March 16, 2005 | Op-ed

Michael Scheuer’s Bloody Logic

By: Andrew Apostolou.


Michael Scheuer, whose book Imperial Hubris lambasts US strategy in the war against al Qaeda, has attracted attention for recent public statements on Israel. The former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, Scheuer claimed at the Council on Foreign Relations in February that Israel controls the debate on US foreign policy. As important as Scheuer's hostility to Israel is his underlying message: that to keep Israel happy, the US must kill innocent Muslims.

While Scheuer's views on the Middle East are unpleasant, they are not far from the orthodoxy among retired diplomats. The view of the superannuated foreign service mainstream is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core issue in the Middle East and that the stumbling block to a settlement is Israeli policy rather than Palestinian terrorism. No wonder that Scheuer went largely unchallenged at the Middle East Policy Council, which is headed by a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, with his remark in January that when the US deals with Israel it becomes “the dog that's led around by the tail.”


Still, Scheuer has gone beyond the cocktail party consensus with coarser claims that Israeli diplomacy, and by implication its domestic and often American Jewish support base, is “probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man.”


Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Scheuer cited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as evidence of the alleged Israeli “covert action” program. According to Scheuer, the museum is designed to make Americans feel guilty about the Holocaust, thereby preventing any questioning of US policy towards Israel. The ignorance of Scheuer's statement is nearly equal to its chauvinism. Anybody who has visited the Holocaust Museum will know that its entrance is bedecked with the standards of American army units that liberated concentration camps, which the museum is currently celebrating with a special exhibition.


The obvious inconsistencies of Scheuer's views are entirely lost on him. Replying to a like-minded questioner who called Israel “the spoiled child of Western civilization”, Scheuer said in February that “I certainly, as an American, find it unbearable to think there's something in this country you can't talk about. That's really my spiel I guess on that, sir.” Scheuer's use of the word “spiel” was an unintended irony on his part. Similarly, the most convincing refutation of Scheuer's notion that US-Israel relations cannot be talked about is the frequency with which Scheuer talks about them, in every public appearance and in a best-selling, widely circulated book.


Scheuer's views on Israel are not surprising given his politics. He is an old-fashioned Republican who scorns promoting democracy overseas. Speaking at the CFR, Scheuer called President Bush's State of the Union address “warmed-up Wilsonianism”, which is not a compliment as he described Woodrow Wilson in Imperial Hubris as a “bloody-handed fantasist.” Responding to a questioner at the same event who asked if killing terrorist enemies would not simply create more enemies, Scheuer replied that “My books are pretty nationalist, ma'am. I don't much care.” Indeed, Scheuer is so “nationalist” that he has recently written for, a neoconfederate, isolationist website that vilifies President Abraham Lincoln.


So far, so far to the right of Pat Buchanan, but Scheuer is more than a new eruption of a mildly irritating cyst on the extremity of the American body politic. The truly dangerous and inflammatory aspect of Scheuer is that, in essence, he blames the mayhem and bloodshed caused by Islamist terrorism not on bin Laden and al Qaeda, but on those who built the Holocaust Museum.


Scheuer portrays the US as having been placed in a brutal dilemma because of its support for the “repressive apparatus” in the Middle East. According to Scheuer, bin Laden objects to US “support for Israel, support for the tyrannies.” Israel, in Scheuer's eyes, is as obnoxious as Saudi Arabia. Indeed, Scheuer brackets the two together, calling Israel a “theocracy-in-all-but-name.” As Scheuer explained to Chris Matthews on Hardball in November 2004, bin Laden is attacking the US to force it to change policies “which he views as lethal to Muslims.”


Actually, it is not just bin Laden who regards these policies as lethal, but also Scheuer. The man who was in charge of hunting down bin Laden  is telling us that our enemy has legitimate grievances because the US, by supporting tyrannies (Israel, Saudi Arabia and others), costs Muslim lives.


The remedy that Scheuer seems to propose in response to bin Laden's attacks is wanton brutality. As Scheuer believes that changing US policy towards Israel is all but impossible, thanks to successful “covert action” as exemplified by the Holocaust Museum, the only option is war. In Imperial Hubris, Scheuer argues that “The military is now America's only tool and will remain so while current policies are in place.”


Scheuer believes that the war should be conducted mercilessly. Again, clearly linking necessary violence to “current policies” of support for Israel and countries like Saudi Arabia, Scheuer argues that the US must wage war with the utmost ruthlessness. He writes in Imperial Hubris that “Killing large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure…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.”


The message from Scheuer is that Israeli, and by implication American Jewish, “covert action” as well as US support for Saudi Arabia, has cost American lives. The only US response, again thanks to the constraint imposed by Israeli “covert action”, is death and suffering for Muslims. Scheuer is telling us that ultimate responsibility for 9/11 lies not with the hate-inspired fanatics who murdered 3,000 innocents, but largely with Israel and its domestic supporters.


Of course, Scheuer may well not be serious about this violent policy dilemma. For all his “nationalist” self preening, Scheuer may be hoping that the response from Americans will not be “let's get butchering”, but a change in “current policies”, particularly towards Israel. Scheuer seems to wants to cut Israel and Arab authoritarians adrift and so stop the US being a target for justly aggrieved terrorists.


That such a change in policy could be disastrous for Israelis and many Arabs would probably not bother Scheuer. Better still, by placating extremists like bin Laden, an alteration in policy would conveniently free the CIA, in which Scheuer served for over 20 years, from the tedious requirement of having to find and fight terrorists. With such a view of the world, it is no wonder that Scheuer never caught bin Laden.


The author is resident fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.