Monthly Archives: August 2004

Bush supporters face tough sell with Arab, Muslim Americans

With the Republican National Convention set to kick-off Sunday, and with US President George W. Bush running in a statistical dead-heat against the Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry, a small but influential group is set to press the president’s case to a deeply skeptical Arab-American community in coming weeks.

Polls suggest that less than a quarter of Arab-Americans are considering voting for the Bush in the November election.

Bush’s Arab-American supporters, including veteran Republican activists like Washington attorney and former Reagan administration official George Salem, admit that they are facing a difficult task in asking the community to support a record defined by the war in Iraq, unflinching support for Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon and the controversial law enforcement policies of Attorney-General John Ashcroft. Yet they insist that a deeper look at the president’s record could change minds.

In particular, they say that Bush has appointed more Arab-Americans and Muslims to senior positions than any other president. These include Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, presidential personnel aide Dina Powell, former head of the Office of Management and Budget Mitch Daniels, General Counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and the head of the National Institutes of Health Elias Zerhouni.

In addition to this list of appointees, Bush’s supporters essentially make the case that Arab-Americans have the same concerns as most other American constituencies. Since they believe that Bush has performed well over-all, they feel Arab-Americans can be convinced to either overlook specific concerns or rethink their generally critical assessments of his policies.

Randa Fahmy Hudome, a Washington consultant involved in forming a committee in support of the president, told The Daily Star: “I think there is a perception of negativity out there in our community and that when presented with the facts they will see this is just not the case.”

Salem told The Daily Star: “The Arab-American community is a sophisticated, mature ethnic constituency that needs to factor in everything, including economic and tax policies, education polices, and others, as well as foreign policy. In other words, many of us can continue to support Bush in spite of our concerns about civil liberties and foreign policy. Our community is not monolithic and it’s not single-issue.”

“I think both Bush and Kerry are tough sells in our community, and I don’t think that there are any distinguishable differences between them on issues of particular concern to us,” Salem said.

Talking-points for Arab-American supporters issued last week by the Bush-Cheney campaign, raised at least two arguments which could be effective. They cite Bush’s repeated condemnations of post-Sept. 11, 2001, hate crimes, saying: “The president demonstrated his true character when he immediately spoke out in defense of Arab-Americans and asked the rest of America not to harm the Arab-American community.” They also underline that Bush “is the first president to call for an independent and democratic Palestine while in office.”

Salem said: “In my view, a second-term president who has called for a Palestinian state is preferable to someone with a 100-percent pro-Israel voting record. There is the historic precedent that all major progress on the Palestinian issue has been in second terms of presidencies.”

The points also say that “because the United States and our coalition helped to end the violent regime of Saddam Hussein, and because the United States is helping to raise a peaceful democracy in its place, 25 million Iraqis are free and America is safer,” a claim unlikely to meet sympathy outside some sections of the Iraqi-American community.

Four years ago, it was all so different. Then, as now, the relatively small Arab-American and Muslim vote was widely seen as disproportionately important due to its concentration in key battle ground states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.

At that time Arab-Americans had grave misgivings about the presidential ticket of former Vice-President Al Gore and his vocally pro-Israeli running-mate, Senator Joe Lieberman.

In this context, Bush’s unprecedented efforts at outreach to the Arab-American and Muslim communities proved highly effective. In particular, his slightly garbled condemnation of racial profiling against Arab-Americans and secret evidence in the second television debate with Gore seemed to deeply impress its intended audience.

Every sentence in these crucial debates is part of a carefully-crafted strategy, and Bush’s comments were the first by any major presidential candidate that specifically referred to Arab-American concerns. It was justifiably seen as something of a break-through for a constituency still cutting its electoral teeth.

In response to these overtures, in October 2000, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council, a coalition of the four largest American Muslim political groups, endorsed Bush. Although Bush lost Michigan to Gore, he held Ohio, which proved key to his election victory. Some well-informed observers credited Muslim support for Bush’s narrow victory in 2000, including the noted Republican activist Grover Norquist, who wrote in the ultra-conservative American Spectator magazine, “Bush was elected president of the United States of America because of the Muslim vote.”

Norquist had led the effort in the late 1990s to bring American Muslims into the Republican Party on the grounds that they are “socially and economically conservative in their attitudes,” and that “American Muslims look like members of the Christian Coalition or religiously active Catholics.”

However, over the three years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the reputation of the Bush administration with both Arab and Muslim Americans has suffered severely.

