May 13, 2002

THE FEARMONGERS
Senator Bob Graham is scare-mongering for political gain – and so is the Cato Institute

Although Warren Buffet gets first prize for the most irresponsible statement by a public figure in recent days for saying that a future nuclear attack on the United States is "a virtual certainty" Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida) comes in a close second. According to Graham, members of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based "Party of God," have been infiltrating the US for "months and years, not days and weeks," and are intent on pulling off another 9/11. The proof? Well, uh, er, there isn't any, but then again Graham, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, has a looong history as a loose cannon careening wildly on the ship of state. In February, for example, he made a startling announcement on "Novak, Hunt, and Shields":

"The estimate is that there are 100 or more al Qaeda operatives inside the United States, some who have been here for a considerable period of time, all of whom went through a training process to prepare them to carry out terrorist plots when they were called upon to do so,"

A hundred or more Mohammed Attas walking around, just waiting to immolate themselves and us in an instant replay of 9/11 an image to strike terror in the hearts of Americans. But to what purpose? If true, Graham's announcement betrayed an important bit of information to the Al Qaeda underground: we're on to you. And, in any case, it merely reminded Americans of their government's utter incompetence by raising the question: what the f*ck is being done about it?

PEARL HARBOR REDUX

Well, let's see: they've rounded up every Arab immigrant they can lay their hands on, held thousands without bond in total anonymity, taken away our right to privacy, granted the federal government unprecedented powers of detention and surveillance all without making a single arrest but for the alleged "20th hijacker." Good job, guys and you too, Senator Graham. As ranking Democratic senator on the intelligence committee, you made sure that the hearings on the intelligence failure of 9/11 were delayed long enough for the trail to grow cold. But I'm sure you'll do a bang-up job of a cover-up, one that, as a model of mendacity, will make the Pearl Harbor investigation pale in comparison. They'll be no mention of the warnings that government officials received in the weeks and days prior to 9/11, nor any hint that at least one foreign intelligence agency (perhaps that of a close ally) had some foreknowledge of what would happen that day.

ANOTHER ROUND-UP?

In his February interview, Graham vaguely referred to "other groups" that might pose a threat and has lately expanded on this by explicitly naming Hezbollah. As he put it to the Orlando Sentinel:

"'Are there Hezbollah-trained operatives in the United States? The answer is yes. They are a definite threat to move from supporting terrorist activities in the Middle East to becoming the perpetrators of terrorist activities in the U.S.,' he said. While Graham had no information indicating an imminent attack, 'the very fact that they're here and have been trained to conduct terrorist operations is a continuing threat.'"

"Graham's information," we are told, "was based on intelligence briefings and reports. He meets weekly with CIA Director George Tenet and other intelligence chiefs," and this aura of authority is backed up by some anonymous "high-ranking" official who confirmed that "Hezbollah is thought to have members in Detroit, New York, Dallas and Charlotte, N.C., as well as other cities."

This is a lot more specific than those elusive 100-plus Al Qaeda operatives supposedly floating around: here we have actual locations. But then why not arrest these people, if they pose such an imminent threat? Surely the feds have the authority. What they don't seem to have is any evidence. But that needn't stop them, since, under our anti-terrorism statutes, they don't need any evidence and this may indeed be a prelude to a new Arab-American roundup

WHAT IS HEZBOLLAH?

Like their Zionist antagonists, the "Party of God" went from being primarily an armed militia in the 1980s, to becoming a legal political party, as it is today in Lebanon. Having succeeded in driving the Israeli occupiers out of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has declared victory and settled down to become a political force, as Professor August Richard Norton persuasively argues in this essay. Norton is referenced in the Sentinel piece as saying Hezbollah "'has moved away from its terrorist roots and now holds seats in the Lebanese parliament and runs hospitals in Lebanon.' It would, he said, be 'a great mistake to equate Hezbollah to al-Qaeda.'"

However, an analyst for the hawkish RAND outfit disagreed: Bruce Hoffman, RAND's "terrorism specialist," said "it's not a stretch to think Hezbollah could attack the United States," pointing out that:

"The group has had undercover operatives here funneling money back to Lebanon. A group of 18, Hoffman said, was charged in North Carolina in July 2000. Others are in Michigan, which has the largest Lebanese population outside of Lebanon. On Sept. 10, a Hezbollah member was convicted in Michigan of conspiring to smuggle guns and ammunition to Lebanon."

TOBACCO TERRORISM?

