(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of investigative reports on the influence of a web of right-wing organizations and individuals–chiefly associated with the Project for the New American Century–in setting radical new directions in U.S. foreign and military policy.)
In defiance of world opinion and the UN Security Council–but with the support of the U.S. Congress–the Bush administration invaded Iraq in March 2003. A year later it’s still too soon to evaluate the success of the mission.
A few quick judgments, though, certainly can be made. The “liberation” was not the cakewalk that Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz had predicted, and the promised liberation has turned into a woeful occupation. Moreover, regime change and preventive war in Iraq cannot be chalked up as victories in the administration’s much-vaunted war on terrorism. Before the invasion there existed no ties between the Hussein government and the al Qaeda terrorist network, but a year of U.S. occupation has sparked a wave of anti-American Islamic militancy in Iraq. Osama bin Laden and his terrorist band were never favored or sheltered by the secular Ba’athist regime in Iraq, and bin Laden remains at large. Meanwhile, the Taliban and its ilk are resurgent in occupied Afghanistan.
What’s less clear is to what degree the regime change in Iraq has furthered the Bush administration’s larger mission of restructuring the Middle East in ways that further U.S. and Israeli national interests, as defined by the hard-liners and ideologues in both nations. An overly narrow focus on the missteps and misadventures in the political quicksand of Iraq misses what administration officials and neoconservative polemicists call “the big picture.”
In speeches at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 2003, President Bush sketched out an interventionist foreign and military policy in the Middle East. This new policy, according to the president, is a “forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East,” which he describes as “the calling of our time, the calling of our country.” The president’s “axis of evil” and “global democratic revolution” formulations of the complexities of international affairs closely reflect the views of neocon ideologues and their institutions. But the details of this ambitious regional agenda, together with its ideological and political backdrop come into sharp relief in the operations of such neocon-driven front groups as the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon, the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, and, of course, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).
Victory or Holocaust In the aftermath of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the attention of the world was fixed on Afghanistan, where the Taliban government had provided shelter for Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. But in the right-wing think tanks and policy institutes, most of the specific policy discussion focused on formulating a “regime change” strategy for Iran, Syria, and Iraq and on bolstering U.S. support for the Likud government of Ariel Sharon in Israel–all as part of an overall strategy to restructure the Middle East in line with U.S. and Israeli interests.
In late 2001, PNAC’s Middle East Initiative director, Reuel Marc Gerecht, also an American Enterprise Institute fellow, described the desired regional strategy, “If President Bush follows his own logic and compels his administration to follow him against Iraq and Iran, then he will sow the seeds for a new, safer, more liberal order in the Middle East.”
Another AEI scholar and founding director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), Michael Ledeen, echoed this new right-wing interventionism in his book The War Against the Terror Masters: “The awesome power of a free society committed to a single mission is something [our enemies] cannot imagine. … Our unexpectedly quick and impressive victory in Afghanistan is a prelude to a much broader war, which will in all likelihood transform the Middle East for at least a generation, and reshape the politics of many countries around the world.” 1
The country-specific details and the ideological and political backdrop of this transformative foreign policy agenda are clearly delineated by several neocon analysts besides Ledeen. PNAC’s cofounders William Kristol and Robert Kagan have repeatedly stressed the moral rationale for remaking the Middle East as part of the global democratic revolution of the new American century. PNAC’s two policy blueprints–Present Dangers and Rebuilding America’s Defenses–both of which were published during the 2000 electoral campaign and charted the foreign and military policy course that the Bush administration has followed.
A more recent articulation of the neocon global strategy is found in a new book, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, by AEI fellows Richard Perle and David Frum. Billed as a “manual for victory” in the war on terror, the book suggests “reinvigorating homeland security with a new security agency; waging a global campaign against the terrorist ideology.” Among the book’s proposals are: funneling U.S. aid to Iranian dissidents to help them overthrow their government; promoting the secession of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province; and rejecting the jurisdiction of the United Nations Charter, unless it is modified to accommodate the doctrine of preemption. According to Frum and Perle, militant Islam has replaced communism as the main threat to U.S. and global security. “There is no middle way for Americans,” they write. “It is victory or holocaust.”
