Tuesday, June 25, 2002
Winds of Change has a good rundown on the Stratfor piece everyone's talking about.
I disagree with him that Stratfor has "zero preference" with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Stratfor has a very clear slant: it's biased in favor of the petroleum industry. It has no romantic attachment to the Arab position or the Israeli position, true. But it does look at the world from a particular perspective.
It is also not surprising to me that Stratfor has concluded that Arafat is working from the same playbook as al-Qaeda. Stratfor's assumption is that all actors on the international states behave rationally. If the Palestinians are doing something apparently against their interests, they must have a different view of their interests than it appears from the outside.
And in that regard, it's worth recalling what Stratfor's analysts said back in March about the Saudi peace plan and why it couldn't work:
The tragic reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that it has nothing to do with lack of good will or of creative diplomacy. The essential problem is that the Palestinians can never have what their nationalism requires within the confines of post-1948 geography, nor can Israelis be secure within those borders. The only possible compromise is geopolitically impossible.
This is what serious people understand has always been the case: Palestinian nationalism is necessarily incompatible with the existence of Israel. Any solution to the humanitarian disaster of Palestinian life cannot be premised on satisfying Palestinian nationalism if it is to succeed. Arafat understands this. That is why he will never make peace. Stratfor is now merely stating more bluntly the inevitable conclusion: the Palestinian Authority, having failed to defeat Israel through a combination of violence and negotiations, and having failed to separate Israel from the United States, will now seek to destroy Israel by igniting a regional war that topples the conservative regimes of the region and replaces them with radical ones. This has, in fact, been Fatah's modus operandi since 1964, so it should be a surprise to exactly nobody, including especially Stratfor.
One mistake I think Statfor consistently makes, however, is to assume that radical, risk-seeking powers reason similarly to conservative, risk-averse powers. Allow me to explain:
Conservative powers have something to lose and, like most individuals, they view losing what they have as far more catastrophic than failing to gain all that might be gained. Moreover, their power tends to increase with time, if only because they are presumptively legitimate and their longevity increases their legitimacy. They are therefore risk-averse, and carefully calculate their strategy in order to maximize their position and minimize their risk.
Radical powers are exactly opposite. Their legitimacy stems from their ability to precipitate change. They therefore lose power over time, unless they are able to aggressively increase it. They have little in the way of stable assets, and therefore little to lose from instability, but much to gain. They are therefore risk-seeking.
And here's the key point: because they are risk-seeking, they do not need to carefully calculate the consequences of their actions. It is far easier to produce disorder than to produce order. If disorder is a positive - because it creates unexpected opportunities to enhance one's position - then you don't need to be terribly clever or calculating in your strategy. Just create some chaos and see what happens. Odds are, if it doesn't enhance your position, it won't dramatically worsen it either. And there is always a chance that something will happen that will give you an opening to dramatically improve your position.
Terrorist groups like Fatah, Hezbollah, Hamas or al-Qaeda - or, for that matter, the IRA or any other terrorist group - are the ultimate radical powers. They have almost no assets of their own. Their power stems from their ability to cause destruction and strike fear in conservative powers; if they fail to kill people for a while, they lose credibility and therefore lose power. For such groups, strategy is really, really simple: keep causing trouble. Almost any "settlement" of their grievances, short of total victory, is a worse outcome than continued hostilities.
This is all very basic stuff. Stratfor often makes these guys sound smarter and more calculating than they are. They are not geniuses - none of them. They are simply very evil people, organized into effective groups, with an interest in disorder per se.