WASHINGTON (JTA) – It’s the season of the unconventional foreign policy adviser: Donald Trump takes advice from his son-in-law and real estate attorney, and Bernie Sanders cites folks who didn’t know they were advising him.
In this field, Hillary Clinton’s inner circle of foreign policy advisers stands out for not standing out. The names she has on her side are a who’s who of the last 20 years of national security policy, from Madeleine Albright, the second term secretary of state of her husband, President Bill Clinton, to Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the rising Democratic star who is the top party member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Other major insiders include Tom Donilon, the first-term national security adviser of President Barack Obama known for his closeness to Israel; Leon Panetta, a former Obama defense secretary of who has said the president missed opportunities to stem the bloodshed in Syria, and Michele Flournoy, a former defense undersecretary who turned down the opportunity in 2014 to be the first female defense secretary because she was unhappy with White House micromanagement.
Others advising Hillary Clinton are not immediately recognizable, but possess the credentials that – at least until this topsy turvy election season – were prerequisites for an entrée into a senior advisory role for a presidential campaign: top schools, experience in government and proven loyalty to the candidate.
Another tie that binds Clinton’s advisers to her: Many of them, like Clinton, tack to Obama’s right on national security. On Israel-specific issues, that means tending to be more skeptical of the Iran nuclear deal and more reluctant to criticize Israel openly.
But “same old, same old” is what the Clinton campaign hopes will emerge as one of its strengths. Albright, speaking last week on a campaign call after Republican front-runner Trump’s first major foreign policy speech, put it this way: “Do you want someone unpredictable with the nuclear codes?”
Here’s a look at five top Middle East advisers and the chops they bring to the campaign and could carry into a Clinton administration. Jake Sullivan and Laura Rosenberger are paid staffers, and the others belong to campaign advisory groups and have helped shape policy papers.
A Yale law school alum who advised Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and went on to advise Obama, Sullivan was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff when she was Obama’s secretary of state. He moved to Vice President Joe Biden’s office after she left at the end of Obama’s first term.
Sullivan, 39, is now the campaign’s foreign policy chief, and is touted to become the youngest-ever national security adviser should Clinton win the presidency.
Sullivan was Clinton’s point man in helping to shape the talks that led to the Iran nuclear deal. According to Politico, as Biden’s national security adviser, he brokered the historic 2013 phone call between President Obama and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani.
Clinton involved Sullivan in the Iranian gambit from day one. According to her second autobiography, “Hard Choices,” she tapped him to deliver a message to the Iranian deputy foreign minister at talks on Afghanistan in March of 2009, the second month of the Obama administration.
“Jake was not the most experienced diplomat at the State Department I could have chosen, but he was discreet and had my absolute confidence,” she wrote.
Sullivan, loyal to Clinton, shared her skepticism of the Iranian regime and has been credited by deal opponents as being one of the tougher Obama administration negotiators.
That background gave him credibility when early in the current campaign he went after Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont vying with Clinton for the Democratic nod, for hoping to “normalize” relations with Iran in the wake of the deal.
“Iran seeks the destruction of Israel, Iran is a leading sponsor of terror in the region, Iran is flouting international law with its ballistic missile tests and its threats against our allies and partners,” Sullivan said in a campaign video.
A graduate of American University, a factory for State Department wonks, Laura Rosenberger made good on her degree in conflict resolution working with NGOs in the Balkans soon after she graduated in 2002.
She nabbed a career position in the State Department in 2004, and moved up through the ranks, ending her career there as chief of staff to the deputy secretary of state before joining Clinton’s campaign a year ago.
Rosenberger, 35, told the Jewish Journal in January that she comes from a family deeply involved in Jewish life in the Pittsburgh area, and described her core mission in Jewish terms: “Passover is my favorite holiday, because I find very much a driving mission for myself in this, the obligation of the Jewish people who have been free from oppression ourselves to root out oppression wherever we see it,” she said.
