One of the hardiest perennials in the Washington political scene is
the spectacle of conservatives publicly disagreeing with one another. The
vicious personal attacks launched against me last week by Grover Norquist,
however, went way beyond the kind of dispute that so often enlivens policy
discourse, usually to the delight -- and advantage -- of liberals who agree
with neither camp.
So why would Mr. Norquist, a colleague well-known and widely admired
for his work on tax reduction and conservative activism with whom I have
often worked collaboratively over the years, publish a letter and take to
the airwaves to accuse me of "racism," "bigotry" and "lying"?
The reason given in a letter Mr. Norquist circulated last Wednesday,
that was subsequently quoted at length in articles in Friday's Washington
Times and Washington Post, was comments I made at the annual Conservative
Political Action Conference (CPAC) on January 31st. During a panel
discussion about the balance to be struck in time of war between preserving
our civil liberties and safeguarding our country and lives, I mentioned
several factors that are compelling the Bush Administration, properly in my
view, to infringe in relatively minor ways on traditional American freedoms
to save the country from terrorist destruction.
Preeminent among these is the threat posed by "Islamists" --
adherents to radical, violent Muslim sects like the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia
-- not only in remote places like Indonesia, Pakistan and Bosnia but in the
United States, itself. I made an express distinction between such Islamists
and what is, I believe, the majority of Muslims in this country whom the
former are determined to recruit, intimidate and dominate through a variety
Wahhabi/Saudi funding appears to have been instrumental in creating
and sustaining a large number of organizations involved in such troubling
activities as: prison recruitment of American felons, indoctrination of U.S.
military personnel, proselytizing on more than 500 college campuses across
the United States, charitable fund-raising for terrorists and, of course,
underwriting -- and, therefore, controlling -- as many as 70-80 percent of
the Nation's mosques.
Given the politically attuned nature of the CPAC audience, I
expressed particular concern about one of the most insidious of the
Wahhabis' activities -- a concerted attempt to penetrate and otherwise
influence political circles in Washington. I noted that among the several
groups engaged in such activities, the American Muslim Council (AMC), had
issued a press release gloating about a recent success: their invitation to
participate in a January 16th White House "dialogue" with Muslim and
Arab-American organizations opposed to the Bush Administration's
registration of aliens from terrorist-sponsoring and -harboring nations.
The AMC press release made a point of commending Ali Tulbah, an
Associate Director of the White House's Office of Cabinet Affairs, for
including their representatives (notably, executive director Eric Erfan
Vickers) in the meeting. Tulbah similarly admitted another highly
controversial organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations
(CAIR), in this meeting. There appear to have been at least nine other
meetings that these groups have attended with the White House and senior
Administration officials since September 2001, some at the invitation of a
predecessor of Mr. Tulbah in the role of gatekeeper for the Administration's
Muslim "outreach efforts, Suhail khan.
The inclusion of such organizations is remarkable on its face. It
is, after all, a matter of public record that they actively oppose President
Bush on: the need forcibly to liberate Iraq; increasing surveillance of
potentially dangerous aliens in this country and the places where they
congregate (including mosques); and giving law enforcement tools to counter
terror. They have also repeatedly expressed sympathy for, excused or
otherwise supported groups identified by the Bush Administration as
terrorists. For example, CAIR's executive director Nihad Awad has declared
in the past "I am in support of the Hamas movement." And in a television
debate last June with me, the AMC's Vickers declined repeatedly to denounce
either Hamas, Hezbollah or even al Qaeda, finally describing the last as a
At CPAC, I expressed grave concern that allowing these sorts of
organizations to meet with the President and his senior subordinates is a
very bad idea in two respects. First, it could enable radical opponents of
the Administration a chance to exercise undesirable influence over policy
(for example, watering down immigration, law enforcement and intelligence
procedures they find objectionable.) And second, it confers (witness the
AMC press release) a legitimacy and stature that can only help their bid to
establish the Islamists' dominance over the rest of the Nation's Islamic
It may be that the family ties both Messrs. Tulbah and Khan have to
Wahhabi religious organizations colors their judgment about the
inadvisability of favoring the likes of CAIR and the AMC. Observing that
this connection exists and that, in any event, their judgment is flawed, is
neither racist nor bigoted. Such judgements are, rather, the sort of things
that those who care about this President and the national security must
ensure are properly addressed.
Grover Norquist's intemperate and defamatory attack on me says much
less about my behavior and character than it does about his own relationship
to this Wahhabi political influence operation and the role of the Islamic
Institute he formerly chaired in facilitating its access to the Bush team.
Let us hope that his own conduct has not caused irreparable damage to either
this President or the conservative movement.