Here is a good study of Leftist anti-American, pro-jihad bias as manifested in Michael Scheuer’s biography of Osama bin Laden — and the whole piece, about biographies of Osama in general, is worth reading.
“Writing the bin Laden Story,” by A.J. Caschetta in the Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2013:
Great, definitive biographies are rarely written by their subjects’ contemporaries. Generations often pass before sufficient evidence can be amassed, analyzed, and written into a narrative by a skilled and dispassionate biographer. The biographies of Osama bin Laden currently in print are all flawed but necessary steps in the path leading to the definitive bin Laden biography. The magnitude and trauma of al-Qaeda’s September 11 attacks are so profound and far-reaching that it will likely take a biographer for whom the event is itself history to write the definitive bin Laden biography….
Scheuer’s Osama bin Laden
Michael Scheuer, who pursued bin Laden for years from within the CIA’s dedicated bin Laden unit, which he himself set up, is uniquely qualified to write a biography of his quarry. Along with John O’Neill who pursued bin Laden from the FBI’s dedicated bin Laden unit, Scheuer fought not only bin Laden and al-Qaeda but also “the wall” built between law enforcement and intelligence, a wall begun by the Carter administration in the wake of Watergate and then made insurmountable by the Clinton administration, with Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick’s infamous 1995 memo conferring constitutional protections on foreign terrorists through executive order. Both O’Neill and Scheuer did everything the law would allow to capture, prosecute, or kill bin Laden, and both ended up quitting their posts, in part out of disgust over the rules of engagement forced on them, and in part out of trouble they encountered due to their unique styles. O’Neill would tragically perish on 9/11″”a mere twenty days after beginning his new job as head of security for the World Trade Center””while Scheuer would go on to write books, first anonymously (while still at the CIA) and then later openly, after quitting in 2004:
The amount of individual negligence and culpability at the highest levels of the American government was completely whitewashed by the 9/11 commission. And I resigned because I wanted to speak out on those issues.
His post-CIA books have been largely supportive of most aspects of U.S. efforts to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan but critical of the overall “war on terror” and especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This biography of bin Laden is his latest effort.
Of all the biographies surveyed, Scheuer’s is the most sophisticated in its assessment of both the life of Osama bin Laden and of previous biographies. Scheuer is not only an astute historian but also a literary critic, nimbly outlining the concepts behind what he calls “the bin Laden narratives–”a series of eight prevalent distortions of the terrorist’s life. Scheuer explains how each one is fallacious and dangerous. Three he dismisses out of hand: those that depict bin Laden and al-Qaeda as “tools of Iran “¦ tools of the CIA “¦ [or] tools of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.” The remaining five narratives are more nuanced and less easily dismissed, but Scheuer argues that several are in need of discounting, such as the perception of bin Laden as a madman, a common criminal, or a good and sensitive Muslim whose view of Islam was corrupted by the Egyptians who came to dominate al-Qaeda. Scheuer argues fervently and convincingly that the “story of al-Zawahiri craftily brainwashing bin Laden and hijacking al-Qaeda is cut from whole cloth by the Saudis and others as part of their ‘good-Saudi-boy-led-astray-by-evil-Egyptians’ narrative.” He is also clear and levelheaded in taking on myths such as the “blow-back” theory that blames Washington for the rise of al-Qaeda and the Taliban and that posits the notion that, in the post-Soviet era, U.S. administrations simply abandoned Afghanistan. While Scheuer takes Lawrence Wright to task for relying too heavily on selective sources (such as Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Scheuer claims is also invested in the “good Saudi boy” narrative), he overlooks the possibility that he also relies too heavily on his own interviews or his own privileging of sources that may advance their own self-serving or self-exonerating narratives.