First Stop: Baghdad The first stop on the neocon crusade of liberation, democratization, and political realignment in the oil-rich Middle East was Iraq . It was considered to be the most vulnerable target–one whose leader the American public and policy community would most eagerly support Washington deposing. To ensure that the administration would not be swayed by the arguments of State Department “Arabists” or Republican Party leaders such as Brent Scowcroft or James Baker, who cautioned against a unilateral policy of successive regime changes, the hawks and neoconservatives stepped up their pressure. PNAC served as their umbrella organization, allowing a determined faction of the foreign policy elite to transform the war on terrorism into a total restructuring of the Middle East .
While neocon institutes such as PNAC and AEI were laying out the overall agenda, the specific targets of the neocon transformative strategy have been developed by region- and country-focused front groups created and led by neoconservatives. One of the most successful neocon groups was the U.S. Committee on NATO, directed by Bruce Jackson. Other board members included Randy Scheunemann, Julie Finley, and Gary Schmitt, who like Jackson have been tangled with three other organizations: the Project on Transitional Democracies, the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, and the Project for the New American Century. Both the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and the Project on Transitional Democracies were PNAC spin-offs.
Neocon Middle East Roadmap Because of Jackson’s success at the U.S. Committee on NATO in corralling bipartisan support to usher Central and East European nations into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Bush administration tapped Jackson to help build bipartisan support for the Iraq invasion.
Bruce Jackson, who sits on PNAC’s five-member board of directors and was until 2002 Lockheed Martin’s director of strategic planning, was the point man in establishing the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI) in November 2002. By Jackson’s account, the current administration encouraged him to set up CLI. “People in the White House said, ‘We need you to do for Iraq what you did for NATO’,” Jackson asserted. 2 (See sidebar: The NATO Expansion Lobby.)
Bruce Jackson left Lockheed in 2002 to dedicate himself fulltime to “promoting democracy in a united Europe.” But Jackson remained a board member of PNAC while broadening his declared commitment to democratization in the Middle East . As one of the founders of CLI, Jackson works closely with Randy Scheunemann who also sits on PNAC’s board of directors.
One of the reasons that CLI was so successful in creating a bipartisan base of support for the Iraq invasion was its insistence that the invasion would be more than a military operation and would demonstrate Washington’s commitment to democratization and human rights. The CLI committed itself to “work beyond the liberation of Iraq to the reconstruction of its economy and the establishment of political pluralism, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.” In its mission statement, the committee vowed that it would “engage in educational and advocacy efforts to mobilize U.S. and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein and freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny.” 3
The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq was the quintessential modern front group, built on a diverse membership, international connections, a broad and unifying statement of purpose, and internal disciplines. Scheunemann, CLI’s executive director, was like Jackson a board member of the U.S. Committee on NATO; and he was at the core of the early efforts in Congress and within the Republican Party to support the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Almed Chalabi, INC’s chieftain, was a wealthy Iraqi expatriate who gained favor with neocons and hawks during the 1990s but was distrusted by the State Department and the CIA. In his position as national security adviser to Senator Trent Lott, Scheunemann had drafted numerous legislative bills shaping Washington’s Iraq policy. One of these bills, the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, authorized $98 million to the INC–funds that were never fully disbursed by the Clinton administration, partly because of serious infighting within the INC.
Most CLI board members were prominent neocons, such as Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, William Kristol, and Joshua Muravchik. 4 But the success of the CLI as a front group stemmed from its ability to incorporate Democrats and Republicans outside the politically incestuous circle of neocons, including former Senator Bob Kerrey, former Congressman Steve Solarz, Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute (an offshoot of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council), Sen. John McCain, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and former Secretary of State George Shultz, who served as honorary chairman of the CLI advisory board.
