Wall Street Journal Explains Bahamas Conference

Thanks are due to the Wall Street Journal where Bret Stephens mentioned our blog posts in his column today.  Although Stephens avoids referring to LobeLog by name, he does cite an unidentified “internet sleuth” who broke the story about an off-the-record conference held by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in the Bahamas May 30-June 1. We blogged about the conference in two posts (here and here).

Stephens’ account of the proceedings – which is unusually balanced given the ultra-hawkish views of the Journal’s editorial page when it comes to Iran – does, I’m sure, reflect the tenor of most of the discussion, at least judging from the agenda that was sent to attendees beforehand. But, as I pointed out, the invitees themselves were drawn from a rather narrow ideological spectrum whose political center of gravity would likely be Ladan Archin, director for the Pentagon’s Iran Directorate and an alumna of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) under Doug Feith in the run-up to the Iraq War, or perhaps one of the keynoters, Bernard Lewis. That is unsurprising given the sponsor, the FDD, whose own foreign-policy views appear to roughly track those of Israel’s Likud Party leader, former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. To the extent that Donna Brazile and Chuck Schumer – whose membership on FDD’s board of advisers is cited by Stephens as evidence of ideological diversity (they were not invited to the conference) – can steer the group in a more-moderate direction, given the preponderance of neo-conservative voices on all of its various boards (other advisors include, for example, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, James Woolsey, and Richard Perle) and programs, including the Committee on the Present Danger, is questionable. FDD’s director, Clifford May, after all, served as director of communications for the Republican National Committee from 1997 to 2001 and is a former board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

As to Stephens’ contention that, “Had our sleuth been at the conference, he might have been disappointed to find that nothing by way of bombing coordinates for the pending attack on Iran’s nuclear installations were presented,” I don’t think I would have been that disappointed, because, again, the agenda didn’t indicate anything so specific as targeting. At the same time, Stephens should be referred to the discussion in Session IV: 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Thursday May 31, just before the 6:30 p.m. “Meet FDD’s Experts Beachside” reception; to wit:

  • “Military Response
    • What policy options are on the table for slowing Iran’s nuclear development?
    • Is there a military option that would end the development of the nuclear program?
    • What type of response capabilities does the U.S. and its allies have if Iran were to employ the use of a nuclear weapon?”

Perhaps the participants did not get to this question because Lt. Gen. Charles “Chuck” Wald, who is listed on the program as a “speaker” on this panel did not actually make it to the conference, and he was the only person listed on the program with real military expertise. Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), was the air component commander based at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia in charge of planning and deploying U.S. air power in the run-up to and during the U.S. military campaign that ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, according to the Washington Post’s Bill Arkin. Although Wald is now much more interested in the national-security aspects of global warming and climate change, his views on air power and precision strikes against possible nuclear and military targets in Iran would obviously be relevant to the session’s agenda.

In his op-ed, Stephens also fails to mention Session VII, 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., on Friday, June 1, “The Uses of Media: Information and Dis-information” — a rather suggestive title — in which Stephens himself was listed as a speaker. That session was moderated by Cheryl Halpern, who is listed as “Chairman of the Board, Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).” When we inquired at CPB two weeks ago as to whether Halpern, an FDD donor, moderated such a panel in her corporate capacity, we received a belated reply from Louise Filkins, the senior director of media relations at CPB: “All who attended the conference did so as private individuals, sharing their own perspectives, discussing critical issues and not representing the views of any organizations with which they may be affiliated.”

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.