Thursday, February 10, 2005

How not to Launch a Career as a Public Intellectual

One in an occassional series:

Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris, which I had read and thought gave an thought-provoking critique of US foreign policy, did himself no good at a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

He began by repeating some of the points in the book, which called for both less intervention in the Middle East and also great ruthlessness in dealing with America's enemies there, a very traditional form of foreign policy thinking that neatly fits Walter Russell Mead's label of Jacksonian, after the hot-tempered, ferocious and populist general and President.
But clearly--and the president fell back on the idea that bad economics and poor education, bad sanitation and the rest of that stuff, is the spawning of the attacks against us, which is entirely not the case in this particular instance. We're still grasping or groping around to try to find out why we're being attacked, and it has nothing to do with who we are or what we believe in.
To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing and, yes, by body counts. Not the fatuous body counts of Vietnam, but precise counts that will run to extremely large numbers. The piles of dead will include as many or more civilians as combatants because our enemies wear no uniforms.

Killing large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. Land mines, moreover, will be massively reintroduced to seal borders and mountain passes too long, high, or numerous to close with U.S. soldiers. As noted, such actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.
Like the chair, I'd pragmatically question whether such a slaughter woudl actually achieve anything, rather than following the precisely-targeted violence used by the Israeli military against senior terrorists, or the slow smothering and maintenance of the rule of law that the British counter-terrorism doctrine emphasises.

As many people do, he takes issue with the focus on rogue states rather than what are global terrorist organisations, which might well operate undetected anywhere from the New York suburbs to the Afghan mountains. Commenting on the invasion of Iraq and the possibility of action against Syria and Iran:
I think it means, in addition to Iraq, that they simply don't understand that the threats to the United States are transnational and not nation-state in dimension. And one of the reasons they went to Iraq is they don't understand that. The Clinton administration didn't understand it; this administration doesn't understand it. The idea that Syria is a threat to us is about as credible as me being the next queen of England, it's not. What threat is there?
Scheuer questions the nature and utility of the Israeli-American alliance, seeing America as having little benefit from it or influence over its junior partner.
I would certainly try to rearrange the relationship with Israel so it looked like we were the great power and they were the insignificant power, rather than the other way around.
Efraim Karsh, whose book Rethinking the Middle East I have just read, makes the same point that neither America nor the Russians were ever able to purchase influence over their allies in the region with their aid to any great degree. The EU seems to be destined to learn this the hard way.

The really suprising stuff comes later on.
I always have thought that there's nothing too dangerous to talk about in America, that there shouldn't be anything. And it happens that Israel is the one thing that seems to be too dangerous to talk about. And I wrote in my book that I congratulate them. It's probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man to control--the important political debate in a country of 270 million people is an extraordinary accomplishment. I wish our clandestine service could do as well
Well, the clandestine aspect is that, clearly, the ability to influence the Congress--that's a clandestine activity, a covert activity. 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.
However, to be fair, he does go on to backtrack somewhat:

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible] Teitelbaum [inaudible] Agency in Hamburg, Germany. Listening to you it sounds as if there is some kind--some sort of Jewish conspiracy about American policy. Can you just tell me in your mind how the Jews make it?

SCHEUER: Are what?

QUESTIONER: How the Jews do it? How do they do it?

SCHEUER: How do they do it?


SCHEUER: Well, mostly through abuse in the media. If someone says anything negative about Israel. We do it to ourselves in some way. [Inaudible]

Well, you know, the idea of the Jewish conspiracy is in your mouth, not mine. What I did was compliment Israel on its ability to control debate in the United States. I don't quite know how they do it, but clearly the reaction of most of our media, electronic and print, to anyone who says, "Geez, you know, maybe the Israelis shouldn't have the lead on all these things," is generally negative.
Via Andrew Sullivan, but its well worth reading the entire transcript - apart from just Sully's outrage quotes - to get a flavour of the book.