Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is a long-standing advocate of militaristic U.S. foreign and defense policies whose experience includes working as a reporter for Insight Magazine during the George H.W. Bush administration and serving as a member of the staff for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the Clinton administration. Pletka joined AEI in 2002, shortly after some two dozen AEI fellows and associates were tapped to serve in the George W. Bush administration.
Pletka has helped promote numerous neoconservative agenda items, particularly concerning the "war on terror" and U.S. policy in the Middle East. For instance, in 2006 Pletka helped establish AEI's "Iraq Planning Group," a panel led by AEI scholar Frederick Kagan and Gen. Jack Keane that successfully promoted the controversial "surge" in Iraq. In January 2007, the group released a report that recommended, among other suggestions, that at least 50,000 more U.S. troops be sent to Iraq. In an event marking the report's release and attend by the likes of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Pletka argued that the United States must stay in Iraq until "victory" is achieved, adding: "Like the war, hate the war, believe in it or not, America is now in Iraq, and we must win. It is as simple as that, because the price of failure is not ignominy for George W. Bush or egg on the face of Dick Cheney, it is the victory of terrorists and their sponsors and the creation of a national homeland for extremists bent on killing Americans."
The goal of the AEI planning group was to determine how Washington might emerge from Iraq with a win: "The suggestion that victory was unachievable was dismissed from the outset. The idea that the world's greatest economic, political, and military force with more than a million men and women under arms can be trounced by the likes of al-Qaida in Iraq and Iranian-sponsored Shiite fire breathers is ridiculous. We can lose only if we choose to do so," Pletka said.
More recently, in January 2013, Pletka joined a campaign orchestrated by a number of "pro-Israel" writers like William Kristol to prevent the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as defense secretary in Barack Obama's second administration. The nomination drew fire from many foreign policy hawks in part because of the senator's criticism of the Iraq war and denunciation of the influence of the Israel lobby in Washington. In an op-ed for USA Today, Pletka wrote that the nominee exhibited "troubling hints of anti-Semitism," a claim that was repeated by many neoconservatives but which was firmly contradicted by numerous sources both in Israel and the United States. She wrote: "Hagel has decried 'intimidation' by the 'the Jewish lobby' in Washington. Taken in the context of other positions—including one incident in which Hagel was the only member of the Senate to decline to sign a letter urging action against rising anti-Semitism in Russia—and in light of his consistent willingness to downplay the threat posed by terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, it is not unreasonable to ask whether Senator Hagel has a problem with Jews and the Jewish state."
Pletka has not been shy about using the "anti-Semite" slur in an effort to sideline those she disagrees with. In May 2004, she told a Washington Post reporter: "I think the phrase 'neocon' is much more popular among people who think it shields their anti-Semitism. But it doesn't."
Pletka has supported the work of numerous hawkish advocacy groups. In 2002 and 2003 Pletka signed letters to President George W. Bush and two statements on post-war Iraq produced by the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a now-defunct advocacy group that was closely associated with AEI. She was one of a small group of prominent supporters of the now-defunct Coalition for Democracy in Iran, a group that operated out of the office of Morris Amitay. And Pletka is a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, a 1970s-era anti-communist pressure group that was re-constituted after the 9/11 attacks to pressure the United States to wage a broad "war on terror."
Pletka has argued that the U.S. government has not done all that it could to fight the "present danger." According to Pletka, "[T]he commitment of the enemy is hardly matched by the commitment of the United States to counter him. True, the United States is engaged in Iraq. Yes, an unprecedented effort has gone into public diplomacy. But how does the West combat Islamic extremism? U.S. officials confronted with the question hem and haw uncomfortably. They mention the 'freedom agenda' and the spread of democracy; and while democracy is indeed the long-term solution to the problem of radical Islam and the appeal of Islamic extremist groups, the problem faces us now. A short-term solution is needed to partner with the long term one."
In October 2005, Pletka wrote that the Bush administration was not fully committing itself to the war on terrorism and the promotion of democracy in the Middle East. "The Bush revolution has indeed lost its energy," she wrote. "The evidence is widespread and disturbing. Whether on the question of Iranian nuclear proliferation, Iraqi constitution-building, or Libyan dictatorship, the rhetoric retains its ring, but it does not resonate through the Department of State, let alone through the region."
The CIA, along with the State Department, has come under repeated attack by Pletka. "There are challenges ahead in Iran, North Korea, China, and in the war on terror," warned Pletka in February 2006. "No matter how those issues play out, the American people should be certain that their democratically elected leaders are making decisions based on unbiased intelligence. They won't get that from today's CIA."
Like many of her neoconservative contemporaries, Pletka was a fervent supporter of Ahmed Chalabi, the chairman of Iraqi National Congress, a U.S.-financed organization that worked closely with the Bush foreign policy team in making the case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. When the U.S. government began distancing itself from Chalabi in part because of his controversial actions in Iraq, Pletka rose to his defense. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Pletka called the U.S. government "a faithless friend" and concluded that Washington's agencies, namely the CIA and the State Department, were "more concerned with carrying out vendettas than with pursuing the real enemies of the United States." According to Pletka, Chalabi was one of the "all too few Iraqis who were willing to risk life and limb to topple Hussein; and there were even fewer who believed in Western democratic values."
With respect to Iran, Pletka has frequently denounced those who propose diplomatic engagement. "Any opening from the United States will only lend credibility to that government and forever dash the hopes of a population that, according to reliable polls, despises its own leadership," she argued in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. "We have seen that engagement with the current leadership of Iran would not achieve policy change; all it would do is buy an evil regime the time it needs to perfect its nuclear weapons and to build a network of terrorists to deliver them." In September 2006, Pletka made it clear that she would support military action to prevent a nuclear-capable Iran: "We have talked about talking for long enough; there must be other options. If those options are unavailable to those most threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran (that is, the American people), then the likelihood of war becomes ever greater. It is not wise to force America into a choice between doing nothing and doing everything. But it may come to that."
Pletka maintains that torture is a distasteful but acceptable practice in the war against terrorism. "I'm not a big fan of torture. Unfortunately, there are times in war when it is necessary to do things in a way that is absolutely and completely abhorrent to most good, decent people," she told the BBC. "If it is absolutely imperative to find something out at that moment, then it is imperative to find something out at that moment, and Club Med is not the place to do it."