Outlook: Why the Mideast revolts will help Al-Qaeda

Mar 07, 2011

Michael Scheuer will be online Monday, March 7, at 11 a.m., to chat about his latest Outlook piece "Why the Mideast revolts will help Al-Qaeda," in which he writes, "The rush in the West to proclaim the advance of democracy in the Arab world has led to the propagation of an ill-conceived and dangerous corollary: that the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa also mark the irrelevance of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups."

This is Mike Scheuer. I am happy to discuss my Outlook article from Sunday and/or things generally related to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Is there ever any good news?

Yes, there is abundant good news. Our Islamist enemies are motivated an united by the impact of our foreign policy in the Isalmic world. To the extent that we can change policies consonant with genuine U.S. interests we can sap their motivation and disrupt their unity. This war is ours to fight only to the extent we want to fight it.

Violence begets violence. Who's to say radical islamists' reliance on violence won't lead to their being hoisted by their own petard?

They might indeed do that. Our interest lies in finding a way to deflect their violence away from the West by working to create a situation where Muslims are killing with Muslims, and Muslims fighting Israelis. At base, this is an intra-civilizational issue and we ought to seek to put it back where it belongs and then watch silently as they kill each other to their hearts are content.

After hearing your interview on NPR I quickly ordered your new book and am about half-way through. It seems to me uniquely thorough, and fascinating. There are several moments when I have felt, despite your affirmation in your book that you come "not to praise Osama bin Ladin, but to help bury him." you have made several statements that seem to imply "sympathy" with his cause. A few examples: On NPR you stated, "The existence of Israel depends on tyranny." I understand the possibility that this statement is true, and it's implications for bin Ladin. What is unclear to me the meaning this statement has for YOU. Another example: "Americans ought to understand that bin Laden and the Islamists are attacking the United States and it's allies precisely because of the negative impact their government's actions have in the Muslim world.". Again, while not denying this, I am still left to pose the following question: What sort of USA would NOT offend Osama, or what sort of Israel for that matter. Wouldn't traditional Islam demand the unconditional subordination of Jews and Christians to Islamic rule. And if so, shouldn't Israel and the US support any means, tyrannical or otherwise, to prevent this type of future?

About discussing your ideas with Sen. McCain, he seems to be completely out of touch with the real danger, it sounds so nice to help those countries bring democracy in, but, what he will bring in is: Bin Laden ideology.

Senator Mccain is the perfect example of how extraordinary courage and patriotism are not always teamed with keen brain power. Remember he also wanted to send Marines to intervene in the Dafur civil war. Military and political intervention of the kind advocated by McCain and other members of both parties can only create more support for al-Qaeda and its allies. 

Why are the Arab upheavals bad news for the US? Bad news for Israel, yes. What if we asked ourselves - are the interests of Israel the say as those of the US?

If we asked that question, and answered absolutely honestly by saying no, we would be taking a huge step toward greater U.S. security and fewer wars.

The turmoil in the middle and near east (I'm including Iran and Pakistan) is a bit like a game of 52 card pick-up. Once the cards have been tossed the only thing certain is a mess. Whoever picks up the deck owns it. It's certain that the Obama administration does not have the stomach for this fight. So what will happen is that the other players (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Al-Qaeda) will fight it out. The only ones of these who have life and death at stake are the Saudis. So I put my money on them.

I think it's a bit too early to rule out yet another U.S.-led intervention in the Muslim world. Gaddafi seems to be clawing his way toward having the upper hand, and so the bipartisan, interventionist war mongers in Congress and the human-rights mafia may yet force Obama to intervene for "humanitarian" reasons. This of course would start a religious war against the U.S. and its allies across North Africa.

You hit the key point re Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and their fellow Sunni tyrannies on the Arab Peninsula will fight to prevent the creation of a Shia state on the Peninusla in Bahrain, a state that would surely serve as a model for revolt by Saudi Shias in the kingdom's oil-rich eastern province. We may well yet see the Saudi military merrily killing Shia in Bahrain, and then the question will be: Will Iran satnd aside and watch its coreligionists get slaughtered.  This scenario is rife with disaster for America. Oil prices would skyrocket, and the Congress, the Neocons, and Israel would push Obama to war with Iran.

Mr. Scheuer, you have long advocated a policy of non-intervention in the Middle East. Yet when America seemingly abandons support for autocratic regimes like Mubarak's or Gaddafi's you seem to mock their lack of foresight in the aid it will give to Al-Qaeda. How can America stop indirectly aiding the Bin Ladens of the world without withdrawing support from autocrats in the region? Won't such withdrawal remove one reason Bin Laden uses for killing Americans?

