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Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror

by Michael F. Scheuer

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861717,620 (3.63)6
Access a Comprehensive Bibliography Though U.S. leaders try to convince the world of their success in fighting al Qaeda, one member of the U.S. intelligence community would like to inform the public that we are, in fact, losing the war on terror. Further, until U.S. leaders recognize the errant path they have irresponsibly chosen, he says, our enemies will only grow stronger. According to the author Michael Scheuer, the greatest danger for Americans confronting the Islamist threat is to believe--at the urging of U.S. leaders--that Muslims attack us for what we are and what we think rather than for what we do. Blustering political rhetoric "informs" the public that the Islamists are offended by the Western world's democratic freedoms, civil liberties, inter-mingling of genders, and separation of church and state. However, although aspects of the modern world may offend conservative Muslims, no Islamist leader has fomented jihad to destroy participatory democracy, for example, the national association of credit unions, or coed universities. Instead, a growing segment of the Islamic world strenuously disapproves of specific U.S. policies and their attendant military, political, and economic implications. Capitalizing on growing anti-U.S. animosity, Osama bin Laden's genius lies not simply in calling for jihad, but in articulating a consistent and convincing case that Islam is under attack by America. Al Qaeda's public statements condemn America's protection of corrupt Muslim regimes, unqualified support for Israel, the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a further litany of real-world grievances. Bin Laden's supporters thus identify their problem and believe their solution lies in war. Scheuer contends they will go to any length, not to destroy our secular, democratic way of life, but to deter what they view as specific attacks on their lands, their communities, and their religion. Unless U.S. leaders recognize this fact and adjust their policies abroad accordingly, even moderate Muslims will join the bin Laden camp.  … (more)



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For all of it's clout, I frankly did not find this book very interesting or very convincing. Rather, it sounded like the author had a bone to pick with his former employers. ( )
  publiusdb | Aug 22, 2013 |
I actually read this sometime in 2003, but the image is still in my head (God how I hate penmanship lessons). At any rate this book provides an insightful look into the thought process of how the American mind looks at both itself and the world. ( )
  lafon | Mar 31, 2013 |
This book does many things well. Namely, an analysis of what the middle eastern wars really are, and what the nature of these wars is really like. All of this does much to show the difference between the world we live in and how it is marketed to us. Scheuer, however, is not able to give us a very good plan for what needs to be done about the problems he brings up. ( )
1 vote M.Campanella | Mar 30, 2009 |
The single most important work on terrorism written by the foremost tracker of Bin Laden who retired from the CIA. Scheuer critically points out that the West should not dismiss Bin Laden nor underestimate him. Scheuer's analysis is timely and right on the money. His description of Pakistan for example, although written in 2007, still very much applies and he predicted, correctly, that al Qaeda will be resilient.

His prose, although forceful, is clear. According to Scheuer Bin Laden has six reasons for targeting the United States: 1) American support of Israel against the Palestinians; 2) American troops occupying the Arabian penisula; 3) American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan; 4) American support of other nations particularly Russia, China and India in their oppression of Muslims; 5) American pressure on Arab states to keep oil prices artificially low (they are, in comparison with other countries); 6) and American support for apostate and tyrannical Muslim governments including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, among others.

In the early 1980s, a Palestinian ideologue named Abdullah Azzam (p. 76) was coordinating the jihad from Peshawar, near the Afghanistan border.

Azzam’s Peshawar center was known as the Afghan Bureau. His deputy and financier was a Saudi named Osama bin Laden.

Was the idealistic 19- or 20-year-old Barack Obama inquiring about the Afghanistan jihad?

There is a great deal to mull over in this work and Scheuer is a good example that qualified people at the analyst, and based on other evidence, in the field, levels continue to serve this country well. George Tenet, in his memoirs, remarks that Scheuer was six levels below him and therefore he did not heed Scheuer's warnings that Bin Laden, et. al., were becoming a much more significant threat. The failure of our leaders to heed the warnings by those at the operations and analyst levels led to the deaths of Americans.

Chechnya, pp. 12

"Chechnya is included to warn those in the West who believe the Islamist threat would dissipate if Bin Laden is captured or killed." Since 2002, after the Russians killed the leading Islamist Ibn-al-Khattab, the "pace and lethality" of attacks increased (p. 86).
  gmicksmith | Aug 9, 2008 |
Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer once upon a time in the late 90's was the chief of a unit tracking the whereabouts and deciphering the meanings of the words of Osama Bin Laden. In 'Imperial Hubris' he weighs mostly in on the events post 9-11 that has led the United States into two conflicts into which it seems we have cornered ourselves with no means of exit without making an even greater mess. Written in 2004 the book is very much dated in terms of current events. Even so what unfolds between the covers can be useful in understanding the mindset of Bin Laden and the people who have rallied to his cause.
Some of Scheuer's comparisons can be hard to digest--for instance Bin Laden in another era and time might = Robert E. Lee. Scheuer does though argue for the need to respect Bin Laden and his aims in order for us to come to a clear understanding of what he wants and how we are going to deal with him. Simply casting insults at him and his cohorts from afar is not going to make them go away--it is more likely to turn him into a kind of a boogeyman you use to terrify yourself and/or your children. In this respect Scheuer even makes clear his dislike for the term terrorists those he considers to be insurgents or soldiers of a fundamentalist Islam.

