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Context of 'May 6, 2003: Neocons Discuss How to Achieve Regime Change in Iran'

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Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with President Bush in the Oval Office to discuss the news of Iran’s restarted nuclear program (see August 2002 and December 12, 2002). ElBaradei tells Bush that the Iranians want to meet with an American delegation to discuss the program, obviously with the intent of negotiating a cessation in return for American concessions. ElBaradei offers to help set up the talks, and even keep them low-profile. But Bush is uninterested. His goal, as he later tells British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is to “free Iran.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that any negotiations that might succeed in shutting down Iran’s nuclear program would also serve to strengthen and legitimize Iran’s government; it is, therefore, worth the risk of a nuclear Iran to continue working towards “regime change” in that nation. This also helps explain why, several months later, Bush officials refused to consider Iran’s offer of the so-called “grand bargain” (see May 4, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, George W. Bush, International Atomic Energy Agency, J. Peter Scoblic, Mohamed ElBaradei

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Neoconservative Michael Ledeen recommends that the US invade Iraq—but only after invading Iran and overthrowing that nation’s government. Ledeen claims that the sporadic demonstrations by Iranian dissidents prove that the entire nation is just waiting for someone like the US to come in and get rid of the theocratic Iranian “mullahcracy” and replace it with a Western-style democracy. Ledeen writes: “This is yet another test of the courage and coherence of American leaders. President Bush has been outstanding in endorsing the calls for freedom in Iran, as has Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. It would be nice if Secretary of State Powell added his own eloquence to the chorus, especially because many Iranians fear that the State Department is still trying to cut a deal with the mullahs. I have long argued that it would be better to liberate Iran before Iraq, and events may soon give us that opportunity. Let’s hope our national security team recognizes how wonderful an opportunity it is, and therefore gives the Iranian freedom fighters the assistance they so richly deserve. Faster, please. Opportunity is knocking at our door.” [National Review, 11/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence

Two weeks after the White House flatly rejected a comprehensive diplomatic offer from Iran (see May 4, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell approaches State Department official Hillary Mann, who wrote the original memo recommending that the Iranian proffer be considered. Powell tells Mann: “It was a very good memo. I couldn’t sell it at the White House.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bush administration (43), Hillary Mann, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Sadegh Kharrazi.Sadegh Kharrazi. [Source: University of Cambridge]In the wake of the US-led conquest of Iraq, the government of Iran worries that they will be targeted for US invasion next. Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to France and the nephew of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, drafts a bold proposal to negotiate with the US on all the outstanding conflicts between them. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Diplomats refer to the proposal as “the grand bargain.” The US sends neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior National Security Council official, to talk with Iran’s UN ambassador, Javad Zarif. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] The proposal was reviewed and approved by Iran’s top leaders Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, is used as an intermediary since the US and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations. [Washington Post, 2/14/2007]
bullet According to the language of the proposal, it offers “decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory” and “full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.” In return, Iran wants “pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all [the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK)],” a dissident Iranian group which the US officially lists as a terrorist organization.
bullet Iran also offers to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology.” It proposes “full transparency for security [assurance] that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD” and “full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols).” That is a references to IAEA protocols that would guarantee the IAEA access to any declared or undeclared facility on short notice.
bullet The proposal also offers a dramatic change in Iranian policy towards Israel. Iran would accept an Arab league declaration approving a land-for-peace principle and a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 lines, a softening of Iran’s usual policy.
bullet The proposal further offers to stop any Iranian support of Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas and proposes to convert Hezbollah into “a mere political organization within Lebanon.” It further offers “coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a nonreligious government” in Iraq.
bullet In return, Iran wants a democratic government in Iran, which would mean its Shiite allies would come to power since the Shiites make up a majority of the Iraqi population. The proposal wants the US to remove Iran from its “axis of evil” and list of terrorism sponsors. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006]
US Rejects Offer - The US flatly rejects the idea. “We’re not interested in any grand bargain,” says Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] The American Prospect will later comment that “Iran’s historic proposal for a broad diplomatic agreement should have prompted high-level discussions over the details of an American response.” State Department counterterrorism expert Flynt Leverett will later call it a “respectable effort” to start negotiations with the US. But within days, the US rejects the proposal without even holding an interagency meeting to discuss its possible merits. Guldimann, the Swiss intermediary, is reprimanded for having passed the proposal to the US. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that it was a significant proposal for beginning “meaningful talks” between the US and Iran but that it “was a non-starter so long as [Dick] Cheney was Vice President and the principal influence on Bush.” [Newsweek, 2/8/2007] He will also say that the State Department supported the offer, “[b]ut as soon as it got to the Vice President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil‘… reasserted itself” and Cheney’s office turned the offer down. [BBC, 1/18/2007] Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later claim that, “We couldn’t determine what was the Iranians’ and what was the Swiss ambassador’s,” and says that he though the Iranians “were trying to put too much on the table.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say of the proposal, “Perhaps somebody saw something of the like” but “I just don’t remember ever seeing any such thing.” [Newsweek, 2/8/2007] Colin Powell will later say that President Bush simply didn’t want to negotiate with an Iranian government that he believed should not be in power. “My position… was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran… But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that.” He also says, “You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.’” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] Days later, Iran will propose a more limited exchange of al-Qaeda prisoners for MEK prisoners, but the US will reject that too (see Mid-May 2003). Author Craig Unger will later write, “The grand bargain was dead. Flush with a false sense of victory, Bush, Cheney, and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld felt no need to negotiate with the enormous oil-rich country that shared a border with the country America had just invaded.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 308-309]
Proposal Echoed Four Years Later - In 2007, the BBC will note, “Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.” [BBC, 1/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Kamal Kharrazi, Lawrence Wilkerson, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Richard Armitage, International Atomic Energy Agency, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Flynt Leverett, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Hezbollah, Condoleezza Rice, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Donald Rumsfeld, Tim Guldimann, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosts “The Future of Iran Mullahcracy, Democracy, and the War on Terror” at Washington DC’s Wohlstetter Conference Center. The forum, cosponsored by the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, includes a discussion on “What lies ahead for Iran?” and “What steps can the United States take to promote democratization and regime change in Iran?” Noted moderators and panelists include: Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute; Uri Lubrani of the Israeli Defense Ministry; US Senator Sam Brownback; Michael A. Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht, both of the AEI; Bernard Lewis of Princeton University; and Morris Amitay of The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. [Institute, 5/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Morris J. Amitay, Bernard Lewis, Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute, Meyrav Wurmser, Uri Lubrani, Samuel Brownback, Reuel Marc Gerecht

