How We Got Into This Imperial Pickle:
A PNAC Primer
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
May 26, 2003
Recently, I was the guest on a radio talk-show hosted by a thoroughly decent far-right Republican. I got verbally battered, but returned fire and, I think, held my own. Toward the end of the hour, I mentioned that the National Security Strategy -- promulgated by the Bush Administration in September 2002 -- now included attacking possible future competitors first, assuming regional hegemony by force of arms, controlling energy resources around the globe, maintaining a permanent-war strategy, etc.
"I'm not making up this stuff," I said. "It's all talked about openly by the neo-conservatives of the Project for the New American Century -- who now are in charge of America's military and foreign policy -- and published as official U.S. doctrine in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America."
The talk-show host seemed to gulp, and then replied: "If you really can demonstrate all that, you probably can deny George Bush a second term in 2004."
Two things became apparent in that exchange: 1) Even a well-educated, intelligent radio commentator was unaware of some of this information; and, 2) Once presented with it, this conservative icon understood immediately the implications of what would happen if the American voting public found out about these policies.
So, a large part of our job in the run-up to 2004 is to get this information out to those able to hear it and understand the implications of an imperial foreign/military policy on our economy, on our young people in uniform, on our moral sense of ourselves as a nation, on our constitutional freedoms, and on our treaty obligations -- which is to say, our respect for the rule of law.
Nearly 40% of Bush's support is fairly solid, but there is a block of about 20% in between that 40% and the 40% who can be counted upon to vote for a reasonable Democratic candidate -- and that 20% is where the election will be decided. We need to reach a goodly number of those moderate (and even some traditionally conservative) Republicans and independents with the facts inherent in the dangerous, reckless, and expensive policies carried out by the Bush Administration.
When these voters become aware of how various, decades-old, popular programs are being rolled back or eliminated (because there's no money available for them, because that money is being used to fight more and more wars, and because income to the federal coffers is being siphoned-off in costly tax-cuts to the wealthiest sectors of society), that 20% may be a bit more open to hearing what we have to say. When it's your kids' schools being short-changed, and your state's and city's services to citizens being chopped, your bridges and parks and roadways and libraries and public hospitals being neglected, your IRAs and pensions losing their value, and your job not being as secure as in years past -- in short, when you can see the connection between Bush&Co.'s expensive military policies and your thinner wallet and reduced social amenities, true voter-education becomes possible. It's still the economy, stupid.
The Origins of the Crisis
Most of us Americans saw the end of the Cold War as a harbinger of a more peaceful globe, and we relaxed knowing that the communist world was no longer a threat to the U.S. The Soviet Union, our partner in MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) and Cold War rivalry around the globe, was no more. This meant a partial vacuum in international affairs. Nature abhors a vacuum.
The only major vacuum-filler still standing after the Cold War was the United States. One could continue traditional diplomacy on behalf of American ends -- the kind of polite, well-disguised defense of U.S. interests (largely corporate) and imperial ambition carried out under Bush#1, Reagan, Clinton, et al. -- knowing that we'd mostly get our way eventually given our status as the globe's only Superpower. Or one could try to speed up the process and accomplish those same ends overtly -- with an attitude of arrogance and in-your-face bullying -- within maybe one or two Republican administrations.
Some of the ideological roots of today's Bush Administration power-wielders could be traced back to political philosophers Leo Strauss and Albert Wohlstetter or to GOP rightist Barry Goldwater and his rabid anti-communist followers in the early-1960s. But, for simplicity's sake let's stick closer to our own time.
In the early-1990s, there was a group of ideologues and power-politicians on the fringe of the Republican Party's far-right. The members of this group in 1997 would found
The Project for the New American Century
(PNAC); their aim was to prepare for the day when the Republicans regained control of the White House -- and, it was hoped, the other two branches of government as well -- so that their vision of how the U.S. should move in the world would be in place and ready to go, straight off-the-shelf into official policy.
This PNAC group was led by such heavy hitters as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, James Woolsey, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, James Bolton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William Bennett, Dan Quayle, Jeb Bush, most of whom were movers-and-shakers in previous Administrations, then in power-exile, as it were, while Clinton was in the White House. But even given their reputations and clout, the views of this group were regarded as too extreme to be taken seriously by the mainstream conservatives that controlled the Republican Party.
