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Osama Bin Laden [Hardcover]

Michael Scheuer
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 Feb 2011
9/11 almost instantaneously remade American politics and foreign policy. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, water boarding and Guantanamo are examples of its profound and far-reaching effects. But despite its numental impact—and a deluge of books about al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism—no one has written a serious assessment of the man who planned it, Osama bin Laden. Available biographies depict bin Laden as an historical figure, the mastermind behind 9/11, but no longer relevant to the world it created. These accounts, Michael Scheuer strongly believes, have contributed to a widespread and dangerous denial of his continuing significance and power.
In this book, Scheuer provides a much-needed corrective—a hard-headed, closely reasoned portrait of bin Laden, showing him to be a figure of remarkable leadership skills, strategic genius, and considerable rhetorical abilities. The first head of the CIA's bin Laden Unit, where he led the effort to track down bin Laden, Scheuer draws from a wealth of information about bin Laden and his evolution from peaceful Saudi dissident to America's Most Wanted. Shedding light on his development as a theologian, media manipulator, and paramilitary commander, Scheuer makes use of all the speeches and interviews bin Laden has given as well as lengthy interviews, testimony, and previously untranslated documents written by those who grew up with bin Laden in Saudi Arabia, served as his bodyguards and drivers, and fought alongside him against the Soviets. The bin Laden who emerges from these accounts is devout, talented, patient, and ruthless; in other words, a truly formidable and implacable enemy of the West.

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Osama Bin Laden + Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America + Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (24 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199738661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199738663
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 510,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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The best and fullest characterization of the man and Al Qaeda ... a first-class study ... well-argued and written for a broad audience. (Choice)

definitive biography (Scotland on Sunday)

...a needed corrective to most of the airy generalisations about bin Laden and his followers. (Financial Times)

A fire-breathing denunciation of U.S. counterterrorism policy. (Julian Borger, The Guardian)

About the Author

Michael Scheuer was the chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999 and remained a counterterrorism analyst until 2004. He is the author of many books, including the bestselling Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terrorism. He lives in the Washington, DC area.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and myth-busting 8 May 2011
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
Michael Scheuer was the first head of the CIA's 'Osama bin Laden unit', from 1996 to 1999. His previous book, Imperial Hubris, explained why the West was losing the 'War on Terrorism' and was praised by bin Laden himself in his 6 September 2007 video. Scheuer is therefore well placed to write what is arguably the first scholarly biography of al-Qaeda's founder. In this short work (187 pages of text), Scheuer tries to be rational rather than offering a simplistic condemnation of the man. Scheuer believes the problem with the Americans is that they, understandably, portray bin Laden as a mindless homicidal maniac. While he sympathises with the reasons why Americans wish to do this, Scheuer believes that not only is this not true of bin Laden but that by failing to correctly perceive him for what he really is, they were no closer to defeating him or his organisation. Scheuer offers his own assessment of bin Laden that is sure to shock many: "pious, brave, generous, intelligent, charismatic, patient, visionary, stubborn, egalitarian, and realistic".

Scheuer also debunks many popular misconceptions about bin Laden, alot of them stemming from propaganda from bin Laden's native land, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis for obvious reasons wish to lay the blame for bin Laden's terrorism on the evil influence of Egyptian Islamists. Before that, they claim, bin Laden was a normal, good Saudi boy. Scheuer shows from the evidence that bin Laden was pious and devout from early on and that his ideas have been largely consistent.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The elusive one... 13 May 2011
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
Osama, that is. The author, Michael Scheuer, was the chief of the CIA's unit that was searching for The Elusive One for a period of four years, and has remained in the field of "Osama watchers" thereafter. He is definitely opinionated, speaks his mind, sometimes shrilly so. And he has accumulated his share of enemies, including the Israeli lobby in the United States. He has attempted what he considers to be a realistic portrait of the man, and in his preface, makes it quite clear: "...my intention is not to praise Osama bin Laden but to help bury him."

