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‘Obama, Bush no different in terms of mideast policies’
1.       tunci
7149 posts
 05 Jun 2011 Sun 10:46 am

‘Obama, Bush no different in terms of mideast policies’

05 June 2011, Sunday / ESMA BASBAYDAR, LONDON

A Pakistani policeman walks in front of the compound in Abbottabad where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed on May 3. Bin Laden lived in this compound deep inside Pakistan for the past five to six years.

Former CIA agent Michael Scheuer has claimed that there is no difference between Barack Obama and George W. Bush in terms of foreign policy in the Middle East.
 

In an interview with Sunday´s Zaman in London, Scheuer said: “They are not going to do anything about oil, they are going to support the Israelis no matter what the Israelis do, and we´re going to continue this democracy mongering, crusading for democracy no matter who is in power, whether its Republicans or Democrats, until something happens that hurts the US so badly. I´m old and I guess cynical but I believe that nothing changes in America without a calamity.”

While 9/11 proved to be a turning point in Western social, political, economic and cultural history like no other, the role of Osama bin Laden as an individual in shifting the social balance in Europe and across the Americas has played a similar part. For Scheuer, bin Laden was a very “talented man” and as such, a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, Scheuer devoted much of his career to bin Laden: He served in the CIA for 22 years before resigning in 2004; he served as the chief of the Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999. He is the formerly anonymous author of “Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror” and “Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America.” In an exclusive interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Scheuer discusses the very current subject of bin Laden’s death and the subsequent controversy surrounding this episode, the recent Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa and the consequences for US national interests in the region along with an array of other topics.

I understand you are giving a talk at the London School of Economics [LSE] concerning Osama bin Laden’s legacy and the role individuals play in changing the course of history. Bin Laden has certainly altered the perceptions of Muslims and Islam, particularly in the past decade. To what extent can an individual alter the course of history and how?

You alter history by forcing somebody to act in a way they didn’t want to and certainly nobody has influenced American life in society more negatively in the past 30 years than Osama bin Laden. The way Americans think about their government, the way they think about their country’s defensive abilities, the way they think about their neighbors and immigrants. Bin Laden was a history changer as far as the United States is concerned.

What does bin Laden’s death mean for US national security? Is the US safer now that bin Laden is dead or is it more susceptible to terrorist attacks?

I don’t at all want to denigrate the success of killing Osama bin Laden, I think it was very important, he was a very talented man and certainly what they’ve leaked about him showed he was still in command of the organization and it was focused on the United States. However, if you just simply take a map and look at where al-Qaeda was in 9/11, basically Afghanistan, and where they are now -- Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, North Africa, Palestine to some extent and the Levant -- it’s hard for me to understand how people base their arguments that somehow a bigger and more geographically dispersed organization can be weaker. In fact, part of the genius of bin Laden was seeing the dispersal of the organization; he made sure that his death would not be the end of the group.

So you think the death of bin Laden will not affect the strength or motivations of the group?

I think several things but most of all it depends how the succession works, I mean [Ayman] al-Zawahiri is not the most popular man in al-Qaeda. Although the information we have about him is very dated, he’s a very abrasive man who never ceases to remind people that he’s an Egyptian and they’ve been there for 4,000 years. That said, there is a talented group of people to follow bin Laden eventually; Abu Yahya in Libya is a very talented man and well-credentialed as an Islamic scholar, the leader in the Arab Peninsula. Abu Yahya is a very talented man as both a fighter and a politician, so I think it’s a mistake to assume that bin Laden’s death ends the problem. In fact, the recruiting sergeants for al-Qaeda are David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy -- that’s the recruiting mechanism for al-Qaeda, because they stick to foreign policies that alienate so much of the Muslim world.

In essence, what has been achieved by the killing of Osama bin Laden?

I think what’s been achieved is substantively the removal of a very talented individual who was focusing his efforts on the United States and a man who articulated, whether we like to agree or not, or whether we agree with al-Qaeda’s military action, he articulated the position of what the polling shows to be 80 percent of the Muslim world. They regard Western foreign policy as an attack on their faith and on their brothers, that doesn’t mean that all of those people are going to pick up guns, but we are in such a state of denial in the West about why we are being attacked that I don’t know how this is going to end up, but I think it can only get worse.

There have been many reports that bin Laden was not armed at the time of his killing; to what extent does the US operation defy the rule of law? Why was bin Laden not given a trial in court like any other criminal, but disposed of as soon as he was found?

