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Elliott Abrams

Iraq War boosters rally GOP hawks behind more Ukraine aid

Elliott Abrams’ ‘Vandenberg Coalition’ also assails the Biden administration for being soft on Russia

Reporting | Washington Politics

An open letter released Wednesday signed by more than 100 veterans of the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations, ex-military officers, and former Republican lawmakers and activists called for fellow conservatives and congressional Republicans to support increased military aid to Ukraine and criticized President Biden for “seem[ing] more concerned about the prospects of a Russian defeat than of a Russian victory.”

The letter, initiated by the “nonpartisan” Vandenberg Coalition, a “network” of hawkish foreign policy think tankers and former officials convened by long-time neo-conservative Elliott Abrams, was directed primarily at “conservative” lawmakers and their constituents who have appeared increasingly resistant to providing more aid to Kyiv.

“Abandoning America’s friends while they are falling victim to aggression is a pattern associated with the American left, from Vietnam to Afghanistan,” according to the letter.

“Conservatives should not be rushing to lock arms with progressive isolationists. The security of Asia and of Europe are linked, which is why the elected leaders of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia have all sent aid to Ukraine. We support urgent, robust additional American aid to Ukraine,” it concluded.

Published in The National Review, the letter comes in the immediate aftermath of “the House GOP’s decision not to include further funding to support Kyiv and its war effort” in the stopgap government funding bill that was passed last weekend and the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had allegedly quietly agreed with the Biden administration to push for additional funding for Ukraine in the coming weeks.

According to a September 7-18 poll released Tuesday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll, about 50% of self-identified Republicans nationwide support continued military aid to Ukraine, while 45% or Republican respondents said the aid to date “has not been worth the cost.” Overall, Republican respondents were significantly more skeptical of U.S. support for Ukraine than self-identified Democrats or independents.

The Vandenberg Coalition was created by Abrams — who served as “special representative” for both Venezuela and Iran under Trump and deputy national security adviser with particular responsibility for Middle East policy under Bush — in April, 2021 with the evident intention of reuniting predominantly neoconservative “Never Trumpers” with other hawkish Republicans who had served under or otherwise supported the former president behind a policy of confrontation with Russia, China, Iran, and other perceived U.S. adversaries. The initiative took its name from Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a conservative Michigan Republican who, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, worked with the Truman administration to gain congressional backing for the Marshall Plan and NATO after World War II.

The Coalition appears to model itself in part on the Project for the New American Century (1997-2006) and its successor, the Foreign Policy Initiative (2009-2017), as a mainly neoconservative network for hawks of various ideological backgrounds, including primacists, aggressive nationalists, such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton and prominent leaders of the Christian Right, to exchange information and analysis and publish “open letters” signed by dozens of former senior national security officials, retired military brass, Republican lawmakers, and analysts from various think tanks.

In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, PNAC’s letters and their signatories based in key think tanks — notably the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Hudson Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Foundation for Defending of Democracies (FDD), and the Center for Security Policy — played key roles in building public and elite support for the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” especially in the Middle East.

The new Vandenberg letter appears to follow that playbook, although it is directed more at “conservatives” and Republicans rather than a more general audience.

Among the more than 100 signatories, many of whom were identified by their former official positions in the Bush and Trump administrations rather than their past or current non-governmental affiliations, a number of individuals based at several of the same think tanks that played such a prominent role in promoting the Iraq war, including Danielle Pletka, Gary Schmitt, and Michael Rubin at AEI; Clifford May and at FDD, and Kenneth Weinstein at Hudson, not to mention Abrams himself, who is currently based at the Council on Foreign Relations, stood out.

Remarkably, the list also included Randy Scheunemann, who directed the high-powered White House-sponsored Committee for the Liberation of Iraq in the run-up to the war at the same time that he headed a public relations and lobbying firm that promoted Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a major source of fabricated intelligence and disinformation that the Bush administration used to rally public opinion in favor of the invasion.

In the letter, its signatories stressed the likelihood of disastrous outcomes across the world if Ukraine did not receive more U.S. military assistance and stressed that Kyiv is “not asking for American troops, only American weapons and equipment.”

“Efforts to stop our aid to Ukraine could lead to a Russian battlefield victory, with catastrophic effects for American security,” it warned. “Putin would eye the next stage of the Russian empire’s restoration, and China would have a green light to take Taiwan.”

The Coalition has published two other letters signed by multiple individuals. In February 2022, it published an open letter signed by more than three dozen mainly neoconservative former Bush administration officials and think tankers that called a major Amnesty International report that concluded that Israel was practicing a form of apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians “untruthful, deceptive, and antisemitic.”

In January, it published a letter directed to the “editors, authors, and contributors to major scientific, medical and journalistic publications worldwide” that called for “accountability for those scientific and news publications that actively sought to censor voices investigating the origins of COVID-19.”

The Coalition’s most recent letter and its focus on “conservative” reservations about supporting Ukraine recalls to some extent a 1996 Foreign Affairs article, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” by leading neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan who were concerned that conservatives would be unable to “resist the combined assault of [then-presidential candidate Pat] Buchanan’s ‘isolationism of the heart” and the Republican budget hawks on Capitol Hill.” The article argued in favor of a U.S. foreign policy designed to maintain a “benevolent global hegemony.”

One year later, the two authors jointly founded PNAC with a Statement of Principles signed by, among others, key architects of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Abrams.

Photo Credit: New York, NY - February 28, 2019: US envoy on Venezuela Elliott Abrams speaks to media after UN Security Council meeting on situation in Venezuela at UN Headquarters (Photo: lev radin via shutterstock.com)

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