Saturday, July 03, 2004

An "Anonymous" vision of World War III

You may have read that the “Anonymous” intelligence professional who wrote the upcoming book Imperial Hubris has lost his anonymity. His name is Michael Scheuer, and he is the CIA’s primary expert on Osama Bin Laden. Revealing his name does not replicate the Plame outrage, since Scheuer is an analyst, not an undercover operative. Apparently, he never embraced the “Anonymous” façade, which the Agency foisted upon him.

Scheuer reminds me of another “anonymous” intelligence insider -- the one who revealed that the infamous Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001 (titled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States”) was originally much longer than the version released to the public. Could Scheuer be the source? Could he have revealed the existence of the PDB in the first place?

If so, we may presume that Imperial Hubris, published with the acquiescence of the CIA’s public review board, represents another volley in the war between Langley and the neocons. The Boston Phoenix relays Agency scuttlebutt that former DCI George Tenet pushed publication in order to deflect some of the heat directed his own way. In his latest book, Scheuer blasts the FBI, the Bush and Clinton administrations – and, to some degree, his own employer.

Despite the wisdom of his policy critique, I find Scheuer’s weltanschauung troubling. His outlook may be described as neoconservatism stripped of illusions. His is a stance so nakedly brutal, few on either the right or the left will embrace it. Despite his manifold criticisms of the Iraq and Afghan misadventures, Scheuer continues to see the world in terms of “clash-of-civilizations” theory. His vision of the future reeks of cordite and carrion.

He scoffs -- correctly -- at the big lie that Osama Bin Laden attacked the United States because he “hates freedom.” The truth, says Scheuer, is that Bin Laden declared war on us in response to our Middle East policy. When Scheuer uses the word “policy” in this context, he primarily means our policy toward Israel -- the nation we dare not criticize, the nation we customarily assign to elephant-in-the-living-room status.

As Talking Points Memo summarized:
But Anonymous doesn't really consider it possible for the U.S. to answer bin Laden in a battle of ideas throughout the Islamic world: U.S. support for what many Muslims may see as unjust policies has drained us of our credibility, he argues. He combines that critique with a rejection of anything resembling democracy promotion. Woodrow Wilson, to Anonymous, is a "bloody-handed fantasist." Insisting on democratic reform in the Muslim world then becomes naïve futility--even though one of Bin Laden's rallying cries is, as Anonymous puts it, U.S. support for "tyrannical Muslim governments."

Without the option to work for reform, a large portion of what Anonymous advocates is essentially a policy of brutal and unforgiving war.

Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. … [S]uch actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.
Is Scheuer truly as bloodthirsty as he here seems? I wonder. He may be playing an interesting psychological game: ‘Yes, we can go down that road,’ he is telling us, ‘but have no illusions as to where the journey will bring us.’

George W. Bush speaks dreamily of creating new democracies throughout the Arab world. Alas, the concept of democracy appeals neither to the region’s current rulers nor to their Salafist discontents who have cornered the market in Muslim dissent. Thus, the likely result of American intervention in Egypt or Saudi Arabia (to name the two biggest prizes on the neocon wish list) will be mass carnage.

As Scheuer points out, most Muslims now scoff at our pro-democracy propaganda. Why? Because the Unites States has lost credibility in that part of the world. Why? Because our dollars pay for the slow-motion genocide of a largely Islamic population.

Scheuer, we should note, always frames his argument with a qualifying “if.” If we continue to maintain our policies –- if we continue to ignore the elephant -- then we must become butchers without historical parallel.

But is Scheuer’s “scorched earth” option truly an option? Our rapidly draining stores of treasure cannot fund such an adventure. Nor would the rest of the world tolerate it. If America turns Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt into radioactive slaughterhouses, we will invite a worldwide hatred keener than any directed toward the Third Reich or the Soviet Union. Americans who scoff at world reaction should ask themselves how long those other two great pariah states lasted.

Who would do business with us? Could our troubled economy survive an international trade boycott? Do we want former allies to target us with nuclear weapons?

We run the risk of creating this nightmarish world if we follow Scheuer’s prescription. I doubt that the American people may not tolerate his “scorched earth” vision, despite undergoing decades of preperatory propaganda. Even after terrorists have reduced much of Chicago to nuclear cinders -- and just such an attack will occur -- our citizens may balk at the task of retaliatory genocide. No amount of Murdochian mind-laundering can transform our servicemen into the happy incinerators of an innocent multitude.

How to avert this catastrophe? Remember, everything hinges on the word “if.” If we deal with the elephant in the living room -- if we do the right thing right now -- the world may avoid the grim fate Scheuer forecasts.

America need not maintain policies toward Israel that the rest of the world -- and even a blessedly large proportion of our own Jewish population -- damns as unfair. Our leaders must learn to stop cowering every time someone flings the label “anti-Semite” at those who oppose the cruelty of Ariel Sharon. America can take strong action to reign in Israel’s outrageous behavior. This would mean, at a minimum, shutting off the money spigot and thereby forcing a humbled Israeli government to the bargaining table. We should endorse a “single state” solution: Universal voting rights for all inhabitants of territory now under Israeli control, along with a right of return not circumscribed by racism.

Needless to say, if the next president were to choose this course, both mainstream media pundits and the fundamentalist fulminators would unite in high-decibel outrage. To deflect that outrage, our government need but open a few files and reveal secrets embarrassing to Israel. Those who have read the books of Victor Ostrovsky will have some idea of the material available. The president should emphasize that, just as the crimes of Osama Bin Laden do not reflect on the average Muslim, so too the crimes of the hawks in the Israeli government do not reflect on the average Israeli or the average Jew.

Some will argue any change in our stance toward Israel would constitute capitulation to terrorism. No great nation can change policy under the gun. But we cannot consign the Palestinians to ethnic cleansing merely to spite a few Salafist fanatics who claim to act in their name.

Suppose some madman were to kill your child in order to protest a polluting factory. No-one could, or should, forgive such a crime. But would our outrage at that crime justify tolerating the pollution that gave birth to it?

Our "see no evil" stance toward Israel helped give birth to the Salafist monster. It is possible to eradicte both the monster and the evil that sired it.

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