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

Hillel Fradkin

  • Hudson Institute: Senior Fellow

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Hillel Fradkin is a specialist in Islamic studies and a noted Straussian scholar based at the Hudson Institute.[1] Fradkin has a long track record of working with neoconservative and other "pro-Israel" organizations, including the American Enterprise Institute(AEI), the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the Jerusalem Summit, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center.[2] Fradkin has also worked for conservative foundations like Olin and Bradley, where he served as a program officer and vice president, respectively.

Fradkin currently directs Hudson's Center for Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World. The center publishes a journal called Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, which Fradkin's Hudson bio calls "the leading journal on contemporary Islamism (sometimes known as militant or radical Islam)."[3]

Fradkin has published scores of commentaries about events in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Hudson's vice president and a former aide to Dick Cheney who was convicted of perjury for his role in the "Plamegate" scandal, is a frequent coauthor. Together, Fradkin and Libby have written numerous articles bemoaning what they regard as the diminished influence of the United States in the Middle East under the Obama administration.

"Today, our adversaries have renewed hopes of expelling the United States from the Middle East," they wrote in late 2011. "They hope to show that now it is America that will not support friends, punish enemies, or achieve our aims. For the first time since World War II, they have some reason to expect success." Blaming Washington's diminished standing on, among other things, uprisings that weakened autocratic U.S. allies and the Obama administration's early willingness to negotiate with Iran, the two concluded that "we may be forced once again to take aggressive action that might otherwise have been avoided" had the United States intervened in Iran's civil unrest in 2009, kept its troops in Iraq, or taken any number of other hawkish policy recommendations on the Middle East.[4]

Fradkin has been especially critical of the U.S. relationship with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has called Erdogan, a democratically elected Islamist leader who has suffered fraught relationships with Turkish progressives, a "neo-Ottoman" ruler who "hopes to bulldoze the modern legacy of [the secular founder of modern Turkey Kamal] Ataturk, amend Turkey's constitution to create a presidency more powerful than even Ataturk ever held, and then restore the glory of Ottoman Turkey and the caliphate that once bound the Sunni Islamic world together."[5] According to Fradkin and Libby, President Obama "anointed" Erdogan as a Middle Eastern leader under the supposition that "American leadership" in the region would be "counterproductive." Obama's "2009 anointment of Erdogan," they wrote, "was meant precisely to avoid such a role for Obama, [in Syria] or anywhere else in the Middle East. Erdogan's recent failures are failures not only for his own policy but for the president's."[6]

Fradkin has expressed similar distrust of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, another Islamist group that has competed in democratic elections. In the April 2011 issue of the neoconservative Commentary magazine, Fradkin and Libby mused on the possibility of the Brotherhood taking control of the country after the ouster of the U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak. "A state either under the direction of the Muslim Brotherhood or deeply influenced by it will adversely affect our position in a crucial part of the world," they claimed. "Secular forces would recede. More radicals would be schooled. Islamists would dominate the most populous and most developed countries in the Middle East—Iran, Turkey, and Egypt." Suggesting that the Brotherhood would target Jews for annihilation, they added, "The dire straits in which Israel would find itself would not be limited to the Jewish state alone. At long last, and to the world’s great peril, the Muslim Brotherhood would have no more need of caution."[7]

They reiterated their claims a year later after the Brotherhood announced that it would run a presidential candidate in the country's first-ever democratic elections for head of state. The Brotherhood, they said, regarded democracy as a process that "could be discarded as soon as the unity of obedience to a rightful leadership could be achieved."[8] After Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohamed Morsi won the presidency, he was deposed by a military coup in July 2013, just a year after taking office.

Fradkin and Libby have repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for not escalating its intervention in Syria's civil war more precipitously, arguing that the war's stalemate primarily benefits Iran. "Syria remains a battleground in two wars," they wrote in a 2012 Hudson brief, "a low grade war between Sunni [powers] and Shia Iran, and a one‐sided war between Iran and U.S. One‐sided, because the U.S. has chosen to absorb blows rather than respond." They added, "In this and other conflicts the Obama administration would like to think that there is a low cost ‘win/win’ solution just around the corner. But the present conflict has only a ‘win/lose’ resolution—Assad stays or goes. Iran and its proxies are not about to abandon this battle yet. Unfortunately, seeking a near term solution to this dilemma entails prospects of taking stands and incurring costs that the U.S. Administration has been unwilling to face."[9]

