Monthly Archives: July 2004

Arab-Americans unsure about Kerry

Although the appeal of Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry has been eroded by some of his Middle East policies, his campaign is continuing to receive substantial support in the Arab-American community.

Concern about these policies is even being echoed by senior Arab-American Democratic Party activists who have delayed the official introduction of an “Arab-Americans for Kerry” organization in hopes of gaining clarification on the candidate’s policies toward Israel and the Palestinians. A serious effort to address these concerns has yet to emerge from the Kerry campaign.

A group of influential Arab-American Democrats met in May with senior leaders of the Kerry campaign, including campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and national security adviser Rand Beers, the first such meeting the Kerry team held with an ethnic group. Participants said they felt that the campaign had acknowledged the community’s perspective and the need to make outreach efforts to Arab-Americans.

A number of subsequent developments have given rise to the new concerns.

Particularly damaging were talking points attributed to Kerry’s adviser for Jewish affairs, Jay Footlik, which took an extremely pro-Israel stance somewhat at odds with Kerry’s previously stated positions.

Several of the Arab-American Democrats who attended the meeting have reportedly sent a letter to the Kerry-Edwards campaign stressing the importance of the Arab-American vote in key swing states and expressing concern about the positions outlined in the talking points.

According to several people familiar with the process, about half of those involved in the meeting with the Kerry campaign declined to sign the letter because they did not feel it contained sufficiently forceful objections to the talking points and other policy statements, and seemed to pledge support for Kerry regardless of his positions.

A July 15 survey of Arab-Americans in key swing states conducted by the Zogby International polling firm found the Bush-Cheney ticket winning only 26.5 percent support, with Kerry-Edwards at 51, Nader-Camejo at 11 percent, and 13 percent undecided.

It is widely believed, especially among Democrats, that Nader’s strong showing in 2000 drew votes almost entirely from Vice-President Al Gore, costing him the election.

Mary Rose Oakar, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and a veteran Democrat who served 16 years in Congress said, “So many are disenchanted with (George W.) Bush that Kerry has been getting a lot of attention among Arab-Americans, and on civil liberties they can see a clear difference, but on foreign policy he has to do better to be assured of the Arab-American vote.”

James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute agreed that the talking points were “worse than a mistake, it was hurtful. A handful of formerly supportive community leaders have said they no longer want to be involved.”

He said that while the Democratic platform was unlikely to help win Arab-American support, “there are other things they are working on that I hope will help, and that I’m telling them have to be done. A lot of the support out there is not

as enthusiastic as it could be.”

While “Arab-Americans for Kerry” is on hold, and his supporters continue to search for more effective arguments to appeal to Arab-American voters, a number of individuals in the community are providing significant aid to the Democratic nominee. Arab-American businessman Hady Amr was a co-host on July 16 of the largest Democratic fundraiser in Virginia’s history, which raised $1.7 million for Kerry. And a prominent Arab-American professor of political science is known to be advising the campaign on Middle East and Islamic world issues.

Kerry supporters in the community point to his presumed sensitivity to civil liberties, since Democrats such as Senators Russ Feingold and Edward Kennedy have been among the strongest critics of measures like the USA Patriot Act. They also cite foreign policy concerns, pointing out the absence of neoconservative hawks in the Kerry team. The ideological tendencies that informed the strongest advocacy within the Bush administration in favor of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and that envision additional wars in the Middle East, came from a faction that seems to have no links to Kerry or John Edwards.

These arguments have been complicated by the increasingly pro-Israel positions adopted by Kerry as he has tried to fend off appeals to Jewish-Americans by President Bush, and the fact that, as senators, both Kerry and Edwards voted in favor of a resolution granting the president authority to use force against Iraq. Even Kerry’s pronouncements on civil liberties have been vague, leading to skepticism that his administration would in practice be more respectful of individual rights than the current Justice and Homeland Security Departments.

Zogby, who played a major role in organizing this week’s letter to the Kerry campaign and who is likely to be a leading figure in trying to organize Arab-American support for the Democratic ticket said, “I told the campaign they couldn’t expect me to do the job … without the right tools, and to date they haven’t given us what we need to work with.”

Ongoing reservations about Kerry’s Middle East policies notwithstanding, his campaign seems set to obtain significant support among Arab-American leaders and voters.

The online Democratic Party paraphernalia website,, is already selling “Arab-Americans for Kerry” buttons featuring the group’s blue and white logo with a dove and olive branch.

