"Anonymous" has certainly accomplished his stated goal of contributing to a debate in the U.S. over foreign policy. He was the head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit in the late '90s, was interviewed as "Mike" in Coll's book GHOST WARS (see my review), and is still a CIA analyst. Most of us by now have figured out that he is Mike Scheuer. Sun Tzu said "know yourself, know your enemy," and Scheuer's main goal in IMPERIAL HUBRIS is to share what he knows about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, arguing that the official view is totally and dangerously wrong. It seems to me that Scheuer is for the most part right on target with his critique. There is one major problem with his proposal for what to do about it, which I will address below.
Here is a list of Scheuer's main points:
1) Osama bin Laden (OBL) is neither an evil madman or just a criminal -- he is a highly competent, religiously motivated, charismatic leader who we had best take seriously.
2) Al Qaeda is not a terrorist organization, but is rather part of and attempting to lead a global Muslim insurgency.
3) OBL & Al Qaeda are not opposed to the U.S. because of "who we are," (ie, "we stand for freedom"), but because of what we do -- because of specific aspects of U.S. foreign policy.
4) The doctrine that informs OBL/Al Qaeda is that of DEFENSIVE JIHAD -- they see the Muslim world under attack by the U.S., and call upon scripture to support defensive military action by all faithful members of the "umma" (the universal body of Islam).
5) OBL has repeatedly stated five demands for changes in U.S. foreign policy: i) end all aid to Israel, ii) withdraw military forces from the Arabian Peninsula and all Muslim territory, iii) end all involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, iv) end U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims in China, Russia, India and elsewhere, and v) restore Muslim control of the Islamic world's energy resources for the benefit of Muslims. A sixth point is to replace U.S.-backed regimes in the Muslim world with Islamic regimes, but that is really a demand on the Muslim population.
6) The war in Afghanistan was a failure from the beginning, because OBL & the other leaders were allowed to escape at the beginning, and because the U.S. is just propping up Karzai in Kabul while the rest of the country is still in the hands of warlords and the Taliban.
7) The offensive invasion and occupation of Iraq was a huge gift to OBL -- it has just tied down more U.S. forces that otherwise could be fighting Al Qaeda, and it has become potent evidence for OBL's claim that the U.S. is aggressively targeting the Muslim world.
8) Scheuer concludes that at this point there is no choice but to resolve to fight a relentless war against the Al Qaeda-led insurgency. However, if the U.S. took action on the list of demands, it could undercut the insurgency dramatically. Scheuer argues that the U.S. should move to energy sufficiency, stop propping up corrupt regimes like Saudi Arabia, and remove itself as a target of the so far effective-because-largely-true propaganda campaign of the insurgents. There is no contradiction here, as some readers think. Changing political policies AND waging a more effective military campaign are both parts of an overall strategy, and only one-dimensional thinkers would imagine that it's an either/or choice.
If Scheuer is largely correct, then what's the problem? As I see it, the problem is that Scheuer doesn't seem to know nearly as much about counterinsurgency doctrine as he does about Al Qaeda and Afghanistan, which is his area of specialization. He disparages police work (including the FBI) and calls for greater application of military force (just not in the places the Bush Administration has applied it). But the problem is, an insurgency can no more be defeated through conventional military means than a terrorist group. He should know -- Afghanistan itself is striking evidence -- but the record is clear whether you look at Vietnam, or anywhere else. Insurgents, guerrilla forces, engaged in asymmetrical conflict, are rarely if ever defeated on the battlefield. This is why Scheuer's use of the Civil War as an analogy makes no sense. The South was not an insurgency -- Northern generals were fighting an army, and when that army was defeated, so was the South. So the distinction between terrorism and insurgency, which Scheuer thinks is so crucial, does not lead to the conclusion he comes to at all. Actually, it's worse than that, because if the U.S. was to adopt the sort of scorched-earth scenario he proposes (granted, he says it would only be necessary if we don't change our self-destructive policies), we would provoke that much more determined opposition. The U.S. armed forces, no matter how big and powerful, can't just kill 1.2 billion Muslims.
In fact, the counterinsurgency literature suggests that political legitimacy is the key to victory. The regime or regimes under attack have to make reforms and address the grievances that are fuelling the insurgency -- then it stops growing and starts to shrink. Along with that, good intelligence and police work are vital. Scheuer's call for changing U.S. policy implicitly recognizes this, but he doesn't absorb it fully into his argument, as indicated by his failure to appreciate solid police work. There is a reason that urban insurgency rarely succeeds -- it is much easier to surveil and capture individuals on urban terrain than in remote jungles and mountains. Of course the U.S., an invading army with virtually no intelligence sources in the population in Iraq, is maximizing the effectiveness of the Sunni urban insurgency in and around Baghdad. And whether we should have any confidence in U.S. intelligence inside the territory of our allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, I'll let you judge.
I disagree with Scheuer's call to drill in ANWR as part of becoming energy sufficient. It's unnecessary, there's not that much oil there -- what we need is an all-out push for renewable energy. But Mike Scheuer is a conservative, a tough-minded Catholic conservative. He is brave to go public with this scathing critique of U.S. policy. I salute his public service, and I hope that his voice is being heard in policymaking circles. But I'm not holding my breath.