The two have similarly criticized the Obama administration's policy toward Iran as insufficiently aggressive. "Years from now, when the world knows how events have turned out," they wrote, "historians will inevitably ask: What unnecessary risks did our presidents foolishly run? President Obama’s Iran policy will be high on this list." Though Fradkin and Libby credited Obama with "abandon[ing] his prior reliance on Iran’s good nature," they faulted him for not "seeking tough measures early in his administration, when their bite might have had years to work." Although U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies have continually denied that Iran is actively building a nuclear weapon, the authors claimed that we are "only a year or so from the time when Iran could have enriched enough uranium for a nuclear weapon" and implied that only military action, not sanctions, could mollify the purported threat. "Had [Obama] pushed for sanctions earlier," they concluded, "we could have exposed the problems associated with that route and dealt with them earlier. Instead, we are dealing with them now, in the shadow of disaster."[10]

Iraq War and "Why They Hate Us"

A proponent of attacking Iraq in the wake of 9/11, Fradkin joined an influential group of hardline and neoconservative figures in signing the Project for the New America Century's September 20, 2001 letter calling for the ouster of Saddam Hussein, even if he was not connected to the terror attacks. According to the PNAC letter, "It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism."[11]

Fradkin has attempted to explain the terrorist threat to the United States in terms of civilizational envy. "Muslim teachings envision a world united under Islam, but in modern times the previously great cities of the Arab and Ottoman Empires have become weak and the Muslim world has diminished politically, militarily, and economically when compared with the progress of European civilization," he wrote shortly after the 9/11 attacks. "It is therefore no wonder that Muslim radicals want to destroy the West. … The Islamic world itself has stopped improving; Muslim leaders have not appropriated those aspects of modernity that made their rivals strong. Worse still, Muslims have intermittently tried to adopt defective forms of modernization—especially various types of socialism. What they have not lastingly tried is democratic capitalism. Almost all Muslim countries are still ruled by some form of autocracy—some softer, some harsher—and most of their autocrats are corrupt. The Muslim world has a truly glorious past—not only politically and militarily but also intellectually and spiritually—and a diminished and humbling present. The natural consequence is disappointment, shame, even despair. The contrast with life in today's powerful advanced democracies like the United States is stark and often embittering."[12]

Fradkin attempted to develop a similar argument regarding Washington's European allies. "Why do they hate us?" he wondered. "Haven't we been good for and to them?" He added: "It is not surprising that people in [the Middle East] will doubt our motives until we actually undertake this mission [to overthrow Saddam Hussein]. They have been burned too many times. What is surprising is the criticism, scorn, and even hatred heaped upon us by our European allies for any venture in Iraq, either the limited goal of removing Saddam Hussein or the more ambitious one of helping Iraq chart a new democratic future. These criticisms are often presented as friendly advice. But they are neither friendly in tone nor even coherent and persuasive counsel."[13]

Despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq in the years after the invasion, Fradkin, like many of his colleagues at the Hudson Institute, turned his attention to pushing regime change in Iraq's Mideast neighbors. In a May 2006 article for the Weekly Standard, Fradkin brushed aside growing concerns that the United States might attack Iran, claiming that already then-president Mahmoud "Ahmadinejad and Iran have declared war on the United States. Many reasons are given, but the most fundamental is that the United States is a liberal democracy, the most powerful in the world and the leader of all the others. Liberal democracy, [Ahmadinejad] says, is an affront to God, and as such its days are numbered. It would be best if President Bush and others realized this and abandoned it. But at all events, Iran will help where possible to hasten its end." Fradkin argued that "liberal democrats" must "declare that they have no intention of abandoning their way of life and see no need to do so, since they are fully prepared to defend it and because that way of life provides the resources—political, economic, and military—to defend itself. It is necessary to inform Ahmadinejad and his radical allies that they are in for a real fight."[14]

Fradkin has also been associated with the now-defunct Benador Associates, the New York-based publicity firm that played a central role in publicizing the voices of several neoconservative figures in the years after the 9/11 attacks. Headed by Eleana Benador, Benador Associates clients included Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Michael Ledeen, Frank Gaffney, Meyrav Wurmser, and several other prominent neoconservatives whose hawkish opinions, according to journalist Jim Lobe, "proved very hard to avoid for anyone who watched news talk shows or read the op-ed pages of major newspapers" in 2002 and 2003.[15]

