And I don't just mean that it's crackpot talk (it is and fisking will soon commence) but the simple fact is that someone who praises Imperial Hubris as an accurate work cannot intellectually support the positions he takes here. Which is yet a further indication that his interests when it comes to terrorism have nothing to do with facts and everything to do with politics.
UPDATE: Because I'm too cranky today to let this go ...
Usamah Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri murdered 3,000 Americans, and they both issued tapes in the past week, blustering and threatening us with more of the same. Most of us aren't wild about paying for the Bush administration with our taxes, but one thing we have a right to expect is that our government would protect us from mass murderers and would chase them down and arrest them. It has not done that. When asked why he hasn't caught Bin Laden, Bush replies, "Because he's hidin'." Is Bush laughing at us?Well Juan, it's like this. Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are either in northern Pakistan or eastern Iran according to the majority and minority positions within the intelligence community respectively. If you want to call for a conventional military invasion of either nation, that's fine, but somehow I doubt that. Accepting that the military option is removed from the table for the time being, that leaves us with the lengthy process of disrupting their network and command and control capacities respectively. Yet whenever we do so, at least under the auspices of the Bush administration, we have Juan and many of his fellow travelers moaning and complaining over just that on the grounds that it only creates more terrorism.
Of course, as it turns out, Juan doesn't believe that al-Qaeda is all that big a threat to begin with:
On September 11, 2001, the question was whether we had underestimated al-Qaeda. It appeared to be a Muslim version of the radical seventies groups like the Baader Meinhoff gang or the Japanese Red Army. It was small, only a few hundred really committed members who had sworn fealty to Bin Laden and would actually kill themselves in suicide attacks. There were a few thousand close sympathizers, who had passed through the Afghanistan training camps or otherwise been inducted into the world view. But could a small terrorist group commit mayhem on that scale? Might there be something more to it? Was this the beginning of a new political force in the Middle East that could hope to roll in and take over, the way the Taliban had taken over Afghanistan in the 1990s? People asked such questions.Um, no offense, but I'd consider what happened on 3/11 as being a pretty big operation in and of itself - something that neither Baader Meinhof nor the Japanese Red Army would ever even have been able to attempt. Imperial Hubris, which Juan read and favorably reviewed at the time of its debut (perhaps because he figured that Scheuer shared his two sacred cows, namely hatred of Bush and of Israel) contains a whole litany of post-9/11 al-Qaeda operations as well as a comparison of the organization to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia - a comparison that one would think any serious historian would read and appreciate. His description of the bankgrounds of average al-Qaeda members likewise belies the research done by people like Mark Sageman - research that Juan is clearly familiar enough with to cite the lack of Iraqis in Sageman's studies in a Pavlov-esque fashion whenever he gets the opportunity to do so.
Over four years later, there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is a small terrorist network that has spawned a few copy-cats and wannabes. Its breakthrough was to recruit some high-powered engineers in Hamburg, which it immediately used up. Most al-Qaeda recruits are marginal people, people like Zacarias Moussawi and Richard Reid, who would be mere cranks if they hadn't been manipulated into trying something dangerous. Muhammad al-Amir (a.k.a Atta) and Ziad Jarrah were highly competent scientists, who could figure the kinetic energy of a jet plane loaded with fuel. There don't seem to be significant numbers of such people in the organization. They are left mostly with cranks, petty thieves, drug smugglers, bored bank tellers, shopkeepers, and so forth, persons who could pull off a bombing of trains in Madrid or London, but who could not for the life of them do a really big operation.
The Bush administration and the American Right generally has refused to acknowledge what we now know. Al-Qaeda is dangerous. All small terrorist groups can do damage. But it is not an epochal threat to the United States or its allies of the sort the Soviet Union was (and that threat was consistently exaggerated, as well).Except Juan, that you apparently know more about al-Qaeda than you're telling given your past comments, which indicates that you're more interested in railing against the Bush administration than you are in appreciating the facts of this issue. This isn't the first time that this has happened - recall his earlier remarks that bin Laden had launched 9/11 in retaliation for Israeli actions in Jenin that didn't occur until the spring of 2002, followed by his absurd accusation that Martin Kramer was some kind of a Mossad agent for daring to call him on it. It's stuff like this, combined with his conspiracy theories, that makes me so leery about trusting his more dispassionate stuff.
