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Hell-Bent for War


Never before in the history of the United States presidency has a think tank had such an impact on shaping U.S. foreign policy as the Project for the New American Century has on helping President George W. Bush set foreign policy goals for his Administration, particularly dictating exactly how Bush should deal with Iraq and its President, Saddam Hussein.

For the past six years, PNAC has lobbied former President Clinton and Bush heavily to initiate a war in Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power, claiming the country poses a serious threat to the U.S. and its allies because of its ability to develop weapons of mass destruction. Clinton rebuffed the advice by PNAC members during the last four years of his presidency, but Bush has virtually used, word for word, the written statements by PNAC members when he speaks publicly about Iraq crisis.

PNAC, which says its goal is to promote Americais foreign and defense policies, has been written about in dribs and drabs over the past year in the foreign press, but has yet to crack any of the big mainstream newspapers and magazines here. It operated below the radar while Clinton was in office and has recently resurfaced because of the uncanny similarities between its policies and that of the Bush Administration on matters relating to national defense to Asia and the Middle East.

Most of its members cut their teeth in the Reagan and the first Bush Administrations. However, many of its former members, notably Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, are working in the current Bush Administration. William Kristol, the editor of the ultra-conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, heads PNAC.

In the past year, the organization has succeeded in getting the Bush Administration to scrap the Armyis Crusader Artillery Program and to ask Congress for a one-year increase of more than $48 billion for national defense. But itis PNAC’s position to drive America into a war with Iraq that has influenced Bush the most.

Dozens of letters and reports by PNAC members concerning Iraq are posted on its website,, and lays out in startling detail how war is the only way to deal with the so-called threat that Iraq poses to the U.S. Bush has drawn upon many of these letters to publicly make a case for war. Reading through the letters, the impression it leaves is not that the U.S. is in imminent danger but that the people that run PNAC have been hell-bent for war for six years and they finally got a president who will listen to them.

Robert Kagan, co-chair of PNAC and a former Deputy for Policy in the State Department’s Bureau for Inter-American Affairs during Reagan’s presidency, wrote in 1999 that the U.S. should “complete the unfinished business of the 1991 Gulf War and get rid of Saddam.”

It’s simply not enough to increase inspections by the United Nations, PNAC says, or to think that “we can contain Saddam inside a box” to ensure the safety of the U.S. and our allies. It has to be war.

“Above all, only ground forces can remove Saddam and his regime from power and open the way for a new post-Saddam Iraq whose intentions can safely be assumed to be benign,” Kristol said in a PNAC report in 1997. Containment and inspections won’t work, Kristol said

Consider the impact Kristol had on Cheney when the Vice President spoke about Iraq before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville last August.

“This is the same dictator who dispatched a team of assassins to murder former President Bush as he traveled abroad,” Cheney said. “A person would be right to question any suggestion that we should just get inspectors back into Iraq, and then our worries will be over. Saddam has perfected the game of cheat and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box.”

“Meanwhile, he would continue to plot. Nothing in the last dozen years has stopped him — not his agreements; not the discoveries of the inspectors; not the revelations by defectors; not criticism or ostracism by the international community; and not four days of bombings by the U.S. in 1998. What he wants is time and more time to husband his resources, to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons programs, and to gain possession of nuclear arms,”Cheney said.

But the mere fact that many of these letters and policy statements about Iraq were drafted while Clinton was President raises a number of serious questions: for one, where’s the evidence that suggests the U.S. is in imminent danger of being attacked by Iraq? No one at PNAC would respond to these or other questions about the organization. The one thing that is crystal clear, however, is that neither PNAC nor the Bush Administration has been able to produce a shred of evidence that justifies the U.S. going to war with Iraq. Only through a coordinated effort of injecting fear into the minds of Americans has PNAC and the Bush Administration been able to win the little support it has to start a war.

JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at:



JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at:

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