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

Steve Forbes

    • Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: Board of Directors
    • Project for a New American Century: Founding Signatory
    • Forbes: CEO, President, Editor-in-Chief

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Malcolm Stevenson "Steve" Forbes Jr., head of the Forbes magazine empire, is an active supporter of a number of militarist policy organizations that have pushed for an expansive "war on terror." Twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Forbes has adeptly used his company, which was founded by his grandfather in the early 1900s, as a tool of his political ambitions.1

Though he often portrays himself as a Washington outsider, Forbes has been a leading figure for more than two decades among conservative political elites. During the Reagan years, Forbes was an important funder of what reporter Glenn Frankel called the "supply-side, tax-cutting wing of the Republican Party."2 Forbes continues to be one of the most notable and adamant advocates for supply-side economics, which promotes cutting taxes on the theory that doing so increases revenues.

While the "flat tax," which in contrast to graduated taxes (typical in most of the industrialized world) would impose a single "flat" tax rate on all income levels, is his best-known contribution to rightist political discourse, Forbes has been a longtime proponent of hardline nationalist foreign policies. He has served on the boards of several right-wing and neoconservative organizations, including the Clifford May-led Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), the Heritage Foundation, Freedom House, and Empower America. He is a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, an advocacy group that promotes Bush administration "war on terror" policies. Forbes was also a signatory to the 1997 founding statement of principles of the neoconservative-led Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The statement laid out a number of foreign policy principles that served as a basis for neoconservative advocacy efforts in the years leading up the election of George W. Bush, including the use of preemptive force, arguing that "the history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire."3

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed Forbes as head the Board of International Broadcasting (BIB), the bipartisan government organization that then ran Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. During his tenure from 1985 to 1993 Forbes helped ensure that the radio station, which was made famous for its anticommunist broadcasts into the Soviet Union during the Cold War, was properly funded.4 (Today, the organization is involved in "war on terror" messaging campaigns broadcast into the Middle East.)5

At the end of his tenure with the BIB, the only governmental position he has held, Forbes received the "Keeper of the Flame Award" from Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, an award the center gives to people for "devoting their public careers to the defense of the United States and American values around the world" and working to uphold the organization's credo of "peace through strength."6 Fellow awardees have included Caspar Weinberger, Newt Gingrich, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.

Along with Jack Kemp, William Bennett, and Jeane Kirkpatrick, Forbes helped found Empower America in the mid-1990s, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. that advocated right-wing, small government domestic policy based on supply-side economics, as well as a security policy that called for a larger military and a missile defense system.7 He continues to serve on the board of the organization's successor, FreedomWorks.

In 1996, Forbes ran for the Republican presidential nomination on a platform that emphasized a regressive flat tax of 17 percent, but lost the nomination to Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS). Forbes tried and failed again to secure the Republican Party nomination in 2000. In his second run, Forbes shifted away from his fiscally conservative platform and embraced socially conservative issues that highlighted his Christian faith. In 1999 a Forbes campaign insider told Salon.com, "I don't think he's had a change in heart on the issues, I just think he's had a change in priorities. He was always pro-life, but now he's out saying he'd protect life first and foremost, even before the flat tax, and that is definitely a change in priorities. Sure, there's an element of pandering in that. But in '96 Steve underestimated conservative voters in Iowa and South Carolina and their commitment to pro-life issues."8

Forbes reportedly spent $80 million of his own money on the two presidential bids, selling off some of his stock in the Forbes empire to fund his political ambitions.9 During his time in the political spotlight, Forbes was critical of the Clinton administration's defense policy, stating in a 1998 speech at the Center for Security Policy that Clinton had severely reduced U.S. military readiness, which could undermine U.S and global economic stability. "We live in a time of relative peace and rising prosperity," Forbes said. "But this did not happen by magic. The international economic order rests upon a foundation built by free markets, free elections, and the strong and vigilant moral and military leadership of the U.S."10

In 1999, in the midst of campaigning, Forbes' book A New Birth of Freedom was published, highlighting his policy positions on everything from defense spending to economic policy and education reform.11 In the book, Forbes criticized the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the decrease in percentage of GDP spent on defense, among other things.12

Forbes has been a strong advocate of NATO expansion, writing in 1998, "A bigger NATO would forcefully tell reactionary communists and xenophobic nationalists that their fantasies of reestablishing a Soviet-style empire will remain just that. And democratic forces in Russia would thereby be strengthened."13

In helping found the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in 2002, Forbes teamed up with a formidable cast of neoconservative figures, including Clifford May, James Woolsey, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), in championing a hardline view of Middle East policies that became the central theme of the war on terror.14 He serves on the FDD board, and, like many neoconservative commentators, has demonstrated a fear of Islam, writing in 2006 in his weekly Forbes column, "We suffered many setbacks and lost many battles during the Cold War, yet we triumphed in that 40-year struggle. Ultimately we will defeat Islamic fanaticism."15

