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<nettime> Jim Lobe: The War on 'Blame America First'

The War on Dissent Widens

Jim Lobe, AlterNet
March 12, 2002

A powerful group of neo-conservatives is launching a new public relations
campaign in support of President George W. Bush's war on terrorism. At a
Tuesday gathering of the National Press Club, members of the new Americans
for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT) declared their intention to "take to
task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the
nature of the war we are facing."

Those groups and individuals, AVOT claims, need to be resisted both here
and abroad. A full-page AVOT advertisement carried in the March 10 Sunday
New York Times pointed to radical Islam as "an enemy no less dangerous and
no less determined than the twin menaces of fascism and communism we faced
in the 20th century." At the same time, the $128,000 ad lambasted those at
home "who are attempting to use this opportunity to promulgate their
agenda of 'blame America first.'"

"Both [internal and external] threats," the ad continues, "stem from
either a hatred for the American ideals of freedom and equality or a
misunderstanding of those ideals and their practice."

To expose the internal "threats," AVOT has compiled a sample list of
statements by professors, legislators, authors and columnists that it
finds objectionable. The strategy appears similar to an earlier,
much-criticized effort to monitor war dissidents by the American Council
of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a group founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife
of Vice President Dick Cheney, and neo-conservative Democratic Senator
Joseph Lieberman.

AVOT's list of speakers it considers threatening include:

- Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who said, "Some of us, maybe foolishly,
gave this president the authority to go after terrorists. We didn't know
that he, too, was going to go crazy with it."

- President Jimmy Carter, who assailed Bush's use of the phrase "axis of
evil," arguing that it was "overly simplistic and counter-productive."

- Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who accused the president of "canceling, in
effect, the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments" and called
the war "the patriot games, the lying games, the war games of an unelected

- American Prospect editor Robert Kuttner criticizing "Bush's dismal
domestic policies" and his "dubious notion of a permanent war."

- Lewis Lapham, the editor of "Harper's Magazine," who in a recent
editorial said that Washington itself has used terrorist tactics during
the 1990s, including the bombing of civilian targets in Baghdad and the

Who exactly is behind AVOT's efforts? The newly-formed organization is
headed by a formidable array of right-wing luminaries. At the top of the
list is former Secretary of Education and drug czar William Bennett,
AVOT's chairman. The group's Senior Advisors include former CIA director
R.  James Woolsey; former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney; William
P.  Barr, attorney general under George Bush, Sr; and mega-political donor
Lawrence Kadish. AVOT is a project of Empower America, also co-chaired by
Bennett, whose principal members include conservative political operatives
Jeane Kirkpatrick, Jack Kemp, Vin Weber and William Cohen. During the
press conference, Bennett insisted that, "We do not wish to silence
people," adding that for now, AVOT plans to hold teach-ins and public
education events, particularly on college campuses. In response to AVOT's
criticism, Harper's Lewis Lapham said Bennett is a "wrong-headed jingo and
an intolerant scold." He added that AVOT appeared to be a new "front
organization for the hard neo-con (neo-conservative) right," which has
gained unprecedented influence in the Bush administration, particularly
among the top political appointees in the Pentagon and Dick Cheney's
office. "This is the war-monger crowd," he said. Indeed, AVOT is being
initially funded primarily by Lawrence Kadish, chairman of the Republican
Jewish Coalition (RJC) and a top donor to the Republican Party. Kadish, a
real estate investor in New York and Florida, was cited by Mother Jones
Magazine as one of the country's top individual donors, having given
$532,000 to the GOP. His RJC has long tried to build links between the
Republican Party, including its Christian Right component, and American
Jews. Bennett, Gaffney, and Woolsey are all veteran members of a
neo-conservative network of groups with overlapping boards of directors
that have long championed rightwing governments in Israel and, among other
things, urged strong U.S. action against both Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein, the Islamic government in Iran, as well as Palestine Authority
President Yasser Arafat. Both Gaffney and Bennett, for example, were two
of about three dozen mainly neo-conservative signers of an open letter
sent to Bush in the name of the "Project for a New American Century" nine
days after the Sept. 11 attacks. It called not only for the destruction of
Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, but also to extend the war to Iraq,
and possibly to Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestine Authority unless
those nations ceased their alleged support of terrorist groups opposed to
Israel. Woolsey, meanwhile, was sent by the Pentagon's Defense Policy
Board to Britain in late September to gather evidence that could link Iraq
to the Sept.  11. He and has since become one of the most visible
commentators in the media in favor of extending the war to Baghdad.
Woolsey is also on the board of the Jewish Institute for National
Security, a hawkish pro-Israel group. AVOT is also linked through many
channels to Richard Perle, chair of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board
(which sent Woolsey on his Iraqi quest).  Perle, like Jeane Kirkpatrick,
perches full time at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neo-con
think-tank that has emerged as the hub of an "axis of incitement"a small
but potent network of like-minded, ultra-hawkish officials, analysts and
opinion-makers. It appears that AVOT is the latest institutional offspring
of that network, which is united by a passionate belief in the inherent
goodness and redemptive mission of the United States; the moral cowardice
of liberals and European elites; the existential necessity of supporting
Israel in the shadow of the Holocaust and in the face of Arab hostility;
and the primacy of military power. These beliefs came through clearly at
Tuesday's press conference. Woolsey, for example, told reporters he agreed
with those who are "calling the war we're in now World War IV." But
Gaffney was the most strident of the speakers at the event, saying that we
should be skeptical of our "new-found friends" in the war on terror. "[We
must] pay special attention to friends like Saudi Arabia and Egypt whose
ongoing use of media are creating problems for our allies," (implying
Israel), Gaffney said. Any criticism of the administration's conduct of
the war, he added, could be "interpreted in such a way as to hurt national
resolve...(and) embolden the enemy."


Jim Lobe writes on international affairs for Inter Press Service,, Foreign Policy in Focus and

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