Kerry walks tightrope on Middle East policy

The campaign of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has been struggling to articulate a consistent position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention, which will be held July 26-29.

Confusion over where the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee stands on this issue reflects both the sensitive nature of the issue in American politics and aggressive efforts by the campaign of President George W. Bush to make inroads with traditionally Democratic Jewish voters and donors.

The Bush appeal to single-issue pro-Israel Jewish Americans has played on the close personal, ideological and political ties between the present administration and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, implying that as long as Likud is in power, Republicans will be able to forge closer links with Tel Aviv.

In essence Kerry is trying to walk the tightrope of outbidding Bush on Israel to protect an important element of his own base, while not appearing to be irresponsible and unreasonable to the rest of the party and the public or tying himself to policy commitments that will be unworkable in office.

An additional danger is that inconsistency on this controversial issue plays into the most powerful Republican critique of Kerry’s political style: that he flip-flops on major issues, saying whatever is necessary to appeal to any given audience. As one popular new GOP bumper sticker has it, “John Kerry: for and against everything.”

There have been at least three major policy statements from the Kerry campaign on the conflict in the past year, all of which are difficult to square with each other, especially on the issue of Israel’s separation barrier in the occupied West Bank.

In an October speech to the Arab American Institute in Michigan during the primaries, Senator Kerry condemned the wall as an obstacle to peace.

“I know how disheartened Palestinians are by the decision to build the barrier off the Green Line – cutting deep into Palestinian areas,” he said. “We don’t need another barrier to peace. Provocative and counterproductive measures only harm Israelis’ security over the long term, increase the hardships to the Palestinian people, and make the process of negotiating an eventual settlement that much harder.”

A “talking points” memo sent to Jewish organizations and leaked to the media in June, which was attributed to Kerry’s adviser on Jewish affairs, Jay Footlik, seemed to reverse this formulation, stating that “John Kerry supports the construction of Israel’s security fence to stop terrorists from entering Israel. The security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense erected in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israeli citizens. He believes the security fence is not a matter for the International Court of Justice.”

In a statement issued after the ICJ ruling that the wall is illegal, Kerry was described as “deeply disappointed.”

The final draft of the 2004 Democratic National Platform, which was agreed to in Miami last weekend, avoids the issue of the wall altogether. It is at pains, however, to repeat the formula that Bush used to endorse Sharon’s plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, stating that it is “unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

Unlike the talking points, the platform endorses “the creation of a democratic Palestinian state dedicated to living in peace and security side by side with the Jewish State of Israel.” When this passage was adopted in Miami, the committee meeting was interrupted by one of the few outbursts of spontaneous applause during the weekend, several delegates told The Daily Star.

However, it adds, in language again similar to that used by Bush in his endorsement of the Sharon plan, “the creation of a Palestinian state should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees by allowing them to settle there, rather than in Israel.”

A spokesman for the Kerry campaign, Jin Chon, declined to comment on the talking points memo or clarify which aspects of it may or may not reflect positions of the Kerry campaign, saying “those are not official campaign documents.”

An increasingly exasperated Chon told The Daily Star: “The bottom line is that the position of the Kerry-Edwards ticket is what is in the Platform.”

In what appears to be an effort to reinforce elements of the talking points, Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins on July 8 introduced a bill to “provide funds to eligible joint ventures,” beginning with $25 million, with Israel on security issues and promoting technology transfers. The talking points had promised that as president, Kerry “will act to jump-start the high tech sector working to adapt many of the innovative ‘technologies’ Israel has invented to combat terrorism. He will work to strengthen the US homeland while simultaneously strengthening the Israeli economy.”

In a further effort to solidify pro-Israel Jewish support, Kerry’s brother, Cameron Kerry, who converted to Judaism when he married, made a trip this week with Footlik to Israel. The Israeli daily Haaretz called him “a surrogate to reassure Israelis that the Democratic candidate was as strong a supporter as Bush.” The Kerry brothers discovered 15 years ago that their paternal grandparents were Czech Jews who had converted to Christianity before immigrating to the US. The low-key Cameron is reputed to be a close adviser to his brother and deeply involved in the campaign.

Until his recent drive to outbid Bush on support for Israel, Kerry had been among the Democrats most critical of administration policies on the issue. In December, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations, he accused President Bush’s policies of “jeopardizing the security of Israel (and) encouraging Palestinian extremists.”

