It may surprise no one that former deputy secretary of defense and ousted World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz still enjoys the red-carpet treatment among Washington’s elite. That he indulged in it at the screening of an HBO documentary about 10 wounded Iraq War veterans who barely made it home alive from the conflict Wolfowitz helped to engineer might raise an eyebrow.
Yet he was singled out as a VIP at the Sept. 5 premier of “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq” and was still smiling after the screening, which featured insurgent footage of IED attacks, severed limbs, shredded brains, and left hardly a dry eye in the place. Organizers discreetly overlooked Wolfowitz’s marquee role in justifying the invasion that brought them all together.
The continued deference to former administration officials extends to the very lifeblood of the city right now—the presidential election, where neoconservative war boosters still enjoy A-list invites, give and get tons of money, and have the ear of top-tier GOP candidates. Meanwhile, old and new Democratic hawks have largely pushed anti-war liberals to the margins of the establishment, creating think tanks with muscular names and erudite journals to catapult their colleagues into top-level jobs in a new Democratic administration.
Despite the declining appetite for war among regular Americans, the message is clear: when it comes to shaping future foreign policy for either party, hawks and internationalists are in, doves and realists are out.
“My view is, if you want a shift in strategy, you aren’t going to get it from these people, who are just hungry for a job in the next administration,” observed one Beltway policy wonk. Any conceivable Democratic White House, he noted, would smell a lot like the status quo. Reappearing would be a phalanx of Clinton I protagonists with names like Albright, Holbrooke, Lake, and Berger, followed by a lesser-known generation of liberal interventionists like Peter Beinart, Lee Feinstein, Martin Indyk, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.
They inhabit a growing galaxy of politically ambitious Democrats, most of whom have been careful to criticize President Bush’s war in Iraq on mostly tactical points, for hubris and unilateralism, but not his doctrine of regional democratization and preemptive intervention.
It is not so far from their own humble beginnings, after all. Most of the Democratic policy advisers today cut their teeth in the Clinton administration, where they oversaw a disastrous military-humanitarian mission in Somalia, approved strategic strikes and sanctions on Iraq, believed Saddam Hussein was amassing weapons of mass destruction, and ultimately supported his ouster.
But it was in the 1994 NATO bombing of Serbia and the subsequent Dayton Peace Accords that Team Clinton found its foreign-policy mojo.
Richard Holbrooke, today a key adviser to Hillary Clinton , has called the Balkans a huge show of strength and moral authority. “There will be other Bosnias in our lives,” the former assistant secretary of state declared in his 1998 memoir, To End a War, about the peace accords he helped broker, “areas where early outside involvement can be decisive and American leadership will be required. … The world will look to Washington for more than rhetoric the next time we face a challenge to peace.”
Anthony Lake, Clinton’s national security adviser during the Balkan war, said in a 1993 speech, “We have the blessing of living in the world’s most powerful and respected nation at a time when the world is embracing our ideals as never before. We can let it slip away. Or we can mobilize our nation in order to enlarge democracy, enlarge markets and enlarge our future.” He’s now a top adviser in the Obama campaign.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, considered a close adviser of Mrs. Clinton, was right there with them. In his memoir An American Journey, Colin Powell recalled how, in 1993, he urged the newly-minted Clinton team not to bomb Bosnia too hastily. According to Powell, Albright countered exasperatedly, “what’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
“I thought I would have an aneurysm,” wrote Powell, whose similar protests on the road to Iraq would earn him a slow isolation from the Bush inner circle a decade later.
Nonetheless, Holbrooke, Albright, Lake, and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger are “first spear” centurions leading a larger army of Clintonites—now with wife Hillary or chief rival Barack Obama—seeking to advance the goals they nurtured in the 1990s. Nearly all were in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq or discreet about their reservations. Nearly all have re-emerged this campaign season with a renewed belief in Wilsonian international engagement, a continued presence in Iraq, and a hawkish stance on the Middle East.
