Project for a New American Century (PNAC)

excerpted from the book

Power Trip

U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11

edited by John Feffer

Seven Stories Press, 2003, paper


In 1997, an influential group of neoconservatives, social conservatives, and representatives of what Eisenhower referred to as the military-industrial complex came together to form Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Conservatives had failed to "confidently advance a strategic vision for America's role in the world," the group lamented in its statement of principles. It continued, "We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership." Noting what they called "the essential elements of the Reagan administration's success," namely "a strong military" ready to meet "present and future challenges," they proudly declared: "A Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the U.S. is to build on the success of this past century and ensure our security and greatness in the next." Among the twenty-five signers were Wolfowitz, Libby, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Elliott Abrams, Zalmay Khalilzad, and other right-wing figures who five years later would use the September 11 outrage to realize their long-held dreams of a new American empire.

Not a think tank like the Heritage Foundation or AEI with the capacity to develop detailed policy recommendations, PNAC has acted as a front group that issues timely statements, often in the form of open letters to the president. Its influence signals the degree to which neoconservatives have charted the main outlines and trajectory of the Bush foreign policy. Founded by Weekly Standard pundits William Kristol and Robert Kagan, PNAC is the latest incarnation of a series of predominantly neoconservative groups such as the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) and the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD). In the 1970s, these groups played key roles in helping to marshal diverse right-wing constituencies around a common foreign and defense policy and organize highly sophisticated public and media campaigns in pursuit of their goals. Their main targets of the time were Jimmy Carter, détente, and arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, but they also used their zest for ideological combat, their political savvy, and their propaganda skills to prepare the ground for and later oversee the more radical policies pursued by the incoming Reagan administration, including Star Wars, the anticommunist crusades in Central America, southern Africa, and Afghanistan, and the creation of a "strategic alliance" with Israel. Largely sidelined under the elder Bush and under Clinton, these same forces-in many cases, the same individuals-who served under Reagan and then again under the younger Bush spent much of the 1990s trying to reconstitute a new coalition of the kind that dominated Reagan's first term.

Much as its forebears did twenty-five years ago, PNAC in the late 1990s successfully rallied key right-wing personalities-men from the Christian Right, including Gary Bauer and other social conservatives, among them William Bennett-behind their imperial vision of U.S. supremacy. This was no small achievement, for the Christian Right was far more interested in moral and cultural issues than in foreign policy during the 1980s and early 1990s. Moreover, much of that constituency had been attracted to right-wing gadfly Patrick Buchanan, who shared its "traditional values" but who also strongly opposed the Gulf War and has long deplored the more imperial, neoconservative influence in the Republican Party. Two other groups, the Center for Security Policy and Empower America, played a similar role with respect to forging a new coalition behind the goal of U.S. military and cultural supremacy.

Whatever the validity of U.S. military supremacy theory as a legitimate or effective defense posture, the ideology has immediate rewards for U.S. weapons manufacturers. This nexus of military strategists and the military industry is epitomized by the right-wing Center for Security Policy, with its close connections to both military contractors and the Pentagon. The Center's director, Frank Gaffney, one of the original signatories of the PNAC statement in 1997, rejoiced that his group's "peace through strength" principles have once again found a place in U.S. government. Like the Reagan years, when many of the center's current associates directed U.S. military policy, the present administration includes a large number of members of the Center's National Security Advisory Council. An early member of the Center's board, Dick Cheney, is now vice president, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a recipient of the Center's Keeper of the Flame award.

Since the 1970s, neoconservatives had been exploring the global-local links of the "culture war." In the view of the Christian Right, core American values were under attack by a liberal cultural elite that espoused secular humanism and ethical relativism. For neoconservatives, however, the culture war was an international one that threatened the entire Judeo-Christian culture. One of the earliest groups taking this position was the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which was established in 1976 "to clarify and reinforce the bond between Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public policy debate over domestic and foreign policy issues." The Ethics and Public Policy Center, where Elliott Abrams was an associate in the 1990s before he joined the Bush administration, explored the common moral ground (and common concerns) that Jewish and Catholic conservatives shared with the Christian Right. Long a theme in American politics, the idea of America's cultural supremacy and the need to defend it against mounting international attack had by the late 1990s become a powerful theme in the U.S. political debate. Neoconservative historian Samuel Huntington provided theoretical cover for this paranoid sense of cultural supremacy in his influential The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Former "drug czar" and education secretary William J. Bennett, another signatory of the PNAC 1997 statement, has had the most success in making the local-global links in the culture war. Together with Jack Kemp, Bennett in 1999 founded Empower America, a right-wing policy group that argues for domestic and foreign policies informed by conservative moral values. Since September 11, Bennett's Empower America, together with subsidiary groups, has propagated the Bush administration's own message of a moral and military crusade against evil. As part of its campaign to highlight the moral character of Bush's foreign policy, Empower America formed a new group called Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT). In a full page ad in the New York Times, AVOT chairman Bennett warned: "The threats we face are both external and internal." Within the United States are "those who are attempting to use this opportunity [9/11] to promulgate their agenda of 'blame America first."' In its pronouncement, AVOT identified U.S. public opinion as the key battleground in the war against America's external and internal threats. "Our goal," declared AVOT, "is to address the present threats so as to eradicate future terrorism and defeat ideologies that support it." Also in the forefront of focusing attention on internal threats has been Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president and an associate at the American Enterprise Institute, who played a lead role in founding the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which singled out professors deemed not sufficiently patriotic.

