War Hawks and the Ugly American: The Origins of Bush’s Middle East Policy

In light of the impeachment trial of the populist president Donald Trump by the establishment and the role neonservative John Bolton is clamoring to play in thwarting the popular desire for an end to endless war, I thought it would be helpful to readers to remind themselves—or learn about if they didn’t know—the character of the establishment. This is my 2004 analysis of George W. Bush’s Middle East policy, published in Devastating Society: The Neo-Conservative Assault on Democracy and Justice, with Pluto Press and the University of Michigan Press.

Joined by British military forces, the US invaded the Central Asian country of Afghanistan on 7 October 2001.  In what was tagged “Operation Enduring Freedom” (originally “Operation Infinite Justice”), the US overthrew the ruling clique, the Taliban, and destroyed training camps of the terrorist organization al Qaeda located in the mountains of Tora Bora.  The US emplaced an interim government led by Hamid Karzai, weapons financier for anti-Soviet moujahedeen and close associate of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

On 17 March 2003, again in concert with British forces, the US military invaded Iraq. Operation Iraqi Freedom resulted in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party.  The US formed an interim national government, the Iraqi Governing Council, led by Ahmad Chalabi.  Chalabi, a US-educated banker and leading member of the Iraqi National Congress (a London-based nationalist group), is a protégé of current high-ranking Pentagon officials.

Baghdad after it was hit with a missile during the start of the Iraq War.

On 7 September 2003, President Bush asked Congress for 87 billion dollars to cover costs of operations in Central Asia and the Middle East and reconstruction of Iraq.  This was in addition to 79 billion dollars Congress already budgeted for the military campaigns. These expenditures would come against the backdrop of the largest federal budget deficit in US history, projected to be 500 billion dollars in 2004 (with an accumulated national debt forecasted to be in the 5-6 trillion dollar range over the next decade), a national economy mired in recession, and thirty-five million Americans living in poverty.  Despite this, Congress approved Bush’s request less than two months later.

Marc Herold, a professor at the University of New Hampshire estimates civilian Afghan deaths to be between 3,125 to 3,620 persons.  Afghan fighters and fratricide have killed several dozen US troops and injured many more.  As of 27 September 2003, the independent organization Iraq Body Count estimates civilian casualties from Operation Iraqi Freedom to be between 7,352 and 9,152. On January 19, the number of US soldiers killed surpassed 500, representing the most casualties in any US-involved conflict since the Vietnam War.  The official number of US soldiers wounded total more than one thousand.[1]  How many Iraqi military personnel US and British forces have killed or injured is unknown, but observers suspect it is in the several thousands.

The Bush administration justified the military invasion of Afghanistan on the grounds that the terrorist organization believed to have masterminded attacks on the United States on 11 September, al Qaeda, enjoyed the protection of the Taliban.  The government defended its invasion of Iraq based on two claims: Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and the Ba’ath party had ties to al Qaeda.  

The principled basis for these interventions was set forth in the September 2000 report, The National Security Strategy of the US of America.  This document detailed a preemptive strike policy appealing to the principle of anticipatory self-defense.  Preemption represents a dramatic departure from America’s previous defense posture. Historically, a grave and imminent danger to national security triggered the right to self-defense.  While a justifiable anticipatory self-defensive action must indicate a credible and imminent threat to national security, preemptive self-defense need indicate only a potentiality or probable eventuality. Under the new policy, official belief that a nation desires to acquire weapons of mass destruction is enough to justify the use of force.  “We cannot let our enemies strike first,” the document averred.  

The authors of the report, led by National Security Advisor (NSA) Condoleezza Rice, characterized the new defense philosophy as “a distinctly American internationalism.”  The report pledges the use of military force to encourage “free and open societies,” to fight for American ideals and values, especially private property, and to win the “battle for the future of the Muslim world.” Policymakers tied the doctrine of preemption to imperatives of regime change and nation building in a “post 9-11 world.”  A solution to the alleged problems “rogue states” present for national security is the possibility the government may have to unilaterally overthrow an existing government.

In the current world order, law on the use of armed force, the jus ad bellum, prohibits discretionary and unilateral military force and tightly constrains use of reactive force of arms to self-defense or a collective decision by the UN community to prevent unlawful aggression. Moreover, any retaliatory action by a country should be proportional.  It is also a recognized principle in international law that while self-defense is a legitimate response while under attack, it is not legitimate post facto—once an attack has ended, self-defense is prohibited.

Bush’s justification for invading Afghanistan based on the 11 September 2001 attack is deeply problematic with respect to jus ad bellum.  The administration never adequately explained why destruction of government buildings, infrastructure, towns and villages, resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians, was necessary to apprehend bin Laden and dismantle al Qaeda.  Harboring terrorists may have made the Taliban complicit in the criminal behavior of al Qaeda, but it is insufficient for determining direct responsibility necessary to warrant retaliatory military action.  That the US promised the UN “surgical strikes” against Taliban targets to minimize “collateral damage” (military language for harming innocent civilians) does not negate Bush’s tragic moral lapse and his flaunting of international law.  In any case, targeting was poor, targets were misidentified, bombing was often indiscriminate, and weapons used, such as cluster bombs, led to numerous civilian casualties.  Military action has thus far failed to bring bin Laden and many of his top lieutenants to justice.

