(Swans - February 14, 2011) Spirit of America is a privately run nonpartisan group that was formed eight years ago and that "helps American military and civilian personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as people who call to Americans for help in their struggle for freedom and democracy." Does anyone smell fat-cat shit? Anyway, that is the self-description/deception given on their Web site, but essentially Spirit of America is an aid organization that works in collaboration with the US war machine in Iraq and Afghanistan to improve the efficiency of their counterinsurgency operations. They do this by "fulfill[ing] requests from American military personnel for goods that improve the lives of local people and thus help advance freedom and peace." The type of goods that have such "democratic" utility include school and medical supplies, sewing machines, hand tools, watches, water barrels, clothing, toys, "bulletproof vests for Afghan police," and a prototype "handheld fingerprinting device which Iraqi soldiers... use[d] to assemble an insurgent database." (1)
Founded by Los Angeles businessman Jim Hake, this propaganda/aid initiative was launched under the auspices of the Cyber Century Forum, a body who describes their work as supporting projects "involving information technology and services that promote sustainable development and quality of life." Chaired by Ambassador Diana Lady Dougan, the former US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy under President Reagan, it is clear from the get-go that Hake's charitable work with the Cyber Century Forum was intended to advance both the US military's public relations and counterinsurgency objectives. This is made more apparent by Ambassador Dougan's service on the congressionally mandated Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World; public diplomacy being defined in their final report "Changing Minds Winning Peace" as "the promotion of the national interest by informing, engaging, and influencing people around the world."
Not that promoting the US government's geostrategic interests was all that Ambassador Dougan was concerned with, because at the same time as working on the public diplomacy Advisory Group she served along with the likes of General Brent Scowcroft on the board of directors of Qualcomm, a wireless telecommunications research and development company that was profiting handsomely from the devastation wrought by the US military. Spirit of America on the other hand is not concerned with profit, after all is it is a nonprofit, and thus one of its goals is to reveal the humane intentions that lie behind war.
A Weapon of Peace
Jim Hake refers to his organization's charitable contribution to war as "humanitarian 'ammunition'" and in late 2009 he acknowledged that: "Most of Spirit of America's recent work has been in support of Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, the scene of fierce fighting...". (2) Their initial work, however, first took them to Iraq, and in 2004 Hake's dedicated booster in The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger, devoted his column to a fundraising appeal for Spirit of America, writing:
Jim Hake and the Marines are a coalition of the can-do, bypassing the slow US procurement bureaucracy... Here's where you come in:
The First Marine Expeditionary Force and US Army in Iraq want to equip and upgrade seven defunct Iraqi-owned TV stations in Al Anbar province -- west of Baghdad -- so that average Iraqis have better televised information than the propaganda they get from the notorious Al-Jazeera. If Jim Hake can raise $100,000, his Spirit of America will buy the equipment in the US, ship it to the Marines in Iraq and get Iraqi-run TV on the air before the June 30 handover. (3)
This "public" appeal to the world's business elites did not fall on deaf ears, and a week later Henninger proudly reported that: "As of yesterday afternoon, some 4,965 readers of The Wall Street Journal (and their friends) had contributed $880,321." The following month Henninger returned to the theme of "bureaucracy run wild" and described how Hake had even received a request for help from a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) office in Iraq, "suggest[ing] that peacetime rules and red tape are smothering a wartime effort -- whether by the CPA, private contractors or the military." (4) A theme that conservative advocates of humanitarian aid have always emphasized.
By October 2004 Henninger was busy promoting Spirit of America's latest "project, whose name, Friends of Democracy, was created by Iraqis who want to prepare their country for the idea and practice of democracy in the three month run-up to their January elections." He points out how Hake planned to "use all available media" to get their message out, which included working with a new Iraqi NGO called Civic Pillar to show documentaries (with subtitles in Arabic) that illustrate "other nations' experience with new democracies," like for example, "Milosevic: Bringing Down a Dictator" -- a misleading "documentary" whose executive producer, Peter Ackerman, was soon to become a board member of Spirit of America. Another key part of this Democracy project was the pro-freedom Iraqi bloggers at IraqTheModel.com. While another related group supported by Spirit of America was the Iraqi Women's Educational Institute, (5) which although unmentioned in Henninger's article was a joint project of the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the anti-feminist Independent Women's Forum, and the American Islamic Congress.
