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Neoconservative publisher and pundit William Kristol writes a five-page memo explaining why and how Republicans can ensure the Clinton administration’s health care proposal fails. The memo warns that if the Clinton health care plan is implemented, and actually improves the lives of Americans, the success of the program would badly damage the Republican Party by improving Americans’ relationship with government. Therefore, the plan must be stopped before it can begin. The memo’s strategy will be used in the powerful “Harry and Louise” media campaign, based on TV commercials featuring an older couple who worry that the program would destroy their relationships with their family doctor. Kristol writes in part: “Passage of the Clinton health care plan, in any form, would guarantee and likely make permanent an unprecedecented federal intrusion into and disruption of the American economy—and the establishment of the largest federal entitlement program since Social Security. It’s [sic] success would signal a rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment we have begun rolling back that idea in other areas.… The long term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse—much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependency for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.… Its rejection by Congress and the public would be a monumental setback for the president, and an incontestable piece of evidence that Democratic welfare-state liberalism remains firmly in retreat.” In 2009, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent will note: “Here’s what’s striking about this. Kristol repeatedly says defeating Clinton on health care would deal a death knell to something that at the time already appeared on its way towards extinction—the ‘welfare-state,’ or the idea that government can improve the lives of the middle class. Kristol describes this idea as ‘firmly in retreat,’ in the process of being ‘rolled back,’ in need of ‘re-legitimizing.’ At the time the defeat of health care was viewed as a potential final victory over liberalism.” (Plum Line 3/2/2009; Smith 3/2/2009; Sargent 3/2/2009)
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States (see July 8-10, 1996), US neoconservatives mount an orchestrated push for war against Iraq and an overall reshaping of the Middle East (see July 8, 1996). At first, the offensive takes place in the pages of US newspapers and magazines. William Kristol and Robert Kagan write articles for the magazines Foreign Policy and the Weekly Standard; syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and A. M. Rosenthal use their columns to push the idea; Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz pen op-eds for the Washington Post; “Clean Break” co-author David Wurmser writes op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and publishes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he proposes that the US use its military to literally redraw the map of the Middle East (see Late Summer 1996). Neoconservatives are transforming Christian evangelicals’ argument that Americans are God’s “chosen people” into secular terms, and argue in their op-eds and articles that it is, in author Craig Unger’s words, the US’s “moral duty to project that greatness throughout the world—using American military power, if necessary.” (Unger 2007, pp. 148-149)
The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter to President Clinton urging war against Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein because he is a “hazard” to “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil.” In a foretaste of what eventually happens, the letter calls for the US to go to war alone, attacks the United Nations, and says the US should not be “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” The letter is signed by many who will later lead the 2003 Iraq war. 10 of the 18 signatories later join the Bush Administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Paula Dobriansky, presidential adviser for the Middle East Elliott Abrams, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, and George W. Bush’s special Iraq envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Other signatories include William Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Peter Rodman, William Schneider, Vin Weber, and James Woolsey. (Project for the New American Century 1/26/1998; Mackay 3/16/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 158) Clinton does heavily bomb Iraq in late 1998, but the bombing doesn’t last long and its long term effect is the break off of United Nations weapons inspections. (Weisman 3/23/2003) The PNAC neoconservatives do not seriously expect Clinton to attack Iraq in any meaningful sense, author Craig Unger will observe in 2007. Instead, they are positioning themselves for the future. “This was a key moment,” one State Department official will recall. “The neocons were maneuvering to put this issue in play and box Clinton in. Now, they could draw a dichotomy. They could argue to their next candidate, ‘Clinton was weak. You must be strong.’” (Unger 2007, pp. 158)
The Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG), a bipartisan group made up largely of foreign policy specialists, sends an “Open Letter to the President” calling for President Clinton to use the US military to help Iraqi opposition groups overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a US-friendly government. US law forbids such an operation. The group is led by, among others, former Representative Stephen Solarz (D-NY) and prominent Bush adviser Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense.
