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

James Kirchick


Kirchick
    • Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Fellow
    • New Republic: Contributing Editor

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James ("Jamie") Kirchick is a fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a contributing editor at the New Republic. A former writer-at-large for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Kirchick has also contributed to various rightist outlets like the Weekly Standard and Commentary magazine's Contentions blog, as well as numerous mainstream publications, including the Los Angeles Times and Politico.[1]

On Anti-Semitism

Like others of his ideological kin—such as Lee Smith, also at FDD—Kirchick has wielded accusations of anti-semitism in an effort to sideline those who are critical of hardline Israeli polices and one-sided U.S. support for them. In a February 2012 op-ed for Israel's liberal Haaretz, Kirchick defended "pro-Israel" U.S. writers like Josh Block—a fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and former AIPAC spokesperson—who had been criticized for arguing that progressive, Democratic Party-affiliated organizations like the Center for American Progress (CAP) allowed their writers "to say borderline anti-semitic stuff." Kirchick misleadingly claimed in the article that Block was "ultimately vindicated" when CAP criticized use of terms like "Israel-firster" in its publications.[2] However, it was Block who was forced to back off his anti-semitism claims, telling a reporter that anyone "suggesting" the he thinks CAP is anti-semitic is simply trying "to distract from what I am actually saying."[3] Kirchick apparently missed this retraction from Block.[4]

According to Kirchick, the real back story to this episode is what he calls a growing "leftist McCarthyism" aimed at "questioning the loyalties of American Jews." To support this claim, Kirchick argued—without providing any supporting evidence—that big-name scholars and journalists in the United States have recently experienced success in their careers precisely because of their willingness to criticize Israel. He wrote: "Figures ranging from University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer to journalists Peter Beinart and Andrew Sullivan have all seen their careers blossom as a result of their harsh and unrelenting criticism of Israel. Indeed, obsessively attacking Israel is a bona-fide way to resuscitate one's career, not destroy it." He concluded: "Since the 1950s, liberals have routinely accused conservatives of 'McCarthyism. Now the tables have turned, and it is leftists questioning the loyalties of American Jews."[4]

Responding to Kirchick's op-ed piece, Haaretz contributor Mairav Zonszein ridiculed the FDD scholar, saying that he failed "to mention that many of those employing the term 'Israel-firster' are deeply concerned about Israel's future and about regional stability, and are no different from members of the Israeli peace camp—not to mention that some of them are Jewish themselves." Zonszein added that Kirchick "blatantly ignores the highly divisive role Israel plays in U.S. politics. American Jewish organizations are constantly battling over the definition of 'pro-Israel,' a term monopolized by powerful groups like AIPAC to mean 'Israel right or wrong.' … 'Pro-Israel' has become political currency in the presidential race, despite bearing divergent connotations. For Newt Gingrich, the term means denying the existence of a Palestinian nation (and thus ruling out a two-state solution); for Mitt Romney, it means ensuring security at all costs (and thus discounting Israeli settlements as a problem). For Barack Obama, it means what it has meant for previous American administrations: A secure Jewish nation-state based on the '67 borders, alongside a viable Palestinian state."[6]

Zonszein concluded: "Kirchick has it backward when he argues that the language of the far right has seeped into the left. It is, rather, Israel's far-right policies that increasingly clash with American liberal and democratic values. Long before Peter Beinart became famous for pointing to a conflict between Zionism and liberalism, academics and policymakers warned that unbridled American support for Israel (spearheaded by AIPAC's bullying influence on Congress) would backfire. This concern first surfaced in 1982 during the first Lebanon War, when many Americans began to wonder whether Israeli values were in line with American ones. It is reappearing again now within the context of a possible attack on Iran, on top of the incessant Israeli settlement project in the West Bank—a relentless policy that not only undermines Israel's claim to being a democratic state, but undercuts America's ability to be an honest broker of a two-state solution."[7]

On Ron Paul

Among Kirchick's more widely noted articles is his January 2008 New Republic piece about libertarian leader Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). Titled "Angry White Man," the article sought to throw light on Paul's track record as he gained national attention as a Republican Party presidential candidate who opposed the war in Iraq. Reviewing the various newsletters that Paul published over the years, Kirchick wrote that they reveal "decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays. In short, they suggest that Ron Paul is not the plain-speaking antiwar activist his supporters believe they are backing—but rather a member in good standing of some of the oldest and ugliest traditions in American politics."[8]

