- By Laura RozenLaura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.
Vowing to counter what it calls "neo-isolationism" on both the left and right, a new advocacy group, the Foreign Policy Initiative, has been launched. Its cofounders, former Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, and national security writer Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, are experienced Washington veterans for making the case for a more activist and hawkish U.S. role in the world.
In the current climate, group members are emphasizing that while it’s a center-right group with a point of view, they resist perceptions that the initiative is a partisan or anti-Obama endeavor, and say they intend to make alliances and attack isolationist positions regardless of political affiliations depending on the issue.
"We believe America is the indispensable nation, as President Clinton said," Senor, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy. "And we believe it’s the exactly wrong time to demote America’s role in the world. And we are seeing an emerging bipartisan consensus on a range of issues from cutting the defense budget to a minimalist approach in Afghanistan to the importance of currying favor with the Russian government at the expense of democratic allies Ukraine and Georgia. We think there needs to be consensus on the other side of these issues."
"I think we will be working with the Obama administration on as many issues if not more than we will be holding him to account on," a person affiliated with the group said. "We will be as tough on Republicans as we ever will on the Obama administration."
The 501(c)3 group is renting out office space in Dupont Circle, and hiring staff. So far, former NSC nonproliferation official Jamie Fly, former Hill staffer Rachel Hoff, and former State Department Asia hand Chris Whiton have signed on.
Next Tuesday, FPI is launching with its first public event, a half-day conference on Afghanistan featuring Sen. John McCain, Center for a New American Security president Lt. Col. John Nagl (ret.), Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services committee, Carnegie Endowment South Asia expert Ashley Tellis, and former U.S. commander in Afghanistan Lt. Gen. David Barno.
The new initiative is inevitably being compared to a previous Kristol-linked group, the Project for the New American Century, which emerged during the Clinton administration to advocate for military action in Iraq and the Balkans. "In fairness, PNAC on a number of issues — NATO enlargement, the Balkans — took positions" that were against Clinton-era congressional Republicans, the group member said.
FPI can only protest comparisons to PNAC so far. Last fall, a PNAC veteran, asked what the hawks would do during a prospective Obama administration, laid out the playbook that has seemingly emerged with the Foreign Policy Initiative. "We’ll do what we did in the 1990s, with things like the Project for the New American Century," AEI military expert and former PNAC senior fellow Thomas Donnelly said. "We have a core set of beliefs that is pretty much intact: that American power is a good thing and should be exercised."
Asked if the group was making too much of domestic opposition to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, Senor said no, such voices had emerged from both the right and the left. He noted some recent conservative opinion pieces arguing against a continued U.S. role in Afghanistan, which some conservatives have portrayed as "Obama’s war."
A Washington South Asia hand explained the initiative’s position regarding Afghanistan this way: "They would want a full embrace of [U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David] McKiernan’s full request and then some … A much larger Afghan National Security Force, with hard numbers attached, like 500,000.
"Remember," the South Asia hand continued, "the surge was a brigade a month for five months — a lot. In Afghanistan we’re surging to basically a residual force-level for Iraq. There are a lot of good reasons for that — not least being that it’s physically not possible to surge in Afghanistan the way we did in Iraq. But it’s easy to throw stones from the right now by calling the new plan a half measure."