July 29, 2014

A consistent policy on terrorism, please

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Policy-making is a three-dimensional exercise. In order for it to be a policy, you have to base your position on a principle. You define the principle and the set of generic circumstances in which it applies, which gives it breadth. The hard part comes when you set about applying the principle to specific cases.

Let’s say we, as a country, have a policy that opposes the seizure of territory by use of force. When the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait, we declare that U.S. policy has been violated. We oppose it, then we set out to address the violation of our policy through various actions, such as sanctions or even war, as the United States did against Iraq in 1991.

But what happens when the violator of U.S. policy is an ally? For example, if Israel seizes the Golan Heights from Syria, shouldn’t the United States apply its policy consistently? To be effective, the policy must have breadth and depth. It must be applicable across the board, and it must be applied without exception. Otherwise, it’s not a policy. If you only apply it to the actions of one group or country but exclude another group or country, then it becomes a double standard.

U.S. policy on terrorism is the very definition of a double standard. Nobody has any problem with labeling al-Qaeda a terrorist organization. But the policy gets a little tricky regarding many of the other 50 groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Some are there because, well, they’ve always been there. What’s notable are the ones that aren’t there. As I’ve written before, not a single Mexican drug cartel makes the State Department’s list even though these organizations continue to carry out assassinations, bombings, kidnappings and other heinous acts that absolutely qualify as terrorism under State Department rules. Why aren’t they on the list? Because Mexico is a strong U.S. ally, and its government would be sorely embarrassed if the United States declared that terrorist groups were resident there. Such a declaration would also put pressure on the United States to do something about it, considering that these terrorist groups reside just across the border from us. Should we invade Mexico? Impose sanctions?

According to State Department policy, in order to be designated as a terrorist organization, the group must be foreign-based and engage in activity that (1) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and (2) appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.

The organization’s terrorist activity or terrorism must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security (national defense, foreign relations, or the economic interests) of the United States.

In Syria today, the United States and NATO are assisting rebel groups who are actively trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s murderous dictatorship. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Assad has to go. In order to accomplish this overthrow, however, the rebel groups are amassing weapons that are being funneled to them through Turkey. They also are amassing explosives to be used in roadside bombs and other forms of attack. Oops. When other groups do that, they land on the terrorism list, as the Iraqi Dawa was listed by the State Department when it was an underground group trying to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Dawa is no longer on the list because its ends, in Washington’s opinion, justified the means: Getting rid of Saddam Hussein at a time when the United States was trying to do exactly the same thing.

Next door in Iran, the United States is working hard to encourage Iranians to oust an Islamic regime that also happens to be on the U.S. list of countries that support terrorism. But here’s the conundrum: The Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), the longest-surviving of Iranian exile groups working actively to destabilize the Islamic regime, is No. 30 on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Why? Because they amass weapons and explode bombs to accomplish the goal of overthrowing a government that is the sworn enemy of the United States.

It has been on the list since 1997, having received support and basing from Saddam Hussein. When the United States invaded in 2003, Mujahideen fighters and their families took refuge in Camp Ashraf, under U.S. military protection. When the United States withdrew, Camp Ashraf reverted to Iraqi control in 2009. The status of the MEK became murky. The Iraqi government, which has cordial relations with Iran, hates the MEK and wants its encampments gone. MEK members have been attacked and killed by Iraqi security forces. The MEK has formally renounced violence. But the State Department warned MEK officials this month that they wont be removed from the terrorism list unless they leave Camp Ashraf.

Last week, tens of thousands of Iranians gathered in Paris to declare their support for the same cause that the MEK is fighting for — the ouster of the Islamic regime in Tehran. Among them was Homeira Hesami, a Carrollton resident who phoned me from Paris to talk about what the protest was all about.

We talked for about half an hour, and I found myself arguing with her about the MEK and its goals. I just wanted some thread of consistency from someone. Are they terrorists? “They have not exploded any bombs anywhere,” Hesami told me. They haven’t launched any military operations since 2001. They are under attack, and they are sitting ducks at Camp Ashraf. “They are freedom fighters,” she insisted.

Last month a U.S. appeals court ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deal with this issue once and for all. She has four months to determine whether MEK should be removed from terrorism list. It’ll be interesting to see how she threads this needle. MEK’s mere presence at Camp Ashraf is not a terrorist act and can’t be used as justification for keeping the group on the terrorism list. Clinton must point to actual acts of terrorism they have committed, and she will be hard-pressed to do so.

While she’s at it, I’d like to hear how she squares the MEK’s terrorist designation with the “freedom fighter” designation granted to Syria and Libyan rebels. Oh, and don’t forget those lovely cartel members down in Mexico, exploding bombs, torturing people, conducting mass executions, hunting down journalists and assassinating government officials.

This terrorism “policy” is an absolute mess. As I said, it’s the very definition of a double standard.

http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2012/06/a-consistent-policy-on-terrorism-please.html/