‘On This Day’ 1997: Project for the New American Century Founded
The year was 1992. The Soviet Union was no more and America stood astride the world like a triumphant colossus, reveling in its Cold War victory and basking in the glory of its unrivaled power. While many believed that an age of unprecedented peace and cooperation was at hand, top planners in administration of George H.W. Bush had different ideas– or at least they had different ideas about how to achieve that peace and cooperation.
In 1992, Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and his deputy Scooter Libby, two neoconservative luminaries who would gain far greater notoriety in the era of Bush Jr., authored an important strategy plan that called for total global dominance by the United States in order to prevent the emergence of “any potential future competitor.” The plan was a resounding rejection of the principles of internationalism that the U.S. had championed for so long. Instead, the U.S. should lead ‘coalitions of the willing’ to do its bidding: “We should expect future coalitions to be ad hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished.” The most important thing of all was “that the world order is backed by the U.S.”
The plan shockingly advocated preemptive nuclear, chemical, or biological attacks on countries that don’t have but are trying to acquire those types of weapons.
The Wolfowitz Doctrine even sought to undermine our closest European allies to some degree, stating that “we must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements.” When they said “any potential future competitor,” they meant it.
Of course, you and I were never supposed to see this document, but thanks to a concerned Bush administration official it was leaked to the New York Times. After the leak, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell oversaw a striking revision of the plan that placed far greater emphasis on alliances and cooperation between nations.
But this was damage control and public relations. The ideas espoused in the Wolfowitz Doctrine, as you may have already surmised, would later become the main driving force behind the foreign policy of George W. Bush’s presidency, with many of the actors from Bush the First playing even greater roles in America’s grand imperial strategy.
On June 3, 1997 many of these self-named “neoconservatives” founded the Project for the New American Century. PNAC’s stated goal is the “promotion of American global leadership,” allowing the U.S. to “shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests.” Prominent members of PNAC include: former Vice President Dick Cheney and his disgraced chief of staff Scooter Libby; former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Stephen Cambone; former World Bank president and deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; former U.N. ambassador John Bolton; former Vice President Dan Quayle; former Florida governor (and brother of George W.) Jeb Bush; Iran-Contra criminal and former national security advisor Elliot Abrams; former ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.N. (and liaison between oil giant UNOCAL and the Taliban regime) Zalmay Khalilzad; former State Department counsellor Eliot Cohen; former Secretary of Education and director of national drug control policy William J. Bennet; former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle; C.E.O. Steve Forbes; Weekly Standard editor William Kristol; and Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan.
This powerful group wielded immense power in the Reagan and Bush administrations, and in all likelihood they will return to power the next time a Republican occupies the White House. At the heart of their philosophy is an unapologetic advocacy of American empire, characterized by overwhelming U.S. military superiority. This is somewhat funny, since almost none of the leading neo-cons has any military experience and many of them went to great lengths to avoid serving. It’s been said that a neocon is more familiar with the inside of a think tank than an Abrams tank. Dick Cheney alone had five draft deferments during the Vietnam era. “I had other priorities in the 60s than military service,” chickenhawk Cheney explained. I suppose the hundreds of thousands of other young men who were drafted and sent halfway around the world to kill and be killed for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with them didn’t have anything better to do in the 60s.
PNAC’s greatest hit was a secret blueprint for U.S. global domination titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” RAD was written in September 2000, a full year before 9/11, and it definitely influenced the incoming Bush administration’s plans. Former Bush treasury secretary Paul O’Neil says the new President had made up his mind to invade Iraq within days of moving into the White House, eight months prior to 9/11– a regime change recommended within the pages of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.”
RAD indeed makes for some scary reading. It takes the ideas of Wolfowitz Doctrine and runs with them, advocating regime change not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East and even in China, a permanent U.S. military presence in the Middle East, world-wide expansion of U.S. bases, control of cyberspace and outer space, enlargement of conventional and nuclear forces with testing of those nukes and even the development and use of biological warfare capabilities. Here are some actual excerpts from “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”:
-On the presence of U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf and regime change in Iraq:
“In the Persian Gulf region, the presence of American forces… has become a semi-permanent fact of life… While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein… The Air Force presence… is a vital one for U.S. military strategy, and the United States should consider it a de facto permanent presence.”
-On U.S. military supremacy :
“If an American peace is to be maintained, and expanded, it must have a secure foundation on unquestioned U.S. military preeminence… The United States must maintain nuclear strategic superiority… develop and deploy global missile systems… control the new ‘international commons’ of space and ‘cyberspace,’ and pave the way for the creation of a new military service– U.S. Space Forces– with the mission of space control… [The U.S.] must increase defense spending… adding $15 billion to $20 billion to total defense spending annually.”
-On U.S. overseas bases:
“The United States should seek to establish a network of ‘deployment bases’ or ‘forward operating bases’ to increase the reach of current and future forces… A new, permanent forward base should be established in Southeast Asia… a more robust naval presence… marked by a long-term, semi-permanent home port in the region, perhaps in the Philippines, Australia, or both… In recent years, the stationing of large forces in Okinawa has become increasingly controversial in Japanese domestic politics… it is essential to retain the capabilities of U.S. forces in Okinawa represent.
-On future U.S. wars:
“The administration’s devotion to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the Soviet Union has frustrated development of useful ballistic missile defenses… Control of space… must be an essential element of our military strategy… Advanced forms of biological warfare… may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool… Future soldiers may operate in encapsulated, climate-controlled, powered fighting suits, laced with sensors, and boasting chameleon-like ‘active’ camouflage. ‘Skin patch’ pharmaceuticals help regulate fears, focus concentration and enhance endurance and strength.”
At the time this plan was written, America was basking in the relatively peaceful glory of Clintonian prosperity and the muscular proposals contained within the pages of RAD would elicit little interest outside of neoconservative circles. William Kristol and Robert Kagan lamented this state of affairs, mocking an American public that was “more interested in balancing the budget than in leading the world.” Would that we had a little more interest in balancing the budget in 2011!
Drumming up popular support for grand imperial projects is no easy task in a democracy, as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, pointed out:
America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America’s power, especially its capacity for military intimidation. Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy… The pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public’s sense of domestic well-being [emphasis added]. The economic self-denial (that is, defense spending) and the human sacrifices… required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilization.
With this in mind, many neocons wished for some “fortuitous” calamity to befall our country so that the full force and fury of American power could be unleashed upon the world and the nation could rise up and fulfill its imperial destiny of “benevolent hegemony.” Here is leading neocon Michael Ledeen, writing in 1999:
Of course, we can always get lucky. Stunning events from outside can providentially awaken the enterprise from its growing torpor, and demonstrate the need for reversal, as the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 so effectively aroused the U.S.
What kind of American would call Pearl Harbor a lucky event? In September 2000, PNAC again opined that a “Pearl Harbor event” would be in the best interest of American power. One year later, the neocons’ prayers were answered.
“The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today,” George Bush said on September 11, 2001. Tellingly, he also declared “this is a great opportunity.” Almost immediately it was apparent that Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network was solely responsible for the deadly terrorist attacks. But the very next day, leading PNACsters were already calling for “overwhelming force” to be used against countries that had nothing to do with the terror attacks. The Wall Street Journal, a longtime neocon mouthpiece, wanted America to attack Syria, Sudan, Libya, Algeria and Egypt. Leading PNAC member William J. Bennett went on CNN and absurdly included Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even China on his target list.
Within days, top administration figures had zeroed in on Iraq. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, sensing a golden opportunity, pressed hard for an immediate attack on Saddam Hussein, even though his country was not a 9/11 suspect. Wolfowitz argued that Iraq would be an easier target than Afghanistan, even though the terrorists behind 9/11 were nowhere near Iraq. PNACster Tom Donnelly concurred. “The United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region,” he concluded.
The horrific events of September 11th meant that the American people, already used to having a war every decade or so, wouldn’t need much convincing. We’d come to accept the fact, if not agree with it, that, as top neocon Michael Ledeen declared, “every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business.”
Leading neocons sniffed blood and exalted in the coming conflict. Their war cries reached a fevered pitch. Ledeen, of the American Enterprise Institute, raved:
“No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq… this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war… our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”
Notice how Ledeen already knows what lies in store for Iraq, almost a year and a half before the fact. Truth be told, Ledeen really didn’t care about the order of U.S. attacks. His goals transcended the immediate mission of finding and dealing with whoever was behind the 9/11 attacks.
To Ledeen and those like him within the Bush administration, the crisis created by 9/11 was a godsend that would raise the collective American conscience to an elevated state of patriotic outrage, allowing the nation’s leaders to actively pursue imperial ambitions that under normal circumstances would arouse public alarm. And so it was that Michael Ledeen declared that America needed to be “imperious, ruthless, and relentless” against countries that had nothing to do with 9/11, not stopping until we’ve achieved “total surrender.” “We will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East,” fumed Ledeen “… and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.”
Laurent Murawiec urged the Bush administration to issue an ultimatum to the Saudi monarchs: “prosecute or isolate those involved in the terror chain, including the Saudi intelligence services.” Fair enough. But if the Saudis failed to comply? “We invade your country, seize your oil fileds, and occupy Mecca.”
