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

Joshua Muravchik

    • George W. Bush Institute: Fellow
    • School of Advanced International Studies: Fellow
    • American Enterprise Institute: Former Resident Scholar
    • Young People’s Socialist League: Former President

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Joshua Muravchik is a long-standing proponent of interventionist U.S. foreign policies who has played an important role in shaping neoconservative ideology for decades. An erstwhile Socialist Party activist, Muravchik has been affiliated with numerous political pressure groups, rightist think tanks, and organizations associated with the "Israel lobby" in the United States. He has been a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a trustee at Freedom House, a board member of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a signatory on Project for the New American Century (PNAC) letter-writing campaigns, and an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs (WINEP). Most recently, Muravchik has worked as a fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a Washington, D.C.-based graduate studies institute that has served as home base for numerous figures associated with neoconservatism, including Paul Wolfowitz, Eliot Cohen, and Thomas Donnelly.[1]

In November 2011, the George W. Bush Institute announced that Muravchik had been hired as an "international affairs scholar." Commented Bush Institute executive director James Glassman, "Joshua Muravchik is one of the nation's most respected intellectuals in the sphere of democracy and U.S. foreign policy, and we are pleased he is joining the Bush Institute. His deep understanding of international affairs and the Middle East will provide the Bush Institute with unmatched insight, especially as Egypt prepares to hold its first free elections this month."[2]

Muravhcik has advocated U.S. military attacks abroad on numerous occasions, including supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq and promoting the bombing of Iran. In a 2006 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Muravchik opened with the line, "WE MUST bomb Iran."[3] More recently, in November 2011, Muravchik wrote in an op-ed for USA Todaythat sanctions had failed to halt Iran's nuclear program and that military options must be pursued. "President Obama has pursued diplomacy doggedly to no effect," wrote Muravchik. "Regime change would be the best solution, but Iran's Green Movement seems quiescent while time ticks down, leaving only the military option. Of course, force should always be a last resort, but perfect certainty that nothing else will work only comes when it's too late."[4]

Observers have criticized Muravchik for letting his support for Israel influence his foreign policy prescriptions for the United States, sometimes to the detriment of U.S. interests. For his part, Muravchik has embraced his "pro-Israel" proclivities, while at the same time claiming that this support does not prevent him from providing balanced analyses. In a monograph for WINEP titled "Covering the Intifada: How the Media Reported the Palestinian Uprising," which gave a critical assessment of how major mainstream media reported key events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the 2000 al-Aqsa uprising (the Second Intifada), Muravchik offered a lengthy rationalization of this position, writing:

"I do not claim to come to this subject as a dispassionate neutral. I am a Jew and a supporter of Israel. By the last term I mean that I strongly uphold Israel's right to exist (which I believe is a central question of the Arab-Israeli conflict), not that I necessarily agree with every action of each Israeli government. I do not consider that disagreement with, or criticism of, Israeli policy is tantamount to being 'anti-Israel.' Israelis themselves are often raucous in their own political disputes. Yet, obsessive or one-sided criticism of Israeli policies may reflect a deeper animosity to the state. I do not believe that my strong support for Israel's existence prevents me from producing a rigorous analysis. As individuals and citizens, news reporters have opinions and political allegiances, yet this does not make it impossible for them to meet standards of accuracy and fairness. Likewise, I have made every effort not to be overmastered by my predilections, but rather to carry out this study with a discipline of reason, objectivity, fairness, and, of course, fidelity to fact. Readers will judge my success or failure at meeting those standards."[5]

Bush Presidency and Aftermath

Muravchik was a vocal proponent of the "war on terror" and used his perch at the American Enterprise Institute to advocate attacking Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. He also signed multiple open letters to political figures that were produced by the Project for the New American Century and supported the work of a string of pro-war pressure groups created during this period. He supported the 2002 creation of the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, a group spearheaded by Michael Ledeen and Morris Amitay that has advocated regime change in Iran; he was an advisory board member of the now-defunct Committee for the Liberation of Iraq; he joined a plank of other neocons in forming a revived version of the Cold War Committee on the Present Danger; and he served as an "international patron" of the Cambridge, England-based Henry Jackson Society,[6] a neoconservative-inspired organization that promotes a "forward strategy" aimed at assisting democratization across the globe.

