The best way to ensure peace is through a strong national defense.
(Heritage Foundation. Annual Report 2019)
During its history of 245 years, the USA has been at war for 228 years1. American wars constitute an important element of the American business model which creates enormous wealth for those in power. Some, mainly American, think tanks provide justifications for this tradition, thus making sure that the USA will always be at war in some parts of the globe. The objective is not to end wars, but to prolong them to ensure continued wealth creation for a small group of oligarchs. Think tanks claim to be staffed by individuals of high intellectual standards seeking to expand knowledge without letting themselves be influenced by particular interest groups or parties. But some think tanks appear to have sold their presumed academic independence to the service of US imperial policies to the detriment of world peace and death of millions of people, who at best are left behind in poverty and servitude.
Lauder Institute legitimizes ideologically-driven think tanks
The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the Lauder Institute at Pennsylvania University in the USA presents a ranking of think tanks across a wide variety of fields. From its Annual Report from 20202 we learn that globally there are a total of 11.175 think tanks with about 2000 of them located in the USA, often in Washington D.C. with easy access to federal policymakers. The report does not reflect intrinsic intellectual performance or academic accomplishment per se by the listed think tanks, which are evaluated and ranked on basis of the perceptions of hundreds of journalists, policymakers, and think tank employees.
Although the report is thus merely a reflection of views and opinions of a number of select individuals, it has gained authority and importance on the subject of think tanks which by far exceeds what reasonably can be justified from data contained in the report. TTCSP states that one of the more important characteristics of a think tank is that it serves “the public interest as an independent voice that translates applied and basic research into a language that is understandable, reliable and accessible for policymakers and the public”.3 TTCSP claims implicitly that think tanks are institutions which base their findings on scientific methodologies. If think tanks indeed were independent bodies of high academic standard, submitting recommendations upon findings developed from knowledge-based and verifiable facts, a handful of think tanks would be sufficient to serve the welfare of the whole of humanity. The mushrooming of think tanks suggests that many of them have become indistinguishable from lobby groups. Think tanks hide behind an academic facade, with the purpose of concealing their real mission, which more often than not is to serve narrow interests of the USA, regardless of adverse implications to the majority of the population of our planet.
The founder of the Lauder Institute is multi-billionaire, Ronald Lauder, who inherited a great part of his wealth from his mother Estée Lauder, inventor and producer of beauty products. Today, he is the president of the World Jewish Congress. During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, he was rewarded with the post of ambassador to Austria for his contributions to the Republican Party. Under the presidency of Ronald Reagan and subsequent Republican presidents, we witness a sharp rise in the number and influence of think tanks. With the event of September 11, 2001, the influence of these think tanks grew stronger, now with more emphasis on the promotion of the American way of life. The Lauder Institute has helped give authority and legitimacy as policymakers to a number of think tanks, especially those with a leaning towards the Republican party. It is estimated that around 250 to 300 think tanks are members of the global right-wing, Neo-liberal Atlas Network4, which aims at promoting privatization of all government business operations in the interests of free markets in line with the economic philosophy of Milton Friedman.
One of the most obvious characteristics of this network of right-wing think tanks is that each think tank appears to be local and independent without disclosing its association with a global network of equal-minded think tanks5. Together they ensure that the majority of American minds will be occupied by attitudes favoring policies and activities of the USA and its allies. When virtually the entire world distanced itself from Israel’s brutal war in Gaza in 2014, with thousands of dead Palestinians, a majority of Americans were in favour of Israel's position, not least because of the positive image painted of Israel by this network of think tanks.
Implicitly the participation of any think tank in the global listing and ranking conducted by TTCSP, provides it with an endorsement, although it may have declared in its official mission statement that its aim is to promote the advancement of values, which will expedite global leadership of the USA. One could almost suspect that TTCSP deliberately wishes to obscure the status and mission of think tanks by including all known think tanks in the world. Sharing categories and being compared with real academic think tanks, such as the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) obviously gives a lot of credibility to warmongering think tanks.
Occupying the American mind
Among this group of freedom-focused, patriotic think tanks we find among others the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which consists of a “community of scholars, staff, and supporters committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise. AEI pursues these unchanging ideals through independent thinking, open debate, reasoned argument, and the highest standards of fact-based research” It does so “without regard for politics” it declares in its 2020 annual report6. AEI has provided a high number of ultraconservative senior staff to a number of Republican presidents. During the presidency of George W. Bush, we find such 'celebrities' as Richard Pearle, an influential Iraq hawk and former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife was a senior fellow of AEI, as was Jeanne Kilpatrick, former US Ambassador to the UN. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives also counts among those with roots in AEI. John Bolton, former Ambassador to the UN, who last served in the administration of President Trump was also at one time attached to AEI. At one time Lee Raymond, former CEO of Exxon Mobile and single-minded climate denier, served as vice president of AEI. A key objective of AEI is to ensure continued American leadership in the world faced with threats from China and Russia. The annual report reads that “the US military must make difficult choices on how its forces should be sized, shaped, modernized, and ultimately resourced to meet its strategic and national security objectives”.
