Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Detroit News

Increasing Arabs’ Clout in Congress: The NH-1 GOP Primary

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.'”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.'”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

Read Less

Realities of War

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

Sigh. I feel like I’m playing whack-a-mole with the argument that General Stanley McChrystal has promulgated rules of engagement that place our troops at needless risk. As I soon as I take a whack at the argument in one place — most recently in a New York Times op-ed by someone named Lara Dadkhah — it appears somewhere else. The most recent incarnation is this article by Nolan Finley, editorial editor of the Detroit News. He offers a particularly over-the-top and un-nuanced version of the argument articulated by a few other conservatives:

Every American soldier should be pulled out of Afghanistan today. It’s immoral to commit our troops — our children — to a war without doing everything possible to protect their lives.

That’s not happening in Afghanistan.

The politicians and generals have decided to make the safety of Afghan citizens a higher priority than avoiding American deaths and injuries.

Where to start? Perhaps with the observation that war involves risk. You cannot win a war without putting your troops in harm’s way. Finley writes with approval: “Harry Truman rained down hellfire on Japan’s civilian population to spare the lives of a half-million allied troops.” That’s true, but U.S. troops also suffered huge casualties in WWII — unimaginable by today’s standards — in missions like storming heavily defended Pacific islands and bombing heavily defended German cities. Their commanders sent men toward almost certain death or injury because they knew there was no alternative. McChrystal is guided by the same realization in Afghanistan.

The only way to win in a counterinsurgency — or just about any other war, for that matter — is to send infantrymen with rifles to occupy the enemy’s strongholds. In Afghanistan, those strongholds are among the population. That’s where our troops need to go. In the process of driving the insurgents out of the population centers, it is strategically smart to minimize civilian casualties because that will help us to win the allegiance of the wavering population. That is not an untested theory; it is the reality of successful counterinsurgency campaigns from Malaya to Iraq.

And, yes, our troops will be placed at risk in the process of protecting the population and defeating the insurgents. There is no other way to achieve our goals. In Iraq from 2003 to 2007, we tried the alternative approach of putting our troops into giant Forward Operating Bases and employing copious firepower. Because this strategy failed to defeat the insurgency, it actually resulted in more American casualties. Conversely the surge strategy of 2007, which placed our troops in more exposed Combat Outposts and Joint Security Stations in Iraqi neighborhoods, incurred more casualties in the short run but saved American (and Iraqi) lives in the long run by actually pacifying Iraq. That strategy is also our best bet in Afghanistan. That’s something that Gen. McChrystal realizes and that Stateside naysayers fail to grasp.

Read Less




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