Monday, August 10, 2009

Brennan on Hizballah: They Can’t Be Terrorists! After All, Some of Them Are Lawyers!

By Barry Rubin

It wasn’t enough that President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan gave a speech which—possibly for the first time in U.S. history—gave a government definition of a religious practice, endorsing Jihad as a noble pursuit. No, he also gave a basic endorsement to a terrorist group which has murdered several hundred Americans.

Please understand, Brennan is not engaging in appeasement. It's much worse. He thinks he's a brilliant strategist who is going to manipulate Hizballah into being pro-American without knowing very much about the Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, Islamism, or even his supposed subject of expertise, terrorism.

Sound like an exaggeration? Keep reading.

Brennan made clear his views on Hizballah before being appointed by the president, which means he shouldn’t have been appointed. The problem isn't just that his view is politically unpalatable and strategically disastrous, it is also enormously ignorant.

Here’s what Brennan wrote in an article for ANNALS, AAPSS, 618, July 2008. What it says on Iran is equally bad. But let’s focus today on Hizballah:

“It would not be foolhardy, however, for the United States to tolerate, and even to encourage, greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon's political system, a process that is subject to Iranian influence. Hezbollah is already represented in the Lebanese parliament and its members have previously served in the
Lebanese cabinet, reflections of Hezbollah's interest in shaping Lebanon's political future from within government institutions. This political involvement is a far cry from Hezbollah's genesis as solely a terrorist organization dedicated to murder, kidnapping, and violence. Not coincidentally, the evolution of Hezballah into a fully vested player in the Lebanese political system has been accompanied by a marked reduction in terrorist attacks carried out by the organization. The best hope for maintaining this trend and for reducing the influence of violent extremists within the organization—as well as the influence of extremist Iranian officials who view Hezbollah primarily as a pawn of Tehran—is to increase Hezbollah’s stake in Lebanon’s struggling democratic processes”

This kind of thinking would do far more than bury Lebanon. It would bury U.S. interests and influence in the Middle East. And so it is only appropriate to quote William Shakespeare’s lines for another funeral oration: “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now!”

Yes, it would be foolhardy for the United States to encourage growing influence and power for a radical Islamist terrorist group that is a client of Syria and reasonably close to being an agent of Iran. Brennan seems to give no evidence of any serious knowledge about the Middle East.

Hizballah isn't being "assimilated" into Lebanon's political system, it is trying to take over Lebanon to the greatest extent possible. Just like when the Bolsheviks and Nazis ran candidates that wasn't proof that they were being "assimilated" into the Russian and German systems. (Imagine if a British minister had proposed back then a policy of encouraging Communist or Nazi participation in government on the grounds that this would moderate them.)

But why can’t a terrorist or Islamist revolutionary group engage in normal politics? Yes, it might not kill people for a bit, mainly because it plans to do so when that's necessary to advance its cause or--even better---when it takes power.

 Hizballah’s maximum goal is to seize state power in Lebanon and to drive out all Western influence, while wiping Israel off the map and extending Islamist rule over the entire region. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have interim goals. It’s minimum goal (already accomplished) is to become the strongest single force in the country, to build up a powerful, highly trained militia, to attack Israel whenever it desires, and to gain full control of all Shi’a areas in the country especially in south Lebanon.

How does involvement in electoral politics prove—and the same applies to Hamas—that it doesn’t remain a revolutionary Islamist group promoting Iranian and Syrian influence which will indulge in terrorism when it feels that tactic to be useful?

And how could anyone be so dumb not to understand this?

By the way, he knows nothing about how Hizballah has behaved in politics. What have been its efforts? To gain control of the government or at least veto power, to prevent any attempt to disarm its militia or limit its arms’ smuggling (Syrian arms paid for with Iranian money).

And why did Hizballah walk out of the government the first time? Over its demand to kill the international investigation of the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and a dozen other terrorist acts.

In other words, the “moderate parliamentary” Hizballah left the government in order to protect previous terrorist attacks from being punished. Doesn’t this show their continued involvement in…terrorism?

Yet even this nonsense is dimmed by what Brennan says next. It just so happens that Hizballah stopped doing terrorism because it was entering politics? Has Brennan forgotten the attacks on Israel which triggered a massive war, so destructive for Lebanon, just two years earlier? Hizballah claimed victory but suffered material defeat.

Note the inability of administration officials—this isn’t the first time—to discount totally the fact that force sometimes has a deterrent effect. Contemplate the meaning of that for America’s future foreign policy.

But that’s what he said before taking office. After his Jihad-endorsing speech, Brennan answered questions. Only one newspaper in the world published the transcript, as far as I can discover, the Seoul Times in South Korea. But Brennan’s statement can be found online in a sound recording.

Let me point out that he was answering a question from Bob Dreyfuss of the far-left The Nation magazine, who is not exactly a flaming American patriot. Dreyfuss mentioned that he has had personal discussions with Brennan in which the latter, “suggested that it might be possible to have a dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah.”

