In 2003 the United States President George W. Bush officially declared war on Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein from power. The rationale given by the Bush Administration to justify the invasion of Iraq was manifold. The U.S. Government accused the Iraqi regime of possessing and developing weapons of mass destruction. In numerous statements, the Bush Administration officials also accused Saddam Hussein of harboring terrorists, including members of Al-Qaeda. And finally, the U.S. statesmen said, Iraq had abysmal human rights records and the United States, by overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein, would bring democracy to Iraq -- and elsewhere in the Middle East. In formulating this rationale, the Bush Administration relied upon the principles of a group known as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The intended policies of the Bush Administration in Iraq were in line with the main principle of PNAC, as stated by William Kristol in the opening pages of the group's website: "American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle."
By embracing the principles of PNAC, the Bush Administration was certainly pursuing an ambitious goal which required boldness and strong resolve. And while this was a new course in the development of U.S. foreign policy, some of the principles of PNAC embraced by the Bush Administration had a long history.
The PNAC was primarily established in 1997 by a group of neoconservative hawks whose immediate call, after its formal establishment, was to call the Administration of William Clinton to remove "Saddam Hussein's regime from power," as stated in a letter they sent to President Clinton on May 29, 1998. The letter was singed by Kristol, the chairman of PNAC and the editor of Weekly Standard, and a group of politicians who would end up serving the Bush Administration. These included Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the director of the Middle Eastern policy on the National Security Council Elliot Abrams, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, the chairman of the Defense Science Board Richard Perle, Colin Powell's deputy in the State Department Richard Armitage, and the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.
The PNAC made their main principles and ideas publicly available through their own publication, entitling it Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century.
Does the United States, "as the world's most preeminent power," the authors wrote, "have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?" The authors required that the United States needed "a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities."
To achieve these goals, the authors further argued, the United States needed a fundamental transformation, which, "even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor."
As many analysts have pointed out, the September 11 attacks in 2001 provided PNAC members with the "catastrophic and catalyzing event" they needed to implement their process of transformation.
These pronouncements by PNAC members were bold and assertive and many American politicians and commentators considered PNAC members as "dangerous and arrogant."
But the assertiveness of PNAC members in calling for projecting American power to the entire world was not a novel idea in American political tradition. The name of the group, the Project for the New American Century, presumed that there was already an American Century, which the authors of PNAC wanted to extend to the twenty first century. The roots of this idea go back to the time of World War II. In a widely-known and very influential essay "The American Century," published in Life magazine in 1941, Henry Luce popularized the idea of taking the role of a "Good Samaritan" and insisted that the United States should "exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit." Luce also claimed for the United States and its allies "the right to go with our ships and our ocean-going airplanes where we wish, when we wish and as we wish."
Luce's ideas were challenged by some liberals and leftists -- for example, by Henry Wallace -- but such voices were marginalized by other powerful voices, and, as Melani McAlister points out, Luce's vision "seemed to express the common sense of a large sector of the U.S. elite."
If one to peruse the publications of PNAC, one encounters a consistency of certain traditions which again go back to the early Cold War era. "At present," PNAC members contended, "the United States faces no global rival. America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible."
This idea may be contrasted with the views of George Kennan, an American diplomat in Russia and later a State Department official who helped to shape America's Cold War policy. In one of the State Department meetings to discuss American policy in the Far East, Kennan, referring to the fact that the United States at the time possessed 50% of the world's wealth (while its population constituted 6.3% of the world population), stated: "Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security."
Although Kennan and PNAC members analyzed the state of world affairs from different angles and in different contexts, there is a remarkable similarity between their views on the need to preserve America's uncontested hegemony in the world.
There is nonetheless a fundamental difference between the behavior of George Kennan and that of PNAC members. Kennan explained his position to a group of insider officials which were not meant to be revealed to the public. PNAC members have been outspoken about their views on how to project American power and prevent the emergence of any rival: military, political, economic. There were American politicians who subscribed to the principles of future PNAC members during the Cold War but they were not as bold as to make their views public. Moreover, the existence of another military superpower in the form of the Soviet Union imposed limits on America's ability to use power as boldly as PNAC members would wish. The whole situation, however, changed when the Soviet Union all of a sudden collapsed in 1991.
In 1992 Paul Wolfowitz, under the supervision of then the Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, prepared a 46-page long document in which he outlined a grand policy for the United States to follow in the post-Cold War era. Part of that American policy would be "convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests."
The document, which was leaked to New York Times before Cheney presented it to Congress, rejected collective approach to world affairs. The United States, according to the document, would use a mixture of diplomacy and military might to ensure American primacy. The document's tone was softer on America's closest allies, suggesting that the United States "must sufficiently account for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order."
But it also adds that "the United States should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated."
The end of the Soviet Union coincided with another event that was significant for formulating the visions of Wolfowitz and Cheney: the first Gulf War. In the war, the United States demonstrated its ability to gain considerable support from the international community, particularly its allies, and its uncontested military might, by destroying Iraq's military in less than two months. These latest events -- that is, the end of the Cold War and American swift victory in the Gulf War -- convinced other commentators, as well, of the opportunity presented to the United States by the post-Cold War order. One commentator wrote that "U.S. strategy can now be directed to active intervention to resolve conflicts in other regions on terms favorable to American interests; and that those interests themselves are to be defined broadly as the maintenance of stability and order in any and every region of the world."
Such views were supported by Democratic leaders as well, reaching its crescendo in the words of Madeline Albright in 1994, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations at the time. "We recognize this area as vital to U.S. national interests," she said, speaking about Iraq, "and we will behave, with others, multilaterally when we can and unilaterally when we must."
While the tradition of unilateral use of force by the United States,…