Like most front groups, the CLI was a transitory political project that faded as soon as the invasion was launched–despite its professed mission of working beyond the “liberation” to ensure the reconstruction, democratization, and institution of the rule of law in Iraq. For CLI organizers, the toppling of the Hussein regime constituted, as President Bush declared on May 1, 2003, evidence of a “mission accomplished.” Thus, the attention of the new crusaders turned to Iran, Lebanon, and Syria, while talk continued about restructuring Saudi Arabia and the Muslim nations of North Africa. Two months prior to the Iraq invasion, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton, an early associate of PNAC and a former AEI vice president, traveled to Jerusalem to meet with Ariel Sharon. Bolton promised Sharon that the Iraq offensive would be just the first of the disarmament wars, declaring that “it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran, and North Korea afterwards.” 5
On to Damascus Visions of regime change in Iran and Syria preoccupy Middle East experts at the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. In early May 2003, Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute, the convener of an AEI forum on Iran, alerted the administration and Congress that Iran should be the next target of the war on terrorism’s Operation Enduring Freedom–the Pentagon’s name for its first antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan. “Our fight against Iraq was only a battle in a long war,” the Israeli-born Wurmser asserted. “It would be ill-conceived to think we can deal with Iraq alone. We must move on, and faster,” she insisted.
Amid much controversy President Bush appointed Daniel Pipes, the founder and director of the Middle East Forum, to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace during the summer 2003 congressional recess. According to MEF’s mission statement, this pro-Likud Party policy institute was established to support closer U.S. ties with Israel and Turkey and policies that ensure a “stable supply and low price of oil.” In 2000 Pipes, son of the anti-Soviet crusader Richard Pipes (who was both a Team B and Committee on the Present Danger member in mid-1970s), coauthored a jingoistic report with Ziad Abdelnour, director of the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL), advocating U.S. military action to force Syria out of Lebanon and to disarm Syria of its alleged weapons of mass destruction. 6
Virtually all 31 signatories of the MEF report, which was used to persuade Congress to introduce and pass the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act in 2003, were USCFL members, and several became high officials or advisers in the Bush foreign policy team, including Elliott Abrams, Paula Dobriansky, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser. Other high-profile USCFL members who signed the report demanding that Washington confront Syria included Frank Gaffney, director of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), and David Steinman and Michael Ledeen of the Jewish Institute for Security Affairs (JINSA). Passed in the House of Representatives on October 15, 2003, and signed by President Bush on December 12, 2003, the act enumerated several reasons–support for terrorism, possession of weapons of mass destruction, and harboring Iraqi Ba’athists–that laid the groundwork to justify another “regime change” invasion in the region. The appointment of David Wurmser, a longtime advocate of U.S. military action against Syria, to the staff of Vice President Cheney in September 2003 was widely regarded as another signal that the U.S. regional restructuring crusade might soon be taking the road to Damascus.