Fradkin’s publications on religion and philosophy include With All Your Heart, Soul, and Might: Freedom, Morality, and Politics in the Hebrew Bible (1998); "Religious Liberty and the Integrity of Piety," in Religious Liberty and Secularism (1998); "Philosophy or Exegesis: Perennial Problems in the Study of Judeo-Arabic Philosophic Authors," in Studies in Muslim-Jewish Relations III (1997); and "A Word Fitly Spoken: The Interpretations of Maimonides and the Legacy of Leo Strauss," in Leo Strauss & Judaism: Jerusalem and Athens Critically Revisited (1996).


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[1] Hudson Institute, “Hillel Fradkin bio,” Hudson Institute website, http://www.hudson.org/learn/index.cfm?fuseaction=staff_bio&eid=FradHill.

[2] For more on Leo Strauss, see Jim Lobe, "The Strong Must Rule the Weak," Foreign Policy In Focus, May 12, 2003; for an example of Fradkin's work on Strauss, see "Philosophy and Law: Leo Strauss as a Student of Medieval Jewish Thought," The Review of Politics, Winter 1991.

[3] Hudson Institute, Hillel Fradkin bio, http://www.hudson.org/learn/index.cfm?fuseaction=staff_bio&eid=FradHill.

[4] Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, "Last Man Standing: Is America Fading in the New Middle East," World Affairs Journal, September/October 2011, http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/last-man-standing-america-fading-new-middle-east.

[5] Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, "Erdogan's War on Ataturk's Legacy," Hudson Institute, June 25, 2013, http://www.hudson.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publication_details&id=9638.

[6] Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, "Erdogan's U.S. Visit," National Review, May 15, 2013, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/348290/erdogan%E2%80%99s-us-visit.

[7] Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, "Egypt's Islamists: A Cautionary Tale," Commentary, April 2011, http://www.hudson.org/files/publications/egypts-islamists-a-ca.pdf.

[8] Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, " The Brotherhood's Walking Korans," RealClearReligion, April 18, 2012, http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2012/04/18/the_brotherhoods_walking_korans.html.

[9] Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, "Playing Cards in Syria," Hudson Institute, March 2012, http://www.hudson.org/files/publications/PlayingCardsinSyria20120328.pdf.

[10] Hillel Fradkin and Lewis Libby, "Wasted Years," National Review, September 3, 2012, http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/315694/wasted-years-hillel-fradkin.

[11] Project for the New American Century, “Letter to President Bush,” Project for the New American Century website, http://www.newamericancentury.org/Bushletter.htm.

[12] Hillel Fradkin, "Why They Hate Us," American Enterprise Institute, December 1, 2001.

[13] Hillel Fradkin, "America Among the Nations," National Review Online, January 31, 2003.

[14] Hillel Fradkin, "Reading Ahmadinejad in Washington," Weekly Standard, May 29, 2006.

[15] Benador Associates, “Speakers,” Internet Archive website, http://web.archive.org/web/20021208085332/http://www.benadorassociates.com/speakers.php; Jim Lobe, "The Andean Condor among the Hawks," Asia Times, August 15, 2003.

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Hillel Fradkin Résumé


  • Hudson Institute: Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World
  • Jerusalem Summit: Member, International Advisory Board
  • Ethics and Public Policy Center: Former President
  • Project for the New American Century: Letter Signatory
  • American Enterprise Institute: W.H. Brady Fellow, 1987-1998
  • Benador Associates: Former Speaker
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: Vice President, 1988-1998; Senior Program Officer, 1986-1988
  • National Council of the National Endowment on the Humanities: Member, 1988-1994
  • Barnard College, Columbia University: Department of Religion, Assistant Professor, 1979-1986
  • John M. Olin Foundation: Program Officer, 1983-1986
  • Yale University: Visiting Instructor, Department of Political Science, 1977-1979
  • University of Maryland: Assistant Director, Project on Islamic Thought, 1977-1979


  • U.S. Department of Education: Former Member, Advisory Committee on International Education
  • National Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities: Former Member
  • U.S. Army: 1969-1972


  • Cornell University: B.A., Government
  • University of Chicago: Ph.D., Islamic and Jewish Thought and History


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