Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Misreading the Iranian Situation

George Friedman


September 15

The Iranians have now agreed to talks with the P-5+1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) plus Germany. These six countries decided in latJustify Fulle April to enter into negotiations with Iran over the suspected Iranian nuclear weapons program by Sept. 24, the date of the next U.N. General Assembly meeting. If Iran refused to engage in negotiations by that date, the Western powers in the P-5+1 made clear that they would seriously consider imposing much tougher sanctions on Iran than those that were currently in place. The term “crippling” was mentioned several times.

Obviously, negotiations are not to begin prior to the U.N. General Assembly meeting as previously had been stipulated. The talks are now expected to begin Oct. 1, a week later. This gives the Iranians their first (symbolic) victory: They have defied the P-5+1 on the demand that talks be under way by the time the General Assembly meets. Inevitably, the Iranians would delay, and the P-5+1 would not make a big deal of it.

Talks About Talks and the Sanctions Challenge

Now, we get down to the heart of the matter: The Iranians have officially indicated that they are prepared to discuss a range of strategic and economic issues but are not prepared to discuss the nuclear program — which, of course, is the reason for the talks in the first place. On Sept. 14, they hinted that they might consider talking about the nuclear program if progress were made on other issues, but made no guarantees.

So far, the Iranians are playing their traditional hand. They are making the question of whether there would be talks about nuclear weapons the center of diplomacy. Where the West wanted a commitment to end uranium enrichment, the Iranians are trying to shift the discussions to whether they will talk at all. After spending many rounds of discussions on this subject, they expect everyone to go away exhausted. If pressure is coming down on them, they will agree to discussions, acting as if the mere act of talking represents a massive concession. The members of the P-5+1 that don’t want a confrontation with Iran will use Tehran’s agreement merely to talk (absent any guarantees of an outcome) to get themselves off the hook on which they found themselves back in April — namely, of having to impose sanctions if the Iranians don’t change their position on their nuclear program.

Russia, one of the main members of the P-5+1, already has made clear it opposes sanctions under any circumstances. The Russians have no intention of helping solve the American problem with Iran while the United States maintains its stance on NATO expansion and bilateral relations with Ukraine and Georgia. Russia regards the latter two countries as falling within the Russian sphere of influence, a place where the United States has no business meddling.

To this end, Russia is pleased to do anything that keeps the United States bogged down in the Middle East, since this prevents Washington from deploying forces in Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltics, Georgia or Ukraine. A conflict with Iran not only would bog down the United States even further, it would divide Europe and drive the former Soviet Union and Central Europe into viewing Russia as a source of aid and stability. The Russians thus see Iran as a major thorn in Washington’s side. Obtaining Moscow’s cooperation on removing the thorn would require major U.S. concessions — beyond merely bringing a plastic “reset” button to Moscow. At this point, the Russians have no intention of helping remove the thorn. They like it right where it is.

In discussing crippling sanctions, the sole obvious move would be blocking gasoline exports to Iran. Iran must import 40 percent of its gasoline needs. The United States and others have discussed a plan for preventing major energy companies, shippers and insurers from supplying that gasoline. The subject, of course, becomes moot if Russia (and China) refuses to participate or blocks sanctions. Moscow and Beijing can deliver all the gasoline Tehran wants. The Russians could even deliver gasoline by rail in the event that Iranian ports are blocked. Therefore, if the Russians aren’t participating, the impact of gasoline sanctions is severely diminished, something the Iranians know well.

Tehran and Moscow therefore are of the opinion that this round of threats will end where other rounds ended. The United States, the United Kingdom and France will be on one side; Russia and China will be on the other; and Germany will vacillate, not wanting to be caught on the wrong side of the Russians. In either case, whatever sanctions are announced would lose their punch, and life would go on as before.

There is, however, a dimension that indicates that this crisis might take a different course.

The Israeli Dimension

After the last round of meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, the Israelis announced that the United States had agreed that in the event of a failure in negotiations, the United States would demand — and get — crippling sanctions against Iran, code for a gasoline cutoff. In return, the Israelis indicated that any plans for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be put off. The Israelis specifically said that the Americans had agreed on the September U.N. talks as the hard deadline for a decision on — and implementation of — sanctions.

Our view always has been that the Iranians are far from acquiring nuclear weapons. This is, we believe, the Israeli point of view. But the Israeli point of view also is that, however distant, the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons represents a mortal danger to Israel — and that, therefore, Israel would have to use military force if diplomacy and sanctions don’t work.

For Israel, the Obama guarantee on sanctions represented the best chance at a nonmilitary settlement. If it fails, it is not clear what could possibly work. Given that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has gotten his regime back in line, that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad apparently has emerged from the recent Iranian election crisis with expanded clout over Iran’s foreign policy, and that the Iranian nuclear program appears to be popular among Iranian nationalists (of whom there are many), there seems no internal impediment to the program. And given the current state of U.S.-Russian relations and that Washington is unlikely to yield Moscow hegemony in the former Soviet Union in return for help on Iran, a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely.

Obama’s assurances notwithstanding, there accordingly is no evidence of any force or process that would cause the Iranians to change their minds about their nuclear program. With that, the advantage to Israel of delaying a military strike evaporates.

And the question of the quality of intelligence must always be taken into account: The Iranians may be closer to a weapon than is believed. The value of risking delays disappears if nothing is likely to happen in the intervening period that would make a strike unnecessary.

Moreover, the Israelis have Obama in a box. Obama promised them that if Israel did not take a military route, he would deliver them crippling sanctions against Iran. Why Obama made this promise — and he has never denied the Israeli claim that he did — is not fully clear. It did buy him some time, and perhaps he felt he could manage the Russians better than he has. Whatever Obama’s motivations, having failed to deliver, the Israelis can say that they have cooperated with the United States fully, so now they are free by the terms of their understanding with Washington to carry out strikes — something that would necessarily involve the United States.

The calm assumptions in major capitals that this is merely another round in interminable talks with Iran on its weapons revolves around the belief that the Israelis are locked into place by the Americans. From where we sit, the Israelis have more room to maneuver now than they had in the past, or than they might have in the future. If that’s true, then the current crisis is more dangerous than it appears.

Netanyahu appears to have made a secret trip to Moscow (though it didn’t stay secret very long) to meet with the Russian leadership. Based on our own intelligence and this analysis, it is reasonable to assume that Netanyahu was trying to drive home to the Russians the seriousness of the situation and Israel’s intent. Russian-Israeli relations have deteriorated on a number of issues, particularly over Israeli military and intelligence aid to Ukraine and Georgia. Undoubtedly, the Russians demanded that Israel abandon this aid.

As mentioned, the chances of the Russians imposing effective sanctions on Iran are nil. This would get them nothing. And if not cooperating on sanctions triggers an Israeli airstrike, so much the better. This would degrade and potentially even effectively eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability, which in the final analysis is not in Russia’s interest. It would further enrage the Islamic world at Israel. It would put the United States in the even more difficult position of having to support Israel in the face of this hostility. And from the Russian point of view, it would all come for free. (That said, in such a scenario the Russians would lose much of the leverage the Iran card offers Moscow in negotiations with the United States.)

Ramifications of an Israeli Strike

An Israeli airstrike would involve the United States in two ways. First, it would have to pass through Iraqi airspace controlled by the United States, at which point no one would believe that the Americans weren’t complicit. Second, the likely Iranian response to an Israeli airstrike would be to mine the Strait of Hormuz and other key points in the Persian Gulf — something the Iranians have said they would do, and something they have the ability to do.

Some have pointed out that the Iranians would be hurting themselves as much as the West, as this would cripple their energy exports. And it must be remembered that 40 percent of globally traded oil exports pass through Hormuz. The effect of mining the Persian Gulf would be devastating to oil prices and to the global economy at a time when the global economy doesn’t need more grief. But the economic pain Iran would experience from such a move could prove tolerable relative to the pain that would be experienced by the world’s major energy importers. Meanwhile, the Russians would be free to export oil at extraordinarily high prices.

