Imperial Hubris II

Over the weekend, I wrote a rather lengthy analysis of Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, the first book by “Anonymous,” the senior intelligence officer whose second book, Imperial Hubris: How the West is Losing the War on Terror, is due out in a few weeks.

Guesting at TPM, Spencer Ackerman has an interesting interview with Anonymous. Spencer makes an important correction of the widely-quoted Guardian account of the book, which portrays the author as

animated in no small measure by “contempt for the Bush White House and its policies.” That’s a bit wide of the mark. Does the book exhibit contempt for the administration’s policies? Certainly. It also takes a dim view of the White House’s conception of what motivates al-Qaeda and how to fight it. But in the book and in an interview, Anonymous doesn’t traffic in Bush-bashing. He has much harsher words to say about the leadership of the intelligence community, whom he faults for bending too far to the predispositions of the policymakers they serve.

ANONYMOUS: The intelligence community, and especially the CIA, serve the president. I think the mistakes that were made [in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terrorism broadly] were probably made by the intelligence community not having the balls to stand up and to say any number of things that were knowable. “Mr. President, the people we’re backing in Afghanistan will not be able to form a government and will ensure continued war and instability.” “Mr. President, if you attack Iraq you will be giving bin Laden a gift.” “Mr. President, we don’t have enough [intelligence] officers and people to run two wars at a time.” “Mr. President, all of the reporting about Iraqi WMD is coming from opposition politicians, and you have to take it with a massive grain of salt.?

I tend to blame, as I do in the book, a leadership generation in the intelligence community that is more interested in its next promotion and its career prospects than it is in talking about hard issues. Somebody needed to go and say, not just to Mr. Bush, but to Mr. Clinton, “Mr. President, this is a war about Islam. You can say all you want that it’s not a war about religion, but it is.” And it’s much more so now than in 1992, and still no one will say it.

Based on my reading of TOEE, I came to that conclusion as well.

I’m afraid that the title of the book, added to the rather interesting rhetorical approach that I critiqued in my previous post, will very much give the impression that this book is anti-American and, especially, anti-Bush foreign policy. It’s an excellent marketing strategy–there are so many books on the war out there at this point that one must generate buzz–but may wind up turning away readers from the Right and disappointing those on the Left. Indeed, the “understanding” tone he takes explaining why bin Laden is so revered is intended to demonstrate why we are in a brutal clash of civilizations.

Kevin Drum feared that Anonymous was calling for total war, so he e-mailed Abraham for confirmation. Based on his galley copy of the book, Abraham provides it:

So, what does it mean to be at war with Islam? First, it means we must accept this reality and act accordingly. Second, it means a U.S. policy status quo in the Muslim world ensures a gradually intensifying war for the foreseeable future, one that will be far more costly than we now imagine. Third, it means we will have to publicly address issues ? support for Israel, energy self-sufficiency, and the worldwide applicability of our democracy ? long neglected and certain to raise bitter, acrimonious debates that will decide whether the American way of life survives or shrinks to a crabbed, fearful, and barely recognizable form. (250)

Abraham follows up with a second post at TPM. There’s also more at Kevin’s, including some interesting commentary.

The reaction to this book will be quite interesting. His first book is still widely read mainly, for reasons I’ve alluded to, by Leftist policy wonks who oppose Bush’s handling of the war. While this book will certainly do that, it appears to be an attack based on being insufficiently hawkish. My guess is the Left won’t be too excited about the prescription, and especially his vehement rejection of Wilsonian principles. Nor will much of the Right.

I’ve been promised a copy of the book when it comes off the presses in a couple of weeks and will write a more extensive review of it for publication elsewhere, which I’ll share here as well. Stay tuned.

Update: Matt Yglesias: “I’m enough of a knee-jerk partisan that when I heard an anonymous important government official guy was about to publish a book arguing that George W. Bush was screwing everything up, I just assumed I would love it.” As it turns out, not so much.

Other OTB posts relating to Anonymous and his books:

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Democracy, Iraq War, Religion, 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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    This reminds me about how the recent Bob Woodward book was misanticipated based on the pre-release marketing — widely expected to be another Bash Bush attack, and even presented as such by Woodward in a television interview. Then when the book came out everyone (including Woodward) did a one-eighty on what it was really about.

    Moral: Don’t trust the pre-release marketing hype, including author interviews. I’ll wait for the reviews.

  2. Joseph Marshall says:

    One of the most annoying things about the “conservative” point of view in this country is the assumption that our partisan squabbles are all important no matter what the issue.

