The Project for the New American Century (PNAC)
may have effectively closed up shop two years ago and its key neoconservative
allies in the administration, such as Scooter Libby and Douglas Feith, may be
long gone, but the group's five-year-old Middle East strategy remains very much
This is not the "Wilsonian" strategy of transforming Iraq into a
model of democracy and pluralism that will then spread domino-like across the
entire benighted region of autocrats, monarchs and theocrats whose oppression
and backwardness have, in the neocon narrative, been the main cause of anti-US
On the contrary, that "idealist" vision has largely disappeared from
the administration's discourse, particularly over the past year as Iraq slipped
steadily into sectarian civil war, despite having been enthusiastically embraced
by George W. Bush and his neoconservative supporters after their early justifications
for war in Iraq Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction
(WMD) and ties to al-Qaeda proved unfounded.
It is, rather, the hard-edged strategy first enunciated in PNAC's letter to
Bush published just nine days after the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New
York and the Pentagon. That document called for the administration to focus
its "war on terrorism" on what it considered the main regional threats
to the security of Israel, "America's staunchest ally against international
Indeed, the Sep 20, 2001, letter, signed by some three dozen prominent, mostly
neoconservative, hawks, suggested that Afghanistan and al-Qaeda should be treated
as mere hors d'oeuvres in a six-course meal in which Saddam Hussein's Iraq was
to be only the main course.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), Lebanon's Hezbollah, Iran and Syria were also
featured as part of the feast, a series of dishes which, with the notable replacement
of the PA by Hamas as a result of last year's democratic elections, now appears
to be, more than at any time since Washington's conquest of Iraq in 2003, back
on the menu.
Thus, in its Sep. 20 letter, PNAC gave only passing mention to its support
for military action in Afghanistan to "capture or kill" Osama bin
Laden and "to destroy his network of associates," before warning that
the failure to remove Saddam Hussein "will constitute an early and perhaps
decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism" and declaring
that "any war against terrorism must target Hezbollah."
In words that sound remarkably familiar today, the letter went on: "We
believe the administration should demand that Iran and Syria immediately cease
all military, financial, and political support for Hezbollah and its operations.
Should Iran and Syria refuse to comply, the administration should consider appropriate
measures of retaliation against these known state sponsors of terrorism."
Finally, the letter called on Bush to cut aid to the PA unless it puts a stop
to all terrorism against Israel, a recommendation that was followed up six months
later with a second letter demanding that Washington break all ties with Arafat.
"No one should doubt that the United States and Israel share a common enemy,"
the Apr. 3, 2002 letter asserted, adding that both countries were targets of
the "Axis of Evil" and that "Israel's fight against terrorism
is our fight."
In the intervening years, much of the PNAC agenda has been accomplished, albeit
with results that it almost entirely failed to anticipate.
After chasing the Taliban and al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, Washington did indeed
break off ties with the PA in June 2002, then began restoring them after Arafat's
death and his replacement by Mahmoud Abbas, only to effectively break them off
once again after Hamas defeated Fatah in US-supported elections one year ago.
The US invaded Iraq in March 2003 and, nearly four years later, finds itself
waging an extremely costly counterinsurgency campaign which neither the administration
nor its neocon cheerleaders anticipated.
While most regional and military experts believe that Washington is fighting
a losing battle, political observers are virtually unanimous that public disaffection
with the war was the single most important cause of the Democrats' sweep of
the mid-term Congressional elections last November, not to mention the growing
Republican revolt against his latest plans to send some 21,500 more US troops
to add to the 132,000 who are already in Iraq.
Finally, Hezbollah and Israel fought a month-long war last summer that was
widely seen as a major political, if not military, victory not just for the
Lebanese Shi'ite movement, but also for its two main backers, Iran and Syria,
whom Washington now accuses of trying to destabilize Iraq, as well.
The Hezbollah-Israel conflict, combined with Iran's nuclear program and the
fact that Tehran has emerged as the biggest winner of Washington's wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq, appears responsible for the White House's renewed embrace of PNAC's
original targets what is now being referred to by some neocons as "HISH"
Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Hamas.
Thus, just as ousting the Taliban and capturing or killing bin Laden and his
associates were depicted by the neocons five years ago as a mere prelude to
the main business of decisively defeating Israel's regional foes, so the administration
appears to have once again relegated both Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to the margins
in its war on terrorism, despite the Taliban's unexpected resurgence of the
Thus, even as National Intelligence Director John Negroponte was warning that
al-Qaeda still poses the gravest threat to US security, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice omitted any mention of the group in Congressional testimony
last week when she explained that Washington now faces what she called "a
new alignment of forces" in the region.
"On one side are reformers and responsible leaders" in which she
included "Saudi Arabia and the other countries of the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan,
the young democracies of Lebanon, of the Palestinian territory led by Mahmoud
Abbas, and in Iraq."
"...But on the other side of that divide are Iran, Syria and Hezbollah
and Hamas" who "...use violence to spread chaos, to undermine democratic
governments, and to impose agendas of hatred and intolerance," she declared.
Of course, this is anything but "a new alignment of forces." However,
it does recall not only PNAC's exhortations five years ago, but also the strategy
that prevailed in the early 1980s as the Ronald Reagan administration
and its neoconservative allies plied "moderate" Sunni Arab
states, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with weapons, training and other support
to ward off the threat posed by a revolutionary Shi'ite Iran and its allies
in Lebanon and Syria. In so doing, of course, Washington helped lay the groundwork
for the emergence of a radical Sunni Islamist movement that eventually blossomed
A quarter century later and faced with an Iran emboldened by Bush's and the
neocons colossal mistakes of the past five years, Washington now finds itself
desperately trying to rope the same Sunni authoritarian re-dubbed "responsible"
and "mainstream" states whose dictatorial ways it and its neocon
allies so recently depicted as the main source of al-Qaeda's recruitment, into
a new, anti-HISH alliance.
(Inter Press Service)