Right-Wing Group Calling It Quits?
[Project for a New American Century]
by Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service. June 16,
It looks like the Project for the New
American Century, the neocon group that promoted the invasion
of Iraq, is closing down.
In the absence of an official announcement
and the failure since late last year of a live person to answer
its telephone number, a Washington Post obituary would seem to
be definitive. And, sure enough, the Post quoted one unidentified
source presumably linked to PNAC that the group was "heading
toward closing" with the feeling of "goal accomplished."
In fact, the 9-year-old group, whose 27
founders included Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief
Donald Rumsfeld, among at least half a dozen of the most powerful
hawks in the George W. Bush administration's first term, has been
inactive since January 2005, when it issued the last of its "statements,"
an appeal to significantly increase the size of the U.S. Army
and Marine Corps to cope with the growing demands of the kind
of "Pax Americana" it had done so much to promote.
As a platform for the three-part coalition
that was most enthusiastic about war in Iraq -- aggressive nationalists
like Cheney, Christian Zionists of the religious Right, and Israel-centred
neo-conservatives -- PNAC actually began breaking down shortly
after the Iraq invasion.
It was then that the group's predominantly
neo-conservative leadership -- Weekly Standard editor William
Kristol, PNAC director Gary Schmitt, and Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace analyst Robert Kagan -- began attacking Rumsfeld,
in particular, for failing to deploy enough troops to pacify the
country and launch a true nation-building exercise, as in post-World
War II Germany and Japan.
It was the first of a number of policy
splits that, along with the deepening quagmire in Iraq itself,
have debilitated the hawks, forcing neo-conservatives in the group
to reach out to liberal interventionists with whom they sponsored
a series of joint statements extolling the virtues of nation-building
and a larger army, or calling for a tougher U.S. stance toward
Russia and China.
PNAC was launched by Kristol and Kagan
in 1997, shortly after their publication of an article in Foreign
Affairs magazine entitled "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign
Policy," in which they called for Washington to exercise
"benevolent global hegemony" to be sustained "as
far into the future as possible."
While critical of then President Bill
Clinton, the article was directed more against a Republican Congress
which, in their view, had grown increasingly isolationist, particularly
after the precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Somalia in 1994 and
strong Republican opposition to intervention in the Balkans against
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
It was in this spirit that the two co-founded
PNAC, whose charter was signed by leading neo-conservatives, including
Cheney's future chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby; Rumsfeld's future
deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; Bush's future top Middle East aide, Elliott
Abrams; his future ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, Zalmay
Khalilzad; Rumsfeld's future top international security official,
Peter Rodman; American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellow and neo-cons
impresario Richard Perle, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; as well as
Cheney and Rumsfeld themselves.
The charter's few specifics, as well as
follow-up reports published by PNAC -- "Rebuilding America's
Defenses" and "Present Dangers," both published
in 2000 to influence the foreign policy debate during the presidential
campaign that year -- were based to a great extent on an infamous
"Defense Planning Guidance" (DPG) draft produced under
Cheney when he served as secretary of defence under President
George H.W. Bush in 1992.
That paper, which was developed by then-Undersecretary
of Defence Wolfowitz, Libby, Khalilzad, and the current deputy
national security adviser, J.D. Crouch, with assistance from Perle
and other like-minded defence specialists, called for the "benevolent
domination by one power" (the U.S.) to replace "collective
internationalism" and for Washington to ensure that domination,
particularly in Eurasia, in order to prevent the emergence, by
confrontation if necessary, of any possible regional or global
It was PNAC's role to sustain and propagate
these ideas through its reports, its periodic letters and statements
signed by right-wing notables, and a steady flow of opinion-pieces
and essays, that acted as part of a larger neo-conservative "echo
chamber" that included Kristol's Weekly Standard, Fox News,
the Washington Times, and the editorial pages of the Wall Street
Journal, to frame debates in official Washington and the mainstream
In this sense, PNAC was more of a "letter-head
organization" that acted more as a mechanism for developing
consensus on issues among different political forces -- in its
case, Republican hawks -- and then pushing them in public, than
as a think tank.
Indeed, the fact that several of its half-a-dozen
staff members -- most recently, PNAC director Schmitt -- have
taken posts at the much-larger AEI located just five floors above
PNAC's offices helps illustrate the incestuous nature of the larger
network. Nonetheless, PNAC was the first to call publicly (in
1998) for Washington to pursue "regime change" in Iraq
by military means in conjunction with the Iraqi National Congress
of Ahmad Chalabi, who would later play a key role in the propaganda
campaign against Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.
But perhaps its most notable letter was
sent to Bush Sep. 20, 2001, just nine days after the 9/11 attacks.
In addition to calling for the ouster of the Taliban and war on
al Qaeda, the letter called for waging a broader and more ambitious
"war on terrorism" that would include cutting off the
Palestinian Authority under Yassir Arafat, taking on Hezbollah,
threatening Syria and Iran and, most importantly, ousting Hussein
regardless of his relationship to the attacks or al Qaeda.
"It may be that the Iraqi government
provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United
States," it said. "But even if evidence does not link
Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication
of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort
to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Failure to undertake such
an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender
in the war on international terrorism."
The letter was signed by 38 members of
the predominantly neo-conservative Washington echo chamber, many
of whom -- especially Kristol, Kagan, Defence Policy Board members
Perle, Woolsey, Eliot Cohen, Centre for Security Policy president
Frank Gaffney, former Education Secretary William Bennett, syndicated
columnist Charles Krauthammer, and Foundation for the Defence
of Democracies director Clifford May -- would emerge, along with
Woolsey, as the most ubiquitous champions of war with Iraq outside
Seven months later, PNAC issued another
letter signed by many of the same people urging Bush to step up
preparations for war with Iraq, sever all ties to the Palestinian
Authority under Arafat and give full backing to Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's efforts to crush the Palestinian intifada.
"Israel's fight against terrorism
is our fight. Israel's victory is an important part of our victory,"
the letter noted. "For reasons both moral and strategic,
we need to stand with Israel in its fight against terrorism."
Bush complied two months later.
That period -- Sep. 20, 2001, to the run-up
to the Iraq war in early 2003 -- marked the high-water mark of
PNAC's existence. Since then, things have generally gone downhill,
as the hawks they represented, including the group's dominant
neo-conservatives, have fallen prey to internal disagreements:
over Rumsfeld's stewardship of Iraq and the Pentagon; over the
wisdom of democratic "transformation" in the Arab Middle
East; over Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan; over China; and even
over the latest administration moves on Iran.
All of which has made it far more difficult
to forge consensus -- and compose letters -- in these areas.
Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief
for Inter Press Service.
New World Order