27 April 2016

Is Money a Critical Strategic Node in the War on Terror?

One of the more bizarre strategies in the Global War on Terror is the bombing of ISIS money depots in Syria in conjunction with using the “soft" power of the international financial system to interdict the money flowing to terrorists around the world.  
As Andrew Cockburn notes below, Colin Powell summed up what has become a whacky strategic obsession by saying, “money is the oxygen of terrorism."  In airpower lexicon, money is a critical strategic node for the terrorists, just as airpower theorists believed that the ball bearing works in Schweinfurt were a strategic critical node sustaining Germany’s war effort in WWII.  The ball bearing bombing theory of collapsing German military power turned out to be flawed in practice for a variety of reasons, but at least the ball bearing factories, if not the stockpiles, could be located.  
Where are the money nodes and what happens if you block or stifle the flow of the oxygen?
As the Panama banking caper points out, money is the most easily hidden, easily moved, and most fungible commodity ever invented.  Ascertaining the strategic effects of bombing money depots is about as reliable as a swami’s predictions from a ouija board.  Moreover, in the real world, interdicting money flows, as Cockburn explains below, is a blunt unfocused weapon of mass punishment that blindly impoverishes innocent people, thereby blowing back to create more fertile conditions for the breeding of new terrorists.  
Moreover, as Mike Lofgren — the author of the important book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government — pointed out to me, the idea of precision financial attack on ISIS’s money depots and money flows is simply subset of policy that has been occurring mainly since 9/11. The larger policy of financially sanctioning countries’ governments goes back at least 60 years (against North Korea), and it has never worked. Cuba is a poster child for this policy: if a resource poor island immediately adjacent to the US could not be “defeated” in over 50 years by sanctions, how will they work against Middle Eastern terrorists, especially those who specialize in living off the enemy?

The real oxygen of terrorism lies in the breeding ground of impoverished political, economic and unfair social conditions, as the Lebanese author Rami Koury, among others, have repeatedly argued.
I urge you to read Cockburn’s important and well-researched report “A Policy of Hypocrisy,” attached herewith.

HEART OF EMPIRE — April 26, 2016, 5:07 pm
A Policy of Hypocrisy
Trump wants to cut off Mexicans’ money? That’s what the Obama Administration already does to Somalis.
By Andrew Cockburn, Harpers
In April, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump revealed to voters his plan to compel Mexico to pay for the construction of a wall on the southern border of the United States: he’d regulate wire transfers so that people living in America couldn’t send money to their Mexican relatives—a practice, Trump argued, that costs the country’s economy $24 billion every year. Upon hearing this plan, Barack Obama was poised and ready to set Trump right. “The notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico—good luck with that,” he told reporters at the White House this month. Such a sage observation certainly highlights the intellectual gulf between the crass billionaire and our professorial chief executive; but were Trump better informed, he could point out that the Obama Administration is itself already in the remittance-blocking business.
Trump could point to Somalis in the United States who are restricted from sending money to relatives and friends in desperate need. “Somalia is still recovering from the 2011 drought yet is currently experiencing another catastrophe,” Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, thousands of whose constituents send money home, told me. “Current restrictions have capped the amount of money Somali-Americans can send and have made remitting money more expensive. Oftentimes these funds are the sole source of income for their families in Somalia. I’d say it’s a pretty big issue. In fact, it can be life or death.”
Two-fifths of Somalis depend on money from the vast diaspora scattered across the globe by decades of war and famine—money that accounts for as much as 45 percent of the country’s GDP. Despite ongoing civic disruption, Somalia has a remarkably efficient communications system that should make it easy for expatriates to send money to relatives. Thanks to mostly Somali-owned Money Transfer Offices, which move funds through banks in the United States and the Gulf, even remote areas of the country have speedy access to financial support. This becomes especially important in times of famine, when those who can normally sustain themselves are in urgent need.
None of this is to the taste of the vast U.S. government apparatus erected since 9/11 to detect and choke off the movement of any money that might benefit terrorists. … continued.