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POLITICS-US: Neo-Con Superhawk Earns His Wings on Port Flap

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Feb 23 2006 (IPS) - Love him or hate him, Frank Gaffney is effective.

The founder and president of the Washington-based Centre for Security Policy (CSP), a small think tank funded mainly by U.S. defence contractors, far-right foundations, and right-wing Zionists, Gaffney was among the first to seize on the government’s approval of a Dubai company to manage terminals at six major U.S. ports and helped blow it up into a major embarrassment to Pres. George W. Bush.

Indeed, it was Gaffney who wrote the first nationally syndicated column about the approval, which, if sustained, would turn over the management of terminals in the ports of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, and New Orleans to Dubai Ports World (DPW), a government-owned company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“How would you feel if, in the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. government had decided to contract out airport security to the …country where most of the operational planning and financing of the attacks occurred?” he asked in his weekly column in the right-wing Washington Times Feb. 14.

“It seems a safe bet that you, like most Americans, would think it a lunatic idea, one that would clear the way for still more terror in this country,” he argued, concluding that, “If the President will not, Congress must ensure that the United Arab Emirates is not entrusted with the operation of any American portsà”

With the help of other right-wing columnists and broadcast commentators who quickly rallied to his call, Gaffney’s alarum – much like the famous ride of Paul Revere, the colonist who warned towns around Boston at the outset of the war for independence that “the British are coming!” – helped transform what had been a relatively routine decision by a high-level inter-agency committee that reviews major foreign investments in the U.S. into the biggest story in Washington within just seven days.

Indeed, eight days after publishing what a Nexis data-base search identified as the first broadside against the deal, and many television (especially Fox News) and talk-radio appearances later, Gaffney was claiming victory, this time in an article published by National Review Online where he is a contributing editor.

“President Bush has dug in his heels on a fight he surely cannot win,” wrote Gaffney, noting the president’s threat to veto any legislation that would annul the DPW deal. “The deal will …be aborted.”

It has been a typical performance by the indefatigable Gaffney, who bills his Centre for Security Policy as “the special forces in the war of ideas”.

Precisely whom the war is being waged against depends on the week. But since the Centre’s founding in 1988, the enemy has included the Soviet Union and its real or suspected allies; China; the Oslo peace process; Arabs (especially Palestinians); the United Nations and the Law of the Sea, in particular; anyone opposed to ever-bigger defence budgets and expensive, if unworkable, missile-defence programmes; and, most recently, “Islamofascists” (from al Qaeda to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Iran).

Other nemeses include professors of Middle East studies; the Middle East specialists at the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); and even Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon whose withdrawal from Gaza marks a “threat to the entire Free World, including its leader, the United States”.

Like many neo-conservatives, Gaffney began his adult political life in the early 1970s as a hawkish but liberal Democrat. And, like several heavyweights in the movement – including former Defence Policy Board (DPB) chairman and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) honcho Richard Perle and Bush’s chief Middle East advisor, Elliott Abrams – he worked on the staff of former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a staunch supporter of Israel widely known as well as the “Senator from Boeing”.

In the 1980s, Perle, by then a senior Pentagon official under Ronald Reagan, hired Gaffney, who eventually rose to become assistant secretary of defence for international security policy. In that role, he became a vociferous advocate of Reagan’s “Star Wars” programmes and a determined foe of high-technology arms transfers to Washington’s European allies, before being forced out in 1987 by the more moderate national security leadership that took power in the wake of the Iran-contra scandal.

When he left government, he founded CSP and, with Perle’s help, quickly gained the backing of key defence contractors, particularly those positioned to benefit from Reagan’s Star Wars programme. He also found favour with U.S. followers of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, the most notorious being Irving Moskowitz, the California “casino king” who has sent millions of dollars to the most aggressive elements of the West Bank settlement movement.

Like Perle, his mentor and a long-time member of CSP’s board of advisors, Gaffney has occupied key nodes in an interlocking network of neo-conservatives, such as former U.N. Amb. Jeane Kirkpatrick and former CIA director James Woolsey, and aggressive nationalists, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and U.N. Amb. John Bolton that dates back to the mid-1970s.

Most recently, for example, he has served on the boards of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, a pro-Likud group formed two days after 9/11; Americans for a Victory Over Terrorism; the Committee on the Present Danger; “Set America Free” a new coalition of neo-conservative, Jewish, and green groups to reduce U.S. reliance on oil imports; and has been closely associated with the Project for the New American Century.

His own board includes individuals like Charles Kupperman, a vice-president for missile defense systems of the Boeing Company; M.D.B. Carlisle, the Pentagon’s former chief lobbyist; and David Steinmann, the long-time chairman of the pro-Likud Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Like other right-wingers and consistent with his obsession with missile defence, Gaffney was most preoccupied with threats from states – particularly China, North Korea, Iraq, and Syria – until the Sep. 11 attacks. Indeed, in an odd echo of the Dubai controversy, he mounted a major campaign against the leasing by Hutchison-Whampoa of two port facilities at either end of the Panama Canal in the late 1990s. He argued that the lease was part of a Chinese plot to close the canal to U.S. warships in a future crisis.

After 9/11, however, he embraced the “global war on terror” as the new imperative and redefined the chief enemy as “Islamofascism”, a phrase that “makes clear that the war is about much more than Iraq and Afghanistan” and includes those countries – namely, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, North Korea, China, Cuba, Venezuela, and South Africa – which provide direct or indirect support for the Islamofascists “in their death struggle with us”.

Indeed, his latest ideas for defeating Washington’s enemies are laid out in a new book in which he acted as the lead author, “War Footing: Ten Steps America Must Take to Survive and Prevail in the War for the Free World”, with several of his CSP colleagues and Michael Rubin, another Perle protégé at AEI.

While protection of U.S. ports from Islamofascists is his priority of the moment, he is particularly concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. At a recent Committee on the Present Danger forum in Congress, he warned that that Tehran “is working toward a capability that could destroy America as we know it”.

Iran’s missile programme, he asserted, appears designed to detonate a nuclear weapon “in space high above the United States, unleashing an immensely powerful electro-magnetic pulse (EMP)” that would destroy the U.S. electrical grid. The result could reduce the United States “to a pre-industrial society in the blink of an eye”.

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