John P. Hannah is a political pundit and adviser who served as a national security aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney. After leaving government service, Hannah became a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a hawkish "pro-Israel" advocacy organization originally established as a policy counterpart to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Hannah held his WINEP post until early 2010. In March 2011, the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) named Hannah a senior fellow.
In February 2015, Hannah was named as a foreign policy adviser to potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, joining a list of advisers dominated by veterans of the administrations of George W. and George H.W. Bush. Hannah is also affiliated with the hawkish Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), where he serves as a member of its "Iran Task Force" as well as a senior adviser to its "Germunder Center for Defense and Strategy."
Hannah has used his perch at FDD to push for U.S. intervention in Syria and promote a "pro-Israel" hardline on Iran and other Middle East issues.
Hannah has been a staunch opponent of the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear dispute. He has criticized Obama for allegedly wanting to "freeze all serious pressure on Iran" and has characterized the negotiations as "Iran and the President against Congress."
Hannah also expressed support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial address to Congress in March 2015 about Iran, saying at the time: "There's so much wrong with the emerging Iran nuclear deal that it's hard to know where to begin. But as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear in his speech this week to congress, the biggest flaw is almost certainly the deal's so-called sunset provision."
In contrast, Richard Nephew of the Brookings Institution argued that "most people currently taking issue with the sunset clause are really just opposed to any deal with Iran." In a March 2015 article, he wrote: "[S]unset provisions are a common feature of international arms control and even Congressional legislation. In fact, even in the case of Iran's nuclear program, the idea of establishing a sunset period for restrictions isn't new, having first emerged as an element of U.S. policy under President Bush in 2006."
Hannah also lambasted the framework nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 in early April 2015. "Even on its face, if we take this agreement at face value, I think it looks very dangerous, very risky. It looks on its face to be a bad deal. The definition of a bad deal," he declared at a JINSA panel shortly after the agreement was reached.
In September 2013, during Iranian president Hassan Rouhani's first trip to New York for the UN General Assembly, Hannah wrote in a National Review op-ed: "Rouhani came to NY to lure the leader of the free world into the humiliating position of chasing after him for a meeting—only to summarily diss the offer when it was eagerly tendered." He added: "Obama came to the UN to preemptively concede that regime change is not our policy in Iran."
Hannah has explicitly called for a regime change policy against Iran, even in the midst of the on-going nuclear negotiations. In a January 2015 piece for Foreign Policy titled "It's Time to Pursue Regime Change in Iran," he wrote: "[D]ictatorial, rogue regimes are only likely to be moved off their nuclear agendas when confronted with a very powerful stick—whether regime change, military attack, or an acute form of pressure that is perceived to put regime's survival at risk, preferably including a highly credible threat of force."
Hannah was critical of the Obama administration's refusal to intervene in Iran's post-election turmoil in 2009. In a September 2009 WeeklyStandard piece, Hannah pushed the Obama administration to seize the moment and encourage regime change in the country, arguing that the "survival, strengthening, and eventual success" of the Iranian opposition movement was "the most viable option available for satisfactorily resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis short of war." He added, "Barring a minor miracle … the [Obama] administration appears to be hurtling toward that fateful moment in time that Senator [John] McCain crystallized so well during last year's campaign: The time when the world confronts the excruciating choice of 'Iran with the bomb or bombing Iran.'"
A month later, Hannah excoriated then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a National Review Online piece for criticizing Bush-era foreign policies during a meeting with Pakistani students. Wrote Hannah: "Does anyone advising President Obama and the secretary of state really believe that this kind of partisanship and trash-talking abroad about another American president is really going to buy us much long-term goodwill among either our friends or our adversaries?"
Responded the New Republic's Michael Crowley: "Personally, I really do think it might buy us long-term goodwill. It's a fact that people around the world loathed Bush (and Hannah's former boss), and the foreign policy associated with them. A change of faces in Washington certainly won't solve all our problems, but I think it can help along the margins. Hillary was, after all, applauded when she said this."
In other writings, Hannah has marginalized the Palestinian issue as a driving force in Arab politics and suggested that some Iranians "privately" see the possibility of a U.S. aerial assault on Iran as a chance to "accelerate the theocracy's final unraveling at the hands of an already boiling population."
Calling the Obama administration's "fecklessness on Syria" a "national disgrace" and "a moral and strategic failing of major proportions" in a May 2011 post for Foreign Policy's "Shadow Government" blog, Hannah invoked the administration's intervention in Libya to argue for more action in Syria. "Not even Qaddafi was able to inflict this level of human suffering before NATO warplanes felt compelled to stay his bloody hand," he wrote.
However, shortly after making U.S. intervention in Syria a humanitarian concern, Hannah invoked "the potential strategic benefits to be had by the removal of the Assad family's 4-decade long criminal enterprise in anti-U.S. tyranny." Rattling off a litany of grievances against the Assad regime, Hannah decried everything from Syria's "long alliance with the Soviet Union" to its alleged support for the "multi-year effort by Sunni insurgents, Saddamists, and al Qaeda jihadists to torpedo the U.S. effort to mid-wife representative democracy in Iraq." To this list, Hannah added the Syrian government's "ever-deepening strategic relationship with Iran's Islamic Republic and its proxies in Hezbollah."
