MICHAEL SCHEUER has uncovered "the most successful covert action program in the history of man." Or, at least that's what he told an audience at Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on February 3. The CIA's former bin Laden-hunter-turned-public-persona is the widely cited author of a scathing critique of the Bush administration's war on terror, Imperial Hubris. Since his resignation from "the Agency" in November 2004, he has become best known for his view that the West is really losing the war on terror. Perhaps he should also be known for his work uncovering conspiracies.
According to Scheuer, the tiny nation of Israel is not a valuable ally in the Middle East, but instead the author of a vast conspiracy to hijack the direction of American foreign policy. Scheuer explained to the CFR crowd that Israel dictates the course of its relationship with the United States. He explained, "we can no longer afford to be seen as the dog that's led by the tail." Scheuer further warned, "I don't think we can afford to be led around, or at least appear to be led around by them."
How does a nation of roughly 6 million people control the foreign policy of the world's lone superpower? According to Scheuer, Israel accomplishes this feat through a variety of clandestine activities. When asked by a member of the CFR audience to clarify what he meant, Scheuer explained:
Well, the clandestine aspect is that, clearly, the ability to influence the Congress--that's a clandestine activity, a covert activity. You know to some extent, the idea that the Holocaust Museum here in our country is another great ability to somehow make people feel guilty about being the people who did the most to try to end the Holocaust. I find--I just find the whole debate in the United States unbearably restricted with the inability to factually discuss what goes on between our two countries.
Thus, according to Scheuer, the United States Congress is the target of Israel's covert influence and the Holocaust Museum, instead of simply honoring the victims of one of the worst calamities in human history, exists to make Americans "feel guilty." His first accusation is a serious one, but it is also a matter of evidence. As a 22-year veteran of the CIA, Scheuer is in a unique position to offer insight into the espionage tradecraft. If he has evidence that Israel has covertly targeted the U.S. Congress, then he should present it.
His second claim, however, mimics the type of anti-Semitic propaganda that emanates from state-controlled media monopolies in the Middle East every day. Arab propagandists often accuse "the Jews" of winning "world sympathy by playing on the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities." This is a recurring motif, for example, in Saudi state-owned newspapers. It appears that, in Scheuer's view, Israel uses the Holocaust Museum as a way to curry favor by making people feel sorry for world Jewry.
Scheuer's appearance at CFR was not the first time he has denounced the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Indeed, he told the CFR crowd that "I wrote in my book that I congratulate them [Israel]" on the success of their covert endeavors.
In Imperial Hubris, Scheuer endorsed the view that widespread Muslim hatred of America is an outcome of American policies that are perceived as anti-Islamic and not the result of Muslim hatred of western ideology or culture. In advancing this argument Scheuer ignores the role that state-controlled propaganda plays in shaping popular opinion in the Middle East. He also ignores the argument that U.S. foreign policy has been, on balance, ostensibly pro-Muslim and pro-Arab.
History is replete with examples, but several will suffice: the U.S. saved Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from Israeli forces in Beirut in 1982; assisted Muslims against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s; freed the Muslim nation of Kuwait and prevented the invasion of Saudi Arabia by a supposedly secular tyrant in 1991; and intervened on behalf of Muslims in Somalia and Bosnia. (For a more complete account of U.S. foreign policy towards Muslims and Arabs, see Barry Rubin's "The Real Roots of Arab Anti-Americanism" published in the November/December 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs, a magazine published by the Council on Foreign Relations.)