This is, in a word, baloney. On September 10, the day before The Day, a jury convicted Ali Boumelhem in Detroit for packing two rifles and 700 bullets, along with shoes, machine parts, and cooking oil, in a shipment bound for Lebanon. His brother, Mohamed "Mike" Boumelhem, was acquitted. Boumelhem bought the firearms illegally at gun shows in Michigan. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, a leading advocate of stringent gun control measures, has cited the Boumelhem case as an example of the need for background checks at gun shows. The other charges involve cigarette smuggling, not terrorism, and the 18 arrested in North Carolina were charged with dealing in contraband and money-laundering the proceeds. Ah, but here's the rub, as reported in Dawn:

"Although federal agents said there was no indication the group planned any violent acts, one confidential source who had infiltrated the group said its apparent leader, identified as Mohamed Hammed, may have been a threat to the United States. '(The confidential source) advised Mohammed Hammed is dangerous because he would likely assist in carrying out any action against United States interests if he were requested to do so by Hezbollah,' federal agents said in a court filing."

No evidence of terrorism, except that one of them "may have" been a threat because some anonymous infiltrator testified he "would likely" carry out such asks if asked to do so. If that sounds like a set-up, well, then, it probably is but is this really the stuff Graham's grandiose pronouncements are made of?

THE POLITICS OF FEAR

It is, of course, a pure coincidence that tensions along Israel's border with Lebanon have picked up just as the outcry against the alleged threat from Hezbollah in the US has been taken up by Senator Graham and others. Or is it? The Sentinel article cites Anthony H. Cordesman, scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies:

"'There is a lot of pressure from the supporters of Israel to label all these groups as part of a global threat to get more support for Israel."

As if to confirm this, the article goes on to cite support for the Hezbollah threat theory from a surprising source:

"Ted Galen Carpenter, a scholar at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, said Hezbollah is more likely to go after Israel in the West Bank. He said, however, that it's possible that extremist groups such as Hezbollah will want to strike at the United States because it is a close ally of Israel."

It's sad, really, to see Cato on the occasion of its 25th anniversary aligning itself with fearmongering opportunists like Graham. But what do you expect from a "libertarian" thinktank that recently called for a US invasion of Pakistan and has now joined the "let Sharon be Sharon" crowd of American Likudniks in attacking Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East in the name of "nonintervention," of course? The formerly antiwar Catoites now argue the case for unleashing the US-armed Israeli army on the outgunned Palestinians because, as Cato analyst Leon T. Hadar sees it, the two sides are having too much fun for us to break it up:

"Those Americans who contend that the United States has the 'moral obligation' to bring an end to the bloodbath should recognize that there are no serious antiwar opposition groups among the Israelis or the Palestinians. Both sides are willing to pay the costs of what they regard as a fight for their survival."

I note, with disgust, the ironic quote marks around moral obligation, as if the US has nothing to answer for in arming the IDF to the teeth. Defectors from libertarianism a credo based on the concept of moral obligation, as opposed to coerced "consent" are naturally loath to hold our government to any moral standards, particularly in the realm of foreign affairs.

CATO JOINS THE 'AMEN CORNER'

In tandem with their defection, Cato's pronouncements on Israel have taken on a tone reminiscent of a New York Post editorial, in which the Arab world is continually characterized as the implacable enemy of the US and Bush is exhorted to lay off of Israel. As Hadar writes, our "so-called" Arab allies:

"If they are interested in advancing the resolution adopted in the recent Arab League meeting in Beirut to normalize relations with Israel should take the necessary steps to open direct negotiations with that state, and should not expect the United States to 'deliver' Israel."

But why shouldn't George W. Bush rein in the murderous Sharon before we make implacable enemies of the entire Arab world why not get something for our yearly $3 billion in tribute to Tel Aviv? Wouldn't that lessen the chances of a Hezbollah attack on the US far more than rounding up random cigarette smugglers and scapegoating Arab-Americans?

It is typical of a scarifying reflexively pro-Israel demagogue like Graham to be conjuring imaginary threats to the American people. After all, it takes the focus off the very real threat that our intelligence community did miss not to mention Graham's dereliction of duty in failing to conduct a full-scale public investigation of what happened and why. But, somehow, I expected a bit more from Cato, even in their new pro-war mode. From the leading noninterventionist thinktank in Washington to one of the most unthinkingly bellicose what a way for a "libertarian" institution to celebrate a 25th anniversary! To see Cato signed on as a due-paying member of Israel's amen corner in Washington is an insult to anyone aside from former Cato Board member Rupert Murdoch – who ever gave Cato so much as a dime.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.