Friends of Democracy's freedom blog, IraqTheModel, was formed by three brothers, Ali, Omar, and Mohammed Fadhil, who "kept the blogosphere abreast of events from their native, on-the-ground perspective." After blogging for democracy for some months, in December 2004 two of the brothers, Omar and Mohammed, "came to the United States under the sponsorship of Spirit of America" to "shake hands with someone they hold in high esteem -- President George W. Bush." (6) Just prior to this trip, the third brother, Ali Fadhil, who was not honored to meet the leader of the free world, went abruptly offline. The New York Sun reported:
"This is the last time I write in this blog and I just want to say, goodbye. It's not an easy thing to do for me, but I know I should do it," Ali, a 34-year-old Baghdad physician, wrote on the blog early Sunday. "I still love America and feel grateful to all those who helped us get our freedom and are still helping us establishing democracy in our country. But it's the act of some Americans that made me feel I'm on the wrong side here. I will expose these people in public very soon and I won't lack the mean to do this, but I won't do it here as this is not my blog." (7)
Unsurprisingly, the two brothers who held the course and remained committed to their financiers' vision for democracy in Iraq were well supported by the neoconservative community. For instance, Omar Fadhil went on to become a summer associate at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and became the Middle East editor of the neoconservative news aggregator Pajamas Media, which in the past has drawn upon the support of liberal bloggers who write for publications like The Nation and Mother Jones. Notably the former chief operating officer for Spirit of America (in 2004), Marc Danziger (better known as the California-based blogger Armed Liberal), was a general partner in Pajamas Media and in his spare time has also supported the work of the neoconservative coalition The Victory Caucus.
Spirit of America's services are not however limited to war zones, and in April 2005 they were busy intervening in Lebanon, where their neoconservative blogger Michael Totten (who has also blogged for Pajamas Media and The National Review) was "on the ground on Martyrs' Square in Beirut" to "share the local perspective and help launch Spirit of America's project fund committed to assisting the people of Lebanon win independence." Spirit of America monies then ensured that "financial support" would "be provided to the tent city demonstrators on Martyrs' Square in Beirut through local protest organizers so that demonstrators can keep pressure on the foreign occupiers and world attention on the struggle for Lebanese independence." (8)
Democratic Surveillance and Schools for Oil
In February 2007, Daniel Henninger returned his attention to Hake's latest humanitarian efforts to provide "modern police surveillance tools" for Iraqi soldiers. Operating around the town of Khalidiya, north of Baghdad, Marine Major Owen West -- who when not on war-duty works in New York as "an energy trader for Goldman Sachs" -- had been working with Spirit of America when in December 2006 he asked "for a mobile, handheld fingerprinting device which Iraqi soldiers would use to assemble an insurgent database." Spirit of America came through for West in his time of need, and against the odds the following month they were able to rush a prototype unit to Iraq for field testing by using a diplomatic courier to avoid the normal aid "bureaucracy." (9) The courier in question was Bill Roggio, the managing editor of The Long War Journal, which just so happens to be a project of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Another Iraqi project that gained a helping hand from the neoconservatives at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies was the Women for a Free Iraq, which was formed in February 2003. Two months later in April 2003, Women for a Free Iraq then met in Washington D.C. and created a second nonprofit women's rights organization known as the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq. One of their seven cofounders, Tamara Quinn, then joined Spirit of America in 2004 to work as the Director of their "educational" side-project School Partners. As Spirit of America only provided School Partners with their first year of funding (2005-06), they subsequently handed over the project's budget to the newly formed group called Generation Iraq -- an organization that was set up by Quinn when she "left" Spirit of America in 2006. It is significant to note that in addition to her "humanitarian" work Quinn is the president and CEO of Petro Fuel Energy, "an American/Iraqi company formed to help develop infrastructure, transport Iraqi oil, and provide oil to the world market"; and she is the president of AIX Global, a US company that "provides medical equipment and supplies to Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries."
This sordid history should not, however, lead one to believe that Spirit of America only works with neoconservatives and war profiteers; far from it -- they also work with pro-war lobby groups. Thus in August 2009, it was reported that:
The need to encourage and support America's fighting men and women around the world remains strong, and nonprofits Spirit of America and Soldiers' Angels are sharing their contacts and working together to ensure every service member has support to complete the mission and return home safe. (10)
Soldiers' Angels is a pro-war nonprofit whose primary aim their Web site explains is to provide "aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and their families." Their trustees include Mark Seavey who co-founded Vets for Freedom -- a group currently managed by Purple Heart recipient, Wade Zirkle, who also serves on the advisory board of the Warrior Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit "steadfastly committed to changing the perception of the America's Warrior Class." Another Soldiers' Angels trustee, Matthew Burden, presently acts as the chair of Warrior Legacy's board of directors, and is an advisor to a group of war veterans called Team Rubicon, which describe its role as providing a private sector approach to disaster relief, "bridg[ing] the gap between catastrophe and large-scale response."
