When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced his foreign policy advisers earlier this month, one of the names raised some eyebrows among Middle East watchers in Washington: Walid Phares, a self-styled terror expert, who had made the rounds of the burgeoning U.S. anti-Muslim crowd. But an exposé from Mother Jones sheds new light on some of Phares’ older associations with an ideological Lebanese militia implicated in mass slaughter during that country’s civil war.
Phares’ links to the Islamophobic right are no secret. His associates litter the August CAP report “Fear, Inc.,” which described America’s Islamophobia network. Phares has written for David Horowitz‘s website; he sits on the advisory board of the Clarion Fund; and he’s flirted with vague conspiracy theories about Islam with anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel. The activist was even controversial enough to be removed, under pressure, from the witness list of Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) Homeland Security Committee hearings on domestic radicalization.
But now, Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer has a richly detailed piece about Phares’ past with right-wing Lebanese Christian militias — a political association that goes hand-in-hand with his anti-Muslim sentiments. Phares has played down his long-rumored links to the Lebanese Forces, an umbrella group of sectarian militias, but former associates painted a different picture of Phares’ role as major ideological force in the group. Serwer reports:
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According to former colleagues, Phares became one of the group’s chief ideologists, working closely with the Lebanese Forces’ Fifth Bureau, a unit that specialized in psychological warfare.
Régina Sneifer, who served in the Fifth Bureau in 1981 at the age of 18 […and] now an author in France who wrote a 1995 book detailing her experiences in Lebanon’s civil war, recalls that in his speeches, Phares “justified our fighting against the Muslims by saying we should have our own country, our own state, our own entity, and we have to be separate.” […]
“[Militia leader Samir Geagea] wanted to change them from a normal militia to a Christian army,” says [Toni] Nissi, Phares’ former associate. “Walid Phares was responsible for training the lead officers in the ideology of the Lebanese Forces.”
With Christian-sectarian ideology underpinning Phares’ opposition to Islam, he was well-suited to the U.S. anti-Muslim movement, and it led to gigs relating to counter-terrorism. He, for a time, ran the “Future of Terrorism” project at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and has consulted for law enforcement groups. But one former U.S. counter-terror official questioned if Phares’ knowledge was appropriate for the industry: “He’s part of the same movement as Pamela Geller,” the official told Serwer. “He’s viewed as a mainstream scholar of jihadism, but he doesn’t know a lot about the actual movement.”
Phares’ ties to the Romney camp — which is hawkish in the Middle East, especially on Iraq and Iran (an area where another adviser has ties to a controversial, formerly-armed group) — are long standing. Nissi, the sometime associate of Phares’, told Serwer that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Romney “promised Phares a high-ranking White House job helping craft US policy in the Middle East.”
The combination of his ideological past and current anti-Muslim “counter-terror” bent, though, have led to questions about Phares’s motivations. Another Maronite Christian with Lebanese roots, Arab American Institute president James Zogby, wondered about Phares to Serwer: “Is he serving Mitt Romney, or is he serving the politics of a group in Lebanon that was fighting for their sectarian hegemony in a civil war that took over 100,000 lives?”