Talk about strange transitions: Donald Rumsfeld’s hawkish aide in the Pentagon is now one of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s emissaries in the gay community. But between these two titles, Stephen Herbits — no stranger to controversy — rode out the storm as Israel Singer’s successor at the scandal-plagued World Jewish Congress.
Last week Clinton named Herbits, the outgoing secretary-general of the WJC, as one of 65 gay and lesbian community leaders on a campaign committee.“I have known Senator Clinton and respect her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee and on national security issues,” Herbits said in an interview on Tuesday, in which he described himself as “a more-than-conservative hawk on foreign policy, a libertarian on economic policy and fairly left-leaning on social policy.”
Herbits, 64, who has donated $10,000 to Clinton’s campaign, is a rare find: a gay activist with Republican credentials. He’s been an aide in several GOP administrations and most recently worked in the Pentagon under Rumsfeld as a consultant on hiring policies. But he has since become a staunch critic of Bush administration policy, particularly in Iraq, and was frequently quoted in Bob Woodward’s book, “State of Denial,” which accuses the White House of lying about the war.
Herbits says he quit the Pentagon work in the spring of 2004 not only because of what he calls the “mishandling” of national security and defense issues, but also because Bush, though not anti-gay himself, “was willing to lead an anti-gay campaign in 2004 for political purposes.”
But Herbits has his own baggage. He came under fire last year for comments about the chairman of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou, in a private memo in November, saying Besnainou could not be trusted because he’s French and Tunisian and “works like an Arab.” He later apologized.
Herbits said he was overwhelmed with calls last week following an erroneous published report that he was to chair Clinton’s gay and lesbian outreach committee. In truth, he says he has no responsibilities for the senator other than providing his endorsement.