President George W. Bush was rightly condemned last week when he implied that Democrats want to “negotiate with terrorists” because they are driven by “the false comfort of appeasement,” while Republicans are committed to fighting terrorism. But in his speech before Israel’s Knesset, Bush made another dangerous statement that got far less attention: He lumped together Al Qaeda with the Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
It is yet another example of the Bush Administration’s flawed understanding of basic forces in the Middle East: conflating disparate groups with opposing ideologies to suggest that they have a single-minded focus in attacking the United States. Bush has done this before, most notably in his State of the Union speech in January 2007, when he presented a misleading description of “the enemy” that the United States faces abroad. “The Shiite and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. But whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent, they have the same wicked purposes,” Bush said. “They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.”
Led by Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda is the terrorist group responsible for the September 11 attacks. It has no geographical base, no realistic political platform and its main objective is to kill civilians—both in the Muslim world and the West. But Hamas and Hezbollah are traditional Islamist and nationalist movements based in specific countries. Each group has a military wing that committed acts of terrorism during its history.