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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Hawkish rhetoric dominates the campaigns as the primaries approach

THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY CAMPAIGN Donald Trump Although better known for his xenophobic views concerning migrants and foreigners, Trump also tends to take wild and unpredictable stances on foreign policy and global affairs. At times revealing alarming ignorance regarding key events and actors, Trump can push extremely hawkish views in one moment and then turn…

THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY CAMPAIGN

Donald Trump

Although better known for his xenophobic views concerning migrants and foreigners, Trump also tends to take wild and unpredictable stances on foreign policy and global affairs. At times revealing alarming ignorance regarding key events and actors, Trump can push extremely hawkish views in one moment and then turn around and advocate limiting U.S. overseas military engagements in the next. One libertarian commentator argues that “Trump, for all his contradictions, gives voice to the ‘isolationist’ populism that [Sen. Marco] Rubio and his neocon confederates despise.”

Marco Rubio

In a seeming bid to out-do Donald Trump, GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has backtracked on his support for legal immigration and now says that because of ISIS, the “entire system of legal immigration” must be “reexamined for security first.” Rubio also accuses President Obama of “fueling” the growth of Iranian power by following through on the nuclear deal, wildly arguing that Obama has “deliberately weakened America.”

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) campaign rhetoric on foreign policy has been “a tricky balancing act, at once more and less militaristic than his rivals.” He has drawn the ire of hawks for reprimanding “crazy neo-con invade-every-country-on-earth and send our kids to die in the Middle East.” On the other hand, he has also been one of the biggest congressional recipients of donations from NORPAC, an AIPAC-aligned political action committee that has supported efforts to kill the Iran nuclear deal.

Jeb Bush

The presidential campaign of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is floundering. With the first primary elections quickly approaching, many observers think that it “may be too late” for Bush to “save his candidacy,” particularly in view of his paltry poll results. Nevertheless, Bush has doubled down on his hardline foreign policy positions, recently calling for a “no-fly zone, or a series of no-fly zones” over Syria. On the other hand, Bush has said that he would try to pursue a foreign policy more akin to that of his father George H.W. Bush, who was excoriated by hawks for pursuing supposedly “realist” objectives in foreign affairs.

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has staked out hawkish positions on numerous foreign policy issues. Her campaign recently released a letter signed by 10 national security experts denouncing the foreign policy positions of her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Berne Sanders. In response to the statement, Sanders stated that on the “crucial foreign policy issue of our time,” the Iraq War, Clinton “was wrong and I was right.”

Mike Huckabee

Former Republican Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign has largely involved aggressive attacks on President Obama and frenzied outbursts on foreign policy. After Obama issued an executive order on guns, Huckabee wildly stated, "Americans should go out and buy a new gun—and to improve your accuracy, you can take aim at Washington stupidity.” He has also claimed that the Iran nuclear deal is the “most disastrous and dangerous deal in the history of the United States.”

Lindsey Graham

Since dropping out of the GOP primary contest, überhawk Senator Graham has promoted the candidacy of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He has also repeatedly lambasted other candidates, including in particular frontrunners Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump, according to Graham, “make no sense.”’

Smuley Boteach

Shmuley Boteach, an ally of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson who is known for his controversial “pro-Israel” advocacy, has repeatedly targeted Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign while boosting the campaign of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Boteach also recently bemoaned in an interview how liberals favor “death cults” like Hamas and "barbarous" regimes like the government in Iran.

NORPAC

NORPAC, a right-wing “pro-Israel” political action committee, has been among the top donors to politicians who have vehemently opposed the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Among its beneficiaries have been GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has promised to rescind the agreement if elected president, and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), who has been described as “leading the charge” to “derail” the deal in the House of Representatives. 

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who heads News Corp and is notorious for pushing his press outlets to advocate his policy positions—including the 2003 invasion of Iraq—has joined other major hawkish pro-Israel figures like Sheldon Adelson in advocating the campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). After a Fox-sponsored Republican presidential primary debate in November, Murdoch called Rubio the “best of all” the GOP candidates and argued that Ted Cruz and Donald Trump “talked nonsense.”

Melvin Sembler

While many of his like-minded “pro-Israel” megadonors have appeared to swing their support behind Sen. Marco Rubio in the GOP primary, Republican Party patron and real estate magnate Melvin Sembler appears intent on sticking with Jeb Bush. The former U.S. ambassador to Italy and long-time backer of neoconservative groups, including Keep America Safe and the American Enterprise Institute, Sembler is a member of the Bush campaign’s “Jewish leadership team.”

Peter Wehner

A frequent op-ed contributor to the New York Times and a spokesperson for the George W. Bush White House, Wehner is one of a growing number of high-profile Republican figures who argue that if Donald Trump gets the GOP presidential nomination they may not vote. He writes: “If Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton were the Republican and Democratic nominees, I would prefer to vote for a responsible third-party alternative; absent that option, I would simply not cast a ballot for president. A lot of Republicans, I suspect, would do the same.”

SAUDI ARABIA V. IRAN

Tom Cotton

Sen. Ted Cotton (R-AR), a leading neoconservative acolyte in Congress, has joined other hardliners in claiming that the brief seizure of two U.S. military vessels that had strayed into Iranian waters could be grounds for “nullifying” the historic Iran nuclear accord. "This is the ayatollah trying to get maximum leverage and inflict maximum humiliation on the United States and on President Obama," Cotton said.

Ed Royce

A key conservative hawk in the House, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) is championing congressional efforts to rollback the Iran nuclear deal while at the same time receiving tens of thousands of dollars in campaign financing from the “pro-Israel” lobby. Channeling the rhetoric of leading neoconservative ideologues, Royce recently accused the Obama administration of siding with Iran at the expense of Saudi Arabia. He misleadingly argued that the U.S. is viewed as having “tilted toward Iran” and that this “has created problems” with respect to U.S. credibility in the region.

Elliott Abrams

As the spat between Iran and Saudi Arabia has heated up, neocon stalwart Elliott Abrams has ramped up his criticism of Tehran, writing: “It is another piece of evidence that Iran refuses to live by the rules of civilized diplomatic practice, and that its behavior has gotten worse not better since the signing of the nuclear deal.”

Max Boot

The hawkish Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Max Boot has called for stronger U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia in the wake of that country’s execution of a well-known Shiite religious leader. “The American policy should be clear: We should stand with the Saudis,” he opined recently. “But the Obama administration, morally and strategically confused, is instead coddling Iran in the vain hope that it will somehow turn Tehran from enemy into friend.”

Norman Podhoretz

Leading neoconservative ideologue Norman Podhoretz, a longtime proponent of U.S. or Israeli military strikes against Iran, calls the Iran nuclear deal a “calamity” whose only “upshot” is that it supposedly leaves bombing Iran as the “only way” left to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Podhoretz stated that “Israel would not be making a mistake at all” if it launched military strikes against Iran.

Charles M. Kupperman

Charles M. Kupperman is a former Reagan official with strong ties to the defense industry and hawkish advocacy organizations. He recently signed a letter sponsored by the Frank Gaffney-led Center for Security Policy to President Obama denouncing the Iran nuclear deal. The letter stated in part: “How can this be considered to be anything other than a bad deal?” Co-signers included John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and former Dick Cheney-advisor David Wurmser.

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On August 16, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the formation of the Iran Action Group (IAG). It would “be responsible for directing, reviewing, and coordinating all aspects of the State Department’s Iran-related activity, and it will report directly to me,” he stated. Amid speculation that the Donald Trump administration was focused on…


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