Founded in 1982 to serve as an elite source of commentary and analysis for U.S. policymakers, the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) has consistently pressed a hawkish agenda on U.S. foreign and defense policies. Its primary activities include publishing opinion pieces and news briefs, convening conferences, and dispatching experts to give congressional testimony.
In the 1980s, the AFPC supported the Nicaraguan Contras and hosted figures like Roberto D'Aubisson, head of El Salvador's ARENA Party, which was linked to death squads in that country (see IRC GroupWatch Profile: World Freedom Foundation). Today, the AFPC is one of a number of hardline Washington-based think tanks—like the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Security Policy—that champion a broad "war on terror" and emphasize the alleged nuclear threat from Iran.
AFPC's board of advisers includes a number of high-profile Republican foreign policy hawks such as Newt Gingrich, Robert Kasten (a mentor to Paul Ryan), Tom Ridge, James Woolsey, and Dov Zakheim. Among the group's board members is Alfred Regnery, head of the right-wing publishing house Regnery Publishing, whose authors have included Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Oliver North, Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Dinesh D'Souza, and Pat Buchanan. Its president is Herman Pirchner Jr, who has led the group since its founding in 1982. Its vice president is Ilan Berman, a frequent public commentator on U.S. foreign policy who is close to rightist "pro-Israel" factions in the United States.
Programs and Scholars
As of late 2012, AFPC lists seven programs on its website, including programs devoted to monitoring developments in Iran, Russia, China, South Asia, and Eurasia, as well as a project on "missile defense and proliferation." The group also lists a "Central Asia Counterterrorism Project" that is "designed to provide American politicians and journalists with new sources of information from Central Asia about ways to effectively wage this war [of ideas]" against radical Islam, though this program appears to be inactive.
Each of AFPC's projects publishes its own series of "Monitor" bulletins, which are regular roundups of news items of interest to conservative-leaning followers of the issues AFPC covers. Topics of consideration include political, economic, and military developments in countries of interest, and, in the case of Iran, regular updates on the country's alleged nuclear weapons program and its standoff with the West. The Russia Reform Monitor, published by APFC's Russia Program, is listed as the Council's "flagship publication," though it does not appear to differ significantly in style or content from the other bulletins.
AFPC's most visible representative is its vice president, Ilan Berman, who writes and speaks frequently about Iran from his perch at APFC and edits the Journal of International Security Affairs, the flagship publication of the neoconservative-leaning Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Berman is a strident advocate of ever more crippling U.S. sanctions on Iran and has criticized what he calls the Obama administration's "flimsy" sanctions policy. In a September 2012 Washington Post op-ed coauthored with risk consultant Andrew Davenport, Berman argued that although the Obama administration "levied the most extensive sanctions to date" against Iran, "enforcement has lagged behind." Berman and Davenport contended that the administration should "fully implement" U.S. sanctions on foreign energy companies doing business in Iran, even at the risk of "a temporary downturn" in relations with countries like China and Russia. In a curious rhetorical sleight, Berman and Davenport concluded by accusing the administration of playing the hawk on Iran. "The administration's failures on [the sanctions] front suggest that it views actual warfare as more palatable than ruffled diplomatic relationships with countries such as China," they wrote. "That, in turn makes the likelihood of some sort of conflagration over Iran's nuclear program all the more probable."
Citing Iran's crippled economy, inflated currency, and dramatically diminished oil exports, Ali Gharib disputed Berman's assessment at the Daily Beast. "One might not be surprised to find a problem with this logic on Iran," Gharib wrote. "If the Obama administration won't hurt the Iranian economy, then how come the Iranian economy is hurting so bad?" Gharib went on to accuse Berman of concealing a much more hawkish agenda on Iran than he was allowing. "What Berman and Davenport seem to want is not ["smart sanctions"], but blanket sanctions—the kind that saw infant mortality in Iraq rise threefold in the 1990s. And don't forget, eventually war with Iraq was required, too. In fact, thinking back, Berman was very pleased with the outcome in Iraq. The war there was still young in April 2003, and Berman was riding high, when he urged the Bush administration to undertake 'more regime change.' Where? Berman saw 'an opening in Iran.' His prescriptions for the Islamic Republic are starting to sound a lot like a movie we've already seen."
Berman has also spoken and written about U.S. "cybersecurity," particularly vis-à-vis Iran. In April 2012, Berman testified on the subject before the House Committee on Homeland Security. Although he acknowledged that the United States had likely launched or assisted in cyber attacks on Iran, Berman warned that "it is not out of the question that the Iranian regime could attempt an unprovoked cyber attack on the United States," he said. "In the coming months, a range of scenarios—from renewed diplomatic impasse to a further strengthening of economic sanctions ot the use of military force against Iranian nuclear facilities—hold the potential to trigger an asymmetric retaliation from the Iranian regime aimed at vital U.S. infrastructure, with potentially devastating effects."