In Hillary’s camp, Jim Steinberg, former Clinton deputy national security adviser and Brookings Institute fellow, joins Martin Indyk, who served as a special assistant for Middle East affairs on the Clinton National Security Council after eight years at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy and several years at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Indyk heads Brookings’ Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which is funded by Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban. The center also employs Kenneth Pollack, another booster of the 2003 invasion who has been linked to Sen. Clinton, and analyst Michael O’Hanlon, who confirms that he supports her. Center fellow and former Clinton official Bruce Riedel has reportedly been advising the Obama camp.
Lee Feinstein, a Council on Foreign Relations director and former Clintonite, fits right in with Hillary’s campaign. In April 2003, he told CNN that he was confident “U.S. forces over time will find weapons of mass destruction and also find evidence of programs to build weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, even though it was becoming increasingly clear they would not.
More recently, Feinstein has been aligned with a bustling coterie of what one writer called “hot policy wonks for the Democrats,” expounding on the virtues of democracy building and intervention, particularly to stop genocide in places like Darfur. To this end, Feinstein teamed up in 2004 with Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and another oft-mentioned future White House official, to write “A Duty to Prevent” for Foreign Affairs, the lede of which extols, “The international community has a duty to prevent security disasters as well as humanitarian ones—even at the price of violating sovereignty.”
Slaughter is ambitious, though it isn’t yet clear which camp she supports. Her résumé is long and prestigious; her work a year ago with G. John Ikenberry on the Princeton Project on National Security generated buzz that continues today. Their final report, “Forging a World of Liberty Under Law,” outlines a “liberal international order” for ultimate peace and security worldwide.
If the United Nations cannot be reformed to give determined democracies real authority to intervene in countries in crisis, they argue, then an alternative world body should be established that would. At some point, according to the writers, such a confederation might include a military arm “to confront their mutual security challenges.”
Peter Beinart, who insists he is not advising anyone, has reportedly inspired the top-tier candidates with his recipe for a liberal return to muscular global democracy in The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. At what The Hotline called a “smashingly well-attended book party at the home of Nancy Jacobson and [Hillary for President pollster] Mark Penn,” both Clintons were on hand to praise him.
Hillary also spoke at the August launch of a new think tank of centrist Democrats and a smattering of Republicans called the Center for a New American Security founded by former Clinton defense officials Michele Flournoy and Kurt Campbell. (The ironic similarity in name to the neoconservative Project for the New American Century has not been lost.)
The group, which includes Derek Chollet, a key adviser to the John Edwards campaign, supports a long-term, albeit smaller, U.S. presence in Iraq, but insists that future foreign interventions shouldn’t be curtailed because of Iraq’s failures.
To be fair, Obama’s team has reached out to more of a mixed crowd, engaging former Clintonites Susan Rice, an African expert at Brookings, and Washington lawyer Mark Brzezinski. Obama also snagged the endorsement of Brzezinski’s father, Carter National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense, is also working with Obama. He is one of many from the Center for American Progress—headed by former Clinton deputy chief of staff and Hillary supporter John Podesta—working with the top tier. Korb has championed a redeployment plan for U.S. troops and recently co-authored an op-ed for the Boston Globe entitled “How to withdraw quickly and safely.”
While Hillary has been courting military brass—most notably Ret. Gen. Jack Keane, who co-wrote the current surge strategy with Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute—Obama has reportedly sought advice from Ret. Gen. Powell.
“I think the neoconservatives have certainly been discredited,” Korb insisted to TAC. “I think that’s what we’re coming back to—getting rid of extremes.”
That said, no less than eight names associated with the Clinton and Obama campaigns—including Indyk, Steinberg, and O’Hanlon—have turned up, in some cases multiple times, on statements and letters authored by the Project for the New American Century, the brainchild of neoconservatives Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, launched to “accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity and our principles.”
Republican candidate and frontrunner Rudy Giuliani not only believes in the Bush doctrine, he pumped it up with steroids in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs. Beginning with, “we are all members of the 9/11 generation,” and ending with “only principled strength can lead to a realistic peace,” the 6,000-word manifesto has the prints of his predominantly neoconservative team all over it.
