Ex-CIA G-man takes hard look at the GWOT, offers even harder suggestions

imperial hubris cover

I held off writing a review of this book straight off after I’d finished it, because I wanted time to digest its controversial contents and views regarding the way the GWOT has been conducted thus far, in view of other material I’ve read. The author, who has since been identified as Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who had been on the bin Laden case since the early 1990s, doesn’t mince words; in fact, some of his analogies and ironies are downright bitter and caustic. Also, the “West” in the subtitle seems a misnomer, since Scheuer refers solely to America’s conduct of the GWOT. Here’re my observations about some of Scheuer’s key points:

1. Scheuer criticises the American obsession with surgical strikes and instant wars, partly as a result of its Vietnam syndrome, for the failure to commit sizeable forces at the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and consequently creating 2 half- and badly-fought wars with no end in sight. As many others like Ricks and Packer have commented, this is a valid point. However, his assumption that the enemy can only be defeated by fighting a conventional war misses the point. Yes, more troops should have been committed to secure borders and prevent looting in both theaters, but a full-scale ground assault would probably have created its own problems. In any case, whether the enemy is classified as ‘terrorists’ or ‘insurgents’ – Scheuer prefers the latter – there is no doubt that the US failed to develop a viable counterinsurgency as well as a post-war stability strategy in both theaters.

2. While Scheuer is correct to say that al Qaeda offensives are in response to, and are targeted at, specific US foreign policy and military actions, his view that the enemy should not be classified as ‘terrorists’ because the term implies enemies who are state sponsored and must be dealt with primarily using law-enforcement offensives is a little off. There is every indication that tracking and freezing terrorist finances does and have worked, if laws are employed to preempt and deter acts of terrorism in the homeland and abroad.

3. Scheuer claims, because a sizeable number of Muslims worldwide have been successfully drawn to (he prefers the analogy ‘infected by’) bin Laden’s rhetoric, that the US is at war with Islam. This is somewhat erroneous. While the Afghanistan and Iraq wars are indeed jihadist magnets, there is no indication that the majority of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims have operationalised or intend to operationalise their supposed radicalism, even if they arguably have legitimate grievances against US policies in the Middle East (which Scheuer admits and lists). It may be more accurate to say that there has been a broadly awakened and active Islamic reaction against specific US policies, some of have taken the form of radical extremist responses. By calling for a total war with what he claims to be ‘a larger international Sunni Islamist insurgency’, Scheuer risks self-fulfilling a ‘clash of civilisations’ where there is none.

4. Still, Scheuer is largely correct in his calls for the US to rethink its blind support for Israel and her policies, as well as to establish energy independence by making a concerted effort to develop alternative energies.

Overall, a good book that takes a hard look at what’s been happening to the GWOT, but I recommend that it should be read in concert with other material so as to obtain a broader perspective.


One Response to “Ex-CIA G-man takes hard look at the GWOT, offers even harder suggestions”

  1. Aa Says:

    Just been going through your site. Its pretty interesting.
    Interesting books and reviews…
    Just added some to my reading links…

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