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Right Wing Ramps Up For Public Opinion War

by Jim Lobe

New group appears to resemble earlier effort by Lynne Cheney
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- A group of influential neo-conservative figures has launched a new campaign to sustain support for President George W. Bush's "war on terrorism" and to "take to task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing."

The group, called Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT), is headed by former President Ronald Reagan's education secretary, William Bennett, and is being funded primarily, for now, by Lawrence Kadish, chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and a top donor to the Republican Party, according to Bennett.

Other senior advisors to the group, who appeared at a press conference here March 12, include former CIA director R. James Woolsey; and Frank Gaffney, the president of the ultra-hawkish Center for Security Policy (CSP) and former Reagan Pentagon official.

"Professional and amateur critics of America are finding their voice," warned Bennett, noting recent criticism by some Democratic leaders, as well as former President Jimmy Carter, of the many uncertainties which surround Bush's anti-terrorist campaign.

"It is important that we maintain popular support for the war," said Gaffney, who added that criticism of the administration's conduct of the war could be "interpreted in such a way as to hurt national resolve...(and) embolden the enemy."

The advent of the group, heralded with a full-page ad appearing in the Mar. 10 edition of the New York Times, coincides with new polls showing continued strong popular support for the "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan and its expansion into the Philippines and Yemen, where Washington is sending hundreds of military advisers, and even to Iraq -- which the administration accuses of building weapons of mass destruction and links with international terrorists.

Nonetheless, some Democrats have complained recently about the open-ended nature of the war; the administration's reluctance to consult Congress about its aims; and the pace at which U.S. military commitments are expanding.

Last month, Carter also assailed Bush's use of the phrase "axis of evil," arguing that it was "overly simplistic and counter-productive," a statement which was cited by AVOT in a list of recent published remarks which it suggests might give aid and comfort to the enemy.

"While support for U.S. policies is at present very high, we believe that unless public opinion is reinforced, our national resolve will weaken over time," said the Times ad, which went on to define both external and internal threats allegedly faced by the nation.

The external threat, it said, consists of "an enemy no less dangerous and no less determined than the twin menaces of fascism and communism we faced in the 20th century" and include, according to Woolsey, with "the angry ends" of Sunni and Shia Islam and Baathists in Iraq. "We are at war with an ideology," the former CIA director declared.

Internal threats, according to the group, include "those who are attempting to use this opportunity to promulgate their agenda of 'blame America first'," the ad, which cost some $128,000, stated, adding that "both threats stem from either a hatred for the American ideals of freedom and equality or a misunderstanding of those ideals and their practice."

"The radical Islamists who attacked us did so because of our democratic ideals, our belief in, and practice of liberty and equality," according to the ad. "AVOT will take to task those who blame America first and who do not understand -- or who are unwilling to defend -- our fundamental principles."

In addition to Carter's criticism, the group cited a number of other statements by professors, legislators, authors and columnists as examples of whom they propose to "take to task."

In that respect, the new group appears to resemble an earlier effort to monitor controversial statements about the war on terrorism on university campuses by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), on whose board Bennett also serves.

ACTA, which was founded by Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, and neo-conservative Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, produced a much-criticized report last November entitled "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities Are Failing America," which detailed 117 incidents on campuses around the country of alleged anti-Americanism. It claimed that "colleges and university faculty have been the weak link in America's response to" the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

One of the targets included on AVOT's list was a recent editorial by Lewis Lapham, the editor of Harper's Magazine, which recalled that Washington itself has used terrorist tactics during the 1990s, including most recently, the bombing of civilian targets in Baghdad and the Balkans.

Contacted by IPS, Lapham called Bennett a "wrong-headed jingo and an intolerant scold" and argued that AVOT's depiction of the enemy faced by the United States in the anti-terrorist campaign was a "grotesque exaggeration."

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 Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

Indeed, Bennett, Gaffney, and Woolsey are all veteran members of a neo-conservative network of groups with overlapping boards of directors that have long championed right-wing 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 on New York and Washington. 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 they ceased their alleged support of terrorist groups opposed to Israel.

Woolsey, who declined to sign the letter reportedly because it included a strong attack on Secretary of State Colin Powell, has since associated himself with the views expressed in it on a number of occasions.

As a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, which is chaired by another top neo-conservative, Richard Perle, Woolsey was sent to Britain in late September to gather evidence that could link Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks and has since become one of the most visible commentators in the media in favor of extending the war there.

In addition to bolstering domestic support for the war, AVOT plans to try to influence overseas opinion as well, particularly in the Middle East, according to Bennett, who said he favors the creation of a "Radio Free Islam" as a way to "encourage Muslims to reclaim their faith" from radical militants and efforts to reform education in the region to make Arab youth more receptive to Western ideas.

"We should really be about changing the face of the Middle East," said Woolsey, who described the enterprise as a "long and difficult undertaking."

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Albion Monitor March 17, 2002 (

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