Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post who is regarded as an important intellectual trailblazer of neoconservative discourse in the United States. A former psychiatrist, Krauthammer has been a writer and pundit since the early 1980s, when he joined the New Republic. Krauthammer has also written for Time magazine, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Foreign Affairs, and the National Interest, among other journals and media outlets.
A frequent and controversial proponent of U.S. military intervention abroad, Krauthammer has supported a number of neoconservative-led initiatives that champion hawkish "pro-Israel" policies and militarist U.S. defense postures. He participated in the advocacy efforts of the Project for the New American Century, has served as an adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and has been a frequent participant in the activities of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Krauthammer's writings have won numerous awards, particularly from right-wing organizations. A winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, Krauthammer was also the first ever recipient of the conservative Bradley Foundation's Bradley Prize in 2004. That same year, he received the American Enterprise Institute's 2004 Irving Kristol Award. In 2009, the conservative National Review called him "one of America's most important opinion journalists for about 25 years now."
A leading public champion of the "war on terror," Krauthammer has used his perch at the Washington Post to attack public leaders he considers soft on terrorism or hostile to Israel.
Despite his long affiliation with the neoconservative brand, Krauthammer has rejected the neoconservative label as an "anti-Semitic" smear. "It is an epithet. It is nothing more," he told the National Review's Rich Lowry in a January 2013 interview. "It once had a meaning, when Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz sort of changed their political ideology and made a great case for it in the '70s. Today it's usually meant as a silent synonym for 'Jewish conservative.' … I would ask you whenever you hear the word [to] challenge the person to describe and explain to you what a neocon is. And I guarantee you they will have no answer."
At least one conservative commentator disagreed. "On brief inspection, the doctor's tendentious tantrum borders on hilarity," wrote Christopher Manion. "Many neocons wear the label proudly. After Obama's illegal war on Libya (another disastrous failure, but I digress), Bill Kristol cheered, and proudly baptized Obama as a 'born again neocon.' Did Mr. Kristol's use of that sly 'epithet' intend to brand Obama as a 'Jewish conservative,' I wonder?"
In October 2012, prior to Krauthammer's comments, Daily Beast blogger Ali Gharib disputed what he called "the conflation of neoconservativism and Jewishness." Although a handful of "right-wing Jewish thinkers" helped to shape the movement, Gharib wrote, neoconservativism is not a "Jewish political movement; rather, it's an American one" closely "identified with using military might to pursue interests." Gharib pointed to prominent non-Jewish neoconservatives like the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, as well as Jewish conservatives like Dov Zakheim who understand "the limits of U.S. power," to illustrate his point. Gharib concluded that the association of neoconservativism with Jewishness was often invoked by right-wing hawks to blame "any careful look at neoconservatives, or even their policy positions, on anti-Semitism."
The Unipolar Moment and Its Legacy
His recent dislike for the term notwithstanding, Krauthammer has arguably been one of neoconservatism's more important trend setters since the end of the Cold War. In its bio of Krauthammer, the Washington Post Writers Group credits the columnist with a number of accomplishments. "For three decades, [Krauthammer's] influential writings have helped frame the very shape of American foreign policy," it claimed. "He coined and developed The Reagan Doctrine (Time, April 1985), defined the structure of the post-Cold War world in 'The Unipolar Moment' (Foreign Affairs, Winter 1990/1991), and outlined the principles of post-9/11 American foreign policy in his much-debated Irving Kristol Lecture, Democratic Realism (AEI Press, March 2004)."
Arguably, it was Krauthammer's 1990 Foreign Affairs article "The Unipolar Moment" that has had the most lasting—and, some would argue, most damaging—impact. Written as the Cold War was winding down and the neoconservative movement was in disarray as a result of the loss of its core enemy (the Soviet Union), the article came to serve as the basis for a new neoconservative agenda in the 1990s, one that ultimately culminated in the Iraq War and the George W. Bush administration's "war on terror."
The article argued that the United States should seize its position as the top dog in the international order to impose its priorities on the world. Krauthammer wrote that if "America wants stability, it will have to create it." The alternative to "such a robust and difficult interventionism," he argued, is chaos. The main new U.S. opponents, opined Krauthammer, included "small aggressive states armed with weapons of mass destruction and possessing the means to deliver them." Such states "will constitute the greatest single threat to world security for the rest of our lives."
