Forecasts: Intelligence and the Weather
From the Present to the Future
Nations, businesses, and individuals all strive to understand what the future will bring. For nations, this perception of the future is a matter of national security and possibly survival as a political and cultural body. Thoughtful individuals agree that it is impossible to accurately “predict” the future; however, it is possible to analyze and assess trends to indicate likely courses of events. The science of meteorology includes certain deterministic aspects of weather physics. Even so, despite this science, weather forecasts are problematic and cast in terms of probabilities. "Political science" is far more “art” than science, making forecasts of future events more speculative. Accurate strategic intelligence forecasts are a precious commodity in the currency of government. Official strategic intelligence forecasts are produced from the intelligence community, but other institutions such as think tanks and online military colleges also contribute to the body of strategic thought. History is replete with the problems and challenges of analyzing intelligence information to provide policymakers precise strategic warning for future threats and strategic events. However, a current example of the “forecast” challenge is very instructive.
Iran and the Shiite "arc of influence"
For over thirty-years, The Islamic Republic of Iran has pursued the strategic goal to establish a Shiite "arc of influence" from Iran across Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The analytic forecasts, particularly over the last seven years, have whiplashed back and forth as unforeseen events continuously altering the strategic landscape for Iran. Syria is one anchor in the Iranian Shiite "arc of influence." A Sunni majority nation, Syria has been ruthlessly ruled by the minority Alawite Shiite sect for over four decades.1 However, the Assad rule was shaken during the Arab Spring as many Sunni factions rose in revolt against the Shiite regime. Initially, analysts gave the fragmented, poorly organized opposition groups little chance to overthrow the powerful Syrian army and security forces. However, the rank-and-file of the Syrian army was predominately Sunni; early defections from the Syrian army to the rebels were an indicator that the continued dominance of the Assad government, an Iranian ally, was not assured. In 2012, despite the lack of coordination between the various Sunni rebel groups, the rebels made advances in several parts of Syria, threatening the survival of the Assad regime. In addition, extremist Islamic groups, such as the al Qaeda affiliate, al Nusra, begin to enter the conflict.2 By 2013 the situation had become so desperate that Iran ordered its Lebanese Shiite surrogate, Hezbollah, to rescue the Assad forces from defeat in southern Lebanon. After the 2013 successful intervention by Hezbollah, western intelligence forecasts changed again. These forecasts had swung from initially assuring stability of the Assad regime, to the likely demise of the Assad regime, back to a path for the Assad regime to suppress the Sunni revolt. However, the unexpected emergence of ISIS during 2013-2014 altered the strategic balance against Iran and the Assad regime once again.3 The events on the battlefield since mid-2014 to the present now portray a grim outlook for survival of the Assad regime.
As the forecast pendulum swings back and forth, several lessons are apparent. Iranian and western analysts underestimated the resilience of the rebel forces, grossly misunderstood the fighting prowess of ISIS and al Nusra, and failed to account for the fundamental advantage of the Sunnis, a massive advantage in Sunni numbers over the Shiite regime forces. Now rumors are circulating that the IRG (Iranian Revolutionary Guard) may intervene to save Assad; if true, this turn of events would represent yet another major shift to the strategic equation.4
Education is the foundation to enhance the accuracy of strategic intelligence forecasts. Forecasting is a daunting challenge; but analytic rigor from a focused education will provide analysts with the skill sets to meet the challenge. Online military colleges are defined as those schools which offer degree programs in military subjects, intelligence, counterterrorism and strategic security. The top online military colleges provide the essential rigor through faculties recruited on the basis of successful practical experience complementing their academic credentials.
1. Hafiz al-Assad. (2015). Biography. Retrieved: www.britannica.com
2. Syria after Four Years: (2015). Retrieved: www.news.vice.com
3. Landis, J. (2014). The battle between ISIS and Syria’s rebel militias. Retrieved: www.clarionproject.org
4. Iranian Rev Guards ready to intervene in Syria to save Assad. (2015). Debka, Electronic Newsletter. Retrieved: www.debka.com