That’s what happened at this week’s annual meeting
of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee whose invitees included
Vice President Dick Cheney, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards,
Virginia’s ex-Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, and Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.,
and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
In a luncheon speech on March 6, Israel’s
Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman entertained the AIPAC
crowd with what the Washington Post described as “straight talk,”
including a comment that came close to equating Islam with terrorism.
“While it may be true – and probably is – that not
all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all
terrorists are Muslim,” Gillerman said to the crowd’s delight.
Gillerman’s comment earned him a description in a
column by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank as “the undiplomatic
diplomat.” Milbank also observed that “words are seldom minced at the
annual (AIPAC) meeting.” [Washington Post, March 7, 2006]
But what was perhaps more glaring was the fact that
Gillerman’s professed uncertainty whether “all Muslims are terrorists”
did not raise a protest, condemning it as an ugly example of anti-Muslim
bigotry. It is hard to imagine a similar formulation about any other
ethnic or religious group that wouldn’t have erupted in controversy.
Instead, U.S. officials and politicians – both
Republican and Democrat – avoided criticizing Gillerman or almost
anything else about AIPAC, bowing to its legendary power to make or
break American political leaders.
The pro-Israel lobbying group hailed the conference
as a stunning success, drawing a record number of 4,500 participants
despite the pending criminal case against two ex-AIPAC officials Steve
Rosen and Keith Weissman, who are facing charges of illegally
disseminating U.S. government secrets.
As Milbank’s column noted, there was a studied
silence about the Rosen-Weissman case as AIPAC preferred to stay focused
on Islamic terrorism and other perceived threats coming from Iran and
On March 7, Cheney addressed the AIPAC conference,
making no reference to Gillerman’s Muslim slur. Instead, Cheney urged
unwavering support for the Bush administration’s War on Terror and
threatened Iran with “meaningful consequences” if it doesn’t submit to
international demands for reining in its nuclear program.
“For our part, the United States is keeping all
options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the
regime,” Cheney said. “And we join other nations in sending that regime
a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”
But Cheney made no demands that other regional
countries that secretly developed nuclear bombs – Israel, Pakistan and
India – cease their programs or that older nuclear powers – the United
States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China – reduce or eliminate
their nuclear arsenals.
Indeed, President George W. Bush had just completed
a trip to India where he reversed longstanding U.S.
counter-proliferation policy by agreeing to end a moratorium on India’s
access to nuclear fuels, technology and parts while allowing it to
continue its nuclear weapons program.
Bush’s nuclear deal with India – a largely Hindu
country – drew criticism from arms-control experts and Muslims as a
dangerous double standard that could spur an arms race in South Asia and
the Middle East.
Though Cheney's speech avoided explicitly
anti-Muslim language, he singled out Islamic extremism as the greatest
threat to the world. The Vice President echoed Bush’s previous remarks
about the supposed danger of Islamic terrorists building an empire that
would stretch from Spain to Indonesia – and serve as a base for
attacking the United States.
“The terrorists believe that by controlling one
country, they will be able to target and overthrow other governments in
the region, and ultimately to establish a totalitarian empire that
encompasses a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle
East and South Asia, all the way around to Indonesia,” Cheney said.
But the reality, as known to U.S. intelligence, is
far less apocalyptic. Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Osama
bin-Laden’s al-Qaeda was holed up in what might be called the ends of
the earth, the mountains of Afghanistan – after his forces were ousted
from countries across the Arab world and even were booted out of Sudan.
The Bush administration’s failure to capture or
kill bin-Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders during the military
offensive around Tora Bora in December 2001 allowed the terrorists to
regroup and rebuild support among Islamic extremists – aided by Muslim
anger over Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But even with al-Qaeda’s limited comeback, its
leaders don’t share the grandiose vision that Bush and Cheney ascribe to
them. In 2005, an intercepted letter allegedly written by bin-Laden’s
deputy Ayman Zawahiri set much more modest goals, fretting that a sudden
U.S. withdrawal from Iraq might cause the jihadists to give up and go
“The mujahedeen must not have their mission end
with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their
weapons, and silence the fighting zeal,” the “Zawahiri letter” read.
[For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Al-Qaeda
Letter Belies Bush’s Iraq Claims.”]