Largely Neoconservative in Makeup - Many of its co-signers will become the core of the Bush administration’s neoconservative-driven national security apparatus. These co-signers include Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Stephen Bryen, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Fred Ikle, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis, Peter Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, Gary Schmitt, Max Singer, Casper Weinberger, Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser, and Dov Zakheim. (CNN 2/20/1998; Lang 6/2004) The CPSG is closely affiliated with both the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see June 3, 1997 and January 26, 1998) and the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), both of which boast Perle as a powerful and influential member. Jim Lobe of the Project Against the Present Danger later learns that the CPSG is funded in large part by a sizable grant from the right-wing Bradley Foundation, a key funding source for both the PNAC and the AEI. According to Counterpunch’s Kurt Nimmo, the plan for overthrowing Iraq later adopted by the Bush administration, and currently advocated by the CPSG, will be echoed in the PNAC’s September 2000 document, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (see September 2000). (Nimmo 11/19/2002)
Advocates Supporting Iraq-Based Insurgency - The letter reads in part: “Despite his defeat in the Gulf War, continuing sanctions, and the determined effort of UN inspectors to root out and destroy his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein has been able to develop biological and chemical munitions.… This poses a danger to our friends, our allies, and to our nation.… In view of Saddam Hussein’s refusal to grant UN inspectors the right to conduct unfettered inspections of those sites where he is suspected of storing his still significant arsenal of chemical and biological munitions and his apparent determination never to relinquish his weapons of mass destruction, we call upon President Clinton to adopt and implement a plan of action designed to finally and fully resolve this utterly unacceptable threat to our most vital national interests.” The plan is almost identical to the “End Game” scenario proposed in 1993 (see November 1993) and carried out, without success, in 1995 (see March 1995). It is also virtually identical to the “Downing Plan,” released later in 1998 (see Late 1998). In 2004, then-Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will observe, “The letter was remarkable in that it adopted some of the very formulations that would later be used by Vice President [Dick] Cheney and other current administration officials to justify the preventive war in Iraq that commenced on March 20, 2003” (see March 19, 2003). The CPSG advocates:
US support for Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) as the provisional government to replace Hussein’s dictatorship;
Funding the INC with seized Iraqi assets, designating areas in the north and south as INC-controlled zones, and lifting sanctions in those areas;
Providing any ground assault by INC forces (see October 31, 1998) with a “systematic air campaign” by US forces;
Prepositioning US ground force equipment “so that, as a last resort, we have the capacity to protect and assist the anti-Saddam forces in the northern and southern parts of Iraq”;
Bringing Hussein before an international tribunal on war crimes charges.
Carrying out these actions, Solarz says, would completely eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction that he claims Iraq owns. (Abrams et al. 2/19/1998; CNN 2/20/1998; Lang 6/2004)
The Project for a New American Century publishes an open letter to President Clinton urging him put an end to diplomatic efforts attempting to resolve the situation in the Balkans. Instead, they argue, he should take “decisive action” against the Serbs. The US must “distance itself from Milosevic and actively support in every way possible his replacement by a democratic government committed to ending ethnic violence,” the group writes. (Century 9/11/1998)
Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) The eight are:
Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” (Dean 11/7/2003; Carter 2004, pp. 269)
The American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC) is founded by Freedom House. Its mission is to promote a “peaceful resolution of the Russo-Chechen war.” Board members include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Steven J. Solarz, and Max Kampelman. ACPC’s regular members include Richard Perle; Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, Midge Decter, Frank Gaffney, Bruce Jackson, Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, James Woolsey, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, among others. The APC is closely tied to the American Enterprise Institute and the Jamestown Foundation and National Endowment for Democracy and other US democratization initiatives. (Laughland 9/8/2004; American Committee for Peace in Chechnya 11/15/2005)
The neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century writes a “blueprint” for the “creation of a ‘global Pax Americana’” (see June 3, 1997). The document, titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, was written for the George W. Bush team even before the 2000 presidential election. It was written for future Vice President Cheney, future Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, future Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Florida Governor and Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, and Cheney’s future chief of staff Lewis Libby. (Project for the New American Century 9/2000, pp. iv and 51 )
Plans to Overthrow Iraqi Government - The report calls itself a “blueprint for maintaining global US preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.” The plan shows that the Bush team intends to take military control of Persian Gulf oil whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power and should retain control of the region even if there is no threat. It says: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” The report calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the internet, the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and other countries. It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool” (see February 7, 2003). (Project for the New American Century 9/2000 ; Mackay 9/7/2002)
Greater Need for US Role in Persian Gulf - PNAC states further: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
'US Space Forces,' Control of Internet, Subversion of Allies - PNAC calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the Internet, and the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran, and other countries.
Bioweapons Targeting Specific Genotypes 'Useful' - It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”
'A New Pearl Harbor' - However, PNAC complains that thes changes are likely to take a long time, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” (Johnson 1/12/2003)
Bush Will Claim a 'Humble' Foreign Policy Stance - One month later during a presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush will assert that he wants a “humble” foreign policy in the Middle East and says he is against toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of “nation building” (see October 11, 2000). Around the same time, Cheney will similarly defend Bush’s position of maintaining President Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” (Masters 1/12/2002) Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” (Unger 3/15/2004) A British member of Parliament will later say of the PNAC report, “This is a blueprint for US world domination—a new world order of their making. These are the thought processes of fantasist Americans who want to control the world.” (Mackay 9/7/2002) Both PNAC and its strategy plan for Bush are almost virtually ignored by the media until a few weeks before the start of the Iraq war (see February-March 20, 2003).
