As the neoconservatives have been wrong about almost everything in the past six years, it would seem logical to assume that their political demise is imminent. But nothing could be further from the truth: the neocons in government, though admittedly declining in number, continue to be supported by a huge and devoted infrastructure in the media, think tanks, institutes, and universities. The neocon domination of the editorial pages of most major newspapers and magazines continues, and even the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has a board controlled by five Republican appointees chaired by Cheryl Feldman Halpern, who, prior to her appointment in 2005, complained that public television and radio exhibited an anti-Israel bias. The neocons, much more than traditional conservatives and liberals, continue to be adept at networking and getting their message across, even if that message has frequently been mugged by reality. If you turn on a television and are invited to learn the views of an “expert” on foreign policy, that expert is likely to be a neocon.
The Association for Intelligence Officers, formerly known as the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, appears to be a recent acquisition to the neocon foreign policy lineup. AFIO, as it is most commonly referred to, was founded in 1975 to counter widespread criticism of the intelligence community coming from the media and Congress. It is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity and has generally been a positive force, seeing its primary mission as educational. AFIO claims that it has 5,000 members in 24 active chapters, most of whom are not former or current intelligence officers. It is not, in fact, necessary to be an actual intelligence officer to be a member of AFIO.
AFIO is sponsoring a symposium later this month in Tyson’s Corner, Va. The gathering is being advertised as an “AFIO Counter Jihad Symposium” and its theme is “The Resurgence of the Worldwide Islamic Jihad against the West: Understanding and Needed Response.” In a line underneath the description of the theme appears “‘America Convert to Islam, or die,’ Osama bin Laden, 2007.” In its promotional literature, AFIO describes the symposium at “the most important symposium of our 32 years,” noting that the “Islamic Jihadists” are “choking off freedom in Europe” and are also “here in this country plotting and gathering strength.”
Lest anyone be confused by what this is all about, there is an extensive list of speakers that includes many prominent neocons. Featured are Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney, Nonie Darwish, and James Woolsey, all of whom reject accommodation with the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims. Insofar as could be determined from available biographies, not a single one of the symposium’s speakers has spent any time in Arab countries as a working intelligence officer. Most seem to have little direct knowledge of the Muslim world’s languages or cultures. This might disappoint attendees interested in actually learning something about terrorism and the appropriate response to it as related to the intelligence profession.
The stridently anti-Islamic tone of the symposium is particularly disturbing, as it promotes the idea that dealing with Muslims is either undesirable or pointless. The promotional literature’s headlines are simplistic, and the acceptance of never ending conflict as a remedy to the terrorism problem is flat-out wrong and has only served to make the U.S. less secure since 9/11. Moderate Muslims seeking to marginalize terrorists actually do exist, and a symposium that is not concerned with balance or context unfairly portrays the Islamic world as a monolithic enemy of civilization. Ironically, it is hard to imagine a genuine former intelligence officer who has worked in the Arab or Muslim world who would agree with the Manichean view expressed in the symposium’s promotional material.
Woolsey is perhaps the most interesting participant. A lawyer by training, he had no intelligence experience before being appointed CIA director by Bill Clinton in 1993. His tenure was spectacularly unsuccessful. He never met privately with Clinton after being named director. Two years later he was replaced by John Deutch. Since his departure from Langley he has been increasingly drawn to the neocon camp and is currently associated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Project for a New American Century. On several occasions in the last two years, most often when he has been in Israel, he has called for the release of Jonathan Pollard from prison, something that most real intelligence officers would strongly oppose. Speaking on National Public Radio, Woolsey has also denied that Israel spies on the United States, an assertion that is absolutely incorrect. Woolsey was also outspoken in his support of the Iraq misadventure, and there have been reports that he personally profited from it through his association with Beltway bandit Booz Allen Hamilton. He has also called for war against both Syria and Iran and believes that there should be a “World War IV” to deal with the Islamic problem.
Daniel Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum and a founder of Campus Watch, which monitors university professors critical of Israel. He is a longtime apologist for Israel and a former official at the State and Defense Departments. Middle East Forum describes itself as a think tank on Middle Eastern issues but in reality only supports a pro-Israel agenda. In an April 2002 interview, Pipes asserted that a video showing Israeli police brutalization of peacefully demonstrating Israeli Arabs was morally acceptable because “they want the destruction of Israel,” which he later qualified with “90 percent do.” Pipes also argues that terrorist attacks are a defining aspiration of militant Islam. Regarding terrorism in general, he has written that “all Muslims are suspect.” He has also said that “moderate Muslims do not exist.” Pipes was an outspoken supporter of invading Iraq. He now supports Israeli military action against Syria and Lebanon and a military strike against Iran to destroy its nuclear program. Pipes also is concerned that the “enfranchisement” of Muslims will threaten Jews in America, and he has said of efforts to recruit Muslims to join the Republican Party that “there’s lots wrong with trying to foist radical fringe elements as natural Republicans.”
Frank J. Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), speaks of Israel “defending itself in the war on terrorism” against “a terrorist proto-state’s efforts to destroy our democratic ally.” The “terrorist proto-state” is the Palestinians. CSP is one of the most active organizations promoting the Israeli agenda. Gaffney has described former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a “man of peace through restraint.” A CSP Web site once denounced Saudi Arabian attempts to influence foreign policy in the United States, quoting “veteran congressional investigator” Herbert Romerstein as saying the “FBI should be planting informants in these groups and monitoring them.” The comment is particularly ironic given the level of Israeli influence over U.S. foreign policy, which does not appear to concern Gaffney.
A major contributor to Gaffney is Irving Moskowitz, a Miami-based 76-year-old physician who made a fortune building hospitals in California and then a second fortune building strip-mall bingo halls. Moskowitz believes that peace talks between Israel and the Arabs are suicide for Israel, so he supports numerous right-wing Israeli groups. Gaffney benignly describes Moskowitz’s extremist views as an “alternative view not well represented among established Jewish institutions.” Some Israeli peace advocates believe that he is in fact the major funder of anti-peace movements inside their country.
In an apparent effort to demonstrate diversity, the one AFIO speaker who was raised as a Muslim is, to borrow a phrase, “self-hating.” Nonie Darwish is the author of Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror. Born and raised in Egypt, she is a founder of Arabs for Israel. Darwish has referred disparagingly to “the Middle Eastern Islamic culture and the propaganda of hatred taught to children from birth.” She now claims to be a Christian and a conservative Republican. Darwish’s critique of Islam and her conversion is likely genuine, but AFIO might have better served its expected audience by providing an alternative view from one of the many millions of Muslims who are devout but reject violence directed against Christians and Jews.
In separate correspondence, AFIO has indicated that it is not interested in dialogue with Muslims or in presenting any balanced view of the problems that beset the Middle East. An inquiry made to AFIO by a potential attendee to the symposium expressing concern that Daniel Pipes in particular is outspokenly anti-Muslim produced an interesting response from Elizabeth Bancroft, the organization’s executive director. Bancroft denounced the inquiry as “politically correct rubbish” and went on to refer to it and similar letters as “hand-wringing weep-pieces for multiculturalism.” One suspects that she may also be responsible for the Sept. 11 letter alerting AFIO members to the upcoming symposium in which she referred to the “often unattainable” experts who would be speaking. Hopefully they will have attained something by the time the conference starts. Elizabeth undeniably has a way with words.