Friday, August 20, 2004

Criticism from a foot-soldier in the War on Terror

Babble on.

Today's Guardian has an interesting interview with Mike Scheuer, the CIA analyst who anonymously wrote Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. If you look past the Guardian's editorial axe-grinding, and take into consideration the fact that Scheuer may be overly critical given that his career has gone precisely nowhere in the past five years, there are some thought-provoking points made.

If his assessment of the CIA's work on bin Laden is accurate, it is damning criticism indeed:

Scheuer says that nearly three years after the September 11 attacks the US intelligence team dedicated to tracking down Bin Laden is still less than 30 strong - the size it was when he left in 1999. The CIA claims that the Bin Laden team is hundreds strong, but Scheuer is insistent that the apparent expansion is skin-deep. "The numbers are big, but it's a shell game. It's people they move in for four or five months at a time and then bring in a new bunch. But the hard core of expertise, of experience, of savvy really hasn't expanded at all since 9/11."

Scheuer's indictment of the political leadership that failed to kill bin Laden years earlier when the U.S. had the opportunity is a familiar story. The rebuttal is insightful, however:

"Mike's is the viewpoint of the soldier versus the viewpoint of a general," argues Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of operations at the CIA's Counter-Terrorist Centre. "There are political judgments made at a higher pay grade. I've been at both sides of that equation and they are difficult judgments to make."

The tension between tactical and strategic decision-making never goes away, because it's always better to 'lose the battle but win the war.' The question is whether the war is being won. And Scheuer challenges those who believe it is:

"I don't think they get it yet. I still think there's a large group in the American intelligence community who talk about the next big attack but really believe 9/11 was a one-off," he says. "I think they believe their own rhetoric that they've killed two-thirds of the al-Qaida leadership, when they killed two-thirds of what they knew of."

One of the reasons I'm inclined to listen to Scheuer's points is that he understands the one fundamental truth that escapes so many other critics of the U.S. war on terror:

Ultimately, "we only have the choice between war and endless war".

Babble off.


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