In Scheuer's initial chapter he groups various other "Osama watchers" into categories and then critiques their portraits of him. There is the "old hand" narrative that proposes that he is simply one of a long line of individuals or groups who use terrorism for political purposes. There is the "former comrades" narrative; that is, those who once supported him, but have fallen out. There is the "Riyadh narrative," pushed by the Saudis who are embarrassed by the actions of a man who used to be one of their own, and would like to blame it all on that evil Egyptian, Al-Zawahiri. American think tanks and the neo-cons push the "imperialist narrative," that is the coming of a world-wide Caliphate. And there are the "bin Laden experts" themselves, who ignore what he actually says, and relies on what others say about him. Scheuer draws American analogies to underscore his points, and says that it is equivalent to writing a biography of George Washington by relying exclusively on the works of his political rivals: American Tories, King George III and British army officers.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Osama bin Laden's jihad against the West continued years after September 11, 2001. While he remained a fugitive, his ideas and his al-Qaeda cells flourished despite global opposition and a relentless manhunt. Now that he is dead, how much continuing influence will his legacy have? Apparently, his machinations still threaten the US, the West, Israel, Christians in Arab lands, Jews, some Muslims and Arab efforts at building democracies. Michael Scheuer, who led the CIA's bin Laden desk from 1996 to 1999, eloquently explains that defeating al-Qaeda requires understanding jihad's history and deadly goals, like driving "infidels" out of Arab lands. Scheuer deeply criticizes US actions and policy - often controversially - but his analysis is engrossing, as is his informed, historical perspective on bin Laden, a lethally skilled leader who murdered ruthlessly in pursuit of his political and theological goals. While the opinions in this provocative, disturbing book are entirely the author's, getAbstract recommends this revealing, fully annotated work as a valuable reference, whatever your politics (for readers may well be throwing things before Scheuer is done, enraged by his criticisms or, depending on their views, by policymakers' decisions). Little did he know that two months after his book's publication, the US Navy would slide Osama bin Laden's dead body into the trackless sea - where the dark ripples still circle.
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0 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Like the Author 10 Oct 2011
I find out the author opions on US security and President Obama and I don't like it so I walk away with my feet.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
61 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some good points but writing seems incomplete 10 Jan 2011
By Enjolras - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Michael Scheuer is a unique personality in the field of "bin Laden Studies." He's neither liberal nor conservative, although he holds positions that please and upset both parties. However, at times he seems to have nuggets of wisdom, but his insights are limited by his passionate and occasionally sloppy communication. Osama Bin Laden bears all of these characteristics.

First, Scheuer goes to great lengths to write an actual biography of bin Laden, not simply diatribe against the man. Scheuer uses many sources both written by bin Laden or by those close to him. It's fascinating to see what Scheuer highlights that goes missing in the typical "war on terror" books. For example, bin Laden loves the outdoors and believes a Spartan lifestyle toughens soldiers. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he's survived quite readily in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. More importantly, Scheuer clarifies that bin Laden has never followed takfirism, or the policy of judging certain Muslims insufficiently pure. In fact, his success derives in no small part to his appeals to pan-Islamism, going so far as to chastise his lieutenant Zarqawi in Iraq for targeting Shias.

While I appreciate Scheuer's caution against rushing to villainize bin Laden, at time he goes too far in the opposite direction. Scheuer lambast anyone who accepts what he calls the "Saudi propaganda version" of bin Laden's life, notably that bin Laden as a good Saudi led astray by the Egyptian al-Zawahiri. Scheuer does point out that Zawahiri does seem to have moved closer to bin Laden's positions after they met. But he also recounts - and immediately dismisses - an anecdote by a Saudi journalist about an interview during which bin Laden seemed to change his mind after talking to Egyptian colleagues. It's not clear why Scheuer's guesswork is superior to that firsthand account, which he likens to something "utterly impossible."

A more persistent problem with the book is that Scheuer seems to occasionally lash out at everyone and everything - except for bin Laden himself - for little reason. He blames "New Age" professors for the fact that the U.S. military is unwilling to accept high causalities or engage in total war (isn't that really the fault of an American public?). He insinuates that everybody else in the policy community is stupid by claiming jihad is primarily a non-violent form of struggle (doesn't Scheuer realize American officials have to pretend Islam is a "religion of peace" in order not to incite Muslims further?).

Perhaps most critically, for somebody who worked at the CIA, Scheuer seems to have a poor grasp of policy realities. He lambasts the U.S. military for not invading Afghanistan until October 7, 2001, giving al-Qaeda time to flee. Yet, what other option did it have - we simply could not transport the troops or give the Taliban an ultimatum in time? Likewise, he claims the U.S. airstrike that killed Zarqawi was a boon to al-Qaeda, but what alternative did the U.S. have - to let him live? It's frustrating because Scheuer makes these comments almost as asides, and while they could develop into interesting insights, as is they seem more like snide recriminations.