The U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon is the self-proclaimed “cyber-center for Pro-Lebanon Activism.”7 Like Ahmad Chalabi, who founded the Iraqi National Congress, the USCFL’s Ziad Abdelnour is a wealthy, exiled investment banker who seems set on currying favor among the U.S. policy elite hoping for a regime change in Syria and another round of political upheaval in Lebanon. 8
No More Schmoozing with the Mullahs Even before the invasion plans were finalized, several neocons associated with the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq created a new “war party” calling for the U.S. government to support regime change in Iran. Cofounded by Michael Ledeen and Morris Amitay, the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI) is yet another one of the neocon front groups pressuring the U.S. public and government into supporting policies that aim to radically alter the political landscape of the Middle East. 9 Other prominent neocons joining Ledeen and Amitay in CDI are James Woolsey, Joshua Muravchik, Jack Kemp, and Frank Gaffney. 10
Ledeen, Amitay, and several other CDI members are also associates of the Jewish Institute for Security Affairs and the Center for Security Policy. Amitay, the former director of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, shares Ledeen’s scorn for the State Department, where the prevailing mind-set is that there is “no tyrannical regime [that] can’t be made a friend by showing our good will.” 11 CDI’s founders and associates form part of a tight circle of neocon groups closely allied with militarists in Israel. Ledeen, one of the colorful and shadowy figures in the neocon web, believes that the “appeasers” in Congress and the State Department stand in the way of regime change in Iran. A longtime critic of Colin Powell and other Republican realpolitikers, Ledeen charged that the appeasers in Washington “prefer to schmooze with the mullahs" than to promote “democratic revolution in Iran ” supported by U.S. aid and military action. 12
Michael Ledeen, the neoconservative point man on regime change in Iran (and in Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia), is apparently capable of viewing diplomacy only through the barrel of a gun. In a November 2003 article for the National Review Online, Ledeen argued that the “appeasers” in Congress and the State Department "don’t want to know about Iran, because if they did, they would be driven to take actions that they do not want to take. They would have to support democratic revolution in Iran.” Ledeen concludes, "I guess some top official will have to die at the hands of (obviously) Iranian-supported terrorists before the Pentagon is permitted to work on the subject." 13
In keeping with the regime change agendas set forth in PNAC’s Present Dangers, CDI believes that a policy attempting to engage the reformist administration of Mohammad Khatami in Iran is essentially counterproductive appeasement, not constructive engagement. It recommends that any positive gesture toward Iran “should be directed towards the people of Iran and not its current oppressive regime.” 14 An early CDI objective was to arrange for right-wing congressional members to introduce the Iran Freedom and Democracy Support Act in May 2003, which called for the authorization of $50 million to fund opposition groups dedicated to overthrowing the Islamic regime. The proposed act received the immediate support of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
But just who are these Iranian opposition groups? They are not the students and other prodemocracy demonstrators within Iran, who would likely reject U.S. assistance in light of the long history of antidemocratic U.S. intervention in the region. Today’s reformers inside Iran may well recall the CIA’s Iranian regime change in 1953, which rid the country of a democratic nationalist, Mohammed Mossadeq, and replaced him with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Fifty years later, CDI believes that the deceased shah’s son, also Reza Pahlavi, might be just the ticket to replace the Islamic political elite and to preside over further “democratization” in Iran, aided by Iranian militias previously backed by the Saddam Hussein regime. These are the new “freedom fighters” that some CDI supporters say will usher in a pro-U.S. regime in Iran. 15
President Bush’s decision in mid-2002 to break off talks with the democratically elected Mohammad Khatami, whose political power is severely limited by the mullahs’ determination to maintain Iran as a theocratic state, heartened the neoconservatives who formed the CDI later that year. In the summer of 2003 the Iran Freedom and Democracy Support Act, which among other things called for a tightening of the trade embargo against Iran , received overwhelming bipartisan support. Although it did not authorize funding for exiled opposition groups, its sponsors, such as Rep. Christopher Cox and other associates of the Center for Security Policy, promised that funding would be forthcoming as part of future spending bills. The U.S. Senate passed a similar resolution–cosponsored by such right-wing senators as Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Jon Kyle (R-Ariz.), and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and a few Democrats, including Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and New York ‘s Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Most Middle East experts regard the idea of a preventive war against Iran as folly given the strength of Iran ‘s armed forces and the deeply rooted anti-American sentiments of Iranian society. In the event of such a war, the “coalition of the willing” would likely attract fewer partners than did the Iraq War and occupation, since Iran is not an aggressor nation, has demonstrated a willingness to cooperate with UN inspectors, and has close economic ties with many nations, including Russia and the European Union countries. What’s more, there is little evidence to support CDI’s claims that Iran has a “preeminent role in global terrorism” or that it is developing “far-reaching and accurate delivery systems” for deploying weapons of mass destruction. 16
But the lack of hard evidence that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction or had close ties with international terrorist networks proved no obstacle to advancing the long-held neocon vision of occupying Iraq. With their front groups in place for regime change in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, and having secured bipartisan support for their democratization resolutions, the neocons are leading the nation down the same path that has led to quagmire in Iraq.
