Imperial Hubris: An Author Reviews the Reviews of His Book

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Rockwell's suggestion that I review the reviews of my book, Imperial
Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism
, gives
me a unique opportunity to evaluate the success of the book in prompting
and influencing debate on the nature of America's war on Islamist
militancy, as well as to survey the range and content of the reviews
the book has received.

the book says

let me restate my intent in writing the book. My work was meant
to inform Americans about the threat Islamist militancy posed to
our country. The book is strongly nationalistic. I do not aspire
to be a citizen of the world; being an American citizen is enough
honor for one lifetime. The message I wanted to deliver can be summarized
in three points.

  1. Our
    Islamist enemies – led and personified by Osama bin Laden
    – attack America for what we do in the Muslim world, not
    for what we believe or the way we live. They attack us because
    they believe America, through its policies and actions, is tying
    to destroy Muslims and the Islamic faith. Our political leaders
    from both parties do not understand this, or, if they do, are
    willfully lying to the electorate. There is no other explanation
    for their abject wrong-headedness.

  2. The
    war in which America is engaged is a war for survival, not a
    police action, a regime-changing or nation-building exercise,
    or, least of all, a law enforcement problem. We cannot talk
    our way out of this war, and we cannot – and must not try
    – to appease our way out of it. Indeed, we are faced not
    by a choice between war and peace, but a choice between war
    and endless war.

  3. Today
    America is defending itself only through intelligence and military
    operations. These can hold the ring for a while, but to crush
    our Islamist enemy – as we must – the lethal power
    of these services must be complemented by a review of and debate
    about our policies toward the Muslim world. Not aimed at appeasement,
    this review, and the debate it engenders, would ensure that
    our long-in-place policies still serve U.S. national interests.
    If they do, fine, we will have make do with military and intelligence
    means. If they do not, we can alter them in a way that protects
    America's interests while we simultaneously destroy our foes
    at every opportunity.

book's reception

think any author would be pleased by the reception my book received.
I was not only pleased, but shocked. The book has sold more than
150,000 copies, long excerpts have appeared in the New York Times
and Washington Post, and it was on those papers' bestseller
lists for several weeks. I have had numerous opportunities to talk
about the book and my ideas on television, radio, and in print interviews,
and have been asked to present talks in several public venues. With
the exception of several sui generis Fox TV correspondents, I have
been well treated on all occasions. The best part of this media
experience has been participating in radio call-in shows. The eagerness
of Americans to seek new information, question my ideas and judgments,
and try to pin me down for specifics have reaffirmed my belief that
Americans are not the simpletons their political leaders too often
treat them as.

these many positives – for which I am genuinely grateful –
I have been disappointed by the failure of many reviewers to understand
the book's intent. This failure speaks either to the murkiness of
my prose and the weakness of my arguments, or to the agendas of
my reviewers. Likely it is a mix of both.

from the left

book has been embraced on the left by those eager to attack President
Bush and his neoconservative advisers, especially on the issue of
Iraq. I oppose the Iraq war because it made crushing our bin Laden-led
Islamist enemies vastly more difficult, and because self-initiated,
offensive wars are incompatible with the principles on which the
Founding Fathers grounded U.S. foreign policy. This said, the book
devotes only a few of three-hundred pages to Iraq, and rarely mentions
President Bush. Simply, Imperial Hubris is not about either
Iraq or President Bush.

disgorging their anti-Bush venom, reviewers on the left have consistently
referred to the "schizophrenic" nature of the book. The
argument they make on this point is that while I claim that our
Muslim foes hate and fight us because of what we do in the Islamic
world, I also assert that more and more-lethal military and intelligence
activities must be undertaken in America's defense. Well, I am guilty
as charged. At a basic level, America is suffering from the postwar
mangling of our educational system that allows the inculcation of
such errant nonsense as the idea that all wars are evil, as well
as from the willingness of our elites to preach the lie that wars
can be fought and won with few combatant casualties on either side
and even fewer civilian casualties.

