This review-cum-interview in Beirut's Daily Star about an anonymous new volume entitled Imperial Hubris (slated for an Oct. 25 discussion in the UFPPC Monday evening book discussion series) points out that this book breaks "with almost all trends in American discourse" by describing bin Laden as "a dangerous and worthy foe" rather than a madman or criminal, and calls the invasion of Iraq "bin Laden's gift from America, one he has long and ardently desired, but never realistically expected" -- like the 1846 Mexican War, "an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages."  --  But the author's bloody-mindedness reminds readers that a change of administration and policies is far from guaranteeing a more peaceful foreign policy....

By Hussein Ibish

** Imperial Hubris joins long list of critiques **

Daily Star (Beirut)
July 17, 2004

WASHINGTON -- An anonymous author identified only as "a senior US intelligence official" has published a new book, Imperial Hubris, blasting the Bush administration's Middle East policies. It joins a long list of other critiques of the administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the US from former senior officials, including former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and a formidable group of retired ambassadors and four-star generals.

These attacks have increasingly undermined the main thrust of U.S. President George W. Bush's re-election strategy, the argument that Americans have been well-served by and should continue to rely on his approach to counterterrorism.

The book is extremely unusual in that it has been written by a senior and still serving intelligence officer, leading to accusations that it was produced at the behest of the beleaguered U.S. intelligence services, or at least a faction within their leadership.

The author dismisses these charges as silly. Imperial Hubris is, by any measure, the strongest of these attacks, stating that because of administration policies, "the US remains Osama bin Laden's only indispensable ally."

The invasion of Iraq, it says, was "bin Laden's gift from America, one he has long and ardently desired, but never realistically expected," and "like our war on Mexico in 1846 -- an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages." The official's controversial analysis places bin Laden not at the margins, but rather at the center of political discourse in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and shows little regard for other political trends and tendencies.

"Bin Laden has exploited a political situation in the Muslim world that has been on auto-pilot for some 25 years, a total void of leadership" the intelligence official told the Daily Star. "Every culture needs heroes and the leadership of the Islamic world has been nothing to write home about -- who else is out there -- this makes him a leader by default," said the author, who, breaking with almost all trends in American discourse, describes bin Laden as "a dangerous and worthy foe" rather than a madman or criminal.

"What we need to do is to undercut his ability to grow in influence, and to me his ability is defined by our policies," he said.

Imperial Hubris argues that these policies include support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and alliances with corrupt and dictatorial Arab regimes "from Rabat to Riyadh." According to the senior intelligence official, "victory . . . lies in a yet undetermined mix of stronger military actions and dramatic foreign policy change; neither will suffice alone."

He argues that without major Middle East policy changes, the U.S. is left with no options other than "relentless, brutal and, yes, blood-soaked offensive military actions until we have annihilated the Islamists who would threaten us."

"I am not advocating this," the official explained to the Daily Star, "but we have left ourselves only one option because our policies are detested, and a great power needs to defend itself, but in the long run it is counterproductive to approach things in a strictly militarily way."

The author said: "We will have to attack when the opportunity presents itself and destroy completely what we attack -- we should have destroyed as many of the Taliban foot soldiers as we could. Our opponents looked at the supposedly most powerful army in world history and said: 'Shit, we rode that out, we're still here, we can still attack them. These people are not serious about killing us, and probably won't be serious about protecting their allies in the long term.'"

"Some exemplary use of force by the U.S. is necessary in the Middle East," he said.

He added that the U.S. was being failed by its "feckless" military as well as its political leadership. "I don't think we have generals any more, we have bureaucrats, they don't want to lose people, they don't want to hurt people, and it's a terrible situation. We should not waste troops on half-measures."

He cited the aborted U.S. siege of Fallujah in Iraq as a "dreadful loss" that reinforces in the minds of "a lot of our enemies in the Middle East that the United States does not succeed because we are afraid of casualties."

Asked about the rebuffing of efforts by Syria and Iran to establish anti-Al-Qaeda cooperation with the US, the official agreed these were "appalling missed opportunities," saying: "Better relations with Syria or Iran are impossible because of our Israel policies, it's just a nonstarter. These things need to be debated but, if you so much as mention them, you will be cast aside as an anti-Semite."

The senior official is deeply critical of the influence of Israel on U.S. policies, writing that "surely there can be no other historical example of a far away, theocracy-in-all-but-name of only about 6 million people that ultimately controls the extent and even the occurrence of an important portion of the political discourse and national security debate in a country of 270-plus million people that prides itself on religious toleration, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech."

Imperial Hubris has generated considerable attention not just because of its provocative arguments, and the fact that it has been written by a still-serving senior intelligence official, but also because of the anonymity of its author.

On June 30, the ace freelance journalist Jason Vest published an article in the Boston Phoenix identifying him as Michael Scheuer, and arguing that the forced anonymity was an attempt to limit the impact of Imperial Hubris. But on July 11, the Washington Post published excerpts from the book, claiming: "At this point, his name is about the only basic biographical detail (about the author) that hasn't become known."

The author said: "I would have preferred to use my name, and I dislike the idea that I am hiding behind anonymity, but I was asked not to by my employer, and I agreed."