Flying With The Hawks
President Bush Ignores CIA, State Department Experts
By Jim Lobe and Tom Barry
April 30, 2002
Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service, an international newswire, and for Foreign Policy in Focus, a joint project of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies and the New Mexico-based Interhemispheric Resource Center.
Tom Barry is a senior analyst at the Interhemispheric Resource Center and co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.
U.S. policy in the Middle East is tottering precariously, and President George W. Bush, despite his efforts to negotiate provisional freedom for Yasir Arafat, still has some hard decisions to make.
Will he pull back from his mostly unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, whom he described recently as a "man of peace," and put real pressure on the Israeli leader to negotiate a land-for-peace bargain with the Palestinians, such as the one put forth by Saudi Prince Abdullah?
Or will he continue to heed the radical, hardline coalition of neo-conservatives and Christian Right activists who back Sharon's quest to dismantle the Palestine Authority, and who seek to take the war on terrorism to Baghdad and beyond?
Abdullah's visit with Bush at his Texas ranch on April 25 was clearly intended to warn the president that U.S. credibility -- and by implication U.S. oil interests -- in the Arab world is at risk. The crown prince's chief foreign policy adviser later told reporters: "If Sharon is left to his own devices, he will drag the region over a cliff."
That is also the message being conveyed by other "moderate" Arab leaders, including Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as well as by Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Mideast experts in both the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, according to numerous sources.
Many in the U.S. foreign-policy establishment have voiced similar concerns, including former President George H. W. Bush's national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, not to mention the former president himself, who met with the crown prince before his visit to junior's ranch.
But the hawks -- from within and outside the administration -- bolstered by Powell's failure to mediate a cease-fire, are pressing on with a powerful propaganda campaign to expand the war in the Middle East.
Their message is simple: The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian is an integral part of a black-and-white war against terrorism.
Upholding this view inside the administration are the hawks clustered mainly around Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld. Others work in the State and Justice Departments and within the National Security Council (NSC). On Rumsfeld's staff, chief hawks -- both Jewish neo-conservatives -- include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary for Policy Douglas Feith. On Cheney's staff, the principals include Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Eric Edelman, and John Hannah. They can also count on the support of Elliott Abrams, who holds a senior position in the NSC.
On the outside, key actors include a number of right-wing front groups and think tanks, most notably The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Center for Security Policy (CSP), and Empower America.
These groups, which have overlapping directorates, regularly lobby sympathetic lawmakers, particularly Christian Right forces led by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. And they work to influence public opinion through the media, mainly television talk shows and the editorial pages of like-minded newspapers and magazines, especially The Wall Street Journal, the National Review, The New Republic, The Washington Times, and Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard.
The hawks' most prominent spokespeople include former drug czar and Empower America co-director William Bennett; former CIA director James Woolsey; Weekly Standard editor and PNAC founder William Kristol; nationally syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer; AEI foreign policy dean, Richard Perle, who also serves as chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board; and CSP director Frank Gaffney, who worked under Perle at the Pentagon in the 1980s.
Since even before the dust from the World Trade Center had settled last September, these groups ignited their campaign -- emphasizing four major themes in television appearances and op-ed articles:
Yasir Arafat and his Palestine Authority (PA) are part of the same "infrastructure of terrorism" as Al Qaeda. Therefore, Israel should not be compelled to negotiate with them.
The United States should not intervene if Sharon moves to dismantle the PA and the Oslo peace process, which was "fundamentally flawed."
The war against terrorism will not be complete until Saddam Hussein is ousted and other enemies of Israel -- notably Syria, Iran, and Hizbollah in Lebanon -- are forced to cease their support for terrorism.
The president should not heed the calls of State Department, CIA Mideast experts, or of traditional U.S. Mideast allies, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to rein in Sharon. Saudi Arabia and Egypt even share the blame, if only indirectly, for supporting terrorism against the United States and Israel.
These were the major points made in a public letter PNAC sent to Bush, which was signed by 38 prominent right-wingers, just one week after September 11. The same points were made in a second PNAC letter sent to Bush as Powell left Washington for the Middle East in early April.
"It can no longer be the policy of the United States to urge, much less to pressure, Israel to continue negotiating with Arafat, any more than we would be willing to be pressured to negotiate with Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar," the recent letter said. "Nor should the United States provide financial support to a Palestinian Authority that acts as a cog in the machine of Middle Eastern terrorism, any more than we would approve of others providing assistance to Al Qaeda."
