Ne croyez pas que je sois venu apporter la paix sur la terre; je ne suis pas venu apporter la paix, mais l’épée. Car je suis venu mettre la division entre l’homme et son père, entre la fille et sa mère, entre la belle-fille et sa belle-mère; et l’homme aura pour ennemis les gens de sa maison. Jésus (Matthieu 10: 34-36)
Vous entendrez parler de guerres et de bruits de guerres: gardez-vous d’être troublés, car il faut que ces choses arrivent. Mais ce ne sera pas encore la fin.Une nation s’élèvera contre une nation, et un royaume contre un royaume, et il y aura, en divers lieux, des famines et des tremblements de terre. Tout cela ne sera que le commencement des douleurs.Alors on vous livrera aux tourments, et l’on vous fera mourir; et vous serez haïs de toutes les nations, à cause de mon nom. Jésus (Matthieu 24: 6-9)
Il faut allier le pessimisme de l’intelligence à l’optimisme de la volonté. Antonio Gramsci (inspiré de Romain Rolland)
Cet indice synthétique tente de mesurer les efforts menés par les États (121 en 2007, 140 en 2008) pour promouvoir la paix dans le monde. Les pays les plus riches semblent les mieux classés, leur administration disposant de moyens suffisants pour mettre en place des politiques de prévention des tensions sociales. À PIB/habitant équivalent, il existe néanmoins d’amples variations (Portugal/Israël ou Uruguay/Liban). (…) En revanche, la prise en compte du poids des dépenses militaires dans le PIB favorise les États isolationnistes peu impliqués dans la résolution des crises internationales. Cette conception angélique de la paix valorise souvent des pays (Islande, Norvège) plaçant leur défense sous le contrôle des États-Unis grâce à des accords de protection militaire. Arnaud Brennetot
Geography is common sense, but it is not fate. Individual choice operates within a certain geographical and historical context, which affects decisions but leaves many possibilities open. The French philosopher Raymond Aron captured this spirit with his notion of « probabilistic determinism, » which leaves ample room for human agency. But before geography can be overcome, it must be respected. Our own foreign-policy elites are too enamored of beautiful ideas and too dismissive of physical facts-on-the-ground and the cultural differences that emanate from them. Successfully navigating today’s world demands that we focus first on constraints, and that means paying attention to maps. Only then can noble solutions follow. The art of statesmanship is about working just at the edge of what is possible, without ever stepping over the brink. Robert Kaplan
Paranoia d’un régime chinois littéralement encerclé par les hauts plateaux de ses minorités lui fournissant l’essentiel de ses ressources naturelles …
Insécurité chronique d’un néo-impérialisme russe à la tête du plus grand mais aussi du plus indéfendable des territoires …
Ingouvernabilité multi-séculaire d’un Afghanistan coupé en deux tant par un quasi infranchissable Hindu Kush que l’impossibillité de priver de leurs bases arrières pakistanaises des talibans eux aussi avant tout pachtounes …
Instabilité multimillénaire d’un Irak divisé entre ses montagnes du nord et ses plaines fluviales du centre et du sud …
Imprenabilité d’un plateau iranien étouffant sous un régime proprement totalitaire mais stratégiquement à cheval non seulement sur les pompe à essence du monde du golfe persique et de la mer caspienne mais sur les frontières hautement combustibles de ses voisins irakiens et afghans …
Friabilité yougoslavesque d’une Syrie désormais privée par les prétendus « printemps arabes » de ses béquilles panarabistes et antisionistes …
Au lendemain d’un11e anniversaire de la pire attaque qu’ai jamais connu les Etats-Unis sur leur propre territoire continental …
Où nos médias à la mémoire courte n’ont pas manqué de charger le cowboy Bush honni (cette fois pour ne pas avoir anticipé la menace) …
Pendant que dans les pays de la religion d’amour de paix et de tolérance brûlent à nouveau nos représentations diplomatiques occidentales et que, sous couvert du parapluie protecteur de Washington, nos propres pacifistes de service n’ont pas de mots assez durs pour dénoncer le bellicisme américain …
Petit rappel, avec le dernier livre du géopolitologue américain Robert Kaplan, des fondamentaux de la bonne vieille géographie physique, « science des lieux » jadis cantonnée, hors des sciences sociales et des enjeux politiques par sa grande rivale l’Histoire, à la simple étude du relief et du climat…
Dure réalité d’une géographie qui, ce que ne semble toujours pas avoir compris l’actuel Carter noir de la Maison Blanche, demande à être « respectée » avant d’être « surmontée » …
To understand today’s global conflicts, forget economics and technology and take a hard look at a map, writes Robert D. Kaplan
Robert D. Kaplan
September 7, 2012
If you want to know what Russia, China or Iran will do next, don’t read their newspapers or ask what our spies have dug up—consult a map. Geography can reveal as much about a government’s aims as its secret councils. More than ideology or domestic politics, what fundamentally defines a state is its place on the globe. Maps capture the key facts of history, culture and natural resources. With upheaval in the Middle East and a tumultuous political transition in China, look to geography to make sense of it all.
