Friday, March 21, 2008

On the coffee table – Marching toward Hell

Thinking of reading Michael Scheuer’s new book, “Marching toward Hell”? Don’t.

Here’s why:

Scheuer comes off as a Tridentine Catholic for whom half the world ended at Worms, 1521, and the rest on a Paris tennis court in 1789. Or else, as though he had just stepped out of the receiving line at a soiree for Andrew Jackson’s first inauguration. Think of Pat Buchanan as a career CIA agent, perhaps.

As for any plaudits for Scheuer’s alleged Realpolitik, this is not Realpolitik but rather Scheuer’s schizophrenic distortion of that.

From questioning our relationship to Israel to analyzing just how broad our professional class’ ignorance of the Muslim world is, one can find actual Realpolitik in new books. Mearsheimer and Walt admirably cover what’s wrong with our one-way relationship with Israel, while Robert Fisk, though not a current or former intelligence agent, gives a wonderful journalist’s insight on today’s Arab “street.” I suspect that another retired or soon-to-retire CIA agent has done (if I don’t know about it), or will do, better on the intelligence insider information part of Realpolitick.

And, even in Realpolitik, he often gets it wrong, such as his call to have annihilated Iraq in the Gulf War.

1. He puts Reagan on an undeserved pedestal for “toppling” the USSR, ignoring that country’s internal fissures while calling Gorbachev a “nuclear gangster”;
2. Openly wonders whether the First Amendment can successfully be extended to the religious liberty of atheists and otherwise generally decries “secularism,” “atheism” and (implied atheist) “European elites”;
3. Repeats the Carter “malaise” myth;
4. Blames “environmental purists” whose “fanaticism” keeps us from having “reasonable and much-needed environmental protections”;
5. Apparently doesn’t believe in a free press, when he talks about “the U.S. military stupidly televised its killing of Muslims” in the Gulf War (I’m unaware of the existence of a Military Channel);
6. Claims humans are hardwired for war, both overstating claims of realistic empirical psychology and making the elemental “is” vs. “ought” mistake David Hume describes;
7. Stereotypes NGOs as “antinationalist organizations”;
8. And, speaking of schizophrenic, can rip a person to shreds on page, then praise them to the heavens the next.

And that’s just in the first third of the book. Think of Pat Buchanan as a career CIA agent and you have the tone of this book about right.

Beyond this, the only bit of insight that he forcefully gets right is that we’ve lost Afghanistan and need to move on.

In short, don’t bother reading this mix of diatribe and canard.