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

Lee Smith

    • Foundation for Defense of Democracies: Fellow
    • Hudson Institute: Former Fellow
    • Tablet Magazine: Columnist

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Lee Smith is a writer based at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) known for his belligerent defense of hawkish U.S. and Israeli policies. Formerly a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute, Smith contributes to several media outlets, including Tablet Magazine, the Weekly Standard, and the Wall Street Journal, where he frequently lambasts the purported weakness of liberals in confronting terrorism, attacks writers who are critical of Israeli policies as being "Jew-baiters," and promotes hardline views of Middle East peace.[1]

FDD announced its hiring of Smith in a November 2011 press release, stating that Smith shares "FDD's commitment to the defense of American security, its support for America's allies, and [its commitment] to the defeat of regimes, ideologies and terrorist groups that threaten liberal democracy."[2]

Since joining FDD, Smith has published frequently on a number of core neoconservative issue areas, including building strategic ties with the Christian Right and promoting U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

In an April 2012 article fro Tablet titled "Christians for Palestine," Smith worried about a "shift in the political winds" among evangelicals as new Christian groups sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have begun to emerge. He argued that despite the continued strength of Christian Zionist groups like John Hagee's Christian United for Israel, most of these "pro-Israel" Christians "are unprepared to justify [their support] on political grounds." "This gap," wrote Smith, "has made room for people across the cultural and ideological spectrum—whose motivations run the gamut from genuine compassion for Palestinians to anti-Semitism—to fill the space with their own interpretations of contemporary Middle East history. Not surprisingly, many of these narratives tend to be drawn from precincts of the left, like the BDS movement, that are known for their hostility to the Jewish state."[3]

In another article, Smith offered boilerplate neoconservative criticism of the Obama administration's Middle East policies, writing in a Weekly Standard article: "The threat against the life of the American ambassador to Syria comes during a bad streak for the Obama administration. First was the Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States and bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies, while incurring perhaps hundreds of American casualties. Next was the White House's failure to secure an agreement to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, which will empower Iran and its Iraqi allies at the expense of American interests. Middle Easterners who count on American leadership can be forgiven for misreading signs of American weakness."[4]

According to his FDD bio, "Lee Smith's eloquence and his vast knowledge of Arabic and Islamic affairs make him an important voice in Washington's foreign policy community."[5] Many observers, however, would likely contest this characterization. For example, in July 2010, Smith's column for Tablet drew widespread attention when he charged that major U.S. media outfits were mainstreaming—and profiting from—anti-Semitism, by publishing blogs like those of Stephen Walt, Phillip Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, and Andrew Sullivan. Glibly interchanging descriptives like "anti-Semitic," "Jew-baiting," and "anti-Israel" to describe the work of these and other critics of Israeli policies, Smith claimed that the "anti-Israel blogosphere is a dirty little thrill that major U.S. media outfits have mainstreamed for the masses, the intellectual equivalent of the topless 'Page Three' girls that British tabloids use to boost circulation."[6]

Smith's larger concern in the article was the way some readers of these blogs use the comments sections to post anti-Semitic diatribes. Although there is a strong case to be made that racists use legitimate criticism of U.S. and Israeli policies as springboards for anti-Semitic invective, Smith repeatedly associated the bloggers he targeted with the uncensored comments written by anonymous readers.[7]

Smith appeared to characterize the views of one blogger, Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service, based solely on two comments written by readers of Lobe's Lobelog.com. Wrote Smith: "Commenters who are shut out at [the New York Timesblog] The Lede can find a welcoming home on Lobeblog, hosted by Jim Lobe, a journalist with the IPS News Agency who believes that the roots of the U.S. invasion of Iraq lay not in the White House or the Defense Department, or in U.S. dependence on Arab oil, but in a small neoconservative outfit called the Project for a New American Century, which was supposedly run by American Jews looking to direct U.S. policy on behalf of the Israeli government. 'It hasn't been secret,' writes Carroll, a commenter on a Lobelog post, that 'for a long time that we have a small cabal of U.S. zionist[s] operating in and manipulating the US for their vision of Israel and a group of US Neocons and other assorted special interest who never met a war they didn't like. … What do we have to do to put an end to them? … Suicide the cabal?' On another post at the same site, a commenter named Rowan Berkeley writes: 'It seems to me that it is no exaggeration to say roundly that the USA in its entirety is under Jewish control of one variety or another.'"[8]

Responding to the piece, Stephen Walt wrote: "The first thing to observe about Smith's screed is that even though he accuses me and my fellow bloggers of being anti-Semites and 'Jew-baiters,' his article contains not a scintilla of evidence that Sullivan, Greenwald, Weiss, or I have written or said anything that is remotely anti-Semitic, much less that involves 'Jew-baiting.' There's an obvious reason for this omission: None of us has ever written or said anything that supports Smith's outrageous charges."[9]

The only evidence of Walt's purported anti-Semitism that Smith provided was a quote from the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, who recklessly claimed, "Walt is a throwback to the 1930s. In the '30s the isolationists rode the Jews as a hobby horse. They tried very hard to marginalize American citizens of the Jewish faith by questioning their loyalty. These guys don't even understand what ancient terror they're tapping into. What's original, what makes this period alarming, is that the Washington Post Company would give a Jew-baiter a platform."[10]

After being widely criticized for his article, Smith wrote a follow-up piece in the Tablet in which he claimed that his critics "mistakenly believed that I was accusing specific journalists and academics—Stephen Walt, Andrew Sullivan, Phillip Weiss, and Glenn Greenwald—of being anti-Semites." He then weakly added, "Whether or not these bloggers are anti-Semitic is precisely the argument Walt and the rest want to have and precisely the one I do not. Anti-Semitism is an idea held in the mind that finally can only be confirmed—and can always be denied—by the mind holding it."[11]

Despite his claim to the contrary, Smith has a clear pattern of using accusations of anti-Semitism to characterize those he disagrees with. In another July 2010 piece for the Tablet titled "Hollow Men: Why Israel's Enemies Will Always Be the Darlings of Western Intellectuals," Smith criticized journalists like Octavia Nasr—the CNN editor who was fired after tweeting that she respected late militant cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah—claiming that she and other like-minded Western intellectuals are being deliberately misleading when they ignore the "genocidal" politics of Israel's Middle East opponents.

