What do William Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Elliot Abrams, and Robert Kagan have in common? Yes, they are all die-hard hawks who have gained control of U.S. foreign policy since the 9/11 attacks. But they are also part of one big neoconservative family -- an extended clan of spouses, children, and friends who have known each other for generations.
Neoconservatives are former liberals (which explains the "neo" prefix) who advocate an aggressive unilateralist vision of U.S. global supremacy, which includes a close strategic alliance with Israel. Let's start with one of the founding fathers of the extended neocon clan: Irving Kristol. His extensive resume includes waging culture wars for the CIA against the Soviet Union in the early years of the Cold War and calling for an American "imperial" role during the Vietnam War. Papa Kristol, who has been credited with defining the major themes of neoconservative thought, is married to Gertrude Himmelfarb, a neoconservative powerhouse on her own. Her studies of the Victorian era in Britain helped inspire the men who sold Bush on the idea of "compassionate conservatism."
The son of this proud couple is none other that William Kristol, the crown prince of the neoconservative clique and editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard. In 1997, he founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a front group which cemented the powerful alliance between right-wing Republicans like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, Christian and Catholic Right leaders like Gary Bauer and William Bennett, and the neocons behind a platform of global U.S. military dominance.
Irving Kristol's most prominent disciple is Richard Perle, who was until Thursday the Defense Policy Board chairman, is also a "resident scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute, which is housed in the same building as PNAC. Perle himself married into neocon royalty when he wed the daughter of his professor at the University of Chicago, the late Alfred Wohlstetter -- the man who helped both his son-in-law and his fellow student Paul Wolfowitz get their start in Washington more than 30 years ago.
Perle's own protege is Douglas Feith, who is now Wolfowitz's deputy for policy and is widely known for his right-wing Likud position. And why not? His father, Philadelphia businessman and philanthropist Dalck Feith, was once a follower of the great revisionist Zionist leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, in his native Poland back in the 1930s. The two Feiths were honored together in 1997 by the right-wing Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
The AEI has long been a major nexus for such inter-familial relationships. A long-time collaborator with Perle, Michael Ledeen is married to Barbara Ledeen, a founder and director of the anti-feminist Independent Women's Forum (IWF), who is currently a major player in the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and another neo-con power couple -- David and Meyrav Wurmser -- co-authored a 1996 memorandum for Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu outlining how to break the Oslo peace process and invade Iraq as the first step to transforming the Middle East.
Though she doesn't focus much on foreign-policy issues, Lynne Cheney also hangs her hat at AEI. Her husband Dick Cheney recently chose Victoria Nuland to become his next deputy national security adviser. Nuland, as it turns out, is married to Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol's main comrade-in-arms and the co-founder of PNAC.
Bob's father, Donald Kagan, is a Yale historian who converted from a liberal Democrat to a staunch neocon in the 1970s. On the eve of the 2000 presidential elections, Donald and his other son, Frederick, published "While America Sleeps," a clarion call to increase defense spending. Since then, the three Kagan men have written reams of columns warning that the currently ballooning Pentagon budget is simply not enough to fund the much-desired vision of U.S. global supremacy.
And which infamous ex-Reaganite do the Kagans and another leading neocon family have in common? None other than Iran-contra veteran Elliott Abrams.
Now the director of Near Eastern Affairs in Bush's National Security Council, Abrams worked closely with Bob Kagan back in the Reagan era. He is also the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz, long-time editor of the influential conservative Jewish publication Commentary, and his wife, Midge Decter, a fearsome polemicist in her own right.
Podhoretz, like Kristol Sr., helped invent neo-conservatism in the late 1960s. He and Decter created a formidable political team as leaders of the Committee on the Present Danger in 1980, when they worked with Donald Rumsfeld to pound the last nail into the coffin of detente and promote the rise of Ronald Reagan. In addition to being Abrams' father-in-law, Norman Podhoretz is also the father of John Podhoretz, a columnist for the Murdoch-owned New York Post and frequent guest on the Murdoch-owned Fox News channel.
As editor of Commentary, Norman offered writing space to rising stars of the neocon movement for more than 30 years. His proteges include former U.N. ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard Pipes, who was Ronald Reagan's top advisor on the "Evil Empire," as the president liked to call the Soviet Union. His son, Daniel Pipes, has also made a career out of battling "evil," which in his case is Islam. And to tie it all up neatly, in 2002, Podhoretz received the highest honor bestowed by the AEI: the Irving Kristol award.
This list of intricate, overlapping connections is hardly exhaustive or perhaps even surprising. But it helps reveal an important fact. Contrary to appearances, the neocons do not constitute a powerful mass political movement. They are instead a small, tighly-knit clan whose incestuous familial and personal connections, both within and outside the Bush administration, have allowed them grab control of the future of American foreign policy.