Given the foregoing, the United States would immediately get involved in such a conflict by engaging the Iranian navy, which in this case would consist of small boats with outboard motors dumping mines overboard. Such a conflict would be asymmetric warfare, naval style. Indeed, given that the Iranians would rapidly respond — and that the best way to stop them would be to destroy their vessels no matter how small before they have deployed — the only rational military process would be to strike Iranian boats and ships prior to an Israeli airstrike. Since Israel doesn’t have the ability to do that, the United States would be involved in any such conflict from the beginning. Given that, the United States might as well do the attacking. This would increase the probability of success dramatically, and paradoxically would dampen the regional reaction compared to a unilateral Israeli strike.

When we speak to people in Tehran, Washington and Moscow, we get the sense that they are unaware that the current situation might spin out of control. In Moscow, the scenario is dismissed because the general view is that Obama is weak and inexperienced and is frightened of military confrontation; the assumption is that he will find a way to bring the Israelis under control.

It isn’t clear that Obama can do that, however. The Israelis don’t trust him, and Iran is a core issue for them. The more Obama presses them on settlements the more they are convinced that Washington no longer cares about Israeli interests. And that means they are on their own, but free to act.

It should also be remembered that Obama reads intelligence reports from Moscow, Tehran and Berlin. He knows the consensus about him among foreign leaders, who don’t hold him in high regard. That consensus causes foreign leaders to take risks; it also causes Obama to have an interest in demonstrating that they have misread him.

We are reminded of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis only in this sense: We get the sense that everyone is misreading everyone else. In the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Americans didn’t believe the Soviets would take the risks they did and the Soviets didn’t believe the Americans would react as they did. In this case, the Iranians believe the United States will play its old game and control the Israelis. Washington doesn’t really understand that Netanyahu may see this as the decisive moment. And the Russians believe Netanyahu will be controlled by an Obama afraid of an even broader conflict than he already has on his hands.

The current situation is not as dangerous as the Cuban Missile Crisis was, but it has this in common: Everyone thinks we are on a known roadmap, when in reality, one of the players — Israel — has the ability and interest to redraw the roadmap. Netanyahu has been signaling in many ways that he intends to do just this. Everyone seems to believe he won’t. We aren’t so sure.

Monday, September 14, 2009

US Image Improves in Canada Despite Differences over Economy, Afghanistan

Pew Global Attitudes Project
September 14
As in much of the world, America's image has bounced back in Canada according to a Pew Global Attitudes survey conducted in May and June of this year. Positive ratings for the United States have become more common, and President Barack Obama receives considerably higher marks than George W. Bush did when he was in the White House. Even so, as Obama prepares to meet with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, many Canadians say that the U.S. economy is having a negative impact on their country, and many disagree with Obama on one of his top foreign policy priorities: the war in Afghanistan.

OSCE media freedom representative calls on Azerbaijan to improve media freedom, hopes detained bloggers may be released soon

BAKU, 10 September 2009 - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, criticized the continued imprisonment of media workers in Azerbaijan on "trumped-up charges" and called for the repeal of recently imposed restrictive media regulations, but added that he hoped statements made by the authorities in meetings signal that these trends will be reversed. "The case of the two bloggers, Emin Abdullayev (Milli) and Adnan Hajizade, charged with hooliganism, demonstrates that law enforcement has not yet given up producing undue accusations against critically-minded media workers," said Haraszti following meetings in Baku. He also referred to the cases of Eynulla Fatullayev and Ganimat Zahidov, whom he visited in prison. The two are Azerbaijan's best known independent newspaper editors who are serving long prison terms on charges such as terrorism, tax evasion and hooliganism.During his visit Haraszti, together with Ambassador Bilge Cankorel, the Head of OSCE Office in Baku, met Ali Hasanov, the head of the Public and Political Issues Department of the Presidential Administration, Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammad-Guliyevand and Commissioner for Human Rights Elmira Suleymanova."In my meetings with officials, I was assured that defamation will soon be decriminalized. I was also encouraged to hear that the presidential administration shares my concerns about the bloggers' case. I welcome these statements, and hope that Abdullayev and Hajizade may be released soon," Haraszti said.
"For Azerbaijan to improve its media freedom record, law enforcement should be firmly instructed to protect journalists instead of endangering them through harassment and trumped-up charges."Haraszti stressed that urgent improvement was also needed regarding the ban imposed earlier this year on the BBC, Radio Free Europe and Voice of America from accessible FM waves, which gravely diminishes pluralism, and to new media law amendments which gave the government extended rights to interfere with the press.Haraszti also urged authorities to release imprisoned journalists and publicly disclose information on the state of the investigation into the 2005 murder of investigative journalist Elmar Huseynov.
During his visit to Baku, Haraszti and Ambassador Cankorel also presented the Azerbaijani edition of the Media Self-regulation Guidebook, published by the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.
For PDF attachments or links to sources of further information, please visit: http://www.osce.org/item/39507.html

EU and the UN, the battle for influence

The EU's ongoing loss of influence at the UN is putting lives at risk, a new paper from the European Council on Foreign Relations argues.
As world leaders gather in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, the paper - The EU and human rights at the UN: 2009 annual review - by ECFR's UN experts Richard Gowan and Franziska Brantner MEP warns that the EU is losing its ability to push the UN to respond to humanitarian crises.
Earlier this year, the EU was repeatedly thwarted in its efforts to use the UN to pressure the Sri Lankan government to allow humanitarian aid in during its assault on Tamil areas, which led to tens of thousands of civilian casualties. China and Russia blocked EU attempts to force Colombo's hand in the Security Council, and the EU found itself outmanoeuvred and outvoted in the Human Rights Council.
The paper - the authors' follow-up to their report last year on the EU's performance in human rights debates at the UN - also reveals that the number of states most fiercely opposed to the EU's human rights positions at the UN has swollen to 40 this year from 19 last year. Since the late 1990s when the EU enjoyed the support of over 70% of the UN General Assembly in human rights votes, support of the EU's human rights position has haemorrhaged: the EU has lost the backing of 13 former allies on human rights votes in the last year - 117 of the UN's 192 members now typically vote against the EU.
Gowan and Brantner argue that while the Obama administration's decision to re-engage with the UN following the obstructionism of the previous administration has generated a new spirit of optimism, European governments have failed to capitalise on this new mood and are increasingly allowing their opponents to set the agenda and dominate human rights debates and effectively endorse human rights abuses.
Richard Gowan says:
Obama's enthusiastic engagement with the UN gives Europeans a new sense of hope after Bush. But the EU must avoid the temptation to hang back and hope the US will fix everything - American diplomats want to see that the EU can deliver.
Tragically, EU and US efforts to contain the Sri Lanka crisis through the UN failed due to opposition from China, India and Russia. Up to 10,000 civilians died. The basic value of saving lives is falling victim to power politics in the Security Council.
The paper is the first of a series of annual updates mapping the EU's performance in human rights debates at the UN, based on the authors' groundbreaking Audit of European Power at the UN, which revealed a massive decline in European power at the UN over 10 years.
The EU needs to use "tough diplomacy" to deal with the power politics played by China and Russia - and advocate a new Security Council agreement on protecting humanitarian access during major crises.
The EU and the US should set up a working group to co-ordinate human rights positions at the UN - and expand it to include other liberal states.
To regain the initiative at the UN, the EU should use next year's Millennium Development Goals conference to address unfinished UN reforms by tabling agenda proposals now.
The European Commission should raise economic rights issues at the UN instead of waiting for G8 and G20 meetings to improve relations with the developing world during the recession.
Richard Gowan is a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and is based in New York City. He can be contacted at Richard.gowan@ecfr.eu, or on +1 917 975 6629.
Franziska Brantner is an MEP (Green Group), where she sits on the Foreign Affairs committee. She can be contacted on matters relating to this report at franziska.brantner@gmx.de.
This memo, like all ECFR publications, represents the views of its authors, not the collective position of ECFR or its Council Members. It does not reflect the official view of the Green Group in the European Parliament, or other parties and institutions with which the authors are involved.
For all media enquiries please email press@ecfr.eu or telephone +44 20 7031 1623.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is the first pan-European think-tank. Launched in October 2007, its objective is to conduct research and promote informed debate across Europe on the development of coherent and effective European values based foreign policy. http://ecfr.eu/page/m2/3560dda0/5135bcdf/32ef4984/34af2b9c/3259004495/VEsA/

