by Jim Lobe
*Read an update to this post here.
The neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the successor organization of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), has just published another open letter (reproduced below) to Congressional leaders that implicitly endorses what I have called the “Kirk-Menendez Wag the Dog Act of 2013,” known officially as the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 (S. 1881). I say implicitly, because it doesn’t come right out and urge support for the specific bill, which AIPAC and the Israel lobby, for which AIPAC is the vanguard, are flogging as hard as they possibly can. But the intention is pretty clear.
This letter — like PNAC, FPI is essentially a “letterhead organization” that issues manifestos, rather than a real think tank or grassroots membership organization — was signed by 72 “former U.S. government officials and foreign policy experts,” the vast majority of whom are easily identified as neoconservatives, as opposed to “conservatives,” the highly questionable term used by the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin, who reported on the letter even before it was published on the FPI website to describe the signatories. (One wonders whether Rogin was given the letter on the condition that the authors be described as “conservatives” rather than “neoconservatives,” which really has become something of a dirty word over the past decade due to its association with the Iraq war and their enthusiasm over other ill-advised military adventures.)
Of the 72, I counted at least 25 who signed PNAC letters— most of them dealing with Iraq and the Middle East — dating back to its 1997 founding by Bob Kagan and Bill Kristol to its unceremonious demise in 2005. (Kagan and Kristol also co-founded the FPI with Dan Senor two years later during Bush’s second term when most of the neocons who championed the Iraq War had either left the administration or been successfully marginalized by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Pentagon chief Bob Gates.) Among them are stalwarts from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), such as Danielle Pletka, Michael Rubin, Fred Kagan, and Gary Schmitt (and now Joe Lieberman!), which acted as a kind of annex to Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans (OSP) at the Pentagon in the run-up to and the immediate aftermath of the Iraq invasion.
Other signatories include AEI alumni Joshua Muravchik and Reuel Marc Gerecht, who also championed the Iraq debacle, but who, like Michael Ledeen, has since moved to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD)— a seemingly Likudist front that has increasingly partnered events, letters and policy papers with FPI. FDD signatories include Clifford May (who also signed PNAC letters); Mark Dubowitz, the Canadian citizen who has played a key role in crafting U.S. sanctions legislation and waging what he has repeatedly called “economic warfare” against Iran; John Hannah, who served as Dick Cheney’s national security adviser during Bush’s second term after the departure of Scooter Libby; as well as Gerecht. Then there’s a group from the Hudson Institute, which also beat the drums of war in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, including its president, Ken Weinstein, Seth Cropsey, Jack David, Lee Smith, and Doug Feith himself.
As for former Bush officials, there are plenty: Elliott Abrams and his deputy on the NSC, Michael Doran; Feith and his successor as the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Eric Edelman (and an FPI director along with Kagan, Kristol, and Senor); Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) czar Paul Bremer (and his then-spokesman, Senor); Cheney’s deputy, the aforementioned Hannah; former head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jeffrey Gedmin; former Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim; former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph and his deputy, Stephen Rademaker (Pletka’s spouse); former Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner; former Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky; and then a couple of people who worked in Rumsfeld’s Pentagon or with the CPA, including AEI’s Dan Blumenthal and Rubin, and Michael Makovsky, the current head of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, or JINSA, whose motto is “Securing America, Strengthening Israel”.
What I found particularly curious about the list of signers was the absence of some of the most visible (aside from Kristol) neoconservative champions of the Iraq war; in particular, AEI’s Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, and James Woolsey (as well as John Bolton, who is more of an aggressive nationalist than a neocon, but who also has pooh-poohed any diplomatic process with Iran from the get-go.) I don’t think this is an indication that they disagree with the contents of the letter; rather, I believe they have decided (or been advised by their friends at AIPAC) that their public involvement in the debate could prove counter-productive precisely because they were so outspoken — and so disastrously wrong — about Iraq.
But, of course, anyone even remotely acquainted with the run-up to the Iraq war knows the roles played by PNAC, AEI, FDD, the Hudson Institute, as well as by many of the individuals — as noted above, almost all of whom are neoconservatives — who have signed the letter. Which is why I think it actually proves counter-productive to their purposes, even without the endorsement of Wolfowitz, Perle, and Woolsey. And while there are a few token Democratic signatories, such as former Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (for years, the biggest beneficiary of “pro-Israel PAC” money in the House behind Sen. Mark Kirk himself, according to the Center for Responsive Politics) and Lieberman (if he can be considered a Democrat), the overwhelming majority are identified with the Republican Party and/or the Bush administration. We’ll soon see if this letter backfires by further portraying the Iran sanctions bill as a GOP/conservative-backed issue.
Indeed, while AIPAC has just about doubled the number of co-sponsors for the “Wag the Dog” Act since it was first introduced by Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez on Dec. 19 from 26 senators — equally divided between Republicans and Democrats — to 53 today, all but two of the new co-sponsors are Republicans. In other words, with each day, the bill is looking increasingly partisan in nature — a very worrisome trend for AIPAC and the lobby, which have long considered bipartisanship as key to their success, especially in Congress.
