The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a Washington, D.C.-based policy group founded in 2002 to promote bipartisan solutions to "the key challenges facing the nation," focusing on both domestic and foreign policies. Founders included former senators Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, and George Mitchell.
Despite having bipartisan credentials as well as a broad slate of domestic and foreign policy projects, BPC has developed a reputation as a key inside-the-beltway supporter of hawkish security and defense policies, particularly with respect to Iran.
BPC has also increasingly aligned itself with groups that are opposed to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. In November 2014, BPC co-hosted an event with the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) ahead of the then looming deadline for negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. The event featured speakers such as FDD executive director Mark Dubowitz, Eric Edelman of FPI, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Iran-hawk Ray Takeyh, all of whom pushed for greater congressional involvement in the negotiations.
Commenting on the event, Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service wrote: "How was it that the foreign policy project of a 'bipartisan' organization—founded by two relatively liberal former Democratic Majority Leaders and two relatively moderate former Republican Majority Leaders—was effectively captured and held captive for no less than seven years by hard-core neoconservatives determined to sabotage a top foreign-policy priority of a sitting Democratic president?"
A November 2014 BPC's National Security project report on Iran's nuclear program claimed that Iran "continues to test the boundaries of the current diplomatic process" and that a list of purported "minor infractions serves both to set a precedent and to probe the international community's willingness to punish transgressions." According to a December 2014 State Department briefing, Iran has kept all of its commitments under the interim-nuclear deal reached in November 2013 and extended until July 2015.
In December 2012, Dennis Ross, Charles Robb, and Michael Makovsky—members of BPC's "Iran Task Force"—published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal apparently attempting to make an economic case for launching a U.S. strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. "Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons carries various risks, but inaction has its costs, too—especially to the price of oil and, in turn, to the U.S. economy," they wrote. Arguing that a nuclear-armed Iran would be more likely to enter into conflict with Saudi Arabia or Israel, the trio predicted significant increases in the cost of fuel and an economic slowdown leading to the loss of 1.5 million American jobs. "As American and other policy makers contemplate what it will take to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions," they concluded, "they must not dwell exclusively on the potential short-term impacts of economic pressure or military action. Over the medium and long term, the economic costs of a nuclear Iran may be no less real and far more enduring."
National Interest writer John Allen Gay took the trio to task for skirting the actual costs of a U.S. strike on Iran. "They claim that those advocating 'inaction'… are shortsightedly considering the high price of war now while neglecting the costs of instability later," he wrote. "But is 'action'—meaning war—really such a farsighted and strategic measure? Is there a price to be paid for peace that won't come due with an attack? Robb, Ross and Makovsky do not address this, yet this is the most crucial question of all." Gay noted the shared assessment of many experts that an attack on Iran would likely fail to destroy Iran's nuclear program permanently and could simply solidify the regime's desire to acquire a weapon, as well as encourage it to take "more dastardly and aggressive forms of retaliation" in the future, perhaps backed by Russia or China. "Living with an Iranian bomb brings new and serious risks," he concluded. "Yet military action might not reduce any of them, and it will certainly come at a steep price of its own. 'Inaction' is expensive. It is just not clear that any of the proposed alternatives are cheaper."
Staff and Programs
In 2013, BPC had roughly $24 million in revenues and hd a staff of some 100 people working in several key program areas, including economic policy, energy, and national security.
As of 2014, BPC's president was Jason Grumet, a cofounder of the center whose résumé includes directing the National Commission on Energy Policy. BPC's senior vice president was Julie Anderson, a former manager of the Climate Change Campaign for the Union of Concerned Scientists and a special assistant for legislative affairs for President Bill Clinton. Other notable principals at the time included John C. Fortier, a former research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who led BPC's Democracy Project, and Chuck Wald, retired four-star general who chaired BPC's board of directors. Other board members included former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine; Dennis Archer, former mayor of Detroit; Walter Isaacson, director of the Aspen Institute; and former U.S. Senator Charles Robb.
Although BPC has a 501(c)3 non-profit status, it has an affiliated lobbying arm called the Bipartisan Policy Center Advocacy Network, which according to BPC engages "in advocacy and strategic outreach and education to bolster the legislative center and support efforts that bring Republicans and Democrats together on the difficult issues facing the country."
