Is it just hubris, or …?

In what the Americans love to describe as the war on terror, there have been no clear winners even though it has been physically going on now for over three years. By the looks of it, the tussle between the United States of America and its perceived enemy will outlast the Second World War at least in terms of duration, if nothing else. If so, it certainly represents a horrible scenario for the planet.

What lies at the heart of the conflict between the two sides — if, indeed, there is a second side to it — is a total misperception of the other. In the words of the book in hand, Muslims worldwide have been “infected by hatred for the US” because of its “support for Israel, Russia, China, India, Algeria, Uzbekistan and others against Islamists; its protection of multiple Muslim tyrannies; its effort to control oil policy and pricing; and its military activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere.”

On the other side of the equation are the Americans, who insist on taking a simplistic view of the matter; their leadership doing its best to portray it as a worldwide grudge against the American lifestyle which revolves around democratic freedoms, civil liberties, intermingling of genders, and separation of the church and the state.

While the book has done well to point out that the American perception is wrong, and that foreign policy blunders are to be blamed for the situation as it stands today, it has provided a sort of cushion to the American leadership by suggesting that it is taking a fatuous view. However, there are many a Muslim who feel rather strongly that the effort of the American leadership to portray lifestyle grudge as the basis of the whole issue has more to do with political chicanery than with honest innocence. The book fails to take into account this vital factor, but that, for sure, is not the only thing on which it has maintained a discreet silence.

Before moving on to such debatable issues, it is in the fitness of things to have a quick look at the book’s raison d’etre and its author. The book is based on all the insight that one can have on the matter while dealing with the mass of background information and latest intelligence that is part of life at the CIA headquarters.

The author was heading the CIA bin Laden Unit in the 1990s before he was removed in 1999, and has since been kept out of the frame as far as the US war on terrorism is concerned. With almost two decades of exposure to issues related with national security, Afghanistan and South Asia, he is still with the CIA, which vetted the manuscript before allowing its publication with the condition that the author remained anonymous. Before the latest title, he had also authored Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America. The two titles together represent a rare case of a serving intelligence officer being allowed to comment on government policy; in fact, to be highly critical of it.

Stressing that senior US intelligence officers knew much before the 9/11 catastrophe that “a runaway train was coming at the United States”, he has argued that the American leaders “ignored repeated warnings and generally behaved as what they so manifestly are, America’s greatest generation — of moral cowards.”

Without directly linking it with his own removal from the key CIA post, he writes, “US intelligence community leaders ensured that most officers who recognised the extent of the threat bin Laden posed before 11 September 2001 were banished to language training, jobs entailing no bin Laden-related work, or excluded from meetings that might afford a chance to present intelligence honestly.”

These are strong words, indeed, coming from a serving officer against his own bosses and the US leadership at large. However, he blames it all on a lack of vision, and a mindset that may “protect careers, but does little for our country.” Even though he has repeatedly talked about the necessity of understanding the enemy from “his point of view and not our own”, the author somehow found it relevant to ignore the sentiment among certain quarters in the Muslim world that more than hubris or a lack of vision, it was perhaps a case of willfully turning a blind eye. After all, the biggest beneficiary of the 9/11 crime has been the US government which has used it as a license to unleash an armed frenzy on the Islamic world.

Besides, the whole world — including its Islamic component, unfortunately — blames it all on Osama and Al-Qaeda only, repeat only, because the US says so. The US, on its part, has blatantly refused to share any evidence that it claims to have against the man and the organisation. Why? The book doesn’t tell us that.

The author’s contention that the hatred among the Muslims is “martial not intellectual” is reflective of his own lack of understanding in this regard. For instance, it is not a martial approach to question the past of both Osama and Saddam Hussein which have linkages to the American intelligence machinery. If they were such bad characters, the US has a lot of explaining to do regarding its interactions with them. Besides, if ‘jihad’ is such an anathema to the US, why was it promoting that very concept all through the 1980s when it needed blindfolded Muslim youth to fight the American war against the Soviets?

There are several other ‘intellectual, not martial’ questions in the minds of the Muslims, but the Americans have never bothered to answer them. That definitely is hubris of the imperialistic order.

Interestingly, after a 250-page homily about American foreign policy disasters — Iraq and Afghanistan inclusive — and the author’s dissatisfaction at it, he has outlined what he thinks should be the future course of action. In a nutshell, he wants the leadership to shun its policy of “cowardice and defeat” and stop worrying about such idiocies as “international comity, civilised norms, and high moral standards.” This, again, is a reflection of imperial hubris that the author is clearly suffering from.

Even though the book is a purely one-sided version of the whole episode, readers in the Islamic world will do themselves a lot of good to actually go through the whole text — which, by the way, includes out-of-context quotations from the holy scripts — in order to have a realistic understanding of the stubborn American mindset; a mindset that refuses to acknowledge the need to change.

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, by Anonymous. Published by Brassey’s Inc.

The writer is a senior Pakistani journalist, associated at present with the largest circulate English-language newspaper of the country, the daily Dawn, as its Assistant Editor. He is based in Karachi.

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