Imperial Hubris

Imperial Hubris

"Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror" (Brassey's, 2004; ISBN 1-57488-849-8) is a book originally published anonymously, but authored by Michael Scheuer, a 22-year CIA veteran who ran the Counterterrorist Center's bin Laden station from 1996 to 1999.

Scheuer describes his thesis this way:

"Imperial Hubris is overwhelmingly focused on how the last several American presidents have been very ill-served by the senior leaders of the Intelligence Community. Indeed, I resigned from an Agency I love in order to publicly damn the feckless 9/11 Commission, which failed to find any personal failure or negiligence among Intelligence Community leaders even though dozens of serving officers provided the commissioners with clear documentary evidence of that failure." []

The book is highly critical of the Bush Administration's handling and characterization of the War on Terrorism, and of its simplistic portrayal of Bin Laden as "evil" and "hating freedom." The book is notable in criticizing the idea that Islamist terrorists are attacking Western societies because of what they are rather than for their foreign policies. Scheuer writes:

"The fundamental flaw in our thinking about Bin Laden is that "Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than what we do." Muslims are bothered by our modernity, democracy, and sexuality, but they are rarely spurred to action unless American forces encroach on their lands. It's American foreign policy that enrages Osama and al-Qaeda, not American culture and society."

"Imperial Hubris" argues that Osama bin Laden's war against the U.S. is a classical example of defensive jihad waged against an enemy occupier rather than an apocalyptic attack on "freedom." Scheuer is particularly critical of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which he characterizes as "an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages." For Scheuer, the war in Iraq was like a "Christmas gift" to bin Laden not just because it distracted the U.S. military from the war against al Qaeda, but more importantly because it has provided global jihadists a failed state from which to operate that is even more conducive to terrorism than Afghanistan. By attacking and occupying the second holiest place in Shi'a Islam, the U.S. has turned Iraq into a lightning rod for jihadists from around the globe to come attack the occupying armies. The invasion, he argues, has provided credibility and substance to bin Laden's assertion that terrorists are waging a defensive jihad against foreign occupier bent on destroying Islam.

The book is also notable for its critique of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, which Scheuer insists that the U.S. is losing badly. The Taliban, he argues, was not defeated; it is simply biding its time for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops and the inevitable collapse of Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul. "Karzai's defeat may not come tomorrow," he writes, "but come it will, and the Prophet's banner will again be unfurled over Kabul."

In the September 7th 2007 Osama bin Laden video he says that "if you would like to get to know some of the reasons for your losing of your war against us, then read the book of Michael Scheuer in this regard." [Citation |last=Weinberger |first=Sharon |title=Osama's Book Club: Michael Scheuer, Emmanuel Todd|url=|accessdate=2007-09-19] [ [ Liveleak.Com - Michael Scheuer We Shouldn'T Be The Sole Supporter Of Israel ] ] [ [ YouTube - Broadcast Yourself ] ] [ [ YouTube - Michael Scheuer Mentioned in Bin Laden Tape FOX News ] ] [ [ YouTube - Michael Scheuer on the Sept 2007 bin laden message ] ] [ [ YouTube - Michael Scheuer on "Inside 9/11" ] ]

ummary of Imperial Hubris


Author a "career-long 'headquarters' officer . . . focused exclusively on terrorism, Islamic insurgencies, militant Islam, and the affairs of South Asia ― Afghanistan and Pakistan" (ix-x). Conclusions: (1) "We are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency ― not criminality or terrorism"; (2) current policies make the military "America's only tool"; (3) bin Laden's reasons are "U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world"; (4) his war depends on "the tenets" of Islam; (5) U.S. interest in "Persian Gulf oil" central; (6) war may last many decades and be fought "mostly on U.S. soil" (x-xi). Foreboding of future attack; reproach to neglect of "duty" by "leaders" (xii).


Foreign Broadcast Information Service; a small group of "mostly women" officers working "against the bin Laden target" (xiii); references to U.S. martial past (xii, xiv, passim).

Introduction: "Hubris Followed by Defeat"

U.S. is completing the radicalization of the Islamic world (xv). War in Afghanistan "is being lost" (xvi). Invasion of Iraq was militaristic, untimely, "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war" (xvi-xvii). Osama bin Laden's strength is his ideas, grounded in Islam (xvii-xviii). He is waging "a defensive jihad" to advance "clear, focused, limited, and widely popular foreign policy goals" (xviii). Sources: bin Laden's pronouncements, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sulayman Abu Gayeth, 3 web sites (Al-Ansar, Al-Neda, and Al-Islah), various secondary sources (xix). Importance of Internet emphasized (xx). Hubris seems to doom us; "al Qaeda sees the world clearer than we" (xxi).

