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Truthdig Radio: Osama bin Laden and Nuclear Meltdown

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Posted on Mar 16, 2011
Photo illustration from an image by Colin Grey

(Page 2)

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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Thurston's avatar

By Thurston, March 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

Fine interview with Micheal Scheuer, although one must wonder whether his seeming free-wheeling commentary is not part of an intelligence propaganda initiative.

Look forward to future broad-/podcasts.

Wondering why the TruthDig Listen Now player has no volume control, as almost all analogous players now do?

And why TruthDig favors direct subscription to iTunes but not to other standard feed readers (again, unlike so many other analogous sites do)?

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By Lucy Berbeo, March 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment

Hi peaceinhand and all,

There was a technical error on the audio file, but we’ve fixed it—it downloads perfectly to iTunes now. Just click here to subscribe. Thanks for listening to Truthdig Radio!

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By Marshall, March 21, 2011 at 1:19 am Link to this comment

“our goal should be to make sure that the coming generation of young Muslim
males have less reason to focus on the United States, and that the only way to do
that was to deny them the motivation of our foreign policy”

So the foreign policy goal of the US should be to placate teenage muslim fanatics? 
That’s a ridiculous statement and so smacks of abdication of values as to be an
epic FAIL.  Why don’t we just put them in office so they can make our foreign
policy directly and cut out the middle man?

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By johnscriv, March 20, 2011 at 1:11 am Link to this comment

I really enjoyed this debut podcast from Truthdig.

The interview with Micheal Scheuer was particularly titillating. While his narrative is sprinkled with tidbits of truth, I find his description of America’s nemesis, the Saudi millionaire blamed for 9/11, to be comical in the extreme.

This portrait of bin Laden, as some sort of magnificent, omnipotent immortal, capable of commanding supernatural forces, really is fanciful. The notion that al Qa’ida could surreptitiously evade western intelligence agencies, remotely suspend North American air defences and magically pulverize New York skyscrapers, is little more than a figment of paranoid imagination.

On the issue of bin Laden, Scheuer is either a propagandist, or a deluded fanatic.

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By Gerald Sutliff, March 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I hate playing the role of Casandra.  I told my fellow members of a conservative (apolitical) service club that it was very risky to go into Afghanistan; God has it been more than 10 years ago?  I got some hostile comments for saying it.  Obviously it was a “mouse trap play” but like the “tar baby” we keep trying to get out by going in deeper.
BTW just what do they teach in poly science in Harvard, Yale?

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By Alan, March 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“von” Hippel was quoted in an NYT “debates” section a day or so after the event.  He gave a
somewhat ra-ra don’t get excited damage control spiel.
He has been a consultant for TEPC which, it turn out,
has been falsifying reports on its operations for
years.

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By Robert Hennecke, March 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The internet permits setting up a quickie radio station with great reach and little costs. Good move. OBL seems to be playing three dimensional chess with the west playing on only one level not realizing that we are in fact playing into the strengths of the Islamists (or whatever the hell they want to be called) on another level. The followers of Osama Bin Laden have one foot in this world and another in the next and that is at cross purposes to the limitations of the plane of existence that the west exists in. Energy alternatives are critical and I would usually at this point say that nuclear needs to be a part of this (even if that pissed of Mr. Scheer) but given what’s hapened in Japan I think that natural gas has to be a part of that plan. That and making plastic out of agricultural waste as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce dependance on oil in general. Natural gas is the big winner this week as a result of Japans misfortune this week.

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By alturn, March 18, 2011 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment

If we wanted to disempower Bin Laden, we would make food a universal right and ensure every person had sufficient food to eat every day.  We would put humanitarian aid before military expenditures.  We would incentivize alternative energy development and de-incentivize oil and nuclear power.  But those who control the debate and hold power would no longer do so.  Bin Laden to them remains a useful bogeyman to keep us in fear and forget that we are all brothers and sisters. Yet the time is drawing near when a new approach based on sharing will be our only sane choice.

“Soon your brothers in My centre will know that among them now is a simple Man of God, a Brother among brothers, a Spokesman for them: to place before the nations the needs of all men for a world at peace, for Just Sharing of resources, for laughter and Joy, for the creation of a New World built on the Pattern of God.’
- from “Messages from Maitreya the Christ”

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, March 18, 2011 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

KPFK plays perfectly on my iTunes (iMac).  Access website at
http://www.kpfk.org/programs/programschedule.html
Truthdig Radio plays Wednesdays at 2:00:PM

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By peaceinhand, March 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For some reason this episode won’t download into iTunes due to some “unknown error.” Anyone else have this issue? Or have any ideas? I’d love to read the transcript or listen online but have no time. And thanks regardless Truthdig…No doubt my favorite blog on the Net.

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By Peter Z. Scheer, March 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm Link to this comment

Good point Gerard. We should have a full transcript
coming very soon. Part one is completed and getting
checked over as we speak.

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By gerard, March 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm Link to this comment

Truthdig, if you want the content of articles to be as widely available as possible,
please don’t put them in video format because some of us don’t have access to
that method all the time.

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By TDoff, March 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm Link to this comment

Anyone who doubts that Osama bin Laden is the winner in the contretemps he started, consider just this one amusing fact. Because of Osama, in the right-wing, bible-belting, ‘christian’ US of A, with it’s absolute antipathy toward gays, it is now acceptable for male TSA agents to pat-down the ‘junk’ of male air travelers, and for female TSA agents to massage the mammaries of female passengers.

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tropicgirl's avatar

By tropicgirl, March 17, 2011 at 9:51 am Link to this comment

I’m sorry, former bin Laden hunter Michael Scheuer, what are we losing?

Bin Laden is as real as Mickey Mouse.

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kogwonton's avatar

By kogwonton, March 17, 2011 at 2:03 am Link to this comment

Who needs Osama Bin Laden when we have nuclear power plants? Even a dirty bomb has nothing on them. Don’t even get me started talking about military nuclear testing. These people don’t give the tiniest shit about actual radioactivity, but they’ll damned sure use fear of it to go after people they want. Let a power plant melt down and watch these same assholes play it down like it’s nothing.

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