Muslim world decreased the support for terrorism

September 10
Eight years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Pew Global Attitudes Project finds that support for Osama bin Laden has declined considerably among Muslim publics in recent years. Moreover, majorities or pluralities among eight of the nine Muslim publics surveyed this year say that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians can never be justified to defend Islam; only in the Palestinian territories does a majority endorse such attacks.The drop in support for bin Laden has been most dramatic in Indonesia, Pakistan and Jordan. Currently, about one-quarter of Muslims in Jordan (28%) and Indonesia (25%) express confidence in the al Qaeda leader to do the right thing regarding world affairs; in 2003, majorities in each country agreed (56% and 59%, respectively).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

OSCE Chairperson welcomes progress in talks between Turkey and Armenia as contribution to regional stability

ATHENS, 1 September 2009 - The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, today welcomed Turkey and Armenia's joint statement announcing that they plan to start talks aiming to normalize bilateral relations, saying such a development would contribute to regional stability. "The establishment of diplomatic ties between Turkey and Armenia would be a positive step not just for the South Caucasus region, but also beyond," Bakoyannis said. "I warmly welcome this positive step toward normalization of ties between two OSCE participating States."Bakoyannis called on both sides to build on the positive momentum achieved in the Swiss-led talks.

For PDF attachments or links to sources of further information, please visit: http://www.osce.org/item/39343.html

Few in NATO Support Call For Additional Forces in Afghanistan

August 31
In an assessment of the war in Afghanistan by the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal stated that a new strategy is needed to fight the Taliban. Although it was not addressed in the strategic review sent to both the Pentagon and NATO headquarters on Monday, it is widely anticipated that McChrystal will ask for more troops to deal with the situation in a separate request expected in a of couple weeks, a proposal that may face considerable opposition in many NATO countries.
While the 2009 Pew Global Attitudes survey of 25 nations found broad global support for President Barack Obama and his policy goals, the one notable exception was his decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan. Significant opposition to troop increases was found in all NATO countries polled; at least half of those surveyed in Germany (63%), France (62%), Poland (57%), Canada (55%), Britain (51%) and Spain (50%) disapproved of sending more troops to Afghanistan.In addition to opposing new troop commitments, many in NATO countries want troops withdrawn altogether.

Read the full commentary at: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1325/little-support-in-nato-for-afghanistan-troop-increases

AQAP: Paradigm Shifts and Lessons Learned

Scott Stewart
September 2
On the evening of Aug. 28, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister — and the man in charge of the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts — was receiving members of the public in connection with the celebration of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. As part of the Ramadan celebration, it is customary for members of the Saudi royal family to hold public gatherings where citizens can seek to settle disputes or offer Ramadan greetings.
One of the highlights of the Friday gathering was supposed to be the prince’s meeting with Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a Saudi man who was a wanted militant from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Asiri had allegedly renounced terrorism and had requested to meet the prince in order to repent and then be accepted into the kingdom’s amnesty program. Such surrenders are not unprecedented — and they serve as great press events for the kingdom’s ideological battle against jihadists. Prince Mohammed, who is responsible for the Saudi rehabilitation program for militants, is a key figure in that ideological battle.
In February, a man who appeared with al-Asiri on Saudi Arabia’s list of most-wanted militants — former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mohammed al-Awfi — surrendered in Yemen and was transported to Saudi Arabia where he renounced terrorism and entered into the kingdom’s amnesty program. Al-Awfi, who had appeared in a January 2009 video issued by the newly created AQAP after the merger of the Saudi and Yemeni nodes of the global jihadist network, was a senior AQAP leader, and his renouncement was a major blow against AQAP.
But the al-Asiri case ended very differently from the al-Awfi case. Unlike al-Awfi, al-Asiri was not a genuine repentant — he was a human Trojan horse. After al-Asiri entered a small room to speak with Prince Mohammed, he activated a small improvised explosive device (IED) he had been carrying inside his anal cavity. The resulting explosion ripped al-Asiri to shreds but only lightly injured the shocked prince — the target of al-Asiri’s unsuccessful assassination attempt.
While the assassination proved unsuccessful, AQAP had been able to shift the operational paradigm in a manner that allowed them to achieve tactical surprise. The surprise was complete and the Saudis did not see the attack coming — the operation could have succeeded had it been better executed.
The kind of paradigm shift evident in this attack has far-reaching implications from a protective-intelligence standpoint, and security services will have to adapt in order to counter the new tactics employed. The attack also allows some important conclusions to be drawn about AQAP’s ability to operate inside Saudi Arabia.
Paradigm Shifts
Militants conducting terrorist attacks and the security services attempting to guard against such attacks have long engaged in a tactical game of cat and mouse. As militants adopt new tactics, security measures are then implemented to counter those tactics. The security changes then cause the militants to change in response and the cycle begins again. These changes can include using different weapons, employing weapons in a new way or changing the type of targets selected.
Sometimes, militants will implement a new tactic or series of tactics that is so revolutionary that it completely changes the framework of assumptions — or the paradigm — under which the security forces operate. Historically, al Qaeda and its jihadist progeny have proved to be very good at understanding the security paradigm and then developing tactics intended to exploit vulnerabilities in that paradigm in order to launch surprise attacks. For example:
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, it was inconceivable that a large passenger aircraft would be used as a manually operated cruise missile. Hence, security screeners allowed box cutters to be carried onto aircraft, which were then used by the hijackers to take over the planes.
The use of faux journalists to assassinate Ahmed Shah Masood with suicide IEDs hidden in their camera gear was also quite inventive.
Had Richard Reid been able to light the fuse on his shoe bomb, we might still be wondering what happened to American Airlines Flight 63.
The boat bomb employed against the USS Cole in October 2000 was another example of a paradigm shift that resulted in tactical surprise.
Once the element of tactical surprise is lost, however, the new tactics can be countered.
When the crew and passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 learned what had happened to the other flights hijacked and flown to New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, they stormed the cockpit and stopped the hijackers from using their aircraft in an attack. Aircraft cockpit doors have also been hardened and other procedural measures have been put in place to make 9/11-style suicide hijackings harder to pull off.
Following the Masood assassination, journalists have been given very close scrutiny before being allowed into the proximity of a VIP.
The traveling public has felt the impact of the Reid shoe-bombing attempt by being forced to remove their shoes every time they pass through airport security. And the thwarted 2006 Heathrow plot has resulted in limits on the size of liquid containers travelers can take aboard aircraft.
The U.S. Navy is now very careful to guard against small craft pulling up alongside its warships.
Let’s now take a look at the paradigm shift marked by the Prince Mohammed assassination attempt.
AQAP’s Tactical Innovations
First, using a repentant militant was a brilliant move, especially when combined with the timing of Ramadan. For Muslims, Ramadan is a time for introspection, sacrifice, reconciliation and repentance — it is a time to exercise self-restraint and practice good deeds. Additionally, as previously mentioned, Ramadan is a time when the Saudi royal family customarily makes itself more accessible to the people than at other times of the year. By using a repentant militant who appears on Saudi Arabia’s list of most-wanted militants, AQAP was playing to the ego of the Saudis, who very much want to crush AQAP, and who also want to use AQAP members who have renounced terrorism and the group as part of their ideological campaign against jihadists. The surrender of an AQAP member offered the Saudi government a prize and a useful tool — it was an attractive offer and, as anticipated, Prince Mohammed took the bait. (Another side benefit of this tactic from the perspective of AQAP is that it will make the Saudis far more careful when they are dealing with surrendered militants in the future.)
The second tactical innovation in this case was the direct targeting of a senior member of the Saudi royal family and the member of the family specifically charged with leading the campaign against AQAP. In the past, jihadist militants in Saudi Arabia have targeted foreign interests and energy infrastructure in the kingdom. While jihadists have long derided and threatened the Saudi royal family in public statements, including AQAP statements released this year, they had not, prior to the Prince Mohammed assassination attempt, ever tried to follow through on any of their threats. Nor has the group staged any successful attack inside the kingdom since the February 2007 attack that killed four French citizens, and it has not attempted a major attack in Saudi Arabia since the failed February 2006 attack against a major oil-processing facility in the city of Abqaiq. Certainly the group had never before attempted a specifically targeted assassination against any member of the very large Saudi royal family — much less a senior member. Therefore the attack against Prince Mohammed came as a complete surprise. There are many less senior members of the royal family who would have been far more vulnerable to attack, but they would not have carried the rank or symbolism that Mohammed does.
But aside from his rank, Mohammed was the logical target to select for this operation because of his office and how he conducts his duties. Mohammed has long served as the primary contact between jihadists and the Saudi government, and he is the person Saudi militants go to in order to surrender. He has literally met with hundreds of repentant jihadists in person and had experienced no known security issues prior to the Aug. 28 incident. This explains why Mohammed personally spoke on the phone with al-Asiri prior to the surrender and why he did not express much concern over meeting with someone who appeared on his government’s list of most-wanted militants. He met with such men regularly.
Since it is well known that Mohammed has made it his personal mission to handle surrendering militants, AQAP didn’t have to do much intelligence work to realize that Mohammed was vulnerable to an attack or to arrange for a booby-trapped al-Asiri to meet with Mohammed. They merely had to adapt their tactics in order to exploit vulnerabilities in the security paradigm.
The third tactical shift is perhaps the most interesting, and that is the use of an IED hidden in the anal cavity of the bomber. Suicide bombers have long been creative when it comes to hiding their devices. In addition to the above-mentioned IED in the camera gear used in the Masood assassination, female suicide bombers with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have hidden IEDs inside brassieres, and female suicide bombers with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party have worn IEDs designed to make them look pregnant. However, this is the first instance we are aware of where a suicide bomber has hidden an IED inside a body cavity.
It is fairly common practice around the world for people to smuggle contraband such as drugs inside their body cavities. This is done not only to get items across international borders but also to get contraband into prisons. It is not unusual for people to smuggle narcotics and even cell phones into prisons inside their body cavities (the prison slang for this practice is “keistering”). It is also not at all uncommon for inmates to keister weapons such as knives or improvised stabbing devices known as “shanks.” Such keistered items can be very difficult to detect using standard search methods, especially if they do not contain much metal.
In the case of al-Asiri, he turned himself in to authorities on the afternoon of Aug. 27 and did not meet with Mohammed until the evening of Aug. 28. By the time al-Asiri detonated his explosive device, he had been in custody for some 30 hours and had been subjected to several security searches, though it is unlikely that any of them included a body cavity search. While it is possible that there was some type of internal collusion, it is more likely that the device had been hidden inside of al-Asiri the entire time.
AQAP’s claim of responsibility for the attack included the following statement:“…Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, who was on the list of 85 wanted persons, was able, with the help of God, to enter Nayef’s palace as he was among his guards and detonate an explosive device. No one will be able to know the type of this device or the way it was detonated. Al-Asiri managed to pass all the security checkpoints in Najran and Jeddah airports and was transported on board Mohammed bin Nayef’s private plane.”
AQAP also threatened additional surprise attacks in the “near future,” but now that the type of device al-Asiri used is known, security measures can — and almost certainly will — be implemented to prevent similar attacks in the future.
While keistering an IED is a novel tactic, it does present operational planners with some limitations. For one thing, the amount of explosive material that can be hidden inside a person is far less than the amount that can be placed inside a backpack or is typically used in a suicide belt or vest. For another, the body of the bomber will tend to absorb much of the blast wave and most of any fragmentation from the device. This means that the bomber would have to get in very close proximity to an intended target in order to kill him or her. Such a device would not be very useful for a mass-casualty attack like the July 17 Jakarta hotel bombings and instead would be more useful in assassination attempts against targeted individuals.
We have not been able to determine exactly how the device was triggered, but it likely employed a command-detonated remote device of some kind. Having wires protruding from the bomber’s body would be a sure giveaway. The use of a wireless remote means that the device would be susceptible to radio frequency countermeasures.
One other concern about such a device is that it would likely have a catastrophic result if employed on an aircraft, especially if it were removed from the bomber’s body and placed in a strategic location on board the aircraft. Richard Reid’s shoe IED only contained about four ounces of explosives, an amount that could conceivably be smuggled inside a human.