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Saif al-Adel.Saif al-Adel. [Source: FBI]Around May 4, 2003, Iran attempted to start negotiations in an attempt to resolve all outstanding issues between Iran and the US. The US completely rejected the offer within days. Iran immediately comes back with a more limited proposal, offering to hand over a group of al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran in return for the US to hand over leaders of the Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK). The US had already officially listed MEK as a terrorist group. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Iran is believed to be holding a number of top al-Qaeda leaders, including military commander Saif al-Adel and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden (see Spring 2002). The US had captured about 4,000 members of MEK in Iraq the month before, in bases where they had been staging attacks against Iran. Iran pledges to grant amnesty to most of the MEK prisoners, try only 65 leaders, forgo the death penalty on them, and allow the Red Cross to supervise the transfer. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran proposes to start with an exchange of information, offering to share the list of names of al-Qaeda operatives they are detaining in return for the US to share the list of names of MEK operatives US forces has captured in Iraq. This exchange of names is discussed at a White House meeting. Hardliners in favor of regime change in Iran argue that MEK is different than al-Qaeda. President Bush is said to respond, “But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] And he initially seems in favor of a prisoner exchange, saying about the MEK, “Why not? They’re terrorists.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] But Bush does not immediately approve the exchange of names, although he does approve the disarming of MEK who have surrendered to US troops and he allows the State Department to continue secret negotiations on the issue of exchanging names and prisoners in Switzerland. But on May 12, 2003, a bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills a number of US citizens (see May 12, 2003). Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and other neoconservatives argue that the bombing was planned by al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran. [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] The Washington Post will report in 2007 that, “US intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of [the al-Qaeda leaders in Iran] may have been involved from afar in planning” the Riyadh bombing. Some of Bush’s top advisers argue in favor of trading the prisoners, suggesting that directly interrogating the al-Qaeda leaders could result in important new intelligence leads. But Cheney and Rumsfeld argue that any deal would legitimize Iran’s government. Bush ultimately offers to accept information about the al-Qaeda leaders without offering anything in return. Not surprisingly, Iran refuses. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] A planned meeting between US and Iranian officials on May 21 is canceled and negotiations come to a halt. The American Prospect will later comment, “In a masterstroke, Rumsfeld and Cheney had shut down the only diplomatic avenue available for communicating with Iran and convinced Bush that Iran was on the same side as al-Qaeda.” [American Prospect, 5/21/2006] Flynt Leverett, a State Department official dealing with Middle East policy, will later say, “Why we didn’t cut this deal is beyond me.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] One anonymous senior US official will later say, “One reason nothing came of it was because we knew that there were parts of the US government who didn’t want to give them the MEK because they had other plans for them… like overthrowing the Iranian government.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) introduces the Iran Democracy Act (S. 1082) to encourage regime change in Iran. The bill would require the US to adopt a policy aimed at supporting “an internationally-monitored referendum in Iran by which the Iranian people can peacefully change the system of government in Iran.” It would also ensure that Radio Farda, a US-sponsored effort to improve the United States’ image among Iranians, devotes “a significant percentage of [its] programming… to discussing democratic change in Iran including an internationally-monitored democratic referendum in Iran.” [Office of Senator Sam Brownback, 5/19/2003; US Congress. Senate., 5/19/2003] The bill never becomes law. [GovTrack (.us), 5/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Radio Farda, Samuel Brownback

