Neoconservative Resurgence in the Age of Obama
Source Dave Anderson
Date 09/08/26/20:44
Neoconservative Resurgence in the Age of Obama
By Daniel Luban

THE ELECTION of Barack Obama appeared to signal the decline of the
neoconservative foreign policy brand. But six months into the Age of
Obama, it's apparent that neoconservatives and their allies are
proving remarkably adept at exerting their influence in an
administration that was supposed to be their worst nightmare.

The disastrous aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, neoconservatism's
signature initiative, was widely seen as the key factor contributing
to the collapse of the Bush presidency and the political descent of
the Republican Party. Obama not only soundly defeated neoconservative
favorite John McCain, he swept into office with a set of foreign
policy prescriptions more antithetical to neoconservative ideology
than any presidential candidate in decades. Elected on a platform of
ending the Iraq war and initiating engagement with Iran, Obama soon
demonstrated his willingness to take a tougher line with Israel than
any president since George H.W. Bush.

But those tempted to consign neoconservatives to irrelevance would do
well to remember the last time Republicans found themselves shut out
of the White House. It was in 1997—soon after Bill Clinton pummeled
Bob Dole to win a second term in office—that William Kristol and
Robert Kagan founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC),
the now-infamous group that laid much of the intellectual groundwork
for the Bush administration's foreign policy.

Even from the depths of political exile, right-wing hawks—and the
think tanks that foster their work—have proven themselves capable of
resurrection and reinvention. Within a few months of Obama's
inauguration, the neoconservatives have shown clear signs of
resurgence. From forming new organizations, to flirting with liberal
and centrist think tanks, to using their continued foothold in
newspaper op-ed pages and cable talk shows to influence —and narrow
—the foreign policy debate, right-wing hawks have demonstrated an
undeniable resilience in shaping the political agenda.

The leading right-wing think tanks have choreographed a not-so-subtle
dance—throwing support behind the president when he takes positions
compatible with neoconservative dogma, and excoriating him when he
doesn't. For a supposedly discredited movement, this
"carrots-and-sticks" approach has proven surprisingly effective. .

The hawks' influence has been especially evident in solidifying
support for military escalation in Afghanistan, in fighting plans for
diplomatic engagement with Iran, and in heading off any urge to
revisit Bush-era abuses during the "global war on terror."

One key aspect of the neoconservatives' continued political influence
is the power of their ideological cousins, the liberal hawks, who have
given neoconservative-flavored ideas a seat at the table in every
Democratic administration. The Obama administration is no exception,
featuring several key figures with strongly hawkish reputations.
Dennis Ross, the special advisor on Iran policy who was first based at
the State Department before moving to the National Security Council
(NSC), attracted the most media attention in this regard. But he is
far from alone. Richard Holbrooke, the administration's special envoy
for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was a cofounder with Ross of the hawkish
group United Against Nuclear Iran. And both Vice President Joe Biden
and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earned reputations as
archetypal liberal hawks during their time in the Senate.

In addition, an army of former staffers from hawkish liberal think
tanks —most prominently the recently-formed Center for a New American
Security —have joined Obama's State Department and Pentagon. On the
whole, Obama's foreign policy appointments earned more praise from the
right than from the left, with neoconservative Sen. Joe Lieberman
(I-CT) calling them "virtually perfect."

But building right-wing institutions has been just as important to the
hawks as cultivating liberal allies. When they are shut out of power,
neoconservatives migrate to the network of like-minded think tanks
that sustain the movement in lean years. The most important of
these—at least as a propagator of neoconservative foreign policy
doctrine—has been the American Enterprise Institute, but there are
plenty of others: the Heritage Foundation, the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, the Hudson Institute, the Foundation for Defense
of Democracies, and more.

Change at AEI

Of the think tanks that have incubated right-wing foreign policy
doctrine in the last 20 years, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
is preeminent. A few months before Obama was elected, AEI welcomed a
new president of its own who was anything but a hawkish firebrand:
Arthur Brooks, by most accounts a mild-mannered social scientist best
known for his work on charitable giving and for writing a book called
"Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—And How
We Can Get More of It."

