What a Tangled Web the Neocons Weave
by Jim Lobe
December 23, 2003

While most of the world is still trying to come to terms with the neo-imperial ambitions of the post-Sept. 11 Bush administration, U.S. political analysts, particularly those on the libertarian right and the left, have been trying to map out the various forces behind the administration's hawks in order to better understand and counteract them.

Most analysts have identified three main components to the coalition behind Bush's aggressive foreign policy: right-wing militarists, of whom Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is the exemplar; neo-conservatives, led by former Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, whose worldview is similar to that of Israel's Likud Party; and Christian Right forces whose leaders are influential with Bush's political guru, Karl Rove.

While these forces are often depicted in the abstract, they constitute a network of flesh-and-blood people who have worked together closely and openly – both in and out of government – for more than 30 years in some cases.

Over that period, they built up what analyst Tom Barry of the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC) has called an "infrastructure of the (right-wing) counter-establishment," of key individuals, institutions, think tanks and publications that has emerged as the dominant power in the Republican Party – and not only with respect to foreign policy.

Two of the structure's most remarkable characteristics are how few people it includes and how adept they have been in creating new institutions and front groups that act as a vast echo chamber for each other and for the media, particularly in media-obsessed Washington.

In this, the neo-conservatives, who lack any grassroots constituency, have been especially effective.

In fact, the network consists of a very small elite, much smaller for example than the post-World War II internationalist "establishment" that includes such institutions as the Council on Foreign Relations, the foreign service and the Wall Street lawyers, financiers and business executives who have long dominated US foreign policy.

To understand its dimensions and the way it works, Barry and the IRC (for which this author has written articles for compensation) compare it to a spider's web – hence the name of their latest Internet website, Right Web, probably the most comprehensive and integrated effort yet to link the various connections and relationships that have given the ”Right” its power and influence.

The site, which is still being developed, covers some 175 individuals and dozens of organizations that have constituted the network over the past quarter century. Even a brief meander through the site demonstrates both just how small and incestuous this network has been and how ambitious are its goals, both in foreign and domestic policy.

Chances are, for example, that you have never heard of the Foundation for Community, Faith-Centered Enterprise, an innocent-sounding initiative that suggests church-based community organizing or perhaps a philanthropic group that awards grants to church-related business initiatives.

In fact, the foundation and its sister group, Americans for Community and Faith-Centered Enterprise, were founded in mid-2001 by Michael Joyce, a right-wing king pin who helped turn the Bradley Foundation into the rainmaker of an ever-growing network of institutes, publications and think tanks.

Joyce told the Washington Post in June 2001 that he launched the two groups at the behest of Rove, who was looking for ways to bolster public support for Bush's efforts to fund religious organizations that provide social services.

If you look more closely at the group's profile on the website, you'll get a better idea of how this two-year-old organization fits into the larger network of the US right.

Its associates include William Kristol, the editor of Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard and chairman of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and another neo-conservative, former education secretary William Bennett, for whom Kristol once worked.

Midge Decter, another prominent neo-conservative who co-headed (with Rumsfeld) the Committee for the Free World during the Reagan administration, currently serves on the foundation's board of visitors, while Jeffrey Bell, former president of another neo-conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute, serves as the group's Washington lobbyist.

You will find further that all of these individuals have supported the work of PNAC, which played a key role in pushing Bush to war in Iraq, and whose founding statement in 1997 was signed by Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and more than half a dozen other top Bush foreign-policy figures, all identified as key hawks.

If you click on a different group, say Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT), you might expect to find a different cast of characters. But this group is headed by Bennett, and among its associates and advisers are L. Paul Bremer, currently the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq; Center for Security Policy (CSP) Director Frank Gaffney; real estate baron Lawrence Kadish; and former CIA director James Woolsey.

If you click on each of these names, you will find that they all have supported PNAC, and when you read Gaffney's profile you will see that he, like Perle, once worked for Washington State Senator Henry Jackson and, indeed, for Perle himself, when the "Dark Prince" toiled at the Pentagon under Reagan.

If you then click on CSP's name, you will soon discover that it is one of the country's most hard-line foreign-policy groups, and has consistently opposed arms control treaties; favored the retention and expansion of Washington's nuclear arsenal; warned of a Chinese takeover of the Panama Canal; and served as a major backer of Likud's policies in the Middle East.

You will also find an astonishing overlap between its board of advisers, PNAC associates and top Bush national-security officials – and that it is funded heavily by big defense contractors.

If, on the other hand, you opt for Woolsey, a frequent guest on Murdoch-owned Fox News, you will find that the former CIA chief is currently a member with Perle of the DPB, works for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, has supported PNAC, acts as CSP's honorary co-chair and served on the Rumsfeld Commission on the ballistic-missile threat.

Woolsey also worked with the National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP), whose bland name disguises a band of nuclear-weapons zealots that has long advocated developing new nukes, smaller nukes, bunker-busting nukes and Star Wars.

As depicted by the site, Woolsey also served on the Advisory Board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a group set up 13 months ago in much the same way that Americans for Community, Faith-Centered Enterprise was – to support Bush's drive to war.

Besides Woolsey, other directors included several other DPB members, including Perle, Eliot Cohen, General Wayne Downing and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as well as Kristol and about a dozen people also associated with PNAC.

If you click on Perle, whose principal perch is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), along with Gingrich and former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, you are likely to find yourself occupied for some time. Ditto for Kristol, whose offices are located just five floors below AEI, close to 17th and L Streets in Washington.

Despite the centrality of both Perle and Kristol, however, the genius of the right's network, as noted by Barry, is its improvisational "architecture."

"Rather than operating from a single blueprint, they constantly renovate and commission additions in the form of new institutes, front groups, media outlets and political projects," he says. "It's a postmodern structure with no central office or main lobby, no fixed foundation, no elevator that takes you to different levels."

Compared to its vitality and breadth, according to Barry, its ideological foes on the left, or even in the middle, "resemble aging cobwebs."

(Inter Press Service)

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Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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