The Truman National Security Project (TNSP) is a left-leaning Washington D.C.-based think tank that conducts training in national security issues and advocates the U.S. take a more active role in promoting liberal policies as part of the nation’s foreign policy. As of June 2017, it is composed of 16 chapters from 47 different states across the nation and claims more than 1,600 members. It supports American leadership, using its defense and diplomacy in the world on issues involving shared security and democracy promotion abroad. Many of its members are former or current military personnel, diplomats, foreign policy lobbyists, and political activists. The Truman Project has been criticized for giving the impression that it is bipartisan and independent while being supportive of the Democratic Party.
The think tank was founded in the aftermath of the 2004 Presidential debates by Democratic activist Rachel Kleinfeld, a Democratic Party activist, and Matthew Spence, a Yale law student and foreign policy assistant for future Obama administration official Susan Rice. Both were dissatisfied with the Democratic Party’s lack of emphasis on national security. The Truman Project was founded to be a counter to the neoconservative element within the Republican Party and imitated many of the methods and tactics of conservative foreign policy-oriented think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute. Kleinfeld saw the organization as a means through which hawkish liberals could assert themselves in the political arena in the post-9/11 world.
Kleinfeld worked with one of the more hawkish Democratic U.S. Representatives, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), one of the few Democrats in Congress that she found truly interested in foreign policy. Because of the lack of foreign policy expertise within the Democratic Party, Kleinfeld told Forward magazine shortly after the organization’s founding that many of her associates came from red states who understood “very viscerally that if [they] don’t take back the issue of national security, [Democrats] will never win an election.” At the organization’s June conference in 2005, discussion focused on “what Democrats did wrong, Republicans did right, and neo-cons did better” and “the need to increase the size of the deployable military.”
The Truman Project was formerly associated with the Truman National Security Institute, a 501(c)(3) educational arm. The Institute formally merged into the Center for National Policy in 2012. The Institute received funding from numerous liberal foundations, including the Energy Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Oxfam America.
Influence and Campaigns
Many of the graduates of the TNSP’s training programs and staffers ended up in the Obama administration. This included co-founder Matthew Spence who became Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary running the Pentagon’s Middle East policy operations. Many of the higher-ranking officials in the Obama defense establishment served on the Truman Project board of advisers, including Colin Kahl, a senior national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden; Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; and Hunter Biden, Vice-President Joe Biden’s son.
Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the center-right American Enterprise Institute, questioned the effectiveness of these dozens of wonks who went into administrative positions in the Obama administration. She pointed to the Syrian Civil War, deterioration of law and order in North Africa, and legally questionable drone killings. Pletka believed that national security progressives had been more adept at finding jobs for themselves than at governing, stating, “If your ambition is to feed at the public trough, then I think that there are organizations that have done very well under President Obama.”
In December 2011, the TNSP expelled Josh Block, one of the group’s members for criticizing the Center for American Progress for breaking with traditional Clinton-wing Democratic support for Israel. Kleinfeld told Block that his criticism threatened members’ ability to debate the Israel issue “without fear of mischaracterization or character attacks.”
In 2014, in light of off-color jokes by Fox News hosts Greg Gutfeld and Eric Bolling about a female United Arab Emirates Air Force pilot, the Truman Project orchestrated an open letter to Fox News signed by 60 veterans with nothing but the signers’ names and service branch. It came to light shortly thereafter that the 60 outraged veterans were all current or former Democratic operatives and activists. The first name on the list was TNSP executive director Michael Breen, while some of the others are Democratic lawmakers and staffers such as Maine State Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx,Georgia State Rep. Scott Holcomb, and and Daniel Savage, former staffer to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The Truman Security Fellowship is a program with a select group of young professionals who show promise in becoming future left-of-center leaders and trains them to communicate “a strong internationalist security message.” These individuals are trained through seminars, conferences visits to military bases and Washington, D.C. The Fellowship seeks out young adults who “share President Truman’s Belief in muscular internationalism, and who believe that strong national security and strong liberal values are not antagonistic, but are two sides of the same coin.”
The Truman Project offers day-long boot camps which trains staffers, consultants, and political operatives at the local level in military, international, and homeland security issues.
In 2014, the Truman Project emailed its associates, asking them to flood the nation’s local media with support for the Obama administration’s pending nuclear deal with Iran, claiming it was the only step between Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and the U.S. going to war.