According to Scheuer Bin Laden has six reasons for targeting the United States that he has been clear and consistent about for many years. They are 1) American support of Israel against the Palestinians 2) American troops in the Arabian penisula 3) American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan 4) American support of other nations particularly Russia, China and India in their oppression of Muslims 5) American pressure on Arab states to keep oil prices low (well I guess we don't have to worry about that one anymore) 6) American support for apostate and tyrannical Muslim governments including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan etc. etc.

Scheuer goes on to argue that the reasons for 9-11 aren't as the Bush administration would like us to believe--that we were attacked because of who we are--the real reason is for what we are and have been doing in the Muslim world for many years. The hatred is policy oriented. He argues further that we will never be able to battle with him effectively until we look beyond all the rhetoric and start taking he and his comrades in arms seriously--something in his opinion the White House--intelligence bureaucrats, the media and politicians in general are loathe to do.

Amongst other things he suggests cutting ties--at least somewhat with the state of Israel. Making real efforts to end our energy dependency on Middle Eastern oil. Changing foreign policy so it is more even-handed. Deciding once and for all either to pull out of Afghanistan and/or Iraq or going after the insurgents in both countries in the most brutal way possible using as an example William T. Sherman's swathcutting through the South in the Civil War keeping in mind that perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are going to die including many many times what we've lost in lives of American soldiers. He suggests we will not win by pussyfooting around--that either way we will not build a democracy where one is not wanted--so we should strip ourselves of the illusions that we are the only good guys in this war between cultures. A couple excerpts:

'The U.S. approach to Afghanistan must be judged one that is suffused with arrogance. Knowing nothing of what we were getting into, we staged a mighty air attack followed by a dainty ground war that limited U.S. casualties but allowed most of the enemy to go home with their guns. We next installed a puppet regime in Kabul with no credible members from the largest Afghan ethnic group--from which Afghan rulers historically come--and assigned it the task of pushing a Westernized political agenda unacceptable to the Afghans' tribal traditions and offensive to Islam. (This will sound familiar to those watching developments in Iraq.) In sum, our policies and actions in Afghanistan have marginally reduced the mobility there of al Qaeda and the Taleban, have reinvigorated a broad, popular, and predictable xenophobia toward foreign occupation--even among the late Masood's men, the bulk of Karzai's military, who will not trade Russian for U.S. masters--and have ensured the United States must soon decide whether to exponentially increase its military presence and wage a destructive nationwide war, or tuck its tail and skedaddle for home a la Vietnam and Somalia. As matters stand, Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and their Gulf benefactors need expend only patience and the modest costs of insurgency to make America pay the extraordinary high price that, sadly, is the merited wages of arrogance and willful ignorance.' Goes on to quote Niall Ferguson describe America today as 'a colossus with an attention deficit syndrome'.

'What does it mean to be at war with Islam? It meands deadly, matter of survival businsess that must be taken more seriously than it has been to date. War is being waged on us because of what we, as a nation, are doing in the Islamic world. Bin Laden's September 1996 declaration of war specifies U.S. actions causing him to incite war. His declaration is a neutral, factual statement, parts of it like Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. As a sovereign state, the United States is free to decide and implement its policies and actions in the Muslim world. They have been designed by elected leaders to meet national interests, approved and funded by elected representatives, and validated repeatedly in presidential and congressional elections. To say America is responsible for the policies against which Islam is waging war is a truism, as it is to say that those policies have propelled us into a religious war. So, what does it mean to be in a war with Islam? First, it means we must accept this reality and act accordingly. Second, it means a U.S. policy status quo in the Muslim world ensures a gradually intensifying war for the forseeable future, one that will be far more costly than we now imagine. Third, it means we will have to publicly address issues--support for Israel, energy self sufficiency, and the worldwide applicability of our democracy--long neglected and certain to raise bitter, acrimonious debates that will decide whether the American way of life survives or shrinks to a crabbed, fearful, and barely recognizable form.'--then going on to say that our founding fathers knew well enough the costs of creating our country and that ideas about our way of life were not ones that could be assimiliated or easily assimilated elsewhere and that those founding fathers knew enough to leave well enough alone--that we should only be responsible for ourselves and our way of life.

So there is a lot to digest here and having finished it yesterday I don't think I've quite reached the point of full digestion. I liked it for the most part--agreed with most of its analyses but think I will be brooding over this one for some time. ( )
1 vote lriley | Jul 30, 2007 |
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