping to redefine the political atmosphere from Europe to Australia. The socialists might well find some modification as being in their political interest. Deals have been made on less, and Washington already is undertaking consultations to see what might be done, as the temperature in Spain cools.

This is one avenue of U.S. counterattack; the other is in Pakistan. It should be recalled that before the Madrid attack, Washington was focused on what it hoped would be an endgame - the capture of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the destruction of Pakistan's powerful Islamist forces. From a strategic point of view, the Madrid attack does not change very much - certainly not by itself.

The key remains Pakistan, where government forces are carrying out an offensive against al-Qaida in Pakistan's tribal areas. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf went to great pains to argue that U.S. forces were not involved in the attack, although he acknowledged that there were about 20 U.S. intelligence operatives in Pakistan. Musharraf might as well say there are only two agents in the country; no one will believe him. Musharraf is caught between the Americans and al-Qaida; the real issue is how long it will be before he loses his balance.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is on his way to Pakistan. He began his trip there with what has now become the traditional pleasant prelude in India, where he made sure that Musharraf does not forget the growing U.S.-Indian relationship.

He will arrive in Pakistan and make a series of demands Musharraf can't possibly honor, but to which he will agree anyway. As the Pakistani position erodes, the thinking goes, the more vulnerable al-Qaida will be. From here on out, Musharraf can expect no let-up from all sides. Indeed, the Madrid bombing increases U.S. urgency - and therefore pressure on Musharraf.

Al-Qaida will try to increase pressure as well. They did that after Sept. 11 without having to carry out any equivalent operations. Sept. 11 was so traumatic that the pressure could sustain itself. At this moment, a similar process is under way, as governments in Paris, London and Canberra are girding for follow-on attacks. This poses an interesting strategic question. Al-Qaida's past practice has been to space out attacks. That argues that there will be no further efforts like the Madrid attack in the coming weeks.

On the other hand, the Pakistani army - with U.S. help - appears poised to liquidate al-Qaida in Pakistan. This would argue for more frequent al-Qaida attacks, to demonstrate the group's viability even if the worst happens in Pakistan. By this logic, the more dangerous the situation in Pakistan becomes, the more frequent the attacks among allies should be.

Logic tells us little, of course; al-Qaida remains opaque. Events in the Pakistani tribal areas are linked to events in Spain. The extent to which this is a global war is still poorly understood.

Two-and-a-half years after Sept. 11, world leaders still meet daily to discuss al-Qaida and its possible plans. Al-Qaida is still defining the briefings being given by every major intelligence organization in the world. Underestimating its capabilities only adds to the failure to understand the extent of this global war.

George Friedman is president of Strategic Forecasting, Inc., one of the world's leading global intelligence firms, providing clients with geopolitical analysis and industry and country forecasts to mitigate risk and identify opportunities. Stratfor's clients include Fortune 500 companies and major government. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2004, Strategic Forecasting, Inc. Distributed by TMS, Inc.