In late 2011, as Paul's campaign to be the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee began to gain momentum as a result of surging poll numbers in some primary states, Kirchick published a follow up piece to his 2008 New Republic article. Kirchcik lamented that despite Paul's "voluminous record of bigotry and conspiracy theories," his star remains "undimmed." He added: "Not only do the latest polls place him as the frontrunner in the Iowa Caucuses, but he still enjoys the support of a certain coterie of professional political commentators who, like Paul himself, identify as libertarians." Kirchick highlighted support from the likes of blogger Andrew Sullivan as well as numerous other writers. He concluded: "If Paul is responsible for conjuring the apocalyptic atmosphere of a prophet, it's his supporters who have to answer for submitting to it. Surely, those who agree with Paul would be able to find a better vessel for their ideas than a man who once entertained the notion that AIDS was invented in a government laboratory or who, just last January, alleged that there had been a 'CIA coup' against the American government and that the Agency is 'in drug businesses.'"[9]

Paul responded to the criticism surrounding his association with the newsletter by claiming that at the time he did not read the offending material and that he does not endorse the views espoused therein. His Republican primary opponents attempted to capitalize on the issue. Newt Gingrich said: "These things are really nasty, and he didn't know about it, wasn't aware of it. But he's sufficiently ready to be president? It strikes me it raises some fundamental questions about him."[10]

Experience and Trajectory

Kirchick joined the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) in November 2011, which was announced—together with the hiring of the abrasive "pro-Israel" writer Lee Smith—in a November 2011 press release. Said FDD executive director Cliff May, "Lee and Jamie are two of the most probing, incisive and insightful journalists covering the international scene today. They will add important dimensions to FDD's national security and foreign policy analysis."[11]

Kirchick is an erstwhile liberal who apparently had veered to the right by the time he arrived at Yale, where he graduated in 2006. In a 2007 article for the Boston Globe about dating difficulties as a conservative gay man, Kirchick described himself as a "gay recovering leftist," adding that "there's nothing about my homosexuality that dictates a belief about raising the minimum wage, withdrawing immediately from Iraq, and backing teachers' unions: all liberal causes that I strongly oppose."[12]

In 2006, as a contributor to the Yale Daily News, Kirchick was named Student Journalist of the Year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; in 2007, the association named him Journalist of the Year.[13]

On foreign policy, Kirchick has proved a steadfast critic of the Barack Obama administration as well as of those who oppose one-sided U.S. support for Israel or other militarist Middle East polices. In November 2011, for example, Kirchick linked hawkishness toward Iran with criticism of the Obama administration's "reset" of relations with Russia. When Moscow criticized a 2011 International Atomic Energy Agency report about apparent progress in the Iranian nuclear program, Kirchick took to theWall Street Journal to call it "the latest and most devastating blow to Mr. Obama's 'reset' policy," which he claimed was promoted as a mechanism to bring Russia into the U.S. fold with respect to Iran. Kirchick also criticized the reset initiative more generally, disapproving of the New START agreement on nuclear disarmament, the Obama administration's decision to cancel planned missile defense bases in Czech Republic and Poland (although he neglected to mention that the sites were moved to Turkey), Washington's lapse in arms sales to Georgia, and Russia's admittance to the World Trade Organization.[14]

Kirchick has echoed neoconservative arguments about the need for the United States to be constantly militarily engaged abroad. In a May 2011 editorial for World Affairs, Kirchick argued that the death of Osama din Laden should not mean the end of the "war on terror," but rather serve as a rallying cry for more U.S. military intervention. Channeling hawkish rhetoric about the dangers of isolationism, Kirchick wrote: "President John Quincy Adams famously said, while serving as secretary of state, that America "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own." … As Robert Kagan explained in the pages of World Affairs not long ago, this view of an America that stands idly by as monsters wreak havoc overseas has never held much sway with the American people. It certainly doesn't seem to be a popular view today, at least judging by the joyous reactions of Americans celebrating in the streets. We obviously can't topple all of the world's dictators, but we have a pretty good track record. As Osama bin Laden's bullet-ridden corpse sinks to his watery grave, here's to searching for, and destroying, more monsters."[15]

In a February 2011 New Republic piece, Kirchick disingenuously argued that neoconservatives were really not ideologically committed to right-wing Israeli policies given the differing reactions between them to the tumult in Egypt. He wrote: "The events in Egypt have laid bare a stark divide between neoconservatives and the Israeli elite: While the former are ecstatic about the fall of Mubarak and the prospect of a democratic Egypt, the latter are waryat best." Disregarding the deep and enduring ties between leading neoconservatives and Likud Party figures in Israel—as well as their many common ideological goals—Kirchick pointed to the views of some neoconservatives like Elliott Abrams to dismiss the idea that the neocons are "lackeys of Israel."[16]

As other observers pointed out, however, even within neocon circles, there were varying responses to the "Arab Spring." But despite these differences, nearly all neoconservatives—along with their likeminded Likud Party friends—saw in the events a potential opening for regime change in Iran. As Jack Ross wrote in an article for Right Web: "During the recent upheavals across the Greater Middle East, the various iterations of the neoconservative line—the optimistic pro-democracy, the paranoid Islamophobic, or the brazen combination of both—have all tended to share a single major fallacy: that the opposition movement in Iran, the so-called Green movement, is a movement that seeks the same goals as neoconservatives and their allies. This central premise presumes a number of unsupportable notions, including that the Green movement seeks to abolish the Islamic Republic, opposes the Iranian nuclear program, and wants to overhaul Iranian foreign policy."

