Courting Catastrophe: America Five Years After 9/11

Courting Catastrophe: America Five Years After 9/11

Mini Teaser: America will be attacked by Al-Qaeda again, and more destructively than on 9/11.

by Author(s): Michael Scheuer

America will be attacked by Al-Qaeda again, and more destructively than on 9/11. Why? Simple. Our bipartisan governing elites willfully refuse to recognize the severity of the Islamist threat. They are waging a feckless war that misrepresents the enemies' motivation, keeps borders open, applies insufficient force, and pursues status quo foreign polices, ensuring the next Islamist generation is more anti-American and numerous--and still has the opportunity to strike the American homeland.

Time is short. America faces an existential threat the Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc foresaw long ago. Belloc had great respect for Islam's vitality, mobilizing skill, latent military power, patience and endurance. He wrote the following in 1938 but, in Munich's aftermath, it went unnoticed. "The future always comes as a surprise", Belloc said, "but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise might be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam . . . It is, as a fact, the most formidable and persistent enemy our civilization has had, and may at any moment become as large a menace in the future as it was in the past . . . It has always seemed to me possible, and even probable, that there would be a resurrection of Islam and that our sons or our grandsons would see the renewal of that tremendous struggle between Christian culture and for what has been for more than a thousand years its greatest opponent."

Calling the threat unrecognized does not mean that policymakers, academics and generals are unaware of it. To the contrary, Islamism is constantly debated and written about. What I mean is that U.S. leaders have failed to understand their enemies' motivations. Ignoring Sun Tzu's advice, they have not prepared citizens for the price they will pay in blood, treasure and lifestyle to defeat the Islamists--if indeed there is time to understand and prevail.

An essay by Rami Khouri, editor-at-large for Beirut's Daily Star, is pertinent. In it he wrote,  "Sensible middle class Americans get on with making a living in challenging times, while their federal government in Washington conducts a fantasy foreign policy based on make-believe perceptions and imagined realities . . . Washington's policy is a mishmash of faulty analysis, historical confusions, emotional anger, foreign policy frustrations, worldly ignorance, and political deception all rolled into one. President Bush completely ignores the impact of American, Israeli and other foreign policies on the mindset of hundreds of millions of people in the Arab-Asian region . . . This is willful political blindness that makes the analytic basis of American foreign policy a laughing stock around the world."2

Khouri's words must be taken with salt; he detests Mr. Bush. But his diagnosis accurately reflects the endemic shortcomings of the U.S. approach.

The rest of the world sees that U.S. leaders fail to acknowledge the Islamists' motivation. The movement's power, allure and enormous growth potential is unrelated to the motivation ascribed to it by Presidents Bush and Clinton, Senators McCain and Clinton, Representatives Hoekstra and Harmon, and Prime Ministers Blair and Howard. The Islamists are not fighting America because they hate freedom; because we hold regular elections; because women are in school; or because Budweiser flows.

U.S. national security is threatened by the Islamists because of what America does in the Muslim world, not because of its beliefs or lifestyle. In claiming the present war is based on the foe's hatred of freedom, U.S. leaders prove themselves either unschooled fools or liars.

Indeed, Osama bin Laden has been quite helpful in detailing the U.S. policies that inspire jihad, which include our military and civilian presence on the Arabian Peninsula; our unqualified support for Israel; our military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim countries; our ability to keep oil prices acceptable to U.S. and Western voters; our support for Chinese, Russian, and Indian oppression of Muslims; and our support of and protection of the world's Muslim tyrannies.

These policies make regular appearances in Bin Laden's post-1996 rhetoric; a decade of Western polling shows nearly unanimous Muslim hatred for the same policies. Thus, our elites need not digest arcane data to know the enemy. We are at war for what we do--period. We will be defeated if we do not abandon comfortable fantasies, face facts and shape strategy, policy and action accordingly.