Concerns about the use of secret evidence in a handful of high-profile deportation cases in the 1990s have given way to almost universal alarm among Arab and Muslim Americans regarding the USA Patriot Act and other legal changes over the past three years.

Bush is also badly hurt by his seemingly limitless support of Sharon, including an exchange of diplomatic letters which, for the first time, formally committed the United States to supporting Israel’s right to retain some territories occupied in 1967, and opposing the right of return.

In spite of this uphill battle, Bush is persisting in efforts, clearly more focused than those of Senator Kerry, to win back as much Arab-American and Muslim support as possible. The campaign has recently hired two new Muslim staffers to speak at community events. One of Bush’s prominent American Muslim supporters, Malik Hasan, the former chief executive of Foundation Health Systems of Denver, has not only given large donations to the campaign, he and his family have established a “Muslims for Bush” website.

Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, one of the groups endorsing Bush in 2000, told The Daily Star: “There are a lot of people who feel we made a mistake back then, but we were looking for specific things from the Bush campaign, which we got.”

“This year the Bush camp is still trying to reach out,” he said. “But my instinct is that they won’t have a lot of success. They’re going to keep trying to say they have a good record, but I don’t think that’s ever going to match with our perceptions.”

US charity arrests raise questions regarding ‘war on terror’

In a case with profound implications regarding the nature and focus of the US “war on terror,” on July 27 US authorities arrested the leadership of one of the largest Muslim charities in the United States, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.

Three additional indictments handed down on Aug. 20 were said by US authorities to also be part of efforts to stop the flow of money from the United States to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. A Hamas senior official who was indicted on Aug. 20, Moussa Abu Marzook, told the Associated Press in Syria: “Hamas did not take a penny from the Holy Land Foundation. Hamas has its own means of funding and that is not connected to any institution in the West.”

The 42-count indictment accuses the senior officers and fundraisers of Holy Land of using the charity to “provide financial and material support” in excess of $12.4 million to “Hamas-controlled organizations in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as for direct payment to individuals whom (Holy Land) supported on behalf of Hamas, including family members of martyrs and prisoners.” The case appears to rely heavily on information provided by Israeli intelligence,

with federal authorities citing “critical assistance from our foreign allies and partners.”

Among the accused arrested on July 27 were Holy Land’s founder, Shukri Abu Baker, its executive director Ghassan Elashi, Mohammed al-Mezain, Mufid Abdel-Qader and Abdel-Raham Odeh. Also indicted were Haitham Maghawri and Akram Mishal, both said to be outside the United States. A former fundraiser, Abdel-Jabbar Hamdan, was also detained, and is presumed to be a material witness in the case.

Indicted along with Abu Marzook in the second case, and arrested on Aug. 20, were Mohammed Salah, whose Chicago-based Koranic Literacy Institute was the subject of a controversial civil asset forfeiture in the late 1990s, and Abdel-Haleem Ashqar, who has previously been held on contempt of court charges for refusing to testify in other cases. Neither man has been connected to the charity.

John Boyd, a lawyer for Holy Land, told The New York Times: “This is completely unfounded, and if the Holy Land Foundation is given an opportunity to defend itself, it will be able to rebut every charge made in this indictment.”

The American Muslim community was shocked when the federal government in December 2001, froze the assets of Holy Land, along with two lesser known charities. With outstanding assets estimated to be in excess of $7 million, and having been listed as a suggested charity on the State Department’s website, Holy Land was among with most respected American Muslim institutions.

But for years it had been the subject of accusations, mainly from journalist Steven Emerson and his one-time associate, the self-described “terrorist hunter” Rita Katz, that it was a “front” or fundraising arm of Hamas-related social service organizations. These charges were not taken seriously by many people, because of the long history of false accusations from Emerson and his associates against Arab and Muslim Americans.

Holy Land challenged the seizure of its assets, filing a suit in federal court against the government in March 2002. In response, the government declared its intention to re-designate Holy Land as a “terrorist organization” itself, rather than merely treating it as a supporter or fundraiser. Lawyers for the charity say they were given two weeks to challenge the accusations in a voluminous memo from the Justice Department. They say they declined to try to meet what they call an impossible deadline. In May 2002, the government officially re-classified the group a “specially designated terrorist.”

