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

Richard Goldberg

Richard Goldberg
  • National Security Adviser: Aide to John Bolton (2019 – )
  • Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Former Senior Adviser
  • Office of Sen. Mark Kirk: Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Foreign Policy Advisor, 2004-2014

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Richard Goldberg is a national security adviser aide in the Trump administration who previously served as a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and as a foreign policy aide to former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL). John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s controversial national security adviser, brought on Goldberg in early 2019 in an apparent effort to shore up anti-Iran sentiment in the wake of the president’s surprise January 2019 announcement that he would withdraw troops from Syria, a move viewed as threatening to the hardliners’ region-change agenda for Tehran.

From 2004 to 2014, Goldberg worked on Capitol Hill, serving as deputy chief of staff and senior foreign policy adviser to former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) of Illinois. From 2015 to 2017, he was the deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs and later chief of staff for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

After Goldberg joined FDD in 2017, he quickly established himself as an outspoken advocate of military action against Iran. In February 2018, for instance, he urged the Trump administration to attack Iranian targets after Israel shot down an Iranian drone that had entered Israeli airspace.[1] Although he had less of a spotlight than some of his more publicly vocal colleagues at FDD, he worked effectively behind the scenes to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal and promote a hostile policy toward the Islamic Republic. According to one writer, Goldberg “urged Trump to wage war on Iran in Syria and to sanction U.S. allies complying with the Iran nuclear deal. He also worked behind the scenes to sabotage Trump administration officials who didn’t want the president to kill the Iran deal.”[2]

After the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey in late 2018, Goldberg defended the Trump administration’s understated response to the incident. He tweeted that Trump’s reaction was necessary because Saudi Arabia “is a critical part of Iran strategy: using its market leverage for sanctions compliance AND oil production to offset lost Iranian crude.”[3] One journalist saw Goldberg’s view as emblematic, stating, “This sums up the necon/FDD stance on the murder/disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi: We want war with Iran, we need Saudis for that. Can’t be inconvenienced by a journalist being kidnapped/cut into pieces.”[4]

Goldberg’s appointment to the NSC appeared to cement FDD as the primary source for the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, particularly its belligerent stance toward Iran. According to one account, Goldberg “takes a view of Iran similar to many of Washington’s most committed Iran hawks. He views the regime in Tehran as akin to the Soviet Union—a hub of a global, anti-American counterculture and internally collapsible if Reagan-style pressure is applied, as he advocates.” The same writer cited congressional testimony where Goldberg—in an effort to defend the anti-Iran cadre against the fact that many of them are the same people responsible for the disastrous invasion of Iraq—said “Regime change has become a loaded political term. We need to look at more of a Cold War-era policy. What was the Reagan administration’s victory policy, rollback policy toward the Soviets? We definitely wanted behavioral change.”[5]

Another FDD ideologue on Iran

At FDD, Goldberg joined a stable of pundits whose primary objective is to promote a confrontational U.S agenda vis-à-vis Iran. Among the policies he focused on was the Iran nuclear agreement, a critical achievement of the Obama administrations aimed at constraining Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for economic relief for Tehran. He argued that if European countries fail to support a U.S. decision to abandon the 2015 agreement, then Washington should respond by barring those countries’ financial institutions as well as businesses from engaging in financial transactions in the United States. “[European b]locking regulations might shield a company from American-levied fines, but they cannot shield a British bank from losing its access to the U.S. financial system. This time around, the downside of U.S. sanctions would far outweigh the upside of Iranian trade,” he wrote. “This raises serious questions about what would happen if Trump’s deadline arrived and Europe remained unwilling to fix the nuclear deal by eliminating its sunset provisions, requiring inspections of Iranian military sites, and prohibiting Iran from further developing or testing any ballistic missiles. If Trump leaves the deal, America’s toughest sanctions could snap back immediately. And while diplomats in Brussels may want to stare Trump down and see if he flinches, banks will not want to take that risk.”[6]