(Read the sidebar to this article, The NATO Expansion Lobby, at rightweb.irc-online.org/rw/765.)
- Michael Ledeen, The War Against the Terror Masters (New York: St. Martin’s Press, January 2002). Gerecht was quoted in a book promotion by American Enterprise Institute.
- “Bruce Jackson,” Right Web Profile (Somerville, and Albuquerque, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, November 2003); John B. Judis, “Minister Without Portfolio,” The American Prospect, May 2003, at: http://www.prospect.org/print-friendly/print/V14/5/judis-j.html . Founded as the U.S. Committee to Expand NATO, the name of the committee was later changed to the U.S. Committee on NATO. The committee was apparently disbanded in early 2004 after the U.S. Senate approved the accession of seven Vilnius 10 nations.
- Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, “Mission Statement,” November 2002.
- Other CLI neocons included Eliot Cohen, Thomas Dine, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Bernard Lewis, Danielle Pletka, Ruth Wedgwood, Leon Wieseltier, and James Woolsey. The names of all the CLI members can be found at www.endthewar.og/whoiscli3.htm. The official listing on CLI’s now-terminated web site: www.liberationiraq.org/committee_officers.shtml.
- Ian Williams, “The Road to Damascus,” FPIF Commentary, Foreign Policy In Focus, November 24, 2003.
- Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role? ( Washington, DC: Middle East Forum, 2000) at: www.meforum.org/press/440.
Also see Jim Lobe, “Calls to Attack Syria Come from a Familiar Choir of Hawks,” FPIF Commentary, Foreign Policy In Focus, April 16, 2003.
- Tom Barry, “Neocons’ Iraq Strategy Now Focused on Syria,” Right Web Analysis, March 8, 2004, at: https://rightweb.irc-online.org/analysis/2004/0403syria.php
- A Golden Circle of supporters, each donating $1,000 or more, include Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Eleana Benador, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, David Steinmann, and Daniel Pipes.
- Jim Lobe, "Veteran Neocon Advisor Moves on Iran," Asia Times, June 26, 2003, online at: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EF26Ak03.html
- Other CDI supporters listed on the front group’s website http://www.c-d-i.org/supporters.shtml are: AEI’s Danielle Pletka, Raymond Tanter, and Rob Sobhani, an Iranian expatriate who is president of the consulting firm Caspian Energy.
- Transcript of "The Future of Iran," American Enterprise Institute conference, May 6, 2003, at: http://www.aei.org/events/filter.,eventID.300/transcript.asp
- Michael Ledeen, "Unpunished Failure," National Review Online, November 3, 2003, at: http://www.nationalreview.com/ledeen/ledeen200311030801.asp
- “Michael Ledeen” Right Web Profile, December 2003, at: https://rightweb.irc-online.org/ind/ledeen/ledeen.php
- Coalition for Democracy in Iran, “Statement of Goals,” at: http://www.c-d-i.org/index.shtml.
- Michael Ledeen, “Back the Freedom Fighters,” Washington Post, June 23, 2003; Geneive Abdo, “Stay Out of Iran,” Washington Post, June 22, 2003.
- Coalition for Democracy in Iran, “Statement of Goals,” at: http://www.c-d-i.org/index.shtml.
Tom Barry is Policy Director of the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC), online at: www.irc-online.org.
For More Information Tom Barry, "Neocon Philosophy of Intelligence Led to Iraq War,” Chronicles of the New American Century, No. 1, Right Web, online at: https://rightweb.irc-online.org/analysis/2004/0402pi.php