Holy Land’s lawsuit proved a complete failure, as neither the federal district court judge nor the appellate court would allow the charity to introduce evidence challenging the government’s claims. Though these rulings created a minor uproar among legal scholars, the Supreme Court refused to hear Holy Land’s appeal and the rulings stood.

Civil liberties groups insisted that since Holy Land had never been allowed to defend itself, the government should either bring criminal indictments against its leaders, or unfreeze the assets. On July 27, the indictments came.

The accusations against Holy Land and the other charities have created a conundrum for American Muslims regarding how to perform their religious obligation of zakat – charitable giving – when some of the best known charities, implicitly endorsed by the State Department and enjoying federally-approved tax-free status, are now accused of being criminals.

Arab-American and Muslim groups have repeatedly suggested that the government provide some mechanism to assure Muslim donors that the groups to which they contribute are not suspected of any crimes, but to no avail. Additionally, the effort, spearheaded by Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, to get the remaining Holy Land funds, estimated to be about $5 million, released to a mutually acceptable third party charity has met with little success.

Central to the Holy Land case are key civil liberties and foreign policy issues defining development of the US war on terror.

Free speech and freedom of conscience in the United States could be compromised if giving money to humanitarian operations overseas run by people with the wrong opinions becomes a serious crime. Few Americans are aware of the vast social-service network run by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and – like the Israeli government but unlike many others – US authorities seem to recognize no difference between the humanitarian, political and para-military branches of the movement.

The indictments against Holy Land suggest the money in question was allegedly passed to “charitable fronts” for Hamas, and in part provided as aid for the families of its activists who were jailed or killed. “In this manner, defendants effectively rewarded past, and encouraged future, suicide bombings and terrorist activities on behalf of Hamas,” the government says.

If the case proves to be based solely on support for humanitarian groups run by people with the wrong opinions or the wrong associations, or aid to people who have the wrong relatives, then otherwise lawful activity will be a crime more because of the opinions being implicitly expressed than any violent acts. Since “material support” laws were enacted, civil liberties scholars have warned that they could develop into a form of “thought crime” in the US.

In July, the US government was rebuffed by a jury in Idaho that acquitted a Saudi student of “supporting terrorism” by setting up websites that allegedly praised terrorism in Chechnya and Israel. He was charged under a provision of the US Patriot Act makes that makes it illegal to provide “expert advice or assistance” to terrorists.

The recent arrests suggest that just as US foreign policy has become difficult to distinguish from Israeli attitudes, US law enforcement increasingly sees little difference between nationalist groups fighting Israeli occupation and Al-Qaeda’s worldwide terrorist network.

Opponents of Israel are thus increasingly treated as opponents of the US by American law enforcement, while the same standard is not applied to other nationalist groups such as Irish, Basque, Tamil, Iranian, Colombian that engage in terrorism.

Book seems to urge discrimination in US against Arabs, Muslims

A new book by right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin, “In Defense of Internment,” argues in favor of extensive discrimination and racial profiling against Arab-Americans and Muslims in the United States, and passionately defends the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II.

A rising star on the US extreme right, Malkin specifically denies advocating the mass imprisonment of Arabs and Muslims, but the logic of her book strongly contradicts these apparently pro forma disavowals.

“Make no mistake: I am not advocating rounding up all Arabs or Muslims and tossing them into camps, but when we are under attack, ‘Racial profiling’ – or more precisely, threat profiling – is justified,” she argues. However, given her full-throated defense of the wartime imprisonment of tens of thousands of Japanese-American men, women and children on the supposition that their ethnicity made them a security threat, her book does seem to constitute the brief for the potential internment of Arab- and Muslim-Americans.

The daughter of Filipino immigrants, Malkin has made a career out of being among the strongest critics of immigration and immigrants’ rights. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks she has been one of the most hostile commentators toward the Arab- and Muslim-American communities, consistently arguing in favor of discrimination and profiling, and describing the backlash of hate crimes and discrimination against the communities as a “myth.”

Whatever reservations Malkin may have about a mass incarceration of Arab- and Muslim-Americans are confined to a single sentence: “In part because of the geographical dispersion of the current threat of Islamofascism, it is hard to imagine parallel circumstances under which America would be compelled to replicate something on the scale of the West Coast evacuation and relocation during World War II.”

Her only apparent concerns, therefore, have to do with practicality and scale, not any consideration of the legal and constitutional rights of Arab- and Muslim-Americans, or the moral implications of locking up large numbers of people based solely on their identity – a situation she repeatedly characterizes as an ” inconvenience.” Even without another mass internment, she insists, “there is much else we can learn from the past if it is viewed without a knee-jerk impulse to cry ‘racism’ at every turn.”