In short order, AEI's foreign policy division, under the oversight of
Danielle Pletka, carried out a purge of several neoconservative
stalwarts—notably Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, and Reuel Marc
Gerecht. [1] Ledeen was notorious not only for his involvement in the
Iran-Contra affair, but also for allegedly propagating disinformation
about Saddam Hussein having bought yellowcake uranium in Niger.
(Ledeen is also known for delivering a steady stream of dire warnings
about the purported Iranian menace in books like The Iranian Time
Bomb.) Muravchik, a strident defender of the Bush's neocon-inspired
"democracy promotion" agenda, had called for bombing Iran in 2006, [2]
while Gerecht was a former PNAC staffer known as a prominent advocate
of regime change in Tehran. Ledeen and Gerecht soon landed at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a newer think tank with
less funding and mainstream visibility than AEI.

On the surface, the purge appeared to distance AEI from hardline
neoconservative doctrine, and particularly from those pushing for
confrontation with Tehran. But in this case, appearances are
deceiving. Pletka herself is anything but a foreign policy moderate,
and even with the loss of Ledeen, Muravchik, and Gerecht, AEI remains
a bastion of neoconservatism. In fact, on Iran —particularly as seen
during the tumultuous aftermath of Iran's disputed June 12
election—AEI has proved to be a stronghold for hawkish hardliners,
notably Pletka herself, plus Michael Rubin, Frederick Kagan, and Ali
Alfoheh. Far from being a broad renunciation of neoconservatism,
Pletka's purge now looks like an attempt to restore credibility to
neoconservatism by distancing AEI from some of its most extreme
elements. On a fundamental level, little at AEI appears to have

PNAC Reinvents Itself

Less than a month after Obama took office, the usual neoconservative
suspects unveiled a new organization that some commentators instantly
dubbed "PNAC 2.0" (and that one liberal blogger cleverly named "The
Project for the Rehabilitation of Neoconservatism.") This was the more
blandly named Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), founded by PNAC
principals Kristol and Kagan along with Dan Senor, best known for his
stint as the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the
early days of the Iraq war. [3]

While FPI's mission statement offered rhetoric reminiscent of
PNAC—arguing that "the United States remains the world's indispensable
nation" and warning against "policies that would lead us down the path
to isolationism"—in its early months FPI seemed content to maintain a
lower profile and more anodyne stance than its predecessor. Aside from
sending out a daily news roundup, since its birth the organization's
public activities have been limited to hosting a March 31 conference
at Washington's Mayflower Hotel entitled "Afghanistan: Planning for
Success," and publishing a July open-letter to President Obama
promoting human rights in Russia which, a la PNAC, includes signatures
from several key neocons as well as several reputable human rights
activists. [4] (In late September, FPI will host a two-day event on
"Advancing and Defending Democracy." )

FPI's March conference on Afghanistan offered unabashed support for
Obama, to a degree that surprised many observers. The new president
had just announced what many expected to be the first of several
escalations of the Afghanistan effort, revealing plans to send 21,000
new troops to the theater.

A bipartisan cast of commentators—including headliner John McCain,
Robert Kagan and his brother Frederick, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), and
Center for a New American Security (CNAS) president John Nagl—offered
support for Obama's escalation. However, many also used the moment to
try to lock the president into further troop increases, arguing, as
Nagl did, that the 21,000 represented "merely a down payment on the
vastly expanded force needed to protect all 30 million Afghan people."

This praise for the Democratic president was consistent with Kristol
and Kagan's past modus operandi. Christian Brose, a former
speechwriter in the Bush administration State Department, explained
what he saw as the logic behind Kristol and Kagan's ventures: "PNAC
was set up not to tar and feather Democrats for being weak-kneed
appeasers of evil, but to encourage Clinton's more internationalist
tendencies, and to give him political cover from the right to do so
against his more nationalist, conservative critics. Judging by the
conference today, my sense is that FPI has been founded with much the
same purpose vis-à-vis Obama." [6] FPI founder Senor admitted as much,
saying that "our objective right now is to give President Obama cover
in the eyes of those who would otherwise be skeptical on the right."