As a way of explaining world politics, geography has supposedly been eclipsed by economics, globalization and electronic communications. It has a decidedly musty aura, like a one-room schoolhouse. Indeed, those who think of foreign policy as an opportunity to transform the world for the better tend to equate any consideration of geography with fatalism, a failure of imagination.
Want to understand the political insecurity of China’s leaders or Iran’s resilience in the face of Western sanctions? The best place to start is with a map, says Robert D. Kaplan, discussing his new book with WSJ’s Gary Rosen.
But this is nonsense. Elite molders of public opinion may be able to dash across oceans and continents in hours, allowing them to talk glibly of the « flat » world below. But while cyberspace and financial markets know no boundaries, the Carpathian Mountains still separate Central Europe from the Balkans, helping to create two vastly different patterns of development, and the Himalayas still stand between India and China, a towering reminder of two vastly different civilizations.
Technology has collapsed distance, but it has hardly negated geography. Rather, it has increased the preciousness of disputed territory. As the Yale scholar Paul Bracken observes, the « finite size of the earth » is now itself a force for instability: The Eurasian land mass has become a string of overlapping missile ranges, with crowds in megacities inflamed by mass media about patches of ground in Palestine and Kashmir. Counterintuitive though it may seem, the way to grasp what is happening in this world of instantaneous news is to rediscover something basic: the spatial representation of humanity’s divisions, possibilities and—most important—constraints. The map leads us to the right sorts of questions.
Why, for example, are headlines screaming about the islands of the South China Sea? As the Pacific antechamber to the Indian Ocean, this sea connects the energy-rich Middle East and the emerging middle-class fleshpots of East Asia. It is also thought to contain significant stores of hydrocarbons. China thinks of the South China Sea much as the U.S. thinks of the Caribbean: as a blue-water extension of its mainland. Vietnam and the Philippines also abut this crucial body of water, which is why we are seeing maritime brinkmanship on all sides. It is a battle not of ideas but of physical space. The same can be said of the continuing dispute between Japan and Russia over the South Kuril Islands.
Why does President Vladimir Putin covet buffer zones in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, just as the czars and commissars did before him? Because Russia still constitutes a vast, continental space that is unprotected by mountains and rivers. Putin’s neo-imperialism is the expression of a deep geographical insecurity.
Or consider the decade since 9/11, which can’t be understood apart from the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq. The mountains of the Hindu Kush separate northern Afghanistan, populated by Tajiks and Uzbeks, from southern and eastern Afghanistan, populated by Pushtuns. The Taliban are Sunni extremists like al Qaeda, to whom they gave refuge in the days before 9/11, but more than that, they are a Pushtun national movement, a product of Afghanistan’s harsh geographic divide.
Moving eastward, we descend from Afghanistan’s high tableland to Pakistan’s steamy Indus River Valley. But the change of terrain is so gradual that, rather than being effectively separated by an international border, Afghanistan and Pakistan comprise the same Indo-Islamic world. From a geographical view, it seems naive to think that American diplomacy or military activity alone could divide these long-interconnected lands into two well-functioning states.
