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Warriors Behind the Scenes Coached the Stars On Stage

by Margie Burns

May 1, 2004 | Foreign Policy, Politics


Editor’s note: Pesident Bush called the days leading up to the Easter weekend “a tough week” in Iraq. It was also a tough week for him at home, and the following weeks have gotten tougher. An April poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that support among Democrats for bringing our troops home from Iraq had risen to 57 percent, and that even Republican support for a pullout increased from 14 percent in late December to 25 percent in April.

The chaos in Iraq and the continuing televised hearings of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks—dubbed by some here a “Condipalooza” after the lengthy appearance of Condoleezza Rice, the president’s National Security Advisor—have swerved some media and public attention away from why we are at war in Iraq.

But the Washington warriors behind the scenesa right-wing cadre that four years ago began urging the president, then Bill Clinton, to attack Iraq are being outed by a few diligent journalists. One of them is our occasional contributor Margie Burns, a columnist and a professor at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, where she teaches English literature. She not only connects some dots, she herewith connects the war- mongering dolts.

Since 1992 the biggest booster of war with Iraq has been a Washington-based right-wing network called the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Pushing a position its members adopted under the first President Bush, PNAC wrote a “Letter to President Clinton on Iraq” on January 26, 1998, insisting that he remove Saddam Hussein from power. You can see it at www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm.

The Project for the New American Century is a group of hard-liners, mostly not from military backgrounds. Since 1997 they have promoted an extremely hawkish American foreign policy and annual increases in military spending.

Its website says: “The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit, educational organization whose goal is to promote American global leadership. The Project is an initiative of the New Citizenship Project . . . ; the New Citizenship Project’s chairman is William Kristol and its president is Gary Schmitt.”

William Kristol is the conservative editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard and appears as a weekly commentator on Murdoch’s Fox News. Kristol’s PNAC biography states: “Before starting the Weekly Standard in 1995, Mr. Kristol led the Project for the Republican Future, where he helped shape the strategy that produced the 1994 Republican congressional victory. Prior to that, Mr. Kristol served as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during the Bush Administration and to Secretary of Education William Bennett under President Reagan.”

The other founder, Gary Schmitt, was a G.O.P. Congressional staffer in the early 1980s, worked in the Reagan administration and has held consulting positions at conservative think tanks.

The 1998 letter to Clinton supported one goalousting Saddam Hussein: “We urge you to . . . enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world,” it read. “That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.”

Asserting the now-familiar vaguery of “weapons of mass destruction,” the letter continued with the idea that removing Saddam was “the aim” of American foreign policy, to be pursued at all costs:

“We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power,” PNAC counseled. It said that this would require a major undertaking of “diplomatic, political and military efforts.” Grave danger loomed if nothing was done. “We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing U.N. resolutions to take the necessary steps,” the letter continued, “including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf.”

The letter also mentioned “the world’s supply of oil.” The Project for the New American Century did not respond to requests for comment.

It is chilling to read this statement from January 1998, for it makes exactly the argument, in regard to Iraq, that was pushed by Bush and his media supporters in 2003. It seems clear that Bush came into office in January 2001 with the intention stated in the letter.

THE CAST HE CHOSE—Among the 18 signers to this pro-Iraq-war letter were nine people who Bush promptly appointed to federal positions. A signer and a PNAC founder, Donald Rumsfeld, was named Bush’s Secretary of Defense on December 11, 2000, before the inauguration. Vice President Cheney was also a PNAC founder.

Throughout the months leading up to September 11, 2001, Bush consistently chose PNAC networkers, focused on Iraq, over nonpartisan security experts for top security positions.

Bush announced the appointment of PNAC signer Robert B. Zoellick as the U.S. Trade Representativethe president’s principal trade adviser—on January 11, 2001. Paul D. Wolfowitz was named Deputy Secretary of Defense on February 5. Richard L. Armitage was appointed Deputy Secretary of State on February 12. Dov S. Zakheim became Comptroller at the Defense Department on February 12. And John R. Bolton was picked as Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs at the State Department on February 21. PNAC people, all.

Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon Comptroller, is responsible for overseeing contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq. Zakheim recently defended Halliburton’s handling of its Iraq contracts in testimony before a Congressional panel. His sympathetic testimony is posted on Halliburton’s website, www.halliburton.com.

Within a month of assuming the presidency, Bush thus gave control of pertinent positions in the executive branch to hawks with the none-too-subtle agenda of invading Iraq. Former White House terrorism adviser Richard Clarke testified before the 9/11 Commission that the Bush II administration came into office wanting to pick up where the Bush I White House left off. Clarke was attacked at the 9/11 hearing by Commissioner John F. Lehman, also a PNAC signer.

In February 2001, the New Republic mentioned that “Vice President Dick Cheney has quietly been stocking the Defense Department with outspoken interventionists. . . . Cheney has effectively created his own foreign policy apparatus, installing his protégés (and, in the case of Donald Rumsfeld, his mentor) at the Defense Department and the White House.” It noted that “many of Cheney’s protégés are known for their willingness to use military force.” The New York Times ran only a three-line note on Bush appointees who supported invading Iraq.

THEY KEPT COMING—By the end of May 2001, PNAC members also held sensitive positions in the State Department’s global affairs division and the Pentagon’s Office of International Security Policy. PNAC signatory Peter W. Rodman was appointed to the International Security Affairs office in the Defense Department. Rodman, an assistant to Henry Kissinger in the Nixon and Ford administrations, worked in the State Department and the National Security Council (NSC) in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, and was more recently the director of National Security Programs at the Nixon Center, a conservative think tank.