According to reporter and author Charlie Savage, the White House staff quickly coalesces into two camps: “Bush People[,] mostly personal friends of the new president who shared his inexperience in Washington,” which includes President Bush’s top legal counsels, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, both corporate lawyers in Texas before joining Bush in Washington. The second group is “Cheney People—allies from [Vice-President Dick] Cheney’s earlier stints in the federal government (see May 25, 1975, November 18, 1980, 1981-1992, 1989, and June 1996) who were deeply versed in Washington-level issues, a familiarity that would allow their views to dominate internal meetings. These included [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and other cabinet secretaries, key deputies throughout the administration, and David Addington, Cheney’s longtime aide who would become a chief architect of the administration’s legal strategy in the war on terrorism” (see July 1, 1992 and (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Savage will observe, “Given the stark contrast in experience between Cheney and Bush, it was immediately clear to observers of all political stripes that Cheney would possess far more power than had any prior vice president.”
'Unprecedented' Influence - Cheney will certainly have “unprecedented” influence, according to neoconservative publisher William Kristol, who himself had served as former Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. “The question to ask about Cheney,” Kristol will write, is “will he be happy to be a very trusted executor of Bush’s policies—a confidant and counselor who suggests personnel and perhaps works on legislative strategy, but who really doesn’t try to change Bush’s mind about anything? Or will he actually, substantively try to shape administration policy in a few areas, in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise be going?”
Expanding the Power of the Presidency - Cheney will quickly answer that question, Savage will write, by attempting to “expand the power of the presidency.” Savage will continue: “He wanted to reduce the authority of Congress and the courts and to expand the ability of the commander in chief and his top advisers to govern with maximum flexibility and minimum oversight. He hoped to enlarge a zone of secrecy around the executive branch, to reduce the power of Congress to restrict presidential action, to undermine limits imposed by international treaties, to nominate judges who favored a stronger presidency, and to impose greater White House control over the permanent workings of government. And Cheney’s vision of expanded executive power was not limited to his and Bush’s own tenure in office. Rather, Cheney wanted to permanently alter the constitutional balance of American government, establishing powers that future presidents would be able to wield as well.” (Savage 2007, pp. 7-9) Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say after leaving the administration: “We used to say about both [Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office] and the vice president’s office that they were going to win nine out of 10 battles, because they were ruthless, because they have a strategy, because they never, never deviate from that strategy. They make a decision, and they make it in secret, and they make it in a different way than the rest of the bureaucracy makes it, and then suddenly, foist it on the government—and the rest of the government is all confused.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299)
Signing Statements to Reshape Legislation, Expand Presidential Power - To that end, Cheney ensures that all legislation is routed through his office for review before it reaches Bush’s desk. Addington goes through every bill for any new provisions that conceivably might infringe on the president’s power as Addington interprets it, and drafts signing statements for Bush to sign. In 2006, White House counsel Bradford Berenson will reflect: “Signing statements unite two of Addington’s passions. One is executive power. And the other is the inner alleyways of bureaucratic combat. It’s a way to advance executive power through those inner alleyways.… So he’s a vigorous advocate of signing statements and including important objections in signing statements. Most lawyers in the White House regard the bill review process as a tedious but necessary bureaucratic aspect of the job. Addington regarded it with relish. He would dive into a 200-page bill like it was a four-course meal.” It will not be long before White House and Justice Department lawyers begin vetting legislation themselves, with Addington’s views in mind. “You didn’t want to miss something,” says a then-lawyer in the White House. (Savage 2007, pp. 236)
An orchestrated push in the media begins to make the case for the need to invade Iraq. The San Diego Union-Tribune reprints a Weekly Standard article by William Kristol and Robert Kagan that tells readers (after comparing President Bush favorably to Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry Truman, and lauding Bush’s “steely determination”) that US military action “could well be necessary to bring Saddam down.” They write: “At some point, Bush could well find himself confronted by an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction. During these past few years, it was relatively easy for congressional Republicans to call for arming and funding the Iraqi opposition. That remains a good idea. But the more sober of Bush’s advisers, like Robert Zoellick and Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and February 27, 2001), have recognized that this alone will not do the trick. Some use of American military force, both from the air and on the ground, could well be necessary to bring Saddam down, no matter how wonderfully the Iraqi opposition performs. Whether he chooses it or not, Bush may quickly be faced with the same decision his father had to make in 1990. He has in his cabinet at least one person who counseled inaction the last time [referring to Secretary of State Colin Powell]. If the crisis comes, Bush, like his father, will not be able to rely only on the judgment of the men and women around him: He will have to act from his own instincts and his own courage.” (Kagan and Kristol 1/22/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 206) In the coming weeks, an onslaught of print and television op-eds and commentaries, some from Bush administration officials, will advocate the overthrow of Hussein (see February 27, 2001, February 16, 2001, April 9, 2001, and July 30, 2001).
The final paragraph of Mike Allen’s Washington Post report on allegations of systematic White House vandalism carried out in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 26, 2001) states: “Some GOP officials are portraying the damage as a sordid coda to the Clinton years. A Bush campaign official said the White House staff and Secret Service agents welcomed the Bush entourage especially warmly on Saturday. Some of the kitchen staff hugged members of the Bush family, the official said, adding, ‘You could sense an attitude like, “Thank God you’re here.”’” (Allen 1/26/2001)
Skepticism of Allen's Reporting - Months later, skeptical Salon reporters Kerry Lauerman and Alicia Montgomery will observe of Allen’s report, “As if the portrait of Clinton’s staff members loading their pickups with White House valuables wasn’t enough, readers were treated to the heartwarming image of a service staff grateful that their rightful rulers had returned.”