I regret not being more clear in my article. The sad truth is that the Islamic world is loaded with lose-lose situations for America.  In the longer term we are correct in not ensuring the survival of Arab tyrannies. But for now that inaction will have substantial downsides, which will be chaos in the Muslim world, greater opportunities for al-Qaeda and kindred groups, higher oil prices, and ultimately regimes with a more Islamic cast. I guess the best that can be said is that these unexpected revolts give Washington a chance to clearly see the high cost of 40 years of intervention in other peoples' affairs, and the wisdom of solving our oil problem and thereby enabling  Americans to become sturdy non-interventionists. 

Dear Mr. Scheuer, I share in part your vision expressed in the article. I think that the real problem about the unrests and the influence of al-Qaeda in the area could be linked to the situation of instability and the lack of security in countries, such as Egypt and Libya. The fall of a strong leadership (Mubarak) or the violence of a civil war (Libya) could drive to have a wider room for maneuver for the al-Qaeda network in the area. These factors of course would be amplified by the huge amount of arms in Libya and the escape of lots of Islamic militants from the Egyptian prisons. What do you think about this vision? Thank you very much for your attention. Gabriele Iacovino, Analyst for North Africa and Middle East Center for International Studies Ce.S.I. Rome, Italy

I believe you have hit the nail on the head. What I intended to do in my article was to cite a number of facts that seem -- to me at least -- to present really substantial chances for exploitation by al-Qaeda, the Muslim Bortherhood, and other Islamic groups. These groups, after all, have a long history of being expert at exploiting opportunities they did not create. And as you imply, whatever regimes succeed the tyrannies are going to be less united, more fractious, and so less able to effectively maintain internal security, an evironment that certainly favors the well-organized Islamists.


In your article, in the last paragraph, you said Islamic militance were feasting on weapons stock-piles in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. Do you have evidence for this, or can you back this claim up?

Do a Google search and read all about the military and police aresenals that have been raided. Where do you think the arms of the Libyan rebels have come from?

In light of the failures to defeat Al-Qaeda either by military aggression or defensive repudiations of its ideology, could a more feasible approach involve a proactive attack on Osama bin Laden's character that formally condemns him for plotting to vivify apocalyptic mythology by killing four billion people? What better way to turn Al Qaeda's followers against the high command and bring Bin Laden's movement to a screeching halt before it reaches a climax amid the current turmoil in the Middle East. See Binladensplan.org for more details on this proposed information operation.

Unfortunately, there is no indication and/or evidence that bin Laden is apocalyptic. He simply intends to win using whatever means are necessary. Was the U.S. government apocolyptic when it was prepared to defend itself with nuclear weapons against a Soviet attack? No, it was just using common sense.  Whinning about bin Laden may make us feel better, it has not and will not defeat him and the movement he has inspired (with Washington's help). Clinton, Bush, and Obama have been whining for years and it has gotten us nowehere.

Sir, In light of the now self-evident hostility toward the US, the Pakistani military and ISI are still receiving billions of US tax dollars per year and given that Pakistan is bankrupt, these funds essentially underwrite nuke weapon development. Why haven't these funds been cut off? What will it take to stop craven and confused US State Department officialdom from continuing to bribe people who hate us into liking us when they don't even pretend to like us anymore? Mike V So Cal.

The leaders of both parties need to grow up and at long last realize the Cold war is over. We are no longer going to find proxies to do our dirty work as we did in the Cold war; we will have to do it ourselves and at the cost of far higher caualties. The Paks have lost about 9,000 dead soldiers and now have a civil war on their territory because they have tried to help us for fat payments. They have been terrific allies. But now they have no opted out of this losing arrangement and all but stopped helping. U.S. politicians, however, will keep bribing the Paks because they will not risk the bad press that would go with using the U.S. military as it should be used and actually seeking victory.

I'm not sure I can agree with you that this helps al-Qaeda. While certainly they would love to claim victories, it seems quite clear that peaceful mass protests are what is changing these regimes. It is not suicide bombers and terrorism that are leading to change. Doesn't that completely discredit aQ and their way of doing things?

