Profile: Benjamin Netanyahu
Positions that Benjamin Netanyahu has held:
Benjamin Netanyahu was a participant or observer in the following events:
Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset. [Source: Neuhaus Nadav / Corbis Sygma]During the first Knesset debate on the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993), Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists, compares the accords to British attempts to appease Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler before World War II. Referring to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, he shouts at Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, “You are worse than Chamberlain.” Netanyahu is so aggressive in part because he has the public and private support of influential US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists. “I was ambassador [to the US] for four years of the peace process, and the Christian fundamentalists were vehemently opposed to the peace process,” Israeli ambassador Itamar Rabinovich will recall (see July 1993). “They believed that the land belonged to Israel as a matter of divine right. So they immediately became part of a campaign by the Israeli right to undermine the peace process.” Netanyahu’s outburst on the floor of the Knesset is a deliberate part of this strategy. [Knesset Homepage, 2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 136]
Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat goes to Gaza as outlined by the Oslo peace agreement (see September 13, 1993). The next day, as many as 100,000 right-wing protesters vent their spleen at Arafat, the peace process, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, chanting, “Rabin is a homo!” and “Rabin is the son of a whore!” Near a huge banner reading “Death to Arafat,” Israeli Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu attacks the “blindness” of the Rabin administration for precipitating “the destruction of the Jewish state.” Netanyahu tells the crowd: “Arafat, who is personally responsible for the murder of thousands of Jews and non-Jews, this war criminal, is being hoisted aloft by the government of Israel.… What Arafat truly wants is not an Arab state beside Israel, but an Arab state in place of Israel.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 137]
Most Israeli lawmakers and politicians distance themselves from the Jewish extremists calling for the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin over the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993). However, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu actively curries their favor (see July 1-2, 1994). On the floor of the Knesset, he often attacks Rabin (see September 21, 1993) for giving away “parts of our homeland.” After one particularly fiery speech, thousands of right-wing protesters gather in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, where they put of posters of Rabin wearing a Nazi SS uniform, display banners calling Rabin “Arafat’s Dog,” and chant, “Death to Rabin! Nazis! Judenrat!”—a particularly odious epithet referring to the “Jewish councils” that were forced by the Nazis to expedite the transfer of Jews to concentration camps. Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is horrified by the frenzy of the mob, and tells Netanyahu, who is orchestrating the demonstration, “You’d better restrain your people. Otherwise it will end in murder. They tried to kill me just now.… Your people are mad. If someone is murdered, the blood will be on your hands.… The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month!” Netanyahu ignores the warning, and, basking in the chants of “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!,” takes the podium, where he is optimistically introduced as the next prime minister of Israel. [Unger, 2007, pp. 139-140]
Three US presidents—Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter—join in honoring Rabin’s life and memory. [Source: Knesset]The reaction to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) is overwhelming. Millions of Israelis and Americans mourn his death both on a personal level and in concern for the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace accords (see September 13, 1993). President Bill Clinton calls him “my partner and my friend. I admired him, and I loved him very much.” Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, and Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, speak movingly of Rabin’s legacy of peace. But others have different views. Millions of American fundamentalist Christians view Rabin’s assassination as an act of God. The peace talks “were going against the word of God,” says prominent fundamentalist Kay Arthur. “I believe that God stopped [the peace talks] by the things that happened.… I think God did not want the Oslo accord to go through.” Rabin’s widow, Leah Rabin, accuses Israel’s Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu of inciting violence “against my husband and [leading] the savage demonstrations against him” (see October 1995). [Unger, 2007, pp. 142-143]
Right-wing political leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu becomes Israel’s new prime minister. When the campaign to replace assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) began in early 1996, even Netanyahu’s fellow Likud leaders did not believe he had a chance of being elected. At at least one rally after Rabin’s death, crowds chanted “Bibi’s a murderer!” accusing Netanyahu of inciting the violence that led to Rabin’s death (see October 1995 and November 4, 1995 and After). Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres, cast himself as Rabin’s successor, and the Clinton administration tacitly endorsed Peres as the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Netanyahu is a polished orator with a strong following among the hardline conservatives and religious fundamentalists both in Israel and the US. He also knows how to appeal to America’s more secular, cosmopolitan Jewish community. He hired Arthur Finkelstein, a prominent Republican political consultant, to run a campaign smearing Peres as a weak, ineffective leader who will betray Israel to the Arabs. Peres was befuddled by Netanyahu’s slick, US-style attack campaign and his ability to secure financial and other support among American Christian fundamentalists. The election hung in the balance when a timely spate of Hamas bombings in February and March, and a Netanyahu ad campaign blaming the attack on Peres’s supposed weakness, gave Netanyahu enough voter support for him to eke out a razor-thin margin of victory. US envoy Dennis Ross, one of the Clinton officials involved in the Oslo peace talks, later recalls that he and his colleagues were horrified at Netanyahu’s victory. “Our collective relief became a collective dread,” he will later write. [Unger, 2007, pp. 143-144]
Richard Perle. [Source: Public domain]The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank, publishes a paper titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” [Washington Times, 10/7/2002; Chicago Sun-Times, 3/6/2003] The paper, whose lead author is neoconservative Richard Perle, is meant to advise the new, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Other authors include:
influential neoconservative academic and former Bush adviser Richard Perle, primarily responsible for the content of the paper;
Meyrav Wurmser, the future director of the neoconservative Hudson Institute’s Center for Middle East Policy;
her husband David Wurmser, the future chief adviser for Middle East policy for future vice-president Dick Cheney;
neoconservative Douglas Feith, who will be the prime architect of the Iraq war;
and a number of lesser-known neoconservatives, including James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Jeffrey T. Bergner, Jonathan Torop, and Robert Loewenberg.