While more strident groups like FDD were quick to denounce Obama's
every move as feckless and cowardly, FPI took a savvier tack. When
Obama took interventionist (what Brose called "internationalist")
positions, FPI would sing his praises, thereby building goodwill while
further marginalizing anti-interventionists in both parties. As Obama
would soon discover, it was only when he resisted the logic of
intervention and escalation that the knives came out.

"There used to be a bipartisan consensus in this country on foreign
policy, in particular when we have our sons and daughters at war,"
CNAS's Nagl said at the conference. "And I am hopeful that events like
this will contribute to that." [7] The importance of bipartisan
support for escalation in Afghanistan could not be overstated in
shaping the course of the debate in Washington. (The FPI conference
came only two months after Sen. Joseph Lieberman gave a
widely-publicized speech at the Brookings Institution, Washington's
premier liberal establishment organ, calling for six distinct "surges"
in Afghanistan.) [8] It was for this reason that Nagl's appearance at
the FPI conference was so notable—for if Kristol and Kagan's PNAC was
the leading intellectual force behind the Bush administration's
foreign policy, so far it is CNAS that has played that role for the
Obama administration.

Center for a New American Security

CNAS was founded in 2007 by Kurt Campbell (soon to become Obama's top
State Department Asia hand) and Michele Flournoy (soon to become
undersecretary of defense for policy, the Pentagon's third-ranking
position, and widely rumored to be a potential successor to Secretary
of Defense Robert Gates). When its founders headed an influx of
roughly a dozen CNAS fellows into the Obama administration, [9] the
organization turned to Nagl, a mediagenic retired Army colonel, Rhodes
s cholar, and author of an acclaimed book on counterinsurgency (COIN)

Choosing Nagl made sense, since CNAS made its name largely because of
its expertise in COIN and other forms of irregular operations.

Unlike traditional military think tanks, which tended to focus
primarily on conventional warfare against other militaries, CNAS was
formed in the midst of the messy wars of occupation in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Its debut came in 2007, just as General David Petraeus
was preparing to implement the "surge" plan in Iraq (which AEI's Kagan
had vigorously pushed); the perceived success of the surge soon made
Petraeus a revered figure among hawks and brought COIN to the
forefront of American military strategy.

CNAS's fellows include a number of prominent figures from the COIN
world, such as David Kilcullen, an Australian-born COIN strategist and
former Petraeus advisor; Andrew Exum, who runs the influential blog
Abu Muqawama; and Thomas Ricks, author of the admiring surge account
The Gamble.

It would be inaccurate to portray CNAS as indiscriminately hawkish;
its fellows include some notable Iraq war skeptics such as Ricks. But
the organization's general self-presentation, like COIN itself, comes
across as more technocratic than political, concerned with tactics
rather than strategy. Counterinsurgency doctrine's emphasis on
political solutions and so-called civilian protection over brute
firepower has made it attractive to CNAS and other center-liberal
groups eager to balance humanitarian concerns with a desire to avoid
seeming "soft" on foreign policy. CNAS did not come to prominence with
sweeping statements about the justice or wisdom of America's wars in
Iraq in Afghanistan; rather, its output tended to be pragmatic advice
on how to more effectively manage these wars.

Exum described his own approach as "focused on counterinsurgency
operations and tactics without getting involved too much in either
policy or strategy," a characterization that could describe CNAS
itself. Exum conceded that this sort of narrow tactical focus has been
criticized as "at best irresponsible and at worst immoral," and in
response recently launched a discussion on his blog of whether the
Afghan war is worth fighting at all. [10]

But CNAS's impressive roster of alums in the Obama administration is a
testament to the influence of the organization's technocratic approach
in Democratic foreign policy circles. At the Pentagon alone, Flournoy
brought no fewer than seven CNAS colleagues with her:

James Miller, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy
Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East
Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary for public affairs
Shawn Brimley, special advisor on strategy
Vikram Singh, special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan
Eric Pierce, deputy chief for legislative affairs
Alice Hunt, special assistant
Other CNAS alums include Campbell and Derek Chollet in the State
Department and Nate Tibbits in the White House Office of Presidential
Personnel. [11]

Within the new bipartisan consensus favoring the escalating
application of COIN doctrine to Afghanistan—a consensus stretching
from CNAS to FPI, Nagl to Kristol—only a few isolated voices of
dissent have emerged.

