Sunday, March 16, 2008
don't call it a comeback:
David Rieff, with rather casual brilliance, writes the definitive liberal-internationalist response to Michael Scheuer. By way of explaining why Rieff's review of Scheuer's new book, Marching Toward Hell, goes after Scheuer at his core, let's explore the perfection of these two sentences:
And while Scheuer fancies his ruthlessness to be Machiavellian realism, his arguments — innocent as they are of any economic considerations other than America’s dependence on fossil fuels — are pure militarist utopianism. It is as if Scheuer could wish away the fact that the United States exists in a global economic system from which, for all the protectionist hysteria, the country remains a net beneficiary and that would be destroyed by the war he seems so fervently to desire.
Not in the face!

Scheuer's vices basically spring from his virtues, which, despite Rieff's assessment, do exist. His great virtue as a CIA analyst and author is to reject euphemism. (Judging by Rieff's review, that may no longer be true.) Nearly all foreign-policy mandarins blithely assert that America must pursue its vital interests -- without explaining what those are, or what criteria define the appellation "vital." Scheuer doesn't do that. He says America's first-order priority is the destruction of al-Qaeda, and that entails (deep breath) economic/political/military disengagement from the entire Middle East, Russia, China and India; and a ruthless and relentless global counterinsurgency against the existing al-Qaeda forces. Credit goes to Mike for saying what he means.

But that's not a judgment about the wisdom of his positions. The trouble is that Scheuer is too smart not to know that such a radical retrenchment of U.S. global commitments has consequences. So in Imperial Hubris, which really is a great study of al-Qaeda, Scheuer tries to square the circle by going around the bend. Somehow we can get all the oil we need from drilling in ANWR (and FTW when it comes to the, um, rest of the world). I am an economic illiterate, but I did read The Prize, and it cleanly demonstrates the ineradicable volatility of global petroleum markets. To endure so severe a disruption as would occur from Scheuer's desired geopolitical retreat would mean political crises in the U.S. and the first world in general. Then he says he'll vote GOP in 2006 despite the GOP's manifest counterterrorism failures, which he relentlessly skewers.

Finally there's the militarist porn that Rieff identifies. In 2004 I did what I think is the first extensive interview with Scheuer when I guest-hosted TPM and he was still an anonymous CIA analyst. Judge for yourself whether Scheuer has good answers for my questions.

At the risk of predetermining your answer, I'd just like to say that it's far easier, and preferable, to just adjust your theories in response to their absurdity.
--Spencer Ackerman
Cutting U.S. support for Israel is out of the question because of domestic politics.

Since 1990, the effect of American involvement in the Middle East has been to inhibit its petroleum output, first by blockading Iraq and then by invading it. I don't see how an American 'geopolitical retreat' would cause 'disruption' in 'global petroleum markets'.

The economics is pretty simple. People with oil in their backyards drill for it and pump it and export it because they get paid for it. Similarly, the U.S. exports grain, Brazil exports coffee, the Swiss and the Belgians export chocolates. Nobody has to send armies into their neighborhoods and get geopolitically involved to make any of that happen. Invading foreign armies even tend to get in the way, as once again see Iraq for example.

I haven't read Scheuer's latest book. I think I read the second one, but I've read a few books about terrorism since 9/11 so I'm not really sure.

I don't think I've heard of David Rieff before. I'm sorry to say I have to wonder about his credibility because of his claim about 'saturation bombing of North Vietnamese cities'. Compare the death toll for Hanoi, as reported by the North Vietnamese government, with that for real saturation bombing in WW2, as reported by those who did the bombing.

I'm not defending the war or the bombing. The war was a bad idea, and even taking the war as given bombing North Vietnam was another bad idea. But calling it 'saturation bombing' is out in left loony land. If the mission of that vast air armada had been to level Hanoi, be sure they would have succeeded.
Blogger David Tomlin | 4:20 PM