BPC runs five major programs, including Economic Policy, Energy & Infrastructure, Governance, Health, and National Security Programs. Nestled within its national security division is its special "Foreign Policy Project," which is headed by Robb and Wald, along with former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, former ambassador Eric Edelman, former undersecretary of state Paula Dobriansky, among others. BPC also has a "Homeland Security Project," which is headed by former 9/11 commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, and has a numerous panelists, including former Rep. Chris Carney and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III.
Although it provides policy recommendations on everything from housing and energy to governance and health, BPC is particularly well known for its advocacy on security and defense polices, the issue area overseen for many years by the well-connected neoconservative figure Michael Makovsky, a veteran of the controversial Bush-era Office of Special Plans who has long-standing ties to Israeli politics. Makovsky is a former visiting fellow at the Claremont Institute and his brother, David Makovsky, is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a spin off of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In April 2013, Makovsky left BPC to become CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a neoconservative-aligned advocacy group that works to build military-to-military ties between the United States and Israel.
BPC formerly operated a "Task Force on Iran," which was co-chaired by former Sen. Charles Robb and current BPC chair Chuck Wald. Most members of this task force, including Wald, have moved on to join the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs' Gemunder Center Iran Task Force, a group whose briefings on Iran recommend increasing "pressure" on the country while negotiations are still on-going.
In June 2012, Robb and BPC Foreign Policy Project Advisor Stephen Rademaker testified before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) "to explain the Iranian nuclear threat and the option of using credible, visible preparations for military action to stop Iran's nuclear development as a last resort," according to the a BPC press release.
From 2006 until his departure in 2013, Makovsky was the center's main public face promoting U.S. military action against Iran. He led various BPC teams in publishing reports about Iran's nuclear program, often penning articles for neoconservative outlets like the Weekly Standard and promoting policy suggestions directly to legislators—including a May 2012 letter to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the hawkish chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, claiming that "a nuclear Iran represents the most pressing threat to the national security of the United States." The letter presaged Robb and Rademaker's June 2012 HASC testimony by arguing that sanctions and diplomacy must be coupled with "visible credible preparations for a military option."
In a March 2012 Standard article published during the lead-up to President Barack Obama's appearance at the annual AIPAC convention, Makovsky argued that the United States should work to prevent Iran from developing the "capability" to build nuclear weapons—in contrast to preventing the acquisition of the weapons themselves. Makovsky did not elaborate on how exactly the United States could go about implementing such a policy.
However, a February 2012 BPC policy paper, which mentioned Makovsky's role as a staff director, suggested a plan of action aimed at making U.S. and Israeli threats to Iran appear more "credible." The report, titled "Meeting the Challenge: Stopping the Clock," argued that the United States should "increase its naval deployments to the Gulf, scale up the frequency and size of its military exercises there, and augment the offensive strike capabilities of its Gulf Arab allies."
The 2012 policy paper was just the latest in a series of BPC papers dating back several years promoting confrontational approaches to relations with Iran. In 2008, for example, a Makovsky-led BPC team that produced the report "Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development," whose lead drafter was American Enterprise Institute fellow Michael Rubin, an outspoken proponent of militarist U.S. policies in the Middle East. Other participants included Henry Sokolski; Obama Middle East adviser Dennis Ross; Pentagon official Ashton Carter: Stephen Rademaker, and Kenneth Weinstein, CEO of the Hudson Institute.
The report argued that despite Iran's assurances to the contrary, its nuclear program aims to develop nuclear weapons and is thus a threat to "U.S. and global security, regional stability, and the international nonproliferation regime," a conclusion that contrasted sharply with the CIA's November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that Iran had put its efforts to develop nuclear warheads on hold. The report stated, "As a new president prepares to occupy the Oval Office, the Islamic Republic's defiance of its Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards obligations and United Nations Security Council resolutions will be among the greatest foreign policy and national security challenges confronting the nation." In contrast to many realist assessments of the situation, the report contended that "Cold War deterrence" is not persuasive in the context of Iran's program, due in large measure to the "Islamic Republic's extremist ideology." Thus, even a peaceful uranium enrichment program would place the entire Middle East region "under a cloud of ambiguity given uncertain Iranian capacities and intentions."