Despite the spiraling problems in Iraq and the gradual falling out favor of neoconservative advisers and views by the end of President George W. Bush's first term, Muravchik secured an appointment during the second Bush administration to the State Department's Advisory Committee on Democracy along with like-minded ideologues Vin Weber and Carl Gershman of the National Endowment for Democracy, Lorne Craner of the International Republican Institute, and Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.[7]

The committee—which was created in 2006 "to advise the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development on the consideration of issues related to democracy promotion in the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy and foreign assistance"[8]—received unfavorable media attention in April 2007 after the press was forced out of one of its meetings. Reported the Washington Post, "About a third of the way through the meeting, and not long after Undersecretary Paula Dobriansky boasted to the television cameras that 'our entire session today is open to the public' and attended by the press, State Department officials ordered reporters to leave. 'This is the way they wanted it to happen, and this is the way it's going to be,' explained department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos. … The spokesman declined to say who 'they' were. 'You got a problem?' Gallegos challenged. 'Write a letter.'"[9]

In late 2006, Muravchik attempted to rally neoconservatives behind a reinvigorated agenda, which he spelled out in a November 2006 article for Foreign Policy titled "Operation Comeback," styled as a "Memorandum to My Fellow Neonservatives." Lamenting neoconservatives' tarnished reputation because of their association with the Iraq War, Muravchik tried to revive the spirit of his fellow travelers, many of whom he claimed had attempted to distance themselves from the "neoconservative" label. "Where is the joie de combat?" pleaded Muravchik. "The essential tenets of neoconservatism—belief that world peace is indivisible, that ideas are powerful, that freedom and democracy are universally valid, and that evil exists and must be confronted—are as valid today as when we first began. That is why we must continue to fight. But we need to sharpen our game."[10]

In outlining a new approach, Muravchik listed a number of mistakes neoconservatives had made, a list that notably did not include the group's efforts to drive the United States into an ill-advised war in Iraq. Instead, according to Muravchik, neoconservatives are guilty "of poorly explaining neoconservatism"; of being "glib about how Iraqis would greet liberation"; of supporting "the revolution in military strategy that our neocon hero, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has championed" and which "has left our armed forces short on troops and resources"; of failing to foresee the difficulties in democratizing the Middle East, where recent elections have seen the emergence of radical Islamists"; and of insufficiently influencing Bush's disastrous public diplomacy efforts, since after all, "no group other than neocons is likely to figure out how to do that."[11]

Muravchik's suggestions for the future were unsurprising: Neoconservatives "need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action" when Bush bombs Iran's nuclear facilities, which—"make no mistake"—he will have to do "before leaving office." Arguing that "twice in the last quarter-century we had the good fortune to see presidents [Reagan and Bush the younger] elected who were sympathetic to our understanding of the world," Muravchik implored his comrades to begin preparing for the 2008 presidential campaign, promoting "Sen. John McCain [or] former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani," both of whom "look like the kind of leaders who could prosecute the war on terror vigorously." He added: "As for vice presidential candidates, how about Condoleezza Rice or even Joe Lieberman?"[12]

During the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election, Muravchik championed the candidacy of Senator McCain. Discussing his support for the senator, Muravchik told a debate audience at the Nixon Center in September 2008, "If McCain is president, there will be an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities."[13] Commenting on the talk, journalist Jim Lobe wrote, "I would have to take Muravchik's prediction seriously given his longtime perch at AEI, McCain's favorite foreign-policy think tank, and his long association with some of McCain's closest advisers, including Robert Kagan. … Of course, bombing Iran has been a devout and explicit wish on Muravchik's part for nearly two years if not more, so this may be an example of wishful thinking, but I can't help but believe his associations give him some real insight on this question."[14]

In December 2008, Jacob Heilbrunn of the National Interest reported that Muravchik, who had been at AEI for more than two decades, was forced out of the think tank by a faction more favorable to the traditional realist wing of the Republican Party, including Danielle Pletka, a former staffer of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC). Heilbrunn reported that several neoconservatives he had spoken to saw Muravchik's departure, as well as the then-recent resignations of two other high profile neocons at AEI (Michael Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht), as part of "purge" at the think tank.[15]

Wrote Heilbrunn, "Muravchik has never been as unbridled in his writings as some other neocons. To put it another way, he does nuance. As the Soviet Union was collapsing, for example, he wrote an article stating that perhaps Mikhail Gorbachev was a Menshevik even as other neocons such as Norman Podhoretz condemned Gorbachev. Muravchik's main mission has been to forward the democracy crusade. … I myself do not agree with his current endorsement of bombing Iran, but a recent piece in World Affairs, in which he gave a guarded endorsement to President Bush's foreign policy, underscored that he is not simply a cheerleader for the administration."[16]