Setting Up PNAC
To prepare the ground for the PNAC-like ideas that were circulating in the HardRight, various wealthy individuals and corporations helped set up far-right think-tanks, and bought up various media outlets -- newspapers, magazines, TV networks, radio talk shows, cable channels, etc. -- in support of that day when all the political tumblers would click into place and the PNAC cabal and their supporters could assume control.
This happened with the Supreme Court's selection of George W. Bush in 2000. The "outsiders" from PNAC were now powerful "insiders," placed in important positions from which they could exert maximum pressure on U.S. policy: Cheney is Vice President, Rumsfeld is Defense Secretary, Wolfowitz is Deputy Defense Secretary, I. Lewis Libby is Cheney's Chief of Staff, Elliot Abrams is in charge of Middle East policy at the National Security Council, Dov Zakheim is comptroller for the Defense Department, John Bolton is Undersecretary of State, Richard Perle is chair of the Defense Policy advisory board at the Pentagon, former CIA director James Woolsey is on that panel as well, etc. etc. (PNAC's chairman, Bill Kristol, is the editor of The Weekly Standard.) In short, PNAC had a lock on military policy-creation in the Bush Administration.
But, in order to unleash their foreign/military campaigns without taking all sorts of flak from the traditional wing of the conservative GOP -- which was more isolationist, more opposed to expanding the role of the federal government, more opposed to military adventurism abroad -- they needed a context that would permit them free rein. The events of 9/11 rode to their rescue. (In
one of their major
reports, written in 2000, they noted that "the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor.")
The Bush Administration used those acts of terrorism -- and the fear generated in the general populace -- as their cover for enacting all sorts of draconian measures domestically (the Patriot Act, drafted earlier, was rushed through Congress in the days following 9/11; few members even read it) and as their rationalization for launching military campaigns abroad.
The Domestic Ramifications
Even today, the Bush manipulators, led by Karl Rove, continue to utilize fear and hyped-up patriotism and a permanent war on terrorism as the basis for their policy agenda, the top item of which, at this juncture, consists of getting Bush elected in 2004. This, in order to continue to fulfill their primary objectives, not the least of which domestically is to roll back and, where possible, decimate and eliminate social programs that the far-right has hated since the New Deal/Great Society days.
By and large, these long-established programs are popular with Americans, so Bush&Co. can't attack them frontally -- but if all the monies are tied up in wars, defense, tax cuts, etc., they can go to the public and, in effect, say: "We'd love to continue to fund Head Start and education and environmental protection and drugs for the elderly through Medicare, but you see there's simply no extra money left over after we go after the bad guys. It's not our fault."
So far, that stealth strategy has worked. The Bush&Co. hope is that the public won't catch on to their real agenda -- to seek wealth and power at the expense of average citizens -- until after a 2004 victory, and maybe not even then. Just keep blaming the terrorists, the French, the Dixie Chicks, peaceniks, fried potatoes, whatever. (Don't get me wrong. The Islamic fanatics that use terror as their political weapon are real and deadly and need to be stopped. The question is: How to do that in ways that enhance rather than detract from America's long-term national interests?)
One doesn't have to speculate what the PNAC guys might think, since they're quite open and proud of their theories and strategies. Indeed, they've left a long, public record that lays out quite openly what they're up to. As I say, it was all set down on the record years ago, but nobody took such extreme talk seriously; now that they're in power, actually making the policy they only dreamed about a decade or so ago -- with all sorts of scarifying consequences for America and the rest of the world -- we need to educate ourselves quickly as to how the PNACers work and what their future plans might be.
The PNAC Paper Trail
Here is a shorthand summary of PNAC documents and strategies that have become U.S. policy. Some of these you may have heard about before, but I've expanded and updated as much as possible.
1. In 1992, then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney had a strategy report drafted for the Department of Defense, written by Paul Wolfowitz, then Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy. In it, the U.S. government was urged, as the world's sole remaining Superpower, to move aggressively and militarily around the globe. The report called for pre-emptive attacks and ad hoc coalitions, but said that the U.S. should be ready to act alone when "collective action cannot be orchestrated." The central strategy was to "establish and protect a new order" that accounts "sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership," while at the same time maintaining a military dominance capable of "deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role." Wolfowitz outlined plans for military intervention in Iraq as an action necessary to assure "access to vital raw material, primarily Persian Gulf oil" and to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and threats from terrorism.
