By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Columnist
Monday 14 April 2008
Before delivering his State of the Union address in January of 1998, President Clinton received a letter containing one explicit demand: invade Iraq immediately and overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein.
“The only acceptable strategy,” read this letter, “is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy. We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power.”
The letter was written by a group called the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a right-wing organization originally formed by William Kristol, Republican pundit and son of neoconservative movement founder Irving Kristol, and by long-time GOP think-tanker Gary Schmitt. PNAC’s original sources of funding in 1998 included notorious far-right groups such as the Scaife Foundations, the Olin Foundation and the Bradley Foundation.
Nobody had ever heard of PNAC in 1998, and thanks to the assertions and demands written in their January letter to Clinton, nobody really took them seriously after hearing of them. Invade Iraq? Were they serious? The very same year this PNAC letter was delivered to Clinton, a book co-authored by former President George H. W. Bush and his NSA Director Brent Scowcroft, articulated the consensus foreign policy opinion on the matter, specifically by explaining their decision not to occupy Iraq and topple its government during the first Gulf War.
“Trying to eliminate Saddam,” Bush Sr. and Scowcroft wrote in 1998, “extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in ‘mission creep,’ and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs … We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well.”
“Under those circumstances, furthermore,” they continued, “we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.’s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different – and perhaps barren – outcome.”
Sane people in all areas of government agreed with this analysis, leaving PNAC to wriggle in ridiculed obscurity for another two years. A trio of events transpired upon the advent of this new millennium, however, that served to catapult PNAC into power and prominence. First, the group delivered its flagship policy argument in September of 2000, in a report titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.” Three months later, the Supreme Court delivered the White House into the hands of both GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney. Third, the attacks of 9/11 delivered the United States and the world into the hands of madmen, all of whom turned out to be PNAC alumni.
Among these were:
- Bush’s current vice president, Dick Cheney;
- Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby;
- Bush’s former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld;
- Bush’s former deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz;
- Bush’s former special assistant and senior national security adviser, Elliot Abrams;
- Bush’s former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad;
- Bush’s former deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage;
- Bush’s former UN ambassador, John Bolton;
- Bush’s former assistant defense secretary and member of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle;
- Bush’s former deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick; and,
- Bush’s former defense policy adviser, Eliot Cohen.
The Republican Party’s 2000 presidential platform was eerily similar in both tone and content to PNAC’s September report of that year, and the Bush administration’s national security policy doctrine, published just after the 9/11 attacks, almost copied the precepts of that PNAC report wholesale.
What specifically did this September 2000 PNAC report argue in favor of? As stated on p. 26 of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” the Hussein regime in Iraq provided a ready excuse for, but not reason for, invasion and occupation. “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification,” argued the report, “the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
The removal of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of an American protectorate in Iraq, by way of American military attack, actually served three larger PNAC purposes: 1) restructure America’s budgetary priorities by stripping funds from myriad domestic policies and redistributing those funds into a massive increase in military spending; 2) establish a massive and permanent American presence in Iraq by building several US military bases within that occupied nation; and, 3) use these bases as the staging area for the invasion and overthrow of other Middle Eastern regimes, including allies of the United States.
PNAC stalwart Richard Perle, while serving on Bush’s Defense Policy Board, gave a Powerpoint slide presentation titled “A Grand Strategy for the Middle East” to a number of ranking Pentagon officials in 2002. In that presentation, Perle described Iraq as “the tactical pivot,” leading to Egypt as “the strategic pivot,” and concluding with Saudi Arabia as “the prize.”
Another PNAC signatory, author Norman Podhoretz, laid bare the ideological impetus behind the third aspect of PNAC’s grand plan in the September 2002 issue of his politics and policy journal, “Commentary.” Podhoretz noted the regimes “that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced, are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil. At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as ‘friends’ of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Arafat or one of his henchmen.” Podhoretz concluded his argument by framing an Iraq invasion as being part of “the long-overdue internal reform and modernization of Islam.”
Joshua Micah Marshall authored an essay for the Washington Monthly in April of 2003, titled “Practice to Deceive,” which explained the larger goals sought by the members of PNAC. “In their view,” wrote Marshall, “invasion of Iraq was not merely, or even primarily, about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Nor was it really about weapons of mass destruction, though their elimination was an important benefit. Rather, the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East.”
It has been more than ten years now since PNAC first introduced itself by way of its letter to Clinton. Over this decade, PNAC’s ideology and foreign policy mandates became the center of gravity for America’s military and diplomatic practices and priorities. Those same PNAC members listed above were instrumental in the formulation of false arguments for an attack and invasion of Iraq, and for the execution of same.
To many, the current situation in Iraq represents a prime example of the folly and failures of George W. Bush and his administration. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. From the PNAC perspective, their presence within US government and control over US policy has been a great success. They achieved the massive increase in military spending they sought in 2000, much of which became and continues to be a multi-billion dollar payout to friends and political allies. They have their permanent bases in Iraq. And if the tea leaves are being read correctly, they might just get an attack on Iran, which represents one more step towards their goal of region-wide regime change in the Middle East.
Ten years on, the Project is doing quite nicely, thank you. Failure is only in the eye of the beholder, and if the beholder is getting everything he wants with a tidy payday to boot, “failure” is not what they are going to see. As far as PNAC is concerned, this has been a decade filled with astonishing achievements. In other words, it’s all about priorities and perspective, especially for those who don’t give a damn for the dead.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know” and “The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.” His newest book, “House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation,” is now available from PoliPointPress.