    As a most definite “liberal” myself, what I want most from the War on Terror is Bin Laden off the scene and his organization destroyed. What I want next is a foreign policy that does not encourge its recrudescence. We have neither at the moment.

    I look forward to reading “Imperial Hubris” because it apparently details why George W. Bush has simply flat out failed to do this when it has been fully within his power to do so, or at least to start the process.

    I have other reasons for disliking both the ideology, the “theology” (if you can call it that), and the style of George W., but they are irrelevant to the simple question of whether he has been fighting the War On Terror in a way which is inane and ineffective. I think he has, Anonymous appears to agree with me, and most of the “conservative” element hasn’t the face to even consider the question because they are so fantasy of themselves as the only truly patriotic Americans.

    I repeat, what I want is effective policy. We are not getting it and have not been getting it since we flubbed the invasion of Afghanistan. What, I wonder, do my “conservative” fellow Americans, really want?

  3. James Joyner says:


    Nobody currently in a position of any significant influence, of either party, is proposing to do anything like what Anonymous proposes. The Clinton administration “flubbed” this for eight years despite repeated al Qaeda attacks. The problem is that the American political consciousness is simply not ready to fight barbarism with barbarism.

  4. Joseph Marshall says:

    Does anyone seriously propose to eliminate Islam from the world (or America) by force? Or to behead terrorist suspects instead of interrogating them? You fight “barbarism” with “civilization” and, most particularly, with civilized intelligence, something we’ve seen very little of in American policy lately. This is a matter of knowing when and how to apply force for the maximum effect with the minimum waste.

    Since the battle of Tora Bora we’ve been treated to a spectacular–and largely useless–display of American ordinance (remember “shock and awe”?) and bumbling officiousness in a country that was mostly irrelevant to the major threat we faced while the leader of that major threat has constantly slipped through our fingers and his organization has reformed worldwide.

    This is the sort of thing which is fine as a treat on the 4th of July, with sailors standing at attention under a banner of “Mission Accomplished” but it is hardly effective and coherant foreign policy.

    Nor is it effective military policy–any careful and objective examination of our current readiness posture will show you that we are now in no position to do what we did in Iraq anywhere else and we won’t be able to do it for a very long time, despite having the largest and best equipped military machine on the planet. And what have we accomplished with it?

    It is quite possible that Bill Clinton could have done more to fight terrorism. It is certain that George W. Bush could have done a lot less than he has in the right places (like the Pashtun borderlands) instead of the wrong places, and fought it a lot more effectively. And he would have had plenty to spare to continue to fight it with, which he now does not.

  5. Joseph Marshall says:

    While waiting for my Saturday coffee to brew, it occurred to me to reflect on why so many “conservatives” seem to be under the illusion that Bill Clinton is still president. Supposedly, 9-11 “changed everything” and the 90’s are behind us. But when anyone suggests that, after four years, the buck might now stop in the Oval Office, the consistent response is to drag out the bogey of the Clinton Administration.

    Bill, of course, has moved on from Government to a highly successful career as an author and public speaker. A career in which, in my opinion, he deserves every dime he makes, given the scurrulous and gratuitous abuse he had to endure from the party of druggies like Rush Limbaugh, sex-club athletes like Jack Ryan and his wife, and corrupt anti-democracy bosses like Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay. And Clinton still remains The Big Dawg wherever he goes.

    I notice as well, the new Bush/Cheney slogan on the ad in the upper left corner: This One’s For The Gipper. And all I can say is that it speaks volumes of the utter lack of any positive accomplishment on the part of Republican government in the last four years despite every advantage of strict party discipline, legislative majorities, and a sitting President.

    The Gipper has ridden into the sunset, waving his cowboy hat, with even his enemies at least silent in the face of his final journey, and with the vast good wishes of his friends.

    Oh, I forgot, George deposed and captured Saddam Hussein–after Daddy had defeated him and rendered him (we now know) internationally harmless.

    This is a positive accomplishment, though I’m not that sure that it was really worth the tens of billions of dollars it has cost. Everybody else seems to have forgotten it too, or at least are not inclined to trot it out for comparison to a truly major accomplishment, like the fall of the Soviet Union. A rare display of good sense so close to the Gipper’s funeral.

    But be that as it may, let’s just tuck my partisan prejudice under my coat (don’t worry, we just passed a Concealed Carry Law where I live) and ask the question straight:

    Besides the capture of Saddam Hussein, just what are the accomplishments of George W. Bush as president, and how to they really measure up to the Gipper, Daddy, or even The Big Dawg?