What the Attack Says About AQAP
While the Aug. 28 attack highlighted AQAP’s operational creativity, it also demonstrated that the group failed to effectively execute the attack after gaining the element of surprise. Quite simply, the bomber detonated his device too far away from the intended target. It is quite likely that the group failed to do adequate testing with the device and did not know what its effective kill radius was. AQAP will almost certainly attempt to remedy that error before it tries to employ such a device again.
In the larger picture, this attempt shows that AQAP does not have the resources inside the kingdom to plan and execute an attack on a figure like Prince Mohammed. That it would try a nuanced and highly targeted strike against Mohammed rather than a more brazen armed assault or vehicle-borne IED attack demonstrates that the group is very weak inside Saudi Arabia. It even needed to rely on operatives and planners who were in Yemen to execute the attack.
When the formation of AQAP was announced in January, STRATFOR noted that it would be important to watch for indications of whether the merger of the Saudi and Yemeni groups was a sign of desperation by a declining group or an indication that it had new blood and was on the rise. AQAP’s assassination attempt on Prince Mohammed has clearly demonstrated that the group is weak and in decline.
AQAP has not given up the struggle, but the group will be hard-pressed to weather the storm that is about to befall it as the Saudis retaliate for the plot. It will be very surprising if it is able to carry through with its threat to attack other members of the Saudi royal family in the near future. Indeed, the very fact that AQAP has threatened more attacks on the royal family likely indicates that the threats are empty; if the group truly did have other plots in the works, it would not want to risk jeopardizing those plots by prompting the Saudis to increase security in response to a threat.
Lacking the strength to conduct large, aggressive attacks, the weakened AQAP will need to continue innovating in order to pose a threat to the Saudi monarchy. But, as seen in the Aug. 28 case, tactical innovation requires more than just a novel idea — militants must also carefully develop and test new concepts before they can use them to effectively conduct a terrorist attack.

The Western View of Russia

George Friedman
August 31
A months-long White House review of a pair of U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations slated for Poland and the Czech Republic is nearing completion. The review is expected to present a number of options ranging from pushing forward with the installations as planned to canceling them outright. The Obama administration has yet to decide what course to follow. Rumors are running wild in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States has reconsidered its plan to place ballistic defense systems in their countries. The rumors stem from a top U.S. BMD lobbying group that said this past week that the U.S. plan was all but dead.
The ultimate U.S. decision on BMD depends upon both the upcoming summit of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany on the Iranian nuclear program and Russia’s response to those talks. If Russia does not cooperate in sanctions, but instead continues to maintain close relations with Iran, we suspect that the BMD plan will remain intact. Either way, the BMD issue offers a good opportunity to re-examine U.S. and Western relations with Russia and how they have evolved.

