The Role of Neoconservatives in Shaping U.S. Policy


[Reprinted from American Muslim Magazine]


Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.


March 21, 2003 was a remarkable day in the history of American media coverage of the forging of American foreign policy.  Exhilarated by the apparent progress of the war on Iraq, the Wall Street Journal, one of the most open advocates of the Neoconservative goal to make America the new Roman Empire, guardian of a Pax Americana, dropped the protestations and in a front page article credited the Neoconservatives and the Israelis for the vision leading to the pending success in Iraq. (Except where otherwise noted, all quotes here are taken from that article, “A New Mideast—President's Dream: Changing Not Just Regime but a Region—A Pro-U.S., Democratic Area Is a Goal That Has Israeli And Neoconservative Roots—Risk of Inflaming Palestinians,” by Robert S. Greenberger and Karby Leggett.)


Until then, public mention of the fact that a handful of neoconservatives were the source of the pressure within the Bush administration for a war on Iraq was contemptuously dismissed by the major media. Any mention of the fact that they were following a policy recommendation suggested in Richard Perle’s 1996 letter “to then newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ... replacing Mr. Hussein with Jordan's King Hussein as part of an audacious plan to strengthen Israel” was sneered at as smacking of anti-Semitism.  (Tellingly, no neoconservative sees anything anti-Semitic in bombing of Semitic Arabs of Iraq.)


In 1998, Perle’s signature along with seventeen others appeared on a letter on the same theme as his earlier one. This letter, sent to then President William Clinton, was assembled by Gary Schmitt, a former intelligence officer and then director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC, which at the time “had only one full-time staffer and an intern”). It asserted, “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.... In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.”


Nine of the signatories on the PNAC letter “took important jobs in the new Bush administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; two top State Department officials, Richard Armitage and John Bolton; and Elliott Abrams, now the National Security Council's top Mideast official.”


The facility with which these forces within the Administration were able to effectuate the invasion of Iraq was remarkable. If it is true, as it is often said, that “democracies do not attack democracies,” the reason must lie elsewhere than in the democratic checks and balances so easily bypassed, not only in the case of Iraq, but in the invasions of Korea and Vietnam. All these were conducted without so much as the formality of a declaration of war required by the Constitution. Even in the case of the Mexican War, the ease with which President Polk was able to obtain a declaration of war from Congress prompted Henry David Thoreau to remark, in his famous essay on civil disobedience, that the American government “has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will.” In any case, the idea that a truly democratic Iraq would be more favorably disposed towards Israel than Iraq under Saddam is not credible.  


Daniel Pipes, incongruously nominated for appointment to a position with the U.S. Institute for Peace, has criticized President’ Bush’s prudent attempts to distinguish mainstream Muslims and Islam from terrorists. In the November 2001 issue of the neoconservative journal Commentary Pipes wrote that “the major Muslim organizations in this country are in the hands of extremists.” The architects of the new imperium have a number of reasons for declaring Islam and Muslims (even secular ones like the Baathists) to be the enemy in what former CIA head R. James Woolsey has called World War IV. It is not just that the Islamic revival is a serious threat to Israel (although most Israelis believe Jewish religionists form a greater threat to that state). The neoconservatives have plenty of plums to offer their various other allies. For the Christian Fundamentalists, they are not only defending a strong Israel that can play its part in the Armageddon that will bring back Jesus (pbuh), but they are providing an opportunity to missionaries who demonize Islam (e.g., Franklin Graham) to go into Iraq (and countries yet to be invaded) and save the souls of the Muslims. For the cold warriors, they have provided a new global enemy to justify perpetuation and expansion of the military-industrial complex. For the oil industry they promise control over resources that might otherwise go to those “cowardly” Europeans who ineffectually attempt to stand in the way of American hegemony.  To their friends at Halliburton (and their ilk) they offer lucrative contracts to “rebuild” Iraq—and the rest of the Muslim world. (Like protagonist in Tom Lehrer’s song “The Old Dope Peddler,” the folks at Dick Cheney’s former company expect to be “doing well by doing good.”) And, to the CIA, the FBI, and the Justice Department they offer the rationale for further eroding American civil liberties and the constitutional protections that stand between the American people and a police state.


The debate among the neoconservatives is not whether to extend the Iraqi policy to other Muslim states, but in what order the targets should be arranged. For the Muslims such policies promise nothing but further vilification, persecution and warfare. For the United States of America they offer to convert the greatest republic in history into an empire and to lead it down the path of decline and fall taken by Rome when it made the same tragic turn.