Other known think tanks working hand in hand with US imperial interests include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Freedom House. The latter promotes itself under the slogan “Expanding Freedom and Democracy”. NED is an organization that often does exactly the opposite of what its name implies. It was inaugurated in the early 1980s under President Reagan in the wake of too many negative revelations about the CIA in the second half of the 1970s7. Since the CIA had acquired a dishonorable reputation, the US government shifted many of its criminal and unconstitutional activities to a new organization, with the more agreeable name of The National Endowment for Democracy. The idea was that NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate the stigma associated with CIA covert activities. Since then NED has been involved in system changes throughout the world from Ukraine via South America to countries in the Middle East and North Africa. NED programs generally impart the basic philosophy that working people and other citizens are best served under a system of free enterprise. NED has funded centrist and rightist labor organizations to help them oppose unions that were too militantly pro-worker. It did this in France, Portugal and Spain among many other places. NED is totally funded by US Government Funds. In turn, it provides 80% of the funding for the functioning of Freedom House, thus affirming the close links between these two watchtowers of the ‘free world’ and American interests.
More academic and more versatile, but still serving to justify US global control is the Rand Corporation (“Objective Analysis, Effective Solutions”) created in 1948 by Douglas Aircraft Corporation. 63% of its budget is paid for by US government institutions such as the Army, the Air Force and Home Security. In its 2019 annual report, it informs the reader about “ways in which Rand uses rigorous, unbiased, evidence-based research and analysis”. Some of these ways lead it to recommend how to counteract Russia’s growing influence, which seems to undermine US control over Europe. Rand researchers wrote that the army can help “by building up not just its combat capabilities in Europe, but also its public affairs, civil affairs, and intelligence capabilities”. Rand provides advice to its financiers, like the Air Force. It recommends new paradigms for air bases: “It’s much harder for an enemy to strike ten bases with a dozen fighters each, than a single base with 120 fighters”. If this observation sounds like a scientific statement, then Rand Corporation is indeed an academic corporation! Rand assumes – in some cases mistakenly - that Europeans perceive Russia as a bigger threat to world peace than the USA when it advises the US army to “look for ways to support partner nations within Russia’s desired sphere of influence…”.
In spite of close links to the US administration, TTCSP ranks these think tanks in the category of best among independent think tanks8 AEI receives a ranking as no. 12, Heritage Foundation as no. 13, and Rand Corporation as no 18. Freedom House and NED are ranked in the category as “Top transparency and Good Governance Think Tank”. Thus TTCSP clearly endorses think tanks that provide cover and justification for US Governments to intervene militarily in any part of the world. Heritage Foundation receives special attention in the TTCSP’s 2020 Global Report, where it has been given a prominent position as the Think Tank of Excellence for the period 2016 – 2019, because of its impact on public policy. How did Heritage Foundation come to deserve this trustworthy position?
Heritage Foundation supports anti-communist movements
Heritage Foundation (HF) declares that its mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of “free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” It is widely considered one of the world’s most influential public policy research institutes. The Heritage Foundation rose to prominence during the time when Ronald Reagan was president. HF shares the belief with many American institutions that the values to which the USA adheres have universal relevance. Thus HF reinforces the official belief that the American administration – in the name of democracy and human rights - has a divine duty to bring the entire planet in line with its cherished freedom values.
It is best known for the support generated by its foreign policy analysts in the 1980s and early 1990s to provide military and other support to anti-communist resistance movements in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Nicaragua and other nations, a policy that came to be known as the Reagan Doctrine9. The HF was actively involved in many of the bloodiest wars in the third world during the wars of the 1980s and 90s, which in the western media were referred to as “wars of liberation”. According to Source Watch, HF “worked closely with leading anti-communist movements, including the Nicaraguan Contras and Jonas Savimbi’s Unita movement in Angola. Throughout this period, HF’s support for the Nicaraguan Contras and Angola’s Savimbi proved extremely influential with the United States government, including the Central Intelligence Agency. The Heritage Foundation presented its case for armed support for these movements, and United States support soon followed. It is well known that these rebel movements, such as the Contras, supported by the USA government, committed many atrocities and violations of human rights. The products coming out of HF continue to benefit the arms lobby, which employs 700 to 1000 lobbyists to influence members of Congress.
