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August 25, 2006

Interview with a National Security Expert

Are we safer than we were five years ago?  In an interview at Harper's Magazine online, Michael Scheuer, former chief of the bin Laden unit at the CIA, answers questions on this topic posed by Ken Silverstein.  Scheuer also wrote both 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

There is a lot of value in the six questions and answers that constitute this article.  I will just note a couple of the responses that I think are most important.  In response to the interviewer's question about whether the country is safer or more vulnerable to terrorism at the five year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Scheuer says that on balance we are more vulnerable and that "for the most part our victories have been tactical and not strategic"; then he says:

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 world’s 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. . . . We use the term “Islamofascism”—but 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.

When asked why there hasn't been an attack on the United States in the past five years, he says that they're not ready to do it yet.  And basically, why interfere when we are damaging ourselves so badly, losing the hearts and minds of the Muslim world all on our own?  About the long-term impact of our war in Iraq, he says:

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.

Not that either Afghanistan or Lebanon have been helpful either.  All in all it's not a pretty picture.  The interview ends with Scheuer's response to a question about what we should do now.  His response boils down to "tell the truth".  It's interesting because I have been struck in the last few weeks at how much our Democratic leaders are doing just that.  It appears that there may be a convergence between what is the right thing to do and what will win the election.  Here's what Scheuer says:

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 policies—and 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 tyranny—the 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.

Hat tip to DailyKos diarist Yoss

Posted by Lynn Allen on August 25, 2006 at 08:26 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink


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