The Democratic Platform promises: “Under a Democratic administration, the US will demonstrate the kind of resolve to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that President Clinton showed,” an implicit criticism of the Bush administration’s half-hearted and fitful attempts to find a solution to the conflict.

Many observers expect, as this passage of the platform suggests, that a Kerry administration would in practice adopt an approach similar to that of former President Bill Clinton, and might even see the return of figures associated with Clinton’s diplomatic efforts in the region.

New book by senior US intelligence official slams Bush administration policy

An anonymous author identified only as “a senior US intelligence official” has published a new book, “Imperial Hubris,” blasting the Bush administration’s Middle East policies. It joins a long list of other critiques of the administration’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the US from former senior officials, including former counterterrorism chief Richard Clark and a formidable group of retired ambassadors and four-star generals.

These attacks have increasingly undermined the main thrust of US President George W. Bush’s re-election strategy, the argument that Americans have been well-served by and should continue to rely on his approach to counterterrorism.

The book is extremely unusual in that it has been written by a senior and still serving intelligence officer, leading to accusations that it was produced at the behest of the beleaguered US intelligence services, or at least a faction within their leadership.

The author dismisses these charges as silly. “Imperial Hubris” is, by any measure, the strongest of these attacks, stating that because of administration policies, “the US remains Osama bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”

The invasion of Iraq, it says, was “bin Laden’s gift from America, one he has long and ardently desired, but never realistically expected,” and “like our war on Mexico in 1846 – an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages.” The official’s controversial analysis places bin Laden not at the margins, but rather at the center of political discourse in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and shows little regard for other political trends and tendencies.

“Bin Laden has exploited a political situation in the Muslim world that has been on auto-pilot for some 25 years, a total void of leadership” the intelligence official told The Daily Star. “Every culture needs heroes and the leadership of the Islamic world has been nothing to write home about – who else is out there – this makes him a leader by default,” said the author, who, breaking with almost all trends in American discourse, describes bin Laden as “a dangerous and worthy foe” rather than a madman or criminal.

“What we need to do is to undercut his ability to grow in influence, and to me his ability is defined by our policies,” he said.

“Imperial Hubris” argues that these policies include support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and alliances with corrupt and dictatorial Arab regimes “from Rabat to Riyadh.” According to the senior intelligence official, “victory … lies in a yet undetermined mix of stronger military actions and dramatic foreign policy change; neither will suffice alone.”

He argues that without major Middle East policy changes, the US is left with no options other than “relentless, brutal and, yes, blood-soaked offensive military actions until we have annihilated the Islamists who would threaten us.”

“I am not advocating this,” the official explained to The Daily Star, “but we have left ourselves only one option because our policies are detested, and a great power needs to defend itself, but in the long run it is counterproductive to approach things in a strictly militarily way.”

The author said: “We will have to attack when the opportunity presents itself and destroy completely what we attack – we should have destroyed as many of the Taleban foot soldiers as we could. Our opponents looked at the supposedly most powerful army in world history and said: ‘Shit, we rode that out, we’re still here, we can still attack them. These people are not serious about killing us, and probably won’t be serious about protecting their allies in the long term.'”

“Some exemplary use of force by the US is necessary in the Middle East,” he said.

He added that the US was being failed by its “feckless” military as well as its political leadership. “I don’t think we have generals any more, we have bureaucrats, they don’t want to lose people, they don’t want to hurt people, and it’s a terrible situation. We should not waste troops on half-measures.”

He cited the aborted US siege of Fallujah in Iraq as a “dreadful loss” that reinforces in the minds of “a lot of our enemies in the Middle East that the United States does not succeed because we are afraid of casualties.”

Asked about the rebuffing of efforts by Syria and Iran to establish anti-Al-Qaeda cooperation with the US, the official agreed these were “appalling missed opportunities,” saying: “Better relations with Syria or Iran are impossible because of our Israel policies, it’s just a nonstarter. These things need to be debated but, if you so much as mention them, you will be cast aside as an anti-Semite.”

The senior official is deeply critical of the influence of Israel on US policies, writing that “surely there can be no other historical example of a far away, theocracy-in-all-but-name of only about 6 million people that ultimately controls the extent and even the occurrence of an important portion of the political discourse and national security debate in a country of 270-plus million people that prides itself on religious toleration, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech.”

“Imperial Hubris” has generated considerable attention not just because of its provocative arguments, and the fact that it has been written by a still-serving senior intelligence official, but also because of the anonymity of its author.

