Monday, December 06, 2004

Finished Imperial Hubris

I finally finished Imperial Hubris and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, although not our prospects.

There were no simple answers, but there was a path to answers.  I didn't like some of his logical conclusions, but they all made sense.  In general, it was a well argued case written in a style that one doesn't see any more.  If that's the kind of thinking and presentation that our intelligence community expects and nurtures, then I am very pleased with it - while still lamenting our own educational system.  The clarity and organization of this text is remarkable.  Of course, he also argues that such thinking as he exhibited in this book doesn't get communicated to the policy makers - which is probably why he wrote the book in the first place.

I won't spoil the conclusion for those who want to read the book - but, in summary, his point is that we are shooting ourselves in the foot as a nation with our policies toward the Islamic world and toward al Qaeda.  We suffer from lack of doing our homework - from wishful thinking - and from hubris.  We are destined to pay a price for that hubris, in many more US deaths, much more US debt, and much more hatred of the US from the rest of the world - especially the Muslim world.

Not only did we fail to capture and kill bin Laden - we have followed policies that were designed to keep him alive, safe and prospering.  We have done much of his work for him - with our biggest blunder being the invasion of Iraq.  This was the very best thing we could have done for bin Laden.  It's all wins for al Qaeda and all losses for the US - now and in the future.  Prisoner torture is only icing on the cake after the invasion itself and the toppling of Saddam - a force al Qaeda hated and opposed.

His biggest point, perhaps, is that we have mislabeled al Qaeda as terrorist.  It isn't.  He claims it is an insurgent army, not a band of terrorists.  There is a huge difference.  We tend to think of terrorists as insane loners, driven by frenzy to do stupid, suicidal things.  Terrorists tend to be few in number - because they have to be fanatic.  Insurgents, called upon only to defend their own lands and families, are normal folks - many in number.  It is hundreds of thousands of insurgents we face, not a few thousand terrorists.  They hate us not because of what we are but because of what we have done against them.  Our policies continue to do these things against them, and more, so we continue to build hatred of us. The ranks of the insurgents continue to grow.

As the bumper sticker says, "We're making enemies faster than we can kill them."  What that said in one terse sentence, with no supporting evidence, Imperial Hubris says in a whole book with a huge amount of supporting evidence.

He gives us two choices in the end: be prepared to kill Islamists on a scale that will make us sick (because there will be much collateral damage) or change our policies so that we stop making so many enemies.  Actually, he offers only the one choice. He makes the case that we have already made enough enemies that we are going to have to do a huge amount of killing - at much cost to ourselves in US lives, US dollars and additional recruitment for al Qaeda.  That much is set in motion and we can't stop.  What we can do with a change in policy is reduce the eventual total cost in money and lives.

He doesn't spell out the policy that will get us to the minimum total cost. He offers his own suggestions but cautions that he's not a policy maker and these are things that need to be debated in open society among those far more capable.  The first step, however, is to educate ourselves - and this book is a good start.


Post a Comment

<< Home