As for Iraq, ever since antiquity, the mountainous north and the riverine south and center have usually been in pitched battle. It started in the ancient world with conflict among Sumerians, Akkadians and Assyrians. Today the antagonists are Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The names of the groups have changed but not the cartography of war.
The U.S. itself is no exception to this sort of analysis. Why are we the world’s pre-eminent power? Americans tend to think that it is because of who we are. I would suggest that it is also because of where we live: in the last resource-rich part of the temperate zone settled by Europeans at the time of the Enlightenment, with more miles of navigable, inland waterways than the rest of the world combined, and protected by oceans and the Canadian Arctic.
Even so seemingly modern a crisis as Europe’s financial woes is an expression of timeless geography. It is no accident that the capital cities of today’s European Union (Brussels, Maastricht, Strasbourg, The Hague) helped to form the heart of Charlemagne’s ninth-century empire. With the end of the classical world of Greece and Rome, history moved north. There, in the rich soils of protected forest clearings and along a shattered coastline open to the Atlantic, medieval Europe developed the informal power relations of feudalism and learned to take advantage of technologies like movable type.
Indeed, there are several Europes, each with different patterns of economic development that have been influenced by geography. In addition to Charlemagne’s realm, there is also Mitteleuropa, now dominated by a united Germany, which boasts few physical barriers to the former communist east. The economic legacies of the Prussian, Habsburg and Ottoman empires still influence this Europe, and they, too, were shaped by a distinctive terrain.
Nor is it an accident that Greece, in Europe’s southeastern corner, is the most troubled member of the EU. Greece is where the Balkans and the Mediterranean world overlap. It was an underprivileged stepchild of Byzantine and then Turkish despotism, and the consequences of this unhappy geographic fate echo to this day in the form of rampant tax evasion, a fundamental lack of competitiveness, and paternalistic coffeehouse politics.
As for the strategic challenge posed to the West by China, we would do well not to focus too single-mindedly on economics and politics. Geography provides a wider lens. China is big in one sense: its population, its commercial and energy enterprises and its economy as a whole are creating zones of influence in contiguous parts of the Russian Far East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. But Chinese leaders themselves often see their country as relatively small and fragile: within its borders are sizable minority populations of Tibetans in the southwest, Uighur Turks in the west and ethnic-Mongolians in the north.
It is these minority areas—high plateaus virtually encircling the ethnic core of Han Chinese—where much of China’s fresh water, hydrocarbons and other natural resources come from. The West blithely tells the Chinese leadership to liberalize their political system. But the Chinese leaders know their own geography. They know that democratization in even the mildest form threatens to unleash ethnic fury.
Because ethnic minorities in China live in specific regions, the prospect of China breaking apart is not out of the question. That is why Beijing pours Han immigrants into the big cities of Tibet and western Xinjiang province, even as it hands out small doses of autonomy to the periphery and continues to artificially stimulate the economies there. These policies may be unsustainable, but they emanate ultimately from a vast and varied continental geography, which extends into the Western Pacific, where China finds itself boxed in by a chain of U. S. naval allies from Japan to Australia. It is for reasons of geographic realpolitik that China is determined to incorporate Taiwan into its dominion.
In no part of the world is it more urgent for geography to inform American policy than in the Middle East, where our various ideological reflexes have gotten the better of us in recent years.
As advocates continue to urge intervention in Syria, it is useful to recall that the modern state of that name is a geographic ghost of its post-Ottoman self, which included what are now Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. Even that larger entity was less a well-defined place than a vague geographical expression. Still, the truncated modern state of Syria contains all the communal divides of the old Ottoman region. Its ethno-religious makeup since independence in 1944—Alawites in the northwest, Sunnis in the central corridor, Druze in the south—make it an Arab Yugoslavia in the making. These divisions are what long made Syria the throbbing heart of pan-Arabism and the ultimate rejectionist state vis-à-vis Israel. Only by appealing to a radical Arab identity beyond the call of sect could Syria assuage the forces that have always threatened to tear the country apart.
