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

Talent, Jim

  • American Enterprise Institute: Senior Fellow
  • Former Senator (R-MO)

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Jim Talent, a former Republican senator from Missouri, is senior fellow at the neoconservative  American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and formerly a “distinguished fellow” at the right-wing Heritage Foundation.[1]

Since losing his Senate seat in 2006, Talent has served as an adviser to a string of GOP presidential candidates. He supported Mitt Romney in both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and served as a foreign policy adviser to the former Massachusetts governor’s 2012 bid. More recently, Talent was a member of Sen. Ted Cruz‘s 2016 presidential campaign’s foreign policy advisory team, or “national security coalition,” joining a host of other foreign policy hawks like Elliott Abrams, Michael Ledeen, and Frank Gaffney[2]

After the election of Donald Trump, Talent was mentioned as a possible contender for Defense Secretary despite his disagreements with Trump. During the election campaign, Talent criticized Trump’s Middle East policies, in particular his stance on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In a March 2016 opinion piece for the National Review he criticized Trump for arguing that the United States should be a “neutral broker” in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. While Talent had no doubt that Trump was adept at “making deals,” he argued that “the Israeli–Palestinian dispute is not about money. … It’s about whether there should be a Jewish state. On that subject, the United States cannot be neutral, and cannot sound as if it is.”

Despite Talent’s criticism of Trump, some observers have speculated that he could be tapped by a President Trump for a cabinet post. The suggestion was floated during an August 2016 interview with right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt. According to one account, Hewitt asked Trump “If he named experts like Ambassador John Bolton as secretary of state and Jim Talent as secretary of defense, wouldn’t he add some serious foreign policy chops to his campaign and silence critics who say he has no experience in this important area?” Trump responded saying only that he was seriously considering Bolton.

At AEI, Talent reportedly serves as “director” of the “National Security 2020 Project.” In this capacity, according to AEI, he is leading a team of experts “working on the formulation and promulgation of a new paradigm for defense policy, planning, and budgeting.”

As a key Romney surrogate on defense-spending issues during the 2012 campaign, Talent helped take the lead in responding to the Obama administration’s proposed defense budget for 2013, which slowed the growth of defense spending and advocated a “leaner and meaner” military, Talent told  Foreign Policy, “One of the amazing things about it is that it’s explicitly a budget-driven decision, in other words there’s no pretense that this is a change based on strategic analysis. … [I]t encourages other countries to believe that they can provoke and challenge us, and it will end up costing us more money. It’s so much an explicit confession of bankruptcy in terms of defense policy, I almost don’t know how to respond to it.”[5]

In February 2012, Talent and fellow Romney adviser John Lehman issued a joint press release for the Romney campaign accusing President Barack Obama of “placing our Navy—and our national security—in a precarious position” and calling for substantial new investments in navy shipbuilding and weaponry.[6]

In December 2010, Talent penned an op-ed for the neoconservative Weekly Standard criticizing outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates for what Talent considered the secretary’s shortcomings on a host of security issues. “A review of Gates’s record on issues other than Afghanistan and Iraq,” wrote Talent, “shows he has made some key mistakes that have worsened the trend” of declining American power. Talent criticized Gates for “using ’resource constraints’ as an excuse for cutting defense programs,” for “fail[ing] to stand up for missile defense,” and for neglecting naval upgrades and other programs “to ensure the United States will be able to contain Russia, Iran, and especially the growing power of China.”[7]

As the vice chair of the WMD Terrorism Research Center, Talent invoked the specter of “rogue states” to argue for increased U.S. spending on bioterrorism readiness. Talent, reported the St. Louis Beacon in October 2011, “warned about the possibility that ‘a nation-state would empower one of those [terrorist] groups to launch an attack’ using biological weapons. ‘And if you cannot attribute’ such an attack, ‘deterrents don’t work. So there is a huge need’ for better science to be able to trace a germ warfare attack.”[8]

Talent is hawkish on Iran, arguing that the historic 2015 nuclear deal should be withdrawn. He has endeavored to paint Iran as an a dangerous and isolated power in the Middle East, once writing that  “One of the few good things to come from the despicable WikiLeaks of U.S. diplomatic cables is that they demonstrate that Muslim leaders who are closest to the Iranian regime—and who know it best—are emphatic that Iran is an aggressive and ongoing state sponsor of terrorism, that it must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons capability and that it cannot be trusted.”[9] The “Muslim leaders” Talent was referring to were the monarchs of the conservative Sunni regimes in the Gulf, who have long had a simmering rivalry with the Shiite and anti-monarchical Iran.

