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Stratfor: Terrorism as Theater

Originally published: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2014 – 03:55

By Robert D. Kaplan

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent.

The killing, in other words, became merely the requirement to send the message. As experts have told me, there are more painful ways to dispatch someone if you really hate the victim and want him to suffer. You can burn him alive. You can torture him. But beheading, on the other hand, causes the victim to lose consciousness within seconds once a major artery is cut in the neck, experts say. Beheading, though, is the best method for the sake of a visually dramatic video, because you can show the severed head atop the chest at the conclusion. Using a short knife, as in this case, rather than a sword, also makes the event both more chilling and intimate. Truly, I do not mean to be cruel, indifferent, or vulgar. I am only saying that without the possibility of videotaping the event, there would be no motive in the first place to execute someone in such a manner.

In producing a docu-drama in its own twisted way, the Islamic State was sending the following messages:

  • We don’t play by your rules. There are no limits to what we are willing to do.
  • America’s mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay comes with a “price tag,” to quote a recently adopted phrase for retribution killings. After all, we are a state. We have our own enemy combatants as you can see from the video, and our own way of dealing with them.
  • Just because we observe no limits does not mean we lack sophistication. We can be just as sophisticated as you in the West. Just listen to the British accent of our executioner. And we can produce a very short film up to Hollywood standards.
  • We’re not like the drug lords in Mexico who regularly behead people and subsequently post the videos on the Internet. The drug lords deliver only a communal message, designed to intimidate only those people within their area of control. That is why the world at large pays little attention to them; in fact, the world is barely aware of them. By contrast, we of the Islamic State are delivering a global, meta-message. And the message is this: We want to destroy all of you in America, all of you in the West, and everyone in the Muslim world who does not accept our version of Islam.
  • We will triumph because we observe absolutely no constraints. It is because only we have access to the truth that anything we do is sanctified by God.

Welcome to the mass media age. You thought mass media was just insipid network anchormen and rude prime-time hosts interrupting talking heads on cable. It is that, of course. But just as World War I was different from the Franco-Prussian War, because in between came the culmination of the Industrial Age and thus the possibility of killing on an industrial scale, the wars of the 21st century will be different from those of the 20th because of the culmination of the first stage of the Information Age, with all of its visual ramifications.

Passion, deep belief, political protests and so forth have little meaning nowadays if they cannot be broadcast. Likewise, torture and gruesome death must be communicated to large numbers of people if they are to be effective. Technology, which the geeky billionaires of Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest claim has liberated us with new forms of self-expression, has also brought us back to the worst sorts of barbarism. Communications technology is value neutral, it has no intrinsic moral worth, even as it can at times encourage the most hideous forms of exhibitionism: to wit, the Foley execution.

We are back to a medieval world of theater, in which the audience is global. Theater, when the actors are well-trained, can be among the most powerful and revelatory art forms. And nothing works in theater as much as symbols which the playwright manipulates. A short knife, a Guantanamo jumpsuit, a black-clad executioner with a British accent in the heart of the Middle East, are, taken together, symbols of power, sophistication, and retribution. We mean business. Are you in America capable of taking us on?

It has been said that the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 in Ekaterinburg by Lenin’s new government was a seminal crime: because if the Bolsheviks were willing to execute not only the Czar but his wife and children, too, they were also capable of murdering en masse. Indeed, that crime presaged the horrors to come of Bolshevik rule. The same might be said of the 1958 murder of Iraqi King Faisal II and his family and servants by military coup plotters, and the subsequent mutilation of the body of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said by a Baghdad mob — events that presaged decades of increasingly totalitarian rule, culminating in Saddam Hussein. The theatrical murder of James Foley may appear as singular to some; more likely, it presages something truly terrible unfolding in the postmodern Middle East.

To be sure, the worse the chaos, the more extreme the ideology that emerges from it. Something has already emerged from the chaos of Syria and Iraq, even as Libya and Yemen — also in chaos — may be awaiting their own versions of the Islamic State. And remember, above all, what the video communicated was the fact that these people are literally capable of anything.

Terrorism as Theater is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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Stratfor: The Israeli Periphery

By Reva Bhalla
Vice President of Global Affairs
Stratfor Global Intelligence

The state of Israel has a basic, inescapable geopolitical dilemma: Its national security requirements outstrip its military capabilities, making it dependent on an outside power. Not only must that power have significant military capabilities but it also must have enough common ground with Israel to align its foreign policy toward the Arab world with that of Israel’s. These are rather heavy requirements for such a small nation.

Security, in the Israeli sense, is thus often characterized in terms of survival. And for Israel to survive, it needs just the right blend of geopolitical circumstance, complex diplomatic arrangements and military preparedness to respond to potential threats nearby. Over the past 33 years, a sense of complacency settled over Israel and gave rise to various theories that it could finally overcome its dependency on outside powers. But a familiar sense of unease crept back into the Israeli psyche before any of those arguments could take root. A survey of the Israeli periphery in Egypt, Syria and Jordan explains why.