Despite a consistent pattern of aiding Muslims and Arabs around the world, Scheuer accepts their contrived grievance that somehow U.S. support for Israel is an unpardonable sin. In a rambling passage from Imperial Hubris Scheuer rails against the U.S.-Israeli relationship and "congratulates" Israel on its unprecedented success,
Surely there can be no other historical example of a faraway, theocracy-in-all-but-name of only six million people that ultimately controls the extent and even the occurrence of an important portion of political discourse and national security debate in a country of 270-plus million people that prides itself on religious toleration, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech. In a nation that long ago rejected an established church as inimical to democratic society, Washington yearly pumps more than three billion taxpayer dollars into a nation that defiantly proclaims itself "the Jewish state" and a democracy--claims hard to reconcile with its treatment of Muslims in Israel, its limitations on political choice for those in the occupied territories, and the eternal exile it has enforced on those camped in the refugee diaspora across the Levant. [emphasis added]
Scheuer does not stop there. He writes that al Qaeda's view of the U.S.-Israeli relationship "does not seem too far off the mark when it describes the U.S.-Israel relationship as a detriment to America" and approvingly cites a piece of al Qaeda propaganda that reads, in part, "[t]he close link between America and the Zionist entity is in itself a curse for America."
He further describes America's relationship with Israel as "one that drains resources, earns Muslim hatred, and serves no vital U.S. national interest." In a manner similar to his comments in New York City earlier this month, he also painted the U.S. as a gullible victim of Israel's malevolent designs. He wrote, "[i]n an astounding and historically unprecedented manner, the Israelis have succeeded in lacing tight the ropes binding the American Gulliver to the tiny Jewish state and its policies . . . "
Without a hint of irony, as he offered his views on the U.S.-Israeli relationship to an audience at the most prestigious foreign policy institute in the country, Scheuer lamented, "I always have thought that there's nothing too dangerous to talk about in America, that there shouldn't be anything [sic--transcript]. And it happens that Israel is the one thing that seems to be too dangerous to talk about." He further bemoaned, "[a]nd I certainly, as an American, find it unbearable to think there's something in this country you can't talk about."
Even Israel's decision to build a protective wall, an impediment to further suicide bomber attacks, does not escape Scheuer's invective critique. Remarkably, Scheuer's view even builds upon al Qaeda's rhotomontade concerning its leader's international stature. He again approvingly cites a piece of al Qaeda's propaganda that describes Osama bin Laden as, "a symbol of the oppressed east and west, even for non-Muslims." But, this time he adds,
A symbol, one might add, whose luster is only enhanced by the arrogant racism symbolized by the wall Israel is building to separate Jews from Muslims, and our own obtuseness in seeing the wall as a means of Israeli self-protection and not, as Muslims see it, as further persecution of the Palestinians twined with yet another Israeli land grab.
In Scheuer's view, therefore, Israel exercising its right to self-defense is really a racist land grab that simply enhances the stature of our enemy.
In Imperial Hubris, Scheuer previously warned of the "dangers" of questioning the U.S.-Israeli relationship,
There is certainly not a more difficult or dangerous issue to debate in the field of postwar U.S. foreign policy. The American political and social landscape is littered with the battered individuals--most recently the president of the United States--who dared to criticize Israel, or, even more heretically, to question the value to U.S. national interests of the country's overwhelmingly one-way alliance with Israel. Almost every speaker is immediately branded anti-Semitic and consigned to the netherworld of American politics, as if concerns about U.S. national security are prima facie void if they involve any questioning of the U.S.-Israel status quo.
So, not only has Israel "covertly" targeted the U.S. Congress, used the Holocaust Museum to make Americans "feel guilty," controlled the "the extent and even the occurrence of an important portion of political discourse [in the U.S.]," but it has also made it exceedingly "dangerous" for Scheuer to discuss this grand scheme.
In offering his appraisal of Israel's clandestine activities, Scheuer told the CFR audience that he wished "our clandestine service could do as well." Indeed, reforming this nation's clandestine service is a top priority for the new director of Central Intelligence, Porter Goss. But as Goss moves forward with his reformation of the CIA, perhaps we can get a better understanding of the challenges he faces by remembering Scheuer's views on the U.S.-Israeli relationship. If his opinions are widely held by other members of the CIA, then Goss has more work to do than any of us previously imagined.
Thomas Joscelyn is an economist who works on antitrust and security issues.