Ch. 1: Some Thoughts on the Power of Focused, Principled Hatred

Most Muslims reject separation of religion from politics (2). So they take seriously anti-Islamic statements from U.S. evangelists (2-4). Like most Muslims, bin Laden sincerely loves God (4). Islam's "loving tone" (4-6). Defensive jihad is a personal obligation, requiring no authority (sources: Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes) (6-8). U.S. policies and actions, not values, are the cause (8-11). Evidence of U.S. attack on Islam, from Muslims' perspective: (1) U.S. challenging Muslim jihad, charity, and curricula (11); (2) U.S. supporting oppression of Muslims, apostate Muslim regimes, anti-Muslim economic and military sanctions, and control of oil in Muslim lands (12-13); (3) politically, U.S. denies self-determination to Muslim lands, occupies Muslim states, supports Israeli expropriation of Palestine (13-14). These views are nearly universal in the Muslim world and cannot be undone through PR (14-16). U.S. is seen as the restorer of colonialism (16). The fault is not in them, but in us: the cause of the war is "their love for Allah and their hatred for a few, specific U.S. policies and actions" (17). Bin Laden and the mujahideen are "legitimate and romantic heroes" loved as "symbols of hope" (18-19).

Ch. 2: An Unprepared and Ignorant Lunge to Defeat ― The United States in Afghanistan

Intelligence advice: "do the checkables first" (21-22). Al Qaeda has achieved seven major "victories": Aden, Mogadishu, Riyadh, Dharan, Nairobi/Dar es Salaam, Aden, 9/11 (22-24). U.S. should have had plans for immediate response and executed them ― but did not (24-27). U.S. had vast expertise on Afghanistan, but failed to use it after 9/11 (27-30). Lessons from the Soviet war in Afghanistan available, but unused (30-32). By Sept. 1, 2001, the Afghan Northern Alliance was a defeated force, and after the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood on Sept. 9, certainly not the basis of a national government (33-35). Masood represented only "a small subset of the country's Tajik minority" (35-37). The Karzai régime and its allies are hopelessly unrepresentative (37-39). U.S. ignored key Islamic commanders (41-45). The Karzai government is doomed (45-46). Seven truths about Afghans ignored by U.S.: (1) only Pashtuns rule durably (47); (2) the U.S. backed Westernized Afghans, not the "Muslim tribal xenophobes" who matter (48-49); (3) Afghans can't be controlled by money (49-51); (4) strong central governments, like the one Karzai is seeking, cause war in Afghanistan (52); (5) Afghanistan is a cauldron of international tensions (53-54); (6) Pakistan's national security depends on an Islamist, Pashtun-dominated régime (54-56); (7) an Islamic régime in Kabul is inevitable (56-57).

Ch. 3: Not Down, Not Out: Al Qaeda's Resiliency, Expansion, and Momentum

Al-Qaeda's fighters compared to those of the Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War (59-60). Al Qaeda follows principles of successful insurgent groups (60-61). When attacked, the Taliban dispersed effectively (61-66). U.S. lacks knowledge of al-Qaeda's order of battle, so cannot estimate damage to the organization (66-68). U.S. still hampered by a "law-enforcement mentality" (69-71). Two recent studies are good: Jason Burke's "Al Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror" (2003), and Rohan Gunaratna, "Inside al Qaeda's Global Network of Terror" (2002) (71). Al-Qaeda extremely popular in Saudi Arabia (71-74). Ansar al-Islam received effective help from al-Qaeda in northern Iraq (74-75). Al-Qaeda is present in Lebanon, but does not cooperated operationally with Hezbollah (76-77; see 229). Al-Qaeda's effective use of the Internet (78-84). Given U.S. policies, "blood-soaked offensive military actions" are the only path to victory (84-86). The following "balance sheet of 2001-2004" excludes Kashmir, Philippines, Algeria, Palestine, and Aceh (Indonesia) (86). "Victories" for U.S. and allies "almost entirely tactical" (87-91). Al Qaeda's and allies' "victories" show "strategic environment" has shifted in their favor (91-100). Acc. to al-Qurashi, al-Qaeda considers the U.S. center of gravity to be the economy, not public opinion (101-02).

Ch. 4: The World's View of bin Laden: A Muslim Leader and Hero Coming into Focus?