[Dreyfuss is determined to "out" Brennan as he tries to pull him further to the left. On his blog, Dreyfuss writes: "In fact, as I alluded to in my question, Brennan had told me (before taking a job in the Obama administration, but while serving as Obama's top adviser on intelligence issues) that talking to Hamas and Hezbollah is the right thing to do."]

Brennan didn’t deny it but did say he thought Hamas was still a terrorist group. [This might just be for public consumption. Privately, if what he says about Hizballah is true--once a movement runs candidates that must mean to him that it is a candidate for being an American ally.]

But here’s what he said about Hizballah:

“Hezbollah started out as purely a terrorist organization back in the early 1980s and has evolved significantly over time. And now it has members of parliament, in the cabinet; there are lawyers, doctors, others who are part of the Hezbollah organization.

“However, within Hezbollah, there’s still a terrorist core. And hopefully those elements within the Shia community in Lebanon and within Hezbollah at large – they’re going to continue to look at that extremist terrorist core as being something that is anathema to what, in fact, they’re trying to accomplish in terms of their aspirations about being part of the political process in Lebanon. And so, quite frankly, I’m pleased to see that a lot of Hezbollah individuals are in fact renouncing that type of terrorism and violence and are trying to participate in the political process in a very legitimate fashion.”

So in other words it cannot be terrorist because it has parliamentarians, doctors, and even lawyers. Sticking with doctors for the moment, I can think of terrorist doctors who led some of the most terrorist PLO and Palestinian groups, the number-two leader of al-Qaida, and several of Hamas’s top leaders. And by the way, doesn’t Hamas have parliamentarians and cabinet members?

You see, friends, that’s why I use the word “stupid” here even though, forgive me, it isn’t a proper academic or analytical term. The following is my satire, not an actual quote:

Brennan: Hizballah can’t be terrorist because they have cabinet members, lawyers, and doctors but Hamas is terrorist.

Reporter: But doesn’t Hamas have cabinet members, lawyers, and doctors, too?

Brennan: Um, er, uh....

You don’t make a statement so easily reduced to rubble if you really understand your topic.

As for “terrorist core,” what are we talking about, some small marginal group? In Arabic, Hizballah leaders are constantly explaining there is no such thing as a “military” and a “civilian” wing. They speak freely of their devotion to Iran’s regime and the parliamentarians talk about their devout loyalty to the same leaders who give orders to the militia and for terrorist operations.

And who are “a lot of Hezbollah individuals” renouncing terrorism and violence? Don’t you get it, Brennan, that Hezbollah never ever had to renounce terrorism and violence to enter politics? (Neither did Hamas for that matter.)

Here are just two examples among many regarding things the president's terrorism advisor is unaware.

Nawaf Musawi, head of Hizballah's "political wing" says:

"Fundamentally, our role in the party is Jihad work. Without it, there's no value or role for Lebanon. If I had the opportunity to go back, I would have chosen the path of military jihad, because the position of a true warrior (muhajid) is more important than that of a member of parliament."

And here is Hizballah second-in-command Naim Qassem:

"All political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership. The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel."

Moreover, is Brennan unaware of the fact that:

--Hizballah's arms are paid for by Iran and supplied by Syria, Is the United States going to compete with their influence when Hizballah leaders admit the organization was formed and ran for parliament only with approval from Tehran?

--Does Brennan know the name of Hizballah's political party?

--Has he any clue that Hizballah buys influence with Iranian money?

--Is he aware that Hizballah has been repeatedly threatening to wage terror attacks on UNIFIL if it tries to fulfill its UN mandate of keeping the group out of the south?

--Does he recall that Hizballah launched an invasion of the Christian and Druze areas, being stopped only because of ferocious fighting by the Druze militia?

--Has he ever read any of the antisemitic, anti-American speeches made by Hizballah leaders?

--Is he aware at all of Hizballah involvement in terrorist acts against Americans, including kidnappings, murders, and the assault on the Marine barracks to name a few examples? (Leaving aside a long list of attacks on Israel and the terrorist bombing of the Jewish center in Argentina with great loss of life?)

--Incidentally, shouldn't someone in his position be talking about punishing, not rewarding, terrorists with so much American blood on their hands? Shouldn't he be setting some tough preconditions--turn over those responsible, apologize and formally reject terrorism--before talking about U.S. support for Hizballah?

--Extra credit question: How do you think Lebanese opponents of Hizballah--which include the majority of Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Druze, along with a Shia minority--feel about having the world's leading democracy endorse those who want to turn their country into a nightmare dictatorship? How do you think Hizballah leaders and Iran's regime feels in reading stuff like Brennan's speech? Compare and contrast.

I’ll stop here but there’s a lot more one can say. This man is dangerously ignorant and holds very scary policy views. There is something seriously wrong with an administration who would have such a man as its counterterrorist advisor.

Frankly, Brennan should be pressed into resigning or at least subjected to some serious and detailed questioning about his views, statements, and alleged knowledge. "It seems," as one Syrian dissident put it, "that instead of peeling Syria away from Iran, Obama administration's strategy is peeling America away from the West."

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