War, Criticism & Censorship

The United States is losing the war on terrorism, according to “Anonymous,” the author of “Imperial Hubris.” The new book recently outranked Molly Ivins and Maureen Dowd on The New York Times Best Sellers list and was closing in on Bill Clinton.

The “anonymous” part didn’t last long. Outed by the media, the author is Michael Scheuer, a CIA officer. He explained in an Atlantic Monthly interview why his name isn’t on the book’s cover: “It was at the insistence of my employer that I not reveal my name or my agency of affiliation.”

As it’s turned out, the CIA isn’t too happy about the attention Scheuer is receiving. Clamping down, the agency has issued a gag order banning Scheuer from speaking publicly about intelligence matters. It requires him to give the CIA five days’ notice of all interview questions and his proposed answers.

Ironically, the muzzle the CIA now wishes to place on the debate is a perfect example of what Scheuer says in his book is wrong with U.S. intelligence and our efforts to defeat Osama bin Laden and militant Islam. “Intelligence-community careers were made by ensuring Congress heard no evil,” writes Scheuer. “We ignored realities because – in general – U.S. government foreign-policy agencies hold expertise and experience in low esteem, perhaps even contempt. Expertise is a career killer.”

Hearing nothing from “reality-prone experts,” our elected leaders get their information from “the glib but clueless,” says Scheuer, those “conversant in many topics, expert in none,” the generalists who are more interested in their fast-track careers than in any frank debate about the current mind-set that holds that America does not need to re-evaluate, let alone change, its policies. “And so,” says Scheuer, “we have disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Scheuer offers no shortage of U.S. policy positions and assumptions that call for re-evaluation if we are to avoid defeat at the hands of al-Qaida and kindred groups. He argues we must recognize that a worldwide Islamic insurgency is waging war against the United States because of our actions, not because of our values. To paint ourselves as innocents who are simply being attacked by religious madmen who “hate freedom” might be a good morale booster during wartime, but that frame of mind only masks the fact that many millions of Muslims see U.S. foreign policy as nothing less than a long-running assault on their faith, lands and resources.

Scheuer points to our “relentless support for tyrannical and corrupt Muslim regimes that are systematically dissipating the Muslim world’s energy resources for family fun and profit while imprisoning, torturing and executing domestic dissenters.” In earlier times, the case in point would be our backing of the Shah and his brutal secret police, Savak, formed under the guidance of the CIA, or the contemporary joint ventures of the United States with the corrupt, repressive rule of the Saudi royals.

“For cheap, easily accessible oil,” Scheuer says, Washington has forged an “iron tie to Arab tyrants.” Rather than giving priority to alternative-energy development, we took the path of developing a sordid half-century record of creating and safeguarding brutal tyrannies in order to satisfy our unrelenting appetite for Persian Gulf oil. The result: more dependence and more deaths.

Scheuer puts forth the questions needing debate. How many lives are we willing to pay per thousand barrels of oil? While preaching about democracy, can we even admit that our control over the resources of Muslim lands is needed to ensure our survival? Isn’t Washington’s talk of spreading freedom and democracy while practicing the support of despotism a case of pure hypocrisy? And if we now change our course and decide to support democracy over tyranny, do we even have the moral right to aggressively install secular, democratic systems in countries that give no hint of wanting them?

Scheuer sees a world in which U.S. leaders and elites are all but blind to the counterproductive nature of our policies, blind to how our actions have become a powerful force-multiplier for bin Laden and al-Qaida. Put more simply, “The U.S. invasion of Iraq is Osama bin Laden’s gift from America.”

And the answer from the CIA? Stop the interviews.

September 6, 2004