Michael Scheuer, (formerly known as Anonymous), author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and Through our Enemies Eyes talks to the Middle East Institute about his new book Marching Towards Hell. The speech was recorded for CSPAN, you can watch it here, via BookTV.
Scheuer is an extremely provocative thinker–even when he is wrong, he makes me think. I read both of his other books when they originally came out. He is also is prone to some bats–t crazy pronouncements (see the NyTimes Review of the Book on that) which undercut (sadly I think) what are some crucially important points neglected in US discourse over tactics (pro/anti surge, COIN).
The primary thread through all of his works is as follows (after the jump):
1)al-Qaeda fights the US because of its foreign policy. Period. All of the political rhetoric, particularly from Bush about “they hate our freedom” is pure BS. Plain and simple. It is dangerously deluded and counterproductive. Which is why Bush’s “freedom agenda” and the notion that there were a finite number of “dead-enders” (i.e. terrorists who hate freedom) preventing the mass of freedom-desiring/freedom-loving Muslims around the world to rise up has met with such spectacular failure in Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
This is delusional beyond belief, given that the main force that holds the mass of Muslims around the world in oppression is the allies of America: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Gulf Sheiks, etc.
So the question is what to do about that fact? Scheuer’s most important contribution I think is that he brings the issue (without reducing it) down to this central fork: either we continue US foreign policy and get real about fighting it (which would require much more realist and brutality than we currently display) OR extricate from the current foreign policy consensus. Which is whatever the differences on Iraq, pro-intervention and pro-maintenance of the basic status quo in the region (see Obama and McCain on Israel).
2)Bin Laden’s plan of attack consists of three elements:
A)Plant the flag of al-Qaeda anywhere in the world thereby eliciting a irrational response of sending US troops where said flag is hoisted.
B)Thereby thinning out the American forces abroad, bleeding them financially and literally dry.
C)Thereby creating a wedge in US political opinion to force a total withdrawal from US in the Middle East.
C is far from a reality, but Afghanistan and infinitely more so Iraq have played right into the hands of A & B.
In that regard, I think Scheuer is fundamentally correct that the US has not recognized the nature of the enemy and the nature of the fight post 9/11. And for the right-winger nutters out there, he has a great one-liner where he says they are always talking about Islamo-fascism, when in reality the Islamo-fascists are the Arab Dictators we support. On the wrong side of history on that one.
McCain is too busy worrying about “victory” in Iraq and continuing to prop up the puppet regime the US has installed, which if it becomes tyrannical (and don’t be surprised if/when it does, if it hasn’t already) and already has inked a deal to sell the rights to Iraqi oil fields to US companies, then we will have another Saudi Arabia in Iraq. Only further alienating the Muslim world and proving Scheuer’s thesis. Though weirdly McCain thinks the transcendent issue of the time is “Islamic extremism”–weird in that his plan for how to deal with is only guaranteed to strengthen such groups. That and kicking Russia out of the G8 and forming a Superhero League of Democracies.
Obama on the one hand has always had this central plank on his FP mercilessly targeting the networks of al-Qaeda, including attacking Pakistan (i.e. doing it ourselves instead of relying on proxies as Scheuer notes) even without their government’s approval. On the other hand, part of his so-called Dignity Doctrine (throwback to JFK?) includes promotion of human dignity around the world. Which still sounds infected with this notion that the reason “they hate us” is because they are poor. Terrorists are wealthy and educated. The central issue yet again is American foreign policy. And the world economy depends on the projection of US military force everywhere in the world and the Middle East is at the center of the energy supply pumping the whole thing, hence don’t expect any major disengagement from the region in the near future. In fact expect more. Iraq might be a partial disengagement a la the First Gulf War but nothing on this scale.
Obama’s people are now mouthing the centrist/center-right touch stance on Iran line:
The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is the biggest threat facing the world, according to one of Barack Obama’s senior foreign policy advisers.
He also signalled that the US Democratic presidential candidate would push Europe to agree tougher sanctions against Tehran.
There are some critiques of Scheuer to be sure, and I’ll get to those in another post, but for now, it’s worth meditating on those central points.