Keeping on the aiding war theme, one of Team Rubicon's cofounders, William McNulty, formerly worked in the heart of the US intelligence community, and is a cofounder of a "national-security focused film production, development, and consulting company" called TitleTen, Inc. Team Rubicon's most significant board member, however, is Gary I. Wilson, a combat veteran who coauthored a 1989 professional paper that coined the term "fourth generation warfare." (11) More recently, the lead author of this influential paper, William S. Lind, pointed out that "one key" to the success of fourth generation warfare "is integrating our troops as much as possible with the local people"; sound familiar? (12) Lind is presently the head of the neoconservative Free Congress Foundation and is a key spokesperson for the Christian right along with his close friend (and Free Congress Foundation cofounder), the late Paul Weyrich -- an individual widely credited as being one of the key people who helped launch the New Right in the 1970s.
In fact, from 1981 until 1992 Paul Weyrich served as the treasurer of the secretive theocratic organization, the Council for National Policy. This connection has particular resonance with the spirit of this article as from 1981 until 1985 the executive director of the Council for National Policy was Woody Jenkins, a person who during the 1980s "was aligned with Iran-Contra figure Oliver North through a charity he operated, Friends of Americas, which sent medical supplies to Central America." (13) More accurately described as Friends of the Contras, Sara Diamond writes that Friends of Americas initially worked closely with the Air National Guard to get their aid to those in need. But in late 1984 they became "the largest beneficiary" of the "Denton amendment" -- sponsored by former Alabama Sen. Jeremiach Denton who most importantly went on to serve as an early advisor to Spirit of America. The amendment in question "allow[ed] privately generated 'humanitarian' aid to be transported free by the US military when cargo space is available." (14) Furthermore, another prominent member of this private contra aid network was Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, a media network at which Denton had formerly worked as a consultant. Amongst his other numerous anti-democratic activities, Denton played a key role in orchestrating the passage of the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), "the prized child of Reagan's first term" which...
...from its inception, sought to further the Chrisitan Right's cultural and political goals. Cosponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, and the newly elected one-term Senator Jeremiah Denton, a Republican from Alabama, it was widely acknowledged to be Denton's pet project. Like many other Reagan conservatives, Denton had campaigned on a pro-traditional family, "traditional values" platform. A Roman Catholic, he also had strong ties to the emerging New Right. He was widely backed by the Moral Majority and adopted many of its positions once he was elected. He had been a consultant for the Christian Broadcasting Network and founded the Coalition for Decency, a nonprofit pro-traditional family organization. Denton inspired widespread media attention after his election, since he was a colorful, and some thought heroic figure. After his release from a seven-year confinement in North Vietnamese prison camps, he had stepped to the microphones in 1973 at Clark Air Force base and said "God bless America." As a politician, he opposed "secular humanism," called the family "the most critically endangered species in America," championed "self-discipline," and felt called upon to reassure the citizenry after his election that he "never seriously proposed the death penalty for adultery." Although he was not totally uncritical of the Christian Right (he challenged the Moral Majority on its racism), Denton was the quintessential representative of the movement's social values. His election was celebrated as making concrete a new alliance between Catholics and evangelicals. As New Right strategist Paul Weyrich observed, "My proudest moment was when an article appeared that said right there -- jumped out of the page -- that Catholics in areas like Dubuque, Iowa, had helped elect the evangelical [Charles] Grassley, and evangelicals in places like Mobile helped elect the Catholic [Jeremiah] Denton. And I looked at that article, and I stared at it, and I said, 'By golly, it has really happened.'" (15)
In addition to formerly acting as an advisor to Spirit of America, Denton presently runs a nonprofit called the Admiral Jeremiah Denton Foundation, whose Web site says they are "dedicated to issues regarding national security, the concept of One Nation Under God, and international peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs." This foundation was formerly known as the National Forum Foundation, and before this as the Coalition for Decency.
