CIA Terrorist Hunter: Bin Laden ‘Great’ and ‘Admirable’

NewsMax.com: Inside Cover Story (NewsMax)

In a series of bizarre comments that show the depth of the failed thinking at the nation’s premier intelligence service, the former head of the CIA unit charged with capturing or killing Osama bin Laden said on Sunday that the terror mastermind was a “remarkable,” “great” and “admirable” man. “He’s really a remarkable man,” former CIA agent Michael Scheuer told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “[He’s a] great man in many ways, without the connotation positive or negative. He’s changed the course of history.”

Scheuer’s book “Imperial Hubris,” which the CIA allowed him to publish anonymously earlier this year, was touted during the presidential campaign by critics of President Bush based on its claim that the U.S. is losing the war on terrorism. Scheuer ran the agency’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999.

While he insisted he didn’t mean to praise bin Laden, moments later the ex-CIA man told host Tim Russert that the al-Qaida chief was “an admirable man. If he was on our side, he would be dining at the White House.” “He would be a freedom fighter, a resistance fighter,” Scheuer added, suggesting that the U.S. would welcome an ally who killed 3,000 innocent office workers in a kamikaze sneak attack.

In more revealing comments, Scheuer went on to blame America’s “unqualified support for Israel” for bin Laden’s rise. “There is a perception in the Muslim world, and I think there’s a perception on the part of many Americans, that the tail is leading the dog on this case,” he told NBC. “And perception, for better or worse, is often reality.”

I’m not in the habit of reading NewsMax; I stumbled on the story via Memorandum. The story is worth commenting on, though, because, as its inclusion on Memeorandum indicates, its gaining attention in the blogosphere.

I’ve certainly been critical of Scheuer, having created a whole subcategory to discuss his various arguments. I discussed many of the views under criticism here in the first of those posts, on June 19. While Scheuer is too uncritical of the jihadist view, there’s no reason to doubt that he accurately portray’s bin Laden’s appeal. As to the “great man” business, while I’d prefer a different wording, it was clear from the Russert interview (although less clear in his two books) that he means “great” in the sense that Hitler and Stalin were great: Figures who had a tremendous impact on world history. That bin Laden, who has been directly responsible for the death of 3000+ Americans, continues to reshape the U.S. national security apparatus and domestic bureaucracy, is solely responsible for one U.S. hot war and partly responsible for a second one, meets that test is self-evident.

Scheuer’s assertion that Arab perception that we’re one-sided in our view of the Arab-Israeli conflict is one reason for bin Laden’s appeal is also obviously true. Scheuer admits, however, that changing our policy toward Israel would have little or no impact on terrorism in the short term.

There are many reasons to challenge Scheuer’s arguments, which I often find facile despite his incredible expertise on the subject of bin Laden and al Qaeda. (See my book review in Strategic Insights for a reasonably detailed one shot approach or read through my Imperial Hubris subcategory archives for more depth.) But the idea that he’s a wild-eyed, anti-Semitic lunatic is not among them.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Terrorism,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.