Rebuilding Zionism by Abandoning Past Policies - It advocates making a complete break with past policies by adopting a strategy “based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism.…” [Guardian, 9/3/2002]
Aggressive, Militant Israeli Policy towards Arab Neighbors - Much along the lines of an earlier paper by Israeli Oded Yinon (see February 1982), the document urges the Israelis to aggressively seek the downfall of their Arab neighbors—especially Syria and Iraq—by exploiting the inherent tensions within and among the Arab States. The first step is to be the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. A war with Iraq will destabilize the entire Middle East, allowing governments in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and other countries to be replaced. “Israel will not only contain its foes; it will transcend them,” the paper says. [Perle, 7/8/1996; Guardian, 9/3/2002; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 3/19/2003] Iraq is first on the list of nations to be transformed. Saddam Hussein must be overthrown, the authors say. But Iraq has long served as a counterweight to the Shi’ite theocracy of Iran; with the two at loggerheads, neither could pose as serious a threat to Israel as it could if not opposed by the other. To counter this, Perle and his co-authors propose restoring the Hashemites (an ancient Arab dynasty; King Faisal I of Iraq was a Hashemite) to power. Instead of the largely Shi’ite Iraqis aligning themselves with their fellow Shi’a in Iran after Hussein’s overthrow, the Hashemite government would align itself with the pro-Western Jordan, long a Hashemite regime. Unfortunately, the authors propose no plan to actually make such an extraordinary regime succession happen, nor do they seem concerned with some Iraqi Shi’ites’ alignment with Islamist terrorists or with many Shi’ites’ close ties to Iran. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]
Abandoning Oslo Accords, Militant Palestinian Policy - Other suggestions for Israel include abandoning the Oslo Accords, developing a foreign policy based on a traditional balance of power strategy, reserving its right to invade the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a strategy of “self-defense,” abandoning any notion of “land for peace,” reestablishing a policy of preemptive strikes, forging closer ties to the US while taking steps towards self-reliance, and seeking an alternative to Yasser Arafat as leader of the PLO. [Perle, 7/8/1996]
'Seeds of a New Vision' - All these questions need not be answered right away, according to co-author Meyrav Wurmser. The document is “the beginning of thought,” she says, “… the seeds of a new vision.”
Similar to American Christian Right's Vision - According to author Craig Unger, the ideology of “ACB” is, in essence, a secularized version of the theology of the American Christian Right. Christian Zionists insist that Jews were ordained by God to reclaim the Biblican land of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank; the paper asserts that claim as well. The paper echoes Christian fundamentalists by demanding “the unconditional acceptance of Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension.” Perle and his fellow neoconservatives want to push the boundaries even further: the Bible can be interpreted to countenance Jewish dominion over all or parts of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia. Thusly, the authors claim that Israel and the US, by waging war against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, would reshape the “strategic environment” in the Middle East and greatly expand Israel’s influence in the region.
Influence in Upcoming Bush Administration - Perle will later become chairman of President Bush’s influential Defense Policy Board and will be instrumental is moving Bush’s US policy toward war with Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, as will Feith and the Wurmsers. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Robert Loewenberg, Meyrav Wurmser, Jonathan Torop, Richard V. Allen, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Benjamin Netanyahu, David Wurmser, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Jeffrey T. Bergner, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence
Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (see May 29, 1996) flies to Washington, DC, to visit one of his strongest political supporters, neoconservative Richard Perle. Perle is the chief author of a new strategy proposal called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security in the Region” (see July 8, 1996). In essence, Perle’s policy proposal is an update of fellow neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guide (see February 18, 1992), which had so horrified Clinton and Bush officials. But Netanyahu is clearly pleased with the proposal. After meeting with Perle, Netanyahu addresses the US Congress. Quoting extensively from the proposal, he tells the lawmakers that the US must join Israel in overseeing the “democratization” of the Middle East. War might be a necessity to achieve this goal, he warns. While the “Clean Break” authors are primarily concerned with Iraq and Syria, Netanyahu takes a longer view. “The most dangerous of these regions is Iran,” he says. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States (see July 8-10, 1996), US neoconservatives mount an orchestrated push for war against Iraq and an overall reshaping of the Middle East (see July 8, 1996). At first, the offensive takes place in the pages of US newspapers and magazines. William Kristol and Robert Kagan write articles for the magazines Foreign Policy and the Weekly Standard; syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and A. M. Rosenthal use their columns to push the idea; Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz pen op-eds for the Washington Post; “Clean Break” co-author David Wurmser writes op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and publishes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he proposes that the US use its military to literally redraw the map of the Middle East (see Late Summer 1996). Neoconservatives are transforming Christian evangelicals’ argument that Americans are God’s “chosen people” into secular terms, and argue in their op-eds and articles that it is, in author Craig Unger’s words, the US’s “moral duty to project that greatness throughout the world—using American military power, if necessary.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 148-149]
The Oslo peace accords between Israel and Palestine (see September 13, 1993) break down, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat accusing one another of noncompliance. Netanyahu has not implemented the first scheduled withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank, and the second is well overdue. The New York Times’s Anthony Lewis lays the blame squarely on Netanyahu: “There is and always has been only one way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: land for peace. And the Netanyahu government has now made it clear that it has no intention of withdrawing from enough of the land Israel occupies in the West Bank to make a deal imaginable.” When the White House pressures Netanyahu to restart the peace process, he turns for support to America’s Christian Right (see January 19-23, 1998). [Unger, 2007, pp. 156]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Washington three days before his scheduled meeting with President Clinton and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat to discuss the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians (see Early 1998). Before meeting with Clinton and Arafat, Netanyahu meets with conservative televangelist and political activist Jerry Falwell—and a thousand of Falwell’s most devoted followers. “I put together one thousand people or so to meet with Bibi [Netanyahu] and he spoke to us that night,” Falwell later recalls. “It was all planned by Netanyahu as an affront to Clinton.” Falwell promises to mobilize 200,000 pastors across the United States to “tell President Clinton to refrain from putting pressure on Israel.” Falwell’s guest at the proceedings, fellow televangelist John Hagee (who will soon give $1 million to the United Jewish Appeal in hopes of hastening the Biblical “End Times”), tells the crowd that the Jews’ return to the Holy Land is prophecy of the “rapidly approaching… final moments of history.” Hagee then leads the crowd in a frenzied chant of “Not one inch! Not one inch!”—how much land they intend to see Israel give the Palestinians. When Netanyahu discusses the rally with the press four days later, he merely says: “I talk to liberals, I talk to conservatives, I talk to Jews, I talk to non-Jews. These meetings reflect the fact that Israel enjoys support from diverse circles in the United States.” But Richard Haass, a former Bush National Security Council official, says Netanyahu is playing political hardball. “This was a way for [Netanyahu] to push back,” Haass says. “If the White House was trying to make Mr. Netanyahu pay a price domestically for his lack of cooperation, essentially Mr. Netanyahu was sending a return signal: ‘Two can play at this game. I can spend more time with your political opponents and this is something that can come back and bite you.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 156-157]