Finally, the book is not really written for a beginner. In fact, there's relatively little context. Readers who aren't already familiar with Zarqawi or Zawahiri, much less the minor characters like Qutb or Ramzi Yousef, will probably get lost. I didn't have this problem generally because I'd followed the news for the past 15 years, but even so I'm sure I missed the full importance of some of the names he drops.

Despite my criticism, I give the book 3.5 stars because it is an important biography of Osama bin Laden (arguably the first actual biography) and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the man. Scheuer really tries to understand him and understand the world from his perspective. I do think the book would have benefitted from a readover by somebody who isn't fully immersed in this debate just to ask the questions "Will readers know who that is?" or "What do you mean by that provocative sentence?" As it stands, I can't quite believe this book is almost complete and nearing (as of January 10, 2011) publication.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding who he is rather than who we wish him to be 5 Feb 2011
By Stratiotes Doxha Theon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Mr. Scheuer does us a great service in telling us the truth rather than what we want to hear. It is difficult to seek to understand an enemy for his merits rather than simple name-calling that portray him as that which we prefer he was. But Mr. Scheuer reminds us that it is not because he wishes to praise bin Laden, but to bury him. He argues convincingly that others have, for various reasons, misjudged and misrepresented bin Laden and al Queda. Some have done so, perhaps for political or economical reasons to cover their own failings. Others more out of ignorance and desiring to say what itching ears want to hear. Whatever the source of the obfuscation it leads to the same result - our defeat. By intentionally covering our ears and eyes to reality we have sealed our own demise. Until we learn to acknowledge this enemy for what it really is, we will never understand how to defeat him.

One such understanding is to stop referring to al Queda as simply a terrorist organization rather than an insurgency. The difference is one of organization and rational planning. Terrorists are not rational nor do they have the networked organization nor organizational skills of bin Laden. Insurgency is not motivated simply out of distrust and dislike of our 'liberal western freedoms.' It is, in the minds of the insurgents, simply fighting what it believes is a defensive war to retain or regain what it feels is rightfully their's. Perception is indeed reality and their perception is that the west is the aggressor against Islam and they do not fight for world domination so much as the prevention of meddling in Muslim lands either by western military and money or by the lukewarm Muslim leaders who cooperate with infidel powers in order to retain their political standing and foreign funding.

The grand strategy in this insurgency is much like past insurgencies guided by the 'eastern way of war' as described in The Art of War (Shambhala classics). The near enemy of the insurgency is the lands of the holy shrines of Islam and their corrupt and compromising leadership. But in order to topple those regimes and restore the holy shrines to true Islam, the far enemy must first be eliminated. As Sun Tzu describes, first remove your adversary's alliances and then defeat him. America is that ally that props up the enemy regimes in those lands that rightfully belong to true believers. So, bin Laden set about a cogent and brilliant plan to draw America into a war it could not win. A war that would bleed her economically and remove her capability to support the near enemies of Islam. The attacks on American interests were not random shots across the border, as it were. They were planned to incite and lure America into a war in Afghanistan - the empire slayer trap. When that was accomplished, the strategy was to widen the conflict and spread American resources so thin that they continue to bleed further in a conflict they can never win. But even America and the collaborating Islamic rulers are the final goal. The final goal also entails defeating Israel and regaining Jerusalem and all of Palestine. After those are accomplished the final goal is a cleansing of Islam by a gradual conquest of the Shia heretics. It is, in the end, and despite the western rhetoric about peaceful Islam, an Islamic insurgency with Islamic goals. We deceive ourselves in denying reality.

So far, America has played into that strategy at virtually every turn. The reason we have is because we continue to ignore a true understanding of a formidable enemy. In order to defeat him, we have to face the truth and stop deceiving ourselves. We can respect this foe as formidable and intelligent or continue to lull ourselves with talk about 'hating our freedom' or 'a simple irrational terrorist.' Will we learn or will we marginalize those like Mr. Scheuer for attempting to tell us the truth?

This is a long awaited and thoroughly researched biography of a brilliant strategist and the organization he created. It is time to face the facts and change our strategy to defeat him.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Subject: Briefing Osama bin Laden 12 Jan 2011
By M. A. Ramos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Michael Scheuer who worked in the "bin Laden" unit while with the CIA has continued is interest if not constant focus on Osama bin Laden. This is not necessarily a bad thing and in his book we have what is the first objective biography of the man who has declared war on not just the U.S.A. but on all who stand in the way of the teachings of Islam of eight hundred years ago. This includes the Royal Family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I found this not to be the normal biography and read more like an intelligence briefing with the end notes being an important part of the book. We get a glimpse of Osama bin Laden the educated businessman, family man, farmer, Islamic solider and lover of nature. All that made him the intelligent and patient adversary Mr. Scheur pro-ports him to be. Along with his short biography is the author insight into the thinking and motivations of Osama bin Laden using the hundreds of pages of documents written by bin Laden himself and those close to him for his research.