Justification for launching an invasion of Iraq was equally problematic.  The policy of regime change is, from the point of view of the White House, a corollary to preemptive self-defense.  If there is a regime pursuing weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems capable of threatening America at some distant, albeit uncertain future point, then a preemptive self-defensive action would be regarded as a means of preventing this eventuality.  While instances of anticipatory self-defense are numerous in history, historical instances of preemptive self-defense are not.[2]  It is widely regarded as necessary for the international community, operating through the UN, to consent to the use of preemptive force. International law prohibits unilateralism in preemptive self-defensive action.  Therefore, the US was obliged to secure UN sanction for a military strike against Baghdad.  The US, joined by a small number of other countries, defied the consensus of the international community and invaded Iraq without UN authorization. 

Even if we set aside international law, evidentiary reasons given for preemptive action in Iraq were insufficient, incomplete, and, in many cases, fabricated.  Authorities have found neither weapons of mass destruction nor effective delivery systems in Iraq.  And, in any case, credible evidence for WMD would have to exist beforemilitary action.  The consensus of the international intelligence community is Saddam destroyed such weapons at the conclusion of the US-Iraq war in 1991. And any claim the US invaded Iraq in retaliation for 9-11, however illegitimate according to international law, had no evidentiary basis.  The administration admitted during a meeting with congressional leaders on 17 September 2003 that it never had evidence connecting Saddam to 9-11.

If the Bush administration’s reasons for invading and occupying two countries seem irrational, it is only because observers have failed to identify the real reasons behind war.  The ulterior motives for going to war are to (1) control gas and oil supplies in two regions and (2) reshape power in the Middle East, particularly to create conditions for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

* * *

No understanding of Bush’s foreign policy ambitions is adequate without a grasp of the central importance of US’ dependency on fossil fuels.  The chief sources of energy in America are petroleum (30 percent), natural gas (24 percent), and coal (23 percent).  North Americans consume over 21 million barrels of oil per day, the largest amount of oil used by any other region in the world. Domestic oil and gas production cannot meet public demand.  Given this situation, securing cheap and available sources of fossil fuels is an imperative, particularly for an administration beholden to gas and oil companies—many Bush administration officials are part of the fossil fuels industry. 

US interest in gas and oil in Central Asia became clear with the pullout of the Russian military from Afghanistan in 1989 and the sudden collapse of the Soviet system in 1991.  By 1992, mostly US-based companies, Amoco, ARCO, British Petroleum, Exxon-Mobil, Pennzoil, Phillips, TexacoChevron, and Unocal, controlled half of all gas and oil investments in the Caspian region.  The industry acquired several high profile political figures to advise company operations in the region.  Former NSA under President Carter Zbigniew Brzezinski was a consultant for Amoco.  Bush’s vice-president Cheney advised Halliburton.  Former Secretary of State under presidents Nixon and Ford, Henry Kissinger, and former State Department counterterrorism official, Robert Oakley, were consultants for Unocal.  NSA under Bush Junior, Rice served on the board of TexacoChevron. The industry sought to develop the “Stands” (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), with their some ten trillion cubic meters of gas and 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, permitting the west to undermine the hegemony of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).

Within less than five years of the fall of the Soviet Union, Unocal, in association with Delta Oil (Saudi Arabia), Gazprom (Russia), and Turkmenrozgas (Turkey), began negotiating with various Afghan factions to secure the right to construct a trans-Afghan pipeline to move fossil fuels from the Caspian Sea basin to the Arabian Sea.  Outside of the Middle East, the Caspian Sea region contains the largest proven natural gas and oil reserves in the world (Central Asia has almost 40 percent of the world’s gas reserves and 6 percent of its oil reserves).  The US has long desired not only to secure these reserves for its increasing energy appetite, but it is also seen as an imperative US companies control transport, as this permits control over prices.  The desired routes are through Turkey to the Mediterranean and through Afghanistan to Pakistan, thus bypassing routes through Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran. 

Unocal worked closely with the Taliban in developing plans for the pipeline.  In 1997, Unocal met with Taliban leaders to “educate them about the benefits such a pipeline would bring this desperately poor and war-torn country.”  However, Unocal withdrew from the consortium in December 1998.  A 21 August 1998 Unocal statement cited “sharply deteriorating political conditions in the region” and the reluctance of the US and the UN to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan as reasons for pulling out.  Unocal denied their association with the Taliban in the days following 9-11.  In a press release dated 14 September 2001 Unocal averred, “The company is not supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in any way whatsoever.  Nor do we have any project or involvement in Afghanistan.”  

After the US invaded Afghanistan, toppled the Taliban regime, and emplaced an interim government, oil companies and interim ruler Hamid Karzai and Mohammad Alim Razim, minister for Mines and Industries, restarted the pipeline project talks in the spring 2002.  Razim stated that Unocal was the frontrunner to obtain contracts to construct the pipeline with funds from the reconstruction of Afghanistan, funds supplied by the US taxpayer.  

Crucial to these negotiations is the presence of US envoy to Kabul, Afghanistan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, formerly a lobbyist for the Taliban and the oil companies. As special envoy, he ostensibly reports to Secretary of State Colin Powell.  However, as a National Security Council (NSC) official and Special Assistant to the President for Southwest Asia, Near East and North Africa, he reports to NSC chief Condoleezza Rice.  Khalilzad has a long history working in Republican governments.  He headed the Bush-Cheney transition team for the Department of Defense.  He served as Counselor to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  Under George Bush Senior, Khalilzad served as Assistant Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning.  He served under Reagan from 1985 to 1989 at the Department of State, where he advised the White House on the Iran-Iraq War and the Soviet War in Afghanistan. 