As a consequence, since 2001 most of the Taleban, al Qaeda, and
the Iraqi armed forces escaped America's daintily applied wrath,
went home with their guns, and have lived to merrily fight another
day. My point was not schizophrenic, but just this: It does not
matter whether Muslims are angered by the simple fact that we intend
to kill all those who intend to kill us. What matters, and this
point was seldom caught by reviewers on the left, is that we cannot
kill 1.3 billion Muslims, that while we must in the short term kill
far greater numbers of our enemies, this lethality must be coupled
to a policy review aimed at trying to cut into the now steadily
growing numbers of Muslims willing to take up arms against America.
We cannot stop this growth in its tracks, but we can decide to use
all the tools at our command – economic, diplomatic, propaganda,
as well as military and intelligence – to slow it over time.
It does not seem to me schizophrenic to try to broaden the range
of tools available to America by adding non-lethal ones to a more
aggressive use of the lethal.

from the right

the most part, reviews of Imperial Hubris from the right
have been more straightforward and less nuanced. I am simply and
variously described as a "liberal appeaser", an "Islamist
fellow traveler", and – my personal favorite – a
"rightwing weasel" who always "blames the Jews."
The consensus on the right seems to be that my intention was to
"blame America" for the problems we are having at the
hands of Islamist militants. The use of these epithets necessarily
sets the tone and shapes the content of the reviews. Oddly, the
reviews from the right have not noted the sharp nationalistic tone
of my book, suggesting, perhaps, that the neoconservatives now in
the saddle in Washington are truly more interested in the glories
of empire than in the security of America.

is, in the American context at any rate, nothing "conservative"
about a policy of empire-building. Traditionally, as Colonel Ralph
Peters brilliantly argues, America has been the killer of empires
not their creator. American conservatism has meant regarding war
as a last, not a first resort, and going to war only to destroy
foes who present a genuine threat to America's survival. Never has
it meant or sanctioned offensive wars of our choosing, and the explicit
rejection of John Quincy Adams's timeless principle that "America
does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy."

of the reviews of my book from the right seem to me – as a
Republican diehard, a nationalist, and a moderate isolationist –
to be grounded in nothing more than repackaged Wilsonianism, a set
of ideological fantasies that have helped to soak the world in blood
since Versailles. The traditional principles of U.S. foreign policy
– non-intervention, freedom of the seas, avoiding detrimental
alliances, being the exemplar not the installer of democracy in
the world, not picking fights abroad, etc. – appear as foreign
to some of my reviewers on the right as they so manifestly are to
the neoconservatives. Many in both categories would not know the
difference between an American founder and an Atlantic flounder,
although our current foreign policy suggests that the advice guiding
it comes from minds similar in quality to the latter not the former.


So far, I have failed in terms of what I intended my book to do.
I have failed to stir any sort of substantive debate, and the nationalist,
America first – not America alone – content of my argument
has gone virtually unnoticed. I am responsible for that failure,
and will work to clarify my prose and sharpen my argumentation on
the chance I am tempted to write a third book on America's war with
Islamist militancy. There is also the chance, of course, that the
problem is not my writing, but that I have not changed with the
times. I suppose that there must be a chance that our elites are
right when they preach casualty-free wars and the efficacy of democracy
crusading; that everyday, working Americans really believe that
their liberty is safe only if we impose our brand of freedom elsewhere
at bayonet point; and that, to do so, American parents are gladly
willing to spend the lives of their sons and daughters to ensure
foreigners are just like us. Call me stubborn, but if there is anyone
in non-elite America who believes this I would like to meet them
because, as George Strait sings, I have some ocean-front property
in Arizona to sell.

7, 2005

Scheuer [send him mail] is
the author of Imperial
Hubris and Through Our Enemies’ Eyes
. He recently resigned
after 22 years at the CIA.

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