Monica Lewinsky. [Source: Fox News]President Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss restarting the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process (see Early 1998). Clinton immediately chastizes Netanyahu for meeting with American religious conservatives before meeting with him (see January 19-23, 1998), in an attempt to bring Netanyahu back to his side of the political fence. But Clinton is about to turn his attention to something radically different, and all but forget about Netanyahu. As Netanyahu’s political ally, televangelist Jerry Falwell, will recall, “While Netanyahu was sitting there, he was in a very difficult spot. The pressure was really on him to give away the farm in Israel. But while he was sitting there, someone came in and whispered in Mr. Clinton’s ear and Mr. Clinton turned several colors. Someone was telling him that the cat was out of the bag on [Clinton’s paramour] Monica Lewinsky. The meeting was terminated. Mr. Clinton had to save himself. The demands [to relinquish Israeli territory] that would have been forthcoming of Israel which would have been terrible, were not made. Netanyahu flew back to Israel. He was very funny when he told me about it. He said Israel had been saved by Monica Lewinsky.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 157]
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when asked what the 9/11 attacks means for relations between the US and Israel, replies, “It’s very good.” Then he edits himself: “Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy.” [New York Times, 9/12/2001] A week later, the Village Voice states, “From national networks to small-town newspapers, the view that America’s terrible taste of terrorism will finally do away with even modest calls for the restraint of Israel’s military attacks on Palestinian towns has become an instant, unshakable axiom.… Now, support for Israel in America is officially absolute, and Palestinians are cast once again as players in a global terrorist conspiracy.” [Village Voice, 9/19/2001]
Some of the weapons found aboard the ‘Karine A.’ [Source: Associated Press / BBC]Israeli commandos seize a freighter, the “Karine A” (or “Karin A”), in the Red Sea 300 miles off the coast of Israel, in an operation dubbed “Operation Noah’s Ark.” Eli Marum, an Israeli Navy operations chief, says the operation took less than eight minutes and did not require a single shot being fired. “The crew was fully surprised,” he says. “They did not anticipate that we would strike so far out into the Red Sea.” Israeli officials claim the freighter contains a large store of Iranian-supplied weapons—including Katyusha rockets capable of destroying tanks, mortars, grenades, Kalashnikov assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, high explosives, and two speedboats—for use by Palestinian fighters against Israeli targets. The Palestinian Authority is forbidden by treaty to own such weaponry. Israel also claims that the captain of the freighter, Omar Akawi, has direct ties to the Palestinian Authority and to its leader, Yasser Arafat. (According to Israeli sources, Akawi claims he is a member of Arafat’s organization Fatah.) Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer tells European Union (EU) authorities that the freighter “was purchased by the Palestinian Authority after September 11” and that “the whole operation was managed and funded by the Palestinian Authority in cooperation with Iran and other sources.” [BBC, 1/10/2002; Guardian, 1/21/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009] “What Iran is trying to do is create another base, besides its base in Lebanon” to threaten Israel, says Major General Giora Eiland, the Israeli Army’s chief of planning. [New York Times, 1/12/2002]
Arafat's Denials - Initially, Arafat denies any connection whatsoever with the shipment, accusing Israel of fomenting a propaganda attack to thwart US-led efforts to implement a cease-fire agreement, and says Israel “fabricated” the whole affair. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the secretary general of the Palestinian cabinet, calls the operation “an Israeli trap.” Later, Arafat continues to insist that he had no involvement in the affair, but admits that he cannot control “everyone” in the Palestinian Authority. American and Israeli intelligence officials note that the weaponry on board the “Karine A” is similar to that of a “wish list” allegedly drawn up by senior Palestinian officials under Arafat’s direction. [New York Times, 1/12/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009]
Propaganda by Israel? - Some, such as Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, believe that Israel is using the incident to persuade the EU to stop funding the Palestinian Authority. And, Whitaker notes, Israeli lawmakers and pundits such as former President Benjamin Netanyahu are using the incident to argue that the idea of Palestinian statehood be permanently scrapped. Whatever the truth of the matter, the attempts suffer setbacks when documents show that an Iraqi, Ali Mohamed Abbas, purchased the ship, and other records disprove the Israelis’ claims about the ship’s cargo, which Israel says it picked up in Yemen. It seems clear that the freighter was indeed carrying weapons, but little of Israel’s other claims—they were Iranian in origin and intended for Palestinian use against Israel—are borne out by ascertainable facts.
Hezbollah Connection? - American intelligence sources later speculate that the weapons may have been intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant organization with close ties to Iran, and not the Palestinians. Israel is initially resistant to the idea, but Israeli defense sources later tell Israeli reporters that it was “certainly possible that some of the arms were earmarked for Hizbullah,” though it is certain that most “were clearly bound for the Palestinian Authority.” Whitaker echoes skeptics’ disbelief about the Hezbollah claim, noting that there are easier and more secure methods of delivering arms to Lebanon than a risky sea voyage past Israeli patrol boats. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] Israel names reputed senior Hezbollah security officer Imad Mughniyeh as a key figure in the incident. Mughniyeh has not been heard from for years by Western intelligence, but is wanted by the FBI for his participation in kidnapping Americans in Beirut during the 1980s and the hijacking of a TWA passenger plane. The BBC reports, “Correspondents say the Israeli government has been going to great lengths to convince Washington that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is linked to Tehran and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and hence to what it sees as international terrorism.” [BBC, 1/10/2002]
Iranian Connection Unlikely - And the Iranian connection is similarly hard to swallow. Though Israel insists that the arms prove a new and disturbing connection between Iran and Palestinian militants, Whitaker writes, “most non-Israeli observers of Iran ridicule the idea totally, for a variety of historical, political and religious reasons. It also conflicts with the foreign policies adopted by [Iranian] President [Mohamed] Khatami.” He goes on to add: “The trouble with Iran, though—as one Iranian exile remarked last week—is that it has two governments and 10,000 leaders. If you are going to pin blame, you have to determine which one is responsible.” Whitaker is referring to Iran’s religious and secular leaders, who are often at odds with one another, and to the propensity of Iranian leaders from both sides to conduct independent operations without “official” government sanction. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] The New York Times notes: “Iran’s government has dismissed the Israeli accusations. But Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have discretionary funds and access to weapons, and they often run operations independent of the elected government of… Khatami.” [New York Times, 1/12/2002] The “Karine A” incident helps prompt Bush officials to include Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil,” disrupting backchannel negotiations between Iranian and US officials (see January 29, 2002).
Entity Tags: Fatah al-Islam, Omar Akawi, Giora Eiland, Hezbollah, Eli Marum, Bush administration (43), Brian Whitaker, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Yasser Arafat, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Imad Mughniyeh, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ali Mohamed Abbas
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Uzi Arad. [Source: Jerusalem Post]Israeli officials tell Bush officials shortly after the president’s “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002) that of the three countries on the list—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—Iraq is a distant third as far as posing any threat to its neighbors. But Bush officials have a plan. According to former Mossad director of intelligence Uzi Arad, who served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy advisor, those officials respond, “Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.” (Netanyahu, in the years following his term as Israel’s prime minister, will become an outspoken advocate for military strikes against Iran—see November 17, 2006). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
The governments of Israel and the United States are in almost-perfect accord on most issues, according to a Washington Post analysis. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has talked repeatedly of the “special closeness” he has to the Bush administration, and of the “deep understanding” that President Bush and his officials have for Israel’s security and foreign policy needs. He has thanked Bush for providing what he calls “the required leeway in our ongoing war on terrorism” and lauded the Bush administration’s efforts to promote a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Thomas Neumann, who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), agrees. “This is the best administration for Israel since Harry Truman,” says Neumann, equating Bush with the first American president to recognize the independent state of Israel. A senior official in the first Bush administration says that Sharon used the 9/11 attacks to cement the bond between his government and the Bush administration. One senior administration official says: “Sharon played the president like a violin: ‘I’m fighting your war, terrorism is terrorism,’ and so on. Sharon did a masterful job.”