But this does not mean that Syria must now descend into anarchy, for geography has many stories to tell. Syria and Iraq both have deep roots in specific agricultural terrains that hark back millennia, making them less artificial than is supposed. Syria could yet survive as a 21st-century equivalent of early 20th-century Beirut, Alexandria and Smyrna: a Levantine world of multiple identities united by commerce and anchored to the Mediterranean. Ethnic divisions based on geography can be overcome, but only if we first recognize how formidable they are.
Finally, there is the problem of Iran, which has vexed American policy makers since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The U.S. tends to see Iranian power in ideological terms, but a good deal can be learned from the country’s formidable geographic advantages.
The state of Iran conforms with the Iranian plateau, an impregnable natural fortress that straddles both oil-producing regions of the Middle East: the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Moreover, from the western side of the Iranian plateau, all roads are open to Iraq down below. And from the Iranian plateau’s eastern and northeastern sides, all roads are open to Central Asia, where Iran is building roads and pipelines to several former Soviet republics.
Geography puts Iran in a favored position to dominate both Iraq and western Afghanistan, which it does nicely at the moment. Iran’s coastline in the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz is a vast 1,356 nautical miles long, with inlets perfect for hiding swarms of small suicide-attack boats. But for the presence of the U.S. Navy, this would allow Iran to rule the Persian Gulf. Iran also has 300 miles of Arabian Sea frontage, making it vital for Central Asia’s future access to international waters. India has been helping Iran develop the port of Chah Bahar in Iranian Baluchistan, which will one day be linked to the gas and oil fields of the Caspian basin.
Iran is the geographic pivot state of the Greater Middle East, and it is essential for the United States to reach an accommodation with it. The regime of the ayatollahs descends from the Medes, Parthians, Achaemenids and Sassanids of yore—Iranian peoples all—whose sphere of influence from the Syrian desert to the Indian subcontinent was built on a clearly defined geography.
There is one crucial difference, however: Iran’s current quasi-empire is built on fear and suffocating clerical rule, both of which greatly limit its appeal and point to its eventual downfall. Under this regime, the Technicolor has disappeared from the Iranian landscape, replaced by a grainy black-and-white. The West should be less concerned with stopping Iran’s nuclear program than with developing a grand strategy for transforming the regime.
In this very brief survey of the world as seen from the standpoint of geography, I don’t wish to be misunderstood: Geography is common sense, but it is not fate. Individual choice operates within a certain geographical and historical context, which affects decisions but leaves many possibilities open. The French philosopher Raymond Aron captured this spirit with his notion of « probabilistic determinism, » which leaves ample room for human agency.
But before geography can be overcome, it must be respected. Our own foreign-policy elites are too enamored of beautiful ideas and too dismissive of physical facts-on-the-ground and the cultural differences that emanate from them. Successfully navigating today’s world demands that we focus first on constraints, and that means paying attention to maps. Only then can noble solutions follow. The art of statesmanship is about working just at the edge of what is possible, without ever stepping over the brink.
—Mr. Kaplan is chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm. This article is adapted from his book, « The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, » which will be published Tuesday by Random House.
5 novembre 2009
Relire ce livre quinze ans après est chose passionnante. Je l’avais lu en 1984, dans de tout autres conditions et un tout autre projet, plus utilitaire. Plus jeune, aussi…. Le relire avec un œil de géopolitologue apporte énormément.