Malkin calls for extensive, systematized discrimination, arguing that “it is of questionable wisdom to continue allowing Muslims to serve in the US military in combat roles in the Mideast and to have access to classified information, except under extraordinary circumstances and after thorough background checks.” She calls for “the strictest scrutiny” for “Muslim chaplains in the military and prisons,” and urges across-the-board profiling on the basis of “race, ethnicity, religion and nationality.”

Unfortunately for Malkin, the senior-most officials in charge of US national security are increasingly acknowledging that the approaches she advocates, which boil down to little more than the crudest stereotyping, are completely ineffective.

The latest senior official to express such reservations was none other than the Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, who on Monday explained: “There was a legitimate concern right after Sept. 11 that the face of international terrorism was basically from the Middle East.  We know differently. We don’t have the luxury of kidding ourselves that there is an ethnic or racial or country profile.”

In an effort to justify the politics of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, Malkin’s book argues that one of the most egregious instances in US history, the mass internment of Japanese-Americans, was a military necessity.

Malkin says she was drawn to the subject because critics of post-Sept. 11 profiling persistently cited the Japanese internment as an example of the logical conclusion of security measures based on ethnic stereotyping. Her book presents no new information regarding the World War II internments and relies heavily on a set of decrypted cables, which indicate that the Japanese government intended to establish a spy network in the US in the buildup to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the cables express more interest in recruiting non-Japanese spies.    None of the “evacuated and relocated” Japanese-Americans were ever arrested or even accused of being a spy or saboteur.

There were very few instances of Japanese-American disloyalty; on the contrary, thousands served in the military with the greatest distinction.

Her thesis that the internments were a bona fide military necessity directly contradicts a national consensus defined by the conclusion of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which said in 1981 that “it should be common knowledge that the detention of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II was not an act of military necessity but an act of racial discrimination.”

Malkin condemns the apology issued by President Ronald Regan and the compensation paid to the detainees, and dismisses the commission’s work as replete with “injustice, irony, intellectual dishonesty and incompetence.”

Some scholars have already passed a similar judgment on “In Defense of Internment.” Eric Muller, a law professor at the University of North Carolina who has written extensively on the subject, told The Daily Star, “Malkin’s argument depends on a studied ignorance of the overwhelming evidence in the historical record, documented by dozens of scholars, of the impact of racism and wartime hysteria on those who conceived of and planned and implemented the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II.”

Another leading scholar of the internments, Greg Robinson, author of “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans,” told The Daily Star that, “there was a climate of racism against Japanese-Americans on the West Coast that began well before Pearl Harbor – fears about Japanese-American farmers about to poison vegetables or training with foreign armies long before the war started.

“You can’t extricate these fears from the decisions that were made, and Malkin shows bad faith by excluding this history … from her arguments.”

Both Muller and Robinson agreed that while Malkin specifically says she is not advocating the mass incarceration of Arab- or Muslim-Americans, the logic of her arguments and the evidence she presents would make it almost impossible for her to object to such internments were they to be implemented today.

Nader draws ire of pro-Israeli Americans

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is again receiving considerable support from Arab-American activists, spurred in part by his bold criticism of the US role in the Middle East and Israel’s role in the United States.

Surveys suggest that Nader received about 14 percent of the Arab-American vote in 2000, and stands to do at least as well in the vote this November.

Perhaps more than any other important national political figure in the United States of Arab origin, Nader really has begun to sound like a representative of his community on issues such as Palestine and Iraq.

For decades as a consumer advocate and social justice activist, and even during his 2000 presidential campaign, Nader downplayed his ethnic background and offered few observations on foreign policy issues important to the Arab-American community.

However, since his first major address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the national convention of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in June 2003, Nader has become sharply critical of US support for Israeli policies.

On June 29, Nader called both Democratic and Republican leaders “puppets of Israel,” saying, “the Israeli puppeteer travels to Washington and meets with the puppet in (the) White House. He then goes down Pennsylvania Avenue and meets with the puppets in Congress.”

As a result, Nader has faced a barrage of criticism, mainly from the Anti-Defamation League, one of the most influential pro-Israel Jewish organizations in the United States.  The ADL’s National Director, Abraham Foxman, said Nader’s comments “smack of bigotry.”