Earlier, in a 1989 article for the Irving Kristol-founded National Interest titled "Universal Dominion: Toward a Unipolar World," Krauthammer had spelled out his vision for the larger, overarching aim of a post-Cold War agenda: To aggressively advance democracy across the globe as the "touchtone of a new ideological American foreign policy."
After the onset of the "war on terror" following 9/11, both these agenda items were heavily promoted by a formidable group of neoconservative ideologues organized around the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Although terrorism and "Islamo-fascism" were not core elements of neoconservative rhetoric pre-9/11, the political faction quickly adapted these issues to fit Krauthammer's larger agenda: imposing democracy globally.
This agenda was clearly spelled out in a series of open letters published by PNAC, including its September 20, 2001 letter to President George W. Bush, which Krauthammer signed along with the likes of Eliot Cohen, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and a host of other neoconservative, social conservative, and Religious Right figures.
The letter endorsed what PNAC called Bush's "admirable commitment to 'lead the world to victory' in the war against terrorism." Calling for the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden, the isolation of the Palestinian Authority, and the targeting of Hezbollah and its supporters in Syria, the PNAC letter also argued that "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism." It also emphasized the need to support democracies in the region as part of the war on terror, highlighting Israel as friend to be protected: "Israel has been and remains America's staunchest ally against international terrorism, especially in the Middle East. The United States should fully support our fellow democracy in its fight against terrorism."
Krauthammer has been a staunch critic of the Obama administration on foreign and domestic policy alike. He has, however, defended Obama's use of armed drones to assassinate alleged al-Qaeda members overseas. "Osama bin Laden issued his fatwa declaring war on the United States in 1996; we reciprocated three days after 9/11 with Congress's Authorization for Use of Military Force — against al-Qaeda and those who harbor and abet it," he wrote in February 2013. "Its members are legitimate targets, day or night, awake or asleep."
Krauthammer made no exception for American citizens, whom he asserted "[forfeit] the privileges of citizenship and the protections of the Constitution" if they take up arms against the United States. In response to critics concerned about the global scope of the drone war, Krauthammer added, "So what? It's the jihadists who decided to make the world a battlefield and to wage war in perpetuity. Until they abandon the field, what choice do we have but to carry the fight to them?" Krauthammer made no distinction between alleged members of al-Qaeda and the civilian inhabitants of the countries where the group is thought to operate.
Krauthammer has been particularly emphatic about his dislike for the Obama administration's Middle East policies, accusing the president of selling out Israel and pandering to terrorists. Discussing Obama's widely noted May 2011 speech on Mideast policy in which he reaffirmed the long-standing U.S. position that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must begin with Israel's 1967 borders, Krauthammer wrote, "Note how Obama has undermined Israel's negotiating position. He is demanding that Israel go into peace talks having already forfeited its claim to the territory won in the '67 war—its only bargaining chip. Remember: That '67 line runs right through Jerusalem. Thus the starting point of negotiations would be that the Western Wall and even Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter are Palestinian—alien territory for which Israel must now bargain."
Quoting Obama's statement that the "status quo is unsustainable and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace," Krauthammer rejoined: "Israel too? Exactly what bold steps for peace have the Palestinians taken?"
Responding to the article, blogger Matt Duss wrote, "'Exactly what bold steps for peace have the Palestinians taken?' Krauthammer asks. Well, for starters, how about relinquishing claims to 78% of Palestine? This is precisely what they did in 1993 when, in an exchange of letters between Yassir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) formally recognized 'the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,' and accepted United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which call upon Israel to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967 and [for] an end to the state of belligerency. This was, as Hussein Ibish noted recently, 'The mother of all compromises.' And it is a compromise that is being reaffirmed by the Palestinians seeking international recognition for a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders."
Krauthammer has also continued to promote expansive U.S. military engagement aboard, sometimes to the dismay of his Post colleagues. After Krauthammer called for U.S. intervention in Libya in early March 2011, Anne Applebaum—an unrepentant supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—excoriated the columnist. On the Post's PostPartisan blog she wrote, "In response to Charles Krauthammer's blog post, let me quote, once again, the first sentence of his column of March 4: 'Voices around the world, from Europe to America to Libya, are calling for U.S. intervention to help bring down Moammar Gaddafi.' And let me repeat: This is a fantasy. No voices anywhere, in any part of the world, are calling for U.S. intervention to bring down Moammar Gaddafi. There is no 'strange moral inversion' or 'hypocritical double standard' in the international debate about Libya. There is some discussion of aid and of a no-fly zone—but only as a U.N. or NATO action, only as a last resort, only to prevent genocide (Rwanda is being cited as a precedent) and only if it can be done with as little unilateral 'American' input as possible."