The more Republican the bill appears to be, the less inclined Democrats will be to desert their president. The fact that a strong majority of Senate Democrats is still resisting pressure from AIPAC and its donors to co-sponsors is highly significant, as, I think, is the statement issued today by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) that “We encourage Congress to support the President’s foreign policy initiative by making stronger measures available should they be required.” (Emphasis added.) A cleverly worded non-endorsement of the bill from an organization that routinely toes the AIPAC line.
Here’s the full text of the FPI/PNAC letter:
January 9, 2014
Dear Speaker Boehner, Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, and Representative Pelosi:
We write in support of efforts to enforce Iranian compliance with the Joint Plan of Action that Iran agreed to on November 24, 2013, and in support of the ultimate goal of denying Iran nuclear weapons-making capability. Congress has a chance to play an important role in making clear the consequences of Iranian violations of the interim nuclear deal, in clarifying expectations with respect to future nuclear talks with Tehran, and in creating incentives for Iran to conclude a comprehensive nuclear agreement that protects the national security interests of the United States and its allies.
We support the use of diplomacy and non-military pressure, backed up by the military option, to persuade Iran to comply with numerous U.N. Security Council Resolutions and verifiably abandon its efforts to attain nuclear weapons-making capability. Congressional leadership has been indispensable in creating the framework of U.S.-led international sanctions that brought Iran back to the negotiating table. However, given Tehran’s long history of violating its international nuclear obligations—and the lack of any explicit enforcement mechanisms in the Joint Plan of Action’s text—congressional leadership is once again required to set clear standards for enforcing Iranian compliance with the interim nuclear deal.
As talks go forward, it is critical that Iran not use diplomatic talks as subterfuge for continued development of various aspects of its nuclear program. It is worth recalling Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s claim that, when he served as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator a decade ago, he used diplomatic talks to buy time for Iran to advance its nuclear program. Congressional leadership can help prevent Iran from using future negotiations as cover to further the growth of its nuclear weapons-making capability.
Congress should also use this opportunity to describe its expectations for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. Such an agreement would irreversibly close off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon through uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing, bring Iran into compliance with its international obligations for full transparency and cooperation regarding its nuclear program, and permit extraordinary inspection measures to safeguard against any undeclared Iranian nuclear activities.
Commenting on the likelihood of getting Iran to agree to a comprehensive nuclear agreement, President Obama recently commented, “I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50/50.” We can do better than a coin-toss. Congress now has the opportunity to make clear the consequences for Iran if it violates the interim nuclear deal or fails to conclude a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Congressional action can thus substantially improve the prospect that Iran’s growing nuclear threat will be verifiably and irreversibly halted without the use of force. We urge Congress to seize this opportunity.
|Elliott Abrams||James Kirchick|
|Dr. Fouad Ajami||Irina Krasovskaya|
|Dr. Michael Auslin||Dr. William Kristol|
|Congresswoman Shelley Berkley||Dr. Robert J. Lieber|
|Josh Block||Senator Joseph I. Lieberman|
|Dan Blumenthal||Tod Lindberg|
|Max Boot||Mary Beth Long|
|Ellen Bork||Dr. Thomas G. Mahnken|
|Ambassador L. Paul Bremer||Dr. Michael Makovsky|
|Dr. Eliot A. Cohen||Ann Marlowe|
|Senator Norm Coleman||Clifford D. May|
|Ambassador William Courtney||Robert C. McFarlane|
|Seth Cropsey||David A. Merkel|
|Jack David||Thomas C. Moore|
|James S. Denton||Dr. Joshua Muravchik|
|Dr. Paula J. Dobriansky||Governor Tim Pawlenty|
|Dr. Michael Doran||Dr. Martin Peretz|
|Mark Dubowitz||Danielle Pletka|
|Dr. Colin Dueck||John Podhoretz|
|Dr. Nicholas N. Eberstadt||Arch Puddington|
|Ambassador Eric S. Edelman||Stephen G. Rademaker|
|Douglas J. Feith||Dr. Michael Rubin|
|Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin||Randy Scheunemann|
|Reuel Marc Gerecht||Dr. Gary J. Schmitt|
|Abe Greenwald||Dan Senor|
|Christopher J. Griffin||Lee Smith|
|John P. Hannah||Henry D. Sokolski|
|Peter R. Huessy||Dr. Ray Takeyh|
|Dr. William C. Inboden||William H. Tobey|
|Bruce Pitcairn Jackson||Dr. Daniel Twining|
|Ash Jain||Peter Wehner|
|Dr. Kenneth D. M. Jensen||Dr. Kenneth R. Weinstein|
|Ambassador Robert G. Joseph||Leon Wieseltier|
|Dr. Frederick W. Kagan||Dr. Dov S. Zakheim|
|Dr. Robert Kagan||Roger Zakheim|
|Lawrence F. Kaplan||Robert Zarate|