Perhaps the most prominent is Andrew J. Bacevich, a former Army
colonel, Boston University historian, and leading COIN critic. Along
with a veritable Who's Who of Washington's foreign policy media
establishment, in June Bacevich attended CNAS's conference at D.C.'s
Willard Hotel. General Petraeus was the keynote speaker.

Appearing at a panel on Afghanistan, Bacevich reiterated his belief
that the current enthusiasm for COIN serves as a smokescreen for
maintaining a continued U.S. imperial presence built around the
occupation and pacification of far-flung countries.

"At the outset of these proceedings, John Nagl referred to what he
called `our ongoing global counterinsurgency campaign,'" Bacevich
noted. "And Nate [Fick, CNAS's CEO], in his remarks, told us that the
goal of counterinsurgency is to make the population feel secure. It
would follow that the aim or the objective of the global
counterinsurgency campaign should be to make the global population
feel secure.

" And I would simply suggest that we really don't need to undertake
such a grandiose effort and we cannot afford to undertake such a
grandiose effort. As long as we maintain adequate defenses, Al Qaeda
operatives hunkered down in their caves pose no more than a modest
threat to U.S. national security."

Bacevich's gloomy message was strikingly out of synch with the
generally upbeat tone of the CNAS conference. The audience responded
with nervous laughter and applause. Panelist Andrew Exum, the COIN
specialist who had just co-authored a new CNAS report on the war in
Afghanistan, called Bacevich's remarks "a gloriously heretical
response—and one that's completely divorced from the political
realities facing this administration."

Bacevich seemed to agree. "The heretic has no expectations that in
this city any of these notions will be taken seriously," he said with
a rueful chuckle. [12]

The Limits of Bipartisanship

Although CNAS in the liberal center and FPI on the right may have been
important in building support for Obama's escalation in Afghanistan,
the new president quickly discovered, if he did not know already, that
this bipartisan support was likely to be a rare occurrence. On other
issues—particularly the defense budget, detainee treatment, and
Iran—right-wing think tanks forcefully opposed the president, managing
to inflict considerable political damage.

Pushback against the administration's new defense budget— which scaled
back several of the hawks' favorite programs, including the F-22 jet
fighter and missile defense funding, even as it increased overall
defense spending— began shortly after Secretary Gates unveiled it on
April 6. That same day, AEI fellows Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt
published a provocative Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Obama and
Gates Gut the Military." [13] Over the coming weeks, AEI hosted two
events warning about the dangers of the new budget— one featuring Sen.
John Cornyn, the other featuring Donnelly, Frederick Kagan, and Sen.
Saxby Chambliss. [14] Obama and Gates did ultimately manage to win the
battle over the F-22, although it took a notably caustic speech from
Gates at the Economic Club of Chicago in July to seal the plane's

For its part, AEI's friendly rival, the Heritage Foundation—whose
politics tend to be more generically hawkish than narrowly
neoconservative—focused primarily on missile defense, a longtime
hawkish hobbyhorse. Heritage went so far as to produce "33 Minutes,"
described as "a thrilling, one-hour documentary that tells the story
of the very real threat foreign enemies, like Iran and North Korea,
pose to every one of us." [15] (The title refers to the amount of time
a hypothetical enemy missile would take to hit the United States.) In
actuality, the film—along with the two Heritage events that
accompanied it—served primarily as advertisements for missile defense
and warnings against the Obama administration's cuts in this area.

On torture and other "war on terror" issues, AEI also played a
prominent part, most notably by hosting former Vice-President Dick
Cheney's much-publicized May 21 speech defending the Bush
administration's policies. Cheney's AEI speech, which came on the same
day that Obama himself spoke out on detainee issues, marked the apex
of the former vice-president's torrent of criticism against his
successors. Cheney claimed that "enhanced interrogation" prevented the
deaths of "thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent
people," warned that closing Guantanamo Bay prison "would be cause for
great danger and regret in the years to come," and alleged that
"releasing the interrogation memos was flatly contrary to the national
security interest of the United States." [16]

In the face of this political onslaught by Cheney and congressional
Republicans, Democrats in Congress wilted. Fearing a backlash from
constituents, they stripped away the funding meant to close
Guantanamo, and many announced they would oppose the transfer of
Guantanamo prisoners to their districts—moves that put the president's
decision to close Guantanamo in serious jeopardy. While recent reports
indicate that Attorney General Eric Holder is still considering
appointing a criminal prosecutor to investigate CIA torture of
detainees, the Obama administration apparently has ruled out any probe
of the top-ranking Bush administration officials who actually
formulated detainee policies.

