EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appeared in the September 27, 2004, issue of National Review.
Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror,
by Anonymous (Brassey’s, 352 pp., $27.50)
This is an alarming book, but not in the way its author intended. It delivers an urgent danger signal–not about al-Qaeda, but about intelligence services staffed with analysts who think the way the author of this book thinks.
This latest attack on the Bush administration’s war policies was written anonymously by Michael Scheuer, a veteran CIA analyst who headed the Agency’s bin Laden unit in the late 1990s. His assessment of the War on Terror is grimly pessimistic: Everything the U.S. has done has been wrong. It was wrong to wait even three weeks before striking Afghanistan, wrong to try to rebuild Afghanistan afterward, wrong to try to cut the funding for terror, wrong to overthrow Saddam, wrong to crack down on radical Islamic groups in this country and worldwide.
As Scheuer sees it, the U.S. is now confronting a global Islamic insurgency under the leadership of the most charismatic and attractive Muslim leader to come along in at least a couple of hundred years. Scheuer dismisses hopeful talk about bin Laden representing only a fringe of a fringe within Islam. Bin Laden’s views, he contends, are shared “by a large percentage of the world’s Muslims across the political spectrum.” America must recognize that “much of Islam is fighting us, and more is leaning that way.”
Suppressing so widely backed an insurgency would demand slaughter on an almost unimaginable scale:
If U.S. leaders truly believed that the country is at war with bin Laden and the Islamists, they would dump the terminally adolescent bureaucrats and their threat matrix and tell the voters that war brings repeated and at times grievous defeats as well as victories, and proceed with relentless, brutal, and yes, blood-soaked offensive military actions until we have annihilated the Islamists who threaten us, or so mutilate their forces, supporting populations, and physical infrastructure that they recognize continued war-making on their part is futile.
Scheuer understandably flinches from such massive bloodletting–and indeed, he is not truly contemplating it. He deploys his tough talk only as part of the old bureaucratic trick of generating unacceptable alternatives in order to manipulate policymakers: Well, Mr. Secretary, we have worked up three options for you. Option A is total passivity. Option B is global thermonuclear war. And Option C is . . .
In Scheuer’s case, Option C turns out to be a policy of averting terrorism by figuring out what the terrorists want, and then giving it to them. Such a policy of–shall we call it “conciliation”?–is feasible in Scheuer’s opinion because Osama bin Laden and his Islamists are guided by defined and indeed “limited” goals:
First, the end of all U.S. aid to Israel, the elimination of the Jewish state, and in its stead the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state. Second, the withdrawal of all U.S. and Western military forces from the Arabian peninsula–a shift of most units from Saudi Arabia to Qatar fools no Muslims and will not cut the mustard–and all Muslim territory. Third, the end of all U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fourth, the end of U.S. support for, and acquiescence in, the oppression of Muslims by the Chinese, Russian, Indian, and other governments. Fifth, restoration of full Muslim control over the Islamic world’s energy resources and a return to market prices [sic], ending the impoverishment of Muslims caused by oil prices set by Arab regimes to placate the West. Sixth, the replacement of U.S.-protected Muslim regimes that do not govern according to Islam by regimes that do. For bin Laden, only Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan met these criteria; other Muslim regimes are candidates for annihilation.
We’ve all heard this list before; what’s new here is a senior U.S. counterterrorism official agreeing that the demands included on it can and should be met. Yet so Scheuer does: “We can either reaffirm current policies, thereby denying their role in creating the hatred bin Laden personifies, or we can examine and debate the reality we face, the threat we must defeat, and then–if deemed necessary–devise policies that better suit U.S. interests.”
Scheuer’s list of policy changes is headed by a change in policy toward Israel, a country he condemns as a “theocracy in all but name,” characterized by “arrogant racism.” He also makes it clear that he sees no reason for the U.S. to continue supporting any of its non-European allies against takeover by bin Ladenism: “For our own welfare and survival, we must ‘watch others die with equanimity’ and help after ‘the flames burn themselves out’ by focusing our overseas intercourse on trade, sharing knowledge, and donating food and medicine.” He is ready to evacuate all “military and naval bases on the Arabian peninsula.” And here’s how he characterizes the struggles of four other countries victimized by Islamist terror:
Washington has taken measures to enhance its ties to India and simultaneously to coerce Pakistan to halt aid for Muslim Kashmiri insurgents, thereby giving de facto sanction to India’s sorry record of abusing its Kashmiri Muslim citizens, as well as its Israel-like refusal to obey long-standing U.N. resolutions. Similarly, Washington has supported and armed the Indonesian military’s efforts to smash Islamist separatists on Aceh, advised and participated in Manila’s attacks on Moro Islamist groups in Mindanao, and backed the Yemeni regime’s drive to keep local Islamists at bay. . . . The point here is not to question whether the governments above are entitled to handle domestic “terrorism” as they see fit–they are–but to ask if the United States is wise to ally itself with regimes whose barbarism has long earned the Muslim world’s hatred.
Three of these four countries–India, Indonesia, and the Philippines–are secular democracies under attack from the very same groups that hit the U.S. on 9/11. Yet in every case, Scheuer disdains them–India he labels “unsavory” and “malodorous”–and manifestly sympathizes with their attackers. And his tale is seriously misleading. Manila, for example, only “attacked” the Moro Islamist groups because the latter have launched a campaign of murder against Filipino citizens and foreign visitors. Aceh and Kashmir are more complicated stories, but you would think that Scheuer–who claims expertise in South Asia–would know that those Kashmiri “insurgents” are Qaeda-backed terrorists who nearly succeeded in triggering an Indo-Pakistani nuclear war by opening fire on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, killing nine people. Putting the Kashmiri terrorists out of business is essential to the peace of the region.
Scheuer’s habit of seeing every world issue through the lens of Muslim aggrievement leads him into amazing double standards. While he apparently favors independence for the Indonesian province of Aceh, he condemns the U.S. for helping to achieve independence from Indonesia for East Timor, “ignoring the principle of self-determination.” How does it violate “self-determination” to grant independence to an ethnically and religiously distinct territory that Indonesia seized by force and where the pro-independence president won 83 percent of the vote in a free and fair election?
It is also telling that in his accounting of U.S. successes and defeats in the War on Terror, Scheuer lists as defeats the bombing of Taliban forces in Afghanistan, the addition of the anti-Chinese Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement to the State Department terror list, a joint U.S.-Indian military exercise in Kashmir, and the Israeli assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yasin. What do all three of these accomplishments have in common? Very simple: They could potentially offend an important section of Muslim opinion. It would seem that the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit would regard the actual capture of bin Laden as the most catastrophic possible defeat of all.
What distinguishes Scheuer’s approach from that of, say, Michael Moore is that Scheuer is not an ignorant activist, but a person charged with informing the nation’s leaders about the terrorist threat. It is disturbing, at the least, that a man who had such a large role in defending the nation from Islamic extremism seems to have been mentally captivated by it. I have a strong feeling that Scheuer’s 15 minutes of fame have ended already. His book is no longer seen in the shop windows; its ranking on Amazon drops daily. But the spirit of appeasement that produced this book has not, alas, vanished–not from inside the national-security agencies, nor from the larger policy community.