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Instead of considering Iran’s sweeping proposal to open diplomatic negotiations with the United States (see May 4, 2003), the Bush administration begins working on efforts to destabilize the Iranian government (see November 12, 2002, May 6, 2003, and May 19, 2003). Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says he believes the White House’s course is a dangerous one: “What it means is we will end up with an Iran that has nuclear weapons and no dialogue with the United States.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Flynt Leverett, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Ellen Laipson, Paul R. Pillar, Joseph Cirincione, National Intelligence Council

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In an open letter to President Bush, Florida Congressman Robert Wexler and New York Congressman Gary Ackerman ask the president to give Congress immediate access to all information regarding a May 2003 dialog between Iran and the US in which Iran offered the US concessions (see May 4, 2003). Wexler and Ackerman acknowledge their skepticism of Iran’s intentions with regard to the offer, but ask the president to explain why the administration turned Iran down. Wexler and Ackerman, both of whom are members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, say the information is needed in order to create a more informed policy toward Iran. The two congressmen ask that the information be turned over to Congress by February 23, 2007. [Robert Wexler, 2/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Robert Wexler, George W. Bush, Iran, Gary Ackerman

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle (see 1965 and Early 1970s) attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack (see 1987-2004, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, March, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 15, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 18-19, 2001, May 2002, August 16, 2002, November 20, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 25, 2003, and March 27, 2003). But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
bullet Perle is not a neoconservative.
bullet Neoconservatives do not exist.
bullet Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
Perle had previously advanced his arguments in an article for National Interest magazine. [National Interest, 1/21/2009]
'No Such Thing as a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - Perle tells the gathering, hosted by National Interest: “There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy. It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.” Perle has shaped the nation’s foreign policy since 1974 (see August 15, 1974, Early 1976, 1976, and Early 1981). He was a key player in the Reagan administration’s early attempts to foment a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union (see Early 1981 and After, 1981 and Beyond, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and October 11-12, 1986). Perle denies any real involvement with the 1996 “Clean Break” document, which Milbank notes “is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy” (see July 8, 1996 and March 2007). Perle explains: “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group. I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.” In reality, Perle wrote the bulk of the “Clean Break” report. Perle sidesteps questions about the letters he wrote (or helped write) to Presidents Clinton and Bush demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, and September 20, 2001), saying, “I don’t have the letters in front of me.” He denies having any influence on President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which, as Milbank notes, “enshrin[ed] the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom” (see May 1, 2001), saying: “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements [he wrote]. My guess is he didn’t.” Instead, as Perle tells the audience: “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world. None of that is true, of course.” Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” And Perle claims that no neoconservative ever insisted that the US military should be used to spread democratic values (see 1965, Early 1970s, Summer 1972 and After, August 15, 1974, 1976, November 1976, Late November, 1976, 1977-1981, 1981 and Beyond, 1984, Late March 1989 and After, 1991-1997, March 8, 1992, July 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997, November 12, 1997, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, May 29, 1998, July 1998, February 1999, 2000, September 2000, November 1, 2000, January 2001, January 22, 2001 and After, March 12, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 24, 2001, September 25-26, 2001, October 29, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 20, 2001, November 29-30, 2001, December 7, 2001, February 2002, April 2002, April 23, 2002, August 6, 2002, September 4, 2002, November 2002-December 2002, November 12, 2002, February 2003, February 13, 2003, March 19, 2003, December 19, 2003, March 2007, September 24, 2007, and October 28, 2007), saying, “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.” His strident calls for forcible regime change in Iran were not what they seemed, he says: “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran. Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term” (see July 8-10, 1996, Late Summer 1996, November 14, 2001, and January 24, 2004).
Challenged by Skeptics - Former Reagan administration official Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After and May 1982 and After), who challenged Perle during his time in Washington, takes issue with what he calls the “argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminds Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists, and argues, “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought.” Perle replies, “I don’t accept the approach, not at all.” National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn asks Perle to justify his current position with the title of his 2003 book An End to Evil. Perle claims: “We had a publisher who chose the title. There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (Milbank provides an excerpt from the book that reads: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”) Perle blames the news media for “propagat[ing] this myth of neoconservative influence,” and says the term “neoconservative” itself is sometimes little more than an anti-Semitic slur. After the session, the moderator asks Perle how successful he has been in making his points. “I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” he concedes. [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
'Richard Perle Is a Liar' - Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a regular columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, writes flatly, “Richard Perle is a liar.” He continues: “[K]ey neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others [were] openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and… used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they ‘bamboozled’ Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11.… The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won’t be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider—as is the case with Perle—what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?” [Foreign Policy, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Jacob Heilbrunn, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, Dana Milbank, Bush administration (43), Stephen Walt, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Burt

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

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