Walid Phares is a right-wing pundit and university professor who appears on Fox News and writes columns for a variety of publications on issues related to terrorism, the Middle East, and U.S. foreign policy. Phares has been closely associated with neoconservative advocacy groups, having served as a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Phares states on his CV on his personal website that he "has been an advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives Caucus on Counter Terrorism since 2007 and is the Co-Secretary General of the Trans Atlantic Legislative Group on Counter Terrorism since 2008. He is Fox News Terrorism and Middle East Expert since 2007 and has been MSNBC-NBC Terrorism Analyst from 2003 to the end of 2006 [sic]. He teaches [sic] Global Strategies at the National Defense University in Washington DC since 2006."
Like many of colleagues on the far right, Phares has accused the Obama administration of supporting Islamist movements in the Middle East. In a December 2012 Fox Business interview, Phares claimed that outside of Washington, "Everybody knows—or at least everybody criticizes or accuses—the Obama administration of being a partner, of pushing, of helping the Morsi government [in Egypt]. And before that, the engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood. It's a well-known reality."
The preceding month, as secular and liberal Egyptians protested against perceived power grabs by the country's Muslim Brotherhood government, Phares wildly claimed in an interview with the conservative Newsmax that the Obama administration had given the Brotherood "the green light" to sideline its critics. "Are they going to be siding with the Muslim Brotherhood authoritarian regime," he wondered, "or they are going to siding with the real Arab Spring?"
In January 2015, Phares claimed that President Obama was pursuing a policy of "appeasement" towards terrorists, which he argued had led officials to "think that they are solving the issue." He added: "The problem is that this administration and the president are receiving a perspective and analysis and advice from a whole pyramid of advisers who are advising that we should not engage in a confrontation with the jihadists."
Phares argued that "academic intellectuals" are ultimately responsible for this approach toward terrorism by pushing the U.S. government to focus on domestic matters. "Now you have hundreds and hundreds of advisers of academic intellectuals who are framing the debate, with the executive branches mostly—and most of them with Congress, with [the] media. So, now, the elite is blocking the government, various governments, from understanding what the threat is, diverting them into other issues, such as, 'Oh, they don't have jobs,'" Phares proclaimed.
In October 2011, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney included Phares on a list of foreign policy advisers filled with neoconservatives and other like-minded foreign policy hardliners, including Eliot Cohen, Robert Kagan, Michael Chertoff, Eric Edelman, John Lehman, Dan Senor, Vin Weber, and Paula Dobriansky. Commenting on the list, Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service wrote that most of the advisers "are known for their neo-conservative and strongly pro-Israel views. Remarkably, three of the top advisers … serve on the four-man board of directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the ideological successor to the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Regarding Phares, Lobe wrote that he is "controversial for his past ties to the militant Phalange movement in Lebanon," a right-wing Christian militia that was notorious for its violent repression of Palestinians, committing several massacres during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990).
During the 2012 campaign, Phares made a number of controversial statements regarding U.S. foreign policy. In May 2012, for instance, Phares claimed that Al Qaeda had somehow gotten stronger despite the killing of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders since the election of President Barack Obama. Wrote Phares: "[E]liminating Osama Bin Laden was part of the war withal [sic] Qaeda and an act of justice. But reality [sic] is that al Qaeda after Bin Laden's killing is stronger everywhere it has a presence. From Yemen to Somalia, to the Sahel, as wel [sic] as in Pakistan and Afghanistan, al Qaeda has more militants, more battlefields and a new generation of commanders. Killing Bin Laden was one single operation in a war that is raging and growing."
Commented a writer for the ThinkProgress blog: "Phares provides no information to back this assertion which seems to fly in the face of U.S. intelligence assessments and the accomplishments made by the U.S. military and intelligence community in reducing al Qaeda's operational capabilities."
According to As'ad Abukhalil, a professor of political science at California State University, Phares has "had three careers and all are relevant in bizarre ways to the U.S. presidential campaign." During the Lebanese civil war, Phares "allied himself with the right-wing militias, armed and financed by Israel. In his official curriculum vitae, Phares describes himself as a writer and lawyer in Lebanon at this time but he was more and less than that. He assumed a political position in the hierarchy of the militias and founded a small Christian party in the late 1970s and early 1980s."
Phares later joined a right-wing coalition called the Lebanese Front, which consisted of various sectarian parties and militias that opposed the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Assad and the Muslims of Lebanon. "Phares's role was not small, according to Beirut newspaper accounts. He served as vice chair of another front's political leadership committee, headed by a man named Etienne Saqr, whose Guardians of Cedar militia voiced the slogan 'Kill a Palestinian and you shall enter Heaven.' … The Front was also backed by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, a bitter foe of the Syrians." Quips Abukhalil, "It seems unlikely that Romney knew much about this chapter in Phares' career when he tapped him as an advisor."
After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and the U.S.-supported ouster of General Michel Aoun from the Lebanese presidency, Abukhalil continues, "Phares resurfaced in Florida in where he began a second career as an academic 'expert on terrorism.' He obtained a PhD at the University of Miami and seemed to model himself after conservative writer Fouad Ajami, but without Ajami's claims to scholarship. … Before long he became a favored Middle East expert in U.S. media. With an Arabic name, he came across—to the ill-informed viewer—as an 'indigenous expert.' He even sprinkled his English commentary with Arabic words. His shtick was not exactly original. He reliably articulated Israeli definitions of 'terrorism,' in which indiscriminate violence against civilians, even the killing of children, when perpetrated by Israel, do not qualify."