In August 1998, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed and Khalilzad promptly changed his position on the Taliban.  In a widely read article, he presented what would become key elements of the Bush policy on Afghanistan.  He wrote that administration officials under Clinton in 1994 and 1995 underestimated “the threat [the Taliban] posed to regional stability and US interests.”  He noted Afghanistan’s importance “may grow in the coming years, as Central Asia’s oil and gas reserves, which are estimated to rival those of the North Sea, begin to play a major role in the world energy market.”  Afghanistan would serve as a “corridor for this energy.”[3]  He impressed the Bush administration, becoming an advisor to the president, and enjoying appointment to the NSC.  The US has indeed established a military presence throughout the Caspian Sea region. The trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline currently being negotiated will stretch 1,650 kilometers.

The second largest proven oil reserves in the world are in Iraq (only Saudi Arabia has a larger reserve).  In 1978, Saddam Hussein, then vice chairman of Iraq, boasted, “One of the last two barrels produced in the world must come from Iraq.”  As late as spring 2002, the US was obtaining from Iraq 800,000 barrels per day, making that country the sixth most important source of oil for North American consumption.  As Bush rattled sabers over its differences with the regime of Saddam Hussein, petroleum companies switched to other sources, cutting Iraq exports by some 70 percent.  Petroleum companies anticipated the oil would flow again after tensions subsided, and possibly after UN sanctions were concluded, thus reducing oil prices.  

The possibility of a massive and cheap source of fossil fuel moved Russian, European, and Chinese companies to secure contracts with Saddam’s regime.  Lukoil (Russia) negotiated a 4 billion dollar deal with Iraq in 1997 to develop the West Qurna field in south Iraq.  As late as 2001, Total Fina Elf (France) was negotiating to develop the Majnoon field near the border of Iran.  The regime of Saddam Hussein, once a dependable client state in the region, had become uncooperative with US interests, and the US sought a new client state in Iraq.  The need to control Iraq became even more important after Saudi Arabia became less dependable to the US.  By overthrowing Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party, the Bush regime nullified the contracts negotiated by other countries.  Former CIA directory James Woolsey noted, “If they throw in their lot with Saddam,” he warned, “it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them.”[4]

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Faisal Qaraghoil, the director of the London office of the INC, maintained the new Iraqi government would not be beholden to any previously negotiated contracts.  INC leader, Ahmed Chalabi, stated that a US-led consortium would develop Iraq’s oil fields.  All this coincided with revelations that Iran and Russia were negotiating a 40 billion dollar economic cooperation deal and that Iraq was selling oil to Syria in contradiction to the OFF program.  To make matters worse, crude oil prices were rising from a low of 10 dollars a barrel in 1997 to 30 dollars a barrel by 2000.  Projections indicated prices would remain at that level without a change in the structure of the world oil markets.  From the standpoint of energy interests, the war was necessary to establish US control over Iraqi oil and to stabilize world oil prices.

* * *

The Jerusalem Post has described the neoconservatives in the Bush White House as “Arik’s American Front.”[5]  Neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle are identified in particular as principle members of Sharon’s organization in Washington.  Wolfowitz has a long history of public service in the United States.  He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Regional Programs from 1977-1980 under Carter.  He was head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff from 1981-82 under Reagan, where he played a major role in shaping Reagan’s Cold War strategy.  From 1989-93, he served as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy under Bush Senior.  Wolfowitz is the current Deputy Secretary of Defense under Bush Junior. A Pentagon special unit, the Office of Special Plans (OSP), headed by Wolfowitz, developed much of the initial information that found its way into Powell’s controversial script of his testimony before the UN Security Council.  Wolfowitz organized OSP to counter doubts about CIA’s Iraqi intelligence.

In 2002, Wolfowitz received the Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson Distinguished Service Award from JINSA.  Senator Jackson was the Democrat’s preeminent hawk in the 1970s and early 1980s.  So dedicated was he to the military industrial complex that his colleagues nicknamed him the “Senator from Boeing.”  His understanding of Israel’s war against the Palestinians shaped his foreign policy thinking.  In 1979, at the Conference on International Terrorism, sponsored by the Jonathan Institute, Jackson characterized terrorism as “a modern form of warfare against liberal democracies.”  The goal of this warfare, he said, “is to destroy the very fabric of democracy.” Jackson praised Israel’s suppression of Palestinian terrorists.  “In providing for her own defense against terrorism, Israeli courage has inspired those who love freedom around the world.”  He rejected the premise that the targets of terrorism should negotiate with terrorists.  Referring to the ambitions of the PLO, Jackson said, “To insist that free nations negotiate with terrorist organizations can only strengthen the latter and weaken the former.”  He also rejected the premise of Palestinian statehood.  “To crown with statehood a movement based on terrorism,” he said, “would devastate the moral authority that rightly lies behind the effort of free states everywhere to combat terrorism.” 