Cold War vs. Post-Cold War
There has been a recurring theme in the discussions between Russia and the West over the past year: the return of the Cold War. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, accused Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of having one foot in the Cold War. The Russians have in turn accused the Americans of thinking in terms of the Cold War. Eastern Europeans have expressed fears that the Russians continue to view their relationship with Europe in terms of the Cold War. Other Europeans have expressed concern that both Americans and Russians might drag Europe into another Cold War.
For many in the West, the more mature and stable Western-Russian relationship is what they call the “Post-Cold War world.” In this world, the Russians no longer regard the West as an enemy, and view the other republics of the former Soviet Union (FSU) as independent states free to forge whatever relations they wish with the West. Russia should welcome or at least be indifferent to such matters. Russia instead should be concentrating on economic development while integrating lessons learned from the West into its political and social thinking. The Russians should stop thinking in politico-military terms, the terms of the Cold War. Instead, they should think in the new paradigm in which Russia is part of the Western economic system, albeit a backward one needing time and institution-building to become a full partner with the West. All other thinking is a throwback to the Cold War.
This was the thinking behind the idea of resetting U.S.-Russian relations. Hillary Clinton’s “reset” button was meant to move U.S.-Russian relations away from what Washington thought of as a return to the Cold War from its preferred period, which existed between 1991 and the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations after Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution. The United States was in a bimodal condition when it came to Russian relations: Either it was the Cold War or it was post-Cold War.
The Russians took a more jaundiced view of the post-Cold War world. For Moscow, rather than a period of reform, the post-Cold War period was one of decay and chaos. Old institutions had collapsed, but new institutions had not emerged. Instead, there was the chaos of privatization, essentially a wild free-for-all during which social order collapsed. Western institutions, including everything from banks to universities, were complicit in this collapse. Western banks were eager to take advantage of the new pools of privately expropriated money, while Western advisers were eager to advise the Russians on how to become Westerners. In the meantime, workers went unpaid, life expectancy and birth rates declined, and the basic institutions that had provided order under communism decayed — or worse, became complicit in the looting. The post-Cold War world was not a happy time in Russia: It was a catastrophic period for Russian power.
Herein lies the gulf between the West and the Russians. The West divides the world between the Cold War and the post-Cold War world. It clearly prefers the post-Cold War world, not so much because of the social condition of Russia, but because the post-Cold War world lacked the geopolitical challenge posed by the Soviet Union — everything from wars of national liberation to the threat of nuclear war was gone. From the Russian point of view, the social chaos of the post-Cold War world was unbearable. Meanwhile, the end of a Russian challenge to the West meant from the Russian point of view that Moscow was helpless in the face of Western plans for reordering the institutions and power arrangements of the region without regard to Russian interests.
As mentioned, Westerners think in term of two eras, the Cold War and the Post-Cold War era. This distinction is institutionalized in Western expertise on Russia. And it divides into two classes of Russia experts. There are those who came to maturity during the Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s, whose basic framework is to think of Russia as a global threat. Then, there are those who came to maturity in the later 1980s and 1990s. Their view of Russia is of a failed state that can stabilize its situation for a time by subordinating itself to Western institutions and values, or continue its inexorable decline.
These two generations clash constantly. Interestingly, the distinction is not so much ideological as generational. The older group looks at Russian behavior with a more skeptical eye, assuming that Putin, a KGB man, has in mind the resurrection of Soviet power. The post-Cold War generation that controlled U.S.-Russian policy during both the Clinton and Bush administrations is more interesting. During both administrations, this generation believed in the idea that economic liberalization and political liberalization were inextricably bound together. It believed that Russia was headed in the right direction if only Moscow did not try to reassert itself geopolitically and militarily, and if Moscow did not try to control the economy or society with excessive state power. It saw the Russian evolution during the mid-to-late 2000s as an unfortunate and unnecessary development moving Russia away from the path that was best for it, and it sees the Cold War generation’s response to Russia’s behavior as counterproductive.
The Post-Post Cold War World
The U.S. and other Westerners’ understanding of Russia is trapped in a nonproductive paradigm. For Russia, the choice isn’t between the Cold War or the Post-Cold War world. This dichotomy denies the possibility of, if you will, a post-post-Cold War world — or to get away from excessive posts, a world in which Russia is a major regional power, with a stable if troubled economy, functional society and regional interests it must protect.
Russia cannot go back to the Cold War, which consisted of three parts. First, there was the nuclear relationship. Second, there was the Soviet military threat to both Europe and the Far East; the ability to deploy large military formations throughout the Eurasian landmass. And third, there were the wars of national liberation funded and guided by the Soviets, and designed to create powers allied with the Soviets on a global scale and to sap U.S. power in endless counterinsurgencies.
While the nuclear balance remains, by itself it is hollow. Without other dimensions of Russian power, the threat to engage in mutual assured destruction has little meaning. Russia’s military could re-evolve to pose a Eurasian threat; as we have pointed out before, in Russia, the status of the economy does not historically correlate to Russian military power. At the same time, it would take a generation of development to threaten the domination of the European peninsula — and Russia today has far fewer people and resources than the whole of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact that it rallied to that effort. Finally, while Russia could certainly fund insurgencies, the ideological power of Marxism is gone, and in any case Russia is not a Marxist state. Building wars of national liberation around pure finance is not as easy as it looks. There is no road back to the Cold War. But neither is there a road back to the post-Cold War period.
There was a period in the mid-to-late 1990s when the West could have destroyed the Russian Federation. Instead, the West chose a combined strategy of ignoring Russia while irritating it with economic policies that were unhelpful to say the least, and military policies like Kosovo designed to drive home Russia’s impotence. There is the old saw of not teasing a bear, but if you must, being sure to kill it. Operating on the myth of nation-building, the West thought it could rebuild Russia in its own image. To this day, most of the post-Cold War experts do not grasp the degree to which Russians saw their efforts as a deliberate attempt to destroy Russia and the degree to which Russians are committed never to return to that time. It is hard to imagine anything as infuriating for the Russians as the reset button the Clinton administration’s Russia experts — who now dominate Obama’s Russia policy — presented the Russian leadership in all seriousness. The Russians simply do not intend to return to the Post-Cold War era Western experts recall so fondly.
The resurrection of talks on the reduction of nuclear stockpiles provides an example of the post-Cold generation’s misjudgment in its response to Russia. These START talks once were urgent matters. They are not urgent any longer. The threat of nuclear war is not part of the current equation. Maintaining that semblance of parity with the United States and placing limits on the American arsenal are certainly valuable from the Russian perspective, but it is no longer a fundamental issue to them. Some have suggested using these talks as a confidence-building measure. But from the Russian point of view, START is a peripheral issue, and Washington’s focus on it is an indication that the United States is not prepared to take Russia’s current pressing interests seriously.
Continued lectures on human rights and economic liberalization, which fall on similarly deaf Russian ears, provide another example of the post-Cold War generation’s misjudgment in its response to Russia. The period in which human rights and economic liberalization were centerpieces of Russian state policy is remembered — and not only by the Russian political elite — as among the worst periods of recent Russian history. No one wants to go back there, but the Russians hear constant Western calls to return to that chaos. The Russians’ conviction is that post-Cold War Western officials want to finish the job they began. The critical point that post-Cold War officials frequently don’t grasp is that the Russians see them as at least as dangerous to Russian interests as the Cold War generation.
The Russian view is that neither the Cold War nor the post-Cold War is the proper paradigm. Russia is not challenging the United States for global hegemony. But neither is Russia prepared simply to allow the West to create an alliance of nations around Russia’s border. Russia is the dominant power in the FSU. Its economic strategy is to focus on the development and export of primary commodities, from natural gas to grain. In order to do this, it wants to align primary commodity policies in the republics of the former Soviet Union, particularly those concerning energy resources. Economic and strategic interests combine to make the status of the former Soviet republics a primary strategic interest. This is neither a perspective from the Cold War or from the post-Cold War, but a logical Russian perspective on a new age.
While Russia’s concerns with Georgia are the noisiest, it is not the key Russian concern in its near abroad — Ukraine is. So long as the United States is serious about including Ukraine in NATO, the United States represents a direct threat to Russian national security. A glance at a map shows why the Russians think this.
Russia remains interested in Central Europe as well. It is not seeking hegemony, but a neutral buffer zone between Germany in particular and the former Soviet Union, with former satellite states like Poland of crucial importance to Moscow. It sees the potential Polish BMD installation and membership of the Baltic states in NATO as direct and unnecessary challenges to Russian national interest.