After acting as a key advisor to President Reagan, where he ensured the smooth running of the contra aid network, Denton went on to chair the Sub-Committee on Security and Terrorism, and as a spin-off from the Denton amendment, he established the highly acclaimed international aid program now known as The Denton Program. This program has combated what conservative writers refer to "aid bureaucracy" by allowing the distribution of aid "at reduced or no cost to other international humanitarian organizations" through their work in close collaboration with the US military -- "advances" that are clearly related to Spirit of America's ongoing work. Moreover, in 1998, "under the auspices" of the National Forum Foundation, Denton "established the TRANSFORM Program, which is similar to the Denton Program but uses commercial spare space." Now a program of the Denton Foundation, TRANSFORM writes:
Of course, military power has a major role in putting down terrorism. But we need an improved system of providing aid to and re-building nations including those that have to be conquered, damaged, and/or overrun, in the interest of counter-terrorism (like Afghanistan and Iraq). Also needed is a vastly improved system for relieving abject, prolonged poverty, a cause of instability and terrorism -- a system that preemptively attacks the causes of terrorism at its real roots. TRANSFORM can meet this need, and can help reduce the probability of the adoption of terrorist movements. TRANSFORM can reduce the frequency and extent of the need to opt for the more costly choice of a purely military solution.
TRANFORM acknowledges that "NGO's have an aversion, justified in some cases, unjustified in others, to being seen involved in any program that is tinged by military participation." Therefore their solution is more effective propaganda so both sides can "understand the other's point of view." Here they point to a "very important book written on this subject that should be mandatory reading," Chris Seiple's The US Military/NGO Relationship in Humanitarian Interventions (US Army Peacekeeping Institute, 1996). Chris Seiple is the son of the former long-serving president of controversial evangelical charity, World Vision US. Like his father, Chris is intimately enmeshed within powerful elite networks, and amongst other affiliations he is a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foreign Policy Research Institute, and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London).
Elite Philanthropy: From Kenya to America
Chris Seiple's involvement with the International Institute for Strategic Studies not coincidentally brings us back to a current member of Spirit of America's three-person-strong board of directors, Peter Ackerman -- who is a board member of the US branch of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and sits on the board of the establishment's leading think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations. (16) However, sticking with Seiple for a moment, it is interesting to note that Seiple serves on the advisory board of Carolina for Kibera, a group that "fights abject poverty and helps prevent violence through community-based development in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya and beyond," and was rewarded by Time magazine and the Gates Foundation as a "Hero of Global Health." Here Seiple sits alongside key members of the power elite including the likes of Council on Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission board member Professor Joseph Nye, who is the author of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (PublicAffairs, 2004).
Yet the main powerbroker involved in setting up Carolina for Kibera is Institute for Defense and Business board member Rye Barcott, who is the author of the forthcoming publication It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace (Bloomsbury, April 2011), a book that apparently "juxtaposes counter-insurgency and community development." Barcott is also a former board member, now strategic advisor, to a media company called Three Ships Media, where he is joined by Jason Bergsman, the vice president of The Chernin Group, a group that was founded by the former president of News Corporation (Peter Chernin). Another key member of Three Ships Media's management team is PR whizkid Winston Bao Lord, who is the son of Winston Lord and Bette Bao Lord; Winston Lord being the former chair of the National Endowment for Democracy, which carries out overtly what the CIA used to undertake covertly (i.e., the cultural war for the enemies hearts and minds), and Bette Bao Lord who is best known as the former longstanding chair of Freedom House -- serving in this position from 1993 until 2001 while Jeremiah Denton's son James Denton had headed the organization. Subsequent chairs of Freedom House have included the former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, and Spirit of America board member, Peter Ackerman.
It is important to point out that in addition to other corporate commitments the CEO of Three Ships Media, Zach Clayton, is a member of Carolina for Kibera's advisory board, and recently served with Ackerman as a board member of the bipartisan electoral group Unity08, an organization that aimed to "put a unity ticket -- one Republican and one Democrat -- on the 2008 presidential ballot." This faux-unity group was re-launched in 2010 as Americans Elect 2012 to help "nominate a balanced presidential ticket that will bridge the vital center of American public opinion." Peter Ackerman is again the main backer of this project, and a recent report noted that "Ackerman has already put $1.55 million into the project, with more to come." (17)
Aid is War: War is Peace
Given the history of Spirit of America and the manipulative and militaristic nature of many of their advisors, (18) it seems obvious why Jim Hake and especially Peter Ackerman, in his role as founding chair of the Orwellian International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, view the escalation of the use of nonviolent warfare by the US foreign policy establishment as a key means of enforcing American power globally. Yet despite the clarity of their ideological position, some progressives continue to portray elite investment banker/philanthropists like Ackerman as a rare ray of hope, striving against the odds to convince neoconservative and military elites of the utility of peace. Hence the reason why groups like Spirit of America have yet to be criticized in progressive media.