"Viewed from any angle, Osama bin Laden is a great man," "world-changing" in Western eyes and revered by tens of millions of Muslims (103-05). The evil-criminal view (105-07). Denigrations of his mind and capacity for leadership (107-09). Said by some to be dominated by al-Zawahiri (109). The thesis that Islam is a "failed civilization" lashing out in resentment (109-13) does not jibe with bin Laden's view: he blames Muslims themselves (114-15). Ideals of tolerance and multiculturalism impede analysis (115-16). Bin Laden as military genius (Christopher Bellamy) (117). Bin Laden as business genius (Larry Seaquist; Bruce Hoffman) (117-18). These miss the religious inspiration of the Islamic hero (118-21). Testimony of those who know him (121-22). Influence of size of his enemy (U.S.) (123). Bin Laden inspires love (124-25). He, like Abraham Lincoln, represents belief in a moral universe (Scheuer quotes again from Kent Gramm's "Gettysburg: A Meditation on War and Values" (1994) (125-26; also xii and passim).

Ch. 5: Bin Laden Views the World: Some Old, Some New, and a Twist

Importance of bin Laden's words, neglected by the West (127-29). Main concept: defending the ummah [= Islamic community bound by religious ties on a tribal model (OED)] from U.S. attacks (129-31). Al-Qaeda's role is principally to awaken and incite Muslims (131-34). Suicide bombers perceived positively in Muslim world as heroes of "self-sacrifice, patriotism, and worship" (135). Bin Laden's elegy of 9/11 hijackers misunderstood in West (135-36). Bin Laden frustrated by inadequate response from Muslim middle and upper-middle classes (137). Poem by bin Laden; use of poetry (138). Bin Laden's historical uniqueness comes from focusing Islamic resistance on the international level, on the U.S. (139-40). The centrality of Afghanistan is due to a need for a new Muslim state as a world center from which to launch a new caliphate (140-44). Recent refinements: allowing some attacks on non-U.S. targets (145-47), creating a vulnerability should a free-lancer cause Europe and U.S. to come together again (148); attacking "apostate régimes" more directly and accusing clerics of compliance with corrupt U.S.-backed power (148-52); preparing Muslim opinion by presenting arguments justifying WMD attack on U.S. (152-58). Bin Laden's 2001 statements on U.S. attitudes, unheeded (158-61).

Ch. 6: Blinding Hubris Abounding: Inflicting Defeat on Ourselves ― Non-Wars, Leaks, and Missionary Democracy

American élites' blinding "imperial hubris" (term also used in "Through Our Enemies' Eyes" [2001] ) endangers U.S. safety (163-168). The case of bin Laden is a maximal instance of this (168). Bin Laden's fidelity to his words demonstrated by pattern of post-9/11 attacks (169-70). 1990-2003 U.S. "victories" are really only self-declared ― no foe has been defeated (170). E.g. Afghanistan (171-77). Castigates U.S. military hierarchy: "lieutenant colonel . . . seems to be where truth-telling stops" (177). Win-quick and low-casualties-on-both-sides an "immoral" approach to war that violates the "basic lesson of military history since Alexander" (177-80). E.g. Afghanistan (180-81), Iraq (181-82). Placing Mongolian and Indian troops in Iraq shows ignorance of history (182-83). It is un-American to argue that only those with military experience can criticize military policy and operations (183-84). Some U.S. general should resign to protest recent U.S. approach to war (184-85). U.S. policy mentality too legalistic (185-86). CIA & FBI have "fundamentally incompatible" missions ― one breaks the law, the other enforces it (187-88). Law-enforcement focus lulls public (188-89). Islamists not affected by legal approach (189-90). We need to "fix the problems" in "intelligence community cooperation" (190-92). Endemic leaking by officials is treason due to hubris (192-99). John Quincy Adams in 1821: "America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy" (200-01). Invasion of Afghanistan is an arrogant attempt to do just that (201-03). Worse, U.S. leaders show no knowledge of American history (203-04). U.S. political achievements hard-won and not historically transferable (204-05). Muslim society, "where God and Caesar are the same," presents special difficulties (205-06). Recommendation: "Victory, I think, lies in a yet undetermined mix of stronger military actions and dramatic foreign policy change" (207).