Her focus is the Middle East and she has homed in on the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has flared around the campaigns of Trump, a real estate magnate, and Cruz, a Texas senator who dropped out of the race Tuesday night after Trump’s major victory in Indiana.
Rosenberger posted on the campaign website her annotated version of Clinton’s speech in November to the Council on Foreign Relations on the threat of the Islamic State group. In a long speech that dealt with military and diplomatic options for crushing Islamic State, Rosenberger’s annotations emphasized Muslim outreach. “We cannot paint 1 billion people with the same brush,” said Rosenberger, a sensitivity she would have encountered early on in her career when she advocated on behalf of Kosovo, a secular Muslim nation often tarred on the far right as a hotbed of radical Islam.
Hang out at pro-Israel organizations during Obama’s first term and you were likely sooner or later to run into Andrew Shapiro, then an assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs.
Shapiro was Clinton’s pro-Israel explainer: When tensions were ratcheting up between the Obama and Netanyahu governments, Shapiro was among the first to master the original “unprecedented aid” pitch, offering facts and figures on the level of military assistance the Obama administration was delivering to Israel.
“I am proud to say that this administration has taken steps to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and preserve it in a new century and era of dramatic change,” he told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in November 2011.
“As a result of the Obama Administration’s commitment, our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper and more intense than ever before,” he said. “Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that the security cooperation between our two countries is ‘unprecedented.’ In fact, I believe that no American administration has done as much as ours for Israel’s security.”
Shapiro, 48, who studied international relations at the University of Pennsylvania and then Columbia University, is an old Clinton hand, having worked for her when she was senator from New York as a senior foreign policy adviser. In “Hard Choices,” she credits him with helping to secure Israel’s access to F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.
In Obama’s second term, Shapiro left government and established a foreign policy strategic consultancy, Beacon Global Strategies, with two other Obama administration alumni, Jeremy Bash, a top Pentagon official and the son of a Washington area rabbi, and Philippe Reines, one of Clinton’s closest advisers when she was secretary of state.
While all three are true-blue Democrats, the group’s advisory board is bipartisan and includes hawkish veterans of the President George W. Bush administration, including former ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman. It’s a grouping that signals that Shapiro, like his once and possible future boss, has ties deep inside Washington’s interventionist foreign policy establishment.
Eight years after concluding a term as a deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, James Steinberg, 62, became a deputy to his first boss’s wife, as a deputy secretary of state.
Steinberg had worked on the Obama campaign, and according to the Wall Street Journal helped craft the candidate’s 2008 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which – with its emotional recalling of the 1960s black-Jewish civil rights alliance – did much to tamp down for a period skepticism about Obama among pro-Israel centrists.
Steinberg left after two years, according to Politico, because as an Obama-branded staffer he was having trouble in Clinton-land. Clinton, in “Hard Choices,” dismisses that explanation, noting that during the 2008 cycle he had advised both campaigns. She writes that she offered him the job because of his expertise in the Asia-Pacific region, a priority in Obama’s first term.
This go-round, Steinberg’s specialty in advising the Clinton campaign is the Middle East. Steinberg last September announced he would wrap up his current gig heading Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at the end of this academic year.
Tamara Cofman Wittes
Tamara Cofman Wittes directs the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, a gig that is a link to one of the best-known Clinton Israel whisperers, Haim Saban, the entertainment mogul and major Democratic Party funder.
The center was until recently known as the Saban Center, and the Israeli-American magnate is still involved in its funding. It organizes the annual Saban Forum, which brings together movers and shakers from Israel and the U.S., including, reliably, Clinton.
Wittes was a top Middle East policy official under Clinton when she was secretary of state, and her Brookings biography says she “was central to organizing the U.S. government’s response to the Arab awakening.”
A Hebrew speaker, Wittes has a deep Israel involvement. She’s a board member of the Israel Institute, which advances Israel studies in the United States.
She also is an advocate for greater representation of women in the Middle East policy world, routinely using her social media platform to ding all-male panels on the topic.