Impact on Neoconservatism

A former chairman of the Young People's Socialist League, a youth group associated with the Socialist Party of America before the party's breakup in the early 1970s, Muravchik has been a key player in the neoconservative advocacy world since the mid-1970s, when he served as the director of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, a hardline Democratic Party pressure group led by, among others, Penn Kemble and Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA) that aimed to curb the influence anti-war elements within the party in the wake of the Vietnam War. Muravchik, like many neoconservatives, shifted to the Republican Party after being largely ignored by his Democratic colleagues. In the early 1980s, Muravchik and a group of like-minded hardline foreign policy elites tried to build on the momentum of Ronald Reagan's presidential election victory by forming the Committee for the Free World, a group led by Midge Decter (married to Commentary editor-at-large Norman Podhoretz) and Donald Rumsfeld. The group was devoted to promoting freedom "in the world of ideas" and opposing the influence of those in and outside the United States "who have made themselves the enemies of the democratic order."[17]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Muravchik played an important role trying to adapt neoconservative ideas to the rapidly evolving international situation. Muravchik endeavored to craft a new interventionist mission for the United States as the Soviet Union crumbled, an event that wreaked havoc on the neoconservative anticommunist and anti-détente consensus that had been in place since before the election of Reagan. As scholar John Ehrman put it, "The neoconservatives' view of the world assumed a stable, malevolent Soviet Union that was immune from drastic change."[xviii] With the rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev and the ensuing warming relations between the two superpowers, neoconservatives experienced a sharp decline in their influence in the Reagan administration and a rupture within their own ranks. The neoconservatives entered "a period of increasing confusion," writes Ehrman, which was characterized by "an intellectual failure."[19] Lacking a clear enemy, some neoconservatives, like Irving Kristol, began reconsidering whether the United States needed to undertake an aggressive role in global affairs, while others sought to find renewed justification for continued military mobilization—some by attempting to rehabilitate the Soviet threat, others by envisioning new threats and missions for the United States.

Among the second group were people, including Muravchik and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who championed a new mission, one aimed at capitalizing on the U.S. position as lone superpower to aggressively promote democracy and American values as a replacement for militant anticommunism. In his seminal 1990 Foreign Affairs article, "The Unipolar Moment," 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." For his part, Muravchik argued that if "communism soon completes its demise, U.S. foreign policy still should make the promotion of democracy its main objective."[20]

For many first-generation neoconservatives like Irving Kristol, these ideas represented "a dangerous manifestation of Wilsonianism," as the conservative scholars Stephen Halper and Jonathan Clarke characterized the dissent in their 2004 book America Alone. Instead, Kristol advocated a new realism based on the prevailing circumstances in the international system. Arguing that there was no longer any "balance of power for us to worry about," efforts at "monitoring and maintaining a balance of power among other nations, large and small, in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere, would make the United States the world's policeman. … We are simply not going to be that kind of imperial power," he concluded.[21] Likewise, Robert Tucker, a longtime contributor to neoconservative journals, warned against undertaking a new mission to impose freedom, promoting instead "a framework of stability and moderation within which democratic institutions may take root and grow."[22] Presciently, however, although he opposed these new trends in neoconservative discourse, Kristol recognized that they would appeal "not only to liberals but to many conservatives who are ideologically adrift in the post-Cold War era."[23] In the late 1990s, neoconservative-led groups like PNAC successfully began to exploit the appeal of their democracy rhetoric to enlist various factions, including many liberal internationalists and Christian Right leaders, behind their appeals for a more interventionist U.S. foreign policy. These neocon-led coalitions proved invaluable as neoconservatives began to push for war in Iraq after 9/11.[24]

For Muravchik and other neoconservative hardliners, people like Kristol and Tucker had ceased being neoconservatives by the end of the 1980s. Instead, they were, according to Muravchik, conservative neo-realists or "right isolationists." Around the ideas promoted by Muravchik and Krauthammer, a new era of neoconservatism began to emerge, one spearheaded by what Halper and Clarke called a "Young Turk faction," which grew to include the offspring of many of the earliest neoconservatives, including William Kristol (son of Irving), Robert Kagan (son of Donald), John Podhoretz (son of Norman), and Daniel Pipes (son of Richard). Among this faction's early agenda items were: 1) aggressively advance democracy across the globe as the "touchtone of a new ideological American foreign policy," as Krauthammer phrased it in his 1989 article "Universal Dominion: Toward a Unipolar World," which appeared in the Irving Kristol-founded National Interest; and 2) in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, promote the idea that rogue states equipped with nuclear weapons were America's new enemies—or, as Krauthammer defined them in "The Unipolar Moment": "small aggressive states armed with weapons of mass destruction and possessing the means to deliver them." Such states, argued Krauthammer, "will constitute the greatest single threat to world security for the rest of our lives."[25]

Muravchik is a prolific writer, having published a number of books, including Heaven on Earth (2002), about the rise and fall of socialism that served as the basis for a PBS documentary by the same title, and The Future of the United Nations (2005), which argues for a dramatically reformed and less influential United Nations. Other books by Muravchik include Exporting Democracy (1991) and The Imperative of American Leadership (1996). He is also author of hundreds of articles for a variety of publications, including Foreign Policy, Commentary, National Review, and various U.S. newspapers.