Responding to the United States
As the United States causes discomfort for the Russians, Russia will in turn cause discomfort for the United States. The U.S. sore spot is the Middle East, and Iran in particular. Therefore, the Russians will respond to American pressure on them where it hurts Washington the most.
The Cold Warriors don’t understand the limits of Russian power. The post-Cold Warriors don’t understand the degree to which they are distrusted by Russia, and the logic behind that distrust. The post-Cold Warriors confuse this distrust with a hangover from the Cold War rather than a direct Russian response to the post-Cold War policies they nurtured.
This is not an argument for the West to accommodate the Russians; there are grave risks for the West there. Russian intentions right now do not forecast what Russian intentions might be were Moscow secure in the FSU and had it neutralized Poland. The logic of such things is that as problems are solved, opportunities are created. One therefore must think forward to what might happen through Western accommodation.
At the same time, it is vital to understand that neither the Cold War model nor the post-Cold War model is sufficient to understand Russian intentions and responses right now. We recall the feeling when the Cold War ended that a known and understandable world was gone. The same thing is now happening to the post-Cold War experts: The world in which they operated has dissolved. A very different and complex world has taken its place. Reset buttons are symbols of a return to a past the Russians reject. START talks are from a world long passed. The issues now revolve around Russia’s desire for a sphere of influence, and the willingness and ability of the West to block that ambition.
Somewhere between BMD in Poland and the threat posed by Iran, the West must make a strategic decision about Russia, and live with the consequences.

