Right Web

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

Karl Zinsmeister

  • Philanthropy Roundtable: Vice President
  • White House Domestic Policy Adviser (2006-2009)
  • American Enterprise Institute: Former Fellow
  • National Review: Former Correspondent

Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.

Karl Zinsmeister served as head of President George W. Bush's Domestic Policy Council (DPC) during Bush’s second term. Zinsmeister, who previously had been a fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and a correspondent for the right-wing magazine National Review, was one of more than two dozen AEI fellows who served in the Bush administration.[1]

An acerbic critic of liberals and proponent of rightist policies on everything from domestic policy to the ”war on terror,” Zinsmeister served as editor-in-chief of AEI's The American Enterprise for more than 10 years before moving to the White House. Zinsmeister was reportedly tapped for the Bush post shortly after being pushed out of his job at The American Enterprise, where colleagues had accused him of mismanagement and megalomania.[2]

In 2011, Zinsmeister joined the Philanthropy Roundtable, a research and advocacy group for conservative foundations and philanthropists, as its vice president for publications. According to the organization's website, Zinsmeister "oversees production of all print and online publications, including Philanthropy magazine, donor guidebooks, the Roundtable’s website, and other communications."[3]

In the Bush Administration

Zinsmeister was appointed to George W. Bush's Domestic Policy Council—an advisory body housed within the Office of White House Policy—in 2006. Although some of Zinsmeister’s fellow conservatives praised his appointment, many of his former AEI colleagues—recalling "the declining quality of his magazine, [Zinsmeister's] questionable use of subscription sales to promote his own books, [and] his unprofessional treatment of co-workers," according to one account—were dismayed. Reported The New Republic, “[Pr]ivately, many conservatives were stunned—and horrified. ‘Everyone who knows Karl that I've spoken to reacted with blatant shock,’ says a former editor at The American Enterprise. Another former staffer at the magazine told me that, after Zinsmeister's hiring, ‘the last vestige of confidence I had in the Bush administration—which wasn't very much—was shot to hell.’ A prominent neoconservative Washington journalist put it this way: ‘Everyone thought it was wacky.’"[4]

After reviewing his work at the AEI magazine, the Washington Post reported: "As Zinsmeister sees it, racial profiling by the police makes sense; the military, if anything, treats terrorist suspects too gently; and casual sex has led to wrecked cities, violence, and 'endless human misery.' In a 'soft, often amoral, and self-indulgent age,' he warned, some children 'will be ruined without a whip hand,' and he assured that 'things generally go better with God.’”[5]

Shortly after his appointment to the DPC, Zinsmeister's credibility came under fire when the "Horse's Mouth," a blog based at the American Prospect magazine, reported that contrary to Zinmeister’s claims—dutifully repeated by the White House and on the American Enterprise website—Zinsmeister was not the magazine's founder. Rather, he merely redesigned it when he took over as editor in 1994, four years after its founding. Greg Sargent, then a blogger at the Horse's Mouth, wrote about the incident: "Is saying you founded the mag when you merely revamped it the biggest whopper you've ever heard? Of course not. But in light of Zinsmeister's troubling tendency to doctor his own past quotes, it's noteworthy nonetheless.”[6]

Earlier, several newspapers, including the New York Sun and the Washington Post, reported that Zinsmeister had once doctored a profile about himself that was originally produced by the Syracuse New Times, changing quotes and then posting the altered profile on his magazine's website without noting the changes. According to the Washington Post, the original Syracuse New Times profile quoted him as saying, "People in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings." On Zinsmeister's doctored profile, the quote was changed to read: "I learned in Washington that there is an 'overclass' in this country stocked with cheating, shifty human beings that's just as morally repugnant as our 'underclass.’”[7]

Zinsmeister told the Washington Post he changed this and other aspects of the profile because he thought they were inaccurate, a claim that came as a big surprise to the profile's author, Justin Park, who had received an admiring email from Zinsmeister after the original profile was published. Zinsmeister told the Post that he never raised the issue with Park or the Syracuse New Times because "I think I would have gotten Justin in worse trouble if I moaned about it."[8]