Speakers during the pro-Israel rally at the Capitol on April 15, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, voiced the same beliefs. Netanyahu's views are considered even more hawkish than Sharon's. Paul Wolfowitz also spoke at the rally, in an extraordinary display of Washington support for Sharon's Likud Party-led government -- even as Israel was defying Bush's demand that it withdraw from the West Bank towns.
The assumption underlying all of these messages is that Washington's fight against bin Laden is identical to Sharon's fight against Arafat.
At the same time, Gaffney's CSP and the Foundation to Defend Democracies (FDD) -- whose board of advisers includes Gaffney, Perle, Krauthammer, and Kristol -- launched separate TV ad campaigns with common images including the burning of American flags, suicide bombings in Israel, and camera shots associating Arafat and Palestinians with Saddam Hussein, bin Laden and the September 11 attacks.
"If we let the suicide strategy succeed anywhere in the world, it will succeed everywhere," warns the voice-over in one FDD ad as the video shows Palestinian children dressed as suicide bombers at a Hamas rally. "The suicide strategy threatens all of us -- all those who are hated as 'infidels,'" it continues as the camera pans over a huge crowd to Saddam Hussein. "Never Appease Terrorism," concludes the ad, which is running repeatedly in the Washington, D.C. area.
The assumption underlying all of these messages is that Washington's fight against bin Laden (and, it seems, eventually Saddam Hussein) is identical to Sharon's fight against Arafat. As Bennett wrote in a recent article: "America's fate and Israel's fate are one and the same."
Traditional U.S.-Middle East policymakers have reacted to Bush's acquiescence in Sharon's destruction of the PA and the Oslo process with horror.
The "situation in the West Bank and Gaza is an obscenity," Nicholas Veliotes, the former head of the State Department's Near East Bureau and current ambassador to Egypt, told CNN. Veliotes warned that the damage to the United States' interests throughout the region would be severe if Sharon continued his offensive.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser in the Carter administration, echoed those sentiments. "The United States and Israel are increasingly isolated internationally," Brzezinski, who played a key role in the Camp David talks, which forged peace between Israel and Egypt, said April 1 on PBS' Newshour. "This could hurt our ability to conduct the war on terrorism."
Failure to stop Sharon's military crackdown "will only reap a new harvest of blood and tears and a frightening expansion of our confrontation with the Muslim world," warned Graham Fuller, a former CIA Mideast specialist.
This was the same message the Saudi prince intended to convey to Bush during his visit. Prior to the meeting, a senior Abdullah adviser had told The New York Times that the Saudi royal family was discussing a possible oil embargo, closer ties to Iraq, and other measures if Bush did not act to stop Sharon's destruction of the PA. After the meeting, Saudi officials denied this.
But right-wing radicals in Washington argue that an overhaul of traditional U.S. policy in the Middle East is long overdue. The neo-conservatives consider Israel a strategic asset in the region, while the Christian Right, particularly the evangelicals, see the restoration of Israel's sovereignty throughout the area as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
Gerecht: "The tougher Sharon becomes, the stronger our image will be in the Middle East." They say U.S. policy in the region should not be constrained by Arab-Israeli balance-of-power considerations, concerns about the stability of "moderate" Arab regimes, or sensitivity to Palestinian suffering. Instead, Washington should stand with Israel to wipe out terrorism, they say.
"In the Middle East, America's awe -- the key element that gives both us and our Israeli and Arab friends security -- can only be damaged by a Bush administration publicly fretting about Ariel Sharon's prosecution of his war against the Palestinian Authority," wrote AEI scholar and former CIA covert operator, Reuel Marc Gerecht, in Kristol's Weekly Standard before Powell's trip. "Though the Near East Bureau at State hates the notion, the tougher Sharon becomes, the stronger our image will be in the Middle East."
According to Gerecht, who directs PNAC's Middle East Initiative, Washington must stop thinking of the Israeli-Palestinian collision as the center of the Middle East. This point is echoed frequently in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, which has insisted throughout the most recent violence that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simply a sideshow to the main event in the region, the ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
"America is actually now in a far stronger position to prosecute a war against the Baathist regime in Iraq than it was before the Israeli Defense Forces reoccupied the West Bank," Gerecht recently wrote. "[Washington's] standing in the Arab world, that is, its ability to achieve its strategic goals, has gone up, not down, because of Israel's recent military operations."
This kind of thinking, which prevails among the right-wing radicals in the Pentagon and in Cheney's office, is 180-degrees opposite the analysis provided by the vast majority of Mideast specialists at the State Department and the CIA, as well as by independent experts both in the United States and elsewhere.
But so far, Bush hasn't heeded them, if he's even heard them. So far, Bush is flying with the hawks.
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