Skip to comments.Six Questions for Michael Scheuer on National Security (CIA on Iraq and Afghan)
Posted on 08/23/2006 11:14:05 AM PDT by 2banana
Six Questions for Michael Scheuer on National Security
Posted on Wednesday, August 23, 2006. By Ken Silverstein.
Sources Michael Scheuer served in the CIA for 22 years before resigning in 2004; he served as the chief of the bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999. He is the formerly anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. I met him for breakfast last week at an IHOP in the Virginia suburbs outside of Washington. Over a plate of eggs and hash browns, he answered a series of questions about the current state of the Bush Administrations War on Terrorism. His prognosis was illuminating and insightfuland, unfortunately, almost unrelentingly grim.
1. We're coming up on the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Is the country safer or more vulnerable to terrorism?
On balance, more vulnerable. We're safer in terms of aircraft travel. We're safer from being attacked by some dumbhead who tries to come into the country through an official checkpoint; we've spent billions on that. But for the most part our victories have been tactical and not strategic. There have been important successes by the intelligence services and Special Forces in capturing and killing Al Qaeda militants, but in the long run that's just a body count, not progress. We can't capture them one by one and bring them to justice. There are too many of them, and more now than before September 11. In official Western rhetoric these are finite organizations, but every time we interfere in Muslim countries they get more support.
In the long run, we're not safer because we're still operating on the assumption that we're hated because of our freedoms, when in fact we're hated because of our actions in the Islamic world. There's our military presence in Islamic countries, the perception that we control the Muslim worlds oil production, our support for Israel and for countries that oppress Muslims such as China, Russia, and India, and our own support for Arab tyrannies. The deal we made with Qadaffi in Libya looks like hypocrisy: we'll make peace with a brutal dictator if it gets us oil. President Bush is right when he says all people aspire to freedom but he doesn't recognize that people have different definitions of democracy. Publicly promoting democracy while supporting tyranny may be the most damaging thing we do. From the standpoint of democracy, Saudi Arabia looks much worse than Iran. We use the term Islamofascismbut we're supporting it in Saudi Arabia, with Mubarak in Egypt, and even Jordan is a police state. We don't have a strategy because we don't have a clue about what motivates our enemies.
2. Is Al Qaeda stronger or weaker than it was five years ago?
The quality of its leadership is not as high as it was in 2001, because we've killed and captured so many of its leaders. But they have succession planning that works very well. We keep saying that we're killing their leaders, but you notice that we keep having to kill their number twos, threes and fours all over again. They bring in replacements, and these are not novices off the streetthey're understudies. From the very first, bin Laden has said that he's just one person and Al Qaeda is a vanguard organization, that it needs other Muslims to join them. He's always said that his primary goal is to incite attacks by people who might not have any direct contact with Al Qaeda. Since 2001, and especially since mid-2005, there's been an increase in the number of groups that were not directly tied to Al Qaeda but were inspired by bin Laden's words and actions.
We also shouldn't underestimate the stature of bin Laden and Zawahiri in the Muslim world now that theyve survived five years of war with the United States. You see commentary in the Muslim press: How have they been able to defy the United States? It takes something special. Their heroic status is an important fact. It helps explain why these cells keep popping up. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda is also assisting insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. I agree with the view that we've moved from man and organization to philosophy and movement, but one hasn't entirely replaced the other. There are three levels: Al Qaeda central is still intact; there are groups long affiliated with Al Qaeda, in places like Kashmir, the Philippines, and Indonesia; and there are the new groups inspired by Al Qaeda.
3. Given all this, why hasn't there been an attack on the United States for the past five years?
It's not just a lack of capacity; they're not ready to do it. They put more emphasis on success than speed, and the next attack has to be bigger than 9/11. They could shoot up a mall if that's what they wanted to do. But the world is going their way. Our leaders have been clever in defining success as preventing a big terrorist attack on the United States, but we've lost some 3,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've spent billions on those wars, and as in Vietnam the government has suffered a real hit on its credibility. The war in Iraq has created huge divisiveness in our domestic politics, not to mention in our relationships with our European allies. At the same time, there are more people willing to take up arms against the United States, and we have less ability to win hearts and minds in the Arab world. If you're bin Laden living in a cave, all those things are part of the war and those things are going your way.
4. Has the war in Iraq helped or hurt in the fight against terrorism?
It broke the back of our counterterrorism program. Iraq was the perfect execution of a war that demanded jihad to oppose it. You had an infidel power invading and occupying a Muslim country and it was perceived to be unprovoked. Many senior Western officials said that bin Laden was not a scholar and couldn't declare a jihad but other Muslim clerics did. So that religious question was erased.