We see through the writings and broadcast that Osama bin Laden has laid out his philosophy and plan of action and has done so in a way that the over one billion Muslims of the world can understand his reason based on their cultural and religious history. It is obvious that the author has tremendous respect for his subject yet knows he must be defeated. He points out many of the errors that are made by the western politicians and academia who have completely misread this man and his intentions. Though an insightful analysis and based on many facts there is still interpretations made on subjects that can only be known to the subject.

Having lived in Saudi Arabia I do know that many believe that America is a paper tiger that will leave as soon as the populace sees some casualties; as we did in Lebanon and Somalia. I do not judge these decisions for only the President, we hope, has an accurate assessment of all the facts at hand. Some of the author's assessments seem to not take account the logistical abilities that allow armies to deploy in strength. Though Osama bin Laden is the new and real threat the west faces this is a conflict that has been going on since the founding of Islam...and between other factions as far back as history has been recorded.

The author also seems to expect the reader to have a fundamental understanding of the players that have also been involved for over a decade in this conflict but it does shed some light on the man who is Osama bin Laden. An interesting overview on this complex man whose plans according to the author drew the west into war on Islamic lands.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly Impractical 26 April 2011
By J. Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Michael Scheuer, a former Chief of the CIA Bin Laden unit, delivers the most recent sketch of a man simultaneously hated and admired by many. Scheuer's purpose is to correct some common misconceptions and to offer a biography based on primary evidence - not secondary opinions, but what Bin Laden says about himself.

Certain misconceptions, Scheuer argues, have prevented the West from winning the war on terror. For example, Scheuer debunks the idea that Bin Laden is totally outside the bounds of accepted Islam, though as a violent Salafi Bin Laden is certainly not mainstream. Further, Bin Laden is not looking to conquer the world, but instead he is waging a "defensive" Jihad - sanctioned by the Koran and the Hadith when Muslims and their lands are attacked by outsiders and occupied by Infidels. Indeed, Bin Laden is very concerned with justifying his cause through the Koran and Hadith and so has won support for his cause.

Scheuer's book describes Osama Bin Laden as thoughtful, pious, and as a skilled organizer. Indeed, Bin Laden's al-Qaeda is a multi-ethnic, multinational, hierarchical organization with a real command of the global jihad and a real plan for a (victorious) post-war Islamic governance. Scheuer also notes that Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are relatively tolerant of less strict Islamic interpretations so that unity may be preserved against the common enemy.

Scheuer goes out of his way to contrast these and other views of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda against the received wisdom. Perhaps if I wasn't coming into the conversation so late, I would find his work revolutionary. But as it is, I consistently asked myself the question "so what?" How does Scheuer believe his views should change the West's strategy?

Scheuer states that he is committed to the utter defeat of Osama Bin Laden and that misunderstanding the threat posed by al-Qaeda is so serious that the West is imperiled. Perhaps so. But Scheuer is ever so light on the practical applications of his insights and so only leaves us with perhaps a more thorough, albeit academic, view of the world's most notorious Mujahid.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply enlightening 16 Feb 2011
By Bullelephant - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
Michael Scheuer has written an important book. Read it. I found the first chapter somewhat difficult because of the endless names and terms most of which were foreign (to me) but once over that (a necessity to understand what is coming) the author has produced the definitive documented account on Mr. Bin Landen. And what a story it is. Read some of the other reviews here for more on that.

I must state that the recent NY Times review of the book by FOUAD AJAMI, a certified, Johns Hokins School of International Studies noecon, is a pure hatchet job. Its only aim was only to discredit Scheuer and to cover for the sins of deep thinkers Like Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, the Likud party and Bush. Mr. Ajami who comes across as so amiable in his endless CNN talking head appearances chalks all of Osama's evil up to Osama's father having abandoned him. Spent a little too much time in therapy (psychoanalysis no doubt)Fouad did...likely.

Scheuer's book is the bible on Osama. Read it a weep. And understand the enemy that Osama is and further know that the fools and knaves who run our own government are not of and will likely not be of much help in killing Osama. We are on our own folks. Good luck to all.
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