Democrats had moved away from confrontation with terrorism, seeking instead to defuse the source of the conflict they believed spawned terrorists. The Party’s position, according to the hawks, inevitably meant laying blame on those states that had become the terrorists’ targets.  More “realist” Democrats saw the broad anti-war stance of their party as a “blame America first” approach, since it forced the public to consider the possibility terrorism was a reaction by oppressed people to colonialism and imperialism.  This shift in the party forced many of Jackson’s aides, including Elliot Abrams, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Perle, and, most importantly, Wolfowitz, to switch to the Republican side of the aisle, obtaining offices in the Reagan and Bush administrations.  No figure in Washington was therefore more deserving of the JINSA Distinguished Service Award than Wolfowitz.

Wolfowitz used the JINSA awards ceremony as an opportunity to show that Bush was following in the footsteps of Jackson.  Describing Bush as a leader “determined to move forward strategically, pragmatic step after pragmatic step toward a goal that the faint hearted deride as visionary,” Wolfowitz said Jackson “would have been proud and pleased to know our President.”  The Deputy Defense Secretary admonished media characterizations of Bush’s inner circle as “hawks,” noting that Jackson rejected the label.  “I just don’t want my country to be a pigeon,” Jackson reportedly once remarked.  Wolfowitz joined him in condemning appeasement.  “Freedom cannot be defended, much less advanced by the faint hearted who shun all risks,” said Wolfowitz.  “And it cannot be advanced if we believe that evil dictators can be brought around to peaceful ways without at least the threat of force.” 

In 1992, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney requested versions of the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) directive from Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Wolfowitz.  The grandness of Wolfowitz’s thinking presented in his version of the document enthralled Cheney.  Wolfowitz was critical of the way Bush Senior handled the 1991 Iraq War.  He believed the continuing presence of Saddam Hussein clearly indicated Bush had ended the war prematurely.  Wolfowitz proposed that the US militarily intervene in Iraq to guarantee the US access to raw materials, especially oil, and to remove the threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.  Wolfowitz “proposed that with the demise of the Soviet Union, American doctrine should be to assure that no new superpower arose to rival the US’ enlightened domination of the world.”  To achieve this goal, Wolfowitz “called for preemptive attacks and ad hoc coalitions.” Moreover, the US must be prepared to go it alone when “collective action cannot be orchestrated.”[6]  Not coincidentally, much of Bush Junior’s current national security strategy embodies the principles Wolfowitz laid down in his version of the DPG.  Although Bush Senior went with Powell’s more pragmatic plan, Cheney and Wolfowitz believed they were on the verge of realizing their dream of Pax Americana.  However, a long and deep economic downturn erased Bush’s wartime popularity.  To their dismay, the electorate selected Arkansas governor Bill Clinton for president in 1992.  The neoconservatives were out of power.

In 1997, Wolfowitz and several other intellectuals formed a think tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). They did so “to make the case and rally support for American global leadership,” a task at which they felt Bill Clinton was failing.  Top corporate, military and political figures aligned themselves with PNAC, including Elliot Abrams (Reagan State Department), Cheney, Frank Gaffney (president of the Center for Security Policy), William Kristol (Dan Quayle’s chief of staff and editor of the conservative publication Weekly Standard), and Rumsfeld. Powerful economic interests threw their support behind PNAC.  PNAC’s list of contributors includes the John M. Olin Foundation, (munitions and chemicals interests, with Samuel Huntington directing its Institute for Strategic Studies), the Sarah Scaife Foundation (big oil), and The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (Reagan’s Star Wars project).  PNACemerged wielding a document calling for the US to “take its place in history as the dominant global force and achieve greatness by being bold and purposeful.” PNAC asked in their statement of principles, “Does the US have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?”  This they doubted.  “We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan administration’s success,” they wrote.  Those successful elements were a “military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the US’ global responsibilities.”

In 2000, PNAC released the report Rebuilding America’s Defenses.  This document would become the blueprint for Bush’s National Security Strategydiscussed above. According to Rebuilding America’s Defenses, America “has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in the 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.”  Subduing the region required more stable launching points into the various countries.  Saudi Arabia had become, PNAC argued, problematic as a staging area because of its “domestic sensibilities.”  Moreover, after removing Saddam from power, “Iran may well prove as large a threat.”

The judicial coup of 2000 that led to the Bush presidency provided the opening the neoconservatives had been waiting for: an ideological president receptive to their ideas.  The administration appointed Wolfowitz to his current post. Under the direction of Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon created the Defense Policy Board (DPB), an ostensibly informal working group composed of former government officials and military experts serving as an advisory body to the Pentagon on defense issues, put Perle in charge, and plugged the Project for the New American Century directly into executive power.[7]  Not taking a second Bush term for granted, Wolfowitz, according to Time magazinepressed the White House to go to war with Iraq just four days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.[8]  He would have to wait until after the invasion of Afghanistan, but, in the end, he got what he had long desired: the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the occupation of Iraq, and the removal of US military bases from Saudi Arabia.