Tout d’abord, il faut donner une précision qui est rarement soulignée : attention aux virgules du titre. Elles sont souvent omises alors qu’elles signifient un cheminement intellectuel, et le vrai propos de l’auteur. Il s’agit en effet de montrer que la géographie, ça sert : c’est utile ! même si cette utilité a d’abord été fondée sur des considérations étatiques, puisqu’il s’agit de la souveraineté, et de la défense de celle-ci. La géographie est science étatique, au moins autant que l’histoire. D’ailleurs, remarquons que la géographie moderne (la carte de Cassini) est contemporaine de l’ordre westphalien…. Donc si ça sert à faire la guerre, ça ne sert pas qu’à ça. Or, beaucoup comprennent le livre comme un plaidoyer expliquant que la géographie ne sert qu’à faire la guerre…
La date du livre, ensuite : 1976. A l’époque, l’histoire est encore dominatrice, elle règne sur les esprits. La géographie est complexée, subordonnée. L’histoire est majestueuse, quand la géographie est servile. Dans le même temps, l’époque est au post-mai 1968, avec plein de relents marxisants sur la conscience politique des sciences humaines. Ce livre se situe au carrefour de ces deux influences : Y. Lacoste se rebiffe contre l’abaissement de la géographie, considérant que cela favorise en fait « les puissants » qui « eux », s’en servent ; il prône donc une géographie politique, qui n’est pas marxiste (même s’il a lu Marx, comme tout intellectuel de son époque) : il prend soin en effet d’expliquer pourquoi sa géographie politique va plus profondément que la géographie marxiste. Ou plutôt, il explique que la géographie étant politique, il ne faut pas la laisser au seul(s) pouvoir(s) mais qu’elle devienne un instrument de la conscience politique des masses, etc…
Tout cela paraît donc, à bien des égards, daté : pourtant, une lecture contemporaine n’est pas gênée par cette désuétude apparente. Car derrière les fadaises sur la conscience politique populaire, il y a du fond, beaucoup de fond. Et si on écarte, assez facilement, les oripeaux militants, on trouve un argumentaire qui est passionnant pour le géopolitologue. Et toujours actuel. En clair, il faut continuer de lire ce livre, même aujourd’hui, en 2009.
Le mot géopolitique, d’abord : il apparaît certes dès la page 9, mais accolé de l’adjectif « hitlérien » : Lacoste n’a pas encore vraiment adopté le mot en 1976. Il s’est beaucoup plus détaché du contexte dans la postface de 1982, où il adopte le mot qui représente justement son évolution, et son projet. Il est intéressant d’ailleurs de noter cette évolution d’une géographie politique, vieille tradition de la géographie française (cf. les Ancel, les Demangeon,…) vers une géopolitique, qui est le moyen par lequel la même université française a transformé sa géographie politique. Au point qu’aujourd’hui, la plupart des « géopolitologues » sont des géographes, ce qui pose problème, mais c’est un autre débat.
Que montre Lacoste ?
Que la géographie, celle qu’on apprenait en classe (cf. la géographie de nos grands-mères) est un formidable outil de construction de l’identité nationale, au moins aussi puissant que le discours historié de Mallet et Isaac.
Que la géographie française a été organisée autour de l’école vidalienne (Tableau de la géographie de la France, récemment réédité) qui éclipse la nature politique des choses. On notera d’ailleurs la très intéressante comparaison entre Vidal, qui invente le concept de « région », moyen « géographique » permettant d’oublier la dimension politique, et un Elysée Reclus qui étatise la géographie, assumant la dimension politique de celle-ci, quelque utopiste que soit son approche (il faut, évidemment, réhabiliter E. Reclus qui a été oublié).
Que l’approche multiscalaire (plusieurs échelles d’analyse) permet seule de décrire une réalité qu’on représenterait autrement de manière trop uniforme, et donc peu pertinente.
Que la carte, outil de « représentation » est rien moins que neutre et qu’elle doit être « lue » (on décèle là le futur apport Lacostien, qui inventera plus tard le concept géopolitique de « représentation », dans un sens non pas cartographique mais identitaire)
Qu’il faut conduire une réflexion épistémologique sur la géographie, sans tomber dans la fascination d’une approche quantitative, à la mode de la New Geography américaine (tient, un débat fort similaire de celui qui existe en économie !)
