Dan Senor is an investment banker and neoconservative pundit who served as a key foreign policy adviser to 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Senor first came to prominence while serving as a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, gaining a reputation as "the spinmeister responsible for selling the early years of the occupation … as a rosy time—even as bombs exploded daily and sectarian violence ripped apart the country."
After leaving the Bush administration, Senor, who is the spouse of former CNN anchorwoman Campbell Brown, became a guest commentator on foreign policy issues for Fox News and a private equity executive. He co-founded the investment firm Rosemont Capital LLC before joining Elliott Management, the hedge fund firm owned by Paul Singer, a billionaire Wall Street investor who was a key financial backer of the 2012 Romney presidential campaign. Senor is also cofounder—with William Kristol and Robert Kagan—of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), viewed by some as a revival of the now-defunct Project for a New American Century (PNAC).
Summarizing his rise through the ranks of the conservative elite, Allison Hoffman of Tablet wrote: "Senor arrived at his current role by way of an itinerant and mostly accidental career that has afforded him access to a wide range of very powerful, very famous, and very rich people. As an ambitious college intern on the Hill, he caught the attention of William Kristol, the editor-in-chief of the Weekly Standard, who gave him entree into the neoconservative circle surrounding George W. Bush. Senor eventually became the face of the Bush Administration's efforts in Iraq, both during his time in Baghdad and later as a television pundit; while he was in Baghdad, he met his future wife, Campbell Brown, then a reporter for NBC. In between he went to Harvard Business School, worked for the Carlyle Group, and started a private-equity firm with his classmate and friend Chris Heinz, stepson of former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry."
According to the New York Times, Senor's relationship with Romney dates back to 2006, when he and a host of "other foreign policy hawks" began advising Romney as he prepared to launch his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign.
During the 2012 presidential election campaign, Senor quickly emerged as one of the former governor's key surrogates on U.S. policy on the Middle East, as well as his "key emissary to Israel's intelligentsia and the Washington policy scene," as Tablet put it.
In July 2012, during the lead-up to Romney's campaign trip to Israel, Senor attempted to set the tone of the candidate's upcoming speech in Jerusalem by arguing that as president Romney would support a go-it-alone Israeli attack on Iran. He told reporters: "If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing [nuclear weapons] capability, the governor would respect that decision." Such a policy would contrast dramatically with the one pursued by President Barack Obama, who has consistently recognized Israel's right to defend itself but has emphasized the negative consequences of a pre-emptive military strike on Iran.
Senor was later forced to walk back his claim, saying in a written statement that Romney "believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded."
Later, in September 2012, Senor was a key Romney campaign figure trying to capitalize on the violence that erupted in the Greater Middle East in reaction to the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. Speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Senor tried to defend Romney's much criticized statement accusing the Obama administration of "apologizing" to the Muslim world for the film and not denouncing the people who attacked U.S. embassies. As Blitzer pointed out, it was the U.S. embassy in Cairo that issued the statement—not the Obama administration or the U.S. ambassador to Egypt—and the statement, which endeavored to distance the United States from the film, was issued before the violence broke out. Pressed to defend Romney against charges that he was trying to exploit a crisis for political gain, Senor said: "We do have a national security crisis. And it is true that we need to unite to find a solution to it. And it won't be easy, because we've got a real mess on our hands. In part because of the policies of President Obama over the last several years in the region."
An early indication that Senor had assumed a key role in the Romney campaign came in April 2012, when he led a campaign conference call with reporters. During the call, Senor attacked President Obama's foreign policy record, highlighting in particular the president's handling of Iran. Despite the Obama administration's insistence that "all options are on the table" with respect to Iran, Senor claimed that the Obama administration "has gone out of its way to convey that the military option is not serious."
Commented one blogger: "Romney's advisers offer, at best, misleading interpretations of Obama administration policies and statements; at worst, they make claims unsupported by the facts. For example, far from 'project[ing] to the world that the military option against Iran is off the table,' Obama has said again and again that all options remain 'on the table' to deal with a potential Iranian nuclear weapons program."
Discussing Romney's decision to tap Senor as a key adviser, the New York Times reported in August 2012: "[Senor's] presence in the tight orbit of advisers around the Republican candidate foreshadows a Romney foreign policy that could take a harder line against Iran, embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move away from being the honest broker in the conflict with Palestinians. … In Mr. Senor, Mr. Romney turned to an advocate of neoconservative thinking that has sought to push presidents to the right for years on Middle East policy. (His sister, Wendy Senor Singer, runs the Jerusalem office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential lobbying organization.)"
These political proclivities, combined with Senor's role in misleading the public during the post-invasion occupation of Iraq, led many observers to criticize Romney's decision to rely on Senor. "There is no greater aberration in American policy than that 2003-4 period, and Dan was the spokesman for that," said Michael Breen, vice president of the Truman National Security Project, who was an army captain in Iraq while Senor was the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in 2003 and 2004. "The CPA was the most dysfunctional organization of any in the last 100 years of American history and now he's a foreign policy adviser for Mitt Romney. That is literally the time and the place that that country descended into chaos, and he was the guy telling the American people that it was going well."
