The Man Who Knew Bin Laden

Article excerpt

The Man Who Knew Bin Laden [Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq, Michael Scheuer, Free Press, 384 pages]

A BIZARRE, much discussed event took place during the May 2007 South Carolina debate among Republican contenders for the presidency. Congressman Ron Paul asserted that the motivation for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington had been our foreign policy: "Have you ever read the reasons why they attacked us? They attacked us because we've been over there..." Rudy Giuliani answered as if amazed: "That is an extraordinary statement. ... I don't think I have heard that before, and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11."

After the debate, Paul, accompanied by foreign-policy expert Michael Scheuer, held a press conference in which he sardonically offered Giuliani "a reading list" that included Scheuer's book Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.

Giuliani was then a major contender for the presidency, while Paul was given no chance at all. Most Americans watching the exchange would probably have agreed with Giuliani, who was wrong, and considered Ron Paul absurd, when he was right. I would also guess that most of the audience was as ignorant as Giuliani in thinking that bin Laden attacked us because we are a democracy, because our women have rights, or because we aren't Muslims. Such ignorance may be universal.

Michael Scheuer is an essential educator. Indeed, no one can read Scheuer and doubt that he knows what he is talking about. He is a CIA veteran who headed the bin Laden unit According to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, "One of the reasons for [Scheuer's] leaving [the agency] was that Porter Goss, the G.W. Bush appointee who replaced George J. Tenet as CIA director, sent out a memo just after the November 2004 elections stating that the CIA's job is to support the president, which caused consternation within the agency."

As an aside, I have had a similar experience of the Bush administration's recoil from professional competence, hi 2005,1 received a phone call from the White House personnel office. Would I be interested in serving on the National Council on the Arts? Yes. What are my qualifications? Well, I served two six-year terms on the National Council on the Humanities-appointed first by Nixon, then by Reagan-the only person in the history of the National Endowment for the Humanities to have done so. Also, I have written widely on art as well as literature. I have been a professor of English at Columbia and at Dartmouth. Very good, said the phone. And you don't have to answer this, and it really doesn't matter, but do you support the president? I answered yes, "I support the president the way the rope supports the hanged man." I never heard from the White House again.

Scheuer's expertise is on full display in his writing. His well-documented and often convincing argument is that Osama bin Laden's motivation for a "defensive jihad" against the United States arises from the following sources:

* American troops on the Arabian Peninsula, with its sacred cities of Mecca, where Mohammed was born, and Medina, where he established the first Muslim state.

* American support for corrupt tyrannies, as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt

* American theft of Arab oil, which is to say, buying it at lower cost than is justifiable.

* Israeli occupation of Palestine, including Jerusalem, and unqualified U.S. support for Israel.

* The American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, with the consequent slaughter of thousands of Muslims. (Iraq is considered sacred territory because it was the site of the Caliphate for half a millennium.)

* Aggression against Muslims worldwide, as in Somalia, Timor, the Philippines. (These last two can hardly be blamed on the United States.)

* Cultural aggression by the West through television, the Internet, and other means of mass communication. …