Style and Writings

Zinsmeister rarely minces words in pointing to what he views as the "deceptions" of others. He once accused President Bill Clinton of being a "virtuoso deceiver" and called Hillary Clinton a "true chameleon" characterized by "self-serving behavior, comparative radicalism, and dubious personal morality." Other politicians and public figures he has targeted include Jacques Chirac, Nelson Mandela, Gerhard Schroeder, and Kofi Annan, all of whom he called "feckless fools.’”[9] Although his White House post involved domestic issues exclusively, Zinsmeister was a vocal proponent of the Iraq War. He once argued that the war on terror is really a war "against a considerable part of Islam." Regarding the treatment of detainees in the war on terror, he wrote: "Would you believe that the number of formal U.S. investigations of how terror detainees are being treated recently reached 189? What mad self-doubt and softness!”[10]

Zinsmeister reported from Iraq during the war, producing numerous articles, two books (as well as a comic book), and a PBS documentary. In a 2005 piece written upon his return from a trip to Iraq, Zinsmeister declared via the title: "The War is Over, and We Won." He wrote: "Contrary to the impression given by most newspaper headlines, the United States has won the day in Iraq. In 2004, our military fought fierce battles in Najaf, Fallujah, and Sadr City. Many thousands of terrorists were killed, with comparatively little collateral damage. As examples of the very hardest sorts of urban combat, these will go down in history as smashing U.S. victories. And our successes at urban combat (which, scandalously, are mostly untold stories in the United States) made it crystal clear to both the terrorists and the millions of moderate Iraqis that the insurgents simply cannot win against today's U.S. Army and Marines.”[11]

In November 2006, Zinsmeister addressed the annual convention of the conservative Federalist Society. William Kristol, Michael Chertoff, Edwin Meese, and Dick Cheney also participated.

Zinsmeister's books include Boots on the Ground (2003), an account of his experience while embedded with the 82nd Airborne during the initial invasion of Iraq, and Dawn over Baghdad: How the U.S. Military is Using Bullets and Ballots to Remake Iraq (2004). In a review of Boots on the Ground, Publishers Weekly opined that the book was a "conservative polemic and a vivid portrait of American infantrymen in action. Zinsmeister, who was embedded with the army as a correspondent for the National Review, makes no bones about his unabashed support for the war, and for the American military in general." The review quoted Zinsmeister as telling readers that he taught his children "to think of military jet noise as 'the sound of freedom.'"[12]

Zinsmeister is also the author of Finger Lakes Feast, a "storytelling cookbook" featuring recipes and information about local food in New York's Finger Lakes region.[13]


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[1] Michael Flynn, "The War Hawks," Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2003.

[2] James Kirkpatrick, "The Enterprising American,” The New Republic, May 21, 2007.

[3] Philanthropy Roundtable, Karl Zinsmeister bio, "http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/who_we_are/staff/karl_zinsmeister.

[4] James Kirkpatrick, "The Enterprising American,” The New Republic, May 21, 2007.

[5] Peter Baker, "A Bush Aide's Blunt Words," Washington Post, June 13, 2006.

[6] Greg Sargent, " Confirmed: American Enterprise Institute Official Says Karl Zinsmeister Didn't Found American Enterprise Magazine, as He and White House Claimed," Horse's Mouth, June 5, 2006, http://www.prospect.org/horsesmouth/2006/06/post_74.html.

[7] Zachary A. Goldfarb, "New Policy Adviser Admits Altering Text," Washington Post, May 30, 2006, p. A15.

[8] Zachary A. Goldfarb, "New Policy Adviser Admits Altering Text," Washington Post, May 30, 2006, p. A15.

[9] Peter Baker, "A Bush Aide's Blunt Words," Washington Post, June 13, 2006.

[10] Peter Baker, "A Bush Aide's Blunt Words," Washington Post, June 13, 2006.

[11] Karl Zinsmeister, "The War Is Over, and We Won," American Enterprise, June 20, 2005.

[12] "Review of Boots on the Ground," Publishers Weekly, September 15, 2003, www.publishersweekly.com/.

[13] Finger Lakes Feast website, http://fingerlakesfeast.com

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Karl Zinsmeister Résumé


  • Philanthropy Roundtable: Vice President
  • American Enterprise Institute: Former Fellow
  • The American Enterprise: Former Editor
  • National Review: Former Correspondent
  • Federalist Society: Presenter


  • White House: Director, Domestic Policy Council (2006-2009)
  • Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY): Former Assistant


  • Yale University: BA 


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