Let me say two things: Firstly, I think the operation was really a very professionally done one and I think the aftermath was really botched politically. They can’t get their stories straight to this day. Also, I think it displays a continuing level of ignorance about Islam at the highest levels of our government. They claim that a shrine would have been built for him; his own followers would have torn down any shrine or pilgrimage to his burial site. The Salafis are hell on wheels when it comes to shrines or saints. In Saudi Arabia, they tore down the houses they think the prophet may have been in so as to prevent them from becoming a shrine. So the aftermath was very ill-informed and to bury him at sea is another example of a gratuitous mistake. As I understand, a Muslim is buried at sea only if he dies at sea and there is a health threat, so it was really a very amateurish handling of the aftermath of it. In terms of the operation, obviously the rules of engagement had been changed. Generally, American intelligence and military people have to be shot at before they return fire and my own view is that they preferred not to bring him back.

Why?

I think they were right. We didn’t want him speaking in a courtroom, whether this was a military court, a civil court to the Muslim world, he was going to be convicted no matter what court he was in and he was going to become, in some ways, more of a martyr than he was now. Also, the United States has proven it doesn’t know how to handle prisoners of war. So, had we brought him back to this country or to America, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups on the left would have been arguing for a trial or his release. So, as we are incapable of acting as adults, they decided that was the best thing to do.

Does the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan affect US-Pakistani relations? Do you think the Pakistani government was complicit in hiding bin Laden and how do you think this affects US-Pakistan relations?

I don’t know if they were, my suspicion was that somebody in the intelligence service or the military knew where he was since 9/11, but I think what you saw in our reaction is the adolescent belief that everyone’s interests are the same as ours. It was never in Pakistan’s national interest to turn over Osama bin Laden to the US or to be responsible for killing him. We couldn’t accept that or we didn’t recognize that it was clear from the start. I don’t blame the Pakistanis, because they have helped us, they now have a civil war in their own country. In the long run, however, all of the criticism of Pakistan is just hot air. The relationship will continue because with 130,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, there is no way to supply them if the Pakistanis do not let us use Karachi Harbor and then truck the material into Afghanistan. In many ways, it’s play acting, it’s for public consumption. The Pakistanis have the weapon. No Karachi, no army. Really, the Pakistanis have the upper hand. We’ve stranded an army in Pakistan and we depend on the Pakistanis to be able to supply it.

The Arab Spring across the Middle East and North Africa has no doubt left a vacuum of power, and there is a growing worry that Islamist groups will try to fill this void. Firstly, do you think this possible and if so, is it necessarily an undesirable outcome?

Without a doubt, for 30 years, Western dominance in the Muslim world depended on the maintenance of tyranny -- for access to oil, to protect the Israelis -- and so the tyrants would clamp down on the Islamists and kill them or incarcerate them. We are now in a really odd position of watching the West cheerlead for the destruction of its policy with nothing else to go to. In common sense or history at least shows that in places where there is chaos, uncertainty, worries or just anarchy, the people with the greatest advantage are people with organization. Whether it’s the Muslim Brotherhood, whether it’s al-Qaeda or al-Nahda in Tunisia, they have organization and so they will have a part to play in the political process. Maybe a large role in some instances, in Egypt, for example, Mr. ElBaradei clearly does not have an organization, he has some supporters, he has some media but he does not have a 50-year-old organization supporting him. Chaos always favors the organized.

If so-called Islamist organizations are placed within government, how does this affect US interests within the region?

It doesn’t necessarily have to affect them negatively, but I think it is unreasonable to believe that those governments would be very close to the United States after our support of Gaddafi or Mubarak or other people. I think the question is, will the governing elite of the United States be willing to work with them, and I have my doubts because they equate Islamist with terrorist and they also say any Islamist government would be bad for Israel and Israel is our hero and bribes our congressmen. I tend to think that an Islamist government in Egypt would be far less brutal, far less fascist than Mubarak. In Saudi Arabia, if Osama bin Laden had come to power, he would have been much less brutal, bloody-minded than the Saudis were. I’ve never been one that was afraid of an Islamist government simply because it was Islamist. It doesn’t have to be your enemy. I think it will take time to be a friend because we are not trusted because of the way our policies have unfolded over the past half century.

Oil is no doubt at the core of the debate. If America was not so reliant on oil reserves from the gulf, would it care for intervention? Or is this simply a matter of interests?