The National Security Council was similarly politicized. Bush appointed the PNAC signer Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad to the National Security Council on May 23, and signer Elliott Abrams to the NSC on June 25. Khalilzad worked at the Pentagon under former President Bush and went to the Rand Corporation, a major military contractor, in the 1990s. Born in Afghanistan, he was also a consultant to U.S. oil company Unocal, which attempted for several years to launch a giant pipeline deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Khalilzad is now the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Abrams is the NSC representative for Middle Eastern Affairs.

Other signers of Project for the New American Century’s letters and statements have been appointed to federal positions. Thus a tax-exempt organization connected to previous G.O.P. administrations, to military contractors and to foreign countries has continued a 10-year project to get the U.S. into war with Iraq.

Following the January 1998 letter to Clinton, PNAC sent a letter on May 29, 1998, to G.O.P. Congressional leaders Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi and former Representative Newt Gringrich of Georgia, again asserting an unspecified danger from “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

AFTER 9/11—On September 20, 2001, days after the 9/11 attacks, PNAC sent this message to the White House in a letter again boosting war against Iraq, regardless of justification:

“It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. 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 in Iraq.”

The 41 signers of this September 2001 letter did not include the original PNAC signatories already in government. Seth Cropsey, who signed the letter, was later named Director of the International Broadcasting Bureau, which runs the Voice of America. Cropsey, who also worked in the Reagan and former Bush administrations, went to Washington think tanks in the 1990s and directed governmental affairs at the large Washington lobbying firm of Greenberg Traurig.

Signers of the influential PNAC letters included Republican politicians, like Gary Bauer and Rudy Boshwitz. Several are longtime Republican political operatives, like Vin Weber. According to the Bush 2004 campaign, Weber is now the “regional campaign chairman for the Plains states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.”

Some are connected to major contractors. Khalilzad is with the Rand Corporation; Thomas Donnelly is director of communications at Lockheed Martin; and R. James Woolsey is a vice president at Booz Allen & Hamilton. Booz Allen, a Halliburton subcontractor, receives hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts, including noncompetitive-bid contracts. PNAC signer Zakheim, now leaving his position as Pentagon comptroller, is moving to Booz Allen.

GOING PUBLIC—Backed by well-funded think tanks, many of the people who signed the PNAC letters are linked to the publishing industry and the media. In a July 22, 2002, memorandum to “Opinion Leaders,” the PNAC kicked off its campaign to drum up a war against Iraq by promoting an article titled “The Coming War with Saddam” in William Kristol’s Weekly Standardmagazine. Starting then, either the Weekly Standard or the PNAC, or a “freelancer” in league with them writing for major papers, ran articles for the next 16 weeks, pushing for war in Iraq.

Without the pretext of any new cataclysm in Iraq, the ground for war was prepared, and obviously in cooperation with the White House. On August 26, 2002 Vice President Cheney gave a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars arguing for “pre-emptive military action.”

Also in August 2002, still without any new crisis in Iraq, the PNAC’s members and other commentators, including the columnist and PNAC signer Charles Krauthammer, began producing a series of op-ed newspaper columns and television commentaries pushing for war, and hammering the idea with conviction.

They were reinforced by broadcasting hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and a stream of lesser-known talk-show hosts and op-ed writers, some supported by Rupert Murdoch, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who owns the right-wing Washington Times, and by the Clear Channel broadcasting empire, which also funded lavish pro-war displays. Much of this drum beating—with no new crisis in Iraq—took place in the weeks leading up to the 2002 Congressional elections. Thus a stream of writers and paid consultants, in league with factions compensating them in undisclosed ways, operated in concert with the Bush White House.

American history textbooks used to teach schoolchildren the evils of “yellow journalism,” personified by William Randolph Hearst’s campaign to urge the United States into the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Federal Communications Commission has not investigated this more recent paid and orchestrated campaign in the media, which helped push America to shed blood in the only unprovoked invasion of another country we have ever launched.

Nor has there been any Congressional investigation of links between these unofficial campaigners and entities like the Defense Policy Board, which advises the Department of Defense. The PNAC’s Richard Perle recently resigned his position on the Defense Policy Board, following a conflict-of-interest controversy, but several other PNAC signers remain as board members.

Retired State Department official Carol Wilder recently pointed out in Oregon’s League of Women Voters newsletter that the “National Security Strategy” presented to Congress by Bush in September 2002 is almost identical to PNAC policy proposals. As Wilder summarizes it, “chief tenets of the Strategy are that: 1. pre-emptieve war will be acceptable in dealing with enemies; 2. nuclear weapons can be used offensively in support of political and economic ends; and 3. international treaties and international opinion will be ignored whenever they are not seen to be in alignment with U.S. goals.” She also points out that a similar policy statement, drafted back in 1992, caused a furor when it was leaked to major papers, although “it did not harm the long-term careers of the drafters. Today Paul Wolfowitz is the Deputy Defense Secretary, and Lewis Libby is Vice-President Cheney’s Chief of Staff.”

The connections between this loose syndication of think-tankers, lobbyists and political operatives and the Bush administration are close and numerous. In 1999, when then-Governor Bush was saying publicly that he intended to remain governor of Texas and not seek higher office, the Dallas Morning News reported an “unpublicized briefing” Bush received from members of his father’s administration. The briefers included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Richard Perle, all founders of the Project for the New American Century; Richard Armitage, a frequent PNAC signatory; and Dov Zakheim.

The PNAC has not responded to questions about whether Iraq was discussed at that briefing. But the 20-20 vision of hindsight has now exposed the vacuity of Bush’s false pretense that the war in Iraq was undertaken as a “last resort.”

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