The Project for the New American Century


“We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War.  … We urge you to seize that opportunity, and 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 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. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.”


Those words are taken from a letter written to President Clinton on 26 January 1998 (see here).  The letter is a key to understanding why the US/UK invaded Iraq in March 2003.


The letter was signed by a galaxy of people, many of whom became part of the Bush administration three years later.  These include Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of State for Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy, John Bolton and Richard Armitage, both in the State Department under Colin Powell, Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghani-American who is the President's envoy to the Iraqi opposition and Richard Perle, until recently chairman of the advisory Defense Policy Board.


The organisation behind the letter was a neo-conservative think tank, the modestly entitled Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which was formed in early 1997.  Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz were founder members, and so was vice-President Dick Cheney.


Lost opportunity

As its name implies, the PNAC was founded to establish and maintain US hegemony in the world.  Its founders believed that an opportunity had been lost at the end of the Cold War, when the US became by default the world’s only superpower.  Then, instead of maintaining or increasing military expenditure to enhance US dominance, and deter rivals, military expenditure was reduced.


When Cheney was Defense Secretary during the presidency of Bush senior, Wolfowitz was his number three.  In 1992, just before Bush senior was defeated by Clinton, Wolfowitz wrote a document mildly titled Defense Planning Guidance, which sought to “set the nation’s direction for the next century”.  The document envisaged a new world order in which the authority of US would be unchallenged, and unchallengeable.  It said that the US must “maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role”, including Germany and Japan.  It contemplated the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons pre-emptively “even in conflicts that do not directly engage US interests”.


Wolfowitz’s document did not become official policy in 1992.  Its basic message of US world hegemony was leaked (presumably by somebody in the Pentagon who didn’t like its message).  And when the message was attacked as the work of “cold warriors”, who wanted to keep up defence expenditure, the Bush senior administration backed away from the blunt language.  But the message didn’t die, and the believers around Wolfowitz went on to found the Project for the New American Century five years later.


The following is an extract from its founding principles:


“As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s most preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievement of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?


“[What we require is] 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.”


Pax Americana

In September 2000, the Wolfowitz vision of 1992 saw the light of day again in the form of a report by the PNAC called Rebuilding America’s Defenses, Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century.  Its conclusions begin:


This report proceeds from the belief that America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces. Today, the United States has an unprecedented strategic opportunity.  It faces no immediate great-power challenge; it is blessed with wealthy, powerful and democratic allies in every part of the world; it is in the midst of the longest economic expansion in its history; and its political and economic principles are almost universally embraced. At no time in history has the international security order been as conducive to American interests and ideals. The challenge for the coming century is to preserve and enhance this ‘American peace’.


“Yet unless the United States maintains sufficient military strength, this opportunity will be lost. And in fact, over the past decade, the failure to establish a security strategy responsive to new realities and to provide adequate resources for the full range of missions needed to exercise U.S. global leadership has placed the American peace at growing risk. This report attempts to define those requirements.”


The context of this was a marked decline in defence expenditure as a proportion of GDP at the end of the presidency of Bush senior, and further decline under Clinton, so that in 2000 the US was spending less than 3% of GDP on defence, a lower proportion than at any time since before World War II.  The report envisaged an increase in defence spending substantially to 3.5-3.8% of GDP.


The report proposed a revolution in US military capabilities, including global missile defence “to provide a secure basis for U.S. power projection around the world” and the creation of a new service – US Space Forces – with the mission of space control.  This “process of transformation … is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”, it said. 


A few months after this was published, George W Bush became President with Dick Cheney as his vice-President.  Earlier in 2000, he had appointed Cheney to be chairman of the committee to select his vice-presidential candidate – and the committee proposed Cheney.  After the presidential election, and while the wrangling was going on about the result, he made Cheney responsible for putting together an administration.  It is hardly a coincidence that the senior figures in the State Department, apart from Colin Powell, and in the Defense Department (and in the White House itself) are all associates of Cheney from the PNAC: John Bolton and Richard Armitage in the State Department and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz in the Pentagon (and the advisory Defense Policy Board appointed by Rumsfeld is packed with them).


Before the year was out on 11 September 2001, “a new Pearl Harbor” did indeed occur.  Its occurrence has played a part in getting the PNAC’s ambitions adopted as US policy.  The new US National Security Strategy published in September 2002, bears a striking resemblance to the PNAC vision, calling, as it does, for the permanent maintenance of US hegemony:


“Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States”.


What Bush senior backed away from in 1992 was, post 9/11, accepted by his son in 2003, and steps have been taken to make it a reality through vast increases in defence expenditure.


Regime change in Iraq

From their formation, the PNAC were very active on the issue of Iraq, which they regarded as the first test for their goal of enforcing a Pax Americana around the globe.  If America couldn’t make a state like Iraq, weakened by war and economic sanctions, do its bidding, there was no hope for grander things.


So, they set about the extraordinary task of getting Congress to legislate to make the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Baghdad the official policy of the US.  This task, spearheaded by Donald Rumsfeld, bore fruit when Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, which in Section 3 states:


It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”


Clinton later signed it into law.  Thus was the idea of “liberating” Iraq born.


The Act also authorised the President to provide arms and military training up to value of $97m to “Iraqi democratic opposition organizations” designated under the Section 5 of the Act:


“The President is authorized to direct the drawdown of defense articles from the stocks of the Department of Defense, defense services of the Department of Defense, and military education and training for such organizations” (Section 4(a)(2)(A))


Clinton gave limited assistance to the Iraqi National Congress (INC) under the Act.


Bush presidency

Little was heard of “liberating” Iraq in the early months of the Bush presidency.  But 9/11 provided an opportunity to get the issue off the backburner, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.  It is said that at a council of war in the White House the next day Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz proposed military action to remove Saddam Hussein.  A week later on 20 September 2001, a PNAC sponsored letter to the President certainly did:


“We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein ‘is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….’ 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. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.”


Over the next 12 months, the prospect of a US-led war to change the regime in Baghdad grew.


Then, in an attempt to build an international coalition to increase domestic support for the war, Bush took the matter to the UN Security Council, making it clear that if the Council endorsed his war, that would be fine, but if it didn’t he would go ahead anyway.  For UN purposes, the rhetoric had to be changed from “liberating” Iraq through regime change to enforcing Security Council resolutions on disarmament, with the theoretical possibility that Saddam Hussein would remain in power.


As people who resent US policy being “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council”, to quote from their letter to Clinton in January 1998, the PNAC members of the administration were far from keen on this turn of events.  For the moment, they had to button their lips about “liberating” Iraq, and wait for the charade at the UN to be played out.


Charade it has been in the sense the UN Security Council was not going to be allowed to determine if the US (with the UK in its wake) would take armed action against Iraq.  The US, and the US alone, was going to decide that, and once the US had decided, the UK would follow.  So it has turned out in practice.


But the charade has not been without negative effects for the US/UK: it stimulated unprecedented popular opposition to the war, and to the US/UK, across the world, with consequences that will, hopefully, be with us for years to come.  Had Iraq been invaded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 without recourse to the UN, as proposed by the PNAC, none of this would have happened.



Labour & Trade Union Review

June 2003