Accord with Likud - But the US is not just in accord with Israel; it is in accord with Likud, the hardline conservative political party currently in charge of the Israeli government. The Post writes: “For the first time, a US administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies. Earlier US administrations, from Jimmy Carter’s through Bill Clinton’s, held Likud and Sharon at arm’s length, distancing the United States from Likud’s traditionally tough approach to the Palestinians. But today, as Neumann noted, Israel and the United States share a common view on terrorism, peace with the Palestinians, war with Iraq and more. Neumann and others said this change was made possible by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath.” Bush supporters, particularly evangelical Christians, are “delight[ed]” with the administration’s overt support of Likud policies.
Abandoning Peace Talks between Israel and Palestinians - The downside, the Post notes, is that diplomacy with Israel’s Arab neighbors has come to a virtual standstill, and the Middle East “peace process” praised by Sharon is considered by many past and current US officials as a failure. Clinton administration National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says: “Every president since at least Nixon has seen the Arab-Israeli conflict as the central strategic issue in the Middle East. But this administration sees Iraq as the central challenge, and… has disengaged from any serious effort to confront the Arab-Israeli problem.” Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, the administration’s special envoy to the region, calls the peace process “quiescent,” and adds, “I’ve kind of gone dormant.”
'Likudniks Really in Charge Now' - Bush has appointed neoconservative Elliott Abrams, a vociferous critic of any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, the head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council, signaling his administration’s near-total alignment with Israel in the process. Abrams’s hardline views are supported by, among others, Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, Abrams’s mentor, who in 1996 recommended to Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he abandon the Oslo peace accords and refuse to accede to Palestinian demands of “land for peace” (see September 13, 1993). A senior administration official says wryly, “The Likudniks are really in charge now,” using a Yiddish term for supporters of Sharon’s political party. “It’s a strong lineup,” says Neumann. Fellow neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute says of Abrams: “Elliott’s appointment is a signal that the hard-liners in the administration are playing a more central role in shaping policy.… [T]he hard-liners are a very unique group. The hawks in the administration are in fact people who are the biggest advocates of democracy and freedom in the Middle East.” The Post explains that in Abrams’s and Wurmser’s view, promoting democracy in the Middle East is the best way to assure Israel’s security. Like other neoconservatives, they see the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a “democratic Palestine” as necessary for peace in the region. Others who disagree with the neoconservatives call them a “cabal.” The Post writes, “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2003]
Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, Anthony Zinni, Thomas Neumann, Sandy Berger, Likud, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Harry S. Truman, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Perle, Meyrav Wurmser, National Security Council
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The war on Iraq was just as much prompted by the strategic objectives of the state of Israel as it was the strategic objectives of the United States of America. Indeed, the people running this war are people who have worked for the government of Israel in the past, people who have prepared position papers for former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others. These are people who are well attuned to Israel’s objectives. The authors of the Project for the New American Century [PNAC—see September 2000] have set out for the United States to become the dominant power in the world. And, Israel, for its own part, is hell bent on remaining the dominant power in the Middle East.” [Sojourners, 11/2003]
Several hours after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), the Associated Press reports: “British police told the Israeli Embassy in London minutes before Thursday’s explosions that they had received warnings of possible terror attacks in the city, a senior Israeli official said.… [Israeli Finance Minister and former Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu had planned to attend an economic conference in a hotel over the subway stop where one of the blasts occurred, and the warning prompted him to stay in his hotel room instead, government officials said.… Just before the blasts, Scotland Yard called the security officer at the Israeli Embassy to say they had received warnings of possible attacks, the official said. He did not say whether British police made any link to the economic conference.” [Associated Press, 7/7/2005] Israeli Army radio also reports that “Scotland Yard had intelligence warnings of the attacks a short time before they occurred,” and “The Israeli Embassy in London was notified in advance, resulting in Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remaining in his hotel room rather than make his way to the hotel adjacent to the site of the first explosion.” [IsraelNationalNews, 7/7/2005]
Israel Denies Reports - Several hours after that, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom officially denies reports that Scotland Yard passed any advanced warning to Israel about the bombings, and British authorities deny they had any advanced warning at all. The Associated Press withdraws its earlier report and replaces it with one containing denials from Shalom and others about any warning. It states that Netanyahu was warned to stay in his hotel room, but the warning came shortly after the first bombing. [Stratfor, 7/7/2005; Associated Press, 7/7/2005]
Stratfor: Other Way Round - Later that same day, Stratfor, a respected private intelligence agency, notes the denials, but reports “Contrary to original claims that Israel was warned ‘minutes before’ the first attack, unconfirmed rumors in intelligence circles indicate that the Israeli government actually warned London of the attacks ‘a couple of days’ previous. Israel has apparently given other warnings about possible attacks that turned out to be aborted operations. The British government did not want to disrupt the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, or call off visits by foreign dignitaries to London, hoping this would be another false alarm. The British government sat on this information for days and failed to respond.” [Stratfor, 7/7/2005]
Denial from Netanyahu - The next day, Netanyahu will call the report of his advanced warning “entirely false.” He says: “When the first bomb went off, we were departing our hotel. While we were on our way out, the security people said there was an explosion near the area I was scheduled to speak. They asked us to go back and stay put in our hotel.” [WorldNetDaily, 7/8/2005]
Call from Sharon - An Israeli newspaper also reports that “Shortly after the first explosion in London yesterday morning, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was scheduled to give a speech in the British capital, to inquire about his well-being and that of his entourage.” [Ha'aretz, 7/8/2005]
Warning Too Late - On July 11, the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag will report that the Mossad office in London received advance notice about 7/7 bombings, but only about six minutes before the first bombing. As a result, it was impossible to take any action to prevent the bombings. One Mossad source says, “They reached us too late for us to do something about it.” [Israel Insider, 7/11/2005]
John Hannah. [Source: PBS]Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. [American Prospect, 4/16/2006] Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” [Washington Monthly, 1/7/2007]
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent out made sure that those [committees] didn’t key anything up that wasn’t what the vice president wanted,” says Wilkerson. “Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn’t going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn’t know what his staff was doing,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” [American Prospect, 4/16/2006]
