There's a Scott Horton interview of Malcom Nance in Harpers. According to the article, Nance is "An Arabic-speaking counterterrorism expert and a combat veteran with twenty-eight years of operational experience in the Middle East." Like some other experts, he has strong views on U.S. strategy vs. Al Qaeda. Horton uses this interview as a way to attack Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter who now writes an opinion column at the Washington Post. For those who don't know, Thiessen has been an outspoken and effective defender of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Naturally this has inspired intense hatred and attacks from terrorist rights supporters. But Horton tries a different tactic, the ever popular appeal to authority. Since experts, including those with first-hand knowledge, disagree about the effectiveness of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques, you might think they cancel each other out. Not so to terrorist rights supporters. They only believe experts they agree with, and simply dismiss opposing views as politically-motivated. In case I'm accused of that myself, I'll point out that I hold open the possibility that enhanced interrogation was totally counterproductive, and didn't really obtain the crucial information claimed by former Bush administration officials. Most anti-torture extremists won't concede the reverse. Let's look at some things Nance says.
Al Qaeda’s ideology has little to do with traditional Islam. Some call it al-Qaedaism; I call it Bin Ladenism.
I'm highly skeptical of that claim in that I think it goes too far. The Islamist ideology is a stream within Islam, a minority view to be sure, but it is still fundamentally justified by the religion.
we recognize, attack, and neutralize their central belief system using all political, diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic tools. The starting point is therefore to drive a wedge between Al Qaeda and Islam. The Muslim world needs to understand that Al Qaeda’s ideology has nothing to do with the pillars of Islam. When Al Qaeda is isolated and recognized as a radical cult, it will lose the ability to generate new recruits.
That sounds good but is far easier said than done. If the vast majority of Muslims in countries where Al Qaeda operates could be convinced to stamp out the terrorists as a radical, perversion of Islam, that would be great. I advocated something similar.
Now we get to Nance's comments about the Bush era.
The entire eight-year effort under Bush targeted Americans, not the world or Al Qaeda supporters.I think that's obvious nonsense that damages Nance's credibility. It's one thing to disagree with many of Bush's methods and actions, and another to make a ridiculous sweeping statement.
Bin Laden benefitted immensely from massive policy errors such as the invasion of Iraq.That's highly debatable, especially given that we don't know what would have happened had the Iraq War never taken place.
circuit breaker is designed to reverse these losses and break Al Qaeda’s global base of support. Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, noted that losing the Muslim world’s support would utterly destroy Al Qaeda. This strategy, which would cost only a fraction of the hundreds of billions spent on military operations, would attack Al Qaeda in the realm of public opinion in the Islamic world and would reposition America and Americans as partners rather than an opponents.I don't know what "circuit breaker" actually entails, but I'm extremely skeptical given his overstatements. Nance was a "master instructor in the SERE program." and Horton asks him about Thiessen justifying the use of waterboarding.
I spent twenty years in intelligence and four years in the SERE program waterboarding people before I ever opened my mouth on the subject. Marc Thiessen is a fool of the highest magnitude if he thinks he knows anything about waterboarding.What was left of his credibility is rapidly disappearing.
His claims are based not on first-hand experience but on a classified briefing from people with an agenda of justifying what was done.Yeah, and Nance doesn't have an agenda. It's not necessary to have first-hand experience in order to evaluate results, or analyze the effectiveness of intelligence. But recognizing that would involve logic.
That makes Thiessen into a court stenographer for war criminals rather than a person with any real claim of expertise.Anyone calling American leaders who acted in defense of the country "war criminals," because of their treatment of a couple of terrorists in time of war, is unworthy of respect, veteran or not.
Thiessen’s central purpose is apparently to glorify the most extreme practices used by the CIA in the Bush era and to argue that each of these practices, including waterboarding, is vitally necessary to our national security–even though no president used them beforeSo much for his expertise, which apparently doesn't extend to the history of the CIA, or to American use of torture techniques. Apparently he's never heard of the Philippine Insurrection or Teddy Roosevelt. This is typical of many anti-torture extremists, who have little understanding of history when they spout nonsense about torture being un-American.
Thiessen has no sense of honor and no moral compass.People like Nance think their minority view on the use of torture is the only moral position, and feel free to demonize other Americans who disagree.
The use of waterboarding and other torture techniques was a powerful recruitment tool for Al Qaeda; it spawned thousands of would-be suicide bombers.This type of unsubstantiated assertion is all too common from terrorist rights supporters. You'll hear it over and over again repeated as if it were fact. But in reality, people often tend to do things for various motives, and there's no way to measure what things were and are most important in recruiting Al Qaeda members. Religious fanaticism certainly seems to be a major factor.
Nance attacks Thiessen's claim that waterboarding isn't torture. I agree with Nance that it is torture, so I have no argument there.
There is great opportunity to use the goodwill surrounding Obama, and particularly the fact that he was raised in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, to creating a new era in American-Islamic relationsThat sounds like some serious wishful thinking. And Bush reached out to Islamic nations also. He's not proposing anything that sounds new. A "let's make them like us" policy is about the last thing we should embrace.
At the heart of my circuit breaker proposal is an effort to reframe America and Americans. Al Qaeda portrays us as Muslim-hating militarists. We need to be seen as a strategic partner in an effort to fend off a foe which is as much a challenge to Islam as it is to the West. Many leaders of the Muslim community desperately want this rapprochement. Our initial efforts against Al Qaeda were sound militarily but very clumsy on the field of public opinion. They have led to military successes, but those victories will be short-lived if we cannot win the struggle with Al Qaeda for hearts and minds.It's possible Nance has some good ideas, but given some of what he says in this interview, I tend to doubt it. Also, the subtitle of his book includes the phrase, "restoring America's honor." America hasn't lost any honor that needs to be restored.