Secondly, Iraq is in the Arab heartland and, far more than Afghanistan, is a magnet for mujahideen. You can see this in the large number of people crossing the border to fight us. It wasn't a lot at the start, but there's been a steady growth as the war continues. The war has validated everything bin Laden said: that the United States will destroy any strong government in the Arab world, that it will seek to destroy Israel's enemies, that it will occupy Muslim holy places, that it will seize Arab oil, and that it will replace God's law with man's law. We see Iraq as a honey pot that attracts jihadists whom we can kill there instead of fighting them here. We are ignoring that Iraq is not just a place to kill Americans; Al Qaeda has always said that it requires safe havens. It has said it couldn't get involved with large numbers in the Balkans war because it had no safe haven in the region. Now they have a safe haven in Iraq, which is so big and is going to be so unsettled for so long. For the first time, it gives Al Qaeda contiguous access to the Arabian Peninsula, to Turkey, and to the Levant. We may have written the death warrant for Jordan. If we pull out of Iraq, we have a problem in that we may have to leave a large contingent of troops in Jordan. All of this is a tremendous advantage for Al Qaeda. We've moved the center of jihad a thousand miles west from Afghanistan to the Middle East.
5. Things seemed to have turned for the worse in Afghanistan too. What's your take on the situation there?
The President was sold a bill of goods by George Tenet and the CIAthat a few dozen intel guys, a few hundred Special Forces, and truckloads of money could win the day. What happened is what's happened ever since Alexander the Great, three centuries before Christ: the cities fell quickly, which we mistook for victory. Three years later, the Taliban has regrouped, and there's a strong insurgency. We paid a great price for demonizing the Taliban. We saw them as evil because they didn't let women work, but that's largely irrelevant in Afghanistan. They provided nationwide law and order for the first time in 25 years; we destroyed that and haven't replaced it. They're remembered in Afghanistan for their harsh, theocratic rule, but remembered more for the security they provided. In the end, we'll lose and leave. The idea that we can control Afghanistan with 22,000 soldiers, most of whom are indifferent to the task, is far-fetched. The Soviets couldn't do it with 150,000 soldiers and utter brutality. Before the invasion of Afghanistan, [the military historian] John Keegan said the only way to go there was as a punitive mission, to destroy your enemy and get out. That was prescient; our only real mission there should have been to kill bin Laden and Zawahiri and as many Al Qaeda fighters as possible, and we didn't do it.
6. Has the war in Lebanon also been a plus for the jihadists?
Yes. The Israel-Hezbollah battle validates bin Laden. It showed that the Arab regimes are useless, that they can't protect their own nationals, and that they are apostate regimes that are creatures of the infidels. It also showed that the Americans will let Israel do whatever it wants. It was clear from the way the West reacted that it would let Israel take its best shot before it tried diplomacy. I saw an article in the Arab pressin London, I thinkthat said Lebanon was like a caught fish, that the United States nailed it to the wall and Israel gutted it. The most salient point it showed for Islamists is that Muslim blood is cheap. Israel said it went to war to get back its captured soldiers. The price was the gutting of Lebanon. Olmert said that Israel would fight until it got its soldiers back and until Hezbollah was disarmed. Neither happened. No matter how you spin it, this will be viewed as a victory for Hezbollah. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon six years ago. Since then there have been the two intifadas, and now this. The idea of Israel being militarily omnipotent is fading.
7. And finally, an extra questionwhat needs to be done?
This may be a country bumpkin approach, but the truth is the best place to start. We need to acknowledge that we are at war, not because of who we are, but because of what we do. We are confronting a jihad that is inspired by the tangible and visible impact of our policies. People are willing to die for that, and we're not going to win by killing them off one by one. We have a dozen years of reliable polling in the Middle East, and it shows overwhelming hostility to our policiesand at the same time it shows majorities that admire the way we live, our ability to feed and clothe our children and find work. We need to tell the truth to set the stage for a discussion of our foreign policy.
At the core of the debate is oil. As long as we and our allies are dependent on Gulf oil, we can't do anything about the perception that we support Arab tyrannythe Saudis, the Kuwaitis, and other regimes in the region. Without the problem of oil, who cares who rules Saudi Arabia? If we solved the oil problem, we could back away from the contradiction of being democracy promoters and tyranny protectors. We should have started on this back in 1973, at the time of the first Arab oil embargo, but we've never moved away from our dependence. As it stands, we are going to have to fight wars if anything endangers the oil supply in the Middle East.
What you want with foreign policy is options. Right now we don't have options because our economy and our allies' economies are dependent on Middle East oil. What benefit do we get by letting China commit genocide-by-inundation by moving thousands and thousands of Han Chinese to overcome the dominance of Muslim Uighurs? What do we get out of supporting Putin in Chechnya? He may need to do it to maintain his country, but we don't need to support what looks like a rape, pillage, and kill campaign against Muslims. The other area is Israel and Palestine. We're not going to abandon the Israelis but we need to reestablish the relationship so it looks like we're the great power and they're our ally, and not the other way around. We need to create a situation where moderate Muslims can express support for the United States without being laughed off the block.
There are a couple of very big red flags in your article. I hope you can follow them up with Michael Scheuer:
"In the long run, we're not safer because we're still operating on the assumption that we're hated because of our freedoms, when in fact we're hated because of our actions in the Islamic world."
