Consider the following scenario: A Washington, DC–based, tax-exempt organization that bills itself as a think tank dedicated to the enhancement of a foreign country’s reputation within the United States, funded by billionaires closely aligned with said foreign country, has one of its high-ranking operatives (often referred to as “fellows”) embedded within the White House national security staff in order to further the oft-stated agenda of his home organization, which, as it happens, is also paying his salary during his year-long stint there.
As it happens, this is exactly what the pro-Israel think tank the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) reportedly achieved in an arrangement brokered by former Trump national security adviser John Bolton.
The FDD senior adviser on the National Security Council was Richard Goldberg. And the think tank, the FDD, funded by prominent American billionaires such as the financier Paul Singer and Home Depot magnate Bernard Marcus, has relentlessly pushed for a recklessly militaristic US policy against Iran and in the Middle East generally.
Why does this matter?
On Friday, January 3, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, an Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary unit, and eight others were killed in a missile attack carried out by the US military at Baghdad International Airport.
In a statement after the attack, the Pentagon claimed, without evidence, that Suleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” and that the “strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows echoing the administration’s party line.
On social media, Trump’s decision to assassinate Suleimani and al-Muhandis was greeted with praise from the FDD, which gloated, via Twitter, that Iran “thought he [Trump] was a Twitter tiger; he’s proven otherwise.” FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz wrote that he believes that the death of Suleimani is “more consequential than the killing of [Osama] #BinLaden.”
And this brings us to the FDD and its arrangement with Trump’s National Security Council (NSC). Shortly after the air strikes in Baghdad, Bloomberg News reported that a senior adviser at the FDD, Richard Goldberg, would be returning to the FDD after serving on the NSC for the past year.
According to Bloomberg News’ Nick Wadhams, Goldberg’s position was created by former national security Adviser John Bolton in order to “counter what Bolton saw as a desire at the Departments of State and Treasury to weaken the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran.” Wadhams notes that the FDD continued to pay Goldberg’s salary while he was on staff at the NSC.
The Quincy Institute’s Eli Clifton, who has long expertise in tracking the FDD’s money trail, tells me the FDD/NSC arrangement “confirms the widely shared understanding in Washington that FDD is working hand in glove with the administration in shaping and implementing Iran policy.”
Clifton added that such an arrangement “raises serious questions since it appears an NSC staffer was being paid by an organization that, according to its application for tax-exempt status, was founded to enhance the image of a foreign country, Israel.”
Still worse, the ties between the administration and the FDD highlight what Clifton describes as a “feedback loop” with regard to money and policy influence. According to Clifton, one-third of the FDD’s budget is provided by the billionaire Marcus, a Trump campaign donor, who is on record in comparing Iran to “the devil.” And while Goldberg was working for Trump’s NSC, his colleagues in the FDD’s Iran Program were busy tweeting out conspiracy theories about Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar.
Some have disputed the FDD’s influence on administration policy, particularly—no surprise here—the FDD and its friends in the establishment media. Over at The Atlantic magazine, staff writer Kathy Gilsinan penned a sympathetic profile of the FDD’s Dubowitz in which she claimed that The Nation and The New York Times have “exaggerated the think tank’s real influence and fed conspiracy theories overseas.”
Such is perhaps to be expected from The Atlantic, which is owned and operated, respectively, by the stalwart neoconservatives David Bradley and Jeffrey Goldberg, and has published several pieces of pro-war agitprop from former CIA operative turned FDD Senior Fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht.
The events of the past week show, if anything, that the FDD wields far more influence than previously had been thought.
That tax-exempt neoconservative outfits like the FDD continue to exercise outsized influence on US foreign policy is a scandal and one which, in light of the events of the past week, deserves a congressional inquiry.