In 2002, The Jerusalem Postreflected on Wolfowitz’s JINSA Distinguished Service Award: 

Wolfowitz, who is now one of the principle architects of the US war against Islamic terrorism, comes from a pedigree of successful strategists schooled by Henry Jackson….  They acknowledge realistically that as the land of freedom and liberty, the US is locked in a constant and never-ending struggle against movements and ideologies that would murder innocents and blot out freedom.  As their teacher, Henry Jackson made clear, the inspiration for much of what they stand for comes from watching and emulating Israel.  It is the legacy of the Jewish state, indeed of the Jewish people as the solitary fighter combating terrorism against innocent civilians that captivated these men’s attention thirty years ago.  It was Israel’s struggle that made them recognize that terrorism, like Communism—the major threat of that day—must be fought without compromise.[9]

Thirty years lurking in the shadows, Perle, tagged by comrades and enemies alike as the “Prince of Darkness,” has been at the forefront of foreign policy thinking about the Middle East.  Like Wolfowitz, Perle was among those Jackson devotees who hitched their political career to the conservative Republican wagon, serving as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy from 1981-1987 under Reagan.  During the 1980s, Perle criticized the Reagan and Bush administrations for their support of Saddam during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, and as early as 1991 he advocated overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein. Until recently, he was chairman of the DPB.  Due to conflicts of interest, Perle resigned that position.  However, he remains a board member and directs Bush’s foreign policy from the wings.  Additionally, he has served in non-governmental elite organizations, such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).  

Perle has pursued his Middle East vision by working for countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  In 1996, while serving with the prominent Israeli think tank, The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS), Perle, along with Douglas Feith, the current Undersecretary of Defense for the US, and David Wurmser, current Special Assistant in the State Department, authored the report, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, for the Likud Party of Israel, Israel’s leading right wing party.  The document advised then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to walk away from the Oslo accord.  In 1997, in A Strategy for Israel, Douglas Feith followed up on the report and argued Israel should re-occupy the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.  “The price in blood would be high,” he wrote, but such a move would be a necessary “detoxification” of the situation.  This was, in Feith’s view, “the only way out of Oslo’s web.”  In the report, Feith linked Israel’s rejection of the peace process to the neoconservatives’ obsession with the rule of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath regime.  “Removing Saddam from power,” Feith wrote, is “an important Israeli strategic objective.” 

In an open letter to President Clinton, dated 19 February 1998, Perle, Feith, and Wurmser were joined by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Abrams, Kristol, John Bolton (current Undersecretary for International Security), Frank Carlucci (Reagan Defense Secretary), Richard Armitage (current Deputy Secretary of State), and others to make the argument that “Saddam must be overpowered.”  The letter asserted that the “danger” imposed by Saddam, “cannot be eliminated as long as objective is simply ‘containment,’ and the means of achieving it are limited to sanctions and exhortations.”  They urged the White House to “provide the leadership necessary to save ourselves and the world from the scourge of Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction that he refuses to relinquish.”  Years later, as we have seen, with many of these authors in official positions and advisory roles for the Bush White House, this became official policy.

Together, Wolfowitz and Perle advised the White House to jettison the theory that reducing Jewish-Muslim antagonism would garner support for an attack on Iraq.  They advocated going after regimes aiding and abetting terrorism in a unilateral fashion. They linked Saddam with terrorist groups operating in Palestine, claiming, “as long as Saddam is in power, terrorists will have a place to hide.”[10]  A major US paper reported that Perle told the administration to “give Sharon full support” in his suppression of Palestine. “We need to bring the maximum pressure to bear on Arafat, not Israel,” Perle said.[11]  Support for the Sharon approach was therefore a causein the Bush policy shift towards Iraq not a result of it. 

Sharon and his advisors aggressively lobbied Washington to expand the definition of terrorism to include groups and states bent on Israel’s destruction.[12]  In meetings Bush and Sharon “shared their mutual concerns about the threats posed by terrorism and the development of advanced weapons by Iraq and Iran.”  This tactic was clever, the Israeli press noted at the time.  It gave Bush the room he needed to pursue his Middle East policy while maintaining an ostensive “hands-off” policy on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  The strategy allowed for the manipulation of liberals who would aid in the perception that Bush was disengaged by complaining about disengagement.  Couched in this fashion, Sharon’s message “could lead to victory for the Wolfowitz camp,” wrote Zacharia in the Jerusalem Post.[13]  

With a green light from Washington, Israel not only intensified operations in Palestinian territory, but also stepped up hostilities towards Lebanon and Syria.  This is what the neoconservatives had hoped for.  As early as December 2001, Perle called on Israel to bomb the Bekaa Valley and the Hamas headquarters in Damascus.  By the US stepping back from Israel, Sharon could not only take Arafat out, but could also enlarge the conflict in areas surrounding Israel. Indeed, Sharon had come into office with a well-conceived strategy for thwarting the Middle East peace process. This was not initially apparent to US observers who saw Sharon’s pre-election belligerence as the acts of a crude anti-Palestinian bigot.  Sharon had in fact created the conditions to justify heightened levels of repression in the occupied territories by visiting Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque at the Temple Mount. This controversial action sparked the Second Intifada, touching off a wave of intense violence lasting for years. The Israel government would pull out of the peace process and launch a massive military campaign against Palestinians under this pretext.  What was viewed at the time as an act of ignorance and intolerance was in fact a brilliant strategic move by a hard-line right-winger bent on erasing the Oslo blunder.

In 2002, Frances Fitzgerald noted “for years before the Bush administration took office Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were calling for [Saddam’s] overthrow on the grounds that he posed a danger to the region, and in particular to Israel.”[14]  FitzGerald cites apanel discussion at the Washington Institute in June 1999 where Wolfowitz clarified his views about the connection between Iraq and the peace process. He believed George Senior’s invasion of Iraq averted a nuclear war between Iraq and Israel and that “Yasser Arafat was forced to make peace once radical alternatives like Iraq had disappeared.”  Wolfowitz continued, “The US needs to accelerate Saddam’s demise if it truly wants to help the peace process.”  Perle has likewise been clear on this connection.  “We shouldn’t wait,” he said.[15]  “We should go after Iraq.”  Why?  “The removal of Saddam would be a tremendous step forward for the peace process.  We need to take decisive action, and when we do and are successful, it will greatly strengthen our ability to do other things in the region.”