Yet, while avoiding Gillerman’s “straight talk”
about Muslims, Cheney substantively agreed with the Israeli ambassador’s
assessment of terrorism as almost exclusively a Muslim tactic – one that
flourished because it didn’t draw a sufficiently harsh U.S. response.
“Over the last several decades, Americans have seen
how the terrorists pursue their objectives,” Cheney said in his AIPAC
speech. “Simply stated, they would hit us, but we would not hit back
“In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 Americans,
and afterward U.S. forces withdrew from Beirut. In 1993 we had the
killing of American soldiers in Mogadishu, and the bombing of the World
Trade Center in New York. Then came the attack on the Saudi National
Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995; the killings at Khobar Towers
in 1996; the attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and,
of course, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.”
However, Cheney’s one-sided recounting of history
reflects an anti-Muslim bias on two levels. First, it ignores the long
history of terrorism practiced around the world by people of nearly all
religions and ethnic backgrounds.
In 1976, for instance, Chile’s U.S.-backed
dictatorship sponsored a terrorist bombing on the streets of Washington,
killing Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier and an American co-worker,
Ronni Moffitt, yet then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush protected Chile’s
leaders from exposure and prosecution. [See Robert Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege.]
Even today, the current Bush administration is
blocking attempts to bring another anti-communist terrorist, Luis Posada
Carriles, to justice over his alleged role in bombing a Cuban airliner.
[See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush
Family’s Terrorism Test.”]
Cheney’s speech also ignored more recent acts of
terrorism committed by non-Muslims. For instance, there was no reference
in his speech to home-grown right-wing terrorists like Timothy McVeigh,
who was convicted and executed for blowing up the federal building in
Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.
For that matter, Cheney offered no self-criticism of
the “shock and awe” violence that the Bush administration inflicted on
Iraq, killing thousands of civilians in a war launched over false claims
about Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.
At the start of the invasion, Bush
ordered the bombing of a Baghdad restaurant where Hussein was suspected
of having dinner. Though it turned out Hussein wasn’t there, the attack
left 14 civilians dead, including seven children. One mother collapsed
when her headless daughter was pulled from the wreckage.
But for Cheney and Gillerman, these examples don’t
seem to count.
A second point undermining Cheney’s argument before
AIPAC is that some of the cases he cites aren’t acts of terrorism –
which is classically defined as violence directed against civilians to
achieve a political goal.
In the case of the 1983 bombing in Beirut, for
instance, the attackers targeted the Marine barracks because the
Reagan-Bush administration’s mission creep had led U.S. forces to
intervene militarily against some Muslim elements in the civil war then
raging in Lebanon. So, while the killing of the Marines was horrible, it
Similarly, the “Black Hawk Down” incident in the
Somali city of Mogadishu wasn’t an act of terrorism; it was a battle
between U.S. Special Forces units and militia troops loyal to a local
warlord. Indeed, the Somali militia was reacting to a surprise attack by
the American troops, not vice versa.
What Cheney appears to be saying is that anytime
American troops are killed in a conflict whatever the factual
circumstances, they are the victims of “terrorism” – with all that
word’s emotional and propagandistic value. Conversely, acts ordered by
President Bush and U.S. allies can never be considered “terrorism”
whatever the facts may suggest.
There has been a similar blurring of lines in regard
to attacks by Iraqi insurgents against U.S. occupation forces in Iraq.
While some incidents, such as the destruction of mosques and the killing
of civilians, do constitute terrorism, bombs directed at U.S. troops as
they patrol Iraqi territory are military ambushes or sabotage, not
While some Americans might want Iraqi insurgents who
are responsible for killing U.S. troops to bear the opprobrium of the
disgraced title of “terrorist,” the selective application of the word –
as favored by Cheney and Gillerman – carries its own danger.
Since U.S. policy forbids negotiations with
“terrorists,” peace talks with Iraqi insurgents would be barred. That,
in turn, could lead to an indefinite war in Iraq and vastly more death
and destruction on all sides.
That might serve the goals of some neoconservative
ideologues – and ironically
the interests of Osama bin-Laden – but it is almost certainly not in
the interests of U.S. troops in Iraq – nor of the American people.
If there is any hope left of winning the “war of
ideas” in the Islamic world, it might well begin with stopping offensive
comments about Muslims and protesting when bigoted remarks are uttered
by the likes of Ambassador Gillerman.