Although AEI and its brethren could not in fairness claim much
responsibility for these events, AEI had played a small but crucial
role in giving Cheney his most high-profile forum.

Hawking Iran

But it was on the Iran issue that the Washington hawks worked hardest
to undercut Obama. To be sure, their viewpoint had allies within the
administration, most notably Dennis Ross. Although they had founded
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), after joining the Obama
administration, Ross and Holbrooke left the group—at which point
longtime Republican political operative Mark Wallace took over. UANI's
advisory board includes prominent neoconservative-aligned hawks such
as Fouad Ajami and R. James Woolsey; as of August 2009, Ross and
Holbrook were still listed on the "leadership" page of UANI's website.

Political fallout due to Ross and Holbrooke's past involvement with
UANI surfaced in the blogosphere in June, after UANI aired an
advertisement promoting a hardline view of Iran and suggesting
economic sanctions. [18] The ad, which implicitly undercut the Obama
administration's engagement strategy, caused renewed questioning of
Ross's role in the administration. "I'm shocked that Ross wouldn't
have completely dissociated himself from this group considering his
government role, and the fact that UANI is advocating a position that
not only is dangerous and contrary to current U.S. policy, but mirrors
Israel's interests and the goals of its military and intelligence
apparatus," wrote blogger Richard Silverstein. [19]

Ross's involvement with the Iran hawks far predated the formation of
UANI. He had previously been one of the key figures behind the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), unofficially known
for its close links with the Israeli right. After helping to found
WINEP in the 1980s, Ross returned in 2001 and served there until
joining the Obama administration in 2009. He recently published a book
co-written with WINEP's David Makovsky that attracted notoriety for
disputing some of the pillars of the administration's Middle East
policy (such as the idea of "linkage" between the Israeli-Palestinian
and Iranian issues). [20]

In 2008, Ross participated in a WINEP task force—also featuring
Obama's future U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and key campaign advisor
Anthony Lake—that produced a notably hawkish report about the Iranian
nuclear issue. In the words of journalist Robert Dreyfuss, the report
"opted for an alarmist view of Iran's nuclear program" and "raised the
spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist groups with nuclear
weapons." [21] Ross also took part in yet another task force—this one
under the auspices of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and spearheaded by
Michael Rubin and Makovsky's brother Michael— which produced a report
on Iran that journalist Jim Lobe characterized as a "road map to war."

Clearly, administration figures such as Ross, Holbrooke, and Rice have
a history of hawkishness on the Iran issue, but all have insisted they
would be team players and work faithfully to execute Obama's
engagement strategy. Neoconservatives outside the administration,
however, had no compunctions about undercutting engagement, and it was
here that the right-wing think tanks—notably AEI—came in. Even after
it purged Ledeen, Muravchik, and Gerecht, AEI employed several of the
Washington's most prominent Iran hawks, including Michael Rubin,
Frederick Kagan, and Ali Alfoneh.

Rubin, in particular, had been a leading critic of Obama's plans for
engagement with Tehran, arguing that the Islamic Republic's leadership
has no interest in a deal and that previous U.S. administrations had
tried engagement—and failed.

In April 2009, under Frederick Kagan's supervision, AEI launched the
website IranTracker. The project is devoted to disseminating news and
information about Iran, typically with an alarmist and hawkish slant.
To mark the launch of IranTracker, AEI organized a conference on Iran
policy that was headlined by Senator Joseph Lieberman and also
featured Rubin, Kagan, and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings
Institution. It was one of five Iran-themed events that AEI hosted
between the U.S. presidential elections in November 2008 and the
Iranian elections in June 2009.

