Family ties connect US right, Zionists

March 09, 2003

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WASHINGTON: When Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and fellow hawk Eric Edelman was promoted to become the new US ambassador to Turkey last month, it was hardly a surprise when Cheney tapped Victoria Nuland to take his place.

Nuland, whose last post was deputy US ambassador to Nato, is just as well known as the spouse of Robert Kagan, co-founder of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which nine days after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, published an open letter to President George W. Bush urging that the war on terrorism include the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack”.

While Nuland enjoys a strong reputation as an independent thinker, the family connection to Kagan was typical of the extraordinarily tight-knit nature of the regime that has taken control of US foreign policy since 9/11.

When historians look back at the major backers of an aggressive US foreign policy vis-a-vis Iraq and the “war on terrorism”, one of the more curious aspects they are likely to find is the degree to which key hawks both within and outside the administration not only affirmed each other’s political views, but were actually related to one another, as well.

Consider Kagan’s family: in addition to Robert, whose current book Of Paradise and Power, a meditation on the notion that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus, there is his father, Donald, a Yale University historian who also signed the Sep. 20, 2001 letter, and his brother, Frederick, a military historian at the US Army Academy, both prominent in the neo-conservative cause.

On the eve of the 2000 presidential elections, Donald and Frederick published While America Sleeps, a clarion call on Washington — which was already spending more on arms than the 13 next biggest militaries combined — to increase its defence spending sharply lest it find itself, like Britain in the late 1930s, unable to face down a new Hitler. Since then, both men have published reams of columns warning that Washington must immediately increase military spending by at least 25 per cent to keep up with its global responsibilities.

Robert was also busy in 2000, preparing the groundwork for the neo-imperial policy of the post-9/11 period. In addition to writing columns for the Washington Post, he co-edited another book, Present Dangers, about US foreign policy — to which both Frederick and Donald contributed chapters — with his long-time collaborator and PNAC co-founder, William Kristol.

Editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned, neo-conservative Weekly Standard, PNAC chairman, Kristol, who first came to national prominence as a top aide to then-vice president Dan Quayle, is the son of Irving Kristol, the godfather of neo- conservatism who waged cultural wars against the Soviet Union in Europe in the 1950s, and who has been calling for a new US imperial role since the late 1960s.

Irving, whose wife Gertrude Himmelfarb, has also been a major neo-con heavyweight for decades, played a key role in steering the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal from a bland, business-oriented conservatism into a mouthpiece for the Israeli Likud Party and other far right causes.

Just last week the elder Kristol was honoured for his lifetime achievements at the annual dinner at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where Bush himself laid out the vision that tugs at the hearts of neo-cons today: a “liberated Iraq” and a transformed Arab Middle East prepared to make peace with Israel on Likud terms.

As godfather of the movement, Irving played mentor to Norman Podhoretz, the long-time but now-retired editor of Commentary, the influential monthly publication of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Originally identified with the anti-war left in the mid-1960s, Podhoretz converted to neo-conservatism late in the decade and transformed the magazine into a main source of neo-conservative writing, despite the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community itself rejecting those positions.

Podhoretz and his spouse, Midge Decter, a polemical powerhouse in her own right, created a formidable political team in the 1970s as they deserted the Democratic Party, and then, as leaders of the Committee on the Present Danger — like PNAC a coalition of mainly Jewish, neo-conservatives and more traditional right-wing hawks like Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — helped lay the foreign-policy foundation for the rise of Ronald Reagan. After Reagan’s victory, Decter and Rumsfeld co- chaired the international offshoot of the committee, called the Coalition for the Free World.

Podhoretz is the father of John Podhoretz, a columnist for the Murdoch-owned New York Post, who also acts as a ubiquitous booster of the hawks. And his son-in-law, Elliott Abrams, who held a number of controversial posts in Reagan’s State Department and was eventually convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal for lying to Congress, now serves in Bush’s National Security Council as his top Middle East adviser.

At Commentary, Podhoretz offered considerable space to such rising lights of the neo-conservative movement as future UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick (whose late husband Evron was a long-time collaborator of Irving Kristol); Richard Pipes, a Harvard University Soviet specialist and top Reagan adviser; Pipes’ son, Daniel, a staunch Likud supporter who has long argued that Washington has been too complacent about the threat of Islamist radicalism both overseas and at home; and all of the Kristols and Kagans.

Another key Irving Kristol disciple has been Richard Perle, the influential and ultra-hawkish chairman of Rumsfeld’s Defence Policy Board, whose main office is at AEI, where PNAC and William Kristol are also based. His spouse is the daughter of his teacher at the University of Chicago, another neo-con hero and strategic thinker who also favoured invading Iraq, the late Alfred Wohlstetter, for whom the AEI conference centre is named. Wohlstetter also taught Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Perle has worked closely in the past with Douglas Feith, Wolfowitz’s deputy as undersecretary of defence for policy under Rumsfeld and known as the administration’s most ardent Likud supporter.

Feith’s father, Dalck, a Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist, was a follower of Betar, the militant Zionist movement that became Likud in Poland in the 1930s.

Perle, Feith, and another AEI “scholar”, David Wurmser, and his wife Meyrav, in 1996 co-authored a memorandum for Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu on breaking with the Oslo peace process and transforming the Middle East by working to oust Saddam Hussein, a paper which bears a remarkable resemblance to the ideas set forth in the Sept 20 PNAC letter.

David Wurmser is now a special adviser in the State Department planning for post-invasion Iraq, while Meyrav works with the Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI) that translates and distributes particularly virulent anti-US and anti-Israel articles appearing in the Arab press to key US media and policy- makers.

AEI has been a major nexus for these inter-familial relationships, having served as home to Michael Ledeen, a co- founder with Perle of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) whose wife Barbara is a major player in the rightwing Republican leadership on Capitol Hill; Jeane Kirkpatrick; and Joshua Muravchik, whose father, Emanuel, was also close to Podhoretz as he moved rightward through the 1970s.

Though she doesn’t focus much on foreign-policy issues, Lynne Cheney, the vice president’s wife, also hangs her hat at AEI, while the vice president’s daughter Elizabeth is now serving as deputy secretary of state for near east affairs.

While the Cheneys, unlike the mostly Jewish neo-conservatives who began their political evolution on the left, have always been rock- ribbed, right wing, Rocky Mountain Republicans, it appears that they have joined the larger family or are at least tying their family fortunes together. —Dawn/InterPress News Service.