How We Got Into This Imperial Pickle:
A PNAC Primer
(Reprise, With Revisions)
By Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor,
The Crisis Papers
February 3, 2004
(Dear Readers: On those occasions when we do not have a
new essay ready for publication, we will reprise a popular earlier one.
Here is one from May, 2003 that was republished widely, updated to reflect
Last Spring, 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,
"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
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 the 2004 election 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 budget-busting 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,
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
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
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, et. al,
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 was 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
Rupert Murdoch's 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
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, homosexuals, 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.
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
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.) We now know that
some of the papers circulated at those meetings, two years before the
war, contained maps of Iraq's oilfields and and foreign suitors for Iraqi
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." We now know
from Paul O'Neill and others that the plans for invading Iraq were
being discussed at the first Cabinet meeting after Bush moved into the White
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,
the Office of
Special Plans 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 with hundreds of billions in emergency
supplemental appropriations passed and anticipated . 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? A recent book by neocon
Perle and David From makes it clear that after a supposed Bush
victory in November, it's full speed ahead to regime-changing Syria and
Iran. 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
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
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!
Copyright 2003/2004, by Bernard Weiner