How We Got Into This
Imperial Pickle: A PNAC Primer
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
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, 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.
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
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
This happened with the Supreme Court's selection of George W. Bush in
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 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
After those terrorist attacks, the Bush Administration used 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. (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
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 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 American
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
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,
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 laid out 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 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
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
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
7. Feeling confident that all plans were on track for moving
aggressively in the world, the Bush Administration in September of
2002 published its "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, it is 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), it destroyed a good
share of the United Nation's effectiveness and prestige that may come
in handy later, it needlessly alienated our traditional allies, it
infuriated key elements of the Muslim world, it provided 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
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!,
Weiner, a playwright and poet, was the San Francisco Chronicle's
theater critic for nearly two decades. Holder of a Ph.D. in government
& international relations, he has taught American politics and
international relations at Western Washington University and San Diego
State University, and has written for The Nation, Village Voice, The
Progressive and other political journals. He is a contributing writer
for Liberal Slant and co-editor of the new online political site: www.CrisisPapers.org
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