Goldberg also called for sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and other state-controlled media outlets in Iran. In an FDD brief co-authored with Saeed Ghasseminejad, Goldberg wrote, “Iranian state media are an integral part of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s war against the so-called ‘enemies of the revolution.’ The time has come for the U.S. to stop waiving sanctions on IRIB and designate the rest of state media empire, including Tasnim News, Fars News, and IRNA.” He based this call on Iranian human rights violations and dismissed concerns over an agreement the Obama administration made with Iran to refrain from sanctioning the media outlets in exchange for Iran refraining from disrupting regional broadcasts. Goldberg and Ghasseminejad asserted that there was “ample evidence” that Iran was violating that agreement, though they did not elaborate as to what that evidence was.[7]

Once Trump left the deal in May 2018, Goldberg doubled down on his call to action. “By withdrawing from the agreement, Trump unshackled America’s most powerful economic weapons and restored US leverage to push back on the entire range of Iran’s malign activities. Trump must now implement a new strategy that forces Iran to withdraw from Syria and Yemen, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear and missile programs, end its sponsorship of terrorism and improve its human-rights record. Sustained political warfare, robust military deterrence and maximum economic pressure will all be necessary. Pressure will build steadily as our re-imposed sanctions take hold.”[8]

One international law scholar opined that Goldberg and fellow FDD scholar Jacob Nagel “crystallized U.S. hawks’ ultimate objectives vis-à-vis Iran” in a 2018 piece they published in Foreign Policy.[9]“Goldberg and Nagel argue that the Trump administration should use its sanctions authorities to target foreign governments, as well as their agencies and officials, engaged in activities authorized under the JCPOA,” wrote Tyler Cullis. “This includes, in particular, those very activities that seek to reduce the proliferation capabilities of Iran’s nuclear program.” Cullis also observed that Goldberg and Nagel proposed that the U.S. pressure the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into ending all technical assistance to Iran, and to fire all of its Iranian employees. Among other concerns this raised for Cullis, “perhaps the most obvious and distressing consequence of Goldberg and Nagel’s scheme is that if the IAEA were to terminate all technical assistance projects with Iran and to discriminate against Iranian national employees at the agency, Iran would have little choice but to kick the IAEA out of the country and withdraw entirely from the agency’s oversight. … If the ultimate objective of U.S. hawks is not to restrain Iran’s nuclear program and reduce its latent proliferation risks but instead is to create the conditions for war with Iran, then undermining the nuclear accord and ensuring the re-constitution and re-invigoration of Iran’s nuclear program—absent international oversight—may prove the means to doing so.”[10]

Another FDD ideologue on the Israel-Palestine conflict

Goldberg was also a leading FDD ideologue on the Israel-Palestine conflict. One of his first op-eds after joining FDD attacked the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a favorite target for the Israeli right and its supporters. “If President Trump wants to use his financial leverage at the United Nations to strike at the heart of the anti-America, anti-Israel institutional infrastructure, he should look no further than the agency responsible for Palestinian refugees: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency,” Goldberg wrote.[11]

He urged President Trump to establish a definition of Palestinian refugees, limiting the term to those who were displaced in 1948, which is at odds with the Palestinian definition. He recommended “formally adopting a definition for Palestinian refugees that makes a clear distinction between refugees displaced by the 1948 war and their descendants.”[12]

In July 2018, Goldberg and his FDD colleague Jonathan Schanzer called the issue of Palestinian refugees a “scam” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The pair based this assertion on their preferred definition of refugees, which would only include the approximately 30,000 surviving Palestinians from 1948. The common figure of around five million refugees would be “exposed,” according to Goldberg and Schanzer. They further argue that this would fatally undermine UNRWA and would be “the most pro-Palestinian step an American president could take.”[13] They argued that President Trump “can send a clear message to the millions living in Unrwa (sic) camps: Your leaders want to keep you in squalor, while America wants you to prosper.”[14]

