Right Web

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

Gary Schmitt

  • American Enterprise Institute: Resident Scholar
  • Project for the New American Century: Senior Fellow

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A resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and author of numerous texts on intelligence reform and national security, Gary Schmitt helped found and direct the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a key neoconservative letterhead group formed in 1997 that played a leading role advocating war in Iraq and an expansive war on terror in the wake of 9/11.

Schmitt was one of a number of so-called second generation neoconservatives who, heavily influenced by the writings of the arcane political philosopher Leo Strauss, left academia in the 1970s to initiate what scholars Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke called a "new conservative political outlook" in Washington (America Alone, p. 98) . Describing this movement of Straussians from universities to policymaking, Irving Kristol, perhaps the most important neoconservative progenitor, once wrote that this "new generation" of scholars, who learned from Strauss's students, "relocated to Washington, DC, since the academic world of positivist 'political science' has become ever more hostile to Strauss and 'Straussians'-even while his mode of thought has filtered down to an ever more 'happy few'" (Neoconservatism, p. 7).

Among the "happy few" who transitioned to the policy world with Schmitt in the 1970s and 1980s were Paul Wolfowitz, former number two at the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld; I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff; William Kristol, son of Irving and cofounder of the Weekly Standard and PNAC who left Harvard to serve on the staff of Reagan's secretary of education, William Bennett; and Abram Shulsky, a former Reagan Defense Department official who gained notoriety as one of a number of Straussian adepts involved in skewing intelligence in the Office of Special Plans to help justify the invasion of Iraq. (For more on Strauss and his purported influence on a number of conservative political elites associated with the George W. Bush administration, see Jim Lobe, "The Strong Must Rule the Weak," Foreign Policy In Focus, May 12, 2003.)

After a stint as a research associate at the University of Virginia, in 1981 Schmitt joined the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where he served until 1984. He then became director of Reagan's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a position he held until 1988. According to his AEI biography, Schmitt briefly returned to government in 1992, where he served for a year as a consultant to the Defense Department during the administration of George H.W. Bush.

Like many of the proponents of the Iraq War, Schmitt has had to struggle with both faulty rationales he and other neoconservatives peddled before the war began and the spiraling problems confronted by the U.S. military in the wake of the invasion. In an article for the Weekly Standard several weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Schmitt wrote: "We know [Iraq] has stockpiled mass quantities of anthrax and has worked hard to make it as potent a weapon of terror as possible . We know that Saddam's Iraq continues to pursue development of weapons of mass destruction-nuclear, chemical, and biological-believing that these are the ultimate keys to overcoming America's military dominance in the region. In short, Iraq is both equipped with dangerous weapons and out to get the United States" (October 29, 2001).

In a subsequent article published in the Los Angeles Times after the invasion, Schmitt wrote: "Why can't the coalition teams find stocks of weapons today? Probably because Hussein destroyed them either before the UN inspectors returned to Iraq last December or . just before the war began . The credibility of both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will remain in question until coalition investigators have not only gotten to the bottom of the missing weapons but also, and more important, the weapons programs themselves . Here, patience is required . Intelligence products are not gospel, and they should not be treated as such . Failure to find [WMDs] would complicate a president's ability to rally support for taking action in similar situations in the future" (June 28, 2003).

By the end of 2006, Schmitt began criticizing those few neoconservatives and other erstwhile supporters of the war (such as Richard Perle) who had expressed misgivings about the war. In an interview with the BBC, Schmitt argued that in any case it wasn't the ideas of neoconservatives that drove the Bush administration: "Our ideas have not necessarily dominated. We did not have anyone sitting on Bush's shoulder. So the work now is to see how they are implemented. Obviously it makes life difficult with the specific failure in Iraq, but I do not agree with Richard Perle that we should never have gone in. I do argue that the execution should have been better. In fact, I argued in late 2003 that we needed more troops and a proper counterinsurgency policy" (BBC, December 21, 2006).

