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Failing to make the case

By Rachel Alexander
web posted January 17, 2005

Imperial Hubris
Why the West is Losing the War on Terror
By Michael Scheuer
Brassey's Inc
HC, 309 pages, US$27.50
ISBN: 1-5748-8849-8

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on TerrorA senior U.S. intelligence official has written a book under the pseudonym "Anonymous" highly critical of the U.S. war on terror. It should be noted that it is no mystery who "Anonymous" is, Michael Scheuer, a senior official in the CIA who resigned in November during the Bush administration's shake-up of that department. (1) Scheuer ran the Counterterrorist Center's Osama bin Laden station in the late 1990's and authored another anonymous book entitled Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America two years ago. It is not clear whether it was CIA regulation or because of Scheuer's own reasons that these books were published anonymously. (2)

The theme of Imperial Hubris is "Blame America." Scheuer attacks reactive U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and instead of placing responsibility for terrorism on bin Laden and the terrorists or on the excesses of Islam, Scheuer instead claims that it is U.S. overseas policies that have caused the terrorist attacks. The problem with this reasoning can be seen in the analogy of placing the blame upon a rape victim for dressing provocatively, instead of the rapist who chose to rape her. Scheuer writes in a strident tone, reminiscent of Michael Moore, using repetition to hammer his main point across -- which is that top U.S. officials ignored the lessons of Afghanistan history when they decided to instill a secular democratic government in Afghanistan. Although Scheuer offers ample reasons why he believes a secular democratic government cannot work in Afghanistan, he omits including any proof of the other half of his thesis -- that senior officials failed to review the lessons of history, known within the CIA as the "checkables." This is a serious flaw in his book. It is simply not plausible that senior-level officials, particularly top advisors within the Bush administration with extensive and impressive backgrounds in foreign policy, would be ignorant of recent events in Afghanistan. It is a stretch to assert that they had no knowledge of the former Soviet Union's inability to capture the regime in the 1980's and 1990's. What is ironic -- and noted briefly by Scheuer himself - is that it was U.S. aid to the Taliban that defeated the Soviets.

Since the entire book is based upon this arguably false premise, unless you agree with it, the rest of the book falls apart. Any history or political science major knows the history of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan - and anyone who has seen Rambo III knows the Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan. Scheuer is essentially an isolationist and if anything, is himself ignorant of history. He wants you to believe that a non-democratic country cannot change into a democracy, at least not with any outside aid. This theory conveniently ignores the history of most democratic countries today -- the U.S. itself was at one time a collection of matriarchal and tribal Indian governments, which became a republican democracy through the influx of European and other immigrants as well as a few wars.

Scheuer's arguments are nothing more than philosophical differences. Scheuer disagrees with the widely accepted conclusion reached by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man, which postulated that the world had finally reached a consensus that liberal democracy had proven to be the most viable political institution in man's ideological evolution. (3) Scheuer mocks this belief as "imperial hubris;" a "way of thinking American elites have acquired since the end of World War II." (p. 165) Instead, he glumly predicts that no more countries will become democracies, "…most of the world outside North America is not, does not want to be, and probably will never be just like us." (p. 167) His is a philosophy of "uniformitarianism;" that nations and institutions forever remain the same.

Scheuer fails to offer any credible evidence to support his second main point that terrorists hate the U.S. because of its policies, not its democratic society. It is not disputed that the terrorists resent U.S. support to Israel and countries such as India that are hostile to fundamentalist Islam. However, if the U.S. took a more isolationist path and halted its aid and arms assistance to these countries, the terrorists would continue to deeply resent the U.S. The U.S. is one of the wealthiest nations in the world and home to Hollywood where women run around scantily clothed. If Scheuer really thinks the terrorists are not bothered by the excesses of democracy in the U.S. as flaunted by our unofficial royalty of Britney Spears and Madonna, he is either naïve or has a political agenda. Under the ideal fundamentalist Muslim regime with its sharia law, epitomized by Afghanistan under the Taliban, women who behaved and dressed as Britney Spears and Madonna would have been beheaded. Scheuer himself even points out that bin Laden preferred to watch old Westerns over other types of Hollywood movies, because the women were usually fully covered. Scheuer claims that fundamentalist Islam has no problem living "side-by-side in peace with monotheists, polytheists, communists, democrats, snake-charmers, and even National League baseball fans." (p. 9) This is a pipedream. The fundamentalist hard-line Muslims who Scheuer believes are the only ones capable of ruling Islamic countries insist that non-Muslims must either convert to Islam, obey Islam, or be executed. (4)

The book does contain a few insights that cannot be dismissed, however, such as the fact that over 95 per cent of all Saudis between ages 25-41 polled in 2002 expressed sympathy with Osama bin Laden. (p. 72) This is a serious concern and supports Scheuer's proposition that it is not only the terrorists that hate the U.S., but many so-called "moderate" Muslims as well. And to his credit, Scheuer does not fall into the easily predictable left-wing positions that so many Democratic attack dogs defend. Scheuer is quite critical of multilateralism, criticizing the U.S. for deliberating with its allies first instead of attacking al-Qaida in Afghanistan immediately after 9-11.

Ultimately, Imperial Hubris suffers from its extremist rhetoric. It is difficult to continue reading it with statements sprinkled throughout like the following: "…evangelical Christians have a fervor for God and his word similar to the Islamists', though the former have yet to take up arms in his defense." (p. 2) This is a bizarre comparison, considering evangelical Christians (and note Scheuer does not even say fundamentalist Christians) are composed of law-abiding Christians such as the Reverend Billy Graham and Dr. James Dobson, who have never taken up weapons in the name of God nor does the Bible instruct them to (religious crusades supposedly taken in the name of God in the past were certainly not done by "evangelical Christians").

Scheuer claims that the U.S. is losing the war on terror, declaring that we have seen "no tangible evidence of victory" on p. 170, yet on pp. 87-91 he lists 30 victories against al-Qaida by the U.S. and its allies after 9-11, which he describes as "impressive."

If anything, Imperial Hubris is an interesting read if only to hear what fashionable arguments today's opponents of the Bush administration's war on terror are relying upon. If you can tolerate the strident repetition of its core premises and finish the book, you will breathe a sigh of relief, having discovered that the arguments are flawed and lacking in support, reinforcing confidence that the Bush administration is on the right track in the war on terror as well as in establishing democracy in Afghanistan.

Rachel Alexander is the editor of IntellectualConservative.com and a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arizona.

Buy Imperial Hubris at Amazon.com for only $17.32 (37% off)


1. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/nov2004/rice-n17.shtml

3. http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/fukuyama.htm

4. http://www.freedomhouse.org/religion/country/afghanistan/Sharia per cent20in per cent20Kabul.htm

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