If the medium is the message, then U.S. President George W. Bush’s choice of forum to launch a new public campaign to defend his beleaguered Iraq policy should be troubling to those, particularly in Europe, who had hoped that his administration was moving toward a more evenhanded stance in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The staunchly neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), one of the most hawkish groups on the "war on terror" since it was created two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon, has often taken strident positions against Arab and European allies whose cooperation has been sought by the administration itself.
Part of an interlocking network of neoconservative-dominated groups that include the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Committee on the Present Danger, which it founded, FDD has also tried to build support here for "regime change" in Syria and Iran.
Bush’s speech, which broke little new ground, is the first of a series scheduled this week aimed at bolstering badly sagging public support for the U.S. occupation and reassuring voters that Iraq is not descending into civil war despite the widespread sectarian violence that followed the bombing of Samarra’s Golden Mosque late last month.
"The Iraqi people made their choice," he said. "They looked into the abyss and did not like what they saw," he said. "By their response over the last two weeks, Iraqis have shown the world they want a future of freedom and peace and they will oppose a violent minority."
His speech comes amid a growing consensus among independent analysts here that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has successfully displaced Vice President Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives who clustered around him as the dominant influence on Bush’s foreign policy.
Rice’s rise and the eclipse of the neoconservatives, many of whom have had close ties to Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, have, in this view, made Washington more modest about its ability to "transform" the Middle East by effecting "regime change" against governments that are perceived as actively hostile to the U.S. and Israel.
Similarly, Washington is now seen as far more eager to repair relations with European and Arab allies that were badly frayed during Bush’s first term as a result of the unilateralist trajectory on which Cheney and the neoconservatives took U.S. policy.
In that sense, the White House’s choice of the FDD as an appropriate forum would appear somewhat anomalous, given the prominence of neoconservatives in their leadership and the stridency of its views.
Among its board of advisers are Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney, who has attacked Bush for supporting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan; Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol; former CIA director James Woolsey, one of the most ubiquitous advocates of the notion that Saddam Hussein played a role in the 9/11 attacks in the run-up to the Iraq war; and the American Enterprise Institute’s Richard Perle, the former ultra-hawkish chairman of the Defense Policy Board who reportedly suggested in a debate at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (that was also addressed by Cheney) that 12 B-2 bombers could solve the ongoing crisis with Iran over its nuclear program.
The group, which is headed by Clifford May, a former New York Times reporter and communications director for the Republican National Committee, originally evolved from another organization called Emet: An Educational Initiative, Inc.
It was created in early 2001 by a number of wealthy Jewish philanthropists, including Dalck Feith, the father of Bush’s former undersecretary of defense for policy and Perle protégé, Douglas Feith.
Its purpose, according to a 2003 article in The American Conservative, was to bolster Israel’s image among U.S. university students and faculty in the face of the Palestinian Intifada. After 9/11, Emet was transformed into FDD with May at its helm and a former Israeli embassy official, Nir Boms, as its vice president.
"Although FDD’s mission statement makes no mention of Israel, FDD’s public statements and operations mostly concern Israel," according to the Right Web Web site, which profiles neoconservative and other right-wing organizations.
Indeed, the group first came to public notice in the spring of 2002, when Boms produced a 30-second television spot that played repeatedly on cable news stations in Washington called "The Suicide Strategy." The spot, whose main message was that there was no difference between Palestinian suicide bombings and the Sept. 11 skyjackings, depicted successive images of Yassir Arafat, Osama bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein against scenes of violence and mayhem.
"The suicide strategy threatens all of us all those who are hated as ‘infidels,’" the voice-over intones. "If we appease terrorism, we’ll get more terrorism. Our way of life is threatened."
In the run-up to the Iraq war, FDD and May, a regular guest on right-wing radio and Fox News, gave voice to many of the same arguments in favor of preventive war that were issued by the administration and its neoconservative supporters, including the assertion that Hussein and al-Qaeda had a long history of cooperation. They also assailed Western European governments and the United Nations for failing to support the U.S.
Indeed, the UN, which neoconservatives have long attacked as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, became a major target of FDD when it hired former Wall Street Journal writer Claudia Rosett to investigate the UN’s "Oil-for-Food" scandal.
With the help of the Journal editorial page, the Weekly Standard, and other neoconservative publications, Rosett eventually published more than 50 feature articles, testified against the UN before Congress on several occasions and, in the words of FDD itself, took the "scandal from a footnote to the front page."
In 2004, FDD, which had by then begun receiving government funds for training students and activists in the Middle East in addition to private contributions, submitted a brief to the International Court of Justice in support of Israel’s construction on Palestinian land of the wall sealing off Israel and major Israeli settlement from the rest of the West Bank on the grounds that "it can benefit the Palestinians."
In the same year, it also helped found Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) and recruited former Secretary of State George Shultz and Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to its board. FDD and CPD have run a number of joint conferences "targeted at the Washington policy community," particularly regarding Syria and Iran, and espousing the view that Washington faces "World War IV" in its battle with "Islamofascism."
That Iran poses a major threat to the U.S. is perhaps the most prominent current theme of the groups’ work. After the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections in January, May wrote that its "leaders have long taken direction from the Militant Islamists of Tehran and will continue to do so no matter how much money we throw at them."
In his most recent Web posting just last week, May quoted another Perle protégé, the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Ledeen, as identifying Iran as the terrorist puppet master that "now exercises effective control over groups ranging from Hezbollah, Ansar al-Islam, al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jaish-e-Mahdi, and Jaish-e-Huti (Yemen) to the Joint Shi’ite Army of Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and part of Saudi Arabia, as well as Islamic movements in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia."
At another FDD/CPD forum in the Capitol building last month, Center for Security Policy’s Gaffney warned that Iran’s missile program was designed to detonate a nuclear weapon "in space high above the United States, unleashing an immensely powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP) [that] could reduce the United States to a pre-industrial society in the blink of an eye."
"The Foundation is making a difference across the world," Bush said Monday, "and I appreciate the difference you’re making."
(Inter Press Service)