Ken Silverstein of Harper’s recent spoke to Michael Scheuer, chief of the bin Laden unit at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center from 1996-99. The interview took place at an International House of Pancakes:
1. We’re coming up on the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Is the country safer or more vulnerable to terrorism?
On balance, more vulnerable. We’re safer in terms of aircraft travel. We’re safer from being attacked by some dumbhead who tries to come into the country through an official checkpoint; we’ve spent billions on that. But for the most part our victories have been tactical and not strategic…
In the long run, we’re not safer because we’re still operating on the assumption that we’re hated because of our freedoms, when in fact we’re hated because of our actions in the Islamic world. There’s our military presence in Islamic countries, the perception that we control the Muslim worldâ€™s oil production, our support for Israel and for countries that oppress Muslims such as China, Russia, and India, and our own support for Arab tyrannies.
This reminds me of a crazy fantasy I have. In this fantasy, a White House reporter stands up at a press conference and asks Bush the most mindbogglingly obvious question imaginable:
Mr. President, the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit has referred to U.S foreign policy as bin Laden’s indispensable ally. I’m sure you don’t agree with this characterization, but could you explain for us your understanding of why he says that?
Of course, I know it’s literally impossible for White House reporters to ask the President of the United States mindbogglingly obvious questions. It’s like wanting them to travel faster than the speed of light. Still, I dream my dreamy dreams.