Another prominent AFPC scholar is Lawrence Haas, a former communications director for Al Gore and White House budget director under President Bill Clinton. A member and past officer of the neoconservative Committee on the Present Danger, Haas writes on a wide variety of foreign policy topics. After Russian President Vladimir Putin expelled USAID workers from Russia in September 2012, for example, Haas expressed his hope in the International Business Times that "Washington can finally set aside its ill-founded belief—through presidencies of both parties—that U.S. leaders can build productive ties to Moscow's strongman." In contrast, the stated goal of AFPC's Russia Program, as of late 2012, is to "establish ongoing connections between American officials and the upper echelons of the political leadership" in Russia.
In an October 2012 opinion piece for U.S. News and World Report, Haas called for a reevaluation of U.S. assistance to Egypt, accusing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of "threatening to replace Mubarak's dictatorial rule with an Islamic authoritarianism" and "rais[ing] doubts about whether Cairo will uphold the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty." Haas concluded that U.S. aid should "make clear that we seek a government that will promote the promise of Tahrir Square." However, the vast majority U.S. aid goes directly to the Egyptian military, which underpinned the Mubarak government, not Morsi's civilian government.
Hass is the author of Sound the Trumpet: The United States and Human Rights Promotion, a history of how post-World War II U.S. administrations balanced human rights with questions of national interest. Writing for the right-wing Family Security Matters, conservative commentator Ruth King praised the book for its argument that "the concept and practice of these essential freedoms is generally a Western and Judeo/Christian phenomenon which evolved from the Protestant Reforming, the Founding Principles of the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and Capitalism." King also approvingly cited a proudly exceptionalist passage from the book's first chapter that called the United States "a tool of Providence with a mission to fulfill."
The Bush Years
During the George W. Bush years, AFPC applauded the Iraq war and the Bush administration's "war on terror" in general, while also urging confrontations with other perceived U.S. rivals like Iran.
In November 2006, the council sponsored a conference on "Understanding the Iranian Threat." The keynote speaker was former CIA Director James Woolsey. He told the audience: "First of all, the Persians invented chess, and they are very good at it. My general notion is that Iran has a queen that it is protecting, and that queen is its nuclear weapons program ... In protecting that queen, it has a number of lesser pieces. I suppose I would rank Syria as a rook and perhaps Moqtada al-Sadr, Hezbollah, and Hamas as pawns, but nonetheless, Iran is doing a skillful job of protecting its nuclear weapons program. It has other maneuvers that it can operate with players that are not completely under its control but nonetheless are helping. One is Russia ... and another is China." Woolsey went on to suggest that North Korea might ship Iran plutonium or highly enriched uranium in diplomatic pouches for weapons-making purposes. Other speakers at the conference included Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Walid Phares of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The following January, in 2007, AFPC launched a weeklong media blitz "aimed at educating the U.S. public about the Iranian nuclear threat. The campaign consisted of two 30-second spots that began running Tuesday on CNN, MSNBC, Headline News, and the Fox News Channel in Washington, DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia." One of the melodramatic and alarmist ad scripts read: "Iran's president denies the Holocaust, says he wants to wipe Israel off the map, and has supported attacks that killed hundreds of Americans. Iran sent thousands of children marching to their deaths to clear minefields, armed only with plastic keys to unlock the gates of heaven. Now, in violation of the United Nations, Iran is trying to go nuclear and has threatened to share the technology with others. Stand up for peace. Call the White House and tell them to enforce sanctions against Iran today."
In an op-ed for the conservative Washington Times the following month, Ilan Berman argued for confrontation with Iran. In the piece, titled "The President Is Right," Berman argued that the "most important" part of President George W. Bush's January 2007 State of the Union address "had to do with the war on terror and the adversaries that America is fighting." Berman argued that in highlighting the growing threat from Iranian-supported Shiite extremists in Iraq, the president was broadening the focus of threats to be addressed in the Mideast, which previously had been chiefly viewed as Sunnis tied to al-Qaida and the Taliban. This "wider war on terror," Berman opined, "requires that Washington resolutely confront the Islamic Republic of Iran."
According to 990 forms available on Guidestar.org, the AFPC reported nearly $1.2 million in revenues in the year 2010. Much of this appears to have been furnished by various right-wing foundations, including $160,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, $125,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and $47,500 from the William H. Donner Foundation. These foundations are also responsible for funding a host of hard-right foreign policy outfits, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy, the Heritage Foundation, and the David Horowitz Freedom Center.