What do Harvard's Stephen Walt and the Iranian parliament have in common? Both are obsessed with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a bipartisan think tank in Washington that we're proud to call our neighbor. Walt and the Iranians, on the other hand, both see FDD as a pillar of—you guessed it—the "Israel lobby."
"The Most Important Think Tanks of the United States on the Security of Iran" is a pamphlet published last month by the research center of the Iranian parliament, or maj-lis, that identified a number of U.S. think tanks that it deemed central to formulating Washington's official Iran policy. Not surprisingly, the venerable Brookings Institution was named, as were the Council on Foreign Relations and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, but pride of place was reserved for what the Iranians perceive to be right-wing institutions, like FDD, which the pamphlet ranks as most influential.
The majlis research center is presumably something like our Congressional Research Service, except the latter does genuine research whereas the former seems to reprint whatever it's downloaded from the Internet—photos, too. The publication features a headshot of FDD fellow and Weekly Standard contributing editor Reuel Marc Gerecht, as well as Scrapbook boss William Kristol, an FDD board member—both of them smiling, presumably with the sinister knowledge that has placed them in the bosom of what the pamphlet labels "the Israel Lobby think tank."
It's worth noting that, in the Iranians' assessment, none of the self-described progressive think tanks make the cut. The Iranians apparently believe that no one in Obama-era Washington is listening to the left, not even to the New America Foundation's Flynt Leverett, who has agitated harder than almost anyone in Washington on behalf of the regime in Tehran. The Iranians, of course, have a twisted worldview. They believe the United States is led on a leash by Israel, which, the Iranians assume, is determined to bomb Iran to smithereens.
Well, it's one thing for Iranian officials to think like members of an obscurantist clerical regime, but it's something else again when a Harvard professor holds hands with them, analytically speaking. In a recent post at FP.com, Foreign Policy magazine's blog, Stephen Walt claims that FDD "has been in the vanguard of the campaign for war with Iran, reflexively supportive of the Israeli right. . . . It will therefore surprise no one that its primary financial backers are also hard-core Zionists, and that the democracy it seems most committed to defending is located far from Washington, D.C."
One might be forgiven for assuming that Walt is doing his best impersonation of an Iranian research institution, but the fact is that his information here comes from the Center for American Progress, a self-identifying progressive think tank run by former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta.
Blogging on CAP's Think Progress website, Eli Clifton tries to paint FDD as a reactionary leviathan ("in line with the Bush administration's militant 'war on terror' and policies espoused by Israel's right wing Likud party")—but he's undercut by his own evidence. It turns out that a number of the donors presumably driving FDD's ideological crusade are usually to be found on the Walt/Podesta side of the aisle. Among other contributors, there's Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a former Democratic party political consultant, Charles and Edgar Bronfman, typically associated with left-wing causes, and Haim Saban, a major Democratic fundraiser.
In other words, the disposition of the Islamic Republic of Iran—its nuclear weapons program, its regional campaign against U.S. allies, including Israel but also Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon—is a concern shared by Americans across the political spectrum. Walt and his like-minded colleagues at places like the Center for American Progress give the impression of men marching to the beat of a Persian drummer.