They hit the ground running . . .
Susan Lindauer, a middle-aged peace activist in the DC suburb of Takoma Park, Md., just got arrested by the feds for “an unsuccessful attempt to influence United States foreign policy.” Lindauer is a second cousin of White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who turned her name over to the FBI because she presented him with a letter from herself in January, 2003, offering her knowledge of Iraq and her services in an effort to prevent war.
Card’s turning in his cousin was followed up by an FBI sting operation, in which an FBI agent disguised as a Libyan induced Lindauer to leave two packages of papers, said by the authorities to be non-sensitive, at “drop points” where they were later retrieved. The sting, surely approved if not ordered by the White House, was followed by the arrest. Lindauer is charged not with espionage but with acting as an “unregistered agent” for Iraq.
Some observers feel that attempting to influence US policy is the kind of thing citizens are supposed to do. Beyond any lapse in fundamental principles in this arrest, however, it is also apparent that the authorities find some unsuccessful attempts at influence acceptable.
The feds didn’t mind, for instance, when a DC-based network of rightwing think-tankers called the Project for a New American Century wrote a “Letter to President Clinton on Iraq” on January 26, 1998, insisting that Saddam Hussein should be forcibly removed from power.
The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) is a group of military hardliners, mostly without military service, who boost an extremely hawkish U.S. foreign policy.
“Established in the spring of 1997, the Project for the New American Century is a non-profit, educational organization whose goal is to promote American global leadership. The Project is an initiative of the New Citizenship Project (501c3); the New Citizenship Project’s chairman is William Kristol and its president is Gary Schmitt.”
William Kristol is the editor of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard and appears as a weekly commentator on Fox News, also owned by Murdoch. According to his PNAC biography,
“Before starting the Weekly Standard in 1995, Mr. Kristol led the Project for the Republican Future, where he helped shape the strategy that produced the 1994 Republican congressional victory. Prior to that, Mr. Kristol served as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during the Bush Administration and to Secretary of Education William Bennett under President Reagan.”
Gary Schmitt was a GOP congressional staffer in the early 1980s and served on an intelligence advisory board under Reagan. He has held numerous positions in think tanks, academia and consultancy.
The letter to Clinton supports only one objective, ousting Saddam Hussein:
“We urge you to . . . to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.”
Asserting the now-familiar vague threat of “weapons of mass destruction,” the letter continues,
“The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.”
This central aim of American foreign policy (removing Saddam), is to be pursued at all costs, regardless of risk:
“We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf.”
It is chilling to read in this statement, dated January 1998, the exact arguments megaphoned by the Bush White House and its paid media supporters in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Every indication is that Bush came into office in January 2001 with exactly the intention stated in the letter.
From his first days, Bush demonstrated an eagerness to appoint the letter’s signers to government positions. Indeed, he announced signer Donald Rumsfeld as his Secretary of Defense on December 28, 2000, and signer Robert B. Zoellick as US Trade Representative (the President’s principal trade policy advisor) on January 11, 2001, before his inauguration. Bush then announced signer and notable hawk Paul Wolfowitz as his Deputy Secretary of Defense on February 5; signer Richard L. Armitage, an old CIA hand, as his Deputy Secretary of State on February 12; and signer John R. Bolton as his Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs on February 21. Thus, before the end of one month in the White House, Bush had solidified almost every pertinent position in the Executive branch in the hands of hawks with a none-too-subtle agenda of entering Iraq, intervening in its internal affairs, and replacing its government.
None of this was made broadly known to the public, either by the administration or by major media outlets. Only the New Republic (February 5, 2001) mentioned that “Vice President Dick Cheney has quietly been stocking the Defense Department with outspoken interventionists. . . Cheney has effectively created his own foreign policy apparatus, installing his proteges (and, in the case of Donald Rumsfeld, his mentor) at the Defense Department and the White House.” The article further notes that “many of Cheney’s proteges are known for their willingness to use military force.”
The hiring pattern continued through spring 2001. The selection of Iraq letter signer Paula J. Dobriansky was announced for Under Secretary for Global Affairs (State) on March 12, and of Peter W. Rodman as Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs (Defense) on May 14. Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed “Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues, National Security Council,” on May 28, 2001. Khalilzad has since been named US Ambassador to Afghanistan. Iraq letter signatory Elliott Abrams was also appointed by Bush to the National Security Council, in June 2001.
These individuals are not just any Iraq hawks. Khalilzad, for instance, had worked in the first Bush administration in the Defense department and then went to work for the Rand Corporation, a major military contractor, in the 1990s. Born in Afghanistan, he was also a consultant to US oil company Unocal, which for several years had attempted to launch a giant pipeline project in Afghanistan.
Elliott Abrams, an Assistant Secretary of State under Reagan, was indicted in 1991 by the special prosecutor in the “Iran-Contra” scandal, for giving false testimony before Congress. He pled guilty to two lesser offenses, but was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush, along with other Iran-Contra defendants, on Christmas, 1992. He participated in a number of rightwing Washington think tanks throughout the 1990s.
