- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell did it again. He broke sharply with one of the central tenets of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism described, among other places, in the White House’s National Strategy for Combating Terrorism published last February: “We must fight terrorist networks, and all those who support their efforts … using every instrument of national power — diplomatic, economic, law enforcement, financial, information, intelligence and military.”

On July 24, however, Mr. Powell struck at the moral clarity, to say nothing of the operational consequences, of that Bush stance when he made the following declaration with respect to the Islamic Resistance Movement — a Palestinian group universally known as Hamas that has been listed for years by Mr. Powell’s own department as a terrorist group: “If an organization that has a terrorist component to it, a terrorist wing to it, totally abandons that, gives it up and there is no question in anyone’s mind that [terrorism] is part of its past, then that is a different organization.”

Of course, this is hardly the first time Mr. Powell has opened an ominous breach in the administration’s ranks. A particularly notorious example was his contention before the invasion of Iraq that U.S. policy requiring “regime change” would be satisfied if only Saddam Hussein’s thugocracy gave up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Fortunately, this absurd notion did not prevail. Had it done so, the coalition’s inability to date to seize any of Iraq’s WMD might reasonably have given rise to a demand that the U.S. now reverse the liberation of Iraq and reinstate a “changed” Saddam.

Even though the folly of the get-out-of-jail-free card Mr. Powell once tried to provide the Iraqi dictator is today self-evident, the secretary of state has nonetheless made a similar assertion with respect to Hamas: It would be considered “different” if just one troubling aspect of its behavior was altered.

This betrays a fundamental misreading of the character of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Like other Saudi-backed Islamist organizations, Hamas has long used educational, religious, medical and other social-support services to ingratiate itself with local populations and to proselytize a virulent brand of radical Islam most closely associated with the state religion of Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism.

For Hamas, the objective of their humanitarian activities, however, is identical to that of their terrorist cells: the destruction of the “infidel” West’s outrider in the region, Israel, as part of a wider jihad (holy war) against nonbelievers globally.

Consequently, it is certainly naive, if not downright mendacious, to posit that Hamas would be made into an acceptable, constructive organization were it to get out of the terrorism business. Even if one believed the U.S. government would hold them to such a commitment — and recent experience with the abandonment of presidential preconditions for the creation of a Palestinian state (notably, that a “new” leadership be elected and that it “dismantle” the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure) strongly suggests otherwise — Hamas could not exist as a peaceable “political party.”

Except, that is, in the sort of environment it advocates: an Islamic “republic” governed by strict Sharia law.

Unfortunately, in the process of promoting this fiction, the United States is further eroding the already dim prospects for the so-called “Road map” for Mideast peace. If the new Powell doctrine takes root, it must be asked: At what point will Hamas be considered sufficiently “changed” to qualify along with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas as a “partner for peace”?

A larger worry is what Mr. Powell’s gift to Hamas means for other fronts in the war on terror. It comes as official Washington is seized as never before with the problem of Saudi financing and other support to international terrorist organizations, Hamas among them. In fact, this morning, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will take testimony from a number of U.S. government and other experts about the nature and extent of the kingdom’s underwriting of those who have killed Americans and/or other Westerners — or who yet hope to do so. The record is expected to reveal that Israeli intelligence believes that 50 percent of Hamas’ funding comes from Saudi Arabian sources; its U.S. counterparts reportedly judge that to be an underestimate.

When challenged on this score, the Saudis reflexively deny such involvement. On cross-examination, however, their premier spinmeister Adel al-Jubeir has acknowledged Saudi support for Hamas, but only for its “political wing.” Similarly, Saudi-backed front organizations in the United States — whom some in the Bush administration have been deluded into thinking will deliver significant Muslim- and Arab-American votes in 2004 — are demanding that not only Hamas, but Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad as well, be removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Mr. Bush dignified the chairman of one such controversial group, the American Muslim Council, with a meeting during his visit to Michigan last Thursday.

It will be impossible to oppose, let alone to constrict, the flow of funds that the Saudi government and its minions make available under the guise of “charitable” contributions to terrorist organizations if the U.S. government does not hold the line President Bush has properly, clearly and repeatedly enunciated: You are with us or you are with the terrorists.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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