First, we are at the start not the end of the process. Second, those peaceful protestors were greatly assisted by the U.S. and its allies stabbing our bought-and-paid- for dictators in the back. Third, we have yet to hear from the "Arab masses."  Because the mass of reporters jettisoned professional journalism for adolescent pro-democracy cheerleading, Western views of what's going on have been shaped by an unreprsentative sample of young, educated, English-speaking Muslims pontificating in person or on facebook and Twitter. Fourth, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and kindred groups are well-organized and expert at taking advanatge of chaos. Be patient and wait for the islamist victroy that is on the way.

Suppose we buy your premise. What should the U.S. have done and what do we do now?

Recognize that the last few generations of America's bipartisan leadership have ruined the domestic economy and brought us to war at every turn overseas.  Regarding what is to be done about the Muslim world, we should bend every effort to fix our oil problem and then adopt a non-interventionist foreign policy toward the Muslim world. What we want is Muslims killing Muslims, and Muslims killing Israelies. A pox on both their houses.

Hello Professor: Question - to what extend will any sincere effort to capture "hearts and minds" and win the "battle of ideas" deter Al Qaeda? Reason for asking: I had thought Al Qaeda was salafist; some have spoken of different forms of islam (more moderate).

I think that a hearts-and-minds campaign is going to fail as long as we have troops on the Arab Peninsula; in Iraq and Afghanistan; and protect Israel and the tyrannies that rule the Arab Peninsula.  Al-Qaeda is ineed a Salafist organization, and there are many other kinds of Islam. All of them, however, harbor a deep hatred for Western interventionism and Israel's occupation of Palestine.

The Islamists have long listed Western support of oppressive governments in Muslim countries as one of their reasons for attacking the West. Will the collapse of some of these governments lead to a decrease in public support for the Islamists? Of course this assumes whatever new governments are formed are not oppressive and not backed by the West.

My hunch is that the new governments will be more Islamic than their predecessors, and that over time the patient and very well-organized Islamist groups will increase their role in governance. Al-Qaeda's appeal also has very much to do with U.S. interventionism in the Muslim world, and that addiction of Washington is still being applied full blast. Support for secular democracy by the West will be seen as more of the same: Democarcy like tyranny amounts to governance by man not God.

How do you reconcile the following paragraph with the market oriented, democratic success that Turkey and Indonesia have had recently? What democratic ideals do you find in the Bible or the Torah? How are they applied in the Vatican's male-dominated hierarchy? The Islamists will follow the formulas for gaining power and then governing that are detailed in the Koran and the Sunnah, the prophet Muhammad's sayings and traditions. Western experts have long failed to recognize these documents as Islam's equivalent to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. In Egypt, for example, governance based on them would be far more familiar, comfortable and culturally appropriate than anything opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei and his followers could offer.

Turkey and Indonesia are both undergoing Islamic revivals, the latter at times violently.  Obama's lie about Indonesian "tolerance" denied Americans -- and apprently you -- the truth that there have been times in recent years when one could drive in Indonesia without lights at night and be guided by the light of burning Christian Churches. 

What have the Bible, the Torah, and the vatuican have do with the question you are asking?

What are the chances that the upcoming generation will insist upon more democratic representation, and if this happens, might more militant views moderate under the scope of public inquiry?

Some of the younger generation will want more democracy, but more will want Islam. The lies of Clinton, Bush, and Obama have prevented Americans from undertanding that al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other like-minded groups draw heavily from the Islamic world's best and brightest.

Al-Qaeda has been the bogeyman of American politics for ten years. Yet a look at the facts shows it has taken root only in the most backward, tribal areas of the Muslim world. Why in the world would it pose a greater threat to the future of a sophisticated, educated country like Egypt than, say, a failure to bring down the level of unemployment there?

Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups draw members from the Muslim world's  best and brightest. Why else would they devote so much time and resources to media operations? They are not out their recruiting the uneducated and illiterate. 

Why is it that Americans -- like everyone else in the world -- would utterly abhor foreign troops on our soil, but find it stunningly easy to deploy troops on other countries' soil? For example, how would we feel if Libyan troops were deployed in Wisconsin to "keep the peace."

Because we a governed by a bipartisan elite that is interventionist to the bone, and which believes their duty is to impose secular democracy by force on 1.4 billion unwashed Muslims. These arrogant and racist men and women have no idea or regard for what the Founders intended America to be. 

Thank you all for participating in this exercise. I enjoyed answering your questions and regret having to run off.

In This Chat
Michael Scheuer
Michael Scheuer, chief of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, is an adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University. He is the author of the new biography "Osama bin Laden."
Recent Chats
  • Next: