"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The New American Century aka PNAC

Rest in Peace

Is the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which did so much to promote the invasion of Iraq and an Israel-centered "global war on terror", closing down?

In the absence of an official announcement and the failure since late last year of a live person to answer its telephone, a Washington Post obituary would seem to be definitive. And, sure enough, the Post quoted one unidentified source presumably linked to PNAC as saying the group was "heading toward closing" with the feeling of "goal accomplished".

In fact, the nine-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 increase significantly the size of the US 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 such as Cheney, Christian Zionists of the religious right, and Israel-centered neo-conservatives - PNAC actually began breaking down shortly after the invasion of Iraq.

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 Iraq 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 US 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 titled "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 that, in their view, had grown increasingly isolationist, particularly after the precipitous US 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-con impresario Richard Perle; and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as well as Cheney and Rumsfeld themselves.

The PNAC charter's few specifics, as well as follow-up reports published by the group - "Rebuilding America's Defenses" and "Present Dangers", both published in 2000 to influence the foreign-policy debate during the US presidential campaign that year - were based to a great extent on an infamous "Defense Planning Guidance" draft produced under Cheney when he served as secretary of defense under president George H W Bush in 1992.

That paper, which was developed by then-under secretary of defense Wolfowitz, Libby, Khalilzad, and the current deputy national security adviser, J D Crouch, with assistance from Perle and other like-minded defense specialists, called for the "benevolent domination by one power" (the US) to replace "collective internationalism" and for Washington to ensure that domination, particularly in Eurasia, to prevent the emergence, by confrontation if necessary, of any possible regional or global rival.

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, which 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 media.

In this sense, PNAC was more of a "letterhead organization" that acted 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-dozen staff members - most recently, PNAC director Schmitt - have taken posts at the much-larger AEI 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 on September 20, 2001, just nine days after the September 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 Yasser Arafat, taking on Hezbollah, threatening Syria and Iran and, most important, ousting Saddam 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, Defense Policy Board members Perle, Woolsey, Eliot Cohen, Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney, former education secretary William Bennett, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, and Foundation for the Defense of Democracies director Clifford May - would emerge, along with Woolsey, as the most ubiquitous champions of war with Iraq outside the US administration.

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 - September 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 Bush administration moves on Iran.

All of which has made it far more difficult to forge consensus - and compose letters - in these areas.

By Jim Lobe

(Inter Press Service)

A Matter of Fleeting Curiosity

Baghdad's Unwelcome Visitor

There are numerous explanations for President George W Bush's surprise trip to Iraq -such a surprise that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki didn't know about it until five minutes before they met.

It could be part of electioneering - an attempt to push upward Bush's standing in the opinion polls; a bid to secure the re-election of Republican legislators worried that the public anger stemming from the war in Iraq will throw them out of office come November; or it could be Bush's endeavor to maintain the momentum stemming from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death.

It is probably a combination of all of the above, but for the Iraqi prime minister, just beginning the arduous task of establishing legitimacy for his national-unity government, Bush's trip is not likely to help at all.

During the European colonial era, political upheavals in a colony affected the colonizing power's domestic politics. Consequently, the leader of the colonial power maneuvered to improve his domestic standing or improve his chances of staying in power by influencing the domestic politics of that colony. That is what one was reminded of when watching Bush hop on to Air Force One for the five-and-a-half-hour visit.

His proffered reason was that he wanted to look Maliki in the eyes and assure him that the United States stood with Iraq. One wonders why Maliki would want to be seen in the company of Bush at a time when he is desperately trying to build his own legitimacy. Bush, after all, is as popular as the plague in Iraq.

In this technological age, Bush could just as easily have stage-managed a video-conference session with his and Maliki's cabinets at which the Iraqis could have outlined what it was they needed and wanted from the US. From a public relations angle, it could have been highly beneficial.

Instead, the US president went to Iraq. He spoke of liberty in a country where even he himself did not have the liberty to take a sneak peak at the Iraqis struggling to stay alive.

Bush's trip to Iraq - his first since 2003 - was a well-kept secret. Only Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew of the surprise.

He landed at Baghdad's airport and then took a helicopter to the Green Zone. If one is looking for any difference between his last trip and this visit, there certainly was one. During the previous jaunt, Bush stayed at the airport. This time, he flew to the highly fortified Green Zone. Hardly progress.

For Iraqis, Bush's trip must have been a matter of fleeting curiosity. They would have seen the image of the US president with their newly elected premier and wondered what it was all about.

Bush met with Maliki's entire cabinet, while his own cabinet was back in Washington. This was another symbolism fully aimed at capturing the attention of the US public, that he is doing something in and about Iraq.

During his meeting with Bush, Maliki announced an intense security sweep in Baghdad, where he wants to begin establishing the legitimacy of his government. Even though such attempts in the past have not borne much fruit, well-wishers hope that this time things will be different.

As Bush was meeting with elected officials and with his own troops, the insurgents issued a press release, aimed similarly at boosting the morale of their jihadis. Abu Hamza al-Muhajir was named as the successor to Zarqawi, killed in a US air strike last week.

The insurgents declared, "Coming battles will reveal the falseness of your power and the cowardliness of your soldiers. Do not rejoice that you killed [Zarqawi], he has left behind lions that ... trained under him.

"You will see what we have in store for you because of your betrayal and apostasy. Our swords are poised above your necks," the statement said of Iraqis who cooperate with US-led forces.

The US promptly announced that Muhajir would be placed on the terrorist list and would be hunted down and eliminated.

It seems that already the next installment of terror and counter-terror is being written, with a few changes in the cast of characters. Maliki wants to establish a momentum about creating the legitimacy of his government. So does Muhajir, except he wants to recapture the momentum that his side lost with the death of Zarqawi. Bush is doing his best to maintain the momentum that his forces gained by killing Zarqawi. It is hard to believe that even in death, Zarqawi maintains such a powerful presence.

Bush appears to be a man eagerly looking for a magic potion for the solution of the Iraqi malady, where death and destruction rule. Bush created the Iraqi tragedy by invading the country, and is trying desperately to get out with his head held high.

Maliki, on the other hand, is a man on whose shoulders fate has dumped the awesome responsibility of governing Iraq, a task that will take resolve and vision.

Muhajir remains a dark shadow. Yet he might be the only actor who has the upper hand over Bush and Maliki. The US president knows that. That might be why he is trying all sorts of maneuvers to figure what will work for him.

By Ehsan Ahrari

Ehsan Ahrari is the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria, Virginia-based defense consultancy. He can be reached at eahrari@cox.net or stratparadigms@yahoo.com. His columns appear regularly in Asia Times Online. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.