Schmitt is the author of a number of works, including with Shulsky Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence (2002), in which the authors argue that "truth is not the goal" of intelligence operations, but "victory" (p. 176). He also co-authored with Shulsky The Future of U.S. Intelligence, a report published by the hardline National Strategy Information Center that seemed to foreshadow the work of the Office of Special Plans. The report concluded that intelligence should not be centralized in the CIA, and that the intelligence community should adopt new methodology aimed at "obtaining information others try to keep secret and penetrating below the 'surface' impression created by publicly available information to determine whether an adversary is deceiving us or denying us key information." It recommended creating "competing analytic centers" with "different points of view" that could "provide policymakers better protection against new 'Pearl Harbors,' i.e., against being surprised."

Schmitt's latest major publication is Of Men and Materiel: The Crisis in Military Resources, a 2007 AEI volume Schmitt edited with Thomas Donnelly. Like a number of other recent neoconservative-authored works, including by Joshua Muravchik and Frederick Kagan, Of Men and Materiel argues that the U.S. military is suffering grave deficiencies in meeting America's strategic needs due in part to efforts by Pentagon reformers like Donald Rumsfeld to focus on modernization efforts at the expense of properly funding materiel replacement and building up the size of the standing forces. A call for massive increases in defense spending, the book's various essays call for boosting the capacities of each of the services and reforming procurement procedures. In the book's introduction, Schmitt and Donnelly write: "As a country, we should . recognize that an under-funded and undermanned military is a far more urgent issue than the failure to turn the Pentagon into a model of hyperefficiency and paradigm-breaking military thinking. The latter is a problem; the former is a recipe for defeat."

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Please note: IPS Right Web neither represents nor endorses any of the individuals or groups profiled on this site.


Gary Schmitt biography, American Enterprise Institute, http://www.aei.org/scholars/scholarID.103,filter.all/scholar.asp.

Gary Schmitt biography, Project for the New American Century, http://www.newamericancentury.org/garyschmittbio.htm.

Gary Schmitt and Thomas Donnelly, eds., Of Men and Materiel: The Crisis in Military Resources (Washington: AEI Press, 2007).

Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea/Selected Essays 1949-1995 (New York: Free Press, 1995).

U.S. Committee on NATO, Board of Directors (Web Archive), http://web.archive.org/web/20021115001655/http://expandnato.org/us.html.

Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, Board of Directors (Web Archive), http://web.archive.org/web/20030802073337/http://www.liberationiraq.org/committee_officers.shtml.

Gary Schmitt, "Why Iraq?" Weekly Standard, October 29, 2001 (Web Archive), http://web.archive.org/web/20030728062046/http://www.liberationiraq.org/articles/archives/00000008.htm.

Gary Schmitt, "Be Patient, Keep Looking," Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2003, http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraq-20030608.htm.

Abram N. Shulsky and Gary J. Schmitt, Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence (Dulles, VA: Brassey's Inc., 2002).

Paul Reynolds, "End of the Neocon Dream," BBC, December 21, 2006.

Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt, The Future of U.S. Intelligence: Report Prepared for the Working Group on Intelligence Reform (Washington: Consortium for the Study of Intelligence of the National Security Information Center, 1996).

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Gary Schmitt Résumé


  • American Enterprise Institute: Resident Scholar; Director of Program on Advanced Strategic Studies
  • Project for the New American Century: Senior Fellow, Former Executive Director
  • U.S. Committee on NATO: Board of Directors
  • Committee for the Liberation of Iraq: Secretary
  • Consortium for the Study of Intelligence, National Strategy Information Center: Coordinator, Working Group on Intelligence Reform, 1996
  • Brookings Institution: Former Visiting Fellow
  • The National Interest: Former Visiting Fellow
  • Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies: Former Adjunct Professor
  • Government Service

  • President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board: Executive Director, 1984-1988
  • Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: Minority Staff Director, 1982-1984; Member of Professional Staff, 1980-1982
  • Department of Defense: Consultant, 1992-1993
  • Education

  • University of Dallas: B.A., 1974
  • University of Chicago: Ph.D., 1980


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