At an AIPAC conference held in the spring of 2002, “America and Israel Standing Together Against Terrorism,” attended by half of the US Senate and ninety members of the US House of Representatives, former Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said, “There has never been a greater friend of Israel in the White House than President George W. Bush.”  The conference saluted thirteen senior administration officials.  Talking points AIPAC officials handed out to delegates echoed Sharon’s message that he is “waging his part of the war on terrorism.”[16]  The talking points stated, among other things, that the US and Israel “are victims of well-organized and well-funded extremist organizations” and “Israel must defend against this terror just as surely as the USmust fight and destroy al Qaeda and other terrorist groups with global reach.”

President Bush and his team of advisors successfully reversed the Clinton peace strategy.  The new Middle East policy shifted the emphasis towards the problems of Saddam Hussein and the Palestinian Authority.  This required Bush and the State Department to back off the peace process and support Sharon’s refusal to negotiate with Palestinians in an environment of heightened conflict.  At every opportunity, Sharon made a point to reiterate his position: he would never deal with Palestinians under fire.  During their meetings, Bush and Sharon agreed that, until violence subsided, negotiations could not begin.  Sharon did his part to make sure violence would not wane.

Why would Bush support all this?  Opposition to the Oslo approach to Middle East peace reflects a particular brand of Christianity.  Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Ralph Reed, and others, as well as organizations such as the National Unity Coalition for Israel, have been vocal in opposing Palestinian statehood.  In 1997, these groups launched a major public relations campaign, publishing an advertisement in The New York Times declaring, “Christians Call for a United Jerusalem.”  According to the ad, Israel has a divine right to Jerusalem.

Numerous congressional figures also advance this position.  Led by House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas, evangelical Christians in the government have contended that Washington must permit Israel to fulfill biblical prophecy.  Senator James Inhofe said, from the floor of the Senate, “The Bible says that Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar before the Lord.”  “Hebron is in the West Bank,” the Senator from Oklahoma emphasized.  “It is at this place where God appeared to Abram and said, ‘I am giving you this land.’”  Inhofe then drew this startling conclusion: “This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.”  

At the core of this brand of evangelical Christianity is the belief God endorses the American way of life.  In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush declared, “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to humanity.”  In Bush’s view, no country is excused from accepting the heavenly present of “democratic capitalism.”  “Events aren’t moved by blind change and chance,” Bush stated at the 2003 National Prayer Breakfast; rather, “the hand of a just and faithful God” determines all circumstances.  Bush assured Americans they can “be confident in the ways of Providence, even when they are far from our understanding.”  History, according to Bush, is the unfolding of God’s will.  “Behind all of life and all of history, there’s a dedication and purpose.”  It is in the context of a worldview that rests upon Providence that members of the Bush administration have interpreted recent events as celestial signs God has ordained Bush to lead America through the final hour of His divine plan.

Members of the Bush administration see the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as signs God selected Bush to lead a crusade against evil.  Insiders have revealed that war planners bring their strategies and tactics to the president where he and members of his administration pray over their vision and translate the text into articles of faith.  Borger writes, “While most people saw the extraordinary circumstances of the 2000 election as a fluke, Bush and his closest supporters saw it as yet another sign he was chosen to lead.  Later, September 11 ‘revealed’ what he was there for.”[17]  Deborah Caldwell reports that, after his speech to Congress on 20 September 2001, Bush received a telephone call from speechwriter Mike Gerson, who said, “Mr. President, when I saw you on television, I thought—God wanted you there.”[18]  Tim Goeglein, deputy director of the White House public liaison, remarked to a religious reporter, “I think President Bush is God’s man at this hour.”  Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, said God chose George Bush to be President because “He knew George Bush had the ability to lead in this compelling way.”  Religious leader Gary Bauer once remarked, “A man of God is in the White House.”  Timereported, “Privately, Bush even talked of being chosen by the grace of God.”  When he was Texas governor, Bush called Fort Worth televangelist James Robison and said, “I’ve heard the call.  I believe God wants me to run for president.”[19]

David Frum, the speechwriter who coined the phrase “axis of evil,” exposed the depth of fundamentalism in the Bush administration in his book The Right Man.  According to Frum, Bush and his advisors strive to create in each of their targets an enemy comparable to Reagan’s Evil Empire, a construct steeped in religious metaphor.  During the writing of the 2002 State of the Union address, Gerson came to Frum and challenged him to “sum up in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq.”  Frum came up with the phrase “axis of hatred,” which he felt “described the ominous but ill-defined links between Iraq and terrorism.”  Gerson substituted the word “evil” for “hatred” because it made the slogan sound more “theological.”  According to Frum, in an interview with Julian Borger, “It was the sort of language President Bush used.”[20]

Bush’s policies are based on extremist interpretations of Christian doctrine.  A particular understanding of Christian eschatology—Apocalyptic Christianity—is his political guiding light.  His religious beliefs have fused with a conviction that God chose him to fulfill a part of a divine plan.  The type of evangelical faith that animates Bush’s ideology is Christian Zionism.  Christian Zionists believe, for Jesus to return to Earth, Israel must be restored to its biblical boundaries.  Much of the mainstream support for Israel’s colonial goals today comes from the Christian Zionist movement.  In the battle between Christianity and Islam, the Jews occupy a central position between them.  Christians today believe Jesus had to die to fulfill God’s plan for the Earth and that the Jews must have a homeland before Christ can return.  The rise of this brand of fundamentalist Christianity explains why so many Americans would agree with Bush’s vision.  The Bush vision resonates with so many of Bush’s followers because the faithful likely agree with the president and his advisors that he has been chosen by God to protect Israel and to repel Islam.