Ch. 7: When the Enemy Sets the Stage: How America's Stubborn Obtuseness Aids Its Foes

Unlike Khomeini in Iran, bin Laden has six focuses foreign policy goals: (1) end U.S. aid to Israel; (2) U.S. withdrawal from Arabian peninsula; (3) end of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan; (4) end of U.S. support for Muslim oppression by China, Russia, India, etc.; (5) Muslim control of oil and sale at market prices (6) Islamist régimes instead of U.S.-protected Muslim régimes (209-12). Invasion of Iraq an unexpected gift to bin Laden (212-14). U.S. failed correctly to analyze the threat in the 1990s (214-16). Camps were training not only "terrorists" but, especially, "insurgents" (216-22). As a result "the brutal reality . . . is that we must kill many thousands of these fighters" (222). Coalition-building after 9/11 wasted time, imposed civilized standards, and counterproductively associated the U.S. with oppression elsewhere (222-26). Israel: "Objectively, al Qaeda does not seem too far off the mark when it describes the U.S.-Israel relationship as a detriment to America" (227-30). Post-9/11 measures that have increased Muslims' anti-American feelings: Immigration rule changes (231-33); interference with freedom of speech (233-34); hi-tech war briefings (234-35).

Ch. 8: The Way Ahead: A Few Suggestions for Debate

Risk aversion in the intelligence bureaucracy (237-38). Guidelines for use in defeating bin Laden and militant Islam: don't overblow the war (239); stop glorifying bereavement (239-40); accept that we are hated for our policies and acts (240-41); be bloody-minded and kill in large numbers (241-42); fight without principle ("engaging in whatever martial behavior is needed") (242); "stop knee-jerk yellow ribboning" (242-43); depend on ourselves, not others (specifically, Pakistan) (243-44); rely on real expertise (244-45); deal with bin Laden as a warrior, not a terrorist (246-47); attain energy self-sufficiency (247-48); break the military-industrial institutional nexus, perhaps by "banning many post-retirement jobs in exchange for a full-salary annuity after thirty years" (248-49); accept that we are at war with Islam (249-50); "learn to watch others die with equanimity" (Ralph Peters) (250-52). War cannot be avoided, but new policies affecting the length and cost of war are possible (253-54). Recommended reading (254). We must accept that bin Laden is "a worthy and dangerous foe" (255). U.S. needs a frank and public policy debate (255-57). Questions: Does support for Israel serve U.S. interests? (257) Do we have a duty to defend freedom beyond our borders, or to "abandon the sordid legacy of Woodrow Wilson's internationalism"? (257-58) What do we gain from backing corrupt tyrannical Muslim régimes, except for cheap oil? Have we the moral courage for energy self-sufficiency? Do we need bases on the Arabian peninsula? Do we have the moral right to spread democracy? (258) Hopes for policy changes, but "as always, the majority must rule" (259).

Epilogue: No Basis for Optimism

Americans have still not recognized the nature of the war they are losing (citing George Tenet's late-Feb. 2004 testimony to a Senate committee) (261-63).


8 pages. Of interest: Ralph Peters, "Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World" (2002) and "Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?" (1999). Genieve Abdo, "No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam" (2000). C.J. Chivers and David Rohde, "Turning out Guerrillas and Terrorists to Wage Holy War," "New York Times" (March 18, 2002). Stephen Biddle, "Afghanistan and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy" (2002). George Crile, "Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History" (2003). Lester A. Grau and Michael A. Gress, eds. and trans., "The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost" (2002).

Reviews of "Imperial Hubris"

These reviews, ranging from high praise to scathing criticism, are presented in chronological order.
*Richard A. Clarke, [ Finally the CIA gets it right] , Washington Post, June 27, 2004
*Michiko Kakutani, [ A Dark View of U.S. Strategy] , New York Times, July 9, 2004
*Mark Follman, [ A spook speaks out] , Salon Magazine, July 13, 2004
*Faye Bowers, [ We have met the enemy and he is us] , Christian Science Monitor, July 13, 2004
*Benjamin Schwarz, [ A Review] , Atlantic Monthly, August 10, 2004
*James. H. Joyner, Jr., [ Book Review] , Strategic Insights, vol. 3, no. 9, September, 2004
*Jason Burke, [,6121,1296769,00.html Why do they hate us?] , The Guardian, September 4, 2004
*Eric Margolis, [ Why West is losing] , Toronto Sun, September 12, 2004
*Jeff Helmreich, [ Empirical Hubris] , Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol. 4, no. 4, September 13, 2004
*David Frum, [ Uncertain Trumpet] , National Review, November 16, 2004
*Michael Scheuer, [ An author reviews the reviews of his book] ,, February 7, 2005
*Thomas Joscelyn, [ CIA Conspiracy Theorist] , Weekly Standard, February 16, 2005
*Charles Glass, [ Cyber-Jihad] , London Review of Books, vol. 28, no. 5, March 9, 2006


External links

* [ Slate] Advance excerpts.
* [ Boston Phoenix] article.
* [ CNN article]

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