Such wishful thinking is, however, far from the case. Instead, Ackerman and his buddies at Spirit of America simply aim to encourage the war machine to acknowledge the utility of humanitarian tactics in supplementing the other well-known tools of empire: that is, they aim to promote a new "participatory militarism," "in which humanitarian development projects service the cultural reinvention of the military to justify and extend US imperialism." (19) Unfortunately, such obvious facts have not deterred Ackerman's would-be defenders, and contrary to all evidence, we are led to believe, for example, that while he was chairman of the neoconservative Freedom House, Ackerman "actually battled the neocons... in what was apparently an unsuccessful effort to separate it from the US government and partisan politics." I guess this is exactly what he is doing on the board of Spirit of America with Jim Hake and Perkins Coie partner, Don Karl; battling against the neocons! How can one argue with such logic, I GIVE UP: all power to Ackerman and his cronies!
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3. Daniel Henninger, "Spirit of America; Here's a way you can help the cause in Iraq," The Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2004. In December 2006, Henninger noted: "Recall that in April 2004 it raised sufficient monies to rebuild TV stations in Al Anbar province, staffed by Iraqis, to counterbalance propaganda from the likes of al-Jazeera. Those TV stations were built. And they have been destroyed. A sewing center for Iraqi women was similarly destroyed." Daniel Henninger, "The volunteers," The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2006.
Elsewhere I have written at length about the importance of US-backed "independent" media in Iraq. See Michael Barker, "Democracy or polyarchy? US-funded media developments in Afghanistan and Iraq post 9/11?," Media Culture Society, 30 (1), 2008.
Spirit of America's 2004 advisory board included Ambassador Diana Lady Dougan, Ambassador Brandon Grove, Ambassador Jack Vaugn, Admiral Jeremiah Denton, and Lieutenant General Mike DeLong (who was second-in-command of Central Command under General Tommy Franks during the "liberation" part of the destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq). Of these Jeremiah Denton stands out as the one individual whose experience illustrates the reason why Spirit of America was created (see later). (back)
4. Daniel Henninger, "F-word fight isn't over fee, fi, fo or fum," The Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2004; Daniel Henninger, "Wonder land: A good start on an Iraq homefront," The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2004. (back)
8. Annon, "Spirit of America blogger in Beirut, Lebanon," Business Wire, April 5, 2005. For a brief critical mention of Spirit of America's role in the Cedar revolution, see Trish Schuh, "Faking the case against Syria: Mehlis's murky past; US and Israeli proxies pushing the next neo-con war," CounterPunch, November 18, 2005.
Later in 2005, on 21 November, Spirit of America launched "a holiday media campaign to bring awareness to the American people of the need to support our military personnel in the important work that they are doing in the Middle East." Spirit of America's message was promoted amongst others by their two new honorary co-chairs, Senator John McCain and Retired General Tommy Franks. Annon, "Spirit of America Launches Holiday Media Campaign to Highlight Humanitarian Work of Our Men and Women In Uniform," Business Wire, November 23, 2005. (back)
11. William S. Lind, Keith Nightengale, John F. Schmitt, Joseph W. Sutton, and Gary I. Wilson, "The changing face of war: Into the fourth generation," Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989. (back)
13. Doug Simpson, "Democratic State lawmaker wins special La. congressional vote," Dow Jones International News, May 4, 2008. Simpson adds that in 2002, the Federal Elections Commission fined Jenkins "for concealing his purchase of a phone bank tied to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke." (back)
18. Current Spirit of America advisors include: former US Secretary of State under President Reagan, George Shultz, who recently was the chair of the nongovernmental Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a hard-right group whose membership is composed of leading neoconservatives including not least James Woolsey; John Nagl, who is the President of the Center for a New American Security; Kimberly Kagan, who is the founder and President of the Institute for the Study of War; Ambassador Mark Palmer, who is a co-founder and former board member of National Endowment for Democracy; and finally, General Jack Keane, a leading advocate for the adoption of counter-insurgency tactics in the war on Iraq, and the mastermind of President George W. Bush's troop "surge" strategy for Iraq. (back)
19. Nosheen Ali, "Books vs bombs? Humanitarian development and the narrative of terror in Northern Pakistan," (pdf) Third World Quarterly, 31 (4), 2010; Michael Barker, "Three cups of tea for imperialism! Greg Mortenson's participatory militarism," CounterPunch, August 10, 2010. As a point of interest, in January 2010, Spirit of America published 101 Ways to Help the Cause in Afghanistan a book which provides profiles of 65 different nonprofit humanitarian organizations. (back)