In 2006, Phares "launched a third career as policy entrepreneur," becoming a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that serves as home base for a number of neoconservative ideologues, and took up teaching a course at the National Defense University. He became a favorite of the neoconservative set advising President George W. Bush, began testifying before Congress, and became a regular on Fox News.
According to Abukhalil, Phares offers a separate persona when interviewed in Arabic-language media. "He has even made appearances on Aljazeera. But there is a curious difference in Phares' commentary for the Arab media. On Arab TV, he speaks cautiously and does not make outlandish claims about Islamic terrorism. For all his pro-Israeli statements in English, he never articulates them in Arabic."
Like his neoconservative colleagues, Phares' writings tend to make wild claims about the "threat" Islam poses to "Western civilization," often painting Islamists as irrational and uncompromising. After the October 2011 killing of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula figure Anwar al-Awlaki by a U.S. drone attack, Phares wrote at Newsmax.com that "western-minded people, or non-Jihadi individuals in the Arab world, understand the concept of deterrence. The jihadists, Salafists, or Khomeinists alike, are brought up to feed from the martyrdom of their leaders. … The reason behind this clone-like phenomenon is ideology, which is in fact the center of al-Qaida, not its leaders. The ideology was created by jihadism, not the other way around."
Phares has been especially critical of certain western academics and politicians he accuses of minimizing the Islamist threat. In a 2007 article for the American Thinker, for example, he lambasted scholars like John Esposito for trying to propagate a more nuanced understand of the concept of "jihad." "[B]y convincing westerners that al Qaeda and its allies are not the real jihadists but some renegades," Phares wrote, "the advocates of this school would be causing the vision of western defense to become blurred again so that more time could be gained by a larger, more powerful wave of Jihadism that is biding its time to strike when it chooses, under a coherent international leadership."
Phares frequently appears at conferences alongside other neoconservative figures. In 2006, for example, Phares was featured at a conference on "Understanding the Iranian Threat" hosted by the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC). Other speakers included former CIA Director James Woolsey and Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
In June 2015, Phares praised a letter signed by numerous hawkish former officials and experts in support of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), a militant Iranian organization that advocates for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran and was until 2012 on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. "American luminaries are advocating for the U.S. government to open up direct, collaborative talks with the Iranian resistance," Phares said of the letter, which was signed by neoconservative figures like former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, retired four star general Charles Wald, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, and former George W. Bush officials Paula Dobriansky and Mitchell Reiss.
Phares added that the statement was presented to MEK leader Maryam Rajavi at a rally in Paris, which he says pushed for regime change in Iran. "The message delivered at this rally is one of broad-based change in Iran—away from the religious fascism of the current regime and towards true democracy," Phares wrote. In the same article, Phares compared Iran to ISIS, claiming that "there are few real distinctions between those two groups."
In June 2007, Phares participated in widely noted "Democracy and Security Conference" in Prague, whose primary agenda seemed to be to promote the neoconservative Mideast agenda among political groups overseas. Sponsored by the Prague Security Studies Institute, the Jerusalem-based Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies (funded by Sheldon Adelson), and Spain's Foundation for Social Analysis and Studies, the conference's featured speaker was President George W. Bush, who compared the "war on terror" to the Cold War. He said, "The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not bullets or bombs—it is the universal appeal of freedom. Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul."
Other conference participants included Peter Ackerman of Freedom House; former Spanish Prime Minister José Aznar; Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute; Jeffrey Gedmin of Radio Free Europe; Reuel Marc Gerecht, Joshua Muravchik, Michael Rubin, Michael Novak, and Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI); Farid Ghadry of the U.S.-based Reform Party of Syria; former Czech President Vaclav Havel; Bruce Jackson of the Project on Transitional Democracies; Josef Joffe of Germany's Die Zeit; Garry Kasparov, the famous chess player and member of the Russian opposition party United Civil Front; Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT); Tod Lindberg of the Hoover Institution; Herb London of the Hudson Institute; Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Harold Rhode, a former Pentagon employee; and Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies.
Phares was also a featured "expert" in the controversial 2009 documentary film The Third Jihad, which was produced by the Clarion Fund and widely distributed in the United States. According to its website, the film "focuses on an FBI-discovered secret document—the manifesto of the American Muslim Brotherhood. It describes the 'grand jihad' goal of destroying Western civilization from within by infiltrating and dominating North America. The film reveals the agenda of the radical Muslim leaders in America and provides viewers with an impressively crafted look at the immediate dangers posed."
The synopsis reminded one journalist of the infamous racist volume The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. "Secret, recently uncovered documents. A 'goal of destroying Western civilization from within.' A grand conspiracy organized by a globally networked religious minority. Sound familiar yet? Could be because it's echoing one of the most influential and persistent conspiracy theories of all time, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion … [which] detailed the sinister Jewish plan for world domination," wrote reporter Eli Clifton.