Entity Tags: Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, William Luti, Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Victoria Nuland, US Department of State, Douglas Feith, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Samantha Ravich, Stephen Yates, David Wurmser, David S. Addington, David Phillips, Aaron Friedberg, American Enterprise Institute, Benjamin Netanyahu, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert G. Joseph, Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, Chas Freeman, Robert Dreyfuss, American Prospect Magazine, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jennifer Mayfield, Jennifer Millerwise, John Hannah, James Woolsey, John R. Bolton, Iraqi National Congress, Harold Rhode, Entifadh Qanbar, Eric Edelman, George W. Bush, Hudson Institute, Richard Perle, Office of the Vice President, Lawrence Wilkerson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Lea Anne McBride, National Security Council, Dean McGrath, Paul Wolfowitz, Office of Special Plans, Juleanna Glover Weiss
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
In an interview, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushes hard for the US and Israel to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities, and warns that if this does not happen, the world will find itself teetering on the brink of World War III and a “second Holocaust.” Netanyahu says flatly, “Iran is Germany, and it’s 1938, except that this Nazi regime that is in Iran, that’s a religious kind of fanaticism, but it wants to dominate the world, annihilate the Jews, but also annihilate America. Remember, [Israel is] the small Satan. You’re the big Satan.… We’re just the first way station en route to you. So there is this fundament[al] fanaticism that is there. It’s a messianic cult. It’s a religious messianic cult that believes in the Apocalypse, and they believe they have to expedite the Apocalypse to bring the collapse of the West.” Netanyahu compares the Iranian leadership, both political and religious, to Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh (see June 22, 2002, “a crazy messianic cult of death.” He says, “So imagine David Koresh with nuclear weapons. Imagine David Koresh, not with hundreds of followers, but millions of followers, with nuclear weapons, wanting to obliterate America, wanting to obliterate America’s allies, wanting to take over the world’s oil supply. If the lunatics escape from the asylum, that’s one thing. But if they can get their hands on a nuclear weapon, that’s another. And this is that kind of cult.… I think when you have something as fanatic and as dangerous as this, the question now is not whether he should be stopped, but how’s he going to be stopped?” He also says of Muslim terrorists, “[T]hey’re out to get you; they’re not out to get us. We’re simply standing in their way. They’re not interested in Israel, per se. They’re interested in bringing down Western civilization, led by the United States.” If the US doesn’t act quickly, Netanyahu predicts that Iran “will dominate the Middle East very quickly,” making “the Persian Gulf an Iranian pond,” controlling “the world’s oil supply [and using] the weapons, first against my country, and then to intimidate or threaten Europe. They want to control the world.” [CNN, 11/17/2006]
Craig Unger. [Source: David Shankbone/Public Domain]Author and journalist Craig Unger writes that the 1996 Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies policy paper, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” (see July 8, 1996), was “the kernel of a breathtakingly radical vision for a new Middle East. By waging wars against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, the paper asserted, Israel and the US could stabilize the region. Later, the neoconservatives argued that this policy could democratize the Middle East.” Unger’s thoughts are echoed by neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-American policy expert who co-signed the paper with her husband, David Wurmser, now a top Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mrs. Wurmser (see March 2007) calls the policy paper “the seeds of a new vision.” While many of the paper’s authors eventually became powerful advisers and officials within the Bush administration, and implemented the policies advocated in the paper in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the paper’s focus on Iran has been somewhat less noticed. Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for whom the paper was written, has observed, “The most dangerous of these regimes [Iran, Syria, and Iraq] is Iran.” Unger writes, “Ten years later, ‘A Clean Break’ looks like nothing less than a playbook for US-Israeli foreign policy during the Bush-Cheney era. Many of the initiatives outlined in the paper have been implemented—removing Saddam [Hussein] from power, setting aside the ‘land for peace’ formula to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon—all with disastrous results.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Wurmser, Craig Unger, Saddam Hussein, Bush administration (43), Hezbollah, Meyrav Wurmser, Benjamin Netanyahu, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: New York Times]Military and national security experts outside of the neoconservative orbit view the US occupation of Iraq as a calamity that actually increases the threat towards both Israel and the US. “[Bush’s wars] have put Israel in the worst strategic and operational situation she’s been in since 1948,” says retired colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell’s chief of staff in the State Department. “If you take down Iraq, you eliminate Iran’s No. 1 enemy. And, oh, by the way, if you eliminate the Taliban, they might reasonably be assumed to be Iran’s No. 2 enemy.” The Brookings Institution’s Martin Indyk adds, “Nobody thought going into this war that these guys would screw it up so badly, that Iraq would be taken out of the balance of power, that it would implode, and that Iran would become dominant.” The Israeli hawks have decided that because of the disaster in Iraq, the only course left to protect itself against Iran is a military strike. “Attacking Iraq when it had no WMD may have been the wrong step,” says Uzi Arad, who advised former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on foreign affairs. “But then to ignore Iran would compound the disaster. Israel will be left alone, and American interests will be affected catastrophically.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells an audience at Bar Ilan university in Israel that the 9/11 attacks were beneficial for Israel. “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq. […] [The attacks] swung American public opinion in our favor.” [Ha'aretz, 4/17/2008]
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that Israel’s new right-wing government will not be bound by a US-backed understanding to work towards establishing an independent Palestinian nation, the so-called “two-state solution.” Lieberman’s remarks outrage many Palestinian leaders, and indicate a sharp divide between the Obama administration and the government of newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Netanyahu has long opposed the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, though he has recently said he supports an agreement towards limited Palestinian self-rule. Lieberman’s speech, described by the Los Angeles Times as “blunt and openly hawkish” and by the New York Times as “blunt and belligerent,” warns against giving concessions to the Palestinians, saying they “only bring pressure and more wars.” “[T]hose who wish for peace should prepare for war,” he adds. “Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong. It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars.” The 2007 agreement, made at Annapolis, Maryland between then-US President George W. Bush, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, committed the parties to further “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine.” Now, Lieberman says: “It has no validity. The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament.” Palestinian spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh calls Lieberman’s position dangerous, and recommends that the Obama administration “take a clear position against this policy before things get worse.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Lieberman has “closed the door on Annapolis and closed the door in the face of the international community.” An Obama spokesman says that the US remains committed to a two-state solution. Lieberman’s statement is contradicted by a warning from Israeli President Shimon Peres that “the majority of countries in the world” back the Palestinian quest for statehood, hinting that to withdraw support for a two-state solution will result in Israel’s isolation. “The outgoing government espoused the vision of two states for two peoples, which was initiated by the American government and accepted by the majority of countries in the world,” Peres states. “It is up to your government to decide the shape of the reality to come.” Netanyahu has privately told Western officials that he, not Lieberman, will set Israel’s foreign policy; Netanyahu gave Lieberman the position because Lieberman’s nationalist party, Israel Is Our Home, is a member of Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government. But Netanyahu’s own foreign policy adviser, Zalman Shoval, says that the prime minister also considers the Annapolis declaration nonbinding. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now serving as an envoy to the Middle East peace negotiations, says the peace process is in “very great jeopardy.” [New York Times, 4/1/2009; Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2009]
