Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
By Anonymous. Brassey's.320 pp. $27.50 For those Americans who had begun to doubt whether the Central Intelligence Agency could produce good analysis, Imperial Hubris clearly demonstrates otherwise. It is a powerful, persuasive analysis of the terrorist threat and the Bush administration's failed efforts to fight it. The CIA carefully vetted the book to ensure that no "sources and methods" were exposed, but the anonymous author -- a current CIA official -- draws effectively on the years he's spent carefully studying detailed intelligence reports from several U.S. and many foreign spy agencies. His criticism is damning.
The writer, author of the 2002 book Through Our Enemies' Eyes, declares that the U.S. war on terrorism is a failure. While admitting that President George W. Bush is technically correct when he says that "two-thirds of the known al Qaeda managers have been caught or killed," the author points out that other leaders have emerged to take their place. The president's often-repeated "two thirds" claim is based on an assessment of al Qaeda Shura Council members in September 2001. Some of them, like Muhammad Atef, are dead; he was killed by a CIA-controlled Predator flying over Kabul. Others, like Khalid Sheik Muhammad, are in U.S. custody; he was arrested in Pakistan. Many are under "house arrest" in Iran, in large part because the United States refused to bargain for their handover. Others, notably bin Laden and his deputy, are alive and apparently well, issuing audio tapes to the faithful.
The original al Qaeda, as the author points out, has been overtaken by a series of regionally based, autonomous jihadist terrorist groups, which carried out post-Sept. 11 attacks in Bali, Riyadh, Madrid, Istanbul, Casablanca, Chechnya, the Philippines, Thailand and Iraq. Despite the initial claim of State Department analysts -- in the annual report on terrorism -- that attacks have gone down, this new network of al Qaeda spinoffs has actually staged twice as many attacks since Sept. 11 as al Qaeda had prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. (The State Department has now withdrawn its report and corrected its error, admitting that 2003 marked an all-time high for the terrorist incidents.)
Anonymous writes that the conduct of U.S. military operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan has left both countries "seething with anti-U.S. sentiment, fertile grounds for the expansion of al Qaeda and kindred groups." This CIA officer believes the U.S. invasion of Iraq was exactly what bin Laden and his associates had hoped would happen -- a belief that many counterterroism experts privately share. The Iraq invasion gave a new cause to the jihadists and new evidence to Arab militants that Americans are the "new crusaders" -- i.e., foreign infidels bent on conquest. The result has been more recruits, more suicide bombers and more money to the jihadists.
Anonymous underlines a central point: The United States must realize who the enemy is. "The one thing accomplished by refusing to admit a war exists with an enemy of immense durability, manpower, and resources is to delay design of a strategy for victory."
Anonymous has painted a detailed picture of that enemy -- and, despite the administration's ubiquitous phrase, it is not "terrorism," faceless and abstract. Terrorism is a tactic. The enemy is "an Islamic insurgency," a multinational movement to replace governments in the Islamic world with fundamentalist theocracies. Jihadist leaders believe they must eliminate the American presence in the region and U.S. support for existing governments there so that they can seize power. Later, some of them may fight to establish Islamist governments in Europe and America. For now, their combat against the "far enemy" (i.e., us) is designed merely to kick out the struts supporting the "near enemy" (governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere). Like President Bush, Anonymous argues that we have made the mistake in the past of thinking about these enemies as criminals. But unlike Bush, Anonymous argues that having thus isolated the threat as an Islamic insurgency, the appropriate response is to fight not just with bullets and warrants, but also with ideas -- politically and socially.
To be sure, this will be difficult, given America's loss of credibility around the globe. In order to succeed in this battle, the United States must work with friends in the Islamic world to counter what Anonymous calls the "power of focused, principled hatred." And we must cease acts that fuel the hatred; such conduct is entirely self-defeating and counterproductive. As the U.S. Marines were pulverizing the city of Fallujah in April, members of the U.S.- appointed Iraqi ruling council made just this point. Fortunately, their words of horror made it through to the National Security Council principals meeting at Camp David. But thanks to short-sighted policy decisions, the United States has armed and is now paying the very militia members it was fighting in Fallujah, which only deepens the prospect that the future Iraq will not be a Jeffersonian democracy, but a breeding ground for anti-American jihadists.
Regrettably, Anonymous does not write much on working with Islamic friends. He tends to lump all Muslims into a single group, bound by their dogmatic hatred of America. In that, he is surely wrong -- although less wrong every day. For as he notes, Osama bin Laden is a hero to an ever-increasing percentage of the Muslim world. Should the CIA or the U.S. military ever manage to kill bin Laden, he will be at least as powerful as a martyr as he is now as a fugitive producer of audio tapes.
One would hope that Anonymous is also wrong in predicting that another attack, more powerful than Sept. 11 and perhaps involving weapons of mass destruction, is all but inevitable. Few things are predestined to happen, and hewing to that belief may only create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Anonymous is bitterly critical of the leadership of the CIA, but the most remarkable thing about this book is that the director of Central Intelligence allowed it to be published. Since Imperial Hubris is an important contribution to a necessary debate, we should be grateful to the agency for that clearance -- and for its anonymous author's considerable courage and insight. *
Richard A. Clarke is the author of "Against All Enemies" and the former National Coordinator for Security and Counter-terrorism under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.