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Context of 'Before March 25, 2009: Neoconservatives Form New Think Tank to Push for Policy Initiatives'

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PNAC logo.PNAC logo. [Source: Project for the New American Century]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; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 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. [New York Times, 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]

Entity Tags: Robert B. Zoellick, Vin Weber, William Kristol, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William Schneider Jr., Richard Perle, William J. Bennett, Richard Armitage, Robert Kagan, Paula J. Dobriansky, Donald Rumsfeld, Craig Unger, Peter Rodman, Elliott Abrams, John R. Bolton, James Woolsey, Francis Fukuyama, Jeffrey T. Bergner, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

A map showing the various groups controlling portions of Baghdad in late 2006.A map showing the various groups controlling portions of Baghdad in late 2006. [Source: Representational Pictures]A plan, later approved by President George Bush, to “surge” 21,500 US combat troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007) is created, largely by Frederick Kagan of the main neoconservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with the help of retired Army general and deputy chief of staff Jack Keane. Kagan and Keane want to send seven more Army brigades and Marine regiments to Iraq.
Opposed by Joint Chiefs - The AEI plan, however, has been rebuffed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who do not believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can effectively confront the Shi’ite militias, especially those of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. [Washington Post, 1/10/2007] However, al-Maliki reportedly told Bush in recent days, “I swear to God, I’m not going to let Sadr run this country.” [ABC News, 1/10/2007]
Plan Created by Neoconservatives at AEI - Kagan is a neoconservative who, in his new book Finding the Target, has scorned Bush’s military policies as “simplistic,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as “fatuous,” and Rumsfeld’s former deputy and architect of the Iraq invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, as “self-serving.” Along with Kagan and Keane, a number of lesser-known AEI neoconservatives contributed to the plans for the surge, including Danielle Pletka, a former aide to retired Republican senator Jesse Helms, and former Coalition Provisional Authority aide Michael Rubin. Commentator and former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal calls the collection a “rump group of neocons” hanging on to influence primarily in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, battered and demoralized by the failures of the past five years but, Blumenthal writes, “not so crushed that they cannot summon one last ragged Team B to provide a manifesto for a cornered president.” The AEI plan, entitled “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq,” calls for a huge escalation to fight a tide-turning battle for Baghdad which, it predicts, will lead to the dissolution of Iraq’s Shi’ite militias, deliver a crushing defeat to the Sunni insurgency, and spread security and democracy from Baghdad throughout the country. Unfortunately, it ignores the realities of limited troop availability, Blumenthal observes, and perhaps worse, dismisses any notion of diplomacy, particularly the diplomatic initiatives advanced by the Iraq Study Group. The only solution to the Iraq problem, the plan asserts, is “victory.” The plan claims, “America, a country of 300 million people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100 billion.” [Salon, 12/20/2006]
Marketing Slogan with Inaccurate Implications - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Recall that the surge strategy promoted by the American Enterprise Institute was titled ‘Choosing Victory,’ implying both that the only possible outcomes in Iraq were victory or defeat and that it was entirely within our power to decide which happened.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 272]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sidney Blumenthal, Paul Wolfowitz, J. Peter Scoblic, Nouri al-Maliki, Moqtada al-Sadr, Frederick Kagan, Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, Donald Rumsfeld, Jack Keane, Mahdi Army, George W. Bush, Jesse Helms

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence

Logo for the Foreign Policy Initiative.Logo for the Foreign Policy Initiative. [Source: Foreign Policy Initiative]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.” [Inter Press Service, 3/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Jim Lobe, Dan Senor, Christian Whiton, Daniel Luban, Jamie Fly, Rachel Hoff, Steve Clemons, Foreign Policy Initiative, Project for the New American Century, William Kristol, Robert Kagan

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Former Project for the New American Century (PNAC) member Michael Goldfarb, a former spokesman for the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) and an editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, touts the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), a new neoconservative think tank (see Before March 25, 2009), as the new PNAC. On Twitter, Goldfarb writes, “PNAC=Mission Accomplished; New mission begins tomorrow morning with the launch of FPI.” [Think Progress, 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Foreign Policy Initiative, Project for the New American Century, Michael Goldfarb

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

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. [Inter Press Service, 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.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2009]