President Obama tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations—it is time to move forward.” Obama’s meeting with the two Middle East leaders is the highest level of diplomacy of his presidency, although it is reported that expectations for resuming the talks fall short. Obama and State Department officials hoped that the meeting would pave the way for fresh negotiations of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. However, during a recent previous meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was unsuccessful in securing a deal in which Israel would halt West Bank settlements construction in return for the Arab states taking minute steps toward recognition. “Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Obama tells the two leaders, referring to talks on the fundamental issues that divide the parties, such as borders, Jerusalem’s status, and building settlements. The meetings, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas separately before all three meet together, produce no real reconciliation, only an Israeli-Palestinian commitment to send negotiating teams to Washington, along with a general agreement that peace talks should quickly resume. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Mitchell says, adding that the talks were at times “blunt” with Obama importuning the two to “get things done.” Obama seems to concede that his previous calls for a construction freeze on settlements fell on deaf ears, and says that Israel has offered only to “restrain” its settlement activity. He appears to acknowledge that his early calls for a settlement freeze have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, he says, has only offered to “restrain” settlement production. The restraint on settlement building “is not everything we might have wanted,” says a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity—one of the rules set by the White House before the meetings—but “it’s certainly a significant step.” US government officials try to dispel later impressions that Obama sought to play down the settlements issue, although senior Israeli government officials say they left the meeting with a separate message; the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren says, “That’s not just the impression, that’s the reality.” An additional senior US official says Obama will not cease to press the settlements issue, arguing that the tentative steps Israel has agreed to extend “far, far beyond what any previous government has ever done to control settlement activity.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/22/2009]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells journalists for the Jerusalem Post that President Obama’s maiden UN speech was “good and positive” for Israel. Netanyahu expresses his belief that Obama’s speech stressed the legitimacy of a Jewish state as well as backing Israel’s right to live in security. He says that Obama’s address urged Palestine leaders to restart peace negotiations. “He said what we have been saying for months, that we need to restart negotiations without preconditions.” In his speech, Obama also addressed threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and spoke strongly against al-Qaeda and terrorism. “All of us, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us, must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip service,” said Obama. “To break the old patterns—to break the cycle of insecurity and despair—all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. Nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security,” he said. “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. The time has come to re-launch negotiations—without preconditions. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, says Obama’s reference to Israel as a Jewish state is vital recognition on which “Israel insists as part of any final status deal with the Palestinians.” Oren says that Israel “was gratified to hear the president reiterate US commitment to Israel’s security,” as well as pleased that the president supported a multilateral rather than bilateral means for bringing peace between Israel and its neighboring states. Netanyahu tells Israeli reporters that he “listened very carefully to President Obama’s call to the Arab countries to publicly support moving regional peace forward.” He also praises Obama for expressing his appreciation about restrictions that have been eased between Judea and Samaria in the last few months to improve the quality of living and upgrade the economy for the Palestinians in the region. However, Obama also said in his address that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” while simultaneously calling on Palestinians to end provocations against Israel and emphasizing that the settlements issue should not deter talks. [Jerusalem Post, 9/24/2009]
The logo of InfoCision, the telemarketing firm that received much of the ASWF monies. [Source: InfoCision]Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) has apparently exploited a loophole in campaign finance law that has allowed him to build what McClatchy News calls “a political money machine that raised $54 million over five years,” according to McClatchy reports. Gingrich has used “a supposedly independent political committee that collected unlimited donations” to “finance… a coast-to-coast shadow campaign that raised his profile and provided a launch pad for his presidential run.” Critics call the ASWF issue another aftereffect of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010).
$54 Million over 5 Years - The Gingrich-supporting PAC, “American Solutions for Winning the Future” (ASWF) was closed down in July 2011. Organized as a so-called “527 group” (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000), the tax-exempt, “nonprofit” organization raised $28.2 million in the two-year period ending December 31, 2010, the last period for which McClatchy has data. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that ASWF raised almost double the amount garnered by the next closest 527. The organization raised some $54 million throughout its existence, from 2006 to July 2011. McClatchy has learned some of the details behind ASWF and is now revealing them to the public. The organization provided at least $8 million to pay for the chartered luxury jets that Gingrich used to fly back and forth around the nation for public appearances and campaigning for president. The jet charters occurred during the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries.
Largely Financed by Billionaire, Corporate Donations - ASWF has accepted enormous cash donations from billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner, who has emerged as Gingrich’s primary benefactor. Adelson has given $7.65 million to ASWF, including a million-dollar startup contribution in 2006. According to an Adelson spokesperson, “he and Speaker Gingrich go back a number of years.” Adelson is a prominent supporter and financier of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and like Gingrich holds far-right, aggressively territorial views about Israel. Gingrich has made provocative statements about Israel and the Palestinian people over the years, denying that the Palestinians are a separate people and declaring his support for Israel’s forced-settlement plans that have displaced many Palestinians. A Gingrich spokesman says Adelson and others merely gave to the organization because they agree with Gingrich’s views. Charlotte, North Carolina, real estate developer Fred Godley gave ASWF $1.1 million in 2007 and another $100,000 in 2009. Energy firms donated heavily to ASWF: Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal producer, and its chief lobbyist Fred Palmer gave ASWF $825,000. Arch Coal, the US’s second-largest coal company, gave $100,000. Oil and gas firm Devon Energy gave $400,000, as did American Electric Power Company and its CEO Michael Morris. Plains Exploration Company gave $200,000. The late Cincinnati billionaire Carl Lindner gave $690,000. Dallas real estate firm Crow Holdings gave $600,000. Minnesota broadcasting mogul Stanley Hubbard gave $385,000. Wisconsin businessman Terry Kohler gave $328,082. California businessman Fred Sacher gave $275,000. NASCAR president James France gave $264,000. Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus gave $250,000. Another Las Vegas casino owner, the late Frank Fertitta Jr., gave $250,000, along with his sons; together the three of them co-owned a casino and the Ultimate Fighting Championship sports league. Former CarMax and Circuit City chief Richard Sharp gave $150,000. Stock brokerage titan Charles Schwab gave $150,000. Cincinnati Reds owner Robert Castellini gave $146,000. Political science professor Larry Sabato says that in light of such enormous contributions, “there’s no way that any politician is going to deny you much of anything that you want.”
