D.C. Foreign Policy Elites Rush to Shore Up Faltering Pentagon Nomination

Martin Indyk and allies accuse pro-Israel group of ‘smear campaign’

Colin Kahl / Getty Images
March 17, 2021

A group of Obama-era foreign policy elites and Washington lobbyists are organizing a letter to shore up Biden Pentagon nominee Colin Kahl, accusing pro-Israel activists in West Virginia of engaging in a "disgusting smear campaign," according to email correspondence obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The diplomat Martin Indyk—best known for working for a Qatari-funded think tank after stepping down as President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy—is organizing the letter, which has not yet been released. In an email to former foreign policy officials on Wednesday, Indyk solicited signatures in support of Kahl's nomination for undersecretary of defense for policy. Two executives at the Biden-administration-linked consulting firm WestExec Advisors—Obama officials Michele Flournoy and Dan Shapiro—were copied on the message.

Indyk argued in the email that pro-Israel activists, including the group Christians United for Israel, are engaging in a "disgusting smear campaign" against Kahl. CUFI and a group of West Virginia legislators recently called on Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) to oppose the nomination, citing Kahl's criticism of Israel and support for the Iranian nuclear deal.

"[My wife] Gahl and I are spending March in Malibu to escape the winter cold. It's been a real tonic," Indyk wrote.

"I'm writing to see if you would be willing to sign on to a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of Colin Kahl's confirmation as undersecretary of defense, which [WestExec managing partner] Michele Flournoy, [WestExec principal] Dan Shapiro, and I are circulating," he continued.

"As you may know, Colin has been subjected to a disgusting smear campaign by Christians United for Israel and others, who are targeting Senator Manchin with an ad campaign in West Virginia. We intend to send the letter to every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee by the end of the week."

CUFI is drawing attention to the Kahl nomination and pressing Manchin to oppose it through ads in local newspapers. Dozens of members of the West Virginia legislature also signed a letter urging the senator to vote against Kahl, writing that "you can stand with West Virginia and our ally Israel or Colin Kahl and Iran—but you cannot support both."

Ari Morgenstern, the spokesman for CUFI, said the group has 77,000 members in West Virginia and argued that Manchin's pro-Israel constituents have a right to express their views.

"Former officials are welcome to express their views, so are the constituents of elected officials. We live in a democracy, not a plutocracy," Morgenstern told the Free Beacon.

"Every point raised concerning Dr. Kahl by CUFI, our 77,000 members in West Virginia and our 10 million members nationwide, has been accurate. This isn't a smear campaign, it's an educational initiative."

Manchin, who has said he is still on the fence about Kahl, would likely be the committee's deciding vote on the nomination. Democrats on the committee postponed the vote that was expected to take place earlier this week. In addition to Kahl's positions on Israel and Iran, the nominee has also faced scrutiny over his Twitter comments attacking Republican lawmakers and pro-Israel hawks.

Indyk's letter, which he said he is planning to send to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee by Friday, describes Kahl as "committed to the U.S.-Israel relationship" and someone who "has never wavered in his effort to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran."

Indyk said the letter already had a lengthy list of Washington insider signatories, including congressman-turned-lobbyist Ron Klein, former Kamala Harris adviser Halie Soifer, and Kahl's ex-boss at the Freeman Spogli Institute, Michael McFaul.

Before Indyk joined a think tank that received $14 million from the Qatari government, he was also known for leaking anti-Israel stories to reporters and bad-mouthing Israel loudly at hotel bars.