Undesirable influence

Posted: Jun 17, 2003 12:00 AM

Readers of this column were not surprised by the news article that led the front page of Wall Street Journal last Wednesday.  They are already aware that a number of Arab- and Muslim-American organizations and representatives that support Hamas and other militant Islamic (or “Islamist”) terrorist groups have gained unwarranted access to the White House and top Bush Administration officials.

 The Journal quoted yours truly as warning that “‘Allowing these sorts of organizations to meet with the president and his senior subordinates is a very bad idea,’ says Mr. Gaffney. While the administration now is cracking down on terrorism abroad and at home, Mr. Gaffney says [such contacts] could still lend legitimacy and ‘undesirable influence over policy’ to individuals and groups hostile to American interests.”

 Even those who have followed this story on these pages and elsewhere, however, might have been surprised at the response Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political advisor, gave the authors of the Journal article: “‘What's the evidence’ of undesirable influence? he says. ‘There's no there there.’”

 Actually, the evidence of undesirable influence is unmistakable to anyone willing to look for it.  Past and present leaders of the American Muslim Council (AMC), the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the American Muslim Alliance, for example, have publicly expressed support for those engaged in “armed struggle” against Israel and the United States.

 Even as President Bush stresses his opposition to such terrorist organizations as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, their advocates and/or apologists in this country with ties to Saudi Arabia’s radical Wahhabi sect (dubbed the “Wahhabi Lobby”) are routinely turned to when the Administration seeks to reach out to Muslims.  Worse yet, such “outreach” usually excludes those representing the majority of Muslims who are not Islamist sympathizers.  That is undesirable influence.

 In addition, the American Muslim Council-created National Islamic Prison Foundation have been allowed to proselytize in U.S. prisons.  Another Wahhabi-associated organization, the Graduate School for Islamic Social Sciences (raided by Operation Green Quest for suspected ties to terrorism) has been allowed to select, train and certify imams for the U.S. military chaplain corps.  That is undesirable influence.

 FBI Director Robert Mueller has similarly cultivated Islamist organizations with a view to mitigating complaints about racial profiling and other forms of alleged official harassment of Muslims.  As a result, these same radical groups are conducting “sensitivity training” for new FBI agents.  Tom Reynolds, chief of the Bureau’s civil rights division, has responded to the Wahhabi Lobby’s demands by signaling a willingness to establish a “national Muslim and Arab working group” including Islamist groups that routinely defend terrorists arrested by the FBI.  This is undesirable influence.

  What is more, Islamist sympathizers are using their access to the Bush Administration as a shield to establish ominous bona fides.  For example, an individual once courted by the Bush team as part of its efforts to woo Muslims -- Sami Al-Arian -- is now in federal custody awaiting trial on fifty charges of running the North American operations of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  At a recent bail hearing, a number of individuals from organizations also dubiously cultivated for Bush “Muslim outreach” appeared as character witnesses for Al-Arian (including a Defense Department imam).  Without exception, they cited their involvement with the Administration to demonstrate their standing in pleading for the accused to be sprung.  This is undesirable influence.

 The question occurs:  Could the President’s recent decision to pursue a “road map” for Mideast peace that is, in important respects (notably with respect to the need for a new Palestinian leadership “untainted by terror,” the dismantling of Palestinian terrorist infrastructure and an end to Palestinian incitement as preconditions to U.S. recognition of a state of Palestine) -- at odds with the “vision” he enunciated last June also be a product of the undesirable influence of the Wahhabi Lobby?  The far-reaching changes were reportedly the subject of major internal fights between top Administration officials.

 According to the Middle East News Line, unnamed officials and congressional sources said, that “most of the issues were submitted to Bush's chief political strategist Karl Rove. They said Rove, who engineered the Republican victory in Congress in November 2002, has been granted major input in U.S. foreign policy as part of an effort to prepare Bush's reelection campaign in 2004. Rove accompanied the president during the Sharm e-Sheik and Aqaba summits.”
 If cultivating votes is the motivation for affording Islamists unwarranted access and undesirable influence, it seems likely to backfire on the President.  A new national poll conducted by Luntz Research to be unveiled today by the Center for Security Policy indicates that a strong majority of Americans (72.7% to 18.0%) support the precondition on dismantling terror Mr. Bush laid out last June.  Among one of President Bush’s core constituencies, Christian conservatives, the result is even more dramatic (78.6% to 13.6%).

 Unfortunately for Mr. Bush, the effort to curry favor with Islamists may not only be bad for the national security.  It may jeopardize his political base without producing offsetting gains among Muslim voters and/or donors.  The Singapore-based newspaper Strait Times, reports that no less an authority than the American Muslim Council’s communications director, Faiz Rehman: 'There's no chance Muslims are going to vote for Mr Bush [in 2004].”  Which makes the influence his organization and its ilk enjoys with the Bush team not only undesirable, but unfathomable.