Let them starve

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In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the US government put in place sweeping new laws and regulations "aimed at identifying criminals and terrorist financiers and their networks across borders in order to disrupt and dismantle their organizations." According to the Bush administration the program has worked beautifully: the US has seized over $150 million in assets designated for terrorist organizations, blocked tens of millions of dollars in terrorist financial transactions, and gained the support of the Saudi government for greater accountability of that government’s support for terrorist groups.

The hectoring come-out-with-your-hands-up-or-I’ll-cut-off-your-money foreign policy of this government has a long history. Angry with the British for "their intemperate behavior", Thomas Jefferson slapped them with an embargo. The British were not impressed. Nor were Jefferson’s fellow Americans. While our third president never missed a meal, his embargo threw thousands out of work, led to illegal searches and seizures of Boston businesses, and sparked the War of 1812–during which Washington was razed to the ground. Unbowed, the slaveholding Jefferson (who wrote "all men are created equal") retired to his mansion muttering that his political enemies had conspired against him. They thought otherwise, calling his policy a "miserable and mischievous failure".

While the US has described the policy of withholding the American allowance from the Middle East’s naughty children "a great victory", the results are eerily reminiscent of Jefferson’s miserable failure. A lawsuit against a group of Saudi government officials accused of financing the 9/11 attacks was dismissed in January of 2005, and two proscribed "terrorist" organizations–Hizballah and Hamas–have recently entered their respective governments through the subversive practice of actually winning parliamentary seats in free elections.

"Money is the lifeblood of terrorist operations," President Bush said in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. He was so right: in 2004, CBS News reported that Halliburton, Conoco-Philips and General Electric were operating "offshore subsidiaries" doing business with "rogue countries". Halliburton, CBS reported, "sells about $40 million worth of oil field services to the Iranian government".

The most embarrassing failure of the administration’s policy, however, came on January 25, when Hamas out-polled Fateh in the Palestinian parliamentary elections. Their victory was all the more surprising because the US had trumpeted the success of its program to end Saudi funding for the group–a subject that George Bush confronted then Crown Prince Abdullah with in a discussion at his Texas ranch in April of 2002. By August of 2003 terrorism experts confirmed that Saudi funding for Hamas programs had in fact been significantly cut. Still, the administration was not satisfied, so produced millions of dollars in funding for Fateh candidates in the weeks prior to the recent Palestinian vote. Details of the program were leaked to The Washington Post by administration officials–in the apparent belief that the US is so beloved by everyday Palestinians that when they learned who Washington wanted them to vote for they would slavishly pull the right levers. A Hamas official got i! t right: "The Post article could not have come at a better time," he said. "It gave us more votes."

Enraged that Palestinians might consider foreign funding of the Fateh campaign as undue interference in their electoral process–and oblivious to claims that such support made Fateh candidates look like America’s lickspittle puppies–Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched a lecture tour of Middle East capitals seeking a cutoff of funds to the Palestinian government. She was backed by a chorus of Washington Middle East experts who called the Hamas victory a "democratic coup", while portentously intoning that Hamas "must face the consequences of its actions". In case the Hamas leadership didn’t take this hint, one former diplomat reminded them that, "Israel supplies Palestinian electricity and water, and it collects taxes and customs revenues that provide much of the money needed for the Palestinian administration." That seems plain enough: we don’t care if you’re elected, if you don’t recognize Israel you can drink from the puddles of your stinking refugee camps. Is thi! s what George Bush intended–foreign policy by blackmail?

Columnist Charles Krauthammer, that great humanitarian, that lover of western "values", was even more blunt. Hamas must be cut off completely, he wrote, with "no recognition, no negotiation, no aid, nothing. And not just assistance to a Hamas government but all assistance." That is to say: let them starve.

Yeah, sure, that’ll teach ’em.

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