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 number, a Washington
obituary would seem to be definitive. And, sure enough, the Post
quoted one unidentified source presumably linked to PNAC that the group was
"heading toward closing" with the feeling of "goal accomplished."
In fact, the 9-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 significantly increase the size of the U.S. 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 like Cheney, Christian Zionists of
the religious Right, and Israel-centered neoconservatives PNAC actually
began breaking down shortly after the Iraq invasion.
It was then that the group's predominantly neoconservative 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
the country 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 neoconservatives
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 U.S. 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 entitled "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 which, in their view, had grown increasingly isolationist,
particularly after the precipitous U.S. 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 neoconservatives, 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 neocon impresario Richard Perle;
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; as well as Cheney and Rumsfeld themselves.
The charter's few specifics, as well as follow-up reports published by PNAC
"Rebuilding America's Defenses" and "Present Dangers,"
both published in 2000 to influence the foreign policy debate during the presidential
campaign that year were based to a great extent on an infamous "Defense
Planning Guidance" (DPG) 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-Undersecretary 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 U.S.) to replace
"collective internationalism" and for Washington to ensure that domination,
particularly in Eurasia, in order 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, that acted as part of a larger neoconservative"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 more 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-a-dozen staff members most
recently, PNAC director Schmitt have taken posts at the much-larger AEI
located 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 Ahmed 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 Sept. 20, 2001, just nine
days after the 9/11 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 importantly, ousting Hussein 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 neoconservative 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 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 Sept. 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 neoconservatives, 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 administration moves on Iran.
All of which has made it far more difficult to forge consensus and compose
letters in these areas.
(Inter Press Service)