Entity Tags: John Nagl, Frederick Kagan, Foreign Policy Initiative, Jane Harman, John McCain, Robert Kagan, Matt Duss, William Kristol

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Some sources believe Romney may consider John Bolton for Secretary of State if elected president.Some sources believe Romney may consider John Bolton for Secretary of State if elected president. [Source: Getty Images / CNN]Journalist Ari Berman, of the liberal magazine The Nation, writes that presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney (R-MA) seems to be relying on a large number of neoconservatives to help him formulate his foreign policy stance for the election. Berman believes it is safe to assume that Romney will appoint many of his neoconservative advisors to powerful positions in his administration should he win the November election. Berman writes: “Given Romney’s well-established penchant for flip-flopping and opportunism, it’s difficult to know what he really believes on any issue, including foreign affairs (the campaign did not respond to a request for comment). But a comprehensive review of his statements during the primary and his choice of advisers suggests a return to the hawkish, unilateral interventionism of the George W. Bush administration should he win the White House in November.” Conservative Christian leader Richard Land has said that Romney could shore up his sagging credibility with conservatives by “pre-naming” some key Cabinet selections: former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) as Attorney General, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as US ambassador to the United Nations, and former State Department official John Bolton as Secretary of State. Berman calls the prospect of those appointments “terrifying” and “more plausible than one might think.” Neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin recently wrote for the Washington Post that “[m]any conservatives hope” Bolton will accept “a senior national security post in a Romney administration.” For his point, Bolton has endorsed Romney, and has campaigned on his behalf. Romney is not well versed in foreign policy affairs, Berman writes, noting that in 2008 the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) found that at the time “Romney’s foreign affairs resume is extremely thin, leading to credibility problems.” Romney suffered the criticism of being “too liberal” in 2008, and in 2011-12 attempted to refute that criticism by publicly aligning himself with Bolton and other neoconservatives. Brian Katulis of the liberal Center for American Progress has said, “When you read the op-eds and listen to the speeches, it sounds like Romney’s listening to the John Bolton types more than anyone else.” [Washington Post, 3/13/2012; Nation, 5/21/2012]
The Project for the New American Century - Bolton and seven other Romney advisors are signers of a letter drafted by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative advocacy group (see June 3, 1997 and September 2000) that urged both the Clinton and Bush administrations to attack Iraq (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998 and May 29, 1998). (The PNAC is defunct, but was replaced by a similar advocacy group, the Foreign Policy Initiative, or FPI—see Before March 25, 2009). PNAC co-founder Eliot Cohen, who served as counsel for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007-2009, wrote the foreward to Romney’s foreign policy white paper, entitled “An American Century.” Cohen has called the war on terror “World War IV” (see November 20, 2001), and helped push the Bush administration into going to war with Iraq after the 9/11 bombings. In 2009, Cohen reiterated his 2001 call for the US to overthrow the government of Iran (see November 20, 2001). Another PNAC co-founder, FPI’s Robert Kagan, a longtime advocate for widespread war in the Middle East (see October 29, 2001), helped Romney formulate his foreign policy. Romney’s foreign policy stance is based largely on negative attacks on the Obama administration, which it accuses of kowtowing to foreign governments, and a massive military buildup. [Washington Post, 10/9/2011; Nation, 5/21/2012]
Bush Administration Officials' Involvement - Many former Bush administration officials are involved with Romney’s foreign policy. Robert G. Joseph, a former National Security Council official who is primarily responsible for having then-President Bush claim that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger (see January 26 or 27, 2003), former Bush administration spokesman and FPI founder Dan Senor (see October 2, 2005), and former Defense Department official Eric Edelman (see July 16-20, 2007) are prominent members of Romney’s advisory team. Preble says of Romney’s foreign policy advisors: “I can’t name a single Romney foreign policy adviser who believes the Iraq War was a mistake. Two-thirds of the American people do believe the Iraq War was a mistake. So he has willingly chosen to align himself with that one-third of the population right out of the gate.” Edelman, like others on the Romney team, believes that the US should attack Iran, a position Romney himself apparently holds. Senor serves as a conduit between the Romney campaign and Israel’s far right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recently, Senor posted the following on Twitter: “Mitt-Bibi will be the new Reagan-Thatcher.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has said the Republican Party “has not a clue” how to extricate the US from its “state of interminable war,” and apparently little appetite for such extrication. “In fact, they want to deepen it, widen it and go further, on Chinese and Japanese dollars.” The influence of far-right neoconservatives “astonishe[s]” Wilkerson. Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert for the Cato Institute, says that neoconservatives have remained influential even after the Iraq debacle because they have rewritten history. “They’ve crafted this narrative around the surge (see January 10, 2007), claiming Iraq was, in fact, a success. They’ve ridden that ever since.”
