May 27, 2015
Truthdig Radio: Osama bin Laden and Nuclear Meltdown
Posted on Mar 16, 2011
Josh Scheer: Well, I think you’re both right. I mean, you’re right that they’re stodgy thinkers, and then Peter’s right because…Saudi Arabia has a lot of oil, and you were talking about the debt and all that. I mean, obviously we support Saudi Arabia for that reason, right? They are our masters; you said that.
Michael Scheuer: There’s nothing worth a dead Marine on the Arab Peninsula except for oil. We need oil; it’s a national interest at the moment because we’ve done virtually nothing since the first embargo 40 years ago.
Peter Scheer: But isn’t there another…you hear the same sort of logic that keeps us stuck in Afghanistan, you hear presented in Saudi Arabia a lot, which is that the alternative to this monarchy is some sort of religious extremist in charge of this oil. And terrorists and, you know, whatever else comes with it. Is that reasonable? Is that rational?
Michael Scheuer: Well, I think it’s clear that whatever succeeds the Saudis would be more genuinely religious. The Saudis are about the furthest thing from religion in terms of their own personal behavior. But I don’t think it necessarily follows that an Islamic government would be more oppressive than the Saudi police state. For example, Iran, for all its failures and brutalities, is a much more representative government than any of the people that we call our allies; certainly more than Mubarak was. So I don’t think A follows B in this case. An Islamic government in Saudi Arabia under bin Laden would be much more genuine to the people who live there than the Al Saud family, and probably would be less oppressive. And I always think that it’s easier to deal in this world with nation-states than it is with these non-state actors, or transnational groups, whatever you want to call them, who don’t have a return address. Once someone gets in power, he has to govern the country; he has to run the economy; he has something to lose. And you know where he lives. So, you know, I’m not…I guess I’m old enough to remember when America wasn’t afraid of everything. And so I’m one that believes that it’s not necessarily the end of the world if an Islamic government takes over somewhere.
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Robert Scheer: Let me ask you, though—this is Bob—what are the obstacles to having a rational policy? I mean, Peter made a point, you know, there are a number of people who talk sense and back it up, and as I say, your books are very clear; they’re well documented; they’re logical; they’re soundly rooted in historical experience. And so why don’t intelligent people respond? First of all, what are the issues that are inflaming the Muslim world, and are they issues that can be dealt with in a way that’s consistent with American national interests? I mean, what is the position one should have on Israel or on Saudi Arabia or the other irritants?
Michael Scheuer: Well, clearly, these are issues…the issues that are at play are also inextricably bound up with domestic politics. And I have tried never to believe that any…anyone was not as smart as I am. So I have to assume that despite what they say, President Obama, Bush, Clinton and the first Bush know that whatever you think of our relationship with the Israelis, for example, if you’re pro or con, it really doesn’t matter. But it’s a factual statement to say that our relationship with Israel causes us to be attacked by Islamic fighters in many areas of the world. But we can’t have that discussion here. If we have that discussion in the political campaign, the politician involved will never win. He’ll be flooded with anti-Semitism charges; his opponent will be receiving money from all over the place from pro-Israeli people. So they avoid that. They can’t really argue that we’re going to send your sons and daughters to war to defend the Saudi police state, for example; that would be another non-vote-getter. So until we kind of find a way to find a statesman, rather than just this ongoing string of Ivy League politicians, I really don’t know anything but calamity that might begin a debate or some change in U.S. foreign policy.
Peter Scheer: Well, Michael, before we let you go, I just have to ask out of my own curiosity: where is Osama bin Laden? And also, is he even still relevant?
Michael Scheuer: Oh, I think he’s very relevant, sir. He is probably in the northern part of Afghanistan and Pakistan; there’s no border there. Up in Afghanistan it would be the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, across the border in Bajaur in Pakistan. It’s the place he wanted to go in ’97, when he was going to move away from Jalalabad. But before he could move north he was invited to the capital of the Taliban in Kandahar and didn’t think he could say no. It’s also the area where the Saudis and the Kuwaitis have spent 35 years proselytizing. So it’s an area that’s very…oh, how would you say?…religiously congenial to bin Laden. The same kinds of religious attitudes among the population as he holds. So I think that’s probably the area where he is at the moment but, you know, my idea and two bucks will get you a coffee. [Laughter]
Peter Scheer: And how influential is he still?
Michael Scheuer: I think he’s extraordinarily influential. As a symbol, there is no one who compares with this almost Robin Hood-like figure. A man set to inherit part of a $40 billion fortune who instead chose to abandon that and fight with the mujahedeen against the Afghans, be wounded in battle four times, and not only be the only Arab entity to consistently stand up to the Americans, but to attack them and hurt them and live to tell about it. And so I think it’s very important that he be eliminated. Some people argue that then he would be a martyr, but I’ve always preferred a dead martyr to a living, breathing smart guy who is planning to attack you.