Under the tutelage of neoconservatives like Elliott Abrams and under the guiding hand of William Bennett, social conservatives, particularly those associated with the Christian Right, have become new internationalists. Looking beyond the culture wars at home, they found new reasons for a rightist internationalism abroad. Building on the Biblical foundations for an apocalyptic confrontation in the Middle East, the Christian Right has fully supported the neoconservative agenda on U.S.-Israel relations. In their literature and Internet presence, socially conservative groups such as Empower America and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy place special emphasis on the righteousness of the military campaign against the Palestinians by the Likud Party of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Other galvanizing issues for social conservatives are the persecution of Christians abroad, especially in Islamic countries and China, sex trafficking, and "yellow peril" threat of Communist China.

For critics, the administration's willingness to hire a handful of Reagan-era officials tainted by their illegal dealings with the Nicaraguan contras amply illustrated its moral hypocrisy, undermining any valid claim to moral clarity. These included such figures as Otto Reich, former chief of Reagan's Office of Public Diplomacy, who was appointed the State Department's chief Latin America officer despite findings that he had lied to Congress and the American public.

Other rogue officials from the Reagan administration's illegal programs to aid the contras include Elliott Abrams, John Poindexter, and John Negroponte. The Bush administration, whose moral compass is officially declared to have an undeviating good-evil orientation, instead responds to a Machiavellian logic in which even the means-no matter if they violate international law and ignore human rights-justify the ends sought by an America-centric foreign policy.

... As during the Reagan administration, the right-wing think tanks have played a key role in shaping the new policy framework. Especially important has been the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, whose most prominent member of the Bush administration is Richard Perle, the chair of Rumsfeld's Defense Planning Board. Perle, a supporter of PNAC, helped establish the Center for Security Policy and the increasingly influential Jewish Institute for National Security (JINSA). Over the years, AEI has been in the forefront of calling for preemptive military attacks against rogue states and has denounced as "appeasement" all efforts by Washington and its European allies to "engage" North Korea, Iran, or Iraq. The Bush administration has embraced virtually all of the policy positions that the AEI has promoted on the Middle East. Coursing through AEI policy analysis-and now through the Bush administration-is a profound belief in the inherent goodness and redemptive mission of the United States, criticism of the moral cowardice of "liberals" and "European elites," an imperative to support Israel against the "implacable hatred" of Muslims, and a conviction in the primacy of military power in an essentially Hobbesian world. Although not yet part of the official rhetoric, AEI's belief that a conflict with China is inevitable is also one held by the hawks in the administration.

On the editorial pages of the Weekly Standard (published by PNAC cofounder William Kristol), the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary Magazine, and the Washington Times, as well as in the nationally syndicated columns by William Safire, Michael Kelly, and Charles Krauthammer, the State Department (particularly its Near East bureau) came under steady attack. But even within the State Department, the new foreign policy radicals had set up camp. Over Powell's objections, Bush appointed John Bolton, an ultra-unilateralist ideologue and former vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

For the most part, the political right led by the neoconservatives has focused on the need for America to assert its military and diplomatic power-a focus underscored by the war on terrorism. In marked contrast to the Clinton years, the neoconservative strategists together with the hawks have sidelined the public debate about globalization. Instead of fretting over social and environmental standards in the global economy, the economic focus is on securing U.S. national interests, particularly energy resources, and thereby ensuring continued U.S. economic supremacy. A continued weakening of the U.S. economy and a rising concern of U.S. military overreach is contributing to some fracturing of the right.

This small group of right-wing strategists, ideologues, and operatives in right-wing think tanks, advocacy groups, and the news media has captured U.S. foreign and military policy. The neoconservatives and hawks set the Bush administration's foreign policy agenda-an agenda of supremacy that moderate conservatives and realists came to share, for the most part, although differences remained over how this supremacy should be maintained. At issue is not so much that this shift in foreign policy has been engineered by a narrow elite-given that foreign policy has traditionally been the province of conservative and liberal elites-but rather the implications of this sharp turn to the right.

Power Trip

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