He wrote, "Media consumers in the United States are by now well aware that Hezbollah and Hamas provide 'social services' for their communities. For the writers and television personalities who push such supposed palliatives on their audiences … respect for the resistance is a polite way of indicating one's tolerance for murderous anti-Semitism."[12]

After investigating much of Smith's oeuvre, Daniel Luban, a contributor to Lobelog, wrote that he was surprised Tablet published his work: "It's an interesting question why Smith has his gig at Tablet. … I've gone through just about all of Smith's Tablet columns, and virtually without fail they fall into one of two genres: there are hit pieces against whoever the neocons' enemy of the week is (e.g. Trita Parsi, the Leveretts, and this latest article), and there are sycophantic puff pieces touting the wisdom of various Likudnik policymakers (e.g. Elliott Abrams, Michael Oren). Last week, he attempted a deeper think piece on Israel, Intellectuals, And The Fate Of Western Civilization, and it didn't go too well—the kind of turgid pop philosophy that would be more at home in a college newspaper."[13]

Smith is the author of the 2010 book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (Doubleday), which received a fawning review from Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum in the right-wing National Review. Describing the book as one of a handful of "excellent attempts to explain the pathology of Arab politics," Pipes related that the cornerstone of Lee's book is a 2001 quote from Osama bin Laden: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse."

According to Pipes, "This principle predominates because Arab public life has 'no mechanism for peaceful transitions of authority or power sharing, and therefore [it] sees political conflict as a fight to the death between strong horses." He added, "Smith's simple and near-universal principle provides a tool to comprehend the Arabs' cult of death, honor killings, terrorist attacks, despotism, warfare, and much else. He acknowledges that the strong-horse principle may strike Westerners as ineffably crude, but he correctly insists on its being a cold reality that outsiders must recognize, take into account, and respond to."[15]

According to Smith's Hudson Institute bio: "Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute. Smith has led an impressive career in writing and publishing. He has worked at a number of journals, magazines and publishers, including the Hudson Review, the Ecco Press, Atheneum, Grand Street, GQ Magazine, and Talk Magazine. He was also editor-in-chief of the Voice Literary Supplement, the Village Voice's national monthly literary magazine. Smith has been a guest on radio and television, including Fox News, and National Public Radio. He is a prolific writer, contributing articles on Arab and Islamic affairs to, among other publications, the New York Times, the New Republic, the Weekly Standard, Slate.com, the Boston Globe, and Wired.[15]

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[1] Hudson Institute, "Lee Smith : Biographical Highlights," http://www.hudson.org/learn/index.cfm?fuseaction=staff_bio&eid=LeeSmith.

[2] FDD, "FDD Welcomes Lee Smith and James Kirchick as Fellows," November 2, 2011, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/fdd-welcomes-lee-smith-and-james-kirchick-as-fellows1/.

[3] Lee Smtih, "Christians for Palestine," Tablet, April 18, 2012. http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/christians-for-palestine/.

[4] Lee Smtih, "What Syria Policy?" Weekly Standard, November 7, 2011.

[5] FDD, Lee Smith, http://www.defenddemocracy.org/about-fdd/team-overview/lee-smith/.

[6] Lee Smith, "Mainstreaming Hate," Tablet, July 21, 2010, http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/40064/mainstreaming-hate/.

[7] Daniel Luban, "Why Does Lee Smith Have a Job," Inter Press Service, Lobelog, July 22, 2010, http://www.lobelog.com/lee-smith/.

[8] Lee Smith, "Mainstreaming Hate," Tablet, July 21, 2010, http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/40064/mainstreaming-hate/.

[9] Steve Walt, "The Problem with Judging a Blog by its Commenters," Foreign Policyblog, July 21, 2010, http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/07/21/the_problem_with_judging_a_blog_by_its_commenters.

[10] Lee Smith, "Mainstreaming Hate," Tablet, July 21, 2010, http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/40064/mainstreaming-hate/.

[11] Lee Smith, "Playing with Fire," Tablet, July 29, 2010.

[12] Lee Smith, "Hollow Men: Why Israel's Enemies Will Always Be the Darlings of Western Intellectuals," Tablet, July 14, 2010.

[13] Daniel Luban, "Why Does Lee Smith Have a Job," Inter Press Service, Lobelog, July 22, 2010, http://www.lobelog.com/lee-smith/.

[14] Daniel Pipes, "In Mideast, Bet on a Strong Horse," National Review, February 16, 2010.

[15] Hudson Institute, "Lee Smith : Biographical Highlights," http://www.hudson.org/learn/index.cfm?fuseaction=staff_bio&eid=LeeSmith.

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Lee Smith Résumé


    • Foundation for Defense of Democracies:Fellow (2011- )
    • Hudson Institute: Former Visiting fellow
    • Tablet Magazine: Columnist
    • Weekly Standard: Contributor


    • George Washington University: BA


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