Mr. Khouri's second point is that U.S. leaders suffer from "historical confusion." This confusion, I think, is clear in the last three presidencies. After Ronald Reagan--peace be upon that great man--Messrs. Bush, Clinton and Bush came to believe that they were elected as world president. Each acted on this belief, and so neglected his constitutional obligation to protect Americans. Presidents now routinely cite ludicrous propositions as foreign-policy bedrocks. Indeed, the media-politico-think-tank "Washington consensus" consists of the following "Articles of Faith": American freedom depends on all peoples having that freedom. As a result, America must install democracy abroad, even at the point of a bayonet (and elections alone measure progress toward democracy). Every war, crisis and genocide threatens U.S. national security. Nation-states have a right to exist independent of whether they are sustainable and, in conjunction with the previous precepts, the United States must be prepared to intervene to ensure their existence.

Joining these precepts are several others: In conducting military operations, force must be used proportionately; every human life equals every other. And there is what I call the "trio" of moral-cowardice tenets: We cannot break the Arab oil-gangsters' grip on Western economies; we cannot control borders and immigration; we cannot secure the ex-Soviet nuclear arsenal.

All of these delusions leave America vulnerable by involving us in wars, disputes and conflicts around the world and by focusing even more rage and anger at us. Moreover, our elites' lust to enter every trumped-up crisis that gets coverage on CNN while failing to take the boring but absolutely necessary steps to increase our security marks their deplorable lack of the Founders' common sense. Note their readiness to intervene in Darfur, while not finding the money, personnel and will to secure Russia's nuclear arsenal.

Qualifying also as fantasy-based thinking is the argument that Al-Qaeda is so decentralized and isolated that it cannot attack in the United States. This analysis-by-assertion has become common wisdom, notwithstanding the ability of Bin Laden and Zawahiri to dominate the international media, rearrange Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq's post-Zarqawi command structure, and inspire Islamist cells in New York, Miami, Toronto, London, Madrid and Melbourne.

And little need be said to dismiss the fatuous claim that Bin Laden cannot communicate, save that if a satellite can see you, you can communicate from anywhere on earth with anyone on earth. Finally, our leaders' stubborn, misguided insistence that Al-Qaeda is a terrorist, not an insurgent, group blinds us to the fact that its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan do not denigrate its ability to attack in the United States. Insurgents and terrorists are drawn from two separate Al-Qaeda components; while Al-Qaeda insurgents fix our attention in two theaters of war, the group's terrorists are preparing to attack America by crossing the uncontrolled U.S. border with a nuclear device bought or stolen from the uncontrolled, former Soviet nuclear arsenal.

Foreign policy must be scrutinized with a cold, realistic eye. National interests are life-or-death issues. We should first take steps to reduce the sources of anti-American hostility in the world, by recognizing the following basic truths:

First, American freedom does not depend on that of others. Our freedom survived civil war, world wars, racial strife and Cold War. Only now, by trying to impose our version of freedom abroad, do we risk it at home.

Second, it is ahistorical to claim America must install democracy abroad. The Founders were explicit: Our duty to the world is the example of effective self-rule. By trying to impose our version of self-rule abroad, we forfeit the soul of the republic.

Third, no nation has a right to exist--not America, not Belgium, not Israel, not Bolivia, not Saudi Arabia. Nations survive if they can defend themselves, limit societal rot, and do not cultivate too many mortal enemies.

This is why, in a world of nation-states, it is not always true that all men are equal. In war, our leaders' constitutional obligation is to protect Americans. Claiming an American life is not worth greatly more than any foreigner's is absurd, lethal heresy. America wins wars by using overwhelming force to inflict catastrophic damage that quickly ends fighting. In war, swift annihilation is the only mercy, and the sole synonym for "innocents" is "Americans." The world is littered with half-fought wars because U.S. presidents ignore history and listen to just-war theorists, whose philosophy shelters moral cowardice and contributes to the proliferation of never-defeated, always-resurgent enemies.

Overall, "fantasy-based foreign policy" and "historical confusion" are harsh, accurate attributes for our governing elites. These men and women do not try to know the enemy, and so vastly underestimate the threat to America. It is past time to accept the Islamists' own claims about their motivation, and consult U.S. history for lessons on how to destroy foes motivated by U.S. actions.

Essay Types: Essay