New Super PACs Supplanting ASWF - In place of ASWF, two new pro-Gingrich super PACs have formed to support Gingrich’s attempt to close the gap between himself and frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the Republican primary.
'Diabolical Scheme' to 'Circumvent' Campaign Finance Law - Campaign expert Lawrence Jacobs calls Gingrich’s use of ASWF “clever,” and adds, “Looking back, and now seeing Gingrich as the frontrunner… it’s an ingenious, diabolical scheme to circumvent what’s left of the campaign finance regime.” Jacobs says of the organization: “The money wasn’t used literally to finance a campaign for a particular office. It was used for a general, over-time campaign to keep Gingrich alive politically—an enormously luxurious campaign operation to sustain his political viability for the right time to jump into the presidential race. It’s no accident that he’s popped in in 2012.” Jacobs says ASWF operated “right on the line” of legality. Sabato says ASWF played a key role in resuscitating Gingrich’s flagging political career. His term as speaker of the House ended in scandal and resignation, and his high-profile divorces and profligate personal and campaign spending had led many to assume that Gingrich’s political career was over. But Sabato says Gingrich used ASWF to create what he calls a new kind of informal candidacy, one that shows the inherent weakness of campaign finance laws that are supposed to ensure “nobody could give so much money that they would become too influential, too powerful.” ASWF was always nominally independent, as required by law, but in 2009 Gingrich ousted its board of directors and took the title of general chairman. Gingrich never formed a formal exploratory committee before declaring his candidacy for president. McClatchy observes, “None of his Republican presidential rivals, nor any other federal candidate for that matter, is known to have operated such a committee before formally declaring his or her candidacy.” Gingrich spokesperson R.C. Hammon says Gingrich did not begin considering a presidential campaign until April 2011, and all of his committee activities were “legitimate.” Hammond says: “The purpose of American Solutions was to advance an agenda of free enterprise and tri-partisan solutions. Those were the activities he was undertaking.” ASWF is just one of a network of political entities that Gingrich has created over the last 10 years. He has managed to enrich himself by charging lucrative fees for speeches, consulting for undisclosed health care industry firms, and selling historical documentaries and books. After the group was formed in the fall of 2006, Gingrich sent a letter to potential backers calling it a unique organization “designed to rise above traditional gridlocked partisanship” and to develop “breakthrough solutions to the most important issues facing this country.” Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman who served on ASWF’s board for two years, says the group “certainly helped build his path back into political prominence.” He adds, “They basically sent Newt around the country promoting American Solutions.” Weber is now supporting Romney for the presidency. He says that ASWF had “not gotten really up to speed in terms of programming” when he received a call, apparently in 2008, advising him that the board was being abolished. Gingrich then took over as the group’s general chairman.
Relatively Little Spent on Campaign Initiatives, Most Spent on Raising More Money - ASWF proposed a number of campaign and advertising initiatives that would appeal to conservative donors, including:
a “Drill Now!” movement aimed at increasing US oil exploration;
attempts to rally opposition to President Obama’s health care reform efforts;
a campaign to fight climate change legislation that would call for reduced carbon emissions by industrial concerns.
But of $37.9 million raised from 2006 through 2009, the committee spent just $7.2 million on programs, according to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Most of the ASWF money was spent on telemarketers and direct-mail appeals to develop a loyal pool of wealthy contributors. InfoCision, an Ohio telemarketing firm that specializes in building lists of “small” donors, was paid some $30 million over the course of the organization’s existence, exhausting much of the money contributed. $17 million of that money was used to finance Gingrich’s travel. [McClatchy News, 12/19/2011; Think Progress, 12/19/2011]
Entity Tags: Bernie Marcus, Benjamin Netanyahu, Richard Sharp, R.C. Hammon, Plains Exploration Company, Sheldon Adelson, Stanley Hubbard, Terry Kohler, Vin Weber, American Electric Power Company, Barack Obama, American Solutions for Winning the Future, Willard Mitt Romney, Arch Coal, Newt Gingrich, Robert Castellini, McClatchy News, Michael Morris, Crow Holdings, Charles Schwab, Center for Responsive Politics, Carl Lindner, Devon Energy, Frank Fertitta Jr., Peabody Energy, Fred Palmer, Internal Revenue Service, InfoCision, James France, Fred Sacher, Larry J. Sabato, Fred Godley, Lawrence Jacobs
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
Some sources believe Romney may consider John Bolton for Secretary of State if elected president. [Source: Getty Images / CNN]Journalist Ari Berman, of the liberal magazine The Nation, writes that presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney (R-MA) seems to be relying on a large number of neoconservatives to help him formulate his foreign policy stance for the election. Berman believes it is safe to assume that Romney will appoint many of his neoconservative advisors to powerful positions in his administration should he win the November election. Berman writes: “Given Romney’s well-established penchant for flip-flopping and opportunism, it’s difficult to know what he really believes on any issue, including foreign affairs (the campaign did not respond to a request for comment). But a comprehensive review of his statements during the primary and his choice of advisers suggests a return to the hawkish, unilateral interventionism of the George W. Bush administration should he win the White House in November.” Conservative Christian leader Richard Land has said that Romney could shore up his sagging credibility with conservatives by “pre-naming” some key Cabinet selections: former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) as Attorney General, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as US ambassador to the United Nations, and former State Department official John Bolton as Secretary of State. Berman calls the prospect of those appointments “terrifying” and “more plausible than one might think.” Neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin recently wrote for the Washington Post that “[m]any conservatives hope” Bolton will accept “a senior national security post in a Romney administration.” For his point, Bolton has endorsed Romney, and has campaigned on his behalf. Romney is not well versed in foreign policy affairs, Berman writes, noting that in 2008 the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) found that at the time “Romney’s foreign affairs resume is extremely thin, leading to credibility problems.” Romney suffered the criticism of being “too liberal” in 2008, and in 2011-12 attempted to refute that criticism by publicly aligning himself with Bolton and other neoconservatives. Brian Katulis of the liberal Center for American Progress has said, “When you read the op-eds and listen to the speeches, it sounds like Romney’s listening to the John Bolton types more than anyone else.” [Washington Post, 3/13/2012; Nation, 5/21/2012]