Libya: A Hero's Welcome

Scott Stewart and Fred Burton
August 26
On Aug. 24, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill addressed a special session of the Scottish Parliament. The session was called so that MacAskill could explain why he had decided to release Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of terrorism charges in connection with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and who had been expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. MacAskill said he granted al-Megrahi a compassionate release because al-Megrahi suffers from terminal prostate cancer and is expected to live only a few months.
The Aug. 20 release of al-Megrahi ignited a firestorm of outrage in both the United Kingdom and the United States. FBI Director Robert Mueller released to the press contents of an uncharacteristically blunt and critical letter he had written to MacAskill in which Mueller characterized al-Megrahi’s release as inexplicable and “detrimental to the cause of justice.” Mueller told MacAskill in the letter that the release “makes a mockery of the rule of law.”
The flames of outrage over the release of al-Megrahi were further fanned when al-Megrahi received a hero’s welcome upon his arrival in Tripoli — video of him being welcomed and embraced by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was broadcast all over the world.
For his part, Gadhafi has long lobbied for al-Megrahi’s release, even while taking steps to end Libya’s status as an international pariah. Gadhafi first renounced terrorism and his nuclear ambitions in 2003, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In October 2008 he completed the compensation agreement with the families of the U.S. victims of the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 and of an April 1986 Libyan attack against the La Belle disco in Berlin.
Yet despite the conviction of al-Megrahi, the 2003 official admission of Libyan responsibility for the Pan Am bombing in a letter to the United Nations, and the agreement to pay compensation to the families of the Pan Am victims, Gadhafi has always maintained in public statements that al-Megrahi and Libya were not responsible for the bombing. The official admission of responsibility for the Pan Am bombing, coupled with the public denials, has resulted in a great deal of ambiguity and confusion over the authorship of the attack — which, in all likelihood, is precisely what the denials were intended to do.
The Pan Am 103 Investigation
At 7:03 p.m. on Dec. 21, 1988, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated in one of Pan Am Flight 103’s cargo containers, causing the plane to break apart and fall from the sky. The 259 passengers and crew members aboard the flight died, as did 11 residents of Lockerbie, Scotland, the town where the remnants of the jumbo jet fell.
Immediately following the bombing, there was suspicion that the Iranians or Syrians had commissioned the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) to conduct the bombing. This belief was based on the fact that German authorities had taken down a large PFLP-GC cell in Frankfurt in October 1988 and that one member of the cell had in his possession an IED concealed inside a Toshiba radio. Frankfurt is the city where Pan Am 103 departed before stopping in London. Indeed, even today, there are still some people who believe that the PFLP-GC was commissioned by either the Iranian or the Syrian government to conduct the Pan Am bombing.
The PFLP-GC theory might eventually have become the officially accepted theory had the bomb on Pan Am 103 detonated (as planned) while the aircraft was over the North Atlantic Ocean. However, a delay in the plane’s departure from London resulted in the timed device detonating while the aircraft was still over land, and this allowed authorities to collect a great deal of evidence that had been scattered across a wide swath of the Scottish countryside. The search effort was one of the most complex crime-scene investigations ever conducted.
Through months of painstakingly detailed effort, investigators were able to determine that the aircraft was brought down by an IED containing a main charge of Semtex, that the IED had been placed inside a Toshiba radio cassette player (in a macabre coincidence, that particular model of Toshiba, the RT-SF 16, is called the “BomBeat radio cassette player”), and that the radio had been located inside a brown Samsonite hard-side suitcase located inside the cargo container.
Investigators were also able to trace the clothing inside the suitcase containing the IED to a specific shop, Mary’s House, in Sliema, Malta. While examining one of the pieces of Maltese clothing in May 1989, investigators found a fragment of a circuit board that did not match anything found in the Toshiba radio. It is important to remember that in a bombing, the pieces of the IED do not entirely disappear. They may be shattered and scattered, but they are not usually completely vaporized. Although some pieces may be damaged beyond recognition, others are not, and this often allows investigators to reconstruct the device
In mid-1990, after an exhaustive effort to identify the circuit-board fragment, the FBI laboratory in Washington was able to determine that the circuit board was very similar to one that came from a timer that a special agent with the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service had recovered from an arms cache while investigating a Libyan-sponsored coup attempt in Lome, Togo, in 1986. Further investigation determined that the company that produced the timers, the Swiss company MEBO, had sold as many as 20 of the devices to the Libyan government, and that the Libyan government was the company’s primary customer. Interestingly, in 1988, MEBO rented one of its offices in Zurich to a firm called ABH, which was run by two Libyan intelligence officers: Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Badri Hassan.
The MEBO timer, model MST-13, is very different from the ice-cube timer in the PFLP-GC device found in Frankfurt in October 1988. Additionally, the ice-cube timer in the PFLP-GC device was used in conjunction with a barometric pressure switch, and the IED used a different main charge, TNT, instead of the Semtex used in the Pan Am 103 device.
Perhaps the fact that does the most damage to the PFLP-GC conspiracy theory is that the principal bombmaker for the PFLP-GC Frankfurt cell (and the man who made the PFLP-GC Toshiba device), Marwan Khreesat, was actually an infiltrator sent into the organization by the Jordanian intelligence service. Kreesat not only assisted in providing the information that allowed the Germans to take down the cell, but he was under strict orders by his Jordanian handlers to ensure that every IED he constructed was not capable of detonating. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that one of the IEDs he created was used to destroy Pan Am 103.
One of the Libyans connected to MEBO, al-Megrahi, is an interesting figure. Not only was he an officer with Libyan intelligence, the External Security Organization, or ESO, but he also served as the chief of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA) and had visited Malta many times. The owner of the Mary’s House clothing shop in Sliema identified al-Megrahi as the man who purchased the clothing found in the suitcase, and Maltese immigration records indicated that al-Megrahi was in Malta on Dec. 7, 1988, the time that the clothing was purchased. Al-Megrahi left Malta on Dec. 9, 1988, but returned to the country using a false identity on Dec. 20, using a passport issued by the ESO in the name of Ahmed Khalifa Abdusamad. Al-Megrahi left Malta using the Abdusamad passport on Dec. 21, 1988, the day the suitcase was apparently sent from Malta aboard Air Malta Flight KM180 to Frankfurt and then transferred to Pan Am 103.
On Nov. 13, 1991, the British government charged al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the LAA station manager at Luqa Airport in Malta, with the bombing. One day later, a federal grand jury in the United States returned an indictment against the same two men for the crime. In March 1995, the FBI added the two men to its most wanted list and the Diplomatic Security Service’s Rewards for Justice Program offered a $4 million reward for their capture. Al-Megrahi and Fhimah were placed under house arrest in Libya — a comfortable existence that, more than actually confining them, served to protect them from being kidnapped and spirited out of Libya to face trial.
After many years of boycotts, embargos, U.N. resolutions and diplomatic wrangling — including extensive efforts by South African President Nelson Mandela and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — a compromise was reached and all parties agreed to a trial in a neutral country — the Netherlands — conducted under Scottish law. On April 5, 1999, al-Megrahi and Fhimah were transferred to Camp Zeist in the Netherlands to stand trial before a special panel of Scottish judges.
On Jan. 31, 2001, after a very long trial that involved an incredible amount of technical and detailed testimony, the judges reached their decision. The Scottish judges acquitted Fhimah, finding that there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he was involved in the plot (the British government had charged that he had been the person who stole the luggage tags and placed the suitcase on the Air Malta flight), but they did find al-Megrahi guilty of 270 counts of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 27 years.
Although the case against al-Megrahi was entirely circumstantial — there was no direct evidence he or Fhimah had placed the device aboard the aircraft — the Scottish judges wrote in their decision that they believed the preponderance of the evidence, including al-Megrahi’s knowledge of airline security measures and procedures, his connection to MEBO, his purchase of the clothing in the suitcase that had contained the IED and his clandestine travel to Malta on Dec. 20 to 21, 1988, convinced them beyond a reasonable doubt that al-Megrahi was guilty as charged.
In a December 2003 letter to the United Nations, Libya accepted responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing. (In the same letter, Libya also took responsibility for the September 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772, a French airliner destroyed by an IED after leaving Brazzaville, Congo, and making a stop in N’Djamena, Chad. All 170 people aboard the aircraft died when it broke up over the Sahara in Niger.) Nevertheless, the Libyan government continued to maintain al-Megrahi’s innocence in the Pan Am bombing, just as al-Megrahi had done throughout the trial, insisting that he had not been involved in the bombing.
Al-Megrahi’s reluctance to admit responsibility for the bombing or to show any contrition for the attack is one of the factors singled out by those who opposed his release from prison. It is also one of the hallmarks of a professional intelligence officer. In many ways, al-Megrahi’s public stance regarding the bombing can be summed up by the unofficial motto of the CIA’s Office of Technical Services — “Admit nothing, deny everything, make counter-accusations.”
In the shadow world of covert action it is not uncommon for the governments behind such actions to deny (or at least not claim) responsibility for them. These governments also often attempt to plan such attacks in a way that will lead to a certain level of ambiguity — and thereby provide plausible deniability. This was a characteristic seen in many Libyan attacks against U.S. interests, such as the 1986 La Belle Disco bombing in Berlin. It was only an intercept of Libyan communications that provided proof of Libyan responsibility for that attack.
Many attacks that the Libyans sponsored or subcontracted out, such as the string of attacks carried out against U.S. interests by members of the Japanese Red Army and claimed in the name of the Anti-Imperialist International Brigade, were likewise meant to provide Libya with plausible deniability. Gadhafi did not relish the possibility of another American airstrike on his home in Tripoli, like the one that occurred after the La Belle attack in April 1986. (A number of Libyan military targets also were hit in the broader U.S. military action, known as Operation El Dorado Canyon.) Pan Am 103 is considered by many to be Gadhafi’s retribution for those American airstrikes, one of which killed his adopted baby daughter. Gadhafi, who had reportedly been warned of the strike by the Italian government, was not injured in the attack.
During the 1980s, the Libyan government was locked in a heated tit-for-tat battle with the United States. One source of this friction were U.S. claims that the Libyan government supported terrorist groups such as the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), which conducted several brutal, high-profile attacks in the 1980s, including the December 1985 Rome and Vienna airport assaults. There was also military tension between the two countries as Libya declared a “line of death” across the mouth of the Gulf of Sidra. The U.S. Navy shot down several Libyan fighter aircraft that had attempted to enforce the edict. But these two threads of tension were closely intertwined; the U.S. Navy purposefully challenged the line of death in the spring of 1986 in response to the Rome and Vienna attacks, and it is believed that the La Belle attack was retribution for the U.S. military action in the Gulf of Sidra. The Libyan ESO was also directly implicated in attacks against U.S. diplomats in Sanaa, Yemen, and Khartoum, Sudan, in 1986.
Because of the need for plausible deniability, covert operatives are instructed to stick to their cover story and maintain their innocence if they are caught. Al-Megrahi’s consistent denials and his many appeals, which often cite the PFLP-GC case in Frankfurt, have done a great deal to sow doubt and provide Libya with some deniability.
Like Osama bin Laden’s initial denial of responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, al-Megrahi’s claims of innocence have served as ready fuel for conspiracy theorists, who claim he was framed by the U.S. and British governments. However, any conspiracy to frame al-Megrahi and his Libyan masters would have to be very wide ranging and, by necessity, reach much further than just London and Washington. For example, anyone considering such a conspiracy must also account for the fact that in 1999 a French court convicted six Libyans in absentia for the 1989 bombing of UTA Flight 772. The six included Abdullah al-Sanussi, Gadhafi’s brother-in-law and head of the ESO.
Getting two or more governments to cooperate on some sort of grand conspiracy to frame the Libyans and exonerate the Iranians and Syrians is hard to fathom. Such cooperation would have to involve enough people that, sooner or later, someone would spill the beans — especially considering that the Pan Am 103 saga played out over multiple U.S. administrations. As seen by the current stir over CIA interrogation programs, administrations love to make political hay by revealing the cover-ups of previous administrations. Surely, if there had been a secret ploy by the Reagan or Bush administrations to frame the Libyans, the Clinton or Obama administration would have outed it. The same principle applies to the United Kingdom, where Margaret Thatcher’s government oversaw the beginning of the Pan Am 103 investigation and Labour governments after 1997 would have had the incentive to reveal information to the contrary.
While the U.S. and British governments work closely together on a number of intelligence projects, they are frequently at odds on counterterrorism policy and foreign relations. From our personal experience, we believe that it would be very difficult to get multiple U.S. and British administrations from different political parties to work in perfect harmony to further this sort of conspiracy. Due to the UTA investigation and trial, the conspiracy would have to somehow involve the French government. While the Americans working with the British is one thing, the very idea of the Americans, British and French working in perfect harmony on any sort of project — much less a grand secret conspiracy to frame the Libyans — is simply unimaginable. It is much easier to believe that the Libyans were guilty, especially in light of the litany of other terror attacks they committed or sponsored during that era.
Had the IED in the cargo hold of Pan Am 103 exploded over the open ocean, it is very unlikely that the clothing from Malta and the fragment of the MEBO timer would have ever been recovered — think of the difficulty the French have had in locating the black box from Air France 447 in June of this year. In such a scenario, the evidence linking al-Megrahi and the Libyan government to the Pan Am bombing might never have been discovered and plausible deniability could have been maintained indefinitely.
The evidence recovered in Scotland and al-Megrahi’s eventual conviction put a dent in that deniability, but the true authors of the attack — al-Megrahi’s superiors — were never formally charged. Without al-Megrahi’s cooperation, there was no evidence to prove who ordered him to undertake the attack, though it is logical to conclude that the ESO would never undertake such a significant attack without Gadhafi’s approval.
Now that al-Megrahi has returned to Libya and is in Libyan safekeeping, there is no chance that any death-bed confession he may give will ever make it to the West. His denials will be his final words and the ambiguity and doubt those denials cast will be his legacy. In the shadowy world of clandestine operations, this is the ideal behavior for someone caught committing an operational act. He has shielded his superiors and his government to the end. From the perspective of the ESO, and Moammar Gadhafi, al-Megrahi is indeed a hero.

