How Much Does Dean Get?
The frontrunner's understanding of the terror threat.


It’s easy, indeed tempting, for Republicans to write off Howard Dean as “another McGovernite Democrat who can’t win.” Maybe he can’t. But stranger things have happened. Think back a decade. How many Republicans really believed on the eve of the 1992 Iowa caucuses that Bill and Hillary Clinton would control the White House and the U.S. national-security apparatus for the next eight years?

That said, it’s time for the media to turn up the heat and require Dean to tell the American people specifically how he would fight and win the war on terror. For example: How would President Howard Dean protect Americans from a wave of radical Islamic suicide bombers headed for our shores?

Repeated U.S. success at preventing more 9/11-style kamikaze jetliner attacks means terrorists are looking for new ways of inflicting physical and psychological damage within the American homeland. With suicide bombers striking Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Turkey, and Russia in recent months, how much longer will it be before the jihadists attempt to infiltrate the United States and, heaven forbid, blow up our schools, restaurants, malls, and movie theaters?

The notion of an American president and his top advisers trying feverishly to hunt them down and intercept a wave of suicide bombers before they inflict their evil here is the premise of my recent novel, a political thriller called The Last Days. But make no mistake: the premise is hardly fiction.

The next president is going to have to fully understand the evil that is lurking just over the horizon, and have an aggressive and comprehensive approach to destroying the jihadists overseas before they have the ability to get anywhere close to our shores.

The question is whether the current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination understands the threat. Recently uncovered comments by Dean are not encouraging.

In a 1998 television interview, Dean conceded the radical Islamic Palestinian group known as Hamas is “a terrorist organization.” But he added that he believed that the rise of Hamas to power in the West Bank and Gaza after Yasser Arafat leaves the scene could be a “good” thing.

Here’s how reported the story: “In another January 1998 episode, he [Dean] also speculated that there ‘will probably be good and bad’ if Hamas takes control over the Palestinian leadership. Yasser Arafat, he said, ‘is going to leave the scene….When that happens, I think Hamas will probably take over. There will probably be good and bad out of that. The bad, of course, is that Hamas is a terrorist organization. However, if they have to run a quasi-state they may actually have to be more responsible and start negotiations. So who knows what will happen.’”

That last phrase is troubling, to say the least. “Who knows what will happen”?

Any American political leader familiar with the Hamas covenant knows that it clearly describes the group’s goals and objectives. Hamas vows to wage jihad–a “holy war”–against Christian and Jewish infidels, the “Capitalist West,” the “Communist East,” and anyone else who gets in its way. Hamas pointedly rejects all peace conferences as a waste of time. The group’s founding charter offers no hint its leaders or members may suddenly become “responsible” and start to negotiate for peace at all, much less in good faith. Moreover, since the signing of its covenant in 1988, Hamas’s reign of terror–waged with scores of suicide bombings–demonstrate how serious the group is to mass murder.

Just this morning, Hamas and a group aligned with Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party claimed responsibility for another suicide bombing on the Gaza border and vowed there are more suicide bombings to come. Three Americans died in a suicide bombing in Gaza last fall. And Americans are being targeted by suicide bombers in Iraq all the time.

In January of 2003, Hamas spokesman Abd Al-Aziz Al-Rantisi posted a message on the Hamas website urging Iraq both to establish an army of suicide bombers, and to welcome suicide bombers from other countries to come into Iraq to attack Americans.

Iraq must train convoys of martyrs in belief, and this will be possible only by [studying] the Koran,” declared Al-Rantisi. “[O]pen your gates to the Jihad warriors, the sons of this Islamic nation, so that you will be able to carry out your mission by defending the land of the Muslims….Give the Jihad warriors a chance to stop this oppressive aggression. The Jihad warriors must advance from everywhere to defend the land of Iraq.

Another Dean interview also raises disturbing questions as to whether the Democratic frontrunner understands the threat suicide bombers pose to the American people.

According to, Dean gave a February 1999 interview in which he said: “The next great tragedy is going to be Arafat’s passing, believe it or not. I’m not a fan of terrorism or Arafat. But the truth is that what’s happening here is [former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has thrown away the chance of a lifetime to negotiate with people he could negotiate with.”

First, full disclosure: In the year 2000, I served as a adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Second, some background: my novel The Last Days begins with the assassination of Yasser Arafat by radical Islamic jihadists who proceed to spark a mafia-like Palestinian civil war over who will succeed Arafat, “the last Don of Gaza.”

Now a question: Does Howard Dean still believe that the passing of Yasser Arafat from the international political scene would be a “great tragedy”? It’s not exactly a mainstream position.

Arafat is widely acknowledged to be the godfather of terrorism in the Middle East. He encouraged the use of suicide bombings against Americans and Israelis in Lebanon in the 1980s. He then imported that strategy into Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in the ’90s.

Arafat’s decades-long support of Saddam Hussein is a matter of public record. Saddam was so grateful he used to send checks of $25,000 to Palestinian families who sent their sons and daughters to be suicide bombers is the slaughter of Israelis.

Last November, Arafat’s national-security adviser–Jibril Rajoub–called the U.S. government a “right-wing, fascist administration controlled by the Zionist right.” Moreover, he urged Arabs to step up their suicide-bombing attacks on Americans in Iraq.

In an interview posted on the London-based online newspaper Al-Haqaeq, published in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, Rajoub said “Arabs must now wake up. Iraqi opposition to the American occupation must be increased.”

In a column published in the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida in June of 2003, another top Arafat aide–Palestinian Authority Deputy Foreign Minister Adli Sadeq–called President Bush “the head of the snake.” He added that “America is sinking deeper and deeper in a putrid swamp” in Iraq “and will extricate itself from it only as a defeated, stinking loser.” He also warned that “Arabs still have accounts to settle” and spoke of “resistance [forces] hidden in the heart of Iraqi society whose aim is to expel the defeated invaders.”

The question is whether former Gov. Dean truly understands the threat that Hamas, Yasser Arafat, and others like them pose to us and our allies. Does Dean believe radical Islamic jihadists pose an existential threat to the American people? How concerned is he about state-sponsored support of such terrorist groups, such as Saddam Hussein’s support of Palestinian suicide bombers and their families? Moreover, would he pursue an aggressive and relentless global strategy to stop such terrorist groups and states before they can kill again?

It’s time the media asks Dean–before he wins the Democratic nomination.

Joel C. Rosenberg is a New York Times best-selling author of The Last Jihad and The Last Days and previously served as a senior aide to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.