Eric S. Edelman is a career U.S. diplomat and former advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney who serves on the boards of a number of hawkish policy groups, including the Foreign Policy Initiative, an advocacy group founded in 2009 by neoconservative figures William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor. In 2011, Edelman became a board member of the United States Institute for Peace, a bipartisan congressionally funded think tank. Since 2009, Edelman has been a "distinguished fellow" at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), where he leads projects on national security policy, strategy, and alliance issues. Edelman has also been a visiting scholar at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, directed by Eliot Cohen, and a senior associate of the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.
CSBA president Andrew Krepinevich has described Edelman as "an enormously talented scholar and practitioner of foreign affairs," and said his "record of accomplishment in applying both 'hard' and 'soft' power, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, makes him ideally suited for CSBA's mission of promoting thoughtful, non-partisan approaches to today's challenging security problems."
Other observers, however, have highlighted Edelman's close association with neoconservative groups and campaigns. For example, Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service reported that when Edelman was tapped to serve as the successor to embattled undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith in 2005, it was due largely to support from the likes of Cheney and Richard Perle. "Edelman … is a career foreign service officer with neoconservative views, albeit not as radical as those of his ultra-Likudist predecessor [Feith]. Although he has worked for Democratic appointees, most recently former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Edelman's ties to Cheney are of long standing," wrote Lobe, who added that Edelman's Pentagon office had coordinated "closely with Devon Gaffney Cross' London-based Policy Forum on International Security Affairs, a neoconservative outfit that quietly conducts public diplomacy for the Pentagon's policy shop and various like-minded Washington-based think tanks."
During the Obama Administration
In 2011, Edelman's status as key figure on Republican foreign policy was reinforced when presidential candidate Mitt Romney named him to his campaign's foreign and defense policy team. In March 2012, Edelman contributed his name to an open letter to President Barack Obama lambasting the president's record on foreign policy and claiming that his administration had been marked by "weakness and inconstancy" — this despite Obama's record of having ordered the killings of numerous Al Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden, and expanded aerial bombardments of militants in many countries. However, signatories claimed that the president was weakening America by cutting back on missile defense, going easy on Russia, pressuring "the Israelis to grant one-sided concessions to the Palestinians," and cutting defense budgets. Additional signatories to the letter included John Bolton, Eliot Cohen, Robert Joseph, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor, and Walid Phares.
In a Boston Globe op-ed coauthored with fellow Romney advisers Meghan O'Sullivan and Eliot Cohen shortly before the election, Edelman provided a nebulous argument to argue that Obama has made the country less secure: "Because of the last four years, we face a world in which our enemies do not fear us, our friends do not believe they can trust us, and those who maneuver between the two camps feel that they will not get in trouble by crossing us."
In January 2011, Edelman co-wrote, with two CSBA colleagues, an article for Foreign Affairs detailing options facing the Barack Obama administration as it tries to curtail Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions. The article, titled "The Dangers of a Nuclear Iran: The Limits of Containment," argued that the United States should pursue an approach "that brings diplomacy and sanctions, clandestine action, and the threat of military force into alignment." According to Edelman and his coauthors, "Although finding a peaceful way to preclude Iran from getting nuclear weapons is obviously desirable, Washington will likely have to decide between two unattractive options: pursuing a military strike to prevent Iran from going nuclear or implementing a containment strategy to live with a nuclear Iran."
Although not typically grouped with the hawks and neoconservatives who helped push for an expansive "war on terror" in the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks, Edelman was an outspoken and sometimes controversial defender of the Bush administration's foreign policies. For example, in July 2007 he sent an alarmist letter to presidential primary candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), arguing that her efforts to push the Pentagon to begin planning for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq was a boon to terrorists. He wrote, "Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia."
The letter infuriated a number of people, including Clinton, whose spokesperson told the Associated Press that it was "at once outrageous and dangerous." Responding to an inquiry from the widely read blog Talking Points Memo, Defense Secretary Robert Gates appeared to distance himself from Edelman's letter, saying in an e-mail statement, "I have long been a staunch advocate of Congressional oversight, first at the CIA and now at the Defense Department. I have said on several occasions in recent months that I believe that congressional debate on Iraq has been constructive and appropriate."
On other occasions, Edelman has spoken out in support of efforts by Gates to soften the hard line the Pentagon pursued during Donald Rumsfeld's tenure as defense secretary. For example, during testimony on the role of the military in international affairs before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July 2008, Edelman said, "[M]y current boss, Secretary Gates, has been at the forefront of calls to increase funding for the State Department and USAID. … The fact that a Secretary of Defense, who manages the tools of 'hard power,' is a leading voice for increasing our soft power funding speaks volumes about where we have come as a country."