Scheuer’s is the best book yet to detail the importance of the Advice and Reform Committee (ARC), bin Laden’s “think tank” set up in early 1994 in the Sudan. He refers to the ARC communiquÃ©s as “our first extended look at bin Laden’s written thought” and demonstrates how the ARC essays, which were faxed to the London office and then disseminated to the world, reflect al-Qaeda’s increasingly radical agenda. Scheuer is also perhaps the best at explaining bin Laden’s tactics and the process by which the terrorist learned from his mistakes (especially at the August 1987 battle of Jaji against Soviet troops in Afghanistan) and later in Jalalabad in March 1989.
Scheuer is very good at exposing the popular but erroneous view of bin Laden as an untrained, neophyte scholar, uncredentialed and unschooled in matters that would confer upon him the title of sheikh and, therefore, unworthy of the authority to issue fatwas (Islamic edicts). Of course bin Laden did indeed issue fatwas. And, deservedly or not, he was called sheikh by his followers, who hung on his every word.
By contrast, Scheuer downplays the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on bin Laden. In fact, there is no serious analysis of the influence of the Brotherhood on bin Laden’s thought or that of Sayyid Qutb or Hasan al-Banna, seminal leaders of the organization. This unfortunate omission leads Scheuer to overlook completely bin Laden’s caliphate irredentism, the longing to fulfill his prophet Muhammad’s quest and to institute Shari’a law, at first in the lands of the “near enemy” (i.e., Saudi Arabia) but surely later in the lands of the “far enemy” (the West). Scheuer might understand bin Laden’s project in the larger context of Islamic history and polity were he to read carefully Efraim Karsh’s excellent Islamic Imperialism: A History, but, in fact, he dismisses Karsh’s work wholesale, along with that of Victor Davis Hanson, Douglas Feith, Bernard Lewis, Charles Krauthammer, George Weigel, John Bolton, William Kristol, and Norman Podhoretz, all of whom are denounced as neoconservative imperialists afflicted with a “blind faith in the moral superiority of Israel in general and Likudites in particular.”
Readers of this journal may bristle at Scheuer’s failure to grasp the natural U.S. connection to Israel as fellow targets of Islamist terrorism. His anti-Israel stance is consistent throughout the book, and he has been unabashed about it since leaving the CIA as in his response to a question posed in an interview conducted prior to bin Laden’s death: “I carry no case for the Israeli relationship””I think it is a terrible relationship for America. The public opinion of the Muslim world is deeply hateful towards Israel. If you are going to satisfy the public in this new secular age of democracy you are going to have to be anti-Israeli and probably allow your people to help the Palestinians.”
As one might suspect, the author of the anonymously-published Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror has little good to say about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but, along the way, he paradoxically argues: “While in power, Saddam was the best ally of Israel and the United States when it came to Israel’s security. He dabbled with supporting Palestinian insurgents, but he also performed yeoman service in preventing the westward flow of Sunni fighters from South Asia to the Levant.” The numerous $25,000 checks signed variously by Saddam and his son Uday sent to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers amount to far more than mere “dabbling” from both a moral and legal standpoint. Scheuer also ignores Iraq’s role in international terrorism: Salmon Pak, Saddam’s premier terrorist training camp, is not mentioned. For Scheuer, the decision to invade Iraq played right into bin Laden’s master plan.
The most surprising (and disturbing) aspect of Osama Bin Laden is the degree to which Scheuer admires his subject, a tendency present in his earlier work. In his view, bin Laden is a celebrity, “one of those ‘Great Men'”¦ [who] has had a greater impact on how Americans view their society, government, and security than any other individual in the past fifty years.” Fawning admiration also permeates Jonathan Randal’s descriptions of bin Laden (“Che Guevara, Robin Hood, Saladin and Avenging Angel of Death rolled into one”). Excessive and unnecessary Osama admiration is also evident in the work of Bruce Lawrence, whose otherwise valuable and necessary anthology Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden is marred by a 13-page introduction filled with moral equivalencies (comparing bin Laden to Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, for example) and by footnotes and introductory paragraphs that always seem to accept bin Laden’s view of history and take his side while opposing the American version. But even Lawrence (who recently made a splash in Hyderabad’s Sissat Daily with the proclamation that, as Robert Spencer put it, “Islam has no connection with terrorism”) recognizes the hyperbole of Scheuer’s 2004 description of bin Laden in Imperial Hubris as “a pious, charismatic, gentle, generous, talented, and personally courageous Muslim.”