Nader responded with a lengthy letter, asking Foxman, “have you ever disagreed with the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people in any way, shape or manner in the Occupied Territories?”

“As you know there is far more freedom in the media, in town squares and among citizens, soldiers, elected representatives and academicians in Israel to debate and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than there is in the United States,” Nader’s letter stated.

In an unsigned editorial on Aug. 14, The Washington Post acknowledged that “Mr. Nader has a point,” but denounced his language as “poisonous,” compared his comments to those of neo-Nazis, and accused him of playing on “the age-old anti-Semitic stereotype of powerful Jews dominating politics and manipulating hapless non-Jewish puppets for their own ends.”

His frank criticism of US Middle East policy has certainly ruffled pro-Israeli feathers, but it has ensured Nader’s continued appeal to many Arab-Americans, especially given widespread disapproval of US President George W. Bush’s foreign policy, and disappointment that Senator John Kerry seems to offer few alternatives, especially with regard to Israel.

Nader told The Daily Star that while he has been getting considerable support, “too many Arab Americans have equipped themselves with microscopes, desperately trying to find differences between (President) Bush and Kerry on foreign policy, and there is none – they are both trying to run to the right of each other.”

“We are the only anti-war candidacy and have a lot more knowledge of the Middle East than the other two,” he said.

He urged Arab-Americans to “deny Bush their vote, and send a message to Kerry by voting for us, because when you are taken for granted, you are taken.”

Some prominent American Muslim leaders who supported Bush in 2000 are known to be quietly but strongly supportive of Nader, but are keeping a low profile because they do not wish to be seen as indirectly supporting Bush again.

Naseem Tufaha, an Arab-American activist in Seattle, is among those involved in creating an “Arab-Americans for Nader” website, which seeks to generate support for the campaign in the community through online activism. He dismisses the idea that supporting Nader is simply an indirect way of supporting Bush, telling The Daily Star, “the Arab-American vote is being taken for granted by Bush and Kerry – we need to create an environment where candidates feel they have something to lose and something to gain from paying attention to our views.”

Many Democrats allege that in 2000 Nader siphoned off voters almost entirely from former Vice-President Al Gore, ensuring the election of George W. Bush, and express deep anxiety that Nader’s candidacy this year might similarly doom Kerry’s aspirations. Nader has persisted in running despite intense criticism from Kerry supporters, and a series of setbacks, including not being re-adopted as the candidate of the Green Party – which has an extensive grassroots network – and failing to get on the ballot in a number of states, including California.

Nader said his participation in the upcoming televised candidates’ debates is “all important – it’s the only way to reach tens of millions of people, unless you are a billionaire.  We call ourselves the greatest democracy in the world, and a private corporation created and controlled by the two parties since 1987 – the Commission on Presidential Debates – determines who reaches the tens of millions of voters.”

In an effort to create a non-partisan forum for the debates this year, a group of 17 American civic leaders from a range of political perspectives have founded a new organization called Open Debates. The group’s executive director, George Farah, recently announced that Open Debates has scheduled five presidential and one vice-presidential debates in the coming weeks.

Although Nader has welcomed this development, it remains to be seen whether Kerry or Bush will agree to participate in any of these citizen-organized debates.

Albert Mokhiber, a Washington attorney supportive of Nader and a former president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told The Daily Star, “there aren’t two candidates, there are three, and the other two are exactly the same on foreign policy. … Would you rather have arsenic or cyanide?” he asked rhetorically.

“I’d rather have a vitamin, and Nader is a vitamin.”

New neocon committee makes last-ditch effort

In an effort to shore up their waning influence on United States foreign policy, especially towards the Middle East, a group of neoconservative political figures have launched a new organization, “the Committee Against the Present Danger.” Many of its members represent the most belligerent trend in American politics towards the Arab world.  Its chairman, former CIA Director James Woolsey, for example, has called on the United States to engage in “World War IV” against not only Islamist extremists like al Qaeda, but also the Shiite religious government of Iran, and the “fascists” of the former Iraqi regime and Syria.

Neoconservative views have been increasingly discredited in Washington as the occupation of Iraq has run entirely counter to predictions of a small and deteriorating opposition to coalition forces, a quick transition to democracy, and a transformation of political landscape of the Middle East.

Neoconservatives have also been particularly blamed for faulty assessments of Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and alliance with Al-Qaeda,both of which are now widely recognized as having been highly exaggerated.