Huge Spending Increases for Defense, Possible Recession - If Romney follows his current statements, a Romney administration under the tutelage of his neoconservative advisors would usher in a new era of massive defense spending increases. He advocates spending a minimum of 4 percent of the nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to increase spending on defense, which would increase the Pentagon’s budget by over $200 billion in 2016. That is 38% more than the Obama administration plans to spend on defense. Romney would pay for that increase with severe cuts in domestic spending. Fiscal Times columnist Merrill Goozner has written: “Romney’s proposal to embark on a second straight decade of escalating military spending would be the first time in American history that war preparation and defense spending had increased as a share of overall economic activity for such an extended period. When coupled with the 20 percent cut in taxes he promises, it would require shrinking domestic spending to levels not seen since the Great Depression—before programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid began.” Goozner wrote that Romney’s spending plan “would likely throw the US economy back into recession.” The proposed huge spending increases are in part the product of the Defending Defense coalition, a joint project of the FPI, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Heritage Foundation. [Fiscal Times, 3/7/2012; Nation, 5/21/2012]
Cofer Black and Enhanced National Security - Romney’s counterterrorism advisor is J. Cofer Black, a former CIA operative and Bush-era security official. Black presented a plan to invade Afghanistan two days after the 9/11 attacks, and claimed that al-Qaeda could be defeated and the world made secure from terrorism in a matter of weeks (see September 13, 2001). Black was fired from the CIA in 2002 for publicly criticizing the Bush administration’s failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden (see May 17, 2002). In 2005, Black became a senior official for the private mercenary firm Blackwater (see February 2005). He has been a Romney advisor since 2007 (see April 2007). Black advised Romney not to consider waterboarding as torture, and has touted his CIA experience with that agency’s illegal “extraordinary rendition” program, which sent prisoners to foreign countries for abuse and torture. Romney relies on Black for security assessments of security assessments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Iran, including Iran’s nuclear program. Preble says, “Romney’s likely to be in the mold of George W. Bush when it comes to foreign policy if he were elected.” Berman writes that “[o]n some key issues, like Iran, Romney and his team are to the right of Bush.” Berman goes on to write that if Romney adheres to his statements on the campaign trail, “a Romney presidency would move toward war against Iran; closely align Washington with the Israeli right; leave troops in Afghanistan at least until 2014 and refuse to negotiate with the Taliban; reset the Obama administration’s ‘reset’ with Russia; and pursue a Reagan-like military buildup at home.”
Moderates Sidelined - The moderates on Romney’s team have been shunted aside in favor of the hardliners. Mitchell Reiss, Romney’s principal foreign policy advisor in 2008 and a former State Department official under Powell, no longer enjoys favored access to the candidate. In December 2011 Romney publicly contradicted Reiss’s advocacy of US negotiations with the Taliban, instead advocating the total military defeat of the Taliban and criticizing the Obama administration’s plan to “draw down” US troops from Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph Biden has said that Romney and his neoconservative advisors “see the world through a cold war prism that is totally out of touch with the realities of the twenty-first century.” Romney began tacking to the right during the early days of the Republican primaries, aligning himself with candidates such as Gingrich, Herman Cain (R-GA), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and away from moderate candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) and isolationist candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). Heather Hurlburt of the centrist National Security Network says: “The foreign policy experts who represent old-school, small-c conservatism and internationalism have been pushed out of the party. Who in the Republican Party still listens to Brent Scowcroft?” (see October 2004). Wilkerson says moderate conservatives such as Powell and Scowcroft are “very worried about their ability to restore moderation and sobriety to the party’s foreign and domestic policies.” Berman writes, “In 2012 Obama is running as Bush 41 and Romney as Bush 43.” [Nation, 5/21/2012]

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