[ by Charles Cameron — I pretty much follow the people I follow because I learn from them, and that builds trust and friendship ]
I mean, I can well imagine there are some phony “experts” on terrorism out there, but Glenn Greenwald hasn’t done his homework and misfires. Let me explain.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes think the words that someone ends a book with are kinda significant. They’re the ones that give you the impression the author wants to leave you with. That’s partly why I go on and on at such length about the final hundred pages of Abu Musab al-Suri‘s Treatise being devoted to an exposition of apocalyptic hadith with strategic application.
So when Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes an entire book arguing that al-Qaida’s strategy is to defeat the US by draining its economy – fair enough, given that bin Laden himself said he was continuing a policy of “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy” – it should come as no surprise when Gartenstein-Ross closes his book with the following words:
When we are facing a crushing national debt, the interest payments for which are projected to eclipse our current defense budget by 2019, we cannot afford to overreact to every terrorist threat and to intervene in every conflict.
The course to maintaining American power in the twenty-first century begins with conserving our resources. And this must be as true of our counterterrorism and military efforts as it is of any other segment of the federal budget.
Likewise, when someone writes a 30-page analysis of the FBI’s infiltration of the Patriot movement, as JM Berger did in his report on PATCON for the New America Foundation, it’s hard to imagine that he’s solely concerned with Islamic terror. Indeed, Berger was researching the “Aryan Republican Army” at least as far back as 2006, when he posted Richard Guthrie’s Suicide: New Details Of ‘Aryan’ Bank Robber And OKBOMB Suspect’s Death In Prison; more recently, he published a piece about the Turner Diaries and today’s Patriot movement in the Daily Beast in June of this year.
It’s curious, then, and sad, that these are the two people that Glenn Greenwald specifically picks out by name and photograph to attack in his final, ill-informed piece for Salon, The sham “terrorism expert” industry, writing:
Gartenstein-Ross’ entire lucrative career as a “terrorism expert” desperately depends on the perpetuation of the Islamic Terror threat.
of the fellow who wrote:
we cannot afford to overreact to every terrorist threat
he spends his time doing things like shrieking about the Towering Menace of Anwar al-Awlaki and generally hopping on whatever Muslim-Terrorism-is-a-Grave-Danger train that comes along.
about the fellow who has been tracking many forms of US native terror – including all those mentioned in his piece, A Nation of Spies and Snitches in Foreign Policy in May of this year:
And it isn’t just about Muslims, or even terrorism. In recent months, informants and undercover agents have played a key role in criminal cases involving anarchists in Ohio associated with the Occupy movement and right-wing extremists in Georgia, Arizona, and Michigan
Greenwald has gotten this same sort of thing wrong at least once before, when he pilloried Will McCants. Greenwald had written:
I had a somewhat lengthy debate on Twitter last night about the Awlaki assassination with several people often identified as “Terrorism experts” — such as Will McCants and Aaron Zelin — and they and others (such as Andrew Exum and Robert Farley) objected rather vigorously when I said I found the entire concept of “Terrorism expert” to be invalid, as it is a honorific typically assigned due to ideology and interests served rather than actual expertise.
Exum neatly skewered him that time, too, albeit at greater length, writing:
Second, let me consider the case of my friend Will McCants, who Greenwald very much picked on in his Twitter feed along with Aaron Zelin (who I do not know well but who seems really smart in his own right). Greenwald is correct that the decade after the September 11th attacks created all kinds of incentives for self-proclaimed terrorism “experts” to rise to the fore, hawking their “expertise” and opinions on both the consulting market as well as in the mainstream media. Too often, this expertise has been ignorant or barely concealed Islamophobia. Ironically, though, one of the scholars who has done the most to condemn what he calls “CT hucksters” is Will McCants. Will is one of the more rigorously credentialed scholars studying violent Islamist extremist groups as well as being one of the most careful. Will fell into a study of terrorism after doing a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton. He had no initial academic training in strategic studies or military affairs as far as I know, but his Arabic and understanding of the intellectual currents of political Islam made him ideal to work on al-Qaeda as a case study. And just like I started a dissertation on Hizballah with a background in Middle Eastern Studies and boned up on the theories related to small wars and insurgencies as I went along, so too did Will with respect to terrorism as a phenomenon. At the end of the day, Will is best described as an Arabist, perhaps, but if he is not a bona fide terrorism expert as well — again, no scare quotes necessary this time — I don’t know who is.
History may not repeat, but Greenwald seems to.
The equivalent skewering this time around can be found in Foreign Affairs — in Dan Trombly‘s What’s Glenn Greenwald’s Problem?
[ Saving grace note: I don’t think it quite admits me to the clique, but I’ve exchanged emails or tweets with all four of the people Greenwald mentioned with less than due diligence, and consider each of them “virtual acquaintances” and in some cases “friends” ]