Michael Scheuer: Conspiracy Theorist?

Thomas Joscelyn has a piece today at the Weekly Standard website about a recent appearance by Imperial Hubris author Michael Scheuer at the Council on Foreign Relations.

According to Scheuer, the tiny nation of Israel is not a valuable ally in the Middle East, but instead the author of a vast conspiracy to hijack the direction of American foreign policy. Scheuer explained to the CFR crowd that Israel dictates the course of its relationship with the United States. He explained, “we can no longer afford to be seen as the dog that’s led by the tail.” Scheuer further warned, “I don’t think we can afford to be led around, or at least appear to be led around by them.”
In Imperial Hubris, Scheuer endorsed the view that widespread Muslim hatred of America is an outcome of American policies that are perceived as anti-Islamic and not the result of Muslim hatred of western ideology or culture. In advancing this argument Scheuer ignores the role that state-controlled propaganda plays in shaping popular opinion in the Middle East. He also ignores the argument that U.S. foreign policy has been, on balance, ostensibly pro-Muslim and pro-Arab.

The piece is long and worth taking a look at. Deacon pronounces Scheuer “goofy” and Cori Dauber wonders, “how many of the eager media figures who made such a point of interviewing him (his image darkened, while he was still “Anonymous,”) had actually read the book, as opposed to the publicist’s blurbs.”

Having devoted a whole string of posts and an academic book review to analyzing Scheuer’s two books, I’m hard pressed to disagree with Deacon or Dauber on those points.

However, Joscelyn’s analysis is a bit misleading. Scheuer isn’t an apologist for the Islamists, merely an analyst of their mindset. There’s little doubt that Scheuer is right in his assessment of where our enemies are coming from. While bin Laden’s pronouncements on the subject are partly propaganda, they also reflect a genuine (if, in my view, entirely irrational) rage at Western encrouchment into the Muslim world. I agree with Joscelyn that our foreign policy has often been quite pro-Muslim and with Scheuer that our support of Israel has often seemed ideological rather than purely steeped in our national interests.

More importantly, though, Joscelyn does Scheuer–and the debate on counterterrorism in general–a great disservice by accusing him of anti-Semitism for daring to discuss the issue. He quotes Scheuer:

You know to some extent, the idea that the Holocaust Museum here in our country is another great ability to somehow make people feel guilty about being the people who did the most to try to end the Holocaust. I find–I just find the whole debate in the United States unbearably restricted with the inability to factually discuss what goes on between our two countries.

Responds Joscelyn:

[This] claim, however, mimics the type of anti-Semitic propaganda that emanates from state-controlled media monopolies in the Middle East every day. Arab propagandists often accuse “the Jews” of winning “world sympathy by playing on the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities.” This is a recurring motif, for example, in Saudi state-owned newspapers. It appears that, in Scheuer’s view, Israel uses the Holocaust Museum as a way to curry favor by making people feel sorry for world Jewry.

Now, Scheuer’s formulation is rather odd, to be sure. Perhaps even, to use Deacon’s term, a bit “nutty.” But anti-Semitic? And to say that someone’s arguments are necessarily wrong simply because the Saudis make the same argument is absurd. It’s a variant of the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LT Bell says:

    Anyone that might disagree with the “bush crime family” and their Saudi allies is labeled a conspricacy theorist.

    A vote for bush is a vote for Osama

    Rapture had occured and you are still here

  2. DC Loser says:

    Joscelyn’s knee jerk response to Scheuer only serves to give creedence to Scheuer’s sentiments. Apparently one cannot criticize Israeli actions without being labeled an anti-semite.

  3. John Razzoli says:

    Joscelyn isn’t saying that Scheuer is anti-semitic, he is saying that Scheuer is “mimic”-ing the type of propaganda that “emanates” from Arab propagandists. And, that is true as he gives an example from memri.org..which you should check out.

    If you read Scheuer’s work, he repeats the propaganda that “emanates” out of the Middle East continuously.

    Scheuer isn’t dismissed as anti-semitic, the point Joscelyn makes is that Scheuer is repeating anti-Semitic propaganda. The reader is left to judge whether or not Scheuer is himself anti-semitic.

    You should read more carefully.

  4. James Joyner says:

    John: It amounts to the same thing. The fact that he repeats what the Arabs say they think when explaining what the Arabs think should not be particularly surprising.

  5. praktike says:

    No, the worst part is when he says that Scheuer approves of Bin Laden’s statements.