Et plein d’autres choses encore…
On lira avec le plus grand intérêt la postface de 1982, qui apporte des éléments nouveaux, outre que le mot géopolitique soit désormais assumé : C’est en effet un excellent tableau de la lutte épistémologique entre géographie et histoire entre les deux guerres, puis la déréliction géographique après la deuxième guerre mondiale.
le repentir vidalien (La France de l’est, 1916), écrit dans le traumatisme de la guerre et négligé à l’issue (on cite le « géopolitique et géostratégie » de l’amiral Célérier, en Que sais-je, que je ne connaissais pas) ;
le maintien de la suprématie historique dans l’entre deux guerres, avec Lucien Fèbvre (introduction géographique à l’histoire, 1922) et l’école des Annales (voir billet), malgré les quelques tentatives d’émancipation de la géographie (J. Brunhes, ‘Géographie de l’histoire », 1921).
Cette formule heureuse : « cette exclusion du politique (je dis bien le politique et non la politique) a eu pour effet… » (p. 213).
La volonté de prétendre que « le monde est beaucoup plus compliqué qu’on n’a voulu le croire » (p. 220), qui résume l’ambition géopolitique.
Car au fond, c’est LE politique qui permet de lier la géographie à l’histoire.
Un livre engagé, mais passionnant, par celui qui animera la naissance de l’école géopolitique française contemporaine. Que celle-ci s’endorme un peu et retombe dans une géographie « classique » est un autre débat : il faut pour l’instant apprécier ce livre, toujours intéressant à double titre :
Parce qu’il marque une rupture épistémologique essentielle (or, il n’y a pas de géopolitique sans réflexion épistémologique sur la discipline), même si on ne sait toujours pas aujourd’hui si la géopolitique est une géographie réinventée, ou si elle est une autre discipline…. (vous devinez que je prône la deuxième approche.. débat à ouvrir avec B. Tratnjek)
Parce que les instruments d’analyse qu’il propose demeurent pertinents, quelle que soit la réponse qu’on apporte à la question précédente.
Est-il besoin de vous conseiller vigoureusement de le lire..? Indispensable, je vous dis….
The New York Times
September 10, 2012
It was perhaps the most famous presidential briefing in history.
On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.
On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief — and only that daily brief — in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.
That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug. 6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. In other words, the Aug. 6 document, for all of the controversy it provoked, is not nearly as shocking as the briefs that came before it.
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.
In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.
“The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,” the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.
And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1, the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.” Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible, and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.
Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.
That same day in Chechnya, according to intelligence I reviewed, Ibn Al-Khattab, an extremist who was known for his brutality and his links to Al Qaeda, told his followers that there would soon be very big news. Within 48 hours, an intelligence official told me, that information was conveyed to the White House, providing more data supporting the C.I.A.’s warnings. Still, the alarm bells didn’t sound.
On July 24, Mr. Bush was notified that the attack was still being readied, but that it had been postponed, perhaps by a few months. But the president did not feel the briefings on potential attacks were sufficient, one intelligence official told me, and instead asked for a broader analysis on Al Qaeda, its aspirations and its history. In response, the C.I.A. set to work on the Aug. 6 brief.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Bush officials attempted to deflect criticism that they had ignored C.I.A. warnings by saying they had not been told when and where the attack would occur. That is true, as far as it goes, but it misses the point. Throughout that summer, there were events that might have exposed the plans, had the government been on high alert. Indeed, even as the Aug. 6 brief was being prepared, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi believed to have been assigned a role in the 9/11 attacks, was stopped at an airport in Orlando, Fla., by a suspicious customs agent and sent back overseas on Aug. 4. Two weeks later, another co-conspirator, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested on immigration charges in Minnesota after arousing suspicions at a flight school. But the dots were not connected, and Washington did not react.
Could the 9/11 attack have been stopped, had the Bush team reacted with urgency to the warnings contained in all of those daily briefs? We can’t ever know. And that may be the most agonizing reality of all.
Kurt Eichenwald, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former reporter for The New York Times, is the author of “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars.”