Linking war with Iraq to an eschatological view of history solves many problems for the Bush administration and its congregation. Neither the president nor supporters of the regime need to concern themselves with the justness of war and occupation, nor do they need to worry much about the consequences of war and occupation.  As Jackson Lears points out in an 11 March 2003 New York Timeseditorial, Providence “sanitizes the messy actualities of war and its aftermath.  Like the strategists’ faith in smart bombs, faith in Providence frees one from having to consider the role of chance in armed conflict, the least predictable of human affairs.  Between divine will and American know-how, we have everything under control.”  

* * *

A computer disc was found in Lafayette Park containing this advice from Bush principal advisor Karl Rove to his colleagues: “Focus on War.”  When the Republican Party met in Austin, Texas in the winter of 2002, Rove told the devoted there to exploit the war in Afghanistan for political gain. Revelations of Rove’s marching orders confirm what critical observers have understood for a long time: Rove is the architect of the political side of the war strategy.  Although the White House has endeavored to give the appearance of distancing Rove from foreign policy advising, desiring to portray him as playing no role in military decisions, he is still referred to as “General Rove.” Karl Rove is well aware of the perception among Americans that Republicans are stronger on national defense issues, and hammers the theme of Republican military prowess to the party faithful.  

Rove has become deeply involved in Bush’s Middle East policy.  When the White House considered pressuring Congress to back away from voting on a resolution in support of Israel, Rove convinced the White House not to.  Rove is out front pushing the president’s rhetoric of Sharon as a “man of peace.” Fearful conservative Christians and Jews in the Republican Party were becoming disillusioned with Bush’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, believed to be largely due to Powell’s disturbing concern with forging peace between the two peoples, Rove sent Wolfowitz to speak at a high-profile rally in support of Israel in April 2002.[21]  

Rove is the principal architect of the Bush image. He runs the three main propaganda offices in the White House: the Office of Political Affairs, which runs polls and focus groups to develop strategies for shaping messages, the Office of Public Liaison, which promotes Bush priorities through outreach to constituencies and public interest groups, and the Office of Strategic Initiatives, which coordinates the planning and implementation of the overarching strategy for achieving Bush’s plans.  It was Rove who picked Ellis Island, with the Statue of Liberty glowing in the background, as the site where Bush delivered his September 11 address to the nation. It was Rove who orchestrated the president’s “Top Gun” landing on the aircraft carrier with the banner heralding the end of the war in Iraq—“Mission Accomplished.”  It was Rove who claimed Bush’s disappearance in the aftermath of 9-11 was because Air Force One was under attack.  Rove timed the debate over Iraq in the fall of 2002 to benefit the Republicans by distracting the electorate from Bush’s dismal domestic record.

In one of the White House’s more audacious propaganda efforts, a film was released on Showtime, DC 9/11, depicting Bush not as that man who sat unconcerned before school children after being told the South Tower had been hit by a jet airliner, or as a confused president who was whisked away to an underground bunker in Nebraska for a crash course in how to act presidential in a military crisis, but rather as a take-charge genius cowboy.  “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me,” actor Timothy Bottoms, who plays Bush in the movie, thunders;  “I’ll be at home.  Waiting for the bastard.”  A secret service agent says, “But Mister President—,” but is cut off by Bush: “Try ‘Commander-in-Chief’ whose present command is: Take the President home!”  DC 9/11was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, a close associate of Bush, who worked with Rove to develop the “documentary.”  Chetwynd once remarked, “I threw myself on the mercies of my friend Karl Rove.”  Chetwynd, the founder of the Wednesday Morning Club, an organization of Hollywood conservatives organizing support for Bush, is a member of the White House Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Regime change has become the central tenet in Bush’s foreign policy as an aggressive doctrine of intervention takes shape.  The president has dedicated himself to materializing the doctrine of the “ugly American” he condemned at the Wake Forest University debate in October 2000.  The Bush doctrine contains three basic principles, as outlined by PNAC: 

  • The US shall develop the capacity to strike in a preemptive manner any country it deems as a threat.  Bush argued in the 2002 State of the Union address that just as America’s “enemies view the entire world as a battlefield,” so must the US.  
  • The US shall actively pursue regime change.  Americans must dedicate themselves to the task of nation building.  Countries targeted for intervention are “rogue states” and their “terrorist allies” that are “arming to threaten the peace of the world.”  
  • The US shall promote liberal democratic principles around the world.  In a 30 January 2003 memorandum to opinion leaders, PNAC wrote, “Because the US has a ‘greater objective’—a greater purpose—in the world, Bush sees in the war not just danger but an opportunity to spread American political principles, especially into the Muslim world.”  