In an ironic addendum to his reputation for disingenuous optimism, two weeks after Romney lost to Obama in the 2012 election, Senor told television host Joe Scarborough that "a systematic crisis in the world of polling" had gripped the Romney camp during the campaign, with "right-of-center" internal Romney polls coming up "way off" the actual result. The remark was perceived by many as a tacit admission that Republicans had willfully insulated themselves from facts and narratives that were unfavorable to their candidate.
In their own post-mortems of the election, other commentators used Senor as an emblematic figure for the neoconservatism they said had been voted out of the White House. "Dan Senor," wrote the Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy the day after the election, "has no more influence in the White House today than he did yesterday. … The dreams of transforming the world with U.S. troops and tanks that inflamed so many of President Bush's advisers at the start of the Iraq war, will now be dreamt a long way from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
During media appearances after the election, Senor echoed William Kristol's admission that tax hikes for millionaires "won't kill the country," arguing that Republicans needed to do a "better job of thinking through how to talk about middle class economics." He added that the party has also "been suffering on the issue of immigration for years," suggesting that it was dooming its future with Hispanic voters. On the other hand, during an December 2, 2012, interview on ABC News, he attacked Obama for beginning his second term by "humiliating" Republicans with his stance on "fiscal cliff" negotiations and meeting with MoveOn.org instead of "grinding out" and agreement with Rep. John Boehner.
"Pro-Israel" Writer, Pundit, and Activist
An author and opinion writer, Senor has written for neoconservative-leaning outlets like the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Weekly Standard, as well as for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Post.
Senor is also coauthor of the 2009 book Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, written with his brother-in-law Saul Singer, the editor of the conservative Jerusalem Post. According to Gal Beckerman of Forward, "Start-up Nation presents Israel in an extremely positive light as a bastion of entrepreneurial spirit and technological achievement. It skirts a discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians, or even the wealth inequality within Israel, thereby dovetailing nicely with recent public relations efforts by Israel to shift attention away from its problems and toward its achievements."
Despite its shortcomings, Start-Up Nation became a must-read in the "pro-Israel" community, both in the United States and Israel. Tablet characterized the book as "a slim blue-and-white volume [Senor] wrote with his brother-in-law, the Israeli newspaper columnist Saul Singer. Since its release in 2009, at the depths of the financial crisis, the book has become required reading for the entire Israeli government and for much of the American Jewish community. (The Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also keepsa copy on his desk.) The title alone has become shorthand for the modern, techno-centric aspects of Israel, as distinct from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
One of Senor's early experiences working on Israeli political issues came in 1993, when he worked as an intern for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He was once quoted on AIPAC's website, saying of his experience at the "pro-Israel" lobby, "Whether I was learning the ins and outs of Washington with my fellow interns or attending briefings on Capitol Hill, my internship at AIPAC prepared me for my work in politics."
Senor burnished his right-wing "pro-Israel" credentials in 2009, when he cofounded the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI)—a pressure group that promotes U.S. military intervention—with leading neoconservative figures William Kristol and Robert Kagan. Quipped blogger Matthew Yglesias, "Senor's inclusion is especially interesting, since neocons of the Kristol/Kagan ilk ostensibly now believe that the early years of the [Iraq] war were catastrophically mismanaged. And yet here they are with the public face of the mismanagement as their partner in warmongering."
At FPI's first public event, a March 2009 conference titled "Afghanistan: Planning For Success," Senor spoke on panels along with Lt. Gen. David Barno, a retired former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan; Frederick Kagan, brother of Robert and coauthor of a study that reportedly served as a blueprint for the "surge" in Iraq; and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff who was convicted on charges stemming from the PlameGate affair. Other speakers included John Nagl of the liberal-interventionist think tank Center for a New American Security and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
Liberal blogger Matt Duss wrote of the conference, "[G]iven the heavy representation of Iraq war advocates, I think a far better title would be 'Afghanistan: 'Dealing With the Huge Problems Created by Many of The People on This Very Stage.' … It's deeply absurd that some of the people most responsible for the crisis in Afghanistan would now presume to tell us how to deal with it."
Some 20 years younger than his FPI colleagues Kristol and Kagan, Senor spent most of the 1990s working as a foreign policy staffer for then-Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-MI), a founder of the rightist Federalist Society. After getting a Harvard MBA, Senor "then led—and loved—the cushy life of a venture capitalist," according to the New York Times. From 2001 to 2003, he worked for the Carlyle Group, an investment firm with major defense industry holdings and ties to the Bush family, which was formerly led by Republican Party figure Frank Carlucci.