Desired Effect? - Lauerman and Montgomery will report that Allen’s reporting, and the entire “vandal scandal,” apparently had its desired effect: a rise in positive media approaches to the incoming Bush administration paired with a final slap at the outgoing Clintons. Days after the Allen report, conservative media pundit and publisher William Kristol will tell Fox that the “vandal scandal” worked well for Bush and his conservative supporters: “It’s been really great for Bush to have people—and including many Gore voters, I think—just look up and think, ‘You know what? Maybe I didn’t want Bush to be president, but I am glad that Bill Clinton is gone.’” Lauerman and Alexander will write: “It couldn’t have gone better for members of the incoming Bush administration had they choreographed it themselves. And, in fact, they had” (see January 25, 2001). (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001)
The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter addressed to President Bush and signed by magazine publisher William Kristol, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle (see September 16, 2001), and 38 other neoconservatives and hardliners. It is reprinted by Kristol’s Weekly Standard shortly thereafter. The authors threaten to brand Bush as a “wimp,” guilty of “surrender in the war on international terrorism” if he fails to carry out their demand to make “a determined effort” to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the [9/11] attack[s].” (Project for the New American Century 9/20/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 28) Any failure to attack Iraq, the authors say, “will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.” Invading Iraq is not their only demand. To retain their support, the letter reads, Bush must also target the terror organization Hezbollah for eradication, and retaliate against Syria and Iran if they do not break their ties with Hezbollah. The letter calls Israel “America’s staunchest ally against international terrorism.” Conservative isolationist Pat Buchanan will later write that the real motive for this letter seems to be tied to Israel: “Here was a cabal of intellectuals telling the commander in chief, nine days after an attack on America, that if he did not follow their war plans, he would be charged with surrendering to terror. Yet, Hezbollah had nothing to do with 9/11. What had Hezbollah done? Hezbollah had humiliated Israel by driving its army out of Lebanon. President Bush had been warned. He was to exploit the attack of 9/11 to launch a series of wars on Arab regimes, none of which had attacked us. All, however, were enemies of Israel.… The War Party [Bush administration neoconservatives] seemed desperate to get a Middle East war going before America had second thoughts.” (Project for the New American Century 9/20/2001; Buchanan 3/24/2003)
Neoconservative commentator and publisher William Kristol writes that the US must implement “regime change where possible” throughout the Middle East, and especially in Iraq. He excoriates Secretary of State Colin Powell for being against such an aggressive policy. The next day, the Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper, prints an editorial agreeing with Kristol about the need for regime change, and adds its voice to Kristol’s in criticizing Powell. (Unger 2007, pp. 217)
Neoconservative William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, says on NBC’s Meet the Press that the first Bush administration erred in 1991: “The biggest mistake we have made—it’s our mistake, it’s not the mistake of the Arabs—was not finishing off Saddam Hussein in 1991.” Kristol garners a tremendous amount of coverage during the months after the 9/11 attacks, relentlessly advocating for the overthrow of Hussein. (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Neoconservative writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol predict “a wide-ranging war in locales from Central Asia to the Middle East and, unfortunately, back again to the United States,” of which the Afghanistan conflict is merely “an opening battle.” The “unequivocal destruction of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden” are the first steps in a larger conflict that must “spread and engulf a number of countries in conflicts of varying intensity,” requiring US forces to invade “multiple” countries. “It is going to resemble the clash of civilizations that everyone has hoped to avoid. And it is going to put enormous and perhaps unbearable strain on parts of an international coalition that today basks in contented consensus.” Kagan and Kristol say that both the 9/11 attacks and the recent anthrax mailings are likely the work of Iraq, and thus President Bush “ha[s] no choice” but to destroy the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The continued security of Israel is of paramount importance, they write; the US must join with Israel in battling Islamist terrorism in the region by any means necessary. There is virtually no difference between the Taliban and the Palestinian Authority, they write; both must be shut down. Putative US allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might object, and may even declare war against Israel. If so, they must be given the same treatment as the Taliban, the Palestinians, and Iraq: overthrow and domination. “With or without a new Arab-Israeli war, it is possible that the demise of some ‘moderate’ Arab regimes may be just around the corner.” (Kagan and Kristol 10/29/2001)
Neoconservative William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular guest on network news broadcasts, says in a Fox News interview, “One person close to the debate said to me this week that it’s no longer a question of if, it’s a question of how we go after Saddam Hussein” (see October 7, 2001). (Fox News 11/24/2001) Fox’s Fred Barnes asks, “What are the consequences if the US does not finish off this Saddam Hussein as a second step in the war on terrorism?” Kristol replies, “It would mean that the president having declared a global war on terrorism didn’t follow through, didn’t take out the most threatening terrorist state in the world.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. (Barstow 4/20/2008) Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” (Kurtz 4/21/2008) Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. (Cohen 4/28/2008) Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. (Goodman 4/22/2008)
