For those of you who may be visiting the Bahamas next week, you may want to check out a private, off-the-record meeting of Gulf and Middle East specialists of a rather narrow ideological bent at Westin’s luxurious Our Lucaya Resort on Grand Bahama Island. The meeting takes place May 30 to June 1.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neo-conservative group created two days after the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, is holding what it calls “a policy workshop” during Congress’ Memorial Day recess, no doubt to plot strategy for moving U.S. policy toward Iran in a direction compatible with its confrontational views.
The workshop, entitled “Confronting The Iranian Threat: The Way Forward,” is to include “30 or so leading experts who will analyze the implications of Iran’s activities, the diplomatic challenges, military and intelligence capabilities, the spread of its ideology within and beyond its borders, and other issues, including the prospects for democratization in the Islamic world, energy security and other related issues that face policymakers in the United States, Europe and the Middle East,” according to the invitation letter from FDD’s president, Clifford May. The purpose will be “exploring policy options …and consider solutions to one of the most significant policy issues of our day.”
Among those experts who have been invited are several serving and former senior administration officials, including one of the diminishing number of neo-cons left in the Bush administration, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky; the hard-line Iran country director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and Office of Special Plans (OSP) alumna, Ladan Archin; the recently-departed State Department Coordinator of Counterterrorism, Amb. Henry Crumpton; the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the Treasury Department, Matthew Levitt, who is now with the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). The administration’s new UN Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, has also been invited, although his duties as next month’s Security Council president may make it difficult for him to travel. In any case, his spouse, Cheryl Benard, who directs the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy, is confirmed.
Uri Lubrani, the chief Iran advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is also expected to participate.
Bernard Lewis, the Princeton emeritus professor who just received the American Enterprise Institute’s annual award, presumably for having done so much to lay the intellectual foundation for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the subsequent transformation of the Islamic world, is expected to open the proceedings by addressing Iran’s historic, as well as contemporary, ambitions in the region. Rob Sobhani, a Georgetown University adjunct professor and president of Caspian Energy Consulting, who helped found, along with Michael Ledeen and several other AEI fellows, the Coalition for Democracy in Iran in 2002, has also been invited, as has one of Lewis’ most devoted protégés, AEI fellow and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, Reuel Marc Gerecht.
Levitt will presumably not be alone in representing WINEP, which was originally established as a think tank by the powerful American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Among other WINEP fellows who have been invited to take part are Mehdi Khalaji, a Shiite theologian who works for Washington’s Radio Farda, and Soner Cagaptay, director of WINEP’s Turkish Research Program. Also attending will be Michael Makovsky, the brother of WINEP’s Project on the Middle East Peace Process, David Makovsky, and, like Archin, an alumnus of Douglas Feith’s OSP.
Anti-proliferation Henry Sokolski has also been invited, as have the vice president of the neo-conservative American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) and author of the rather sensationalist ‘Tehran Rising’, Ilan Berman, and Abbas Milani, the director of Stanford’s Iranian Studies Program.
Invited “experts” include several journalists, as well, notably from the predictably neo-conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, including Bret Stephens, a former editor of the Jerusalem Post who now writes a weekly column for the Journal; and Matt Kaminski, who serves a similar function for the Journal’s European edition. Gerard Baker, U.S. editor of the Murdoch-owned Times of London, has also been asked to attend, as has Amir Taheri, an Iranian-born, London-based journalist who has been published frequently by the Journal and who gained considerable notoriety last year by falsely reporting that the Iran’s Majlis would soon pass legislation requiring Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians to wear distinctly-colored ribbons on their clothes and, more recently, by quoting Olmert in a German magazine as saying in an off-the-record briefing at which Lubrani was also present, “It would take about ten days and 1,000 Tomahawk missiles to severely damage the [Iranian nuclear] program.” Khalilzad beware.
Invitees will have all their expenses paid and receive a $1,000 honorarium.