Talent was a loyal ally of the George W. Bush administration during his tenure in the Senate. During his 2006 reelection race, which he narrowly lost to Democrat Claire McCaskill, Talent called McCaskill’s opposition to the Bush administration’s detainee treatment and warrantless wiretapping programs “weak.” And though he hadn’t yet entered the Senate when the body voted to authorize President Bush to strike Iraq, Talent said during the 2006 campaign that he would have authorized the war even knowing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, since “it was the only possible strategic choice.”[10]

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[1]  Jim Talent, AEI, https://www.aei.org/scholar/jim-talent/.

[2] Ted Cruz 2016, “Ted Cruz Announces National Security Coalition,” March 17, 2016, https://www.tedcruz.org/news/ted-cruz-announces-national-security-coalition/; AboutMittRomney.com, “Missouri endorsements of Mitt Romney,” http://aboutmittromney.com/state/missouri.htm. See also MittRomney.com, “Mitt Romney Announces Foreign Policy And National Security Advisory Team,” October 6, 2011, http://www.mittromney.com/blogs/mitts-view/2011/10/mitt-romney-announces-foreign-policy-and-national-security-advisory-team.

[3] Heritage Foundation, Jim Talent bio, http://www.heritage.org/about/staff/t/jim-talent?query=Jim+Talent.

[4] RedState.com, “Jim Talent Makes the Case for a Bigger Military,” undated, http://archive.redstate.com/stories/featured_stories/jim_talent_makes_the_case_for_a_bigger_military/.

[5] Josh Rogin, “Team Romney: The Obama White House is unstable and its policies are dangerous,” Foreign Policy “Cable” blog, February 10, 2012, http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/01/10/team_romney_the_obama_white_house_is_unstable_and_its_policies_are_dangerous

[6] MittRomney.com, “Sen. Jim Talent and Former Navy Sec. John Lehman: Mitt Romney will Restore the U.S. Navy,” February 6, 2012, http://www.mittromney.com/news/press/2012/02/sen-jim-talent-and-former-navy-sec-johnlehman-mitt-romney-will-restore-us-navy.

[7] Jim Talent, “The Gates Legacy,” Weekly Standard, December 13, 2010, http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/gates-legacy_520697.html?nopager=1.

[8] Robert Koenig,” Former Sens. Talent and Graham warn of bioterrorism risks,” St. Louis Beacon, October 12, 2011, https://www.stlbeacon.org/#!/content/15017/former_sens_talent_and_graham_warn_of_bioterrorism_risks.

[9] Jim Talent, “Confirmed: Suspicion of Iran is universal,” Washington Times, December 17, 2010, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/dec/17/confirmed-suspicion-of-iran-is-universal/.

[10] Washington Times, “Talent stresses independence from Bush,” October 9, 2006, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2006/oct/9/20061009-123828-5283r/?page=all.

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Talent, Jim Résumé


  • Ted Cruz Campaign Adviser: 2016
  • American Enterprise Institute: Senior Fellow
  • Mitt Romney Campaign Adviser: 2012
  • Heritage Foundation: Distinguished Fellow, 2007–
  • WMD Terrorism Research Center: Vice chair


  • U.S. Senate (R-MO): 2003-2007
  • U.S. House of Representatives (R-MO): 1993-2001
  • Missouri House of Representatives: 1985-1993
  • U.S. Court of Appeals: Former clerk


  • University of Chicago: JD
  • Washington University (St. Louis): BA


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