In February 2012, Hannah was one of 56 Syria hawks to sign a joint FDD-Foreign Policy Initiative letter to President Obama calling on the administration to provide arms and other assistance to the opposition Free Syria Army.
In a post for National Review Online, Hannah criticized President Obama's timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan as "a more or less complete dissing of the recommendation of [Obama's] field commander" and likened the president's call for "nation building at home" to George McGovern's "Come home America." "No matter how it was gussied up," Hannah wrote, "the American people knew weakness and retreat when they saw it. Will the gambit fare any better 40 years later?"
In the George W. Bush Administration
Hannah served as assistant for national security affairs to Vice President Dick Cheney during the second George W. Bush administration. Prior to this appointment, Hannah was part of the vice president's national security staff for more than four years, where he played a role in corralling intelligence used by the Bush administration to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq. He previously served in the State Department's Office of Arms Control and International Security, under Undersecretary John Bolton.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Hannah worked closely with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. They were part of an informal White House team called the "White House Iraq Group," which was tasked with culling information about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Libby-Hannah team wrote a 48-page speech for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's now-infamous 2003 address before the UN Security Council, which justified invading Iraq based on faulty evidence. According to political commentator Robert Dreyfuss, Powell regarded the draft to be "so extreme" that he "trashed the entire document."
Cheney promoted Hannah to assistant for national security affairs following the indictment and resignation of Libby. Hannah had been interviewed by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the investigation that led to Libby's resignation. Despite speculation that he was involved in the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, Hannah was not charged with a crime. Nonetheless, Hannah's promotion in the aftermath of the Plame scandal disappointed reform-minded Democrats, who complained that Hannah was too closely linked to Libby. "Instead of cleaning house, you simply rearranged some of the furniture," Senate Democrats wrote Cheney, regarding Hannah's appointment.
Soon after his promotion, Hannah—together with Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, and National Security Council Deputy Advisor Elliott Abrams—conducted high-level, strategic meetings with Israeli officials regarding "the Iranian government's growing radicalization and its irresponsible policy on nuclear issues."
Hannah was among the hardliners on Iran within Cheney's office. When Tehran refused to suspend its uranium enrichment operations in August 2006, Hannah insisted on a firm U.S. response. He maintained anything less risked "allowing Iran's response to appear reasonable."
Hannah was also a key liaison between the vice president's office and the Iraqi National Congress (INC) headed by Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi exile who was a close confidant of many neoconservative figures in and out of government prior to the 2003 Iraq War. Chalabi was eventually accused of feeding false information to the Bush administration regarding Saddam Hussein's weapons programs.
The INC's other main contact was Undersecretary of Defense William Luti, who worked in the Defense Department's much-maligned Office of Special Plans (OSP). Under the direction of senior Defense Department staff, including Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary Douglas Feith, people associated with the OSP provided since-discredited evidence that supposedly linked Iraq to al-Qaeda and detailed Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
Early Track Record
A graduate of Duke University and Yale University Law School, Hannah worked as an attorney for in the Washington office of Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy before joining the Bush administration. He also served on the State Department Policy Planning Staff during 1991-1996.
Hannah served on the 2000 "Presidential Study Group" convened by WINEP that examined U.S. policy in the Middle East. The group's report, "Navigating Through Turbulence: America and the Middle East in a New Century," was criticized by some as overly biased towards Israel and has been cited as the basis for some Bush administration Mideast policies.
Other members of the WINEP study group included Paula J. Dobriansky, Michael Eisenstadt, Geoffrey Kemp, Zalmay Khalilzad, Charles Krauthammer, David Makovsky, Will Marshall, Daniel Pipes, James G. Roche, Peter W. Rodman, William Schneider, Steve Solarz, Shibley Telhami, R. James Woolsey, and Dov S. Zakheim.
In a critique of the study, Michael Hudson, a professor at Georgetown University, wrote: "At first glance the reader might be misled into thinking that this report is the product of a study group convened by the president of the United States and might therefore represent a wide range of views and experience. A look at its membership and organizers reveals, however, a vast preponderance of pro-Israel and conservative-hawkish voices. Perhaps it is naïve to expect anything better from the Washington Institute of Near East Policy. … [N]onetheless, it is a shame that such an enterprise could not have been undertaken with more balance and depth. God knows, the new administration could use some good advice on the Middle East. But what has been served up here is a catalogue of pro-Israel exhortations, anodyne pieties, patronizing prescriptions, and alarmist declarations, interspersed only occasionally with useful recommendations. What emerges from this tepid think-tank exercise are more of the same clichés and mantras that have guided our politicians into an ever-depending spiral of policy failures in the Middle East."