No - We are hated because we are infidels and are not muslims. To a significant portion of the Islamic world, infidels are worthy of rape, slavery and slaughter. Even in the most "progressive" muslim countries in the world, non-muslims citizens are third class citizens. According to the Koran, it is right and good (and a way to heaven) to attack non-muslims and non-muslim lands. And once non-muslim land is conquered, it is forever muslim land (that is why Israeli really drives them nuts).
"If you're bin Laden living in a cave, all those things are part of the war and those things are going your way."
Somehow I do not think the invasion and conquering of two muslim countries by America, the death of nearly all his top leadership and himself living in cave worried that even one wrong cell phone call may invite Special Forces to pay him a visit was in his original plans. OBL wanted wars in which muslims would be killing and conquering the infidels. What he has now (mostly) is muslims killing muslims in muslim lands.
"It has said it couldn't get involved with large numbers in the Balkans war because it had no safe haven in the region."
This I do not understand. Thousands upon thousands of muslim fighters flocked to Bosnia and Kosovo from all across the middle east to fight the Serbs. They have a safe haven in Bosnia and Kosovo and are looking to expand them.
"We paid a great price for demonizing the Taliban. We saw them as evil because they didn't let women work, but that's largely irrelevant in Afghanistan."
The Taliban banned girls from school, executed women for adultery (from rape) as half time shows at soccer games, massacred untold tens of thousands (I have seen the mass graves), bombed cities to rubble, killed at will, destroyed anything non-islamic enough (including other mosques), wipe-out entire villages if one person converted from Islam, banned music, kite flying, certain haircuts, movies, etc. They were monsters. Yes, they kept order - so did the Nazis in the Jewish ghettos.
A bigger load of shit I have yet to read.
to paraphase ushad manji, "don't let them talk you into believing that it is the policies of the u.s. and britain that makes them behave this way."
iow, it is their policies, not ours, that are the problem.
This guy could be a faculty member at Harvard for Heaven's sake.
The US is wrong, and the Arabs and Muslims are only fighting back 'cause we're over there kicking down their front doors.
What about Kobar Towers? What about the embassy attacks? What about the attack on the Cole? What about September 11th?
The radical Muslim world declared war on us, and we didn't take it seriously until George Bush became president.
Mr. Clinton did nothing - and they still hit us over and over again.
It's too bad you feel that way, because he's entirely right.
Is he going for a Pulitzer? This guy must have bought into the entire Muzzie propoganda load over the years. His main source smells suspiciously like DU. The WAPO. The NY SLIMES.
What do expect from Scheuer other than feces?
That, plus the fact that we stand in the way of their ambitions.
If my name was Cindy Sheehan, I'd agree with every word.
That's true to a point, but it's not that simple.
We support a lot of tyrants in the name of stability, and that motivates people into nationalistic goals that are co-opted by Islam, the same way that many of the independence movements of the 20th century were co-opted by Communism. The hard core Islamic fundamentalists wouldn't have a fraction of the power they do now, if they weren't fed from one hand on hatred of their tyrant, and on the other from oil dollars.
Islamic whackjobs have always been a problem, but the reason that the 'global jihad' has legs has a lot more to do with local politics than theological intolerance.
Another ankle biting flea on the president's ankles.
OTOH, it has been suggested that they hate us because they know they are losing the global culture battle to the West. This is a desperate last-ditch effort to save a dying 7th century culture.
I think so. It'll be a tough one though, the competetion is stiff. The WaPosts fake torture site piece, Newsweeks fake Kran flushing piece, Time's fake Haditha piece, The NY Times fake civil war peices......an endless list.
Michael Scheuer was let out of the CIA by Portor Goss's predeccessor so that he could go blow smoke across the CIA failures of the 1990s,
and so he could go falsely blame our foreign policy instead of admitting just how little they, the CIA actually knew and understood about:
(2)its basis in radical Islamic fundamentalist philosophy - not reactions to U.S. policy -
(3) just how deep the radical philosophy was penetrating Islamic societies and creating public push in those societies for changes in the policies of Islamic nations, to fulfill the goals of the radical philosophy - movement toward a world Islamic caliphate.
The CIA failed in the 1990s and continues to fail because it is more ignorant about the philosophical movement - and the depth and breadth of that movement - that underpins the terrorists than most western high school kids were about communism in the 1960s.
We lost nothing when people like Schuerer were let out of the CIA so they could author misinformation that blames the policians for the CIAs failures.
It's not that simple. They're repressed by tyrannical governments that in large part we support, like Saudi Arabia. They see attacking us as a way to have a fighting chance to damage their own government.
What about Kobar Towers? What about the embassy attacks? What about the attack on the Cole? What about September 11th?
All four operations done by less than 100 fanatics total. Those types of extremist will always need to be dealt with using lethal force, and Clinton is to blame for letting a little problem spiral into a colossal one. But the reason that there's more AQ now than before 9/11 has to do more than people 'hating our freedoms'.
The global jihad is a complex social phenomenon, and dismissing it all as unintelligible madness, we'll miss opportunities on how to combat it effectively.
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