The report advised that the new U.S. president bolster the country's military presence in the Middle East, which would include "pre-positioning additional U.S. and allied forces, deploying additional aircraft carrier battle groups and minesweepers, emplacing other war material in the region, including additional missile defense batteries, upgrading both regional facilities and allied militaries, and expanding strategic partnerships with countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia in order to maintain operational pressure from all directions." In addition, the new administration should suspend bilateral cooperation with Russia on nuclear issues to pressure it to stop providing assistance to Iran's nuclear, missile, and weapons programs. And, if the new administration agrees to hold direct talks with Tehran without insisting that the country first cease enrichment activities, it should set a pre-determined compliance deadline and be prepared to apply increasingly harsh repercussions if the deadlines are not met, leading ultimately to U.S. military strikes that would "have to target not only Iran's nuclear infrastructure, but also its conventional military infrastructure in order to suppress an Iranian response."
Calling the report a "roadmap to war," Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service wrote, "In other words, if Tehran is not eventually prepared to permanently abandon its enrichment of uranium on its own soil—a position that is certain to be rejected by Iran ab initio—war becomes inevitable, and all intermediate steps, even including direct talks if the new president chooses to pursue them, will amount to going through the motions (presumably to gather international support for when push comes to shove).… What is a top Obama advisor [Dennis Ross] doing signing on to it?"
In October 2008, a month after the BPC report on Iran was released, Makovsky was a featured speaker at a Hudson Institute conference titled "U.S.-Israeli Relations at a Crossroads? Challenges to the Special Relationship." The conference hosted a range of speakers, including Daniel Levy from the liberal New America Foundation, as well as several neoconservative-aligned ideologues, like Elliott Abrams, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.
Another key item on BPC's agenda is defense spending, where the center has at times charted a moderate course. In November 2010, for instance, the BPC "Debt Reduction Task Force"—co-chaired by former Sen. Pete Domenici and President Clinton's former budget director, Alice Rivlin—released a report that provided a set of recommendations for reducing the federal deficit that included making defense cutbacks. Itcalled for a five-year freeze on defense spending, canceling various weapons systems, and reducing the number of soldiers and marines by 275,000 (nearly 10 percent off total active-duty personnel and reservists).
The suggestions contrasted sharply with those pushed by other hawkish policy outfits, noted Jim Lobe at the time, including "three defense contractor-backed think tanks—the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative and the far-right Heritage Foundation," who jointly published a report at roughly the same time as the BPC's Debt Reduction Task Forcereport warning that defense cuts threatened the nation's security.
More recently, however, BPC has criticized defense cuts that could occur in 2013 as a result of sequestration, which entails automatic cuts to both military and domestic programs triggered by Congress' inability to reach an agreement on the deficit. Echoing views pushed by conservative groups like the Lexington Institute and high-profile national security hawks like former Vice President Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney adviser Dov Zakheim, BPC published a report in June 2012 that claimed the defense cuts would jeopardize U.S. national security. Titled "Indefensible: The Sequester's Mechanics and Adverse Effects on National and Economic Security," the report stated:"At a time when the military is reorienting its missions to new strategic priorities and seeking to modernize its forces as two major land wars wind down, these across-the-board cuts will make it significantly more difficult to ensure readiness, procure new weapons systems, and invest in new technology to meet emerging threats."
The report added: "Such cuts, blind to strategic priorities, will leave the U.S. military unable to implement effectively any credible national security strategy—whether President Obama's or any other one—because arbitrary reductions will have taken the place of deliberative planning. Cuts made in this fashion will eliminate almost all of DoD's discretion to preserve funding for the most important and efficient national security missions and capabilities."
In contrast to this alarmist assessment, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report in July 2012 that downplayed the overall impact of the sequester, stating: "Accommodating those reductions … could be difficult for the department to manage because it would have to be done over only nine months. Even with that cut, however, DoD's base budget in 2013 would still be larger than it was in 2006 (in 2013 dollars) and larger than the average base budget during the 1980s."
Commenting on the contrast between the CBO assessment and the alarmist views expressed by Republican leaders, the defense industry, and the secretary of defense, defense industry expert Winslow Wheeler, told ThinkProgress: "The comments from many—but not all—Republicans, most defense manufacturers and the secretary of defense that they regard a budget well above Cold War averages to be a catastrophe is consciously constructed, misinforming hysteria."