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Posted on Mon, Jan. 27, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Invading Iraq not a new idea for Bush clique
4 years before 9/11, plan was set

bunchw@phillynews.com
THE WAR CABINET
It was 2:40 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, and rescue crews were still scouring the ravaged section of the Pentagon that hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 had destroyed just five hours earlier.

On the other side of the still-smoldering Pentagon complex, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was poring through incoming intelligence reports and jotting down notes. Although most Americans were still shell-shocked, Rumsfeld's thoughts had already turned to a longstanding foe.

Rumsfeld wrote, according to a later CBS News report, that he wanted "best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. at the same time. Not only UBL" - meaning Osama bin Laden. He added: "Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

"S.H.," of course, is Saddam Hussein. The White House has long insisted its strategy for a war against Saddam's Iraq - a war that could now begin in a matter of days - arose from the rubble of the deadly attack that day.

But in reality, Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and a small band of conservative ideologues had begun making the case for an American invasion of Iraq as early as 1997 - nearly four years before the Sept. 11 attacks and three years before President Bush took office.

An obscure, ominous-sounding right-wing policy group called Project for the New American Century, or PNAC - affiliated with Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rumsfeld's top deputy Paul Wolfowitz and Bush's brother Jeb - even urged then-President Clinton to invade Iraq back in January 1998.

"We urge you to... enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world," stated the letter to Clinton, signed by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others. "That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power." (For full text of the letter, see www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm)

The saga of Project for the New American Century may help answer some of the questions being asked both across the nation and around the world as Bush seems increasingly likely to call for military action to remove Saddam from power.

Why does the Bush administration seem hell-bent on war in the Middle East when key world powers and U.S. allies - such as France, Germany, Russia and China - don't support it right now? Or when most Americans say they don't want war, either, as long as the United Nations won't endorse one?

Why the rush, and why now, when Saddam seems weakened by a decade of economic sanctions?

The answers are complicated, but most arise from the concept - endorsed by many of the key players in the Bush administration - that America, as the world's lone superpower, should be putting that power to use.

"The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire," says the PNAC's statement of principles. "The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership."

Ian Lustick, a University of Pennsylvania political science professor and Middle East expert, calls the Cheney-Rumsfeld group "a cabal" - a band of conservative ideologues whose grand notions of American unilateral military might are out of touch and dangerous.

"What happened was 9/11, which had nothing to do with Iraq but produced an enormous amount of political capital which allowed the government to do anything it wanted as long as they could relate it to national security and the Middle East," Lustick said.

Gary Schmitt, the executive director of PNAC, laughs at the notion that his group is a secretive force driving U.S. policy, even as he acknowledges that the current plan for ousting Saddam differs little from what the group proposed in early 1998.

"We're not the puppeteer behind it all," said Schmitt, noting that before Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration had adopted the moderate policies on Iraq favored by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Policy draft on U.S. power

Still, the most hawkish members of the Bush administration, who are clearly in the driver's seat, have ties to PNAC. Their ideas about the aggressive use of American clout and military force arose more than a decade ago, in the wake of the collapse of communism and victory in the Persian Gulf War.

U.S./Iraq History:
A timeline

When the United States routed Saddam's occupying army from Kuwait in March 1991, most aides - including Cheney - approved of the senior Bush's decision to not push forward to Baghdad and oust Saddam.

Cheney asked at a May 1992 briefing: "How many additional American lives is Saddam Hussein worth? And the answer I would give is not very damn many."

Yet shortly before that, in February 1992, staffers for Wolfowitz - who was deputy defense secretary under Cheney at the time - drafted an American defense policy that called for the United States to aggressively use its military might. The draft made no mention of a role for the United Nations.

The proposed policy urged the United States to "establish and protect a new order" that accounts "sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership," while at the same time maintaining a military dominance capable of "deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role." The draft caused an outcry and was not adopted by Cheney and Wolfowitz.

But in the years immediately following Bush's election defeat by Bill Clinton in 1992, Saddam's tight grip on power in Iraq, and his defiance of U.N. weapons inspectors, began to grate on the former Bush aides.

"They wanted revenge - they felt humiliated," said Penn's Lustick. He recalled the now infamous 1983 picture of Rumsfeld as an American envoy shaking hands with Saddam, at a time when U.S. officials had thought the secular dictator to be a "moderating" force in the Arab world.

At the same time, the heady years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall gave rise to the notion that the removal of Saddam and the establishment of an Arab-run, pro-American democracy might have a kind of "domino effect" in the Middle East, influencing neighbors like Saudi Arabia or Syria.

At the United Nations last November, Bush said that if Iraqis are liberated, "they can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world."

'Remove Saddam'

The neo-conservative ideas about Iraq began to come together around the time that PNAC was formed, in spring 1997. Although the group's overriding goal was expanding the U.S. military and American influence around the globe, the group placed a strong early emphasis on Iraq.

In addition to Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, early backers of the group included Jeb Bush, the president's brother; Richard Armitage, now deputy secretary of state; Robert Zoellick, now U.S. trade commissioner; I. Lewis Libby, now Cheney's top aide; and Zalmay Khalilzad, now America's special envoy to Afghanistan.

In addition to Clinton, the group lobbied GOP leaders in Congress to push for Saddam's removal - by force if necessary.

"We should establish and maintain a strong U.S. military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests in the Gulf - and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from power," the group wrote to Rep. Newt Gingrich and Sen. Trent Lott in May 1998.

Many of the best-known supporters have ties to the oil industry - most notably Cheney, who at the time was CEO of Halliburton, which makes oil-field equipment and would likely profit from the need to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.

While oil is a backdrop to PNAC's policy pronouncements on Iraq, it doesn't seem to be the driving force. Lustick, while a critic of the Bush policy, says oil is viewed by the war's proponents primarily as a way to pay for the costly military operation.

"I'm from Texas, and every oil man that I know is against military action in Iraq," said PNAC's Schmitt. "The oil market doesn't need disruption."

Lustick believes that a more powerful hidden motivator may be Israel. He said Bush administration hawks believe that a show of force in Iraq would somehow convince Palestinians to accept a peace plan on terms favorable to Israel - an idea he scoffs at.

Both supporters and opponents of a war in Iraq agree on one thing: That the events of Sept. 11 were the trigger that finally put the theory in action.

"That pulled the shades off the president's eyes very quickly," said Schmitt, who'd been unhappy with Bush's initial policies. "He came to the conclusion that the meaning of 9/11 was broader than a particular group of terrorists striking a particular group of cities."

The fact that many U.S. allies, particularly in western Europe, and millions of American citizens haven't reached the same conclusion seems to matter little as the war plan pushes forward.

A frustrated Lustick sees the war plan as the triumph of a simple ideology over the messy realities of global politics.

"This is not a war on fanatics," he said. "This is a war of fanatics - our fanatics."

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