The Project for the New American Century - Bolton and seven other Romney advisors are signers of a letter drafted by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative advocacy group (see June 3, 1997 and September 2000) that urged both the Clinton and Bush administrations to attack Iraq (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998 and May 29, 1998). (The PNAC is defunct, but was replaced by a similar advocacy group, the Foreign Policy Initiative, or FPI—see Before March 25, 2009). PNAC co-founder Eliot Cohen, who served as counsel for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007-2009, wrote the foreward to Romney’s foreign policy white paper, entitled “An American Century.” Cohen has called the war on terror “World War IV” (see November 20, 2001), and helped push the Bush administration into going to war with Iraq after the 9/11 bombings. In 2009, Cohen reiterated his 2001 call for the US to overthrow the government of Iran (see November 20, 2001). Another PNAC co-founder, FPI’s Robert Kagan, a longtime advocate for widespread war in the Middle East (see October 29, 2001), helped Romney formulate his foreign policy. Romney’s foreign policy stance is based largely on negative attacks on the Obama administration, which it accuses of kowtowing to foreign governments, and a massive military buildup. [Washington Post, 10/9/2011; Nation, 5/21/2012]
Bush Administration Officials' Involvement - Many former Bush administration officials are involved with Romney’s foreign policy. Robert G. Joseph, a former National Security Council official who is primarily responsible for having then-President Bush claim that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger (see January 26 or 27, 2003), former Bush administration spokesman and FPI founder Dan Senor (see October 2, 2005), and former Defense Department official Eric Edelman (see July 16-20, 2007) are prominent members of Romney’s advisory team. Preble says of Romney’s foreign policy advisors: “I can’t name a single Romney foreign policy adviser who believes the Iraq War was a mistake. Two-thirds of the American people do believe the Iraq War was a mistake. So he has willingly chosen to align himself with that one-third of the population right out of the gate.” Edelman, like others on the Romney team, believes that the US should attack Iran, a position Romney himself apparently holds. Senor serves as a conduit between the Romney campaign and Israel’s far right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recently, Senor posted the following on Twitter: “Mitt-Bibi will be the new Reagan-Thatcher.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has said the Republican Party “has not a clue” how to extricate the US from its “state of interminable war,” and apparently little appetite for such extrication. “In fact, they want to deepen it, widen it and go further, on Chinese and Japanese dollars.” The influence of far-right neoconservatives “astonishe[s]” Wilkerson. Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert for the Cato Institute, says that neoconservatives have remained influential even after the Iraq debacle because they have rewritten history. “They’ve crafted this narrative around the surge (see January 10, 2007), claiming Iraq was, in fact, a success. They’ve ridden that ever since.”
Huge Spending Increases for Defense, Possible Recession - If Romney follows his current statements, a Romney administration under the tutelage of his neoconservative advisors would usher in a new era of massive defense spending increases. He advocates spending a minimum of 4 percent of the nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to increase spending on defense, which would increase the Pentagon’s budget by over $200 billion in 2016. That is 38% more than the Obama administration plans to spend on defense. Romney would pay for that increase with severe cuts in domestic spending. Fiscal Times columnist Merrill Goozner has written: “Romney’s proposal to embark on a second straight decade of escalating military spending would be the first time in American history that war preparation and defense spending had increased as a share of overall economic activity for such an extended period. When coupled with the 20 percent cut in taxes he promises, it would require shrinking domestic spending to levels not seen since the Great Depression—before programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid began.” Goozner wrote that Romney’s spending plan “would likely throw the US economy back into recession.” The proposed huge spending increases are in part the product of the Defending Defense coalition, a joint project of the FPI, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Heritage Foundation. [Fiscal Times, 3/7/2012; Nation, 5/21/2012]
Cofer Black and Enhanced National Security - Romney’s counterterrorism advisor is J. Cofer Black, a former CIA operative and Bush-era security official. Black presented a plan to invade Afghanistan two days after the 9/11 attacks, and claimed that al-Qaeda could be defeated and the world made secure from terrorism in a matter of weeks (see September 13, 2001). Black was fired from the CIA in 2002 for publicly criticizing the Bush administration’s failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden (see May 17, 2002). In 2005, Black became a senior official for the private mercenary firm Blackwater (see February 2005). He has been a Romney advisor since 2007 (see April 2007). Black advised Romney not to consider waterboarding as torture, and has touted his CIA experience with that agency’s illegal “extraordinary rendition” program, which sent prisoners to foreign countries for abuse and torture. Romney relies on Black for security assessments of security assessments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Iran, including Iran’s nuclear program. Preble says, “Romney’s likely to be in the mold of George W. Bush when it comes to foreign policy if he were elected.” Berman writes that “[o]n some key issues, like Iran, Romney and his team are to the right of Bush.” Berman goes on to write that if Romney adheres to his statements on the campaign trail, “a Romney presidency would move toward war against Iran; closely align Washington with the Israeli right; leave troops in Afghanistan at least until 2014 and refuse to negotiate with the Taliban; reset the Obama administration’s ‘reset’ with Russia; and pursue a Reagan-like military buildup at home.”
Moderates Sidelined - The moderates on Romney’s team have been shunted aside in favor of the hardliners. Mitchell Reiss, Romney’s principal foreign policy advisor in 2008 and a former State Department official under Powell, no longer enjoys favored access to the candidate. In December 2011 Romney publicly contradicted Reiss’s advocacy of US negotiations with the Taliban, instead advocating the total military defeat of the Taliban and criticizing the Obama administration’s plan to “draw down” US troops from Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph Biden has said that Romney and his neoconservative advisors “see the world through a cold war prism that is totally out of touch with the realities of the twenty-first century.” Romney began tacking to the right during the early days of the Republican primaries, aligning himself with candidates such as Gingrich, Herman Cain (R-GA), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and away from moderate candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) and isolationist candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). Heather Hurlburt of the centrist National Security Network says: “The foreign policy experts who represent old-school, small-c conservatism and internationalism have been pushed out of the party. Who in the Republican Party still listens to Brent Scowcroft?” (see October 2004). Wilkerson says moderate conservatives such as Powell and Scowcroft are “very worried about their ability to restore moderation and sobriety to the party’s foreign and domestic policies.” Berman writes, “In 2012 Obama is running as Bush 41 and Romney as Bush 43.” [Nation, 5/21/2012]
Entity Tags: Cofer Black, Christopher Preble, Richard Land, Project for the New American Century, Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Robert G. Joseph, Robert Kagan, Ron Paul, Willard Mitt Romney, Ari Berman, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Brent Scowcroft, Brian Katulis, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Mitchell Reiss, Rick Santorum, Merrill Goozner, Foreign Policy Initiative, Eric Edelman, Michele Bachmann, Eliot A. Cohen, Dan Senor, Colin Powell, Defending Defense, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, John R. Bolton, Jennifer Rubin, John McCain presidential campaign (2008), Herman Cain, Heather Hurlburt, Jon Huntsman, Lawrence Wilkerson, Joseph Biden
Timeline Tags: 2012 Elections
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