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

Dobriansky, Paula

  • Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Member, Leadership Council

  • State Department: Undersecretary of State for Democracy (2001-2009)

  • Hudson Institute: Former Fellow

  • Project for the New American Century: Signatory

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Paula J. Dobriansky, the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs during the George W. Bush administration, is member of an elite cadre of U.S. conservatives. Her experience includes serving in high-level government posts, working in international business, and supporting the work of numerous rightist advocacy organizations and think tanks.

A former fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute and supporter of the militarist advocacy campaigns of the Project for the New American Century, Dobriansky has also served as a board member of Freedom House, on the leadership council of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, as an adviser to the Independent Women's Forum, and as vice chair of the National Endowment for Democracy.[1] Dobriansky has also been a fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center, a senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations, a board member of the Atlantic Council, and a distinguished chair at the U.S. Naval Academy.[2]

Dobriansky also served on 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign advisory team on foreign and defense policy. Joining Dobriansky was a host of other former Bush administration officials like Dov Zakheim and Eric Edelman, as well as several high-profile neoconservatives, including Robert Kagan, Eliot Cohen, and Dan Senor.[3]

Dobriansky’s business experience includes working for various law firms and as a vice president for Thompson Reuters. She has also worked as an international affairs and trade advisor for the law firms of Baker Hostetler and Hunton & Williams.[4]

In addition to her State Department post in the Bush administration, Dobrianksy’s government experience includes serving on President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council and as associate director of the U.S. Information Agency in the George H.W. Bush administration.[5] According to her Belfer Center biography, Dobriansky’s government appointments include “associate director for policy and programs at the United States Information Agency, deputy assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, deputy head of the U.S. Delegation to the 1990 Copenhagen Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), advisor to the U.S. Delegation to the 1985 U.N. Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, and director of European and Soviet affairs at the National Security Council, the White House. From 1997-2001, she served on the Presidentially-appointed U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.”[6]

Before joining the Bush administration in 2001, Dobriansky supported advocacy efforts aimed at pushing the United States to pursue a militaristic post-Cold War posture — including taking on regimes in the Middle East even before the 9/11 attacks — through her association with groups likethe Hudson Institute and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). She signed several early public letters published by PNAC, including its founding statement of principles, which called for a "Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity" and championed America's "unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles."[7] Dobriansky also signed PNAC's January 26, 1998, letter to President Bill Clinton, which urged the president to attack Iraq, arguing that containment had failed. It said: "The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power."[8]

Among the signatories to the 1998 letter were several figures who, like Dobriansky, would later serve in the George W. Bush administration. This point was highlighted by PNAC founders Robert Kagan and William Kristol in an October 2001 editorial for the Weekly Standard, in which they argued that Iraq must be targeted in the wake of 9/11. They wrote, "Indeed, we find it hard to believe that anyone in this administration, whether in the State Department or in the White House or in the CIA, can seriously be arguing that the Iraqi regime should be left alone. In 1998 a group of prominent figures sent a letter to President Clinton urging him to take strong action against Saddam Hussein. … They pressed President Clinton to make it the aim of American foreign policy to 'remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.' The signatories of that 1998 letter are today a Who's Who of senior ranking officials in this administration: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of State John Bolton, Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman, and National Security Council senior officials Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad."[9]

In the Bush Administration

During her tenure working in the State Department under Colin Powel and later Condoleezza Rice, Dobriansky was a vocal supporter of the Bush administration's democracy agenda in the Middle East and more generally of its “Freedom Agenda.” She often described U.S. foreign policy as based on principles of democracy and human rights but ignored U.S. abuses committed in prosecuting the “war on terror.” For example, upon the release of the State Department's annual human rights report in March 2005, Dobriansky argued, "Promoting human rights is not just an element of our foreign policy, it is the bedrock of our policy and our foremost concern."[10] The report condemned the use of "torture techniques" by countries like Egypt, Libya, and Iran—techniques that that had been described by Donald Rumsfeld and other administration figures, in the context of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, as merely "abuses."

Dobriansky’s first post in the Bush administration was as undersecretary of state for global affairs. In July 2005, her portfolio was extended to include democracy promotion, though she had been working on democracy issues previously. According to her State Department biography, in this post Dobriansky was “responsible for a broad range of foreign policy issues, including democracy, human rights, labor, refugee and humanitarian relief matters, and environmental/science issues."[11]

In 2003, Dobriansky took to the pages of Foreign Affairs to defend President Bush’s democracy policies. “Any effort to juxtapose or contrast our efforts to win the war against terrorism and our democracy-promotion strategy is conceptually flawed. Pan-national terrorist groups (such as al Qaeda) and rogue regimes (such as that of the Taliban or of Saddam Hussein) pose grave threats to democratic systems, as do the xenophobic, intolerant ideologies that they espouse. Accordingly, fighting against these forces is both in our national security interest and a key ingredient of democracy promotion. And democracy promotion is the best antidote to terrorism.”[12]

