Saturday, November 27, 2004

Former CIA senior analyst Michael Scheuer offered little in the way of insight on the mentality of the nation’s top intelligence agency. “I think without question we’re losing the war on terror, sir,” Mr. Scheuer said last Sunday on “Meet the Press.” Fair enough, especially coming from one in the know. But this former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, and anonymous author of “Imperial Hubris,” a book that criticizes the administration’s handling of the war, has some bizarre ideas that we hope don’t become administration policy any time soon.

Top among Mr. Scheuer’s reasons why bin Laden considers the United States an enemy is our “unqualified support for Israel.” The solution? “Perhaps being more insistent on some arrangement with the [Israeli] settlements.” So bin Laden declares war against America in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was treating uber-terrorist Yasser Arafat as a legitimate statesman, and his grievance in 2004 is American support for Israel? Moreover, by Mr. Scheuer’s reckoning, bin Laden is a “remarkable man, a great man in many ways,” not to mention an “admirable man” because he “changed the course of history.” On the latter point, it was the U.S. response to September 11 that altered history.

Make no mistake, Mr. Scheuer is no apologist for bin Laden. He understands the danger al Qaeda poses to all Americans and is deeply concerned that another attack is forthcoming. Which is why his comments were so confounding: “[Bin Laden’s] agenda is not to destroy America … He simply wants us out of his neighborhood. He wants us out of the Middle East … [although] it would not change his agenda … There has to be at least a debate in the United States on the set of policies bin Laden had identified…” Right. Just as Mr. Arafat could never accept victory short of total victory (i.e. the destruction of Israel), it is foolish for the United States to assume that adhering to bin Laden’s demands would somehow defang the scourge of terrorism. The history of terrorists, in whatever form, shows that terrorists are only emboldened by displays of weakness.

The course of action Mr. Scheuer outlined falls squarely into the realist camp of foreign policy. In other words, minimal aggression with substantial caveats. It’s the same failed policy that allowed al Qaeda to hit U.S. targets with impunity throughout the 1990s and led directly to September 11. Is it any wonder why the Bush administration appointed Porter Goss as director of the CIA with the intention of cleaning house? For Mr. Bush to move forward effectively with his plans to democratize the Middle East, CIA analysts like Mr. Scheuer must know that their worldview has been proved wrong.

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