Somehow, this report leaked to the press; the negative response was immediate. Senator Robert Byrd led the Democratic charge, calling the recommended Pentagon strategy "myopic, shallow and disappointing... .The basic thrust of the document seems to be this: We love being the sole remaining superpower in the world and we want so much to remain that way that we are willing to put at risk the basic health of our economy and well-being of our people to do so." Clearly, the objective political forces hadn't yet coalesced in the U.S. that could support this policy free of major resistance, and so President Bush the Elder publicly repudiated the paper and sent it back to the drawing boards. (For the essence of the draft text, see Barton Gellman's
"Keeping the U.S. First; Pentagon Would Preclude a Rival Superpower" in the Washington Post.
2. Various HardRight intellectuals outside the government were spelling out the new PNAC policy in books and influential journals. Zalmay M. Khalilzad (formerly associated with big oil companies, currently U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan & Iraq ) wrote an important volume in 1995, "From Containment to Global Leadership: America & the World After the Cold War," the import of which was identifying a way for the U.S. to move aggressively in the world and thus to exercise effective control over the planet's natural resources. A year later, in 1996, neo-conservative leaders Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, in their Foreign Affairs article "Towards a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy," came right out and said the goal for the U.S. had to be nothing less than "benevolent global hegemony," a euphemism for total U.S. domination, but "benevolently" exercised, of course.
3. In 1998, PNAC unsuccessfully lobbied President Clinton to attack Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. The
January letter from PNAC
urged America to initiate that war even if the U.S. could not muster full support from the Security Council at the United Nations. Sound familiar? (President Clinton replied that he was focusing on dealing with al-Qaida terrorist cells.)
4. In September of 2000, PNAC, sensing a GOP victory in the upcoming presidential election, issued its white paper on
"Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for the New Century."
The PNAC report was quite frank about why the U.S. would want to move toward imperialist militarism, a Pax Americana, because with the Soviet Union out of the picture, now is the time most "conducive to American interests and ideals... The challenge of this coming century is to preserve and enhance this 'American peace'." And how to preserve and enhance the Pax Americana? The answer is to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major-theater wars."
In serving as world "constable," the PNAC report went on, no other countervailing forces will be permitted to get in the way. Such actions "demand American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations," for example. No country will be permitted to get close to parity with the U.S. when it comes to weaponry or influence; therefore, more U.S. military bases will be established in the various regions of the globe. (A post-Saddam Iraq may well serve as one of those advance military bases.) Currently, it is estimated that the U.S. now has nearly 150 military bases and deployments in different countries around the world, with the most recent major increase being in the Caspian Sea/Afghanistan/Middle East areas.
5. George W. Bush moved into the White House in January of 2001. Shortly thereafter, a report by the Administration-friendly Council on Foreign Relations was prepared,
"Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century,"
that advocated a more aggressive U.S. posture in the world and called for a "reassessment of the role of energy in American foreign policy," with access to oil repeatedly cited as a "security imperative." (It's possible that inside Cheney's energy-policy papers -- which he refuses to release to Congress or the American people -- are references to foreign-policy plans for how to gain military control of oilfields abroad.)
6. Mere hours after the 9/11 terrorist mass-murders, PNACer Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ordered his aides to begin planning for an attack on Iraq, even though his intelligence officials told him it was an al-Qaida operation and there was no connection between Iraq and the attacks.
"Go massive," the aides' notes
quote him as saying. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not." Rumsfeld leaned heavily on the FBI and CIA to find any shred of evidence linking the Iraq government to 9/11, but they weren't able to. So he set up his own fact-finding group in the Pentagon that would provide him with whatever shaky connections it could find or surmise.
7. Feeling confident that all plans were on track for moving aggressively in the world, the Bush Administration in September of 2002 published the
"National Security Strategy of the United States of America."
The official policy of the U.S. government, as proudly proclaimed in this major document, is virtually identical to the policy proposals in the various white papers of the Project for the New American Century and others like it over the past decade.