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[1] SAIS, "Joshua Muravchik," http://www.sais-jhu.edu/faculty/directory/bios/m/muravchik.htm.

[2] Bush Institute press release, November 21, 2011, http://www.bushcenter.com/downloads/pressReleases/Joshua_Muravchik_Release_FINAL_(2).pdf.

[3] Joshua Muravchik, "Bomb Iran," Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2006.

[4] Joshua Muravchik, "Opposing view: On Iran, more sanctions won't work," USA Today, November 9, 2011, http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/story/2011-11-09/Iran-nukes-military-option/51144536/1.

[5] WINEP Bookstore, Monographs and Special Studies, "Covering the Intifada: How the Media Reported the Palestinian," http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC04.php?CID=137.

[6] Henry Jackson Society, "International Patrons," http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/content.asp?pageid=37 (accessed on October 9, 2008).

[7] Freedom House, Board of Trustees, http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?boardmember=63&page=10; State Department, "Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion Members," April 18, 2007, http://web.archive.org/web/20071225141443/http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/83347.htm.

[8] State Department, "Description of Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion," April 18, 2008, http://web.archive.org/web/20080306040317/www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/83845.htm.

[9] Dana Milbank, "Closed-Door Openness at Foggy Bottom," Washington Post, April 17, 2007.

[10] Joshua Muravchik, "The FP Memo: Urgent: Operation Comeback," Foreign Policy, November/December 2006.

[11] Joshua Muravchik, "The FP Memo: Urgent: Operation Comeback," Foreign Policy, November/December 2006.

[12] Joshua Muravchik, "The FP Memo: Urgent: Operation Comeback," Foreign Policy, November/December 2006.

[13] Quoted in Jim Lobe, "Muravchik" McCain Will Bomb Iran," Lobelog.com, September 26, 2008, http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/?p=190.

[14] Quoted in Jim Lobe, "Muravchik" McCain Will Bomb Iran," Lobelog.com, September 26, 2008, http://www.ips.org/blog/jimlobe/?p=190.

[15] Jacob Heilbrunn, "Flight of the Neocons," National Interest online, December 19, 2008.

[16] Jacob Heilbrunn, "Flight of the Neocons," National Interest online, December 19, 2008.

[17] GroupWatch Profile, Committee for the Free World, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/gw/1587.html.

[18] John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs 1945-1994, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 173.

[19] John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs 1945-1994, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 173.

[20] Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 79.

[21] Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 77.

[22] Cited in John Ehrman, The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs 1945-1994, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 181.

[23] Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 76.

[24] Jim Lobe and Michael Flynn, "The Rise and Decline of the Neoconservatives," Right Web, November 17, 2006, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/3713.html.

[25] Charles Krauthammer, "Universal Dominion: Toward a Unipolar World," National Interest," Winter 1989/90; Charles Krauthammer, "The Unipolar Moment," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1990/91.

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Joshua Muravchik Résumé


    • School of Advanced International Studies: Fellow
    • George W. Bush Institute: Fellow
    • American Enterprise Institute: Former Resident Scholar
    • Freedom House: Member, Board of Trustees
    • Henry Jackson Society: International Sponsor
    • Committee on the Present Danger: Member
    • Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs: Member, Board of Advisors
    • Committee for the Liberation of Iraq: Former Member, Advisory Board
    • Project for the New American Century Statement: Signatory to Multiple Open Letters
    • Institute of World Politics: Adjunct Professor
    • Washington Institute on Near East Policy: Former Adjunct Scholar
    • Coalition for a Democratic Majority: Executive Director (1977-1979)
    • Young People's Socialist League: President (1968-1973)

    Government Service

    • State Department: Former Member, Committee on Democracy Promotion (2007)
    • U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Member, Maryland State Advisory Committee (1985-1997)
    • Commission on Broadcasting to the People's Republic of China: Member (1992)


    • City College of New York: B.A.
    • Georgetown University: Ph.D. in International Relations


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