Certainly on the Arab Peninsula there is nothing worth the life of an American marine, except for oil. The American Congress has been negligent to the brink of criminality. They wasted 40 years since the first embargo to do something about our dependence on oil from the Middle East. I think oil is a tremendous problem, and really America is stuck in the Middle East until it does something about oil. Until we become more self-sufficient, we have to do something about the Saudi police state and we will. We will go to war if something happens in Bahrain and the Iranians interfere. The Saudis buy billions of dollars of guns but they can’t defend themselves, we will have to fight the Iranians, which of course in some ways is what the Saudis want and so do the Israelis.

So you believe there is a possibility of an impending war between Iran and the US?

I think it depends on how the Shias are treated in Bahrain. If large numbers are slaughtered because they are demonstrating, I think Iran would have a hard time not coming to the defense of their coreligionists. If they do, the pressure on the United States to defend Bahrain in the interests of oil and not to forget, the Saudis buy a lot of our debt, I think we will go and defend them and then the Israelis will have what they want; this will be a disaster for America.

How would you explain the Obama administration’s foreign policy within the Middle East region today? Is it justifiable to have NATO and an international presence in Libya?

More or less the same. Certainly more aggressive and more dictating than Bush in terms of how Muslims should behave. Maybe for a while a bit less militarily orientated, but I have to think that the region thinks, what interests did the United States have in Libya?

If Muslims were listening to Mr. Obama this week, he sounds more Bush than Bush except he’s better spoken and he’s probably a little smarter. He called for regime change in six countries: Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Libya and Iran. If Bush had made that speech and come to London, he would have been stoned but Obama, because he is this nice, bright, young and articulate man, was treated as a conquering hero.

 So the foreign policy of Obama in the region follows on from Bush’s?

There is no difference between the two parties in terms of foreign policy in the Middle East. They are not going to do anything about oil, they are going to support the Israelis no matter what the Israelis do, and we’re going to continue this democracy mongering, crusading for democracy no matter who is in power, whether its Republicans or Democrats, until something happens that hurts the United States so badly that the people at the grassroots level are going to say, “What are you doing?” I’m old and I guess cynical but I believe that nothing changes in America without a calamity. Something disastrous has to happen.

So is there a possibility of a future al-Qaeda attack on the US?

Sure, I think the reason they haven’t attacked is because they have the best of both worlds at the moment. They are not attacking because it would unite the American population but they’re defeating or helping to defeat two American field armies. We are going to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan but the politicians will dress it up as a victory for the American people but in the Muslim world, much of the Muslim world will say this is the second superpower that has been beaten by people who have acquired their weapons from the Korean War, how is this possible? This is going to have a galvanizing effect on the young men of this generation, just as they did when they beat the Soviets in bin Laden’s generation. It’s a very dangerous game and one thing that is never discussed is what will the perceptions of the Muslim world be when we run away from Afghanistan with no victory at all. To some extent, it will mirror what happened after the Soviets left. When you read the work of bin Laden, the one thing he was extraordinarily concerned about was a sense of defeatism in the Muslim world. I think he was surprised that the defeat of the Soviets didn’t do more. I think he clearly wanted us in Afghanistan; firstly, because we would get beaten and run away and secondly, this would be an antidote for the defeatism of the Muslim world or what he perceived as the defeatism of the Muslim world.

There has not been a major attack by al-Qaeda since 9/11, and it seems there is a possibility of one such attack. What is the role of the CIA at this crucial time?

Increasingly now, Obama and Cameron and Western leaders have cheered the destruction of the tyrannies and whether we liked it or not, Egypt, Tunisia, even Gaddafi and certainly [Ali Abdullah] Saleh in Yemen did a lot of counter-terrorism work for us. We had a common interest against bin Laden -- Mubarak, Saleh and the rest of them. It’s interesting as there doesn’t seem to be any reflection by American politicians as to their actions and what they are doing cheering the destruction of these people. I don’t think we should have supported it; we should have been quiet about it because our support for someone like ElBaradei is going to make him untouchable in Egypt. It doesn’t seem that Obama has given him much thought, or [John] McCain for that matter on the Republican side to how much more work is now being piled on the US intelligence community. The role of the agency and MI6 is that they’ve got an enormous amount of new work to do, which they are not very qualified to do. The fall of those dictators has been a disaster for the Western intelligence community.

 

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