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,
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"
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
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
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,
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)