In 2005, a group of graduate students at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced and International Studies (SAIS) participated in the school’s annual diplomatic simulation. The high-pressure scenario required the students to negotiate a resolution to a standoff with a nuclear-armed Republic of Pakistan. Mara Karlin, a student known for her hawkish politics on Israel and the Middle East, played President of the United States.
Though most of the participants were confident they could head off a military conflict with diplomatic measures, Karlin jumped the gun. According to a former SAIS student, not only did Karlin order a nuclear strike on Pakistan, she also took the opportunity to nuke Iran. Her classmates were shocked. It was the first time in 45 years that a simulation concluded with the deployment of a nuclear weapon.
That year, Karlin received a plum job in the Bush administration’s Department of Defense where, according to her bio she was “intimately involved in formulating U.S. policy on Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel-Palestinian affairs.” Lebanon was a special area of focus for Karlin. She claims to have helped structure the Lebanese Armed Forces and coordinated relations between the US and Lebanese militaries.
According to the former SAIS student, Karlin was a favorite of Eliot Cohen, an ultra-hawkish professor of strategic studies at SAIS, which is regarded in American foreign policy circles as a training ground for the neoconservative movement. Through Cohen’s connections among the neocons occupying key civilian posts in Bush’s Defense Department, the former student claims Cohen was able to arrange an attractive sinecure for Karlin. Besides Karlin, the ex-SAIS student told me Cohen has promoted the career ambitions of many former pupils, including Kelly Magsamen, who worked under Cohen in the Bush administration and now oversees the Iran portfolio in the Obama administration’s State Department.
Today, Cohen is among Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney’s top campaign advisers. He is the primary author of Romney’s foreign policy white paper, which attacks Obama for “currying favor with [America’s] enemies” and “ostentatiously shunning Jerusalem.”
The paper urges a policy of regime change in Iran including possible coordination with Israel on military strikes to prevent the Iranian regime from developing a nuclear weapon. It is an aggressive Republican election season document presenting a concoction of post-9/11 unilateralism and unvarnished neo-imperialism as the antidote to a sitting president Cohen accused of “unilateral disarmament in the diplomatic and moral sphere.” More importantly, it suggests that a Romney administration’s foreign policy might look remarkably similar to – and perhaps more extreme than – that of the Bush administration.