Imperial Hubris III

Jim Henley has some interesting thoughts on the early buzz around the book (see here and here for my previous discussions).

Islamist terrorists remain a threat to kill small, medium or even large numbers of Americans if they can find further “multipliers” like the exploding jet fuel times molten steel times gravity formula of not quite three years ago. And some group of them may obtain a real WMD – a nuke or subclass of weaponized germs – likely via the still-insecure ex-Soviet arsenal. It’s stupid, as Gene says, to pursue policies that increase the number of Muslims who want to devote their lives to doing us harm or winking at those who want to do us harm. That kind of thing takes brainpower, so don’t maximize the number of brains devoted to it.

Unfortunately, given the potential force multipliers out there, the threat from Islamic terrorism is quite serious indeed. While it strikes me as quite unlikely that they’ll acquire the ability to become an existential threat to the West in the sense that the Soviet Union was, they are far more likely to use WMD against us if they acquire that capability. Despite the rhetoric of Lenin and, especially, Stalin, there was little evidence that the Soviets actually wanted to eradicate us; they merely wanted the freedom to dominate and slightly expand their sphere of influence. All indicators are that UBL and his fellow jihadists would love to kill mass numbers of Americans simply to do so.

One thing that confounds me about Anonymous’ analysis is that he stakes out two, seemingly contradictory, positions. On the on hand, he argues that the UBL and company have very discrete objections— “U.S. support for Israel that keeps the Palestinians in the Israelis’ thrall; U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian peninsula; U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan; U.S. support for Russia, India and China against their Muslim militants; U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low; U.S. support for apostate, corrupt and tyrannical Muslim governments.”–but on the other he notes that they want to re-establish and expand the Muslim empire of old. Likewise, he argues that it is “hubris” to think they hate us because of our freedom, but then notes that they hate us because of the manifestations of our freedom: we’re not Muslim, we’re not pious, we’re sexually promiscuous, we’re materialistic, and so forth. He flatly states that this is a war with Islam.

So, while rethinking our blind support for Israel and decreasing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil might well be helpful in improving our relations with moderate Arabs, it would almost certainly be seen as a sign of weakness on the part of the jihadists. I agree with Anonymous that we’re unlikely to be able to win this with a purely military campaign–unless we’re willing to commit genocide on a scale that would make Hitler and Pol Pot seem like humanitarians–or with improved public relations. I’m just not sure what our other options are.
UDPATE: The book, along with a brief interview with editor Christina Davidson, is mentioned late in this NYT story [RSS].

Another critical assessment of the administration’s performance is expected early next month in a new book whose author is to be identified as “Anonymous,” government officials and the book’s editor said. The book is described by government officials as being critical of the Bush administration’s use of intelligence to justify the Iraq war, and was written by a senior intelligence analyst and cleared for release by the C.I.A., the government officials said.

The book, “Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terrorism,” is to be released Aug. 1 by Brassey’s, and is the second book by the author, after “Through Our Enemies’ Eyes.” Its existence was first described in the British newspaper The Guardian on Saturday.

The book’s editor, Kristina [sic] Davidson, described it as “a very serious look at the cultural, bureaucratic and institutional impediments to our fighting the war on terror.” Ms. Davidson said it took the C.I.A. four months to grant its approval after the book was submitted for review in January.

As described by the editor and government officials, the book’s thesis reflects the views of many within the intelligence community, but some government officials have expressed surprise that the C.I.A. had authorized its release. The agency has the right to review any book written by an employee before publication.

A C.I.A. spokesman, Bill Harlow, declined to comment on the book. . . .

Update: Christina says there will be another story tomorrow. The book is definitely generating excellent buzz.

Other OTB posts relating to Anonymous and his books:

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Intelligence, Iraq War, 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. Fersboo says:

    Rethinking our blind support of Israel? Can you give an example? Every time Israel makes the news, the WH or state or someone, unidentified but high on the chain of command condemns them.

  2. DC loser says:

    More like slapping them on the wrist and telling them: “Bad boy, and please don’t do that again! And here’s another $5 billion.”

  3. Jim Henley says:

    So long as the checks come on time and the vetos accrue in the Security Council, the rest is just words.

    James, thanks for the link. It’s an interesting problem, trying to tease out the contradictions in Anon’s platform. I’m mulling over issues about the post I saw – was it here? – the other day about how the Red Brigades only had a few dozen guys and the IRA a couple hundred, but they tied the Italian and British governments in knots for years. I wonder if, rather than the “50,000 Al Qaeda terrorists” that get tossed around, the hard core of committed anti-US jihadists is more like 500 (exclusive of guerrillas in Iraq). What would that mean, in terms of our ability to eliminate the threat.