Led by former Reagan aide and Hoover Institution fellow Charles Hill, there is Harvard Professor Martin Kramer, who works with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Peter Berkowitz of Hoover; Kim Holmes of the Heritage Foundation; Stephen Rosen of Harvard; Enders Wimbush of the Hudson Institute; Commentary eminence Norman Podhoretz; and the newest addition, author Daniel Pipes, who has been waging an online war against American “Islamofascist” college professors.
Giuliani, who recently said he is not averse to using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran, has no doubt found his muse in Podhoretz. Upon releasing his latest opus, World War IV, Podhoretz predicted in a National Review Online Q&A that his toddler granddaughters will be in their 30s by the time the global war on Islamofascism is won and that “confusion” over the real mission in Iraq may detract from George W. Bush’s legacy, which will ultimately be that of “a great president.”
He compared Giuliani to Reagan, said Americans who did not support his World War IV construct were living in fear-induced denial, and did not back off earlier claims that ongoing violence in Iraq is just a symptom of its nascent democracy.
While supporting the mission of global American hegemony, Martin Kramer makes it clear that not all nations, particularly Muslim ones, are destined for the “advance of human freedom” Bush described to a joint session of Congress in 2001. Admitting his ideas clash with the president’s, Kramer has publicly explained that undemocratic regimes that nevertheless ensure security, avert war, and combat terrorism should be left alone.
At an AEI-sponsored event in June, Kramer explained his brand of neorealism as an Arab-regime thing: “any attempt to promote democracy, far from making things better, might make [conditions] worse,” for broader U.S. and Israeli interests in the region.
Kramer did not name the regimes in question, but his new Giuliani colleague Berkowitz did in a column for the Israeli-based Ha’aretz newspaper in 2005, pointing to West-friendly Jordan, Kuwait, and Egypt. One might as well throw in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which are now considered Petri dishes of Islamic revolution because of what Kramer appraisingly called “consensual authoritarianism.”
Canvassing the campaigns, it is hard to find a conservative of any other stripe advising the top tiers, indicating that like Wolfowitz’s continued celebrity, neoconservativism is far from being upstaged.
Earlier reports indicated that old Bush I realists like Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, who before the Iraq invasion said he was “scared to death that the Richard Perles and Wolfowitzes of this world are arguing that we can do [Iraq] in a cakewalk,” had the ear of Sen. John McCain. They were to be outnumbered, however, squeezed in with hawks like James Woolsey, Max Boot, Henry Kissinger, and Robert Kagan—all of whom made pre-war prognostications that were more eerily off the mark.
“This isn’t surprising,” Fred Barnes, editor of the Weekly Standard, told the Washington Times in August. “This is where the national security expertise and wisdom is among Republican conservatives.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney—who has also said he would go nuclear on Iran—has engaged J. Cofer Black, who led the CIA operations in Afghanistan and is vice chairman of the controversial Blackwater USA, a security contractor in Iraq that has recently been banned from the country.
Reportedly, Romney is also consulting with Dan Senor, the former mouthpiece for the Coalition Provisional Authority in post-invasion Iraq. In his exposé of the occupation, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Life in Iraq’s Green Zone, Rajiv Chandrasekaran described Senor as “viceroy” of L. Paul Bremer’s inner circle. Senor, he wrote, “never conceded a mistake, and his efforts to spin failures into successes sometimes reached the point of absurdity.”
Fred Thompson has, so far, a more ideologically varied staff, but a common Bushian thread is evident. There is Mary Matalin, Dick Cheney’s media henchwoman; Liz Cheney, Bush State Department official and daughter of the vice president; former Energy Secretary Spence Abraham; and Rich Galen, who served in Iraq as an occupation devotee and spin doctor.
“In Washington, nothing succeeds more than failure,” declares Ted Carpenter, defense policy expert for the CATO Institute. “How else do you explain it?”
Some insiders try. Big donors influence campaigns and endow think tanks that breed advisers candidates want. “Outside the box” thinking is not only seen as limp cache in this self-sustaining scene, but it’s openly despised by an establishment that quickly closes ranks when it feels threatened. The big loser? The American public, which will find few alternatives at the voting booth and a future as certain as the recent past.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter.