WASHINGTON – A voter survey tied to a Republican effort to raise money for House candidates mislabels Thailand and the Philippines as countries that "harbor and aid terrorists," say officials from both governments.
A question on the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Ask America 2004 Nationwide Policy Survey" asks: "Should America broaden the war on terrorism into other countries that harbor and aid terrorists such as Thailand, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines, etc.?"
Accompanying the NRCC (search) survey, which also poses questions about health care, the economy and other issues, was a four-page letter signed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search), R-Ill., that seeks money to help "keep the Republican Party in control of the U.S. House."
Officials from both nations say the question came as a surprise since the Bush administration has praised their countries for their roles in the anti-terror war.
"It doesn't accurately describe the view of the Bush administration," Patricia Paez, a spokeswoman for the Philippine Embassy, said Friday. Her office sent a letter to the GOP campaign committee complaining about the question.
Paez noted that the Philippines sent troops to Iraq to assist in peacekeeping efforts. "We have, in fact, contributed a lot to the war on terror," she said.
Chirachai Punkrasin, deputy chief of mission at the Royal Thai Embassy, called the question misleading. "I don't think we are knowingly harboring known terrorists," he said.
NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said the question was based on information from the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank based in New York. "I think the question probably could have been vetted better," he said.
The council's Sharon Otterman did not agree with the question's wording. She said the group's Web site identifies the Philippines as a "haven" for terrorism, "but it doesn't mean the state is helping the terrorist groups."
The council did not identify Thailand as either a state sponsor or a haven for terrorism.
The question was one of three on the subject of "the war on terrorism." It asks respondents to check "Yes", "No" or "No opinion."
Syria has been identified by the State Department as a "state sponsor" of terrorism, while the U.S. government doesn't recognize a government in Somalia, which had been torn apart by civil unrest for years.
The unstable situation there has elicited concern in recent years from Washington that it could attract international terrorists.
Neither the Philippines nor Thailand is on the State Department's list of terror-sponsoring nations, and both have faced problems with Muslim extremist groups.
In fact, a 2002 State Department report lauded both countries for working closely with other nations in the global war on terror and for strengthening counterterrorist measures.
Punkrasin cited the capture last year in Thailand of Hambali, the alleged operations chief of a Southeast Asian terror group linked to Al Qaeda, as a sign of the Thai government's commitment against terrorism.
Meanwhile, Paez noted that President Bush, during a trip to the Philippines last year, praised President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's anti-terror efforts. Her country has faced problems with the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf.
Forti said the survey, in its third year, was mailed out over the last three months and has been a successful fund-raising tool. It asks for a donation of up to $500 to "help pay for this historic project and help protect and strengthen the Republican majority of the U.S. House of Representatives."