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    23 August 2006

    Michael Scheuer on National Security

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    Readers will know that I have a lot of respect for Michael Scheuer (prior here, here, and here). Dr. Scheuer is an author and an expert on NS issues and terrorism. He is 22-year CIA vet, a member of the bin Laden Unit at the Counterterrorism Center from 1996 to 1999 and Special Advisor to the Chief of the bin Laden unit from September 2001 to November the 2004. Although he is a conservative Republican, many of his views, IMO, are spot on. Anyway, he was interviewed for Harper's Magazine last week. Here is my summary, please read here.

    1) We're coming up on the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Is the country safer or more vulnerable to terrorism?
    "On balance, more vulnerable." We are safer in the air and at official transit points but that's not enough. "...our victories have been tactical and not strategic" we have killed a lot of al Qaeda operatives but we can not kill them all, nor can we "...capture them one by one and bring them to justice. There are too many of them, and more now than before September 11. ... [E]very time we interfere in Muslim countries they get more support." Basically, "...we're not safer because we're still operating on the assumption that we're hated because of our freedoms, when in fact we're hated because of our actions in the Islamic world. ... We use the term "Islamofascism" - but we're supporting it in Saudi Arabia, with Mubarak in Egypt, and even Jordan is a police state. We don't have a strategy because we don't have a clue about what motivates our enemies."

    2) Is Al Qaeda stronger or weaker than it was five years ago?

    "We keep saying that we're killing their leaders, but you notice that we keep having to kill their number twos, threes and fours all over again. They bring in replacements, and these are not novices off the street - they're understudies. ... [UBL has] always said that his primary goal is to incite attacks by people who might not have any direct contact with Al Qaeda. Since 2001, and especially since mid-2005, there's been an increase in the number of groups that were not directly tied to Al Qaeda but were inspired by bin Laden's words and actions." Basically, "..we've moved from man and organization to philosophy and movement." I'll let that be interpreted by the readers.

    3) Given all this, why hasn't there been an attack on the United States for the past five years?

    "[T]hey're not ready to do it." If they wanted to they could "shoot up a mall" but that wouldn't be as spectacular as 911, and so they wait. Besides it is easier to kill westerners in the Mid East.

    4) Has the war in Iraq helped or hurt in the fight against terrorism?

    "It broke the back of our counterterrorism program", and despite your POV, "[t]he war has validated everything bin Laden said: that the United States will destroy any strong government in the Arab world, that it will seek to destroy Israel's enemies, that it will occupy Muslim holy places, that it will seize Arab oil, and that it will replace God's law with man's law."

    5) Things seemed to have turned for the worse in Afghanistan too. What's your take on the situation there?

    The Taliban "provided nationwide law and order for the first time in 25 years; we destroyed that and haven't replaced it. They're remembered in Afghanistan for their harsh, theocratic rule, but remembered more for the security they provided. ... [O]ur only real mission there should have been to kill bin Laden and Zawahiri and as many Al Qaeda fighters as possible, and we didn't do it."

    "In the end, we'll lose and leave."

    6) Has the war in Lebanon also been a plus for the jihadists?

    "The Israel-Hezbollah battle validates bin Laden. It showed that the Arab regimes are useless, that they can't protect their own nationals, and that they are apostate regimes that are creatures of the infidels. It also showed that the Americans will let Israel do whatever it wants. ... The most salient point it showed for Islamists is that Muslim blood is cheap. Israel said it went to war to get back its captured soldiers. The price was the gutting of Lebanon. Olmert said that Israel would fight until it got its soldiers back and until Hezbollah was disarmed. Neither happened. No matter how you spin it, this will be viewed as a victory for Hezbollah."

    So yes, and that was a no-brainier.

    7) And finally, an extra question - what needs to be done?

    "We need to acknowledge that we are at war, not because of who we are, but because of what we do. We are confronting a jihad that is inspired by the tangible and visible impact of our policies. People are willing to die for that, and we're not going to win by killing them off one by one." Basically, the Muslim world hates our policies but loves our way of life. We need to accept that truth and then have our foreign policy debate. In the end this is about oil - which we are addicted to - and therefore "we can't do anything about the perception that we support Arab tyranny." "As it stands, we are going to have to fight wars if anything endangers the oil supply in the Middle East." We also need more options, and those are limited by misplaced priorities in the Middle East and around the Muslim world.

    Posted by Geoff

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