Uncertain Anniversary for Iraq War Champions
by Jim Lobe
was four years ago that a little-known group called the Project
for the New American Century (PNAC) published an open letter to
President George W. Bush advising him on how precisely he should
carry out his brand-new "war on terrorism."
addition to ousting Afghanistan's Taliban, the letter's mostly neoconservative
signatories called for implementing regime change "by all necessary
means" in Iraq, "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly
to the [Sept. 11] attack." It also urged "appropriate
measures of retaliation" against Iran and Syria if they refused
to comply with U.S. demands to cut off support to Hezbollah, which
they considered part of the terror network.
letter called for cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority unless
it immediately halted attacks against Israel and Israeli settlements,
and for a "large increase in defense spending" in order
to rein in the conflict that some of its signers, notably former
CIA director James Woolsey, were soon describing as "World
months later, PNAC published a second letter again little-noticed
by the U.S. mainstream media calling for Washington to "accelerate
plans for removing Saddam Hussein from power," "lend full
support to Israel" whose "fight against terrorism is our
fight," and greatly increase the defense budget to ensure that
the impending war could be successfully carried out in all its aspects.
prescription and subsequent events fostered the impression, particularly
in Europe and the Arab world, that the group had successfully and
given the lack of media coverage covertly "hijacked"
U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.
included the administration's fulsome embrace of Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon, followed by the invasion of Iraq, not to mention the
effective cutoff of communications with both Damascus and Tehran
(albeit not precisely because of their ties to Hezbollah).
when the historical record of what the Bush administration has actually
done in the region is compared with PNAC's recommendations, the
correspondence can only be described as stunning.
they were hardly the result of some covert conspiracy.
fact, PNAC, whose staff consists of only about half a dozen people,
had been issuing letters, statements, and reports quite openly for
several years before. It called in particular for regime change
in Iraq as part of a larger foreign policy project inspired mainly
by a policy paper drafted by hawks in the Pentagon under former
President George H.W. Bush after the first Gulf War, and by a 1996
article by PNAC co-founders William Kristol and Robert Kagan in
Foreign Affairs that called for the U.S. to practice "benevolent
global hegemony" based on "military supremacy and moral
ideas contained in those works attracted indeed reflected
the thinking of what could best be called a coalition of
hawks, including assertive nationalists, neo-conservatives, and
the Christian Right, that have worked together since the mid-1970s.
it was that coalition that seized the initiative after Sept. 11,
2001 within the administration. Guided by Kristol, who doubles as
editor of The Weekly Standard, PNAC simply became the public
voice of that coalition.
all, among the signatories of its 1997 charter statement were Vice
President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and
their two top aides, I. Lewis Libby and Paul Wolfowitz (who had
authored the 1992 Pentagon paper), respectively, as well as several
other top administration officials.
in its Sept. 20, 2001 letter to Bush, PNAC was not "recommending"
anything that these men were not already pushing within the administration's
highest councils, as Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward
among others has since made clear. It was acting as a combination
of transmission belt, echo chamber, and cheerleader on the outside,
as it has since.
four years later, how is PNAC is doing?
short answer is not so well.
it represents a coalition of different, although like-minded varieties
of hawks, its own influence or at least the perception of
that influence is highly dependent on the coalition's unity.
that unity began to fray even as U.S. troops were flowing into Iraq.
Sensing that Rumsfeld, in particular, was not committed to using
the kind of overwhelming force and keeping it there
necessary for "transforming" Iraq (and the region), Kristol
and Kagan, among other neoconservatives, began attacking the defense
secretary and have repeatedly called for his resignation.
their tactical alliance with "liberal internationalists"
mostly Democrats in appealing for the resources required
for "nation-building" has, by many accounts, deeply offended
Rumsfeld and other "assertive nationalists" in and outside
in turn have blamed neoconservatives for deluding themselves and
Bush into thinking that U.S. troops would be greeted with "sweets
and flowers" in Iraq. The exile of Wolfowitz to the World Bank
and the resignation last summer of Undersecretary of Defense for
Policy Douglas Feith should be seen in this light.
the breakdown in the coalition's unity and coherence resulted at
least as much from external factors, as well, beginning with the
tenacity of the Iraq insurgency. In bogging down U.S. land forces,
it has put paid to the coalition's original dreams of the armed
forces prepared to intervene in any crisis anytime, anywhere.
addition, the unanticipated and enormous costs associated with the
occupation in Iraq to which might now be added the unanticipated
and enormous costs of recovery from Hurricane Katrina has
also demonstrated, both to some right-wing but budget-conscious
nationalists, as well as to the rest of the world, that the money
for the kind of military PNAC has always lobbied for is simply not
significant hikes in the defense budget, or for the occupation force
in Iraq, as called for by PNAC in its most recent letter this January,
are simply beyond the political pale.
the growing public perception that Iraq has become a "quagmire"
has added to the burdens of the PNAC coalition, members of which
now must spend an inordinate amount of time defending the original
decision to invade. A group that is temperamentally best suited
to offense has found itself over the past two years in an increasingly
external event that has clearly divided the PNAC coalition, and
even the neoconservatives who have dominated it, was Sharon's determination
to disengage from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
Sept. 20, 2001 letter and its April 3, 2002 follow-up on the Israel-Palestinian
conflict both reflected the coalition's commitment to the closest
possible alliance between the U.S. and a Likud-led Israel.
just as the Likud Party in Israel has split over Sharon's disengagement,
so PNAC hawks, particularly the neoconservatives and the Christian
Right, have split here. And because Israel holds such a central
position in the worldview of both groups, internal disagreement
on such a key issue is particularly debilitating.
it would be a mistake to believe that because PNAC and the coalition
it represents are down, they must be out, particularly with respect
to the other policy initiatives they recommended four years ago.
with Iran, particularly under the leadership of hardline President
Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, is something that the coalition remains unified
about, particularly with respect to the prospect of Tehran's acquisition
of nuclear weapons.
PNAC has not explicitly addressed what to do about Iran, there is
little question that the coalition like the hawks within
the administration remains fundamentally united on its own
hardline policy and, in any event, an absolute refusal to directly
engage the new government.
to do about Syria is more uncertain, although more hawkish sectors
within the coalition clearly favor "regime change," possibly
with the help of cross-border attacks in the name of preempting
the infiltration of insurgents into Iraq, as has been called for
by Kristol, among others.
realists within the administration argue in favor of engaging President
Bashar Assad, if only because the alternative could be so much worse,
the hawks, particularly the neoconservatives who often refer to
Damascus as "low-lying fruit," appear determined to prevent
any weakening of their policy of isolation and economic pressure
on the assumption that the regime will soon collapse.
in Iraq, however, the question of what will take its place has not
yet been fully thought through.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service