America's Secret War by George Friedman Doubleday $245 'On the morning of September 11, 2001, special operations units of the international jihadist group al-Qaeda struck the United States.' So begins George Friedman, founder of the US-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. If I counted correctly, Friedman uses the word 'terrorist' less than 10 times in a 368-page book about the global 'war on terror', and even this, I suspect, was still too many for him. The writer, steeped in geopolitics, is implicitly arguing that the use of words such as 'terrorist' and 'terrorism' cloud judgment and distort clear thinking - you gain no insights into their nature, aims and methods by simply labelling Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda as terrorists. The book may be as close as we're likely to get to filtering out all the noise, moral posturing, half-truths and outright lies told about the war against terrorism and the campaign in Iraq. I discerned no obvious ideological bias here. What's most valuable about this work is not Friedman's debatable conclusions, but the way in which he puts together an analytical framework that points to a way out of the proverbial fog of war. But first: the book's title is misleading. You won't learn any secrets that you didn't already know if you read newspapers regularly. Now, on to the real juice: points that run counter to popular assumptions: According to Friedman, the September 11 attacks were designed to provoke the US into a confrontation with major Islamic countries that would destabilise and bring down their governments, which al-Qaeda considers corrupt. George W. Bush didn't rush into the Iraq war based on a neo-conservative agenda to spread democracy in the Middle East and protect Israel's security interests, says Friedman. The war aims to project American might by compelling the House of Saud to crack down on those financing and recruiting for al-Qaeda. It also aims to change the behaviour of neighbouring Iran, Syria and Libya, and to boost the standing of the US in the Islamic world. The Americans played 'good cop, bad cop', using India's nuclear threat (and the ability of the US to call it off) to force Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf irreversibly over to the American side. A deep fault line exists in Europe between France, Germany and Russia on one side and those countries that support Bush. French President Jacques Chirac doesn't understand that a resurgent Europe led by a French-German axis is a repugnant proposition to many, especially those in Eastern Europe. The Americans failed, until recently, to appreciate the deep-seated alliance between Iran and the Shi'ite majority in Iraq, so any post-Saddam Hussein government would have significant or even dominant pro-Iranian elements, says Friedman. The ebbs and flows of the insurgency in Iraq vary as the US occupation force tries to drive a wedge between the pro-Iranian Shi'ites, the Sunni groups rooted in Hussein's Baath party, and the foreign jihadists loosely tied to al-Qaeda. Since all sides have now upped the ante in Iraq, the campaign has escalated into the crucible of what Friedman has called the fourth global war, its outcome hanging in the balance. Friedman concludes that the Americans are winning and the jihadists are losing: no governments of major Islamic countries have been toppled, while all have been compelled to work with the Americans to varying degrees against the jihadists. But the truth is that all revolutionists worthy of the name take a long view of history. Just because Islamic fighters are failing now doesn't mean they won't succeed tomorrow. The jihadists are not mindless nihilists, but heirs of Sayyid Qutb, who has articulated a world-historical vision, along with a revolutionary programme to realise it, based on the precepts of Islam. Like the Bolsheviks before them, we must never underestimate the ability of such men to change the course of history.