- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
Andrew Bowen, a wannabe official in the Trump administration State Department, is trying to sanitize his past political statements in order to curry favor with the new administration. He tried to strong-arm Arab News, where he was a columnist, into deleting past pieces that were critical of Donald Trump, so the Saudi-based news site fired him.
Bowen, a visiting scholar at American Enterprise Institute, “repeatedly requested” Arab News remove the articles for him “to be cleared” to take a job at the State Department, the site said in a statement released Monday night. Curiously, the statement was taken down by Tuesday morning, and it appears Arab News also deleted articles in which Bowen criticized Trump and praised his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The row highlights how sensitive potential Trump appointees are — even for mid-level jobs in sprawling bureaucracies — about not seeming to criticize the president, lest the White House slam shut the door in their faces. It also highlights a trend in Washington spanning both parties that anyone eyeing a job in an administration must stifle personal opinions from the incoming president before ever stepping into office, an informal practice outside experts widely criticized.
In its initial statement, Arab News said “Mr. Bowen also insinuated — verbally and in writing — that he will seek the support of influential friends and contacts to help remove the articles.” The statement added the request was “unprofessional journalistically, particularly given that there were no factual errors or libelous comments that require a redaction or correction.”
The statement ended with “We wish Mr. Bowen the best of luck in his job application” then linked to archives of his columns. But the story doesn’t end there.
Arab News has since taken the statement down and appears to have taken down at least several of Bowen’s columns, including ones where he describes Trump as “boorish and predatory” and excoriated Trump for “whipping up xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments.” Cached copies of Arab News articles — since removed from the website — can be found here and here.
A source with knowledge of the incident confirmed to FP Bowen contacted Saudi government officials he was close with to exert pressure on the news site to revert it’s statement. “The vetting team at the White House is incredibly more sensitive than I originally was told on any pieces ever written that in any way come across critical of the president” he wrote in an email to Arab News to which FP had access.
In an interview with the Washington Post published Tuesday, Bowen said he was “deeply concerned and saddened” by Arab News’ statement. He refused to clarify the “concerns” he had over the columns in question and declined to comment on his potential job with the State Department.
“Everybody is under the understanding the statement was a mistake,” said AEI public affairs officer Veronique Rodman, who spoke to FP on behalf of Bowen, citing Arab News’ decision to take the statement down. She didn’t have any information on why Arab News also took Bowen’s anti-Trump columns down.
Arab News also did not immediately respond to FP’s request for comment. It did not release a retraction after taking its statement down.
Several people familiar with the matter tell FP Bowen is slated to take a job on Middle East policy with the State Department Policy Planning Staff, absent any potential last-minute White House veto. One said that Brian Hook, Trump’s pick for director of the State Department’s policy planning staff, personally tapped Bowen for the role. In February, Foreign Policy reported that Hook, a former Mitt Romney advisor, accepted the job despite being a vocal critic of Trump during the campaign. The State Department’s policy planning staff serves as a strategic advisory group to the secretary.
Past tweets from Arab News to Bowen’s pieces in which he criticizes Trump lead to an “access denied” page.
— Arab News (@Arab_News) November 7, 2016
Bowen also appeared to delete hundreds of tweets and retweets from his verified account before December 9, 2016, a month after Trump’s election.
Twitter archives of deleted tweets, tracked through Twitter history website Snapbird.com, show, for example, Bowen retweeted dozens of tweets by Hillary Clinton, including one on Aug. 4, 2016, saying “Donald Trump is not qualified to be president, and he is temperamentally unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.”
Twitter archives also indicate he retweeted Dan Pfeiffer, former assistant to President Barack Obama, on Oct. 7 that said “Donald Trump’s normalization of blatantly racist ideas will the lasting consequence of this campaign and one enabled by the GOP leadership.” Neither retweet shows up on Bowen’s Twitter timeline, indicating he deleted them.
In one October column entitled “Clinton’s moment,” Bowen wrote the Democratic presidential nominee’s “steely pragmatism and vague commitment to ideology will allow her to make the deals to advance her domestic agenda that Obama could never do.” That column has since been taken down.
After Trump’s election, Bowen suddenly took a much more positive spin on the president-elect:
— Andrew Bowen (@abowen17) December 13, 2016
In a December piece for AEI, he wrote, “Trump showed that when a decision had to be made, he could decisively make it.” Bowen added, “Trump enjoys the contest of ideas with him at the center of the stage as a decider and deal-maker more than an oracle,” lavishing the president’s ‘Apprentice’-style approach to building his national security team just months after having pilloried the candidate.
Trump faced a massive backlash from Republican foreign policy experts during the campaign over his bombastic anti-immigrant rhetoric, lavish praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denigration of NATO, and his glaring lack of any knowledge of foreign affairs.
It led to a “Never Trump” movement and series of open letters from top GOP national security experts denouncing the populist candidate during his unlikely rise to the presidency. Bowen did not sign any of the letters.
The criticism has come back to haunt some of the experts, who struck a more cordial tone after Trump was elected, angling for administration positions. Trump reportedly blacklisted those who criticized him, making it virtually impossible for him to staff thousands of vacancies at the State Department, Pentagon, and other agencies. Trump still has yet to fill 2,000 administration postings, many of which don’t require senate confirmation.
Bowen is also a senior advisor to Greenmantle, a geopolitical advisory firm based in Massachusetts. He previously had roles at other Washington-based think tanks with a focus on Middle East issues, including the Center for National Interest and the Woodrow Wilson Center on International Scholars. According to Bowen’s LinkedIn page, he received a Ph.D in international relations from the London School of Economics.
Bowen wrote four pieces for FP between 2013 and July, 2016.
Update: This article was updated to include language from Mr. Bowen’s email to Arab News.
Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images