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Biography of Steven J. Rosen

Steven J. Rosen
View writings by Steven J. Rosen

Steven J. Rosen is the director of MEF's Washington Project. Previously, he served for 23 years as one of the top officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading organization of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. He is regarded as one of the most influential but controversial figures in the pro-Israel movement, often singled out in writings critical of AIPAC.

Prior to coming to AIPAC in 1982, Rosen taught political science and international relations from 1968 to 1978 at the University of Pittsburgh, Brandeis University, and the Australian National University. He was coauthor (with Walter S. Jones) of The Logic of International Relations, a bestselling textbook that went through four editions from 1974 to 1982. From 1978 to 1982, he served as associate director of the National Security Strategies Program at the RAND Corporation, a think tank in Santa Monica, conducting and supervising classified and unclassified research and analysis under contract with the Pentagon, the State Department, and the armed services.

In 1982, Rosen left RAND to join AIPAC, where he served until 2005 as director of foreign policy issues and was particularly involved in communication with the executive branch, including the State Department and the National Security Council.

Rosen is regarded as having been a major contributor to the growth of AIPAC's influence on Middle East policy during the past quarter century. The New York Times (August 31, 2004) said, "Mr. Rosen, AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues, is … one of the group's most influential employees, with wide-ranging contacts within the Bush administration and overseas." The Washington Post (May 19, 2005) said, "Rosen has been a mainstay of AIPAC and the architect of the group's ever-increasing clout." In particular, "Rosen helped pioneer 'executive-branch lobbying,' a style of advocacy that was not widespread when he began it in the mid-1980s, but is now a routine complement to the more traditional lobbying of Congress," according to the Washington Post (April 21, 2006). The Nation said that "the special relationship between the U.S. executive branch and AIPAC was the triumph of twenty years of work by … Rosen" (May 20, 2005).

Rosen's early work with the executive branch was focused on expanding military cooperation between the United States and Israel. He was a strong proponent of the view that the U.S.-Israel relationship should be based on a foundation of mutual benefit, rather than unilateral American support for Israel. To this end, Rosen authored reports like The Strategic Value of Israel (1982) and Israel and the U.S. Air Force (1983) to elaborate the ways that cooperation with Israel could strengthen the U.S. armed forces. Columnist William Safire (New York Times, September 13, 1981) and Times defense correspondent Drew Middleton (November 22, 1981) credited one report written by Rosen with helping to launch the U.S.-Israeli dialogue that resulted in the Strategic Cooperation Agreement during the early Reagan years. President Ronald Reagan himself praised AIPAC's involvement in helping to build the strategic relationship, in a May 13, 1988, open letter: "We could not have been nearly so successful in building this new tie between our countries without your inspiration and strong support."

A major focus of Rosen's efforts in the 1990s was the emerging threat of Iran. Rosen was among the first to advocate a strategy of graduated American economic sanctions for leverage against Iran's involvement in terror and its acquisition of nuclear capabilities. Milestones in this campaign were President Bill Clinton's March 14, 1995, executive order banning Conoco from investing in Iranian oil and gas production; his May 8, 1995, executive order extending this to all U.S. companies; passage of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act ("ILSA") in the Senate on December 18, 1995, to pressure foreign companies not to invest in Iranian oil and gas production; and Clinton signing ILSA on August 4, 1996. The executive orders and ILSA (now the Iran Sanctions Act) became the foundation of a Bush administration effort to get multilateral cooperation for stepped-up economic pressure to end the Iranian uranium enrichment program.

Another key issue in Rosen's work for AIPAC was U.S. policy toward the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Rosen was an ardent proponent of the view that U.S. recognition and relations with Palestinian organizations should be conditioned on their renunciation of terror and violence, their willingness to make peace with Israel, and their compliance with signed agreements. Rosen also argued, in a 1985 AIPAC monograph entitled The Importance of the West Bank and Gaza to the Security of Israel, that U.S.-brokered negotiations over territory and borders should include provisions to secure Israel from terrorist and conventional threats that might arise in areas coming under Palestinian control, if the Palestinians did not live up to their commitments. AIPAC-watchers often describe Rosen as a "security hawk" in the pro-Israel spectrum, though he did not in principle oppose territorial compromise or a two-state solution if the necessary conditions for Israeli security could be achieved and if it was the policy of the elected government of Israel to pursue these objectives.

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