America’s shift towards a renewed imperialism is the work of age of Scoop Jackson’s protégés.  Since the fall of the Soviet Union, members of the DPB-PNAC clique have believed they are entitled to a political moment comparable to 1949, when elite arrangements—the NSC, Bretton Woods, and NATO—shaped the post-WWII world.  The invasion and occupation of Iraq has been for years the central element in their polyarchic designs.  If the US can force Iraq to become a “democratic beacon” in the region, the neocons theorize, then other Middle Eastern countries will follow, touching off a “democratic tsunami.”  Democracies in Syria, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East will diffuse anti-American anger and create a context leading to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ushering in a new age of peace and liberal economic development in the region.  

The doctrine of the preemptive strike is the ideological cover over the practice of conducting foreign policy via military means. Linking a people to “global terrorism” and manufacturing evidence of “weapons of mass destruction” are tactics that potentially demonize any country that exists as an obstacle to national interest.  Now that the US is the world’s only super power, Washington feels more confident in deploying military means to conduct foreign affairs. 

Why are Americans behind this president and his policies? Certainly the degree of religiosity expressed by Americans in public opinion surveys explains much of it.  The most recent Gallup poll puts the number of born-again Christians at 41 percent.  Among born-again Christians, Bush’s popularity stands at 74 percent. Another reason is found in the ignorance of Americans concerning basic facts about the official enemy.  Nearly half of all Americans believe Saddam Hussein was part of the terrorist network that attacked the US on 11 September 2001. In a poll conducted by Steve Kull, an analyst for the Program on International Policy Attitudes (University of Maryland), one third of Americans believe US forces actually found WMD and 22 percent believe Saddam usedbiological and chemical weapons in the latest conflict.  In fact, no WMD have been found or were used.  Half of all Americans believed Iraqis were among the 19 hijackers.  Another survey found only 17 percent of respondents knew no hijackers were Iraqi. In fact, none of the hijackers were Iraqi. 

But at the root of Americans’ collective willingness to so readily fall for the administration’s propaganda is an overwhelming sense of fear and fatalism stemming from the 9-11 attacks and the government’s successful efforts to inject into the American psyche the threat of random terror.  The color-coded terrorist alert system lights up when the administration needs a bit more support for White House policy and legislation.  The president regularly warns Americans in high-profile events, “The enemy is wounded but still resourceful and actively recruiting and still dangerous.  We cannot afford a moment of complacency.” The “servants of evil who plotted the attacks” are everywhere, lurking behind trees and under buildings.  Fear is like a drug; its effect is the production of docile bodies.  Terrorized by their government, Americans have stood by passively while the Bush regime expands the police state at home, through such mechanisms as the Patriot Acts,[22] and invaded and occupied two countries. The president and his troops have exploited every opportunity to justify their policy goals on the basis of 9-11. Americans have done little to resist them.


[1]  US Central Command typically issues press releases with injuries only when there are deaths, so injuries are certainly higher.

[2]  The most notable case was the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor outside of Baghdad.  The international community roundly condemned Israel for this action.

[3]  The Washington Quarterly(Winter 2000).

[4]  Dan Morgan and David B. Ottaway, “In Iraq War Scenario, Oil is Key Issue:  US Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool,” The Washington Post, 15 September 2002, A-1.

[5]  Janine Zacharia, “Arik’s American Front,” The Jerusalem Post, 5 January 2001, 4B.

[6]   J. Zacharia, “Next Stop, Baghdad?”  Jerusalem Post12 October 2001, 1B.  

[7]  When Bush entered the White House, he authorized Rumsfeld to create the DPB.  Although Defense organized DPB as an independent advisory body, Rumsfeld appoints its members and they have access to classified information.  Members of the board include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Nixon Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and former CIA Director Jim Woolsey.  The DPB’s role is to advise Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, through former Reagan Defense Department official Douglas Feith, on security and defense issues. 

[8]  TimeMagazine, 27 January 2003.

[9]  Caroline Glick, “A Return to Jacksonian Zionism, The Jerusalem Post 22 November 2002, 1A.

[10]J. Zacharia, “Next Stop, Baghdad?”

[11]Peter Slevin and Glenn Frankel, “If US Wants to Engage, Analysts see Many Options, The Washington Post, 31 March 2003, A17. 

[12]Alan Sipress, “Bush Assures Sharon on US Role in Talks,” The Washington Post, 21 March 2001, A22.  

[13]Jerusalem Postwriter Janine Zacharia in a fall 2001 editorial, “Next Stop, Baghdad?”  

[14]Frances Fitzgerald, “Threat of War: How Hawks Captured the White House,” The Guardian24September 2002, 4.

[15]Philip Dine, “US Role as Mediator is Questioned,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, 21 April 2002, A10.

[16]Mike Allen, “White House and Hill State Support for Israel: Lobby’s Meeting Draws Strong Backing,” The Washington Post, 23 April 2001, A11.

[17]Julian Borger, “How I Created the Axis of Evil,” TheGuardian, 28 January 2003, 6.

[18]Deborah Caldwell, “Does the President Believe he has a Divine Mandate?”  The Times Union, 16 February 2003.

[19]Aaron Latham, “How George W. Found God,”George Magazine, September 2000.

[20]Borger, “How I Created the Axis of Evil.” 

[21]As Bush’s first term wears on, Rove has increasingly come to believe thatPowell is operating beyond the control of the White House and that the secretary of state is going about his business with a sense of entitlement.  “It’s constantly, you know, ‘I’m in charge, and this is all politics, and I’m going to win the internecine political game,’” Rove mocked Powell privately.

[22]  An acronym for “United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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