In early 2003, Senor joined the Bush administration as deputy to White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. But within a few months, he accepted a post in the Iraq "theater." From 2003 to 2004, according to his CFR bio, Senor served "as a Pentagon and White House adviser based in Doha, Qatar, at U.S. Central Command Forward, and later based in Kuwait and Iraq."
In Iraq, he advised Ambassador Paul Bremer and acted as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Although only "in country" for 15 months, Senor was one of the longest-serving civilians in Iraq. According to the speaker's bureau that books his appearances, Senor "worked closely with the Bush Administration's national security team, including Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld and Generals Abizaid and Sanchez, as well as senior officials throughout the administration's foreign policy apparatus." Despite his association with the controversial Bremer—who was notorious for his decision to disband the Iraqi army—Senor was awarded the Defense Department's Distinguished Civilian Service Award, one of the Pentagon's highest civilian honors.
In the book Reporting Iraq: An Oral History of the War by the Journalists Who Covered It, Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran recalled that as CPA spokesman, Senor once told reporters, "Paris is burning—but on the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq."
In addition, according to the Washington Post: "In September 2004, the White House controversially employed Senor to coach and ghostwrite the speeches of Iraq's interim prime minister Iyad Allawi during his visit to the U.S., in an effort to enhance the Bush reelection campaign. At the same time, Senor appeared on cable news programs claiming that Allawi's positive remarks (vetted by Senor) supported the Bush Administration's rosy view of the Iraq occupation."
In 2006, Senor and Kristol were both advisors to the pro-Iraq war Vets for Freedom, which was closely tied to the right-wing advocacy group Freedom's Watch. That year, one of Vets for Freedom's main objectives was boosting the reelection efforts of the neoconservative-aligned Sen. Joe Lieberman, who ran as an independent after losing a Democratic primary in Connecticut over his support for the Iraq War. The Wall Street Journal quoted Senor as saying, "These vets are grateful to Sen. Lieberman for not letting politics compromise his positions, and they wanted to express that."
In May 2009, Senor participated in a Hudson Institute symposium on controversial ex-Pentagon official Douglas Feith's book, War and Decision. During the symposium, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz conceded that he and others "were clueless on counterinsurgency." In his blog, veteran Inter Press Service reporter Jim Lobe pointed out that although this admission was undoubtedly the event's headline, also striking was Dan Senor's public disagreement with these icons of neoconservatism. A transcript of the Hudson event would be "worth reviewing," Lobe told his readers, "for the ease with which Senor takes apart virtually every point made by Wolfowitz and Feith and the apparent inability of Wolfowitz or Feith to rebut him. While Senor never suggests that he thinks the original decision to invade Iraq was a mistake, it's pretty clear that he thought the decision was not very well thought out by its principal advocates at the Pentagon."
Despite their early support for some Obama administration policies, in particular the military escalation in Afghanistan, Senor and FPI eagerly joined a chorus of right-wing attacks on Obama for his reaction to the post-election tumult in Iran in June 2009. On June 17, five days after Iran's presidential election, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed written by Senor and Christian Whiton, an FPI "policy advisor," titled "Five Ways Obama Could Promote Freedom in Iran." Among their suggestions: Obama should appropriate funds to boost U.S.-sponsored radio broadcasts into Iran and help dissidents skirt Iranian restrictions on cell phones and Internet access. Like clockwork, a week later Sens. Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain introduced a bill to fund these very activities.
On June 24, USA Today reported that "Obama's comment on Tuesday [June 23] that he would monitor events and 'see how this plays itself out' drew a rebuke from Daniel Senor, a foreign policy adviser to President George W. Bush and now a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. Senor lauded Obama's 'stronger language,' but said he should 'seize the moment instead of observing it.'"
A few weeks later, Senor participated in a debate of the proposition "Diplomacy with Iran Is Going Nowhere," which was broadcast nationwide on public radio. Senor and Liz Cheney, daughter of Dick Cheney and cofounder of another neocon pressure group called Keep America Safe, argued in favor of the motion; retired diplomat R. Nicholas Burns and foreign policy analyst Kenneth Pollack argued against it. Before the debate, 34 percent of the audience agreed with the motion, 33 percent disagreed, and 35 percent were undecided. After the debate, 59 percent of the audience opposed the motion, 35 percent agreed with it, and only six percent were undecided.
In May 2009, Dick Cheney gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute defending the Bush administration's harsh interrogation techniques and attacking President Obama's plan to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. A day later, the New York Times reported, "Though the White House denies that Mr. Cheney's campaign of some weeks to influence the national security debate has played a role, Mr. Cheney's supporters point to Mr. Obama's reversal of a decision to release photographs documenting abuse of American-held detainees as evidence that the former vice president is having an impact. 'Cheney is seriously the only person who's gotten the White House to change its policy,'' said Dan Senor, a former foreign policy adviser in the Bush administration who remains friendly with Mr. Cheney's daughter Liz."