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This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Threat Evolution in the Islamist World

Posted by Bob Kohm on February 6, 2009

Just in case there was any doubt that the Islamic World can prove to be a major pain int he American ass– especially when they get a boost from the Russians– let this week serve as an example. Not only did Iran finally tell the truth about a techno-military breakthrough, the friendly folks in Kyrgyzstan just agreed with their former overlords in Moscow to form a new “Soviet” bloc rapid reaction force while simultaneously kicking us out of our most important base to stage Afghan operations from. In related news, a C5 dropped an entire cargo load of Zanax into the Pentagon’s north parking lot on Thursday.

Starting with the lesser of the two events, the Iranians are notorious for declaring major military breakthroughs that are later found out (and by later I mean 20 minutes after release) to have been either outright fabrications or PhotoShop mashups– who can forget the time the Iranians announced that they had synthesized sharks with frickin’ laser beams under their Dr. Evil program? This week, though, the usual cries of “BS” rang hollow after the Iranians claimed to have a launched their first independently built and flown sat.. and the damned thing had the audacity to actually exist and broadcast tones for everyone to hear. Amateur skywatchers detected both the satellite and its upper stage booster in orbit even while the Pentagon was still telling everybody that they doubted Iran’s claims, even though they must have had the same visuals and have been tracking the telemetry signals the bird was beaming back. Who at the Pentagon decided to make a fool of our space tracking folks is a question worth asking one of these days.

The significance of Iran launching a sat isn’t so much that they can now broadcast bad Iranian television worldwide as it is that the technology to orbit a satellite is much the same as launching an ICBM– put a smallish payload into a low orbital track on a set course and you have the first several parts of the formula for putting a payload down anywhere in the world. Add that to a nascent nuclear power and you have a problem for everyone, especially as you would have to assume that Iran would be more than willing to share for a price with anyone who wanted the capacity to nuke any target from Gary to Gorky. Further complicating the package is the nasty surprise that Iran actually does have a real capacity to do the advanced engineering needed to do this and you have to start wondering just what else they can do; is today’s Iranian vaporware  stealth missile or super cavitating underwater missile tomorrow’s Iranian military capability? I put that in the “highly doubtful” category, but before this week it resided safely in the “Oh god, stop it! You’re making soda come out of my nose” zone.

Now for the more disturbing development on the Islamist-Pain-In-The-Butt-ometer… a renewed and quite troubling military alliance between Moscow and the Central Asian nations we’ve been courting, spending heavily on, and relying upon for carrying out our Afghan War for the past several years. There have been rumors and threats from the Kyrgyz leadership to close Manas Airbase to us over the last year, but they have always proven to be false or just bluster. This week, that changed with Kyrgyzstan joining former Soviet Republics Armenia, Belarus Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikstan & Uzbekistan in a security alliance with Moscow that features a 10,000 member rapid reaction force under central (read, Russian) command. Tossing the Kygyz two billion in loans and one hundred fifty million in largely military aid in exchange, Moscow got the Kyrgyz government to close out the leases on Manas to the US, leaving us hugely in the lurch in supporting ongoing logistical operations int he expanding Afghan War. With the loss of Manas (the lease provides a 180 day closeout period, which hasn’t officially started yet), we’re either going to need to greatly expand Baghram AFB with Afghanistan, with all the security and logistical headaches that using an in-theater locale for your major staging location brings, or try to split Blofeldian badguy Islam Karimov’s Uzbekistan from the new RetroSoviet alliance and regain access to K2 airbase in his nation. Dealing with Karimov is, to be kind, an unsavory prospect– the petty madman has a nasty habit of engaging in the mass murder of unarmed groups who oppose him, exotically imaginative tortures for political foes (he went Terminator II on one and slowly lowered him into a vat of molten steel, feet first…), and general unkindness to kittens and soft cuddly puppies. Talk about your Hobson’s Choice…

This is the outflow of George Bush’s crappy misplay of the Central Asian region over the last five years, culminating in Russia’s unopposed stomping into grisly paste of American ally Georgia late last year. Having demonstrated that America can or is willing to do very little to support its Caucausus and Central Asian allies, they are wisely and inevitably cutting deals with the Putin-Medvedyev regime to the great detriment of the United States. As Russia puts a stranglehold on our Afghan operations jsut a few weeks after Pakistan asserted it’s own pain-in-the-assibility by closing our other major supply route into Afghanistan, the Khyber Pass, the Obama Admin is going to be left with some uncomfortable choices to make on how to clean up the mess they’ve been left with.

