Today I listened to a lecture by Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA bin Laden unit and the author of Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq
. It was interesting but disturbing. Let me elaborate a bit; when I start to listen to these lectures, I'm rarely aware if the speaker is normal, crazy, skeptical, or a fucking nutbag. Once the talk is about twenty minutes in, the listener can usually judge, but with Scheuer, it was a bit more difficult.
He is very knowledgeable about the world and about international affairs. His mindset is reminiscent of John Bolton, another well-versed yet rather over-the-top personality. I found myself nodding along when listening about how the United States should stay out of foreign wars, but disagreeing adamantly with his hard-hearted, America-centered view of humanity.
An example: during the Q&A, Scheuer was asked about his "don't go anywhere to help/fight unless there are American interests. He mentioned Afghanistan:
"If it's in our interest to be involved, as it was in Afghanistan, we should have been, and we should have left the message in Afghanistan with whatever it took in terms of body count and smoldering buildings - 'don't screw with the Americans'."
He also said that the coalition was holding American back from "winning" there. Here's the quote:
What going to Afghanistan with an alliance did was to limit the amount of savagery we could apply
He's big on leaving giant holes in countries, in case you didn't pick up on that. Also, in case the "stay out unless we can get something" attitude wasn't obvious, here's what he said about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur:
"There are places that really doesn't matter what happens. Darfur is the perfect example of that. If it bothers your conscience, then everyone's free to go be an NGO or join a convent or whatever you want to do...I don't think it's a commitment to cost American lives to sort out a civil war in the Sudan."
I remember when the Rwanda genocide happened in 1994 thinking, "Why the fuck don't governments go there and stop that? They're fighting with machetes and clubs, for chrissake, it's not like it would take a ton of troops/peacekeepers to achieve a cease-killing."
At the time, however, I was naive about our nature and about the political systems of the "first" world. No one cared.
There's a great line in Hotel Rwanda
where Paul Rusesabagina thanks Jack for shooting some horrible footage, and the reply is, "I think if people see this footage, they'll say Oh, my God, that's horrible. And then they'll go on eating their dinners. "
Likely more to the point is another from that same movie where the UN colonel Oliver explains why no one is going to help them: "You're black. You're not even a nigger. You're an African."
The truth in that hits pretty close to the bullseye - or the back of a Tutsi skull, depending on the metaphor you'd like to use. It is what Scheuer seems to have in the back of his mind. There's nothing in Sudan for the United States, therefore why help? By that logic, if he and his family are walking down a street and on the other side, in an alley, he sees a woman being raped and beaten, he would not intervene in any way because, hell, what's she got that he needs? Fuck her (quite literally, in this case), and off we go to the movies!
Well, Mr. Scheuer, some of us like to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror in the morning and we would also like to think that our leaders would help when genocide is happening. It is understandable to have the "let's clean up our yard first before helping someone else" mentality, but the yard in North American countries is fucking spotless compared to both Rwanda and the Sudan.
The idea that other countries engaging in wars should be essentially spectator sports is understandable to a certain degree, but where diplomacy can be used, it should be and that extends to becoming a mediator for countries who either hate each other so much that they can't wrap their heads around negotiating, or who, if they had a war, would upset a regional peace that would effect trade and international relationships on a grand scale.
Finally, I have to comment on Scheuer's quote about the tentativeness in Afghanistan. He was upset about Colin Powell's assertion that it was:
...more important to keep the coalition together than to protect America by winning.
I hear that phrase all the time, "winning", and he used it after the above quote about "limiting the savagery" as well. What does it mean to "win" the War on Terror? We're so used to thinking of war as nation against nation, coalition of nations against rival coalition of nations, but that's not what this is. This is a coalition "of the willing" against a scattered group of religious joined-yet-separate factions. Thinking in terms of "nation-war" in this case will only serve to drive so many previously uninvolved and on-our-side Afghanis and Iraqis into the waiting arms of Al Qaeda
. There is not too much that would make suicide-bomber recruiters happier than a ton of "smoldering buildings" in an Afghan or Iraqi suburban area. I don't understand the fascination with destruction some of these guys have.
I'm tired and going to bed now. Apologies for the heaviness of this post. I'll write about monkeys and penii tomorrow for a break.