The Resurrection

With full-page ads in the Washington Post and the New York Times, and a sparkling new multi-media website flashing photos of recent terror attacks in India and Indonesia, the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) re-launched itself with a bang last month, proclaiming its new mission to be "dedicated to winning the war on terror."

What it didn't say is that the billionaire philanthropists behind the CPD intend to broaden this "war on terror" beyond al-Qaeda to focus on all militant jihadist groups, including Israel's perceived enemies.

Writing in the July 20 edition of the Washington Post, Committee honorary co-chairs Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) described the focus of this new, third incarnation of the Committee as "international terrorism from Islamic extremists and the outlaw states that either harbor or support them." They write:

"The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks awoke (sic) all Americans to the capabilities and brutality of our new enemy, but today too many people are insufficiently aware of our enemy's evil worldwide designs, which include waging jihad against all Americans and reestablishing a totalitarian religious empire in the Middle East... True to its history, the reborn Committee on the Present Danger will advocate strong policies both against international terrorists and their sponsors and in favor of freedom and security.
Our mission is to educate the American people about the threat posed by a global Islamist terror movement; to counsel against appeasement and accommodation with terrorists; and to build support for a strategy of decisive victory against this menace not only to the United States, but to democracy and freedom everywhere."
On the Committee's web site, one of its members, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., who heads the Center for Security Policy, sums up the reason for the resurrection thus: "The CPD brilliantly waged a 'war of ideas' against an earlier, hostile ideology with global ambitions – Soviet Communism. Now it must help defeat today's ideological threat: Islamofascism."

The Players

Chaired by former CIA director James Woolsey, the reborn Committee has 49 members in all, including many well known hawks and neoconservatives affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute (Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Danielle Pletka, Joshua Muravchik, Laurie Mylroie, Newt Gingrich, Michael Rubin), former Attorney General Edwin Meese, Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford's Hoover Institution, Norm Podhoretz of Commentary fame, Charles Kupperman of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, former Reagan official Jack Kemp, former Congressional staffer-turned-lobbyist and Project for the New American Century board member Randy Scheunemann; and several anti-arms control hawks – Henry Cooper, Jim Woolsey himself, Kenneth Adelman, Max Kampelman [founder of the Committee's 1976 iteration] – reminiscent of the Committee's earlier two incarnations.

[A 50th CPD member, Peter Hannaford, a former Reagan PR official, was asked to step down as managing director of the CPD after this reporter revealed on her weblog "War and Piece" his past paid lobbying for the Nazi-sympathetic Austrian Freedom Party and its leader Joerg Haider. But a recent interview with the CPD's acting managing director, Clifford May, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, reveals that Hannaford is currently still serving as a "senior consultant" to the CPD, and may indeed have just been moved to the background.]

For all the flashy public relations launch of the reborn Committee, some of its members seem a bit taken by surprise when a reporter calls asking, "What's this all about?"

CPD member Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador to Hungary, author of Breaking the Real Axis of Evil, and board member of Freedom House, says he hasn't attended any meetings and doesn't really know what the group will do. "The reason I joined is I think there is a present danger," says Palmer. "And I think it's good to have a citizen's lobby that is focused on it. I frankly also joined because I believe there is a nexis and an axis between dictators and terrorism. And this is another vehicle for me to promote my view."

The Worldview

In a recent telephone interview, Woolsey describes the Committee's audience as global, and says the Cold War evocations of the committee's name were, of course, intentional.

"Most of us see the Committee not so much focused on the threats to the US [posed by terrorism], as focused on the threats to democracy around the world," Woolsey tells AlterNet. "Unlike the first two incarnations of the committee, this is not going to be something that focuses on the danger to the US alone. Here, we're talking about dangers to, for instance, the nation of Senegal posed by Wahabbi funding of their education system. We're helping protect democratic systems and the rule of law and civil society."

Why did the organizers choose to use the name of a committee so associated with the Cold War? "Because there are some real senses in which this is like the Cold War," Woolsey says. "This war will have a number of things in common with the Cold War. Among them, that only a portion of it, I hope not much, will have to be fought militarily and that much of it will be fought ideologically."

Woolsey also sent me a long paper he co-authored, called "Grand Strategy in the Middle East," published by the Aspen Strategy Group, as a partial explanation of the CPD's worldview. "The Middle East will not move toward peace until there is a solid movement there towards governments becoming democracies that operate under the rule of law," states the paper. "To win, we will need, from time to time, to use military force preventively, as we have in Iraq. But as in the Cold War... much of our effective action will need to be outside the military sphere."

Elaborating on the CPD's mission, acting managing director Clifford May says the committee "seeks to do in this era very much what the committee did in past eras, except the present danger we face today is not communism but jihadism. That's an umbrella term that includes radical Islamism, Ba'athism, those totalitarian ideologies that are intent on the destruction of the free world."