Author Kurt Eichenwald talks about what the White House knew leading up to the attacks and how they used the intelligence information in the months after.
On the 11th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, there is mounting evidence that the Bush administration received more intelligence warnings than previously known prior to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000.
Kurt Eichenwald, a former New York Times reporter, wrote in an op-ed piece in Tuesday’s newspaper about a number of previously unknown warnings relayed to the White House by U.S. intelligence in the weeks and months prior to the attacks. Eichenwald wrote of the warnings in his new book, “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars.”
And former US intelligence officials say there were even more warnings, pointing to a little noticed section of George Tenet’s memoir, “At the Center of the Storm.”
In it, Tenet describes a July 10, 2001, meeting at the White House in the office of Condoleezza Rice, then President George W. Bush’s national security adviser. The meeting was not discussed in the 9-11 Commission’s final report on the attacks, although Tenet wrote that he provided information on it to the commission.
What’s critical to understanding the difference between this meeting and others, says one former senior U.S. intelligence official who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, is that the intelligence provided that day was fresh, some of it having been collected the previous day. And other intelligence and national security officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity, say the briefings make clear that, while Bush administration officials understood the nature of the threat, they didn’t understand its magnitude and urgency.
“This intelligence delivered on July 10 was specific and was generated within 24 hours of the meeting,” said the first official, who pointed out the text in the Tenet memoir.
Tenet wrote about how after being briefed by his counterterrorism team on July 10 — two months prior to the attacks — “I picked up the big white secure phone on the left side of my desk — the one with a direct line to Condi Rice — and told her that I needed to see her immediately to provide an update on the al-Qaida threat.”
Tenet said he could not recall another time in his seven years as director of the CIA that he sought such an urgent meeting at the White House. Rice agreed to the meeting immediately, and 15 minutes later, he was in Rice’s office.
An analyst handed out the briefing packages Tenet had just seen and began to speak. “His opening line got everyone’s attention,” Tenet wrote, “in part because it left no room for misunderstanding: ‘There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!’”
The team laid out in a series of slides its concerns, based on intelligence that included information “from the past 24 hours.”
Citing his notes on the briefing, Tenet wrote, “A chart displayed seven specific pieces of intelligence gathered over the past twenty-four hours, all of them predicting an imminent attack. Among the items: Islamic extremists were traveling to Afghanistan in greater numbers, and there had been significant departures of extremist families from Yemen. Other signs pointed to new threats against U.S. interests in Lebanon, Morocco, and Mauritania.”
A second chart followed, listing a summation of the most chilling comments by al-Qaida. According to Tenet, they were:
• A mid-June statement from Osama bin Laden to trainees that there will be an attack in the near future.
• Information that talked about moving toward decisive acts.
• Late June information that cited a “big event” that was forthcoming.
• “Two separate bits of information collected only a few days before our meeting in which people were predicting a stunning turn of events in the weeks ahead.”
Another slide detailed how Chechen Islamic terrorist leader Ibn Kattab had promised some “very big news” to his troops.
There were more details, as laid out by one of Tenet’s top analysts, known in the book as “Rich B.” Tenet recounts his aide telling Rice and others, “The attack will be ‘spectacular.’ and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities and interests. ‘Attack preparations have been made,’ he said. ‘Multiple and simultaneous attacks are possible, and they will occur with little or no warning. Al-Qaida is waiting us out and looking for vulnerability.”
Rice, Tenet wrote, reacted positively to the briefing and asked her counter terrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, if he agreed with the assessment. Clarke said he did, and Tenet said he and his aides left the meeting feeling that Rice understood the threat. However, he wrote, the White House never followed up on the presidential finding that Tenet had been asking for since March, authorizing broader covert action against al-Qaida. That finding was signed by President Bush on Sept. 17, six days after the attacks.
Roger Cressey, who was Clarke’s deputy and is now an NBC News counter terrorism analyst, says one thing that is missing from Tenet’s description of the events is that the intelligence pointed to overseas attacks. although CIA did tell officials that they couldn’t discount an attack on the US homeland.