Peter W. Rodman was a Special Assistant to Dr. Henry Kissinger in the Nixon and Ford administrations and has since worked with Dr. Kissinger on his memoirs. Rodman also served in the State department and the NSC in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, and “was most recently Director of National Security Programs at the Nixon Center (1995-2001),” according to his official Defense department biography.
This January 1998 letter was not the Project for a New American Century’s only call to arms regarding Iraq. On May 29, 1998, most of the same signers wrote another letter to GOP congressional leaders Trent Lott and Newt Gringrich, wrathful over a supposed “capitulation to Saddam” when Clinton cooperated with the UN rather than removing Saddam from power. This letter again asserted an unspecific danger from “weapons of mass destruction.”
Barely over a week after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the group hit the ground running with another letter. Again, there was a reminder not to overlook the possibility of intervening in Iraq’s internal affairs, regardless of justification: “It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. 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 in Iraq.” This letter suggested a less direct engagement: “The United States must therefore provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition. American military force should be used to provide a ‘safe zone’ in Iraq from which the opposition can operate. And American forces must be prepared to back up our commitment to the Iraqi opposition by all necessary means.” (September 20, 2001)
Signers of other PNAC letters also hold positions under Bush. Aside from working in government, in think tanks, and on corporate and other advisory boards, or writing to the White House or Congress directly, the group also operates through the media, including the major television networks and the op-ed pages of major newspapers.
On July 22, 2002, the PNAC itself, in a memorandum to “Opinion Leaders,” kicked off the political campaign to drum up a war against Iraq. The memo flagged an article titled “The Coming War with Saddam,” in William Kristol’s Weekly Standard magazine. Starting then, either the Weekly Standard or PNAC, or occasionally a ‘freelancer’ in league with them writing for the Washington Post, ran an article once a week for the next 16 weeks, pushing an Iraq war.
In spite of the fact that there was no new cataclysm in Iraq, the ground for war was prepared, and obviously (in hindsight) through cooperation with the White House. On August 26, Vice President Cheney gave a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, arguing for “preemptive military action.” The point here is not just that a wildly new “policy” was enunciated that no previous vice president or president had ever supported, one that many actual veterans oppose. The point is that a whole stream of writers and consultants of a sort, in league with dubious and murky factions compensating them in undisclosed ways, operated in concert with one branch of one administration, the Bush White House.
Their influence in the ‘mainstream’ media was immense. That month, still without any new crisis in Iraq to justify the topic, commentators George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer alone put out seven columns, aside from television commentary, pushing war. They followed up with similar columns for weeks afterward.
Radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly also weighed in pro-Iraq-war in August 2002. Like Will and Krauthammer, they kept up the barrage of commentary throughout August and on into fall. That same fall, in the weeks leading up to the congressional elections, the reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson also swung into Islam-bashing and administration-opposition-bashing.
These media personalities were joined by a stream of lesser known talk hosts and op-ed writers, organized and otherwise, some supported by the Rupert Murdoch, Reverend Moon, and Clear Channel news empires which also funded lavish overall pro-war displays.
Although not all media commentators who share the PNAC’s views are members of the group, some are. Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, for example, signed the September 20, 2001, letter to Bush.
Over-all, there seems to be an almost unending pipeline of vaguely credentialed, partly scholarly, mostly non-veteran “consultants,” commentators, writers of a sort, minor government officials and advisors or staffers ready to pour out a cornucopia of reasons to bomb another country. Most of these figures do not seem disinterestedly eager for bloodshed for its own sake. More often, there is a whiff of financial motive in the picture.
Vice President Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, got contracts both from Saddam and Saddam’s downfall. The PNAC’s Richard Perle recently resigned his position with the Defense Policy Board, a military advisory group, partly because of his ties to military contractors. Zalmay Khalilzad’s individual interest in Unocal and Afghanistan has already been mentioned, above. William Kristol’s publications and public forum are supported by Australian mega-media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The notoriously anti-labor Murdoch benefits financially every time a militaristic foreign policy undermines the public sector, regardless of which country he’s investing in.
It goes without saying that the entities hiring this kind of expensive talent also contribute lavishly to political campaigns, and hire equally expensive lobbyists to Congress and the state legislatures. They also control a lot of people’s jobs to start with. Seldom, meanwhile, do invididuals in this cloudy network have family members liable to be sent to Iraq. Seldom, indeed, do they have genuine expertise, credentials, experience or personal stake in the issues they handle.
It would probably be a mistake to call this syndication ‘conservative.’ Rather, it is basically a synchronized corporatist party, whose members are given careers of manufactured prominence and dominate agendas and topics in the media. It is also consistently in league with the Bush White House, regardless of the national interest.
In retrospect, it looks as though the public never had much of a fighting chance. It also looks as though Bush’s pretense that war was a last resort was deception.
[This article, deleted by the system among hundreds of articles and blog posts in summer 2011, is re-posted using archives and Word files.]