Even within the Bush Administration, policies advocated by neoconservative officials in the Defense Department and Vice-President’s office are seen to have increasingly lost out to more multilateral approaches pushed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and others.

The new CPD is led by honorary co-chairs Senator Joseph Lieberman, one of the few prominent neoconservatives in the Democratic Party, and Republican Senator Jon Kyl, who has strong ties to right-wing evangelical organizations.  In a July 20 article in the Washington Post introducing the group, Lieberman and Kyl wrote that the CPD was formed because the “bipartisan consensus [in favor of neoconservative foreign policies] is coming under growing public pressure and could fray in the months ahead.”

The formation of the new CPD seems to confirm that neoconservatives are recognizing the crisis of credibility they have suffered due to the severe difficulties facing the occupation in Iraq, and have prepared a broad-based organization to advocate from outside the corridors of power.  The very real prospect of a John Kerry presidency, in which neoconservatives are unlikely to occupy important positions, has combined with the sense that President George W.Bush has largely abandoned the unilateral and hyper-aggressive approach that characterized the build-up to the invasion of Iraq.

“This is what you do when you are preparing to go into opposition,” a leading Republican supporter of President Bush told the Daily Star, “its what you set up if you think you’ve lost the presidency.  These guys don’t think they’ll get their way again no matter who wins in November.”  “You set this up so that if Bush looses you are team B and everyone has to join you, and if he wins, you have a base even though everyone is sick of you starting wars,” he said.

The addition of Senator Lieberman as a Democratic patron for the group is a crucial indicator of the need many neoconservatives now feel to expand beyond their home in the Republican camp.  This is in fact the third incarnation of a “Committee on the Present Danger,” the first being aimed at militarizing the confrontation with the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the second taking an even more aggressive line on the cold war in the 1970s, led by hawkish Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.   By its very name, the new CPD recalls the original home of many neoconservatives in the Jackson camp of the Democratic Party.

Many traditional conservatives, foreign policy realists and other Republicans have become outspokenly critical of the neoconservative influence on Bush Administration policies and seem set to blame them for any defeat by Kerry.


Reacting to this increasing pressure, journalist and leading neoconservative ideologue William Kristol told the New York Times in April that the movement has “as much or more in common with the liberal hawks than with traditional conservatives,” and that “if we have to make common cause with the more hawkish liberals and fight the conservatives, that is fine with me, too.”

Kristol, along with several other prominent neoconservatives, has not been listed on the CPD membership list, which also has a striking lack of almost anyone with Middle East expertise.  However, a quick glance at the 41 CPD members reveals deeply alarming attitudes, which range from the sinister to the absurd.

Perhaps the most hawkish is Norman Podhoretz, editor-at-large of Commentary magazine.  He was the first to dub the project World War IV, and calls for “regime change” in a whole list of Middle Eastern states, governed by both pro-and anti-American regimes.  He argues that the U.S. needs “the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated parties.”

Another CPD member, Laurie Mylroie of the American Enterprise Institute, has blamed the former Saddam Hussein regime not only for the attacks of September 11, 2001, but also for the first World Trade Center Bombing of 1993 and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh in 1995.  Old Washington hands recall, however, that until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Mylroie was chiding the United States for not providing Iraq with sufficient military aid, and arguing it was in American interests that all power in Iraq be concentrated in Saddam Hussein’s hands.

Not that the rest of CPD’s membership, as represented on the organization’s website, could be accused of understatement.  The threat is “a unprecedented challenge to international peace and stability” (Peter Brookes) and “as potent a threat to our freedom as? communism” (Henry Cooper).  The foe is “every bit as dangerous as a Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, or Stalin” (Victor Hanson), “the greatest threat to the US homeland in nearly two centuries” (Ed Meese), and “the greatest threat this country has ever faced in its entire history” (Norman Podhoretz).  Moreover, it is “an unconditional and existential threat not only to America and Israel, but also to Judeo-Christian culture” (William Van Cleave), and “what is at stake? is the survival of our civilization ” (Stephen Solarz).

The CPD mission statement refers to “a global Islamist terror movement,” but gives no clear definition of who or what is included in this beyond Al-Qaeda and its allies.  The definition of “the threat” on CPD’s website evinces further confusion, claiming that, “In the Middle East, Sunni extremists in Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza strip have organized into Asbat al-Ansar and the more widely known Hamas and Hezballah?”  The last group, of course, is a Lebanese Shiite political organization, again raising the question of how little expertise and even basic knowledge will be informing CPD’s efforts to “educate the American people about the threat posed by a global Islamist terror movement.”