In 2009, Kirchick joined a chorus of largely right-wing commentators who vociferously opposed the appointment of diplomat Charles "Chas" Freeman as chair of the U.S. National Intelligence Council. Freeman, a realist who served as Richard Nixon's interpreter in China and decades later as a U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, encountered fierce resistance from hawkish Israel backers for his criticisms of Israeli policy and U.S. support for it, as well as for his ties to China and Saudi Arabia.

Kirchick lambasted Freeman on each of these counts in a May 2009 Politico piece entitled "Freeman's soft spot for dictatorships." In response to the argument that Freeman was being excoriated for crossing the "Israel lobby," Kirchick issued a variation of a common right-wing trope about alleged Arab influence in Washington. "The elevation of Freeman provides welcome opportunity for a debate about a lobby, one just as well-financed and professionally staffed as the groups that support America's strong relationship with Israel — that is, the one shilling for the House of Saud," he wrote. "While a pro-Saudi Arabia lobby does not enjoy nearly the same level of domestic support as the pro-Israel lobby (primarily because Saudi Arabia, unlike Israel, does things like behead homosexuals, ban women from driving and outlaw the practice of Christianity), the Saudis — and the Gulf states in general — have far more sympathizers in high-level positions in the State Department than does Israel, which is, and always has been, friendless at Foggy Bottom."[17]

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Sources

[1] FDD, James Kirchick, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/about-fdd/team-overview/james-kirchick/.

[2] James Kirchick, "A Case of Leftist McCarthyism?" Haaretz, January 13, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-case-of-leftist-mccarthyism-1.407064.

[3] Ben Smith, "What's Anti-Semitic?" Politico, December 9, 2011, http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/1211/Whats_antiSemitic.html?showall.

[4] Ali Gharib, "Josh Block Backs Down From False Accusation That ThinkProgress And CAP Are Anti-Semitic," ThinkProgress, December 9, 2011, http://thinkprogress.org/security/2011/12/09/386673/josh-block-backs-down-from-false-accusation-that-thinkprogress-and-cap-are-anti-semitic/.

[5] James Kirchick, "A Case of Leftist McCarthyism?" Haaretz, January 13, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-case-of-leftist-mccarthyism-1.407064.

[6] Mairav Zonszein, "The downside of unbridled support for Israel," Haaretz, January 27, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-downside-of-unbridled-support-for-israel-1.409414.

[7] Mairav Zonszein, "The downside of unbridled support for Israel," Haaretz, January 27, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-downside-of-unbridled-support-for-israel-1.409414.

[8] Kirchick, "Angry White Man," New Republic, January 8, 2008, http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/angry-white-man.

[9] Kirchcik, "Why Don't Libertarians Care About Ron Paul's Bigoted Newsletters?" New Republic, December 22, 2011, http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/98811/ron-paul-libertarian-bigotry

[10] Meghan Keneally, "Raw footage shows Ron Paul DIDN'T storm out of CNN interview over racist newsletters... the interview was simply done," Online Mail, December 24, 2011, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2078343/Raw-footage-shows-Ron-Paul-DIDNT-storm-CNN-interview-racist-newsletters--interview-simply-done.html#ixzz1hdmM7YmA.

[11] FDD, "FDD Welcomes Lee Smith and James Kirchick as Fellows," November 2, 2011, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/fdd-welcomes-lee-smith-and-james-kirchick-as-fellows1/.

[12] Kirchick, "Left Out," Boston Globe, August 5, 2007, http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/articles/2007/08/05/left_out/.

[13] Campus Progress, James Kirchick, http://campusprogress.org/bios/full/james_kirchick/.

[14] Kirchick, "A Blow to Obama's Russia 'Reset,'" Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204323904577035611159741488.html.

[15] Kirchick, "In Search of Monsters to Destroy," World Affairs, May 2011, http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/james-kirchick/search-monsters-destroy-bin-laden-and-beyond?page=0%2C2.

[16] Kirchick, "What Israel Means for Israelis and the U.S. Neocons," New Republic, February 28, 2011, http://www.tnr.com/article/84249/israel-neoconservatives-egypt-defense.

[17] Kirchick, "Freeman's soft spot for dictatorships," Politico, May 3, 2009, http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=C8FC0C85-18FE-70B2-A8E4747B4C9F0C4F.

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James Kirchick Résumé

    Affiliations

    • Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Fellow (2011 - )
    • New Republic: Contributing Editor
    • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Former Writer-at-Large

    Education

    • Yale University: 2006

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