On June 30, the ace freelance journalist Jason Vest published an article in the Boston Phoenix identifying him as Michael Scheuer, and arguing that the forced anonymity was an attempt to limit the impact of “Imperial Hubris.” But on July 11, The Washington Post published excerpts from the book, claiming: “At this point, his name is about the only basic biographical detail (about the author) that hasn’t become known.”

The author said: “I would have preferred to use my name, and I dislike the idea that I am hiding behind anonymity, but I was asked not to by my employer, and I agreed.”

‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ misses mark on conspiracies

The first-week run in the United States of Michael Moore’s polemical documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” has shattered all box office records for a documentary, redefining the commercial possibilities of the genre. It has already earned $80 million, more than twice the total made by the second most profitable American documentary, Moore’s last film, “Bowling for Columbine.” But Moore has much broader ambitions for his new film than simply to increase his already considerable fortune. He says his intention is to damage President George Bush’s chances of re-election. Although much of “Fahrenheit 9/11” is devoted to attacking the Bush administration’s foreign policy – especially the invasion and occupation of Iraq – the film may only add additional layers of confusion about the Middle East in American popular culture, and reinforce crude stereotypes and broad generalizations.

Moore has presented a detailed account of the Iraq war without mentioning Israel in any way, without using the word neoconservative and without any reference to the massive paper trail demonstrating a pre-existing agenda, which placed the overthrow of the Iraqi regime at the center of both US and Israeli policies.

Moore’s audience never hears about the 1996 “Clean Break” paper presented to then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by several people who are now influential policymakers in the Bush administration, including Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, and their guru, Richard Perle. Nor are they told about many other key documents, such as the 1998 Project for a New American Century letter to then-President Bill Clinton demanding “military action” from the US to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The letter was signed by current administration figures Donald Rumsfeld, Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad and, of course, Paul Wolfowitz.

Rather than investigating the actual and well-documented agenda that led to the rapid shift away from a war against Al-Qaeda to a war against Iraq, Moore proposes an implausible and extremely confused conspiracy theory.

At the heart of Moore’s film lies the malevolent influence of “the Saudis,” a phrase that in the US is increasingly spat out with utter contempt, reminiscent of the tone reserved for “the Jews” in anti-Semitic discourse, ascribing to millions of otherwise heterogeneous people the same menacing and hostile essence. In a great deal of contemporary American discourse, any group of Saudis – including the government, security services, and any collection of citizens, not to mention Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and the hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001 – all represent “the Saudis.”

Moore depicts the invasion of Iraq as essentially a cover-up designed to hide the Bush family and its supporters’ deep financial links to “the Saudis.” Among the more disturbing passages of the film is a long segment featuring a succession of unidentified Arabs in traditional Gulf attire shown in friendly diplomatic and commercial encounters with associates of the two Bush family presidencies; as if these encounters and the political and business dealings they represent were by definition unwholesome.

Moore repeatedly asserts that the Saudi royal family, the bin Laden family and others, over the past 30 years invested $1.4 billion in the Bush family and its business interests.

This is the only explanation proffered by “Fahrenheit 9/11” for the invasion of Iraq. The film’s logic is as clear as mud, but the implications are unmistakable: a parade of sinister Saudis purchased the president and his cronies and, somehow or other, are behind both the attacks on the United States and the attack on Iraq.

As for the Iraqis, they are portrayed, not to say objectified, simply as innocent victims, yearning for revenge. Pre-invasion Iraq is depicted as a happy, peaceful land, and there is a notable absence of any Iraqi perspective on the conflict other than howls of suffering and rage.

If the villains are Bush and his supposed Saudi masters, the film’s victims are the American soldiers sent to die in a needless war. Its most powerful emotional punch comes from the story of a once-idealistic mother whose son’s death in Iraq leads her to question her patriotic illusions. Moore comes close to emotional pornography in his extended depiction of her pain, but these are exactly the passages that have given the film much of its appeal to a vast and receptive audience in the American heartland.

Using a heady mix of skillful humor and anti-establishment demagoguery of the kind normally monopolized by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh and FoxNews Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, Moore seems to have found a formula which allows blistering criticism to come across as not only acceptable but even patriotic to a public accustomed to trusting their leaders’ motivations when it comes to international affairs.

Moore may or may not affect the election, but he has certainly succeeding in bringing to a great many Americans the most powerful critique of US foreign policy they have already heard, albeit one that rests on a bizarre and incoherent conspiracy theory and which confuses at least as much as it enlightens.