Some of Forbes' aides hold views similar to those of Israel's Likud Party, which promotes a hardline stance vis-à-vis Middle East peace, including denying Palestinian statehood. Among Forbes' political advisors during his presidential campaigns was Joel C. Rosenberg, a former Heritage Foundation staffer who served as an advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky, both key Likud Party figures.16

During the 2006 Israel offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Forbes spoke out against a cease-fire agreement. In a Fox News interview he said, "I think the answer is to cripple Hezbollah. They have … violated routine agreements in the past. They provoked this. A cease-fire will simply put off the day of reckoning. Lebanon will never get democracy with that force there. I think the Israelis are right to realize it's now or never."17

Similarly, in response to the 2006 Iraq Study Group, which recommended a diplomatic course in pushing regional peace in the Middle East, Forbes adopted some of the core rhetoric of neoconservatives who were critical of the group's conclusions. In an interview about the report, he said, "This idea of flipping Syria sounds like Neville Chamberlain talking about flipping Mussolini from Hitler in the 1930s. I don't know what these people were inhaling. It's not going to happen. And, if it does happen, it's going to come at a severe price, which the Israelis are not going to accept." In the same interview, Forbes said of Iran that it "is trying to build 25 nuclear weapons each year. It intends to use those weapons. It has a lunatic who has made it very clear what he wants to do with them. And this doesn't deal with that."18

Forbes served as national campaign co-chair and senior policy advisor to Rudy Giuliani during Giuliani's failed campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, saying that, "Rudy Giuliani showed how exercising fiscal discipline—including tax cuts—lowers deficits, spurs economic growth and increases revenue. It is time the rest of the country benefit from a true fiscal conservative leader who gets real results."19 After Giuliani dropped from the race, Forbes endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and began serving as his economic advisor.20 Also during the 2007 primary campaign, Forbes donated money to the Ron Paul campaign.21

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1. Glenn Frankel, "Steve Forbes: A Dutiful Son's Emergence," Washington Post, February 2, 1996.

2. Glenn Frankel, "Steve Forbes: A Dutiful Son's Emergence."

3. Right Web Profile: Project for a New American Century, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/1535.html

4. Steve Forbes, "Inspiration and Regret," Forbes, September 18, 2006, http://www.forbes.com/opinions/forbes/2006/0918/035_2.html.

5. See Right Web Profile: Jeffrey Gedmin, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/1186.html; and Right Web Profile: Thomas Dine, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/1119.html.

6. "Keeper of the Flame Award Dinner," Center for Security Policy, http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/Home.aspx?SID=62&SubCategoryID=63.

7. Michael Kranish, "Campaign 2000/ Turning Points; Turning Point Steve Forbes an Inherited Vision," Boston Globe, January 23, 2000, p. C10.

8. Jake Tapper, "Steve Forbes Finds Religion: His Christian Coalition Appearance Marks Him as the Leading Conservative Rival to George W. Bush," Salon.com, October 4, 1999, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/10/04/forbes/index.html.

9. Richard Rapaport, "A Match Made in Money: Forbes & Bono Tethered in an Unlikely Partnership," San Francisco Chronicle, October 15, 2006, p. F2.

10. Steve Forbes, "American Leadership," speech at the William Casey Institute at the Center for Security Policy, New York City, May 4, 1998.

11. Ronald Brownstein, "Forbes, McCain Writing Show How They Want to Measure Up in 2000," Los Angeles Times, September 6, 1999.

12. Steve Forbes, A New Birth of Freedom: A Vision for America (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1999).

13. Steve Forbes, "Fact and Comment," Forbes, April 20, 1998, http://www.forbes.com//global/1998/0420/0201017a.html.

14. Tom Barry, "The Right's Architecture of Power," Right Web, April 22, 2004, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/748.html.

15. Steve Forbes, "Inspiration and Regret," Forbes, September 18, 2006, http://www.forbes.com/opinions/forbes/2006/0918/035_2.html.

16. "Russia, Iran and the Bomb: What Should the Bush Administration Do?" Heritage Foundation, http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev062705a.cfm.

17. "Your World With Neil Cavuto," Fox News Network, July 19, 2006, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,204658,00.html.

18. "Your World With Neil Cavuto," Fox News Network, December 6, 2006.

19. "Steve Forbes Joins Team Rudy," Targeted News Service, March 28, 2007.

20. Kevin G. Hall, "McCain's Economic Advisers Are Varied," St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minnesota), April 13, 2008.

21. Christopher Caldwell, "The Antiwar, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Drug-Enforcement-Administration, Anti-Medicare Candidacy of Ron Paul," New York Times Magazine, July 22, 2007, p. 26.

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Steve Forbes Résumé


    • Committee on the Present Danger: Member
    • Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: Board of Directors
    • Freedom House: Board of Trustees
    • FreedomWorks Foundation: Member, Board of Directors
    • Heritage Foundation: Board of Trustees
    • Project for the New American Century: Founding Signatory
    • Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation: Trustee

    Government Service

    • Board for International Broadcasting: Chairman, 1985-1993

    Private Sector

    • Forbes Media, LLC: CEO, Editor-in-Chief


    • Princeton: B.A. in History, 1970


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