Following the Money

At times, one is struck by an element of sloganeering, of speaking in code, when reading the Committee's literature and listening to its leadership describe what it will actually do. All this talk of "Islamofascism" and "jihadism" raises questions about the reason for the resurrection of the CPD – and just who is financing it.

But May says that's no mystery. He explains that the CPD is registered as a 501(c)4 organization, which gives it a tax status that allows it to lobby Congress on behalf of specific policies. And that's something that the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) cannot do. May, who is also director of the FDD, says that is a 501(c)3 organization, which is not permitted to lobby. But the FDD's funders, he says, helped raise the money to launch the CPD.

The relationship between the FDD and CPD is central to understanding what the new CPD's true purpose is about. While one CPD member staffer told me the CPD was initially funded by a grant from the FDD, May tells me it's a bit more indirect than that. "People who have supported the FDD have also wanted to help get the Committee going," May says. "Some of our backers have gotten their friends to contribute" to the CPD.

And who funds the FDD? The financial backers include Jewish World Congress president Edgar Bronfman Sr. and Charles & Andrea Bronfman of the Seagram beverage fortune; Bernard Marcus, the founder of Home Depot; Leonard Abramson of US Healthcare, the Judy and Michael Steinhardt Foundation, Dalck Feith, the father of undersecretary of defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, among others, many of them associated with philanthropy on behalf of Jewish causes.

A November 2003 article by Daniel McCarthy in the American Conservative states that the FDD was the second name given to an organization created in early 2001, when "a tightly knit group of billionaire philanthropists conceived of a plan to win American sympathy for Israel's response to the Palestinian intifada," and to bolster Israel's American public relations.

The Mission

So, is the Committee on the Present Danger, then, code for taking the US war on terror to Israel's enemies, such as Iran and Syria?

Not entirely; it is a bit more than that. The fact is, as Mark Palmer suggests, many of the Committee's members seem to see the committee as a vehicle for championing their own pet causes; whether those causes be using the war on terror to get US support for pro-democracy efforts in the Middle East (as Palmer advocates); to lobbying the US Congress to fund missile defense systems [as perhaps would be an interest of the CPD member heading Boeing's Missile Defense Systems group], to members like Laurie Mylroie who fervently believe Iraq's Saddam Hussein was a hidden state sponsor of the 9/11 attacks; to anti-arms control hawks, who believed their aggressive posture during the Cold War ultimately defeated Soviet-style totalitarianism.

And Woolsey suggests that the way to deal with Iran is not military action at all, but support for peaceful regime change. "I think that Bernard Lewis has a point, when he says that Iran may be the only country in the Middle East where the US is genuinely popular, and the reason is because the mullahs are so unpopular among the people," Woolsey tells AlterNet. "That means, it would be absolutely the last resort to use force against Iran, because unlike Iraq, you have real change occurring. So I would personally advocate being quite tough on them, but short of using force."

For his part, May says the Committee as a whole has yet to come up with a consensus position on US policy towards Iran; it does, however, intend to raise the public profile of the urgency of the Iran nuclear issue before Congress and the public, he indicates.

So, what then, are the Committee's real goals? They seem to be twofold: First, to broaden the "war on terror" in the American public mind beyond al-Qaeda, targeting a vast network of interlinked "Islamist-jihadist" terror groups worldwide, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and their state sponsors, and to think about this war on terror not just from the standpoint of the US as the potential victim, but of key US allies as being potential victims.

The second goal appears to be to lobby influential American policymakers to support a US defense posture and weapons programs that Committee members believe would benefit the security of both the US and key allies, such as Israel.

Not all conservatives are ready to embrace this essentially neoconservative, if bipartisan Committee.

"I think this approach is entirely counter-productive," comments Jonathan Clarke, co-author of America Alone: The Neo-conservatives and Global Order, and a fellow at the Cato Institute, in a phone interview with AlterNet. "I don't think the terrorist challenge is on the same level of the Soviet Union. I don't think that anybody disagrees that it isn't an evil scourge. But I think it's something that has to be combated with a wide range of instruments," including economic and political ones.

Whether the latest iteration of the Committee on the Present Danger will find the kind of receptive audience among dissidents in oppressed societies in the Middle East – the Lech Walesas and Vaclav Havels of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria – as Woolsey desires isn't clear. So far, the CPD has seemingly targeted its marketing efforts squarely at readers of the print editions of the Washington Post and the New York Times, to which most Middle East dissidents don't have subscriptions. But whatever skepticism one may harbor for the Committee's marketing, and its evocations of the Cold War, its ultimate aim may have already been partially realized: to recognize that the "war on terror" begins at home, as a war of ideas.

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.