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Prominent neoconservatives William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan publish the book The War Over Iraq advocating a US invasion of that country. In the book’s introduction, they assert: “We stand at the cusp of a new historical era.… This is a decisive moment.… The decision about what course to take in dealing with Iraq is particularly significant because it is so clearly about more than Iraq. It is about more even than the future of the Middle East and the war on terror. It is about what sort of role the United States intends to play in the world in the twenty-first century.” (Kristol and Kaplan 2003, pp. vii-viii)
Conservative defenders of the Bush administration contend that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was misquoted by Vanity Fair reporter Sam Tanenhaus. In an upcoming profile of Wolfowitz, Tanenhaus quotes him as saying, “For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on” (see May 30, 2003). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 150) According to a Defense Department transcript of the original May 9, 2003 interview, Wolfowitz’s actual words were: “The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but… there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there’s a fourth overriding one, which is the connection between the first two.” (Wolfowitz 5/9/2003) Some of the controversy centers on which portions of the interview were on the record and which were not. (Marshall 6/7/2003) Neoconservative pundit and columnist William Kristol is at the forefront of the counterattacks on Wolfowitz’s behalf. After appearing on Fox News where he accuses Tanenhaus of “misquot[ing]” Wolfowitz’s words and “taking [them] out of context,” he writes a column railing against “[l]azy reporters” who don’t bother to accurately report Wolfowitz’s words, and noting, “Tanenhaus has mischaracterized Wolfowitz’s remarks,… Vanity Fair’s publicists have mischaracterized Tanenhaus’s mischaracterization, and… Bush administration critics are now indulging in an orgy of righteous indignation that is dishonest in triplicate.” Kristol concludes: “In short, Wolfowitz made the perfectly sensible observation that more than just WMD was of concern, but that among several serious reasons for war, WMD was the issue about which there was widest domestic (and international) agreement.… Tanenhaus has taken a straightforward and conventional observation about strategic arrangements in a post-Saddam Middle East and juiced it up into a vaguely sinister ‘admission’ about America’s motives for going to war in the first place.” Kristol is joined by the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which calls the Tanenhaus piece “spin.” (Kristol 6/9/2003; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 150)
ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” (CNN 5/1/2004)
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. (Rich 2006, pp. 125) Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” (Rizzo 4/30/2004; CNN 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen 5/1/2004; Associated Press 5/1/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 125) Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004) Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” (CNN 5/1/2004)
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. (Al Tompkins 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen 5/1/2004)
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” (Rich 2006, pp. 125) Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” (CNN 5/1/2004) Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” (Rizzo 4/30/2004) “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” (Jay Rosen 5/1/2004)
Neoconservative commentator William Kristol does not join other conservatives in lambasting Specialist Thomas Wilson for asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an uncomfortable question about inadequate body armor (see December 8, 2004 and December 9, 2004). Instead, Kristol excoriates Rumsfeld for his apparently flippant response, “You go to war with the army you have.” The Army has “performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has,” Kristol writes, but, he continues, “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary [President] Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.” He calls Rumsfeld’s response “arrogant buck-passing” and slams Rumsfeld for his apparant callousness, quoting the secretary as telling the troops: “[I]f you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.” Kristol retorts sarcastically: “Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.” Rumsfeld has not performed well since the war began, Kristol writes, constantly resisting calls to increase troop numbers and then unfairly blaming field commanders such as General Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid for not requesting more troops. “All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments,” Kristol writes. “Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?” He concludes, “These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.” (Kristol 12/15/2005)
Outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, one of the key architects of the Iraq occupation, is bemused by the fact that, despite his predictions and those of his neoconservative colleagues, Iraq is teetering on the edge of all-out civil war. He has come under fire from both political enemies and former supporters, with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) accusing him of deceiving both the White House and Congress, and fellow neoconservative William Kristol accusing him of “being an agent of” disgraced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Feith defends the invasion of Iraq, calling it “an operation to prevent the next, as it were, 9/11,” and noting that the failure to find WMD is essentially irrelevant to the justification for the war. “There’s a certain revisionism in people looking back and identifying the main intelligence error [the assumption of stockpiles] and then saying that our entire policy was built on that error.” Feith is apparently ignoring the fact that the administration’s arguments for invading Iraq—including many of his own assertions—were built almost entirely on the “error” of the Iraqi WMD threat (see July 30, 2001, Summer 2001, September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, September 20, 2001, October 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, 2002, 2002-March 2003, February 2002, Summer 2002, August 26, 2002, September 3, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 10, 2002, September 12, 2002, Late September 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 3, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 22, 2003, and March 23, 2003, among others).