Robert Scheer: You know, let me just ask you one last question—this is Robert again—in your book, you have a…you say you didn’t come to praise bin Laden, you came to bury him. But you also have a list, I think there were 10 adjectives that you used to describe him, that are all very flattering. And you know, in a sense, how does he fit into, say…you say the Saudis have a strong religious presence there in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What is the dispute between bin Laden and the rulers, and particularly in Saudi Arabia? Is it about corruption, is it about true believer? And tied to that, why do the Saudis have as much influence in this country as you suggest in your writing? I mean, oil—they’ve got to sell the oil to someone; you can get oil elsewhere. And I just wonder, you know, we hear a lot about the Israel lobby; we don’t hear much about the Saudi lobby. How does it really work?
Michael Scheuer: Well, the Saudi lobby is extraordinarily powerful, but much more quiet than the Israeli lobby. They work through retired U.S. government officers—ambassadors, senior intelligence officers, former congressman and senators, to influence the Congress and influence public opinion. I think you’ll recall that in the weeks after 9/11, The Wall Street Journal published four or five pieces by former U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia that praised the Saudis, said that “don’t mistake the 9/11 hijackers as the true reflection of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are our good and noble friends.” And so it works in that manner. It works because not only do they sell us oil, which they have to sell us, as you said, or have to sell someone, but they buy extraordinary amounts of weaponry from the United States. We’re in the midst now of a $60 billion purchase from U.S. arms makers. And, you know, it’s really kind of a sleight-of-hand affair, because the Saudis buy the guns; the price of oil goes up a little bit; the money they make from the increase pays for the guns.
So at the end of the day, mom and pop American pay at the pump not only for gasoline, but for Saudi arms purchases. So when you wrap all of those things together—and, frankly, the failure of American politicians to do anything on energy policy—when you wrap all of those things up, I don’t think it’s any wonder that the Saudis have so much influence in our country. In terms of bin Laden’s strife with the Saudis, it has primarily to do with the un-Islamic, what he regards as the un-Islamic behavior of the Saudi government: putting into place some laws that are made by man rather than by God, by inviting the United States and Western countries to put military troops in the Peninsula in 1990 and ’91 and then keeping them there; the tendency of the Saudis to support what bin Laden and other Islamists view as U.S. policies rather than Islamic policies. So the real rub for bin Laden with the Saudis comes down to them not being, in his eyes, genuine Muslims.
Peter Scheer: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there, on that note…
Robert Scheer: Before we leave, Peter, can I just…
Peter Scheer: This is what happens when you’re on a show with your father. [Laughter]
Robert Scheer: OK, I’m sorry, but in the book you…in the book you, I think, make an important point, which is you challenge the basic narrative that they hate us for our democracy, they hate us for who we are. And you’re suggesting that is not the core; that they could live with us. So this whole notion of a radical Islam that is our inevitable enemy, you do challenge. Maybe that would be a good way to conclude this.
Michael Scheuer: Yeah. You know, one thing I tried to do in the book is I went through my entire archive of bin Laden’s statements, interviews, essays, sermons, which amounted to about 850 pages. And never once does he say in that that this is a war about culture. That this is us trying to destroy you because you’re degenerate or because you’re debauched or because you have elections or primaries in Iowa. And yet that is what we hear from president after president in both parties. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s just a flat lie. Bin Laden and his generation went to school watching the Ayatollah Khomeini, for about a decade, try to ignite a jihad against the Americans because of X-rated movies, women in the workplace, beer, and other sorts of degenerate activities. No one blew themselves up for that. Even when they blew up our Marines in Beirut, they [didn’t do] it under the Ayatollah’s rhetoric; they did it because we were on their turf. Bin Laden knows better than anyone that very few Muslims are willing to blow themselves up because my daughter goes to university. But there seems to be an endless number who are willing to blow themselves up or die fighting us because we’re occupying a Muslim country. So if you don’t get that basic point right, your policy is built on sort of a foundation of sand. If you don’t know the motivation of the enemy, you really aren’t going to have a very good chance to stop him.
Peter Scheer: Thank you so much, Michael Scheuer…
Michael Scheuer: Thank you, sir. You’re very kind to have me.
Peter Scheer: He is the author, most recently, of “Osama Bin Laden” and a veteran of the CIA, where he was the chief of the Bin Laden Issues Station and a special adviser to the chief of the Bin Laden Unit. I hope you’ll come back and join us again soon.
Michael Scheuer: It’d be my pleasure. Thank you, sir.
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