by Ben Armbruster
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) is a little known but highly influential hawkish think tank in Washington that has made a name for itself over the past few years by opposing the Iran nuclear deal and its subsequent (and current) efforts to derail it.
Aside from its long tradition of opposing negotiations with Iran, FDD has also been known as a safe space for its staff—chief among them CEO Mark Dubowitz—to call for war against Iran and/or regime change.
And for some reason, FDD really doesn’t like it when it gets called out on it.
In a piece in the Weekly Standard last December, Dubowitz and FDD Senior Fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht complained about being painted as warmongers for their opposition to the Iran deal. And Dubowitz himself regularly grumbles about this on Twitter, calling for a move away from what he calls “personal attacks” to instead focus on “honest discussion.”
But sometimes a hawk just can’t hide his thirst for war.
After news broke earlier this week that Israel downed an Iranian drone and subsequently attacked an Iranian base deep inside Syria, taking out a significant chunk of Bashar al Assad’s air defenses, FDD staffers got a bit … excited, and put their desire for war with Iran on full display.
First, FDD Research Fellow Tony Badran on Twitter re-upped a piece he wrote back in October about how the U.S. should attack Iran and Hezbollah assets in Syria—their “military infrastructure, arms shipments, logistical routes, and senior cadres.”
Dubowitz then shared Badran’s tweet, calling it “smart analysis on Syria & Lebanon problem & how the U.S. should target vulnerable Iranian forces.”
And if pushing for war with Iran on Twitter wasn’t enough, Richard Goldberg, FDD “senior advisor” and former staffer for hawkish former Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, then took FDD’s message to the megaphone of the New York Post.
“Now is the time for Trump to re-establish a robust military deterrent toward Iranian expansionism in close collaboration with regional allies,” Goldberg argued in a Post op-ed. And what if Iran responds in kind? Not to worry, says Goldberg:
Trump will certainly need to prepare for a range of potential responses from Iran, particularly via proxies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. But these proxy threats aren’t new — and the benefits far outweigh potential costs. … Tehran’s strategic calculus would start to change, curtailing risk-taking in the region, enhancing security for US allies over the long run and potentially changing regime behavior in other illicit activities.
This proposal will sound familiar because we’ve been sold this magic potion before, for instance in Iraq.
But of course wars in the Middle East don’t always turn out so rosy.
Colin Kahl, former national security adviser to Vice President Biden during the Obama administration, had a wild idea about how to deal with the Iran problem in Syria: diplomacy. In a Twitter thread in June warning about the risk of “sliding into a big war” in Syria, Kahl said “[the b]iggest risks are in the southeast & along border,” referring to the southeast of Syria. “That requires talking to Iran.”
A handful of Trump officials have actually been pushing for the U.S. to confront Iran militarily in Syria. But Defense Secretary James Mattis—himself an Iran hawk who has described the regime in Tehran as the greatest threat the U.S. faces—and other officials brought out a big flashing red light.
“Mattis, military commanders, and top U.S. diplomats all oppose opening up a broader front against Iran and its proxies in southeastern Syria,” Foreign Policy reported last June, “viewing it as a risky move that could draw the United States into a dangerous confrontation with Iran.”
Another analyst who has in the past argued for an American military role similar to what FDD is proposing, wrote recently that in order for the U.S. to really curtail Iran’s expanding presence in Syria now, it would have to go all in militarily, and that “anything less than that will not achieve the worthy goals of containing or weakening Iran there.”
Journalists, and indeed, the American people, should have no illusions about what anti-Iran deal hawks like FDD and their allies are ultimately after. Despite their rhetoric about “fixing” the agreement or pushing for a “better deal,” their preferred policy outcome is probably the war they talk about so often.
Beyond FDD, the American Enterprise Institute—the DC think tank best known for helping George W. Bush sell the war with Iraq—is also all in, releasing a paper this week calling for a covert war against Iran in Syria.
But it’s not as if FDD merely barks in the wind. Its staff regularly appear on broadcast and print media and testify before Congress. If fact, members of the anti-Iran deal echo chamber, like the Israel Project, revved their engines this week in the wake of FDD’s calls for war.
Dubowitz and his staff at FDD can complain all they want about being painted as warmongers. But when they reflexively call for military action against Iran at every opportunity, it’s hard to see them as anything but.
Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as National Security Editor at ThinkProgress.