In collaboration with the HF and equal minded think tanks, this lobby contributes strongly to maintain that an uninterrupted focus rests “on ensuring that nuclear weapons of all types are amply financed and that the funding for the new generations of the bombers, submarines and missiles that will deliver them stays on track”.10
Heritage Foundation recommends withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change
Through its publications and sponsorship of public debates, HF has a strong influence on public opinion, as well as a direct influence on the administration of US government’s development aid and national security strategy. Its focus is on the stability of key regions, thus reducing adverse consequences to the ‘homeland’. “Promoting stability in critical regions prevents conflict there from cascading in ways that affect peace on the North-American continent. Stability abroad also provides for a free and secure global marketplace, which redounds to the benefit of Americans”11. In its 2019 Annual Report, it is mentioned with some pride that “The Senate’s 2020 National Defense Authorization Act adopted more than two-thirds of our recommendations for defense budgeting, modernization, and more”.
US republican Presidents have given Heritage Foundation a forceful role in the management of aid to the poorest countries around the world. This task it manages by identifying countries that practice ‘good governance’ and economic freedom. Based upon information and statistics prepared by Freedom House12, World Bank and IMF, Heritage Foundation plays a key role for the US Government with regard to identifying countries qualifying to receive financial and technical aid. HF is particularly responsible for the evaluation of trade policies and the degree of economic reform in potential recipient countries. It will most certainly always ensure that such reforms serve the interests of US-based Transnational Corporations. HF believes strongly that “the prosperity of its citizens are best served by a system of free enterprise”.
Its Institute for Economic Freedom argues that the Paris agreement on climate change will be very hurtful to US enterprises and jobs. Much of 2019 was thus spent on combating the Left’s climate agenda. HF efforts to discredit the Paris Agreement of 2015 on climate change was rewarded when former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave the U.N. formal notification that the U.S. was pulling out of the climate agreement.
Heritage Foundation collaborators
A strong indication of the perceived significance of HF for right-wing causes is seen from the fact that one of the largest contributors to the funding of its activities are provided by the foundation established and owned by businessman and billionaire, Richard Mellon Scaife13. At his death in 2014 his son and daughter continued the management of the Scaife Family Foundation. Among the more than 20 recipient right-wing think tanks which receive regular funding from the Scaife Foundations, the HF receives the largest amount on average. Richard M. Scaife was on the HF board until his death in 2014. He was joined among others by Steve Forbes – a former presidential candidate, and Robert J. Herbold, retired executive vice president and chief operating officer of Microsoft Corporation.
HF receives support not only from USA-based organizations, but also from agencies with links to foreign governments and intelligence agencies. This external funding support is mirrored in the work undertaken by HF on US foreign policy and national security strategies, particularly its support to anti-communist resistance movements throughout the world. Contributions were received from defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin, finance and insurance companies such as Allstate Insurance, Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, and American International Group (AIG), auto company Honda, tobacco company Philip Morris, drug and medical companies Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer and Briston-Myers Squibb Foundation, oil companies Chevron Texaco and Exxon Mobil, and Software giant Microsoft – each of them chipping in over $ 100.000 each.
Following the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 democratic supporters sought to strengthen center-left think tanks, because of the imbalance in the amount of cash that goes into left and right-wing think tanks. With a view to mobilizing more funding to center-and left-wing think tanks, the Democracy Alliance was created. It observed that think tanks pushing the conservative agenda receive four times as much as left-wing institutions.
Heritage Foundation opposes the UN
With all of its foreign policy experiences, the HF could have become an important advocate to the United Nations in its struggle to promote human rights and development for all people in the world. But given HF’s narrow focus on issues that primarily provide short-term benefits to the USA, it is instead actively involved in whipping up anti-UN sentiments. When proposals for the annual budget are presented to the UN General Assembly, HF does not miss any opportunity to smear this global organization. In 2008/09 it invited John Bolton, former Ambassador of the USA to the UN and recently National Security Advisor to President Trump, to present a speech for an audience of HF invitees. He spoke over the subject on: “How to Fix the UN”. The intention was to create confusion and doubt about the function of the UN. Some of the messages which came out of Bolton’s speech are that the UN is a waste of tax payer’s money; UN peacekeepers act immorally, and the UN no longer stands for freedom and human rights. Brett Schaefer, Director of HF’s Margareth Thatcher Freedom Institute, raised the question ‘Who Leads the UN?’ He argues that the UN is run by countries that are anti-US and in fact enemies of US interests. The decision by President Trump to withdraw from WHO happened as a result of recommendations by HF. Schaefer believes that Biden’s decision to rejoin is too rash. HF recommends in its comments to Trump’s National Security Strategy of 2017 that “The U.S. should periodically conduct a comprehensive analysis of the nearly 200 international organizations receiving billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars each year (more than $12 billion in 2017) to identify the organizations that are most, and least, vital to U.S. interests, and which provide the most, and least, value for money.”