After President Bush's much-ballyhooed second inaugural, Dobriansky frequently repeated the president’s message about spreading "democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture … [and] ending tyranny in our world."[13] In March 2005, at the opening of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Dobriansky said, "History is calling to us—democracy is on the march everywhere, and it is the imperative of our time to rally to this cause. Georgia's Rose Revolution and Ukraine's Orange Revolution freed millions and inspired countless more who are still living under despotism. People around the world saw citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Authority choosing their own governments and knew that they too should have that right. In Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, the people have raised their voice for a true democracy with free and fair elections and a sovereign nation free from foreign occupation and influence. There is now enormous momentum for democracy to reach every corner of the globe."[14]

According to her State Department biography, Dobriansky’s background includes having “lectured and published articles, book chapters, and op-ed pieces on foreign affairs-related topics, ranging from U.S. human rights policy to East European foreign and defense policies, public diplomacy, democracy promotion strategies, Russia, and Ukraine. For three years, she hosted Freedom's Challenge and co-hosted Worldwise, the international affairs programs on National Empowerment Television. Additionally, she has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN Headline News, CNN & Company, Fox Morning News, John McLaughlin's One-on-One, The McLaughlin Group, C-SPAN, MSNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio, and has testified often before the Senate Foreign Relations and House International Relations Committees."[15]

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[1] Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Paula Dobriansky," http://www.defenddemocracy.org/about-fdd/team-overview/dr-paula-j-dobriansky/; Freedom House, "Paula Dobriansky," http://www.freedomhouse.org/content/paula-j-dobriansky.

[2] Belfer Center, “Paula Dobriansky,” http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/1979/paula_j_dobriansky.html; Freedom House, "Paula Dobriansky," http://www.freedomhouse.org/content/paula-j-dobriansky.

[3] Mitt Romney 2012 Presidential Campaign press release, “Mitt Romney Announces Foreign Policy And National Security Advisory Team,” October 6, 2011,   http://www.mittromney.com/blogs/mitts-view/2011/10/mitt-romney-announces-foreign-policy-and-national-security-advisory-team.

[4] Belfer Center, “Paula Dobriansky,” http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/1979/paula_j_dobriansky.html.

[5] State Department, Biography of Paula J. Dobriansky, http://web.archive.org/web/20060110212048/http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/2969.htm (Web Archive).

[6] Belfer Center, “Paula Dobriansky,” http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/experts/1979/paula_j_dobriansky.html.

[7] Project for the New American Century, “Statement of Principles,” June 3, 1997, http://web.archive.org/web/20070811201657/http:/www.newamericancentury.org/statementofprinciples.htm.

[8] Project for the New American Century, “Letter to President Bill Clinton,” January 26, 1998, http://web.archive.org/web/20070810113947/www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm.

[9] Robert Kagan and William Kristol, "Right War," Weekly Standard, October 1, 2001.

[10] Farah Stockman, "U.S. Sounds Alarm on Human Rights," Boston Globe, March 1, 2005.

[11] State Department, Biography of Paula J. Dobriansky, http://web.archive.org/web/20060110212048/http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/2969.htm (Web Archive).

[12] Paula J. Dobriansky, “The Core of U.S. Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, May June 2003, http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20030501faresponse11226/paula-j-dobriansky-thomas-carothers/democracy-promotion.html.

[13] George W. Bush, Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 2005, http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres67.html.

[14] Paula J. Dobriansky, “U.S. High-Level Segment Statement at the Sixty-first Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights,” Geneva, Switzerland, March 17, 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/rls/rm/2005/43555.htm.

[15] State Department, Biography of Paula J. Dobriansky, http://web.archive.org/web/20060110212048/http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/2969.htm (Web Archive).

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Dobriansky, Paula Résumé


  • Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Member, Leadership Council

  • Freedom House: Board Member

  • Project for the New American Century: Letter Signatory

  • Atlantic Council: Board Member

  • Independent Women's Forum: Former Advisory Board Member

  • Hudson Institute: Former Adjunct Fellow

  • National Endowment for Democracy: Former Vice-Chair

  • Council on Foreign Relations: Former Vice President and Director of the Washington Office; Former George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies

  • Bob Dole's 1996 Presidential Campaign: Foreign Policy Coordinator

  • American Council of Young Political Leaders: Former Board Member


  • State Department: Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs (2001-2009); Special Envoy on Northern Ireland (2007); Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (1987-1990)

  • U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy: Former Member

  • U.S. Information Agency: Associate Director for Policy and Programs (1990-1993)

  • 1990 Copenhagen Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: Deputy Head of U.S. Delegation

  • 1985 UN Decade for Women Conference: Advisor to U.S. Delegation

  • National Security Council: Director of European and Soviet Affairs (1980-1987)


  • Thompson Reuters: Senior Vice President and Head of Government Affairs (Americas)

  • Baker Hostetler: International Affairs and Trade Advisor

  • Hunton & Williams: Senior International Affairs and Trade Advisor (1994-1997)


  • Harvard University: M.A. and Ph.D. in Soviet Political-Military Affairs

  • Georgetown University School of Foreign Service: B.S.F.S. Summa Cum Laude, International Politics


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