Regarding Krauthammer comparison of Libya and Iraq, Applebaum wrote, "I supported the war in Iraq, I am glad Saddam Hussein is dead and I hope Iraqi democracy succeeds. But, unlike Krauthammer, I do not think that the war has been in any way helpful to the cause of democracy in Libya. On the contrary: It looms like a black shadow over everything Americans do and say in the Arab world."
Iran and the "War on Terror"
Among Krauthammer's key targets has been the Iranian regime, which Krauthammer says views itself "as an instrument of its own brand of Shiite millenarianism—the messianic return of the 'hidden Imam.'" This "millenarianism," he claims, makes Iran immune to nuclear deterrence, implying that it would be willing to sacrifice its existence to take out Israel if it acquired the bomb. In an August 2012 Post op-ed, Krauthammer lambasted "realists" for arguing that "deterrence" is an effective tool when confronting Iran because, as he put it, "It's one thing to live in a state of mutual assured destruction with Stalin or Brezhnev, leaders of a philosophically materialist, historically grounded, deeply here-and-now regime. It's quite another to be in a situation of mutual destruction with apocalyptic clerics who believe in the imminent advent of the Mahdi, the supremacy of the afterlife and holy war as the ultimate avenue to achieving it."
Ignoring the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that there was no indication that Iran had a nuclear weapons program—and that any attack on Iran would do little more than encourage Iran to build a weapon if it hadn't decided to already—Krauthammer defended a potential preemptive strike by Israel against Iran's nuclear installations. He wrote: "The confident belief that [Iran's mullahs] are like the Soviets is a fantasy. That's why Israel is contemplating a preemptive strike. Israel refuses to trust its very existence to the convenient theories of comfortable analysts living 6,000 miles from its Ground Zero."
Krauthammer proved a vigorous advocate for bringing the "war on terror" to Iran even in the latter years of the Bush administration, when public frustration over Iraq was at a high point.
In a September 2006 Washington Post op-ed, for example, Krauthammer argued that it was necessary "to begin looking now with unflinching honesty at the military option" vis-à-vis Iran. He wrote: "In the region, Persian Iran will immediately become the hegemonic power in the Arab Middle East. Today it is deterred from overt aggression against its neighbors by the threat of conventional retaliation. Against a nuclear Iran, such deterrence becomes far less credible. As its weak, non-nuclear Persian Gulf neighbors accommodate to it, jihadist Iran will gain control of the most strategic region on the globe. Then there is the larger danger of permitting nuclear weapons to be acquired by religious fanatics seized with an eschatological belief in the imminent apocalypse and in their own divine duty to hasten the End of Days. The mullahs are infinitely more likely to use these weapons than anyone in the history of the nuclear age. Every city in the civilized world will live under the specter of instant annihilation delivered either by missile or by terrorist."
Earlier, during the summer 2006 military confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, Krauthammer argued that Hezbollah was the "leading edge of an aggressive, nuclear-hungry Iran." He concluded: "America finds itself at war with radical Islam, a two-churched monster: Sunni al-Qaida is now being challenged by Shiite Iran for primacy in its epic confrontation with the infidel West. With al-Qaida in decline, Iran is on the march. It is intervening through proxies throughout the Arab world—Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Iraq—to subvert modernizing, Western-oriented Arab governments and bring these territories under Iranian hegemony. Its nuclear ambitions would secure these advances, give it an overwhelming preponderance of power over the Arabs and an absolute deterrent against serious counteractions by the United States, Israel, or any other rival."