Cultural Understanding Did Not Lead to Success - Feith says he is not sure why what he describes as his deep understanding of Iraqi culture did not lead to accurate predictions of the welcome the US would receive from the Iraqi people (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, September 9, 2002, and October 11, 2002). “There’s a paradox I’ve never been able to work out,” he says. “It helps to be deeply knowledgeable about an area—to know the people, to know the language, to know the history, the culture, the literature. But it is not a guarantee that you will have the right strategy or policy as a matter of statecraft for dealing with that area. You see, the great experts in certain areas sometimes get it fundamentally wrong.” Who got it right? President Bush, he says. “[E]xpertise is a very good thing, but it is not the same thing as sound judgment regarding strategy and policy. George W. Bush has more insight, because of his knowledge of human beings and his sense of history, about the motive force, the craving for freedom and participation in self-rule, than do many of the language experts and history experts and culture experts.”
'Flowers in Their Minds' - When a reporter notes that Iraqis had not, as promised, greeted American soldiers with flowers, Feith responds that they were still too intimidated by their fear of the overthrown Hussein regime to physically express their gratitude. “But,” he says, “they had flowers in their minds.” (Goldberg 5/9/2005; Scoblic 2008, pp. 228-229)
An elite group of British academics, journalists, and politicians joins forces in a new political think tank named after the American politician and neoconservative icon Henry “Scoop” Jackson. The Henry Jackson Society (HJS), whose motto is “Project for Democratic Geopolitics,” advocates an interventionist foreign policy to spread democracy. Its supporters include many influential personalities known for their support of the Iraq War, as well as their pro-American and pro-Israel stance. Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, is one of the signatories of its manifesto. James Woolsey, Richard Perle, and William Kristol are among its “international patrons.” (Clark 11/21/2005; Pollard 11/27/2005; Lloyd 12/2/2005)
On Fox News, neoconservative spokesman William Kristol accuses special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald of attempting to besmirch and discredit the White House. Kristol says: “The [Valerie Plame Wilson] leak story is absurd, but I now think the whole prosecution is absurd. I now think it’s a politically motivated attempt to wound the Bush administration.… He is now out to discredit the Bush administration.” (Jane Hamsher 4/9/2006)
William Kristol, the publisher and chief commentator for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, calls for a “military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.” He reasons: “Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions—and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.” (Mitchell 12/4/2007)
In light of the just-released National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iran stopped research on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), Editor and Publisher’s Greg Mitchell notes that many media pundits have “promoted [the administration’s] line” of Iran’s imminent emergence as a nuclear threat. He comments: “Many in the media have made [such] claims, often extravagantly, which promoted (deliberately or not) the tubthumping for striking Iran.… [T]oo many in the media seemed to fail to learn the lessons of the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure—and White House propaganda effort—and instead, were repeating it, re: Iran. This time, perhaps, we may have averted war, with little help from most of the media. In this case, it appears, the NIE people managed to resist several months of efforts by the administration to change their assessment. If only they had stiffened their backbones concerning Iraq in 2002.” Three pundits—David Brooks (see January 22, 2006), Thomas Friedman (see June 2007), and Richard Cohen (see October 23, 2007)—managed to, in Mitchells’s words, at least “back some kind of diplomacy in regard to Iran, unlike many of their brethren.” Others were more forceful in their calls for action, including the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland (see November 4, 2007), the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol (see July 14, 2006), and the Post editorial page (see September 26, 2007). Mitchell notes that many of these pundits are regulars on television news and commentary programs. (Mitchell 12/4/2007)
Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol say that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007). Giuliani says Iran was intimidated into halting its program: “It worked in 2003 to get him [sic] to back off their nuclear program. And what happened in 2003? What big thing happened in 2003? We deposed Saddam Hussein. America showed massive military force in the country right next to Iran called Iraq.” (Simmonds 12/7/2007) Kristol, whose magazine is one of the premier showcases for neoconservative thought and opinion, echoes Giuliani’s belief on Fox News, saying, “I believe we invaded a neighboring country in 2003 and removed their dictator and that sent shock waves through the region and at the time people were quite worried.” Kristol also attributes the end of Libya’s nuclear weapons program to the invasion of Iraq. (Think Progress 12/9/2007) However, the reason Iran’s nuclear weapons program ended in 2003 is not specified in the recently released National Intelligence Estimate that revealed the program’s end. (Director of National Intelligence 12/3/2007 )