Through its various and many interlocutors, HF attempts to tell the world that the UN and its Human Rights Council cannot defend and promote human rights in the world because human rights abusers have influence and seats on the council. HF seems to forget the conduct of the US in human rights violations during the so-called liberation wars in Nicaragua, Angola and other countries in Southern Africa and in South America. It also ignores the active use of torture by US agencies during their investigations of terrorist suspects in Iraqi prisons and in Guantanamo Bay. CIA’s secret extraordinary rendition program has not yet been forgotten. It consisted of the capture of suspects in one country and transporting them to another with the purpose of circumventing the former country's laws on methods of interrogation.
Since its establishment in 1973 HF has made strong efforts to appear as a serious evidence-based Think Tank. In 2009 its board allowed the creation of Heritage Action, which is a more militant manner pushed the political line of the mother foundation. Heritage Action was founded in 2010 as the political advocacy arm of Heritage Foundation. During the recent presidential election campaign in the USA, Heritage Action sold stickers with pro-Trump slogans from its webshop. The creation of Heritage Action had some adverse impact on the status of Heritage Foundation as an independent conservative Think Tank14, but TTCSP continued to include HF in its listing of academic think tanks.
The character of true think tanks
Normally, one would expect that recommendations emerging from research findings produced by any organization satisfy norms for scientific investigations. Findings must be verifiable by academic peers. But this is rarely seen for findings coming out of think tanks similar to Heritage Foundation. A close look at biographic data of ‘senior fellows’ and ‘resident scholars’ associated with right-wing ‘think tanks’ show often limited research experience, although they may have obtained a university degree from one of the 4,298 degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the U.S., some of which may in fact be diploma mills, without offering degree-leading courses. ‘Senior fellows’ and ‘scholars’ of these think tanks have reversed the process of scientific investigations. Driven by ideology and a missionary zeal to promote US global interests, they begin a project by deciding which policy the findings must justify before even have arrived at the findings. Subsequently, findings often need some twisting to justify the policy recommendation. What kind of real academics would let their name be associated with recommendations for policies to an economic model, which has already proven itself cataclysmic for the majority of humanity, generating inequalities among people and nations, while provoking poverty and death for millions of people? Such academics are in the same class as medical doctors taking part in torture sessions of prisoners.
Real academics conduct their research on ethical norms. The value of such norms is to be judged upon the consequences of the actions taken from the research findings. In other words, if action taken upon a policy emanating from research proves to have negative consequences for a great number of people or even nations, then it follows that the entire research project was launched from an unethical base. Authentic researchers in real academic institutions make all efforts to avoid this by submitting their findings to peer reviews before conclusions and recommendations are drawn. The final test of whether a collectivity of researchers may nominate their base of activities as that of a think tank depends exclusively on their adherence to recognized scientific methodologies relevant to the concerned discipline. If policy recommendations presented by an organization, such as Heritage Foundation, have not been verified by academic peers, they cannot be trusted. Any organization which produces invalidated findings does not warrant categorization as a think tank.
It would serve to the credit of TTCSP at the Lauder Institute of Pennsylvania University if its next annual report on global think tanks includes only research institutions that satisfy the criteria of being independent and truly academic. Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the likes are no more than lobby organizations producing fabricated information.
1 Propaganda, lies and false flags. How the US Justifies its wars, by Robert Fantina, 2020.
2 McGann, James G., 2020 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (2021). TTCSP Global Go To Think Tank, Index Reports. 18. It serves to “identify and recognize centers of excellence in all the major areas of public policy research”.
4 Source: Watch on Think Tanks.
5 Atlas Network: Atlas Network is a nonprofit organization connecting a global network of more than 475 free-market organizations in over 90 countries to the ideas and resources needed to advance the cause of liberty. 6 Annual Report, AEI, 2020.
7 A CIA Trojan Horse. The National Endowment for Democracy, By William Blum, 2016.
8 TTCSP defines independent as “… independence from any one interest group or donor, and autonomous in its operation and funding from government.
9 Source Watch: The Center for Media and Democracy.
10 The Nation, November 14, 2017.
11 Report on Preparing the US national security strategy for 2020 and beyond. By Heritage Foundation, May 23, 2019.
12 Freedom House was founded in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt. It believes that democracy cannot be imposed but must come from within. Freedom House prepares an annual World report, in which countries are categorized according to degree of freedom as defined Freedom House and its sponsors.
13 After the death of Richard Scaife in 2014, a significant portion of his assets were given to the foundations, increasing their value substantially. In addition, the Sarah Scaife and Carthage Foundation merged at the end of 2014, making the Sarah Scaife Foundation one of the largest foundations focused on supporting right-wing causes.
14 New Republic, Nov 24, 2013 (Article entitled: A 31 year old is tearing apart the Heritage Foundation).