One of the founding fathers of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, was once quoted as saying: “If there’s a problem you want to solve, start a magazine.” His words were taken to heart by the most recent generation of neoconservative leaders—including his son, William, who founded the Weekly Standard. The strategy was simple: With the right audience of elites, and a targeted message that captures their imagination, the limits of what you can do are nearly boundless. “With a circulation of a few hundred,” the elder Kristol once remarked, “you could change the world.”
The embodiment of this neoconservative modus operandi, however, has not been small-circulation magazines, but the proliferation of so-called “letterhead organizations”—committees of eminent persons who, though they never actually meet to discuss issues, sign their names to letters addressed to the powers that be, often sitting U.S. presidents. That such letters could make splashes in the elite media is a reflection of the way neoconservatives have embedded themselves in the Washington establishment—their opinions mattered and, most importantly, sometimes ended up becoming policy.
Indeed, one of the best-known neocon letterhead groups, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), led by Bill Kristol, helped launch the campaign for militarily removing Saddam Hussein from power with a 1998 letter to then-President Bill Clinton. The letter garnered only 18 signatories, but within five years, and under a new president, it had achieved its goal.