Maintaining the Sinai Buffer

To Israel’s southwest lies the Sinai Desert. This land is economically useless; only hardened Bedouins who sparsely populate the desert expanse consider the terrain suitable for living. This makes the Sinai an ideal buffer. Its economic lifelessness gives it extraordinary strategic importance in keeping the largest Arab army — Egypt’s — at a safe distance from Israeli population centers. It is the maintenance of this buffer that forms the foundation of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

The question percolating in Israeli policy circles is whether an Islamist Egypt will give the same level of importance to this strategic buffer. The answer to that question rests with the military, an institution that has formed the backbone of the Egyptian state since the rise of Gamel Abdul Nasser in 1952.

Achieving National Security in the Periphery

Over the past month, the military’s role in this new Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt quietly revealed itself. The first test came in the form of the Gaza crisis, when the military quietly negotiated security guarantees with Israel while the Muslim Brotherhood basked in the diplomatic spotlight. The second test came when Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, attempted a unilateral push on a constitutional draft to institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood’s hold on power.

The military bided its time, waiting for the protests to escalate to the point that rioters began targeting the presidential palace. By then, it was apparent that the police were not to be fully relied on to secure the streets. Morsi had no choice but to turn to the military for help, and that request revealed how indispensable the military is for Egyptian stability.

There will be plenty of noise and confusion in the lead-up to the Dec. 15 referendum as the secular, anti-Muslim Brotherhood civilian opposition continues its protests against Morsi. But filter through that noise, and one can see that the military and the Muslim Brotherhood appear to be adjusting slowly to a new order of Nasserite-Islamist rule. Unlike the 1979 peace treaty, this working arrangement between the military and the Islamists is alive and temperamental. Israel can find some comfort in seeing that the military remains central to the stability of the Egyptian state and will thus likely play a major role in protecting the Sinai buffer. However, merely observing this dance between the military and the Islamists from across the desert is enough to unnerve Israel and justify a more pre-emptive military posture on the border.

Defending Galilee

Israel lacks a good buffer to its north. The most natural, albeit imperfect, line of defense is the Litani River in modern-day Lebanon, with a second line of defense between Mount Hermon and the Sea of Galilee. Modern-day Israel encompasses this second barrier, a hilly area that has been the target of sporadic mortar shelling from Syrian government forces in pursuit of Sunni rebels.

Israel does not face a conventional military threat to its north, nor will it for some time. But the descent of the northern Levant into sectarian-driven, clan-based warfare presents a different kind of threat on Israel’s northern frontier.

It is only a matter of time before Alawite forces will have to retreat from Damascus and defend themselves against a Sunni majority from their coastal enclave. The conflict will necessarily subsume Lebanon, and the framework that Israel has relied on for decades to manage more sizable, unconventional threats like Hezbollah will come undone.

Somewhere along the way, there will be an internationally endorsed attempt to prop up a provisional government and maintain as much of the state machinery as possible to avoid the scenario of a post-U.S. invasion Iraq. But when decades-old, sectarian-driven vendettas are concerned, there is cause for pessimism in judging the viability of those plans. Israel cannot avoid thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios, so it will continue to reinforce its northern defenses ahead of more instability.

Neutralizing the Jordan River Valley

The status of the Jordan River Valley is essential to Israel’s sense of security to the east. So long as Israel can dominate the west bank of the river (the biblical area of Judea and Samaria, or the modern-day West Bank) then it can overwhelm indigenous forces from the desert farther east. To keep this arrangement intact, Israel will somehow attempt to politically neutralize whichever power controls the east bank of the Jordan River. In the post-Ottoman Middle East, this power takes the form of the Hashemite monarchs, who were transplanted from Arabia by the British.

The vulnerability that the Hashemites felt as a foreign entity in charge of economically lackluster terrain created ideal conditions for Israel to protect its eastern approach. The Hashemites had to devise complex political arrangements at home to sustain the monarchy in the face of left-wing Nasserist, Palestinian separatist and Islamist militant threats. The key to Hashemite survival was in aligning with the rural East Bank tribes, co-opting the Palestinians and cooperating with Israel in security issues to keep its western frontier calm. In short, the Hashemites were vulnerable enough for Israel to be considered a useful security partner but not so vulnerable that Israel couldn’t rely on the regime to protect its eastern approach. There was a level of tension that was necessary to maintain the strategic partnership, but that level of tension had to remain within a certain band.

That arrangement is now under considerable stress. The Hashemites are facing outright calls for deposition from the same tribal East Bankers, Palestinians and Islamists that for decades formed the foundation of the state. That is because the state itself is weakening under the pressure of high oil prices, now sapping at the subsidies that have been relied on to tame the population.