In fact, the United States invaded a major Muslim country, occupied it militarily, tortured its citizens, killed tens of thousands, tinkered with the economy-- did all those things that Muslim nationalists had feared and warned against, and there hasn't even been much of a reaction from the Muslim world. Only a few thousand volunteers went to fight. Most people just seem worried that the US will destabilize their region and leave a lot of trouble behind them. People are used to seeing Great Powers do as they will. A Syrian official before the war told a journalist friend of mine that people in the Middle East had been seeing these sorts of invasions since Napoleon took Egypt in 1798. "Well," he shrugged, "usually they leave behind a few good things when they finally leave."Ignoring the blatant misrepresentations of what actually happened in Iraq here (and the pseudo-implication that more Arabs should be willing to go to jihad against the evil Bushitler), no one is disputing that a few thousand volunteers went to go fight in Iraq in 2003. He forgets (possibly because he still supports it) that thousands upon thousands of Pakistanis went to go fight in Afghanistan after 9/11 as well - according to media reports, one cleric organized as many as 8,000 volunteers. Indeed, the precise reason why there was no major outbreak of Islamic terrorism during the war was because al-Qaeda's operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been captured immediately beforehand and the network was thus in disarray.
Now, let us take a look at Juan's flaws:
1. Bush vastly exaggerates al-Qaeda's size, sweep and importance, while failing to invest in genuine counterterrorist measures such as port security or security for US nuclear plants.Actually, the view is held by the former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit that Bush actually understates the importance and threat of both bin Laden and al-Qaeda and former Senator Bob Graham (untainted by that icky "R" label) has argued that there are between 70-110,000. As far as genuine counterterrorist measures, those are all well and good, but if beefing up security are the only ones that Juan can think of off-hand that just goes to show how reactive his thinking is on this issue.
2. Bush could have eradicated the core al-Qaeda group by putting resources into the effort in 2002. He did not, leaving al-Zawahiri and Bin Laden to taunt us, inspire our enemies and organize for years after the Taliban were defeated. It would be as though Truman had allowed Hitler to broadcast calls for terrorism against the US from some hiding place as late as 1949.Short of invading northern Pakistan or eastern Iran, it doesn't seem that he could have. I think that this is a reference to Tora Bora, but that was back in December 2001 and if Juan is going to imprecise in his criticisms I'm going to have to be imprecise in my fisking since I have neither the time nor the desire to probe the true intentions of his mind.
3. Bush opened a second front against Iraq before he had put Afghanistan on a sound footing.Debateable. The Taliban didn't really get around to reorganizing until they set up their 10-man council and that was well after the invasion of Iraq.
4. Bush gutted the US constitution, tossing out the Fourth Amendment, by assiduously spying on Americans without warrants. None of those spying efforts has been shown to have resulted in any security benefits for the United States. Bush says that he wants to watch anyone who calls the phone numbers associated with al-Qaeda. But some of those phone numbers were for food delivery or laundry. We want a judge to sign off on a wire tap so that innocent Americans are not spied on by the government.Except that this isn't a gross mismanagement of the fight against al-Qaeda. It may well constitute an abuse of power and a host of other things, but arguing that this is some kind of debacle in the fight against al-Qaeda is counter-intuitive at best.
5. Bush attempted to associate the threat from al-Qaeda with Iran and Syria. Iran is a fundamentalist Shiite country that hates al-Qaeda. Syria is a secular Arab nationalist country that hates al-Qaeda. Indeed, Syria tortured al-Qaeda operatives for Bush, until Bush decided to get Syria itself. Bush and Cheney have cynically used a national tragedy to further their aggressive policies of Great Power domination.Allegations of Syrian involvement in al-Qaeda deals primarily with their role in the Iraqi insurgency, a role Juan has yet to acknowledge because it depends on the time of day and the phase of the moon as to whether or not he thinks Zarqawi even exists. As for al-Qaeda and Iran, Juan had better include Dick Clarke on his list of people who are using 9/11 to "further their aggressive policies of Great Power domination." My, how clever Bush and Cheney are in planning their schemes.
