Byline: J. Michael Waller, INSIGHT
The United States is a great danger to the planet, and defeating President George W. Bush rather than the terrorists "is a matter of life and death." That's what billionaire financial speculator and philanthropist George Soros claims, and he's so alarmed at how Bush has waged the war on terrorism that he's pledged more than $15 million to try to keep the president from being re-elected.
That's chump change for Soros, who spent an equal amount not long ago just to start a grant-giving organization to promote another life-and-death cause dear to his heart: physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Indeed, Soros has hinted that he might spend his entire fortune just to bring down Bush. While Soros is getting few fellow billionaires to join him, his brain trust for the effort includes Morton Halperin, the left-wing mastermind who after Watergate and the Vietnam War designed the successful political and legal campaign to strip the FBI and CIA of many of their surveillance, intelligence-collection and covert-operations capabilities.
With the bipartisan consensus on the war against terrorism under severe political strains, mainstreamers are concerned that Soros is trashing civil debate with shrill and extremist rhetoric and providing political cover for other influential figures to do the same. "America, under Bush, is a danger to the world," he said in a recent interview with the Washington Post. Soros likened Bush's most senior terrorism fighters, Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) founder Yasser Arafat. And recently, Soros has been comparing Bush to the Nazis.
Under ordinary circumstances one might ignore Soros as a fringe crank such as Ramsey Clark or Lyndon LaRouche, say political professionals. But with a fortune estimated at $7 billion and a willingness, in his words, to "put my money where my mouth is," they say Soros is stoking the fires against the wartime president and shifting political discourse from loyal opposition to something that, in simpler times, might have been considered lending aid and comfort to the enemy. Still, a high-level administration official tells Insight that the Bush political team isn't fighting back.
Over the summer, Soros enlisted Halperin, most recently a senior Clinton foreign-policy official, to develop a strategy with Democratic political warriors John Podesta and others, Democratic insiders say.
Halperin's involvement alarms counterterrorism practitioners. They recall his years as director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the Stuart Mott House on Capitol Hill, where he founded the ACLU National Security Litigation Project to hog-tie the FBI and CIA during the anti-intelligence hysteria of the 1970s.
President Bill Clinton appointed Halperin as an assistant secretary of defense in 1993, but the Senate regarded him as a radical and wouldn't confirm him. Clinton withdrew Halperin's nomination to the Pentagon post but appointed him to other senior positions in the State Department and National Security Council that did not require Senate confirmation. Just as loyalists of Saddam Hussein are relying on Bush's political foes in Washington to undermine his staying power in Iraq, some of those same political opponents are relying on the guerrillas to increase their attacks on U.S. troops. "The Soros initiative should gain support as the situation in Iraq worsens," observes Ohio State University law professor John Quigley, "and as the public becomes more aware that President Bush took us to war based on false information about Iraq's weaponry and about its connection to terrorist groups."
White House political strategists may be playing into the left-wing billionaire's hands by not responding to the escalating nastiness. "We can't go on a political offensive until our guys stop getting killed in Iraq," a senior administration official tells Insight. …