Florida Senator Bob Graham has thrown one bomb after another at the Bush Administration’s handling of the War on Terrorism while pursuing his Quixotic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination (or, perhaps more likely, its vice presidential nomination). He has hawked conspiracy theories about alleged Bush nonfeasance in the days leading up to 9/11, alleging that Bush is soft on terrorism! However, Graham’s proposal to expand the War on Terrorism is flawed, unworkable and self-contradictory.
Graham expressed these views on May 3, 2003, during the first Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of South Carolina. In what some news reports called a move to “out-hawk” the hawk (Joseph Lieberman), Senator Graham explained that he voted against the authorization to use force in Iraq because he felt it was “too weak.” By this he meant that “it did not contain a parallel authorization for the president to use force against Hezbollah, which has killed almost 300 Americans in the Middle East. It did not authorize us to use force against [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad or Hamas, two other violent terrorist groups who have pledge[d] that they want to kill Americans.” Instead, he proposes an “expanded war on terrorism with a strategy for attacking the leaders of the most deadly terrorist groups.”
The Senator’s points are valid, but in the past his target list has included the Abu Nidal Organization and the Palestine Liberation Front, two additional groups that have “a history of killing Americans” and which shared a strong link to the Iraqi regime. Strangely, they were not mentioned during this May 3 debate. (The reason will become clear in a moment.)
These additional terrorist groups, although not in the limelight, are not off-the-radar. The Bush Administration has analyzed United States and the lethality of groups such as Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, Syrian-backed Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in detail.
The Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet testified before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on February 11, 2003, regarding the danger posed by Hezbollah, the PIJ, and Hamas to the interests of the U.S. He stated that the three groups have a “worldwide presence” that is “actively casing and surveilling American facilities.” Director Tenet also cautioned that U.S. authorities must be a “very alert to…how all of these groups mix and match capabilities, swap training, use common facilities. So the days when we made distinctions between Shi'ites and Sunnis and fundamentalists and secularists in the terrorism world are over.”
In addition, Director Tenet warned that Hezbollah in particular “warrants our continued attention around the world because of their capability.”
Director Tenet’s overall analysis is supported by the State Department – although less unequivocally. Patterns of Global Terrorism 2002 points out that Hezbollah is “(k)nown or suspected to have been involved in numerous anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli terrorist attacks.” These attacks include: “the suicide truck bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 and the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut in September 1984.”
As for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the State Department concludes that as a terrorist organization it “has not yet targeted US interests and continues to confine its attacks to Israelis inside Israel and the territories, although U.S. citizens have died in attacks mounted by the PIJ.”
Furthermore, on February 20 of this year Attorney General John Ashcroft described the PIJ as “one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world.”That leaves Hamas. What danger is Hamas to the United States? As the State Department notes: “The group has not targeted U.S. interests—although some U.S. citizens have been killed in Hamas operations—and continues to confine its attacks to Israelis inside Israel and the territories.”
It is astonishing to discover that in the case of the PIJ and Hamas the State Department does not believe that the lives of American citizens abroad qualify as “U.S. interests.” But just as significantly, the State Department’s analysis also strongly suggests that attacks against Israelis do not constitute any threat to the security of the United States. As long as the terrorists are targeting Israelis rather than Americans, then U.S. interests are not threatened, or so the rationale implies.
But the White House has a different view. Its National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (February 2003) reads in part: “The intent of our national strategy is to stop terrorist attacks against the United States, its citizens, its interests, and our friends and allies around the world and ultimately, to create an international environment inhospitable to terrorists and all those who support them.” If it is true that the war on terror includes an obligation to fight those groups that attack our “allies and friends,” then Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the PIJ, Hamas, Abu Nidal Organization, and the Palestine Liberation Front are valid targets for termination by a “coalition of the willing.”
That brings us back to Senator Graham. His analysis of these terrorist organizations is sound, but his prescription for countering them is inadequate. It is impractical and ill advised to assert that the War on Terror can be prosecuted effectively without necessitating a serious challenge to those states that sponsor such groups, namely Iran and Syria. His flawed strategy also deserves admonishment overlooking the value of the war in Iraq as it relates to the overall fight against terrorism.
Senator Graham’s suggestion that more needs to be done to fight international terrorist organizations appears very ambitious prima facie, but an email response from his office reveals the vacuity of this “hawkish” rhetoric.
In the case of Syria, Senator Graham’s office informed me that the Senator believes that the U.S. “should first confront [its] leaders… and tell them to live up to their commitments to eliminate the scourge of terrorism.” His office explained that Senator Graham believes that Syria should “shut down Hezbollah's training camps in Syria and the Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon.” Furthermore, if the Syrian government fails to comply, then “the international community will have to act-- either by sanctions or through military action.”
It is hard to imagine that anyone could believe that the same international community, which could not even enforce its own resolutions vis-à-vis Iraq for matters far deadlier than terrorism (i.e. WMD), could come to a consensus on a policy to force Syria -- and Iran -- to abandon their longstanding sponsorship of terrorism.
More importantly, any cooperation that the United States may receive from either the Syrian or Iranian regimes in the fight against terrorism is likely to be a matter of political expediency meant to appease the United States rather than to assiduously combat nefarious terrorist entities. Saddam perfected this foot-dragging compliance, and the Left eagerly deluded itself about it.
Senator Graham’s approach to fighting terrorism is more consistent with the liberal internationalism of the Clinton era, and its numerous failures, than it is with the assertive Americanism of the Bush Administration.
It should be clear to everyone that the victory in Iraq moved the United States one step closer to winning the war against global terrorism. As the President aptly put it during his speech on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln: “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 -- and still goes on.”