Monday, August 11, 2008


By William Fisher

I never thought I’d find myself defending Karen Hughes, so this is a big deal.

Ms. Hughes, you will recall, is the Good Friend of Bush (GFOB) who was one of Dubya’s closest confidantes in Texas and later in the White House. After taking a sabbatical from playing Karl Rove in Drag, she returned to Washington to become Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy.

Now I am not exactly Ms. Hughes’ biggest fan. I remember writing at the time of her nomination to be America’s image-maker to the world that I couldn’t think of a less qualified person to take on this arguably impossible job. And over time she unfortunately proved me right.

But now, departed again from Washington, here she is being attacked by a guy with even less credibility.

That guy is Steve Emerson, the once-ubiquitous self-proclaimed anti-terrorist “expert,” who sees Islamic militant bomb throwers under every rock and describes Islam as a faith that “sanctions genocide, planned genocide, as part of its religious doctrine.”

In an article in my favorite hysterical neocon rag, NewsMax, Hughes is accused of funneling “millions of dollars in U.S. government grants to radical Islamist organizations, many of whose leaders have been convicted or indicted in terrorism cases in the United States.”

When I noticed the byline on this piece, I should have known it wouldn’t pass the smell test. It was written by one Kenneth R. Timmerman.

Timmerman, of course, is the author of one of the truly wonderful pieces of disinformation published by Insight Magazine of the right-of-Genghis-Khan Washington Times in 2002. In that gem, Timmerman confirmed Saddam Hussein’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The source of his “intelligence”? None other than Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. The headline read: “How Saddam Got Weapons of Mass Destruction: Saddam Hussein’s War Machine Is Being Built Systematically to Strike At the United States With New Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons Designed to Kill Millions.”

Awesome scoop, Ken!

So in his latest riff, Timmerman reports on Emerson’s testimony to a Congressional committee.

Emerson told the House International Relations Committee: “When Ms. [Karen] Hughes was appointed as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, she set the tone to continue a disastrous policy of outreach with Islamist partners.” Many of the leaders of these “radical Islamist organizations” have been “convicted or indicted in terrorism cases in the United States.”

Well, just who are these “many”?

Emerson cites but one -- the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which he describes as “a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organization, [which] was an unindicted co-conspirator in last year’s terrorist financing trial against the Holy Land Foundation," Emerson told Congress. What he neglected to tell the lawmakers is that the Justice Department designated just about everyone except Adam’s housecat as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in that case – and that a jury exonerated the Foundation.

Emerson also charges that State Department grants went to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), which he described as a group that has “publicly challenged the designation of Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations” (a canard often repeated by Islamophobics that has yet to be substantiated by any facts).

MPAC was but one in a long catalog of organizations Emerson accused of supporting terrorist causes. He said, “A number of groups that the State Department has funded or collaborated with have links to entities such as al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah, all of which are designated as terrorist organizations by the United States government.” But he was a bit light on citing a single fact to support this claim. Like none.

He declared that the outreach policy championed by Hughes “legitimizes Islamism to the world and sends mixed messages to our allies, while sending a terrible message to moderate Muslims who are thoroughly disenfranchised by the funding.”

Emerson’s charges were not without predictable allies in Congress. Citing earlier warnings by Emerson and other “experts,” Republican Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jon Kyl of Arizona wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month, demanding that she instruct the State Department to cancel all outstanding grants to “radical Islamist groups.”

Well, it might just be worth noting that many of the groups cited by Emerson as “radical” are the very same ones the FBI, CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies have been courting since shortly after 9/11 in their efforts to recruit agents and language experts. And that some of them meet regularly with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to provide insights into the attitudes of American Muslims.

To be sure, these organizations frequently disagree with U.S. government policies, particularly regarding the Middle East. They believe the U.S. has wasted precious years in the effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. They assert that the U.S. does little to apply pressure on Israel to rein in the building of new settlements in the West Bank. They think the invasion of Iraq was a colossal blunder. And they regularly complain about ethnic profiling and other official government discrimination against Americans of Arab descent and other American Muslims.

But so do big chunks of the American foreign policy community. Like those bomb-throwers at the Council on Foreign Relations!

Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda is daily fare throughout the Middle East. Much of it comes from the press controlled by the very authoritarian rulers the U.S. has been propping up for decades with billions in military and economic assistance. And much of the opposition to these autocratic regimes today is coming from the very organizations Steve Emerson tags as radical Islamists.

As for what Emerson calls our “disastrous policy of outreach” to Islamic partners, someone ought to remind him that outreach is at the very heart of America’s public diplomacy. The problem is not that we’re spending hundreds of millions on outreach. The problem is that, given George Bush’s Middle East policies, our outreach is not very effective at “winning hearts and minds.”

OK, forget hearts and minds. To be totally cynical, outreach and dialogue are probably our most effective means of obtaining intelligence.

But, to self-designated “terrorism experts” like Steve Emerson, keeping fear alive is Priority One. The good news is that we are no longer seeing Mr. Emerson’s talking head every time we turn our TVs on. And we aren’t seeing many of his op-eds in the responsible mainstream press anymore – except perhaps in the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Times.

Pity it’s taken the media so long to begin to question his value as an authentic source of reliable information. Should have happened after he became one of the first on-air pundits to say the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City had all the earmarks of Middle Eastern terrorism.

Makes you wonder how long it will take Congress to get it!