At IranTracker's April 27 conference, Lieberman argued that Iran's
elections are ultimately unimportant, since "the overwhelming
concentration of power in the Iranian political system lies not with
the country's presidents, who change, but with the supreme leader, who
rarely does". [23] This is a widely held view among neoconservatives,
some of whom even declared it would be better for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
to win reelection, since he would present a more alarming face to the
world. (Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum attracted some notoriety
for spelling out this view at a Heritage Foundation panel in early
June.) [24]

But after Iran's June 12 election ended in an Ahmadinejad victory
widely alleged to have been the result of fraud, and images of the
Iranian government's repression of protesters were broadcast
worldwide, neoconservatives at these think tanks led the charge in
attacking Obama for his cautious response.

In the two weeks following Iran's election, Michael Rubin wrote no
fewer than six articles arguing that Obama's engagement strategy had
been discredited and accusing the president of "shirk[ing] his duty."
[25] Others, including AEI's Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfoneh and FDD's
Ledeen and Gerecht, also got in on the act, writing op-eds and blog
posts that contributed to the echo chamber of attacks on Obama's Iran

The leaders of FPI, which had earned praise for "moderation" by
lavishing praise on Obama's Afghanistan escalation, turned on the
president with notable quickness. William Kristol co-wrote a Weekly
Standard editorial alleging that Obama's "weakness" had made him "a de
facto ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali
Khamenei." [26]

Robert Kagan leveled the same accusation, writing a Washington Post
column entitled "Obama, Siding With the Regime" which claimed that
Obama's "strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of
the [Iranian] government's efforts." [27] FPI cofounder Dan Senor
appeared on CNN and, with FPI staffer Christian Whiton, wrote a Wall
Street Journal piece on "Five Ways Obama Could Promote Freedom in
Iran," including coordination with anti-regime expatriate leaders and
increased funding for Radio Farda. [28] The latter measure was quickly
incorporated into a bill sponsored by Senators Lieberman, John McCain,
and Lindsey Graham.

AEI, FPI, and the other hawkish think tanks served as bases for what
appears to have been a concerted media campaign aimed at discrediting
Obama's engagement strategy and forcing him to take a more hawkish
line against Tehran. There are indications their strategy may have
been successful, as Obama eventually stepped up his criticism of the
Islamic Republic to say that he was "outraged" and "appalled" by its
actions. However, it is also plausible that the intensification of
Obama's criticism during this time may have had more to do with the
intensification of the regime's repression of demonstrators.
Regardless, the fierce media attacks did succeed in putting the
administration on the defensive.

As the summer wore on, the administration showed signs of taking a
harder line, suggesting that Iran only had until the September 30
meeting of the U.N. General Assembly to respond favorably to the
engagement offer. Washington hawks focused in on sanctions targeting
Iran's refined petroleum imports as the next step, despite warnings
from Iran analysts that sanctions would merely harm the Iranian people
while solidifying support around the regime.

On July 22, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held hearings
revolving around the sanctions issue—hearings that were a tangible
demonstration of neoconservatives' continuing ability to influence the
Iran debate. Of six speakers, two were centrists (Suzanne Maloney of
the Brookings Institution and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace); the remaining four were rightists
who called for swiftly increasing sanctions: AEI's Rubin, WINEP's
Patrick Clawson, FDD's Orde Kittrie, and the Hoover Institution's
Abbas Milani. Soon after, a flood of anonymously-sourced media reports
suggested that the administration itself was considering new
sanctions, [29] while other reports suggested a September push for
sanctions legislation in Congress backed by a media blitz from "Likud
lobby" groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations. [30]

By all appearances, the backlash against Obama's Iran policy
spearheaded by the hawkish think tanks had been quite effective.

Staying Power

On Iran—as on Afghanistan, torture, and defense spending—groups like
AEI and FPI have revealed a talent for continuing to influence
political debates, even at a time when they are seen as representing a
discredited ideology and party. Without real political power of their
own, these groups have nonetheless been able to impact the decisions
of those in power—most often by drumming up so much media attention
for a hawkish line that Democrats in the executive and legislative
branches have been forced to tack to the right to counter it.