Norman Podhoretz, a founding father of neo-conervatism, concurred:
I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.
These were not the rants of some acid-tongued right-wing talk radio types. These are men who had great influence on the leading policy makers within the Bush administration; many of them were top Bush administration officials like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby and Perle. And here some of these men were, advocating the takeover of the holiest sites in all of Islam, seemingly without an ounce of thought as to how the Muslim world might respond. There were even those among them who did ponder such concerns but mocked them with incredible arrogance. Said PNAC co-founder Robert Kagan: “People worry a lot about how the ‘Arab street’ is going to react. Well, I see that the ‘Arab street’ has gotten very, very quiet since we started blowing things up.”
As the United States proceeded to blow things up, the ideas outlined in PNAC’s “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” were transformed from imperial ambitions to imperial reality. President Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union address, famously placed the “Axis of Evil” on notice. “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons,” he declared.
No such regimes were threatening us with any such weapons, but no matter: what Bush was really announcing was an entirely new doctrine. And the president demanded that every one of us get on board the imperial express: “our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and defend our lives… America has, and intends to keep, military strength beyond challenge.” It was the first time Bush publicly used the word ‘preemptive.’
The heavy influences Wolfowitz’s “Defense Planning Guidance” of 1992, and PNAC’s “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” were alarmingly evident in Bush’s National Security Strategy (NSS), the official guidebook to American intentions that was released a year after 9/11, obscured by all the noise over the impending invasion of Iraq. The humble foreign policy that Bush promised us during his election campaign was usurped by an aggressive imperial strategy designed so that no other country on earth, friend or foe, would be permitted to challenge America’s global military domination. The U.S. would “build and maintain… defenses beyond challenge;” the NSS officially declared for the first time that the United States would do whatever it could to remain the world’s one and only superpower.
The doctrine of “preemptive war” was laid out in black and white, but the true meaning of this new policy was less in favor of preemptive (that is, acting to stop an imminent threat) action and more in favor of the far more nebulous concept of “preventive war.” There are times when survival calls for preemptive war. When the countries surrounding Israel began massing troops and equipment in preparation for an attack on the Jewish state in 1967, Israeli forces struck first and furiously to stave off an imminent existential threat. Whatever your personal feelings towards Israel may be, its conduct in this case can certainly be condoned. But in a preventive war, a country attacks not because of any immediate danger but merely due to the possibility that it may one day be faced with a threat.
To believe that the Bush Doctrine of preventive war is sound is to believe that the Japanese were justified in bombing Pearl Harbor. That infamous attack was a textbook preventive action; the only thing standing in the way of Japanese hegemony in the Pacific was the prospect of the U.S. Navy one day dropping the hammer down on Japan’s imperial ambitions. Neutralize the U.S. Pacific fleet and you neutralize the greatest potential threat to regional domination. Hitler’s surprise invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was also a classic preventive attack. President Eisenhower, faced with calls for a preventive attack on the Soviet Union, wisely scoffed: “All of us have heard this term ‘preventive war’ since the earliest days of Hitler… I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing.”
Never before in American history had our nation embraced the concept of preventive war; now Bush was establishing it as official doctrine.
Aware that the world might be more than a little alarmed by this new imperial game plan, President Bush actually addressed these fears in his foreword to the National Security Strategy. “We do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage,” he wrote, “we seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom.” His words rang as true as those of Hitler at Munich in 1938 when he pledged to halt the Reich’s expansion after the annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. If the U.S. sought no “unilateral advantage,” then why declare in the very same document that “[U.S.] forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the United States.” Just what kind of “balance” is that?
While the power and influence of PNAC and the neocons has admittedly plummeted since George W. Bush left office, the concept of unrivaled American global domination is very much alive and well in the policies and actions of the Obama administration. If Bush wielded an iron fist, then Obama’s got an iron fist in a velvet glove. Perhaps that’s why leading Republicans– even neo-conservatives– gushed over his candidacy nearly as much as Democrats did. Both of the men who founded PNAC, Robert Kagan and William Kristol, as well as other leading PNACsters like William J. Bennett, positively fawned over Obama. Kristol even offered an endorsement of candidate Obama in The Weekly Standard, one of the holiest publications in all of neo-conservatism.
And just because the PNACsters are down right now doesn’t mean they are out– as soon as the White House is again occupied by a Republican, you can bet they’ll be back on the scene, hawkish as ever, advocating imperialist interventions around the globe. Trust me, you haven’t seen the last of these guys.
The world should be trembling in fear– and that’s just the way the good folks at the Project for the New American Century like it.
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