America has had a nasty tendency to freeze in time the Islamic nations as members of the Third World as it existed in the Eighties, a mode of thinking that has gone from simply outdated and ignorant to downright dangerous. As technological competence disseminates and statecraft advances with boosts from traditional US rivals, our relied upon two barrelled approach of technological superiority and diplomatic dominance are no longer to be taken for granted and, perhaps, not even to be relied upon at all. The playing field, while not nearly level, is trending towards symmetry rather than the asymmetric game we’ve become used to. The new Administration must adapt to this new reality at the same time it remediates the problems caused by the last Admin’s reliance upon it. It will not be an easy task.

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4 Responses to “Threat Evolution in the Islamist World”

  1. Chancellor said

    Um…so do you still think a hard-line, Sharia wielding, Wahab’bi government in Somalia is a good idea?

  2. Bob Kohm said

    Yes, I do. You have a situation of anarchy there where the worst actors you’d see in any Islamist nation are already acting, along with scum that you’d never see in an Islamist nation. We cut the crap in half by putting the ICU in, and we make headway in the real battle– disallowing ourselves to be demonized in Islamic naitons.

  3. Chancellor said

    I only mildly disagree with the radical Islamists having any degrees of freedom to really act in Somalia – they’re too busy protecting their turf from the other scum and miscellaneous Ethiopian army incursions to really mount any serious efforts.

    But, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume you’re right for a minute, and we back the ICU in. You really don’t think this will change how we’re perceived in Islamic nations, do you? The Iranian clerics will no longer consider us the Great Satan? The Wahab’bi clerics will go soft and mushy toward us? The many facets of the Islamic Brotherhood will actually begin to really negotiate? Al’Qaeda will stop attempts at terroristic mass murder?

    Let’s consider our position before 9-11 and before the Iraqi invasion. We had supported Egypt for many years since the Camp David accords – for many years, they were the #2 recipient of foreign aid from the US. Recognized Jordan. Kept Pakistan from being crushed by India at least once – and probably twice. And stopped Hussein from annexing Kuwait and Saudi Arabia by force.

    And that got us….nowhere. Arguably, worse than nowhere. Putting the ICU in power would have the same effect. The Wahab’bis will still pump out their volumes of hate mongers. The Iranians will only be limited by low oil prices. The Egyptians, as they’ve been in every military conflict against Israel, will be useless.

  4. Bob Kohm said

    Actually, backing the ICU has very little to do with most of those situations. Backing Egypt was supporting a secular regime that went to any extent to hold down the people; it was part of creating the hatred of America in the Islamic world, not boosting it. Saving the oil emirate similarly wasn’t any act that would endear us to the rank and file of the Islamic world, and our continued presence in Saudi was the stated cause for Khobar, Cole, East Africa and 9-11. I’m not justifying it by any stretch, but at the same time you can’t ignore your enemy’s thought process.

    We aren’t talking about deposing the Kenyan government and installing a sharia government; we’re taking an ungoverned area that is a festering pain in the ass for the entire world at this point and introducing some order and some moderating influence on one of the two major problems of Somalia from a world standpoint. The only thing that has worked in Somalia was Sharia; we may as well let it work again.

    Will it cause alQaeda to give up? Of course not. will it start the long process of making al Qaeda look like a less reasonable alternative to the underclass of Islam? Worth the shot, as it’s done with no cost to us. We need to erode the influence of the Iranian clerics, the madrassas, the radicalized Saudi sheiks– it’s the only path to peace here. We can keep flogging these people– we will have to keep flogging them in some places– but that treats the symptom, not the cause. We need a cure or else my kids are going to be fighting this war 13 years from now and their kids 15 years later

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