Imperial Hubris Summary


(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Imperial Hubris is a book that will shake the confidence of the American public in the ability of the U.S. government to defeat not only Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda but also the Islamist insurgency of which al-Qaeda is a significant part. The anonymous author believes the United States is losing this war, which he expects to last “beyond our children's lifetimes.” The author (who is known to be male) is certain that al-Qaeda will strike again in the United States, and he warns that the next attack will be more devastating than the one on September 11, 2001, and may involve weapons of mass destruction.

The author argues that policymakers in the United States have not listened to the many statements bin Laden has made about the reasons for al-Qaeda's attacks. The author repeatedly claims that bin Laden and his followers do not hate the United States for its freedom and democracy, as the U.S. government proclaims, but for the specific policies and actions taken by the nation. It is not American lifestyles, but what the American government does, that counts.

Rightly or wrongly, many Muslims around the world believe that their faith and their lands are under attack by the United States. The author gives many descriptions of U.S. actions in the Muslim world from the Muslim point of view. For example, the United States incarcerates fighters involved in what Muslims regard as a legitimate defensive jihad. This fact, and American demands that Muslim educational authorities alter their curricula to teach a brand of Islam more accommodating to the West, are perceived by Muslims as a challenge to God's word as revealed in the Qurān.

Many Muslims also believe that the United States is attacking Muslims and their resources. They point to American support for regimes that oppress Muslims (including Russia, China, and India) and for secular and corrupt Arab governments in countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. Another Muslim complaint is that the United States imposes military and economic sanctions on Muslim countries and seeks to control oil from the Middle East to sell in the West at below market value. The final offense of America, in the eyes of the Muslim world, is that it occupies and dismembers Muslim lands, as in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. support of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.

All in all, the United States is seen in the Muslim world as the restorer of nineteenth century colonialism. This is quite different, of course, from how U.S. foreign policy sees itself: as the promoter of democracy and freedom around the globe.

The author is in no doubt that the United States is doing a poor job of fighting what he refers to not as a war on terror but a war against a worldwide Islamic insurgency. The failure began in the 1990's, when the United States failed to respond with sufficient aggression to the growing threat from al-Qaeda. Such failure was compounded by a slow and inadequate response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The author argues that the U.S. government should have had a plan in place to enable an immediate retaliative strike, given what it had long known about the threat posed by bin Laden. The invasion of Afghanistan was delayed, not only by the need to develop a plan of attack but also by the government's perceived need to assemble a multinational coalition before taking action. The author sees this as a weakness, believing that the United States should have the confidence to act unilaterally when its own interests are involved.

The author does not, however, regard the invasion of Iraq as an example of justifiable unilateral action. He believes the invasion was a mistake because it played into bin Laden's hands, helping him to convince Muslims that the United States was indeed attacking Muslim lands.

Although the George W. Bush administration has presented the war in Afghanistan as a success story, the author does not share this optimistic view. To begin with, the delay in launching the war allowed al-Qaeda to disperse its personnel and funds within Afghanistan and also to Iran, Pakistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia. Had the United States struck sooner, it might have been able to deliver a knockout blow to the terrorist group.

The author registers equal skepticism about the 2004...

(The entire section is 1765 words.)