Sunday, February 17, 2008

Book Review: Marching Toward Hell
America and Islam After Iraq
By Michael Scheuer FREE PRESS; 364 PAGES

Todd Oppenheimer

Sunday, February 17, 2008

At this point in President Bush's "war of terror" (as Borat, uh, mistakenly put it), plenty of writers and political analysts have described this campaign's historic miscalculations. Few have done so more lethally than Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA who held the unique distinction of directing the agency's Osama bin Laden unit, until he took early retirement in 2004. Scheuer's latest book, "Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq," his third in a kind of anti-neoconservative trilogy, is no exception. Born out of frustration with six years of grievous American mistakes, it is the angriest of the three.

As befits someone of his background, Scheuer's arguments are hyper-practical, almost coldblooded. To foster what he calls a new America First policy, he believes the United States should stop intervening in trouble spots around the world - even if this means watching hordes of innocents being slaughtered, women's rights being trampled and Middle Eastern oil going to other countries. This has led many experts to call Scheuer (now famous as the anonymous author of the 2004 book "Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror") an irresponsible isolationist. Scheuer doesn't care. Those experts - journalists, academics, civil servants, military officers, pundits, preachers, philanthropists and politicians from both parties - are what Scheuer calls "the governing elite." Their collective blindness, timidity and, in some cases, their duplicity are the central targets of "Marching Toward Hell."

To make his case against foreign entanglements, Scheuer quotes America's Founding Fathers, the U.S. Constitution and the man he considers our greatest president, George Washington: " passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils," Washington once wrote. It creates "the illusion of an imaginary common interest <...> and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and Wars of the latter."

To Bush administration leaders, our successful involvement in the 20th century's two world wars discredits such isolationism. Scheuer, like many administration critics, considers the comparison false. If we had responded to 9/11 the way we did to Pearl Harbor - with "a thorough, north-to-south military flaying of our Islamist enemies in Afghanistan," as Scheuer puts it - and had stopped there, the analogy, at least to World War II, might hold. The problem, and Scheuer's chief complaint, is that Bush didn't complete that mission, and instead diluted and bastardized it into a campaign to create the Middle East of his fantasies.

Scheuer derives his view through a painstaking historical account drawn from hundreds of sources, including numerous al Qaeda statements and actions - a record so public that Scheuer can't forgive political leaders for not reaching the same conclusions. First, he argues, American actions in the Middle East - by all three recent presidents - have sent Muslims an unintended but consistent message: The United States does not understand the shifting dynamics of modern warfare, and is unsuited to win its battles. His examples begin with Vietnam and continue with the former Bush administration's failure to "destroy Saddam's state when they had the chance," President Clinton's failure to act on repeated CIA warnings about terrorists and their plans, and the current President Bush's half-fought wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq...[
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