Chief among them are: 1) the policy of "pre-emptive" war -- i.e., whenever the U.S. thinks a country may be amassing too much power and/or could provide some sort of competition in the "benevolent hegemony" region, it can be attacked, without provocation. (A later corollary would rethink the country's atomic policy: nuclear weapons would no longer be considered defensive, but could be used offensively in support of political/economic ends; so-called "mini-nukes" could be employed in these regional wars.) 2) international treaties and opinion will be ignored whenever they are not seen to serve U.S. imperial goals. 3) The new policies "will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia."
In short, the Bush Administration seems to see the U.S., admiringly, as a New Rome, an empire with its foreign legions (and threat of "shock&awe" attacks, including with nuclear weapons) keeping the outlying colonies, and potential competitors, in line. Those who aren't fully in accord with these goals better get out of the way; "you're either with us or against us."
Summary & The PNAC Future
Everyone loves a winner, and American citizens are no different. It makes a lot of people feel good that we "won" the battle for Iraq, but in doing so we paid too high a price at that, and may well have risked losing the larger war in the Arab/Muslim region: the U.S. now lacks moral stature and standing in much of the world, revealed as a liar for all to see (no WMDs in Iraq, no connection to 9/11, no quick handing-over the interim reins of government to the Iraqis as initially promised), destruction of a good share of the United Nation's effectiveness and prestige, needlessly alienating our traditional allies, infuriating key elements of the Muslim world, providing political and emotional ammunition for anti-U.S. terrorists, etc.
Already, we're talking about $80 to $100 billion from the U.S. treasury for post-war reconstruction in Iraq. And the PNACers are gearing up for their next war: let's see, should we move first on Iran or on Syria, or maybe do Syria-lite first in Lebanon?
One can believe that maybe PNAC sincerely believes its rhetoric -- that instituting U.S.-style "free-markets" and "democratically-elected" governments in Iraq and the other authoritarian-run countries of the Islamic Middle East will be good both for the citizens of that region and for American interests as well -- but even if that is true, it's clear that these incompetents are not operating in the world of Middle Eastern realities.
These are armchair theoreticians -- most of whom made sure not to serve in the military in Vietnam -- who truly believed, for example, that the Iraqis would welcome the invading U.S. forces with bouquets of flowers and kisses when they "liberated" their country from the horribleness of Saddam Hussein's reign. The Iraqis, by and large, were happy to be freed of Saddam's terror, but, as it stands now, the U.S. military forces are more likely to be engulfed in a political/religious quagmire for years there, as so many of the majority Shia population just want the occupying soldiers to leave.
And yet PNAC theorists continue to believe that remaking the political structure of the Middle East -- by force if necessary, although they hope the example of what the U.S. did to Iraq will make war unnecessary -- will be fairly easy.
These are men of big ideas, but who don't really think. They certainly don't think through what takes place in the real world, when the genies of war and religious righteousness are let out of the bottle. For example, as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman recently put it, the U.S. had no Plan B for Iraq. They did great with Plan A, the war, but when the Saddam government collapsed, and with it law and order, and much of the population remained sullen and resentful towards the U.S., they had no prepared way of dealing with it. An embarrassing three weeks went by, with no progress, finally leading the Bush Administration to force out its initial administrators and to put in another team to have a go at it.
No, friends, the PNAC boys are dangerous ideologues playing with matches, and the U.S. is going to get burned even more in years to come, unless their hold on power is broken. The only way to accomplish this, given the present circumstances, is to defeat their boss at the polls in 2004, thus breaking the HardRight momentum that has done, and is doing, such great damage to our reputation abroad and to our country internally, especially to our Constitution and economy.
We don't need an emperor, we don't need huge tax cuts for the wealthy when the economy is tanking, we don't need more "pre-emptive" wars, we don't need more shredding of constitutional due process. Instead, we need leaders with big ideas who are capable of creative thinking. We need peace and justice in the Middle East (to help alter the chemistry of the soil in which terrorism grows), we need jobs and economic growth at home, and we need authentic and effective "homeland security" consistent with our civil liberties. In short, we need a new Administration, which means that we need to get to serious work to make all this change happen.
Organize!, organize!, organize!