Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

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

Article excerpt

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

Michael Scheuer

Potomac Books, Inc., 2004 (new epilogue, 2005)

Imperial Hubris considers a predicament that the author sees has been brought about for the United States by the great sea-change in American outlook and policy that occurred in 1898. That was the year the U.S. went from (1) being a good world citizen but one that minded its own business, intervening very little in the affairs of other nations, to (2) carrying a Wilsonian torch that would make the United States the policeman and social worker to the world. Michael Scheuer sees that in a world full of untold complexities, animosities and dangers, a policy of minding everyone's business will predictably lead to embroilments, some of which, like "tar babies" that have been struck, simply won't let go.

One of those areas of complexity and danger is the Islamic world, which consists of 1.3 billion people. Scheuer doesn't much consider the demographic threat that mass Islamic immigration poses to Europe and thus he is far from taking a full view of the Islamic challenge to the West. What he does focus on is, however, important enough in itself: the threat that comes from the worldwide Islamist insurgency, led most especially by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. A point he emphasizes is that the threat to the United States from this insurgency is generated primarily as a response to American policies that are perceived by the Islamic world as threatening and that span several decades. (It is well to notice that this point about the reaction to American policies would not apply nearly as much to the demographic, cultural challenge from Islamic immigration.) These policies, in turn, have only partly been called into existence by the imperatives of American national interest. Mostly, he says, they have resulted from Americans' post-1898 and especially post-1989 mindset, which is messianic, interventionist, and mixed with a profound naivete, cultural ignorance, and presumption.

Who is Michael Scheuer and with what authority does he speak? The holder of two masters degrees and a doctorate in history, he was a career officer in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1982 until his resignation in 2004. Most to the point, his last major assignment in the CIA was as head of its "Bin Laden Unit." He was demoted from this in 1999, he says, "after I documented numerous fixable problems in the intelligence community." Imperial Hubris and his prior book Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (both published under the pseudonym "Anonymous," as required by the CIA, with the publication of Imperial Hubris having been delayed by the CIA until after the 9/11 attacks) demonstrate that he is a powerful independent thinker, and in no sense a bureaucratic timeserver. The power of his convictions and independence of his thought would, of course, have made him an eventual "outsider" in any organization. Nevertheless, the CIA consented to the publication of each of his books, which is surprising. He speculates about the reasons, but says he was never told why.

Scheuer is outspoken, thoughtful, and radical in the sense that he is willing to probe far below superficialities. Imperial Hubris is full of factual information, and at the conceptual level never hesitates to analyze prevailing shibboleths. It is a book of major importance that will provoke thought even for those who for one reason or another disagree fundamentally with him. No review can cover all its points. Those who are especially interested in the intelligence community per se will, of course, want to study it. We will bypass that here, however, so that we can consider some of his other areas of emphasis:

1. Scheuer sees bin Laden and Al Qaeda as a leading part of a worldwide Islamic insurgency. "Much of Islam is fighting us, and more is leaning that way." No one nation has stood as the Muslim world center since in 1924 the British "completed destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate. …

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