Krauthammer's continued support for an aggressive, unilateral U.S. foreign policy despite the disastrous outcome of the invasion of Iraq helped spur a growing divide within neocon circles. Former neocon supporter Francis Fukuyama targeted Krauthammer for particular derision, arguing that the columnist had become "strangely disconnected from reality." In a much quoted essay called "The Neoconservative Moment"—with the title's not-so-subtle jab at Krauthammer's defining work—Fukuyama argued that neoconservatives like Krauthammer had lost touch with new "empirical facts" that had emerged in Iraq that demanded a dramatic change of course in U.S. foreign policy. These new facts, according to Fukuyama, included: "the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the virulent and steadily mounting anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East, the growing insurgency in Iraq, the fact that no strong democratic leadership had emerged there, the enormous financial and growing human cost of the war, the failure to leverage the war to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and the fact that America's fellow democratic allies had by and large failed to fall in line and legitimate American actions ex post."
He added: "The failure to step up to these facts is dangerous precisely to the neo-neoconservative position that Krauthammer has been seeking to define and justify. As the war in Iraq turns from triumphant liberation to grinding insurgency, other voices—either traditional realists like Brent Scowcroft, nationalist-isolationists like Patrick Buchanan, or liberal internationalists like John Kerry—will step forward as authoritative voices and will have far more influence in defining American post-Iraq War foreign policy. The poorly executed nation-building strategy in Iraq will poison the well for future such exercises, undercutting domestic political support for a generous and visionary internationalism, just as Vietnam did."
Krauthammer has frequently used his columns to support beleaguered neoconservative figures. In an August 2003 Post column, for example, Krauthammer defended the controversial presidential nomination of Daniel Pipes to the U.S. Institute of Peace, which was heavily criticized by members of Congress and many observers because of Pipes' hardline stance on the Middle East and controversial take on Islam. For Krauthammer, however, the "attack on Pipes" was nothing but "another symptom of the absurd political correctness surrounding Islamic radicalism." He continued: "We are all supposed to pretend that we have equal suspicions of terrorist intent and thus must give equal scrutiny to a 70-year-old Irish nun, a 50-year-old Jewish seminarian, and a 30-year-old man from Saudi Arabia. Your daughter is on that plane: To whom do you want the security guards to give their attention? President Bush is considering bypassing the Senate and giving Pipes a recess appointment while Congress is out of town. For Bush, this would be an act of characteristic principle and courage. The problem, however, is that such an act makes the appointment look furtive. Worse, it lets the McCarthyites off too easy."
After I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, an influential neoconservative and former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted in early March 2007 of perjury and other charges related to the PlameGate affair, Krauthammer expressed disbelief in the jury's judgment. Libby had been deeply involved in the effort to criticize CIA agent Valerie Plame's husband Joe Wilson, who was critical of the Bush administration's push toward invading Iraq. Krauthammer wrote: "Scooter Libby has just been convicted of four felonies that could theoretically give him 25 years in jail for ... what? Misstating when he first heard a certain piece of information, namely the identity of Joe Wilson's wife. Think about that. Can you remember when you first heard the name Joe Wilson or Valerie Plame? Okay, so it is not a preoccupation of yours. But it was a preoccupation of many Washington journalists and government officials called to testify at the Libby trial, and their memories were all over the lot. Former presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer testified under oath that he had not told Post reporter Walter Pincus about Mrs. Wilson. Pincus testified under oath that Fleischer definitely had. Obviously, one is not telling the truth. But there is no reason to believe that either one is deliberately lying. Pincus and Fleischer are as fallible as any of us. They spend their days receiving and giving information. They can't possibly be expected to remember not only every piece but precisely when they received every piece. Should Scooter Libby?"
Like many writers associated with neoconservatism, Krauthammer's politics originally tended toward liberalism and the Democratic Party. A biography on the website of the Harry Walker Agency, with which Krauthammer is affiliated, describes several aspects of Krauthammer's early profession and politics. "In 1978, he quit psychiatry and came to Washington to serve as a science adviser in the Carter administration and, later, speechwriter to Vice President Walter Mondale. In 1981, he joined the staff of the New Republic where he was an essayist and editor from 1981-1988. In the mid-eighties he began writing a weekly syndicated column for the Washington Post, which now appears in more than 100 newspapers, and a monthly essay for Time magazine. In his first full year as a syndicated columnist, he won the Pulitzer Prize (Distinguished Commentary, 1987). His New Republic essays won the highest award in magazine writing, the National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism (1984). His essays have appeared in dozens of anthologies on subjects ranging from nuclear deterrence to gay marriage. A collection of his essays and columns, Cutting Edges, was published in 1985 (Random House)."