Obama's Foreign Policy: The End of the Beginning

George Friedman
August 24

As August draws to a close, so does the first phase of the Obama presidency. The first months of any U.S. presidency are spent filling key positions and learning the levers of foreign and national security policy. There are also the first rounds of visits with foreign leaders and the first tentative forays into foreign policy. The first summer sees the leaders of the Northern Hemisphere take their annual vacations, and barring a crisis or war, little happens in the foreign policy arena. Then September comes and the world gets back in motion, and the first phase of the president’s foreign policy ends. The president is no longer thinking about what sort of foreign policy he will have; he now has a foreign policy that he is carrying out.
We therefore are at a good point to stop and consider not what U.S. President Barack Obama will do in the realm of foreign policy, but what he has done and is doing. As we have mentioned before, the single most remarkable thing about Obama’s foreign policy is how consistent it is with the policies of former President George W. Bush. This is not surprising. Presidents operate in the world of constraints; their options are limited. Still, it is worth pausing to note how little Obama has deviated from the Bush foreign policy.
During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, particularly in its early stages, Obama ran against the Iraq war. The centerpiece of his early position was that the war was a mistake, and that he would end it. Obama argued that Bush’s policies — and more important, his style — alienated U.S. allies. He charged Bush with pursuing a unilateral foreign policy, alienating allies by failing to act in concert with them. In doing so, he maintained that the war in Iraq destroyed the international coalition the United States needs to execute any war successfully. Obama further argued that Iraq was a distraction and that the major effort should be in Afghanistan. He added that the United States would need its NATO allies’ support in Afghanistan. He said an Obama administration would reach out to the Europeans, rebuild U.S. ties there and win greater support from them.
Though around 40 countries cooperated with the United States in Iraq, albeit many with only symbolic contributions, the major continental European powers — particularly France and Germany — refused to participate. When Obama spoke of alienating allies, he clearly meant these two countries, as well as smaller European powers that had belonged to the U.S. Cold War coalition but were unwilling to participate in Iraq and were now actively hostile to U.S. policy.
A European Rebuff
Early in his administration, Obama made two strategic decisions. First, instead of ordering an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, he adopted the Bush administration’s policy of a staged withdrawal keyed to political stabilization and the development of Iraqi security forces. While he tweaked the timeline on the withdrawal, the basic strategy remained intact. Indeed, he retained Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, to oversee the withdrawal.
Second, he increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Bush administration had committed itself to Afghanistan from 9/11 onward. But it had remained in a defensive posture in the belief that given the forces available, enemy capabilities and the historic record, that was the best that could be done, especially as the Pentagon was almost immediately reoriented and refocused on the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. Toward the end, the Bush administration began exploring — under the influence of Gen. David Petraeus, who designed the strategy in Iraq — the possibility of some sort of political accommodation in Afghanistan.
Obama has shifted his strategy in Afghanistan to this extent: He has moved from a purely defensive posture to a mixed posture of selective offense and defense, and has placed more forces into Afghanistan (although the United States still has nowhere near the number of troops the Soviets had when they lost their Afghan war). Therefore, the core structure of Obama’s policy remains the same as Bush’s except for the introduction of limited offensives. In a major shift since Obama took office, the Pakistanis have taken a more aggressive stance (or at least want to appear more aggressive) toward the Taliban and al Qaeda, at least within their own borders. But even so, Obama’s basic strategy remains the same as Bush’s: hold in Afghanistan until the political situation evolves to the point that a political settlement is possible.
Most interesting is how little success Obama has had with the French and the Germans. Bush had given up asking for assistance in Afghanistan, but Obama tried again. He received the same answer Bush did: no. Except for some minor, short-term assistance, the French and Germans were unwilling to commit forces to Obama’s major foreign policy effort, something that stands out.
Given the degree to which the Europeans disliked Bush and were eager to have a president who would revert the U.S.-European relationship to what it once was (at least in their view), one would have thought the French and Germans would be eager to make some substantial gesture rewarding the United States for selecting a pro-European president. Certainly, it was in their interest to strengthen Obama. That they proved unwilling to make that gesture suggests that the French and German relationship with the United States is much less important to Paris and Berlin than it would appear. Obama, a pro-European president, was emphasizing a war France and Germany approved of over a war they disapproved of and asked for their help, but virtually none was forthcoming.

The Russian Non-Reset
Obama’s desire to reset European relations was matched by his desire to reset U.S.-Russian relations. Ever since the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in late 2004 and early 2005, U.S.-Russian relations had deteriorated dramatically, with Moscow charging Washington with interfering in the internal affairs of former Soviet republics with the aim of weakening Russia. This culminated in the Russo-Georgian war last August. The Obama administration has since suggested a “reset” in relations, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually carrying a box labeled “reset button” to her spring meeting with the Russians.
The problem, of course, was that the last thing the Russians wanted was to reset relations with the United States. They did not want to go back to the period after the Orange Revolution, nor did they want to go back to the period between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Orange Revolution. The Obama administration’s call for a reset showed the distance between the Russians and the Americans: The Russians regard the latter period as an economic and geopolitical disaster, while the Americans regard it as quite satisfactory. Both views are completely understandable.
The Obama administration was signaling that it intends to continue the Bush administration’s Russia policy. That policy was that Russia had no legitimate right to claim priority in the former Soviet Union, and that the United States had the right to develop bilateral relations with any country and expand NATO as it wished. But the Bush administration saw the Russian leadership as unwilling to follow the basic architecture of relations that had developed after 1991, and as unreasonably redefining what the Americans thought of as a stable and desirable relationship. The Russian response was that an entirely new relationship was needed between the two countries, or the Russians would pursue an independent foreign policy matching U.S. hostility with Russian hostility. Highlighting the continuity in U.S.-Russian relations, plans for the prospective ballistic missile defense installation in Poland, a symbol of antagonistic U.S.-Russian relations, remain unchanged.
The underlying problem is that the Cold War generation of U.S. Russian experts has been supplanted by the post-Cold War generation, now grown to maturity and authority. If the Cold warriors were forged in the 1960s, the post-Cold warriors are forever caught in the 1990s. They believed that the 1990s represented a stable platform from which to reform Russia, and that the grumbling of Russians plunged into poverty and international irrelevancy at that time is simply part of the post-Cold War order. They believe that without economic power, Russia cannot hope to be an important player on the international stage. That Russia has never been an economic power even at the height of its influence but has frequently been a military power doesn’t register. Therefore, they are constantly expecting Russia to revert to its 1990s patterns, and believe that if Moscow doesn’t, it will collapse — which explains U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s interview in The Wall Street Journal where he discussed Russia’s decline in terms of its economic and demographic challenges. Obama’s key advisers come from the Clinton administration, and their view of Russia — like that of the Bush administration — was forged in the 1990s.

Foreign Policy Continuity Elsewhere
When we look at U.S.-China policy, we see very similar patterns with the Bush administration. The United States under Obama has the same interest in maintaining economic ties and avoiding political complications as the Bush administration did. Indeed, Hillary Clinton explicitly refused to involve herself in human rights issues during her visit to China. Campaign talk of engaging China on human rights issues is gone. Given the interests of both countries, this makes sense, but it is also noteworthy given the ample opportunity to speak to China on this front (and fulfill campaign promises) that has arisen since Obama took office (such as the Uighur riots).
Of great interest, of course, were the three great openings of the early Obama administration, to Cuba, to Iran, and to the Islamic world in general through his Cairo speech. The Cubans and Iranians rebuffed his opening, whereas the net result of the speech to the Islamic world remains unclear. With Iran we see the most important continuity. Obama continues to demand an end to Tehran’s nuclear program, and has promised further sanctions unless Iran agrees to enter into serious talks by late September.
On Israel, the United States has merely shifted the atmospherics. Both the Bush and Obama administrations demanded that the Israelis halt settlements, as have many other administrations. The Israelis have usually responded by agreeing to something small while ignoring the larger issue. The Obama administration seemed ready to make a major issue of this, but instead continued to maintain security collaboration with the Israelis on Iran and Lebanon (and we assume intelligence collaboration). Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has not allowed the settlements to get in the way of fundamental strategic interests.
This is not a criticism of Obama. Presidents — all presidents — run on a platform that will win. If they are good presidents, they will leave behind these promises to govern as they must. This is what Obama has done. He ran for president as the antithesis of Bush. He has conducted his foreign policy as if he were Bush. This is because Bush’s foreign policy was shaped by necessity, and Obama’s foreign policy is shaped by the same necessity. Presidents who believe they can govern independent of reality are failures. Obama doesn’t intend to fail.