Since stepping down last week from his post as a senior CIA analyst, Michael Scheuer has hit the airwaves to criticize what he describes as America’s inept approach to fighting the war on terror.
The arguments are not new — he laid them out in his recent best-selling book, “Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.” The only difference is that while the book was published under the pseudonym Anonymous, Scheuer, who resigned earlier this month from the CIA, is now free to use his real name when blasting the Bush and Clinton administrations.
Scheuer, who headed the CIA unit in charge of the hunt for bin Laden between 1996 and 1999, has criticized the U.S. government for what he describes as missed opportunities to kill Osama bin Laden, a botched strategy in Afghanistan and the launching of a misguided war in Iraq.
One little-noticed aspect of his criticism, discussed in his recent book and elaborated in a recent interview with the Forward, is his view that Washington has failed to undertake a much-need reassessment of its policy toward Israel.
“It is in the self-interest of the United States to find a way to cut into the ability of bin Ladenism to grow in popularity and gather support in the Muslim world,” Scheuer said in an interview last weekend. “I am not saying we need to abandon Israel, but there is a perception in the Islamic world that it is a case of the tail leading the dog.… America is not perceived as an honest broker, but as backing Israel unconditionally.”
Scheuer claims that because of savvy lobbying, crucial policies in the Middle East — he cited America’s unflinching support of both Israel and Saudi Arabia — have not been debated during the past 30 years.
Scheuer denied any antisemitic leanings, after he was asked about the critical assertion he made in his book, stating that Israel, with the aid of its network of American supporters, had demonstrated an uncanny ability to stifle such a debate in the United States. He reaffirmed his strong belief in Israel’s deep influence over American policymaking.
“I admire what Israel has accomplished,” he said. “As a former intelligence official, I wish our intelligence service could acquire a basis of support and the influence in the politics of another country like the ones Israel has established here.”
While advocating bolder military and intelligence operations against radical Islamic terrorist networks, Scheuer argues those steps should be followed by a slate of economic and diplomatic initiatives, as well as policy changes, aimed at generating support for America in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
When pressed about his policy advice, Scheuer demurred, saying his thoughts were narrowly focused on American interests and that he was not a policy expert. Asked whether he was only criticizing the close relationship between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he said he felt the United States was perceived as a more honest broker under President Clinton than it is now. “Still, we have a long record of doing things perceived as pro-Israel,” he said. “My own view is that we should talk about it.”
Scheuer also blasted what he characterized as the free pass still given to Saudi Arabia, arguing that bin Laden was a “poster boy” for Saudi ideology.
Scheuer maintained that bin Laden was still firmly in control of Al Qaeda and determined to strike the United States, possibly with weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear device. He said his assertions were drawn not so much from classified intelligence he had seen over the years, but rather from a careful reading of bin Laden’s declarations.
“He has made his goals very clear,” said Scheuer, who believes that bin Laden now has become a widely popular leader in the Muslim world and should be considered as such rather than as a thug. “No one should be surprised.”
Scheuer said that after he recently complained to Congress that the CIA was not dedicating enough human resources to the analyst team working on bin Laden, the agency had assigned more personnel. Still, Scheuer said, it would take time to bring the new operatives up to date.
Scheuer is also part of the raging controversy engulfing the CIA since its incoming director, former GOP Rep. Porter Goss of Florida, clashed with senior agency officials, prompting several high-profile resignations. Goss drew criticism in some circles after announcing that the agency was expected to support the president’s policies and not engage in partisan warfare.
The CIA’s decision a few months ago to allow the publication of Scheuer’s book has been perceived by the Bush administration and its supporters as a maneuver by the agency to respond to government criticism of its failures to prevent 9/11-style attacks and to assess accurately Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, recently blasted the CIA for operating like a “rogue agency.”
Scheuer, who has turned his criticism toward the agency in recent weeks, said his writings were vetted by the agency, and that the decision to allow the publication was made by former CIA director George Tenet.
“Goss deserves a chance to run his own ship,” said Scheuer, while adding that he deplored the resignation of two top officials from the CIA’s directorate of operations. “What concerns me more is McCain’s scurrilous statement.… He is generally viewed as a centrist, moderate senator and so this gives cover to Goss to conduct a political purge. If Goss wants to retain confidence in the CIA, he would have to ask McCain to retract the statement.”