A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I'm a spy! No wait, I'm a pundit! No, wait ...

Yet another book has been published lambasting the Bush Administration’s strategy in The War on Terror. This time it’s by an “anonymous CIA insider” who has served for over 22 years. In his interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell he raises some interesting points, and one certainly has to respect his experience. There can be little doubt that he presents a valid alternative to Bush’s plan … but is it a better alternative? Does it present a long-term solution to the problem of terrorism, as Bush’s admittedly difficult and risky plan does?

What Anonymous advocates is a war that ignores Iraq and Saddam and concentrates solely on Al Queada. I know many smart people who’d agree that this would have been a good idea. Get the bastards that got us, and get them all the way. Furthermore, Anonymous calls for far more powerful and unilateral attacks on Al Queada even if it means lots of civilian casualties; he regrets the necessity of it but he feels there’s no other choice at this point. He favors a military approach over a law-enforcement approach.

I find most of his points hard to argue with. I agree that fighting Al Queada is a military matter. I agree that they are a huge threat. And I agree that invading Iraq has turned more Muslims against America and towards bin Laden, even though we got rid of a guy responsible for more Muslim death and suffering – by at least a factor of 10 – than all of the west combined.

However, I do find a few certain critical flaws in his thinking.

First of all, Anonymous says quite plainly of bin Laden that:

“… he's not a man who rants against our freedoms, our liberties, our voting, our — the fact that our women go to school. He's not the Ayatollah Khomeini; he really doesn't care about all those things. To think that he's trying to rob us of our liberties and freedom is, I think, a gross mistake.”

This flies in the face of things we know bin Laden has said. I posted a couple yesterday, in fact:

In his November 1998 “Letter to America,” Bin Laden condemned the United States because, he said, like all democracies, it is a “nation who, rather than ruling by the Sharia of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, chooses to invent your own laws as you will and desire.” After September 11th attacks, he gloated triumphantly that “the values of Western civilization… of liberty, human rights, and humanity, have been destroyed.”

In his “Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad,” issued in February 1998, Bin Laden says that “to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim… every Muslim who believes in God and hopes for reward [must] obey God's command to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions wherever he finds them and whenever he can.”

It sounds to me like the man does indeed have something against “… our freedoms, our liberties, [and] our voting…” That a 22-year veteran of the CIA misses or ignores this is rather surprising (to say the least).

Secondly, publishing an attack like this anonymously is a cheap dodge. I understand that CIA officers have to protect their identities, but it’s kind of convenient for someone coming out against the President to be able to hide behind the cloak of anonymity. No one can call him to account for his claims or demand evidence of him. He can basically say anything he likes with no repercussions whatsoever. As far as I’m concerned the claims of an “insider” must be substantiated just like anyone else’s; just saying “this is the way things are” doesn’t mean that that is really the way things are. Until all of Anonymous’ evidence can be freely examined and he submits his opinions to rigorous inquiry it’s all just hearsay and supposition. No one ever said publishing opinions about war was safe in any case, least of all for a spy; if you want to be a pundit, be a pundit and drop the backlighting. If you want to be a spy then shut the hell up and get back to killing the enemies of your country.

My suspicion – based on some of the things said in the Mitchell interview – is that Anonymous presented and advocated a strategy that was turned down in favor of someone else’s. Our current strategy – which we call President Bush’s but which certainly didn’t originate solely with him and his cabinet – is probably the strategy that was in competition with and eventually beat out the one that Anonymous supported. I have a sense that the motivation behind this book is at least partly revenge for the perceived slight of that rejection. And again, I wish Anonymous could come out and refute that idea – or any others I’m presenting – but he has chosen to remain cloaked in secrecy. I have to make semi-educated guesses about his means and motivations because they’re not available for direct examination.

Finally, I think that the strategy he advocates was rightly discarded in favor of the one we’re following now. Not because it isn’t aggressive or informed – it certainly is both of those – but because it doesn’t present a viable long-term solution to terrorism. It’s a courageous and tough-minded plan to smash Al Queada utterly and protect American lives above all else. I can get behind that. But what it doesn’t do is strike at the conditions that led to the creation of Al Queada: Failed tribal dictatorships (in Arabia specifically) and the spread of Fascist Islamic Theocracy (across the Muslim world in general). Anonymous’ strategy certainly chops off the snake’s head, but the problem is that we’re not fighting a snake. We’re fighting a hydra.

As a closing thought I’d like to point out that I found this interview – which can hardly be called anything but a promotion for the book Anonymous wrote – on MSNBC. I had always considered MSNBC something of a compromise between CNN and Fox (and for the record, I agree that CNN is far more left-slanted than Fox is right-slanted) but lately I’ve been noticing a distinct anti-Bush tone to their reporting. Perhaps it’s just the rising hysteria of election time, but The Zoo is going to have its media bias sensor pointed squarely at MSNBC for the next few weeks.