President Barack Obama releases a video message directed at Iran. The White House sends the message to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, or “New Day,” the Iranian New Year. Obama begins by lauding the history and culture of the Iranian people. He acknowledges that the US and Iran continue to have strained and difficult relations, but says, “[A]t this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.” Obama promises that the US will work to build a strong relationship through honest, respectful diplomacy. To Iran’s governmental leaders, he says: “You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right—but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.” He concludes by quoting a famous Iranian poet and giving holiday greetings in Farsi: “I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.’ With the coming of a new season, we’re reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning. Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak [Happy New Year].” (White House 3/19/2009; Obama 3/19/2009; Erdbrink and Kessler 3/20/2009)
'Groundbreaking' Message May Force Iranian Hardliners to Give Ground - Reaction to the message is mixed. The New York Times calls the message “groundbreaking,” and notes that Obama’s use of the proper name of the country—“The Islamic Republic of Iran”—acknowledges the nation’s theological governance in a respectful manner not done by members of the Bush administration and, the Washington Post observes, “signaling an apparent break from President George W. Bush’s unstated promotion of a change of leadership.” Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, says of the message: “That wording is designed to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran. The message is dripping with sincerity and directly addresses one of the things they are most concerned about.” Iranian officials acknowledge the message, but say that Obama’s actions must live up to his words, and past grievances, such as the US 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner, must be redressed. A senior government official, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, says: “This cannot only be done by us, we cannot simply forget what the US did to our nation. They need to perceive what wrong orientation they had and make serious efforts to make up for it.” A former Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, says: “Obama had no practical suggestion that we can work with. This is a lost opportunity.” But Iranian-American expert Karim Sadjadpour says that Obama’s message will force the Iranian government to, in the words of the Times, “put up or shut up on prospects for better relations with the United States.” Sadjadpour says: “What this message does is, it puts the hard-liners in a difficult position, because where the Bush administration united disparate Iranian political leaders against a common threat, what Obama is doing is accentuating the cleavages in Iran. It makes the hard-liners look increasingly like they are the impediment.” (Cooper and Sanger 3/20/2009; Erdbrink and Kessler 3/20/2009)
Neoconservative: Obama 'Kowtowing' to Iranian Government - Neoconservative William Kristol deplores the message, calling it little more than a “message of weakness” and criticizing Obama for not calling on the Iranian government to emphasize “liberty,” “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” Kristol writes, “[W]hat’s distinctive about Obama’s statement is his respect for the ‘leaders,’ the clerical dictatorship,” to whom Obama is “kowtowing.” Kristol deplores Obama’s failure to echo the Bush administration’s call for regime change in Iran, and criticizes Obama’s failure to call for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. “Obama doesn’t believe in threats,” Kristol writes. “He believes that we should speak nicely to our enemies, and carry no stick.” (Kristol 3/30/2009)
Neoconservatives form a new think tank to rehabilitate their image and regain some of the influence they had under the Bush administration, according to news reports. The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) is headed by Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol, foreign policy consultant Robert Kagan, and former Bush administration official Dan Senor. Its first activity will be to sponsor a March 31 conference (see March 31, 2009) pushing for a US “surge” in Afghanistan similar to the one Kagan helped plan for Iraq (see January 2007).
Successor to PNAC - Many see the FPI as the logical successor to Kristol and Kagan’s previous neoconservative organization, the now-defunct Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see January 26, 1998). PNAC’s membership roll included many prominent Bush administration officials, including then-Vice President Dick Cheney and the Defense Department’s top two officials, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.
Employees - Information about FPI’s creation is initially sketchy, with the organization deliberately avoiding media attention. Two of its three listed staff members, Jamie Fly and Christian Whiton, are former Bush administration officials, while the third, Rachel Hoff, last worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Mission Statement; Conflict with China, Russia - FPI’s mission statement says that the “United States remains the world’s indispensable nation,” and warns that “strategic overreach is not the problem and retrenchment is not the solution” to Washington’s current financial and strategic woes. It calls for “continued engagement—diplomatic, economic, and military—in the world and rejection of policies that would lead us down the path to isolationism.” The statement lists a number of threats to US security, including “rogue states,” “failed states,” “autocracies,” and “terrorism,” but focuses primarily on the “challenges” posed by “rising and resurgent powers,” of which only China and Russia are named. Kagan has argued that the 21st century will be dominated by an apocalyptic struggle between the forces of democracy, led by the US, and the forces of autocracy, led by China and Russia. He has called for the establishment of a League of Democracies to oppose China and Russia; the FPI statement stresses the need for “robust support for America’s democratic allies.” Apparently, confrontation with China and Russia will be the centerpiece of FPI’s foreign policy stance, a similar position to that taken by the Bush administration before the 9/11 attacks.