Aide in the U.S. Senate and Illinois Governor’s Office

Goldberg gained attention as an outspoken aide for Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) during the 2000s. His FDD bio says that during this time Goldberg was “instrumental in the deployment of a U.S. missile defense radar to the Negev Desert—the first-ever full-time deployment of U.S. forces in Israel.”[15]

In 2013, Goldberg was reported to have played a leading role in the Republican campaign in Congress opposing President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel. Roll Call reported that Goldberg was the source of numerous emails circulated among congressional staffers targeting Hagel: “Richard Goldberg, a deputy chief of staff in Kirk’s office who also focuses on foreign policy issues, has been sending as many as three emails a day to the (staffers’) list, which CQ Roll Call confirmed includes reporters, Republican policy staffers and some Democrats,” reported the magazine. “The emails typically include links or text of articles that cast Hagel—a former Republican senator from Nebraska and President Barack Obama’s secretary of Defense nominee—in a negative light. The chatter within Republican circles, however, is that Kirk’s office has been taking a lead role in the campaign against Hagel’s confirmation. Two sources said they expect Kirk will be more vocal about his concerns in the coming days.”[16]

FDD’s Clifford May wrote that FDD executive director Mark Dubowitz worked with Goldberg to promote sanctions targeting the Central Bank of Iran, the SWIFT financial messaging service, and entire sectors of the Iranian economy. In a 2016 article, May relayed a story by Jay Solomon, chief foreign affairs correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. “Eventually, Mr. Dubowitz, working with Sen. Kirk’s then-deputy chief of staff Richard Goldberg, came up with a ‘financial bomb’—a Belgium-based financial firm called SWIFT—’which hosts the international computer network that facilitates virtually every banking transaction in the world through an extensive messaging and financial tracking system.’ The Obama administration opposed expelling Iran from SWIFT but ‘Congress once again overrode the White House’s concerns and unanimously passed’ legislation in 2012 that ‘de-SWIFTed’ Tehran. By 2013, such measures, ‘were crippling Iran’s economy.’”

In 2015, Goldberg left Kirk’s office to work for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner.

As the governor’s chief of staff, he spearheaded the first-ever state legislation to divest public pension funds from companies engaged in boycotts of Israel, a bill that inspired “anti-BDS bills” across the country and in Congress.[17] The strong backing for the bill from the governor’s office in Illinois, after bills had failed in other states, was important. “It was very clear the bill was being pushed by the Governor’s Office when the first person to submit a witness slip in favor of the bill in the House Executive Committee hearing was Richard Goldberg, Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs for Governor Rauner’s Office,” according to the Chicago Monitor, a left-wing local newspaper.[18]

In 2017, after an Illinois gubernatorial candidate dropped his running mate over accusations that he supported the Palestinians Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), Goldberg said, “Under Governor Rauner’s leadership, Illinois became the first state in America to divest its public pension funds from companies that participate in BDS. This should always be a bipartisan issue and I applaud Congressman Schneider and Senator Biss for making clear to the far-left that BDS has no place in the Democratic Party.”[19]

Additional background

Goldberg holds a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Master’s in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University. He is an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve with prior service in Afghanistan. He is also founder and president of Rapid Global Solutions, a strategic communications and public affairs consultancy business.

SOURCES

[1] Richard Goldberg, “It’s time for Trump to attack Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” New York Post, February 12, 2018, https://nypost.com/2018/02/12/its-time-for-trump-to-attack-irans-revolutionary-guard/

[2] Benjamin Armbruster, ” Bolton Counters Syria Withdrawal, Hires Iran Hawk,” Lobelog, January 9, 2019, https://lobelog.com/bolton-counters-syria-withdrawal-hires-iran-hawk/

[3] Cited In Benjamin Armbruster, ” Bolton Counters Syria Withdrawal, Hires Iran Hawk,” Lobelog, January 9, 2019, https://lobelog.com/bolton-counters-syria-withdrawal-hires-iran-hawk/ as Goldberg froze his Twitter account after his appointment to the NSC.

