Back in July, the Justice Department held a bells-’n-whistles press conference to announce a major case: a 42-count indictment, charging seven men and an ostensible charity with underwriting Hamas to the tune of nearly $60 million. Hamas, a ruthless terrorist organization dedicated to the annihilation of Israel and responsible for numerous gruesome attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of victims–including Americans–has been formally designated as a terrorist organization under various U.S. laws for many years.
In announcing the indictment, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft could not have been more straightforward: “To those who exploit good hearts to secretly fund violence and murder, this prosecution sends a clear message: There is no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks. The United States will ensure that both terrorists and their financiers meet the same, certain justice.”
Evidently, Scott McClellan did not get the memo.
At his press briefing Wednesday, President Bush’s spokesman was asked about the very real possibility that Hamas could come to dominate what will pass for the “legislature” of the Palestinian Authority (PA). There followed this stunning exchange:
Question: In the event that Hamas, a terrorist organization not yet disarmed by the PA, wins a majority in the legislative PA, will the Bush administration still send $350 million U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA, or not?
McCLELLAN: It’s–the one thing that you see when people have elections that are free and fair is that they tend to choose people who are committed to improving their livelihood, not people who are committed to terrorist acts. And I think if you look back at the previous Palestinian elections, the people that were elected, while they might have been members of Hamas, they were business professionals. They were people that ran on talking about improving the quality of life for the Palestinian people and addressing their economic needs and addressing other needs that are important to them–not terrorists. [Emphasis added.]
This assertion, by the public face of the Bush administration, is breathtaking. Here’s hoping it will be corrected, resoundingly, with due haste.
What is McClellan thinking about here? All terrorist organizations engage in this kind of beguiling propaganda. That Nazis had lots of spiffy spokesmen talking about improving people’s lives. So does the IRA. So does Hezbollah. Osama bin Laden’s construction concerns built roads and infrastructure to improve people’s lives in Sudan and Afghanistan–all the better for ingress and egress to the many terror training camps he ran in those countries with impunity.
The rationale for the Bush presidency, the bedrock basis for reelection, is that the President has been clear-eyed and unflinching on the central issue of the day: the threat posed by militant Islamic terrorism. Again and again, he has said it: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. This was the firm foundation of the Bush Doctrine–no quarter for terrorists, no place, no how. And no exceptions for the Palestinian Authority.
We have structured our law around it. Numerous people have been prosecuted under beefed up laws that forbid providing any kind of material support to terrorist organizations. In case after case, those defendants plead the same thing–what we might now call the “McClellan Defense”: “Sure the government might say they’re a terrorist organization, and sure they might mass-murder civilians, but they do a lot of good, too. They run charities. They run social service organizations. They have a lot of good business people who talk about improving the quality of life. I was only contributing to this happy-face side of the house, not the bad terrorists.”
The defense gets laughed out of court, because most people are not fools. As a practical matter, people know dollars are fungible. If you give money to a terrorist organization–like the $350 million McClellan indicates we are thinking about giving to a Hamas-dominated PA–you don’t control it; the terrorists do, and they decide whether to channel it to healthcare or bomb-building.
More importantly, as a behavioral incentive, people understand and endorse what antiterror law seeks to achieve. If an organization practices the savagery of terrorism, if it seeks political accommodation by murdering its way to the bargaining table, it must forfeit any right to be heard or, bluntly, to exist. No matter how many hospitals and charities it runs. No matter how many nice men in nice suits it trots out to prattle about social justice. End of story.
President Bush has always seen the likes of Hamas as Hamas–i.e., as thugs, not businessmen. It was because of this that he was preferable to Senator Kerry, who saw terrorism as a problem to be managed in conjunction with the international community and its nuanced view of the world’s Hamases as “political resistance movements” that, alas, occasionally strap explosives to adolescent suicide bombers–a somewhat less-than-nuanced way of killing lots of civilians.
It was because President Bush insisted, as a premise of his “roadmap” for Middle East peace, that terrorism be halted and terror groups be disarmed, that he was preferable to President Clinton, who labored eight long years trying to groom an incorrigible terrorist, Yassir Arafat, into a statesman–in a “peace process” that bred the Intifada and an ever-rising death count.
If McClellan is to be taken seriously, it seems we are back to nuance and grooming. Is he to be taken seriously?
–Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and eleven others, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.