Though President Barack Obama was courageous in ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, it may have been too little, too late.
Because prior U.S. presidents didn't order the military to go into Iraq and Afghanistan and wipe out any remnants of al-Qaida, the CIA is destined to pursue the splintered insurgent group around the world, according to a 22-year CIA veteran.
Dr. Michael F. Scheuer, who headed the hunt for bin Laden from 1996 to 1999 and then served as a special adviser to the CIA unit from 2001 to 2004, made the comments Wednesday to about 120 members of the World Affairs Council of Greater Reading at a luncheon at the Inn at Reading, Wyomissing.
"Wash all that away and what you are left with is that if you're not willing to do your own dirty work, you can't expect anyone else to do it for you," Scheuer said.
The biggest hurdle the CIA encountered in its 16-year hunt for bin Laden was that most of the Muslim world, including Pakistan, did not want him captured, and prior American presidents lacked the fortitude to pull the trigger when the CIA put the terrorist leader in its sights.
Scheuer, 60, a Buffalo, N.Y., native and an adjunct professor of history at Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies, said President George W. Bush had at least four opportunities to kill bin Laden and did not act.
During Scheuer's tenure on the Bin Laden Issue Station, code named Alec Station, he said President Bill Clinton had about eight chances to kill bin Laden and each time failed to act.
In those cases, the presidents were considering using bombs and missiles rather than ground personnel.
In that respect, he said, Obama's decision to send Navy Seal Team 6 on a raid of bin Laden's secret compound in Pakistan with less than 50-50 odds of success was a big political risk and took courage.
What about Afghanistan?
But the intelligence service and the military were fighting an uphill battle from the start. And, Scheuer said, he doesn't know how much or for how long the Pakistanis knew about bin Laden's presence in their country.
"The Pakistanis from Day 1 never had an interest in turning bin Laden over to us," he said.
First, because the terrorist leader was a hero among a large part of their population; second, he expended a large amount of effort and resources to help drive the Russians out of Afghanistan; and third, the Saudis fund Pakistan's nuclear program, in part by selling it oil at a discount, he said.
"So for us to expect they would ever turn bin Laden over to us just wasn't in the cards," Scheuer said.
In addition, even seasoned government spies and analysts viewed the leader of al-Qaida as a serious foe.
"From our perspective he was the genuine item," he said. "He gave up the billionaire's lifestyle to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. He was wounded four times. He was blessed with an extraordinary eloquence."
But the bottom line is, Scheuer said, the U.S. had to kill bin Laden and shouldn't be leaving Afghanistan as planned.
"It is a self-imposed abject defeat of the U.S. superpower by an army of men armed with Korean War-era weapons," Scheuer said. "If America is not willing to kill its enemies to protect itself, why should anyone else want to?"
He predicted the next major conflict for the U.S. military will be in west and southwest Africa over oil, uranium and other valuable resources being developed there.
That is, unless Israel leads the U.S. into a war with Iran.
"The way things are now, we will attack Iran when Israel tells us to," said Scheuer, who said he lost one of his teaching jobs for claiming most U.S. problems in the Middle East are due to its close relationship with Israel.
On the home front
Internally, he said, because our borders are not secure, there are 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S., including hostile Iranians.
"They have an infrastructure of terror intelligence within North America that could make a tremendous mess in our country," Scheuer said. "Snipers or roadside bombs or kidnappings or shooting up schools or malls, they are fully capable of doing that here if we attack them there."
If the U.S. wants to avoid entanglements with radical Islamists in the Middle East, it should start by developing alternative energy sources.
"Otherwise, we're stuck in the (Persian) Gulf, where we're viewed as Christian crusaders," Scheuer said.
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