In early December 2008, then-President-elect Barack Obama announced that Gates would stay on as his Pentagon chief; Edelman had already announced in November that he would leave the Defense Department at the end of Bush's term.
In the Bush Administration
President George W. Bush named Edelman ambassador to Turkey a few months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. It was widely speculated at the time that Edelman was named to this key post not only because of his close ties to administration hardliners, but also because of his family connections to Turkey. Edelman's grandmother fled Russia in the early 1920s, and his mother was born in Turkey. His great-uncle taught at Ankara University.
Edelman's stint as ambassador to Turkey coincided with a period of increasing tension between the United States and Ankara. Although the State Department listed the country early on as part of the "coalition of the willing," Turkey was "critical of the war and uncooperative," the Washington Post reported. Strategically important in the Iraq War because of its geographic location, Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to use its territory to open a second front in the Iraq War. However, as the New York Times reported, NATO's Incirlik Air Base in eastern Turkey has been a "strategic, logistics and transfer center for the American military operations in Iraq, and Turkish trucks carrying supplies for allied forces pass into Iraq daily."
While serving in Turkey, Edelman became a lightning rod for deepening anti-U.S. sentiment. The Turkish columnist Ibrahim Karagul wrote, "Edelman is probably the least-liked and trusted American ambassador in Turkish history." In a column for the newspaper Yeni Safak, Karagul wrote, "Considering the range of his activities, his statements which violate the decorum of democracy, and his interest in Turkey's internal affairs, Eric Edelman acts more like a colonial governor than an ambassador. Edelman's actions have exceeded his diplomatic mission. His 'interest' in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Turkish media, and ethnic minorities make him go beyond his role as an ambassador. His presence here has never contributed to Turkish-American relations, and it never will. If we want to address the reasons for anti-Americanism, Edelman must be issue one. As long as Edelman stays in Turkey, the chill wind disturbing bilateral relations will last."
In early 2005, Edelman was nominated to as undersecretary of defense for policy, replacing Douglas Feith, the controversial aide to Donald Rumsfeld who resigned at the end of Bush's first term. At the time of his nomination, many regarded him as a potential candidate for the number-two spot at the State Department after Condoleezza Rice became secretary of state. The Washington Post's Al Kamen wrote at the time, "The latest name du jour for deputy secretary of state is Eric S. Edelman who is seen as someone—perhaps the only one on the planet—who can comfortably straddle all the relevant political worlds. He's a career foreign service officer, a former ambassador to Finland who also worked for then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz and for Clinton Ambassador-at-Large Strobe Talbott. But he also worked for Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney from 1990 to 1993 and for Vice President Cheney from 2001 to 2003 and with Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice frequently when he represented Cheney at top-level meetings."
Edelman began his government career in the Reagan administration. While completing his doctorate in history at Yale University, Edelman joined the U.S. Middle East Delegation to the West Bank/Gaza Autonomy Talks. He then became a special assistant to Secretary of State George Shultz. In 1990, Edelman moved from the State Department to the Pentagon, where he served as assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for Soviet and East European affairs.
Edelman also served under Cheney during the administration of George H.W. Bush. At that time, he became part of a "shop" within the Pentagon that was set up by then-Defense Secretary Cheney "to think about American foreign policy after the Cold War, at the grand strategic level," wrote Nicholas Lehman in the New Yorker.
The work of this shop, which was headed by Paul Wolfowitz, eventually led to the crafting of the 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance, a document that was meant to serve as a post-Cold War framework for U.S. military strategy. Others working on the guidance were Zalmay Khalilzad and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. According to Lehman, the guidance team was "generally speaking, a cohesive group of conservatives who regard themselves as bigger-thinking, tougher-minded, and intellectually bolder than most other people in Washington." However, its plans, which called for actively promoting U.S. predominance throughout much of the world, proved too ambitious for Bush Senior and congressional Democrats. Although the initial draft was immediately retracted after being leaked to the press, it served as a framework for neoconservative advocacy during the 1990s, and many of its ideas resurfaced in President George W. Bush's post-9/11 national security strategy (for more information, see Right Web Profile: 1992 Draft Defense Planning Guidance).
During the Clinton administration, Edelman moved back to the State Department. As ambassador-at-large and special advisor to the Secretary of State for the Newly Independent States, Edelman oversaw defense, security, and space issues, among other later positions in the administration.