Perhaps even more ominously, CPD’s statements continuously refer to “regimes that support” the terrorist movement, without mentioning any by name.  The Daily Star invited CPD’s communications director Geoff Freeman to identify these regimes, and he declined to do so, saying, “at this point the committee has not identified those regimes.”  “It’s perfect for these guys,” the leading Bush supporter told the Daily Star, “with formulations this vague it could be anyone, anywhere, anytime.”

A clarion call for Arafat to step aside

A leading Palestinian-American activist condemned Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and said Palestinians faced the prospect of civil war at a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington Tuesday.

Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine and former president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the standing room only audience that “the core issue is the occupation, but the question then is, how do you deal with that occupation, how do you bring it to an end.”

“A Palestinian civil war, or more accurately wars, is a matter of time if a drastic change in direction and leadership does not take place in the near future,” Asali said, given that “Palestinian political fragmentation has resulted from years of a harsh occupation policy.”

The speech was unusual in that prominent figures in the Palestinian and Arab-American communities in the United States have generally been hesitant to criticize or second-guess the Palestinian leadership, preferring expressions of solidarity to serious evaluation let alone outright criticism.

Asali said that “Edward Said and others have always been critical of the leadership, so this is not the first time that criticism, including sharp criticism of the leadership, has come from Palestinian-Americans.”

He added that “there is a certain urgency because of the impending withdrawal from Gaza and the need for the leadership to confront this issue at all levels to see to it that this succeeds. A serious withdrawal from the West Bank is not in the cards in the foreseeable future if Gaza becomes a fiasco in my view.”

Asali said Arafat was the founder of modern Palestine. “Credit for this achievement is forever due to him.”

“No position can be a greater accomplishment than this and it should suffice,” Asali said, suggesting that an honorable way for Arafat to step into a ceremonial post “like the Queen of Britain, without governing authority” should be found.

He said that in the past Arafat, “knew what the Palestinians wanted, but what they need now is a leader who understands not only the Palestinian people but also the world around them.”

Noting that it was Arafat’s 75th birthday, Asali said, “There is something sad about a 75-year-old man refusing to relinquish power.”

He said he was particularly disturbed to discover that the Palestinian Authority and leadership had “no plan whatsoever, nothing at all” to deal with the aftermath of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, adding that such a withdrawal was “inevitable, it is going to happen in my judgment.”

Asked why any Palestinian would cooperate with an arrangement unilaterally imposed by Israel not agreed to through negotiations, Asali said that in his view, “like it or not this is going to happen, this will be the reality, now are we going to deal with it or not?”

He told the audience that, “A failed Gaza after the withdrawal, descending into chaos, extremism, or violent confrontations will put an end to the possibility of a West Bank withdrawal in the near future.”

The extremists in Israel will point to Gaza to explain to the world why Israel should not withdraw from the West Bank, he said. “In this case, rather than reacting to a catastrophe or event, the Palestinians can in fact exercise a measure of control over their own destiny by planning seriously for it.”

“The question for the Palestinians is not whether they negotiated this with us or not, but how do we plan to run this place when they withdraw,” Asali said.

“There are three disturbing possibilities after withdrawal: one is chaos; two is a takeover by extremists and uncompromising people; third is a series of persistent wars and civil conflicts.”

None of these are appealing, he said, “all are to be avoided by planning, and this planning has to be done by the Authority that is in charge now because nobody else is capable of doing it.”

Asali praised a new generation of Palestinian leaders, who he called “Young Turks,” these are “all graduates of the first Intifada and Israeli prisons.

“They are tentative and not very sure they can run the place,” he said. “They know the realities, they know the consequences of words said and of actions, and they want to save Palestine.”

“They’re serious people, and taking high sounding positions and playing to the theater is not part of their game anymore,” he said. “That’s very refreshing, I think.”

Some audience members criticized Asali, saying supporters of Israel would point to such criticism to justify Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral policies and refusal to negotiate.

Asali said that “Israel has been propping up Arafat in order not to negotiate, and I say Israel should be forced to negotiate on the principles of the ‘roadmap’ it already accepted.”

“It is much too convenient for Israel to decide that there is no partner and then do what it pleases.  This is just unacceptable,” he said.