“Everything we had (from US intelligence) pointed overseas, specifically to the Gulf,” he said. “There was no actionable intelligence that pointed to the homeland. What we did know, and what we told domestic agencies, was there was « a disturbance in the force” and we were very worried about an attack.
Still, Cressey remains critical of the lack of a response going back to the first week of the administration, saying the counterterrorism team at the National Security Council and experts elsewhere in the government were “butting our heads against the wall” in an effort to get a meaningful response from the White House.
Would action by the White House have helped? Like Eichenwald, Cressey says he isn’t sure, but notes that when similar intelligence pointed to attacks on Jan. 1, 2000, “Sandy Berger (Rice’s predecessor) and (President Bill) Clinton went to battle stations.” Did warnings prior to the millennium help thwart a number of attacks back then? Cressey believes they did.
One intelligence official also noted that after the interception of the July intelligence, there was little conversation on the al-Qaida communications network prior to Sept. 11. It wasn’t until much later U.S. intelligence understood why: With the plans and operational personnel in place, the plotters were simply waiting for an opportune time to strike.
“They laid low because they were waiting for Congress to come back in session,” the official said.
The reason, he said: United Flight 93 was headed for the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was in session, when passengers overpowered the hijackers, causing the plane to crash in a field near Shanksville, Pa.
Robert Windrem is a senior investigative producer for NBC News.
The NY Review of Books
February 21, 2013
The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate
Robert D. Kaplan
Random House, 403 pp., $28.00
When maps were introduced into Ottoman schools in the 1860s, conservative Muslims—people we would now call Salafists—were so outraged that they ripped them off classroom walls and threw them down the latrines. Though Muslim geographers such as Muhammad al-Idrisi (1099–1166) had produced serviceable maps, they were not widely available and for most of Ottoman history the spatial configuration of territory in two dimensions had been largely restricted to military specialists.
The images available to the sultan’s subjects and to others pondering his domains were for the most part verbal, with reference to imprecise formulas such as Memaliki Mahrusi Shahane—“divinely protected imperial possessions.” The imaginary—the different ways of conceiving the world—was human-centered rather than territorially based. Political power was not perceived as distributed spatially over a homogenous, two-dimensional field, but vertically through a hierarchy of human filters emanating from the sultan via his suzerains. As Albert Hourani pointed out in his History of the Arab Peoples, in the arid zones of North Africa and the Middle East where pastoralists ranged over frontierless deserts and steppes, power tended to radiate out of urban centers, weakening with distance.
For the most of the world, boundaries between states were not fixed until Europeans arranged treaties between themselves or with local rulers. From the late nineteenth century, however, the map was essential to this process. As Benedict Anderson noted in Imagined Communities, one of the map’s effects was to compel citizens to identify with a specific territorial entity. According to the historian Benjamin Fortna, the Ottoman rulers deliberately used schoolroom maps to promote loyalty to the state: “The map insists on the importance of the shape of the territory and this shape begins to assume tremendous political importance as emblematic for the territory in question.”1
Maps came to be used polemically to assert political sovereignty—or to deny political realities. Fortna notes that the “pink” of Ottoman sovereignty used in maps approved by the Ottoman ministry of education in 1906 showed Tunis—occupied by France since 1881—as still part of the Ottoman Empire while Bulgaria, independent from the 1870s, was still shown as an imperial province.
More recently, maps used throughout the Arab world routinely denied the existence of Israel, while Palestinian activists show the map of the whole of Palestine (to the exclusion of the Jewish state or “Zionist entity”) as their national logos. Yasser Arafat deliberately folded his headdress, or kaffiyeh, to resemble the whole of Palestine. In South Asia it would be hard to conceive of an Indian government ceding any part of the disputed territory of Kashmir (the only state with a Muslim majority) when every Indian schoolchild grows up with a diamond-shaped image of the country with its apex far in the Himalayan north. Maps have been agents of political homogenization, an essential part of what the anthropologist Ernest Gellner called the “universal conceptual currency …