Reactions to New Think Tank - Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation says: “This reminds me of the Project for the New American Century. Like PNAC, it will become a watering hole for those who want to see an ever-larger US military machine and who divide the world between those who side with right and might and those who are evil or who would appease evil.” Reporters Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe write, “[T]he formation of FPI may be a sign that its founders hope once again to incubate a more aggressive foreign policy during their exile from the White House, in preparation for the next time they return to political power.” (Luban and Lobe 3/25/2009)
A new neoconservative think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI—see Before March 25, 2009) holds a conference entitled “Afghanistan: Planning for Success.” The focus will be, according to the organization’s website, a push to escalate US military efforts in that nation. The featured speaker is Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the 2008 presidential candidate and a close friend of two of FPI’s founders, William Kristol and Robert Kagan. In February, McCain gave a speech at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) arguing for a new military “surge” in Afghanistan. Other speakers include AEI fellow Frederick Kagan, counterinsurgency expert Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, and Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), a foreign policy hawk. (Luban and Lobe 3/25/2009; Foreign Policy Initiative 3/31/2009) Matt Duss of the Center for American Progress wryly observes: “[G]iven the heavy representation of Iraq war advocates [in the conference], I think a far better title would be ‘Afghanistan: Dealing With The Huge Problems Created By Many Of The People On This Very Stage.’ The broad consensus among national security analysts and aid officials is that the diversion of troops and resources toward Iraq beginning in 2002 was one of the main reasons the Taliban and al-Qaeda were able to to re-establish themselves in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, facilitating the collapse of the country back into insurgent warfare. Having failed to complete the mission in Afghanistan, Bush and the Iraq hawks handed the Obama administration a war that promises to be as difficult and costly as Iraq has been—if not more. It’s deeply absurd that some of the people most responsible for the crisis in Afghanistan would now presume to tell us how to deal with it.” (Duss 3/26/2009)
Progressive author and columnist Joe Conason writes that if the Democrats’ attempt to reform health care fails, “much of the blame rests on our political culture’s empowerment of deception and ignorance. Fake erudition is revered, every hoax is deemed brilliant, and prejudice is presented as knowledge—while actual expertise is disregarded or devalued.” Conason points to two conservative commentators as primary founts of destructive misinformation: neoconservative publisher and cable news pundit William Kristol, and health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009), whom Conason names as “the right-wing celebrities who worked so hard to kill the Clinton reform plan” in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). Conason labels McCaughey as “the source of the ‘elderly euthanasia’ hoax now circulating on the Internet, talk radio, and in right-wing media, which claims that Democratic health bills will force old, ill Medicare recipients into making plans for their own deaths” (see July 28, 2009). A thorough debunking of her claims by a variety of Congressional and media sources (see July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, and Late July, 2009) has done little to derail the impact on the media, and on the citizenry, that McCaughey’s claims are having. McCaughey’s falsehoods are being heavily, and effectively, promoted by Kristol and other conservative pundits (see July 17, 2009) on Fox News and other media outlets. Conason notes that Kristol, interviewed by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, admitted that the government provides “first-class” healthcare to American soldiers and senior citizens (in the form of the Veterans Administration and Medicare) before trying, and failing, to back away from the admission. (Conason 7/31/2009)
The First National Romney Victory Leadership Retreat, a two-day, invitation-only conference in Park City, Utah, features a number of prominent Republican lawmakers and financiers gathered to coordinate strategy for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA). The Washington Post describes the event as three days of “strategizing and fraternizing.” One donor and member of Romney’s national finance team told a reporter before the event that a “well organized, committed team” is expected who are “subordinating individual ego for the greater goal.” Perhaps the most controversial figure attending is Karl Rove, the former Bush administration political advisor who now helps run American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012). The two groups have been heavily involved in running advertisements and other activities on behalf of the Romney campaign, but the law says the groups must conduct themselves independently of the Romney campaign. The Post reports, “Rove’s appearance could raise questions because of laws barring any coordination between super PACs and campaigns.” Common Cause’s Mary Boyle says that Rove’s appearance “seems to make a mockery of the rule that bans coordination between a super PAC and a candidate.” Tara Malloy, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, agrees with Boyle, but says Rove’s participation in the event is probably legal. “[T]he coordination rule is a pretty slim reed between candidates and the super PACs that support those candidates,” she says. “It’s not by any means an airtight barrier between those two.” To break the law, Romney campaign officials would have to have a “substantial discussion” with Rove about advertising strategies. Malloy says, “The scandal in Washington is what is legal, not what’s illegal.” Other attendees include former Secretary of State James A. Baker; former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, the founder of the American Action Network (AAN), another influential “independent” super PAC (see Mid-October 2010); Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH), a possible vice-presidential contender for Romney; former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (who will lead Romney’s transition team if Romney wins the presidential election); Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA), another possible vice-presidential choice; former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), also on the vice-presidential “short list”; former Governor John Sununu (R-NH); and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to the assemblage, as does former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), a possible vice-presidential pick, moderates a panel discussion on “Innovation in America,” joined by Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, billionaire donor Ken Langone, and two other possible vice-presidential choices, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator John Thune (R-SD). Rove takes part in a panel discussion called “Media Insight,” along with Romney counsel Ben Ginsberg, Kristol and his Weekly Standard colleague Fred Barnes, and GOP strategist Mary Matalin. A “Women for Romney Victory Tea” features Romney’s wife Anne and former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill. Possible vice-presidential choices Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), and Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) do not attend the conference. Nor does Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), a popular Republican who is not known to be on the vice-presidential list. Many Wall Street and private equity donors are also in attendance, welcomed by Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and the co-chair of Romney’s national finance team. One finance team member predicts the three-day event will raise as much as $700 million for Romney’s campaign. (Walshe 6/20/2012; Rucker 6/20/2012; Israel 6/21/2012)