    Where I tentatively go with it comes back to the IRA. There were X active fighters. But everybody in the battleground neighborhoods left their front and back doors unlocked so that the fighters could run through their houses to get away from the British. They did this out of some complex of sympathy and fear that probably varied from house to house. Years later, I was reading an article about the drug wars in DC and saw a reference to the exact same phenomenon – people leaving their houses open so dealers escaping from the police could get through.

    I think the key to beating Islamist terrorism may involve getting the bulk of the Muslim populace to lock its doors at night, metaphorically speaking. You could argue that force (general war a la Iraq) is a way to scare them into doing this, but I think that approach WON’T work, for various reasons.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Jim: Anonymous argues, persuasively, in TOEE that UBL’s base is virtually infinite because of the jihadist principle that’s the core of Islam. If he can continue to persuade people that the US is an enemy of Islam, then he can recruit indefinitely. The IRA is a very finite political movement; al Qaeda and the rest of the Global Front is an insurgency.

    Insugencies are damned near impossible to defeat, especially by democracies, simply because the actions needed to defeat them are both unacceptable domestically and likely to gain more support for the insurgents.

  5. Jim Henley says:

    James: I have to get TOEE for sure. But while Bin Laden theoretically has a “warm market” of 1.2 billion, that doesn’t mean he can sell holy war against the US specifically to them all, or even a tiny fraction. Muslims are people, which means they’ve got a high capacity for rationalization, adaptation and deferment. My neighbor who immigrated from India sends his two older boys to a muslim boarding school, but lets his daughter draw manga (human figures) and not only has no interest in going on Jihad himself, but considers Saudi-inflected muslims to be crazy.

    And even the violently-inclined among them have their own problems – they’re likely to be madder at Israel or the government of Indonesia or the Russians or whichever infidel impinges on them most directly. Some people will buy Bin Laden’s sales pitch that the US is the puppeteer behind all the local problems, some won’t.

  6. Joseph Marshall says:

    “I agree with Anonymous that we’re unlikely to be able to win this with a purely military campaign—unless we’re willing to commit genocide on a scale that would make Hitler and Pol Pot seem like humanitarians—or with improved public relations. I’m just not sure what our other options are.”

    The first thing to keep in mind is that the grievances between us and the Muslim world are far older than 9/11–most of us just woke up to them then.

    The significant thing that has changed is the emergence of an exceptional leader capable of more effectively organizing our dedicated enemies and setting them to work against us.

    Such leadership is no more common there than it is here, which is why it was and still remains vitally important to capture or kill Osama. We are actually further from that than ever due to the mishandling of the War On Terror–but even than could be turned around with the right policies shaped by clear thinking.

    Furthermore, the worry that reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil would be interpreted as “weakness” on our part is a piece of the terminally muddled thinking which has hobbled us.

    The reasons for doing this are part of the “best interests of the citizenry” which you brought up on another post. (If you doubt this spend a little time looking into how China has been involved in driving oil prices higher–we have adversaries and competitors beyond the Middle East.)

    More generally, it matters very little whether the “jihadists” think us weak or strong, since they will attack in any case and are immune to intimidation. What does matter is whether we can make policy by choice and not by constraint in response to it. Oil dependence has prevented this from the get-go and should be abandoned.

    As far as our unwavering suppport for Israel is concerned, there are two dimensions to it. One is the natural ideological sympathy for a democracy however draconian and authoritarian its actual behavior. (If it pleases you better you, can insert the words “firm” and “tough” in the preceeding sentence.)

    This sympathy is quite real, and largely justified. But the unfortunate thing about the actual relation of the pro-Israeli lobby to our domestic politics is that they have a stranglehold on it so complete that even this natural and justified sympathy cannot be rationally discussed.

    I, for one, also don’t think that this stranglehold is in the “best interests of the citizenry” however sympathetic I may be to Israeli democracy.

    It is time we asked the question openly of why a country sitting on 200 covert nuclear warheads with the countries on its borders clearly pacified beyond any real level of threat has to be allowed to do ++anything++ it pleases, without serious criticism, in the interest of its “survival”?

    Beyond this, the principle we should seek is the capacity to set policy by choice and not constraint, and to use force sparingly but effectively so we always have the option of force–as we will clearly not when Iran soon goes nuclear, largely because of our pointless invasion of Iraq.