The early visibility and viability of neoconservative think tanks over
the first months of the Obama administration suggests that weakened or
not, marginalized or not, these groups are likely to maintain their
influence on Washington foreign policy debates for many years to come.

Daniel Luban writes for Inter Press Service and is a regular
contributor to PRA's Right Web (

August 26 2009

1. Jacob Heilbrunn, "Flight of the Neocons," The National Interest,
Dec. 19, 2008.
2. Joshua Muravchik, "Bomb Iran," The Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2006.
3. Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe, "Neo-Con Ideologues Launch New Foreign
Policy Group," Inter Press Service, March 25, 2009.
4. For details, see Right Web Profile: Foreign Policy Initiative
5. "Afghanistan: Internationalism vs. Isolationism," panel transcript,
Foreign Policy Initiative website.
6. Christian Brose, "Neo-Cons Gone Wild!," Shadow Government blog,
Foreign Policy website, March 31, 2009.
7. "Afghanistan: Internationalism vs. Isolationism" transcript.
8. "Turning the Tide in Afghanistan: A Discussion with Senator Joseph
Lieberman," The Brookings Institution, Jan. 29, 2009.
9. See Laura Rozen, "CNAS's Floyd to Defense Department," The Cable
blog, Foreign Policy website, June 6, 2009.
10. Abu Muqawama, "Maybe Bacevich Has A Point: Introducing the Afghan
Strategy Dialogue." August 7, 2009.
11. See Laura Rozen, "CNAS's Floyd to Defense Department," The Cable
blog, Foreign Policy website, June 6, 2009.
12. Center for a New American Security, "Triage: The Next 12 Months in
Afghanistan and Pakistan," panel transcript, June 11, 2009.
13. Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt, "Obama and Gates Gut the
Military," The Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2009.
14. "No Time To Cash in a Peace Dividend: America's Defenses in a Time
of Uncertainty," American Enterprise Institute, May 7, 2009; "The
Defense Budget and U.S. Strategy: Preferences, Priorities, and Risks,"
American Enterprise Institute, May 20, 2009.
15. "33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age," Heritage
Foundation, June 24, 2009.
16. Dick Cheney, "Remarks by Richard B. Cheney," American Enterprise
Institute, May 21, 2009.
17. Robert Dreyfuss, "Dennis Ross's Iran Plan," The Nation, April 27, 2009.
18. Mike Allen, "Anti-Iran nuke Group launches TV ad," Politico, June 8, 2009.
19. Richard Silverstein, "Iran's Game of Chicken," Tikun Olam, June 15, 2009.
20. Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, "Myths, Illusions, and Peace:
Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East" (Viking,
21. Robert Dreyfuss, "Still Preparing to Attack: The Neoconservatives
in the Obama Era." Tom Dispatch, Dec. 2, 2008.
22. Jim Lobe, "Top Obama Advisor Signs on to Roadmap to War with
Iran," LobeLog, October 23, 2008.
23. "After the Ballot Box: U.S.-Iranian Relations in an Era of
Change," American Enterprise Institute, April 27, 2009.
24. Daniel Luban, "Neocons for Ahmadinejad," LobeLog, June 4, 2009.
25. See especially Michael Rubin, "The Obama Effect? Iran's Election
Result Proves the U.S. Formula in the Middle East Is Not Working," New
York Daily News, June 14, 2009; "Silence Is Not Neutrality," National
Review Online, June 23, 2009.
26. William Kristol and Stephen F. Hayes, "Resolutely Irresolute," The
Weekly Standard, June 29, 2009.
27. Robert Kagan, "Obama, Siding With the Regime," The Washington
Post, June 17, 2009.
28. Dan Senor and Christian Whiton, "Five Ways Obama Could Promote
Freedom in Iran," The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2009.
29. Barak Ravid, "U.S. Briefs Israel on New Iran Nukes Sanctions,"
Ha'aretz, July 31, 2009; David E. Sanger, "U.S. Weighs Iran Sanctions
if Talks Are Rejected," The New York Times, Aug. 3, 2009; Simon
Tisdall, "Time's Running Out for Obama in Iran," The Guardian, Aug. 3,
30. Nathan Guttman, "Congress Gives Obama Deadline for Dealing with
Iran," Forward, July 29, 2009.

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