Scheuer follows Randal’s lead with the grating comparison of bin Laden to Saladin and Robin Hood, but he goes further, comparing the arch-terrorist to a Western management guru using his “skills to run a multiethnic, multinational, and multilingual organization that is unique in the Muslim world “¦ display[ing] the cool reasoning of a cost-benefit-calculating businessman, and the sophistication of a media mogul.” Readers will decide for themselves whether such rhetoric is overblown or fair. What is fair, however, is to charge Scheuer with too readily believing bin Laden’s own narrative for al-Qaeda’s reign of terror. Scheuer argues for instance that al-Qaeda is only engaging in defensive jihad when in fact anyone who has read Raymond Ibrahim’s The Al-Qaeda Reader cover-to-cover (which Scheuer acknowledges as an important but incomplete text) knows that both bin Laden and Zawahiri have taken great pains to disguise as defensive their plainly offensive jihad. Nonetheless, Scheuer accepts bin Laden’s jihad as a defensive one largely due to the latter’s portrayal of a U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia (beginning with Desert Shield in August 1990) as an “occupation.”
An honest historical evaluation recognizes that both Desert Shield and Desert Storm saved “the land of the two holy sites” from what would have been a genuinely brutal Iraqi occupation, like the one experienced by Kuwait. Subsequent arms and training deals cut between the Saudis and the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were mutual agreements between two sovereign nations. Bin Laden’s failure to secure the job that the Saudi royal family ultimately entrusted to the U.S. government caused him to portray the relationship between Washington and Riyadh as an occupation: Scheuer should know better.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the book concerns the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman. He was central to the foundation of the so-called Services Bureau (Maktab al-Khidamat or MAK) and then to its takeover after the assassinations of first Abdullah Azzam and then of Mustafa Shalabi, whom Azzam selected to run the Alkifah Center in Brooklyn””MAK’s most important hub. Scheuer’s work at the CIA presumably put him in a position to know something about the disastrous and perplexing decisions of the U.S. government to admit Rahman at least three times (in 1986, 1987, and 1990) followed by the catastrophic decision to grant him a green card in 1991“”despite everything known about him. Bin Laden’s numerous written fatwas demanding Rahman’s release, and the 2000 video fatwa urging Muslims to “revenge your sheikh,” more than justify an analysis of Rahman’s role in bin Laden’s life story. Scheuer’s failure to provide that analysis can only be seen as an evasion.
The driving principle behind Scheuer’s bin Laden narrative is the argument that the “status quo U.S. foreign policy generates Islamist insurgents faster than they can be killed” and that only a change in that foreign policy can change the situation. But again Scheuer is selective in his evidence. A glance at bin Laden’s 2002 diatribe, “Why We Are Fighting You,” shows that foreign policy is indeed a problem, for the polemic focuses about half of its attention on U.S. foreign policy, especially vis-Ã -vis the Israeli-Arab conflict. But the other half is devoted to matters that touch at the core of America, matters such as personal freedom, which bin Laden sees as our insufficient submission to God, the fact that Americans “separate religion from your policies,” and U.S. law’s refusal to prosecute people for “immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and usury.” He complains that women in America are allowed to work and that sex is sold and traded “under the name of ‘art, entertainment, tourism, and freedom.'” All of these complaints and others add up to bin Laden’s lament that America is “the worst civilization witnessed in the history of mankind.” The only solution he offers is that Americans convert: “The first thing we are calling you to is Islam.” Scheuer seems earnestly to believe that a change in U.S. foreign policy will end al-Qaeda’s war, but he arrives at that conclusion by selectively focusing on parts of bin Laden’s program while ignoring others that do not fit his narrative. Sometimes he allows this stance to blind him to reality as when he claims of bin Laden’s jihad: “The war is being fought, for now, only on Muslim territory.”
The World Trade Center was Muslim territory?