6. Bush by invading Iraq pushed the Iraqi Sunni Arabs to desert secular Arab nationalism. Four fifths of the Sunni Arab vote in the recent election went to hard line Sunni fundamentalist parties. This development is unprecedented in Iraqi history. Iraqi Sunni Arabs are nationalists, whether secular or religious, and there is no real danger of most of them joining al-Qaeda. But Bush has spread political Islam and has strengthened its influence.This is one of the things that I mean when I say that Juan's criticisms are so unhinged that it makes him difficult to take seriously. Saddam, for all his vaunted secularism, became quite the Islamist after the Gulf War and launched his Return to Faith campaign, with the result being that most of Iraq's Sunni Arabs have grown up under Islamist indoctrination. This was one of the main criticisms of Saddam made by Hussein Kamel upon his defection. But no, everything bad in Iraq must of course be the result of George Bush, not Saddam's actions. And while the reader is pondering that, the reader must ask by what basis does Juan argue that Sunni Arabs were uniformly secular nationalists prior to 2003? Was a poll conducted under Saddam Hussein or something?
7. Bush diverted at least one trillion dollars in US security spending from the counter-terrorism struggle against al-Qaeda to the Iraq debacle, at the same time that he has run up half a trillion dollar annual deficits, contributing to a spike in inflation, harming the US economy, and making the US less effective in counterterrorism.Juan, of course, refuses to regard any action against al-Qaeda in Iraq (whose actions have been a major cause behind the increased spending) as legitimate because of his schizophrenic attitude towards its existence. The problem, however, is his rather than that of the administration. I would also love to hear his explanation of how fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq makes the US less effective in counterterrorism.
8. Counterterrorism requires friendly allies and close cooperation. The Bush administration alienated France, Germany and Spain, along with many Middle Eastern nations that had long waged struggles of their own against terrorist groups. Bush is widely despised and has left America isolated in the world. Virtually all the publics of all major nations hate US policy. One poll showed that in secular Turkey where Muslim extremism is widely reviled and Bin Laden is generally disliked, the public preferred Bin Laden to Bush. Bush is widely seen as more dangerous than al-Qaeda. This image is bad for US counterterrorism efforts.
Bush may be hated internationally, though given his track record here I'm extremely skeptical of his reporting on polls. As for US counterterrorism cooperation with Europe, all of the available evidence suggests that despite public dislike of the US (whose foreign policy should not be run as a popularity contest), our working relationships with all of the European governments listed above remains nothing short of excellent and professional. Far more so for all the Middle East governments that depend on the US for aid and support.
9. Bush transported detainees to torture sites in Eastern Europe. Under European Union laws, both torture and involvement in torture are illegal,and European officials can be tried for these crimes. HOw many European counterterrorism officials will want to work closely with the Americans if, for all they know, this association could end in jail time? Indeed, in Washington it is said that a lot of our best CIA officers are leaving, afraid that they are being ordered to do things that are illegal, and for which they could be tried once another administration comes to power in Washington.First of all, Juan fails (perhaps deliberately) to recognize a little fact that is always known but never mentioned: European governments have from the beginning been completely and totally complicit in both rendition and secret detention facilities. There's a reason that Abu Atiya, whom the French captured quite independently, is currently being held in Jordanian custody. Most of the Continent's governments are complicit in this, so if Juan is going to complain about it, he had better get a longer list of people rail against other than Bush and Cheney including Chirac, Schroeder, and Zapatero.
10. Bush's failure to capture Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri allows them to continue to grandstand, to continue to frighten the public, to continue to affect financial markets, and to continue to plot. Al-Zawahiri almost certainly plotted the 7/7 London subway bombings himself, and gloated about it when he issued Muhammad Siddique Khan's suicide statement. Misplaced Bush priorities are getting our allies hit. The CIA is reduced to firing predators at villages because our counterterrorism efforts have been starved for funds by the Iraq quagmire. If al-Qaeda does pull off another American operation, it may well give Bush and Cheney an opportunity to destroy the US constitution altogether, finally giving Bin Laden his long-sought revenge on Americans for the way he believes they have forced Palestinians and other Muslims to live under lawless foreign domination or local tyranny.Emphasis mine, in large part because that is one of the most whack-job interpretation of al-Qaeda and its objectives that I have ever seen. Neither bin Laden nor al-Zawahiri have ever said anything even remotely like that to my knowledge - near as I can tell, Juan just pulled it out of completely out of thin air. And that's sort of the problem, actually. He intends for this to be some kind of definitive critique of the Bush administration's efforts in the war on terrorism, but what we get instead is his personal complaint list with a hefty dose of BDS thrown in for good measure. There are a great many critiques that can be made of the administration's conduct in the war on terrorism, Cole has even cited some in a Pavlovian fashion with regard to Imperial Hubris. A pity he didn't actually retain some of that knowledge, otherwise this might have been a more "informed" comment.