[4] Bahman Kalbasi, Twitter, October 12, 2018, https://twitter.com/bahmankalbasi/status/1050857154176012294?s=21

[5] Curt Mills, ” John Bolton Taps Iran Regime Change Advocate,” The National Interest, January 7, 2019, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/john-bolton-taps-iran-regime-change-advocate-40917

[6] Richard Goldberg, “Europe’s Sanctions-Blocking Threats Are Empty,” Foreign Policy, February 20, 2018, http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/02/20/europes-iran-deal-threats-are-empty-trump-iran-eu/

[7]Saeed Ghasseminejad and Richard Goldberg, “The Case for Designating Iran’s State Media,” FDD Policy Brief, February 6, 2018, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/the-case-for-designating-irans-state-media/

[8] Richard Goldberg, ” Trump now needs to bring Iran’s economy to its knees,” New York Post, May 8, 2018, https://nypost.com/2018/05/08/trump-now-needs-to-bring-irans-economy-to-its-knees/

[9] Richard Goldberg and Jacob Nagel, ” Here’s How Trump Can Bring Iran Back to the Table,” Foreign Policy, August 28, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/08/28/heres-how-trump-can-bring-iran-back-to-the-table-trump-nuclear-deal/

[10] Tyler Cullis, ” Creating The Conditions For War,” Lobelog, August 31, 2018, https://lobelog.com/creating-the-conditions-for-war/

[11] “Richard Goldberg, “Trump should crack down on UNRWA, finally end fiction of Palestinian ‘refugees,’” New York Post, December 27, 2017, https://nypost.com/2017/12/27/trump-should-crack-down-on-unrwa-finally-end-fiction-of-palestinian-refugees/

[12] “Richard Goldberg, “Trump should crack down on UNRWA, finally end fiction of Palestinian ‘refugees,’” New York Post, December 27, 2017, https://nypost.com/2017/12/27/trump-should-crack-down-on-unrwa-finally-end-fiction-of-palestinian-refugees/

[13] Staff, ” Experts: Declassifying Report on Palestinian Refugees is Necessary for Peace,” The Tower, July 9, 2018, http://www.thetower.org/6438-expert-declassifying-report-on-palestinian-refugees-is-necessary-for-peace/

[14] Jonathan Schanzer, Richard Goldberg, ” Expose the Palestinian ‘Refugee’ Scam,” Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, July 6, 2018, https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2018/07/06/expose-the-palestinian-refugee-scam/

[15] Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “Our Team,” http://www.defenddemocracy.org/about-fdd/team-overview/richard-goldberg1/

[16] Meredith Shiner, “Has Kirk’s Office Been Running a Secret Anti-Hagel Campaign?” Roll Call, January 9, 2013, http://www.rollcall.com/news/has_kirks_office_been_running_a_secret_anti_hagel_campaign-220664-1.html

[17] Lara Friedman, “The Stealth Campaign to Use U.S. Law to Support Settlements: In Congress,” Foundation for Middle East Peace, July 31, 2017, http://fmep.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/pending-BDS-Conflation-bills-in-Congress.pdf

[18] Bill Chambers, “Why is the Anti-BDS Lobby Celebrating Their Non-Victory in Illinois?” Chicago Monitor, May 22, 2015, http://chicagomonitor.com/2015/05/what-is-the-anti-bds-lobby-celebrating-in-their-victory-in-illinois/

[19] Tina Sfondeles, “Gov hopeful Biss dumps alderman as running mate over Israel remarks,” Chicago Sun-Times, September 6, 2017, https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/gov-hopeful-biss-dumps-alderman-as-running-mate-after-israel-remarks/

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Richard Goldberg Résumé

AFFILIATIONS
Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Former Senior Adviser

GOVERNMENT

National Security Adviser: Aide to John Bolton (2019 – )
Office of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL): Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Foreign Policy Advisor, 2004-2014
Office of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner: Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs, Chief of Staff 2015-2017
US Navy Reserve

BUSINESS

Rapid Global Solutions: Founder

EDUCATION

Northwestern University: Bachelor of Science, Journalism
Northwestern University: Masters Degree, Public Policy

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