One could assume that Jordan’s oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbors would step in to defend one of the region’s remaining monarchies of the post-Ottoman order against a rising tide of Muslim Brotherhood-led Islamism with heavily subsidized energy sales. However, a still-bitter, age-old geopolitical rivalry between the Hejaz-hailing Hashemite dynasty and the Nejd-hailing Saudi dynasty over supremacy in Arabia is getting in the way. From across the Gulf, an emboldened Iran is already trying to exploit this Arab tension by cozying up to the Hashemites with subsidized energy sales to extend Tehran’s reach into the West Bank and eventually threaten Israel. Jordan has publicly warded off Iran’s offer, and significant logistical challenges may inhibit such cooperation. But ongoing negotiations between Iran’s allies in Baghdad and the Jordanian regime bear close watching as Jordan’s vulnerabilities continue to rise at home.

Powerful Partners Abroad

In this fluctuating strategic environment, Israel cannot afford to be isolated politically. Its need for a power patron will grow alongside its insecurities in its periphery. Israel’s current patron, the United States, is also grappling with the emerging Islamist order in the region. But in this new regional dynamic, the United States will eventually look past ideology in search of partners to help manage the region. As U.S.-Turkish relations in recent years and the United States’ recent interactions with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood reveal, it will be an awkward and bumpy experience while Washington tries to figure out who holds the reins of power and which brand of Islamists it can negotiate with amid messy power transitions. This is much harder for Israel to do independently by virtue of ideology, size and location.

Israel’s range of maneuver in foreign policy will narrow considerably as it becomes more dependent on external powers and as its interests clash with those of its patrons. Israel is in store for more discomfort in its decision-making and more creativity in its diplomacy. The irony is that while Israel is a western-style democracy, it was most secure in an age of Arab dictatorships. As those dictatorships give way to weak and in some cases crumbling states, Israeli survival instincts will again be put to the test.
 
The Israeli Periphery is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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China’s Strategic Modernisation

An interesting report on US-Sino relations and competition from the US State Department’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) – October 1, 2008.

China’s Strategic Modernization
Report from the ISAB Task Force

The Secretary’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) was asked to examine China’s strategic modernization, including the principal underlying motivations. Based on this review, the Board was asked to recommend approaches that~could “move the U.S. China security relationship toward greater transparency and mutual confidence, enhance cooperation, and reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding or miscalculation that can contribute to competition or conflict.”

Continue here…

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The Oil Bomb

barrel

Fuel efficiency is our best weapon against over-priced petroleum and the security problems posed by drilling for it in politically unstable regions. 

If American vehicles could be run on less than 38% of the fuel they currently use, then US domestic oil production capacity would exceed national consumption. Oil prices would plummet. Terrorism, funded in large part by oil revenues, would wither on its wretched vine. Consumers and companies would save vast sums every day (year after year) by virtue of what they won’t spend on gasoline for their engines. 

Granted, Mobil and other companies would have to make do with significantly lower profits, but that’s a price I’m sure the public would be happy to pay.  

So, how do we get from here (the desperate situation in which we find ourselves) to there (a world in which terrorism, economic insecurity and high oil prices are a thing of the past)?

Answer: The Oil Bomb

The “oil bomb” is my nickname for a technological advancement that effectively (and rapidly) degrades the perceived value of petroleum. Ideally, it should be compatible with the infrastructure that has been put in place to service our present addiction to ‘fossil fuels’ and not require that new types of fueling or charging stations be built in order to gain consumer acceptance. It should be convenient to use and not be contingent upon foreignly-sourced material content. In a perfect world, it would make cars less expensive and reduce the amount of parts used in their manufacture — which also means fewer things to break down.

And here it is: US Patent document #7327105. (PDF – 1.2 MB)

(There are other devices, of course, but I rate this one Most Promising.)

The design depicted in the attached art offers a highly efficient electric drive suitable for operating a motor vehicle. It features variable torque (basically, a virtual automatic transmission) and surprising power (imagine a motor not much bigger than a proverbial breadbox pulling a loaded 767 around the tarmac). It’s compatible both with fully electric car designs as well as with serial-hybrid [gas:electric] technologies (where it really shines), offering the advantages of both AC and DC drives — and the sort of performance one would expect from a sporty gas-powered vehicle. 

Implementation should be relatively quick and painless. Maybe we set up a government-subsidised retrofit program for existing cars… which might even recoup some of our lost auto sector assembly jobs… and also give our parts manufacturers a needed boost. 

Of course, there are other “oil bomb” options as well, though some of these will completely invalidate petroleum as a fuel. I won’t go into too many details on those other options because oil happens to be an almost perfect fuel, though we shouldn’t use nearly as much of it as we do. 
 

Other ways to quickly degrade the value of oil:

Oil could be made useless as a fuel by biological means. (We already have anaerobic bacteria that will eat oil spills.) This would be very disruptive to the world’s current economic and industrial systems and many, many millions of people would perish; or 

Oil could be completely replaced by a more advanced technology. This, though, may lead to extremely dangerous developments in the world of weapons, not to mention the possibility of do-it-yourself’ers blowing themselves up — along with their neighborhoods. 

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