Representing the Right
Today we're going to talk some inside baseball. Not to worry, this column is not about America's "national pastime"; "inside baseball" is just an expression. This column actually is about the work of Eleana Benador. She is one of those influential public relations folks who work behind the scenes, managing and massaging the media.
Eleana Benador runs a high-powered media relations and international Speakers bureau called Benador Associates. With offices in New York City, Paris, London, Madrid, and Geneva, she is a woman on a mission. The last time, and I must confess the first time, I heard about her activities was when Brian Whittaker, writing for Britain's The Guardian ("US think tanks give lessons in foreign policy"), described Benador's work promoting a gaggle of spokespeople that support Israel's objectives in the Middle East.
Whitaker's article painstakingly described the coterie of Middle East "experts" -- nurtured by several right-wing, and mostly Washington, DC-based think tanks -- who have come to dominate the public discourse over Middle East policy. (For more, see "Richard Perle's posse".)
This domination has been aided and abetted by the work of Ms. Benador.
An expert booking agent, Ms. Benador succeeds with remarkable ease in getting her clients maximum exposure on cable's talking-head television programs, and in placing their op-ed pieces in a number of the nation's major newspapers.
Ms. Benador represents a constellation of right-wing politicos and conservative think tankers including: Alexander M. Haig, Jr., -- former Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan who currently runs Worldwide Associates, Inc., a company that assists "corporations around the world in providing strategic advice on global political, economic, commercial and security matters"; James Woolsey -- former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency for two years under Bill Clinton and one of the earliest of drum beaters for taking out Saddam Hussein; Richard Perle -- the neoconservative icon who is one of the chief architects of Bush's Middle East policy; Charles Krauthammer -- a regular columnist with the Washington Post who is a "hawk's hawk"; Michael Ledeen -- currently occupying the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.; Frank Gaffney -- founder and president of the Washington, DC-based Center for Security Policy and columnist with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times; and Arnaud de Borchgrave -- Senior Adviser and Director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former editor-in-chief of the Washington Times.
Dr. Khidir Hamza
One of Benador's bright new stars is Dr. Khidhir Hamza, the dissident Iraqi nuclear scientist who recently charged that Iraq could have a nuclear bomb within months. According to an article in Britain's The Times (September 16), Dr. Hamza, who was science adviser to the Atomic Energy Establishment and later helped to start and direct Iraq's nuclear bomb program before his 1994 defection, claimed "that Saddam [Hussein] could be in a position to make three nuclear weapons within the next few months, if he has not already done so."
The Times: "Dr. Hamza gave warning that UN inspectors would be useless because even if they were given 'unfettered access' they would find it far more difficult than before to detect the nuclear assembly line. 'The beauty of the present system is that the units are each very small and in the four years since the inspectors left they will have been concealed underground or in basements or buildings that outwardly seem normal,' Dr. Hamza said."
Dr. Hamza testified before Senator Joe Biden's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Iraq in Washington last August, "but it was only after the recent International Institute for Strategic Studies report on the threat from Saddam," reports The Times, "that he became aware of the West's imperfect understanding of the urgency of the situation."
That's where Eleana Benador comes in. Over the past several months Dr. Hamza has been interviewed by the New York Times, Tom Brokaw, Nightly News, 60 Minutes II, PBS Frontline, NPR: All things Considered, and the Morning Show with Bob Edwards.
The website run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq recently linked to photos of Benador that, said website contributor Drew Hamre, were "apparently taken at a meeting that included: US Senator Joseph Lieberman... anti-Arab ideologue Daniel Pipes [director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum], and -- inexplicably -- Reza Pahlavi, the former Crown Prince of Iran. Adding absurdity to inexplicability," Hamre added, "the photos are posted on the vanity website of a Philadelphia-area realtor active in Middle East politics." (View the photos here.)
Since the beginning of August, Michael Ledeen, one of Benador's clients, has written 6 columns in the National Review about Iran -- most of them urging the Bush Administration to rally around the opposition forces and add Iran to the list of future (not too distant) targets.
In a September 1, 2002, piece for the Wall Street Journal titled "The War on Terror Won't End in Baghdad," Ledeen threw Iran into the preemptive strike mix, writing: "this is not just a war against Iraq, it is a war against terrorist organizations and against the regimes that foster, support, arm, train, indoctrinate and command the terrorist legions who are clamoring for our destruction. There are four such regimes: in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia."
Ms. Benador, along with several of her clients, are listed as "Core Activists and Supporters" of the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL) at its website. According to the Guardian's Brian Whittaker, the USCFL publishes the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin jointly with the Pipes' Middle East Forum. The Bulletin, which "is sent out by email free of charge -- but can never-the-less afford to pay its contributors," reports Whittaker, "specializes in covering the seamy side of Lebanese and Syrian politics."
In June 2000, the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum issued a 48-page study, titled "Ending Syria's Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role." According to a press release announcing its publication, the report called for the U.S. to "demand a Syrian withdrawal and restore Lebanon's sovereignty," and it "suggests a range of specific policy recommendations, from issuing a clear statement of policy ('All Syrian forces must leave Lebanon') to putting serious pressure on Syria." The media contact? Eleana Benador.
A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz will give you an idea of how incredibly tangled-up these people and issues are. Akiva Eldar's piece, "Perles of wisdom for the Feithful," reports that in 1996, Richard Perle (Benador client) and Doug Feith, currently the deputy defense minister and according to Eldar "the No. 3 person in the Pentagon's hierarchy," met at the request of Benjamin Netanyahu who was then taking "his first steps as prime minister." They prepared a report for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, a think tank with offices in Washington, DC and Jerusalem.
Perle, Feith and several others "could not have known that four years later... the working paper they prepared, including plans for Israel to help restore the Hashemite throne in Iraq, would shed light on the current policies of the only superpower in the world," Eldar writes. The paper's major theme was assuring the security of Israel. One scenario advanced was to encourage "investment in Jordan [in order] to shift structurally Jordan's economy away from dependence on Iraq; and diverting Syria's attention by using Lebanese opposition elements to destabilize Syrian control of Lebanon." (For more on this, see here.)
Grand conspiracy? No. Megalomaniacal vision of unleashed U.S. power? You bet. Helping these Dr. Strangelovian characters get their message out? Ms. Eleana Benador of Benador Associates -- priceless.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.