Neoconservative clout seen in U.S. Iraq
By BRUCE MURPHY
Last Updated: April 5, 2003
Question: Why are we in Iraq?
Answer: The neoconservatives made us do it.
The buzz in Washington and beyond has been
that President Bush's attack on Iraq came
straight from the playbook of the
neoconservatives, a group of mostly Republican
strategists, many of whom have gotten funding
from Milwaukee's Bradley Foundation. The
neoconservatives differ from traditional
conservatives in favoring a more activist role for
government and a more aggressive foreign
Led by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol,
the neoconservatives have offered a sweeping
new vision for U.S. foreign policy: to restructure
the Middle East and supplant dictators around
the world, using pre-emptive attacks when
necessary against any countries seen as potential
threats. Traditional conservatives, such as
Heritage Foundation fellow John C. Hulsman,
suggest that this will lead to "endless war," while
Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace has charged that "announcing
a global crusade on behalf of democracy is
Whether Bush ends up sticking with the
neoconservative playbook remains to be seen,
but a wide range of observers suggest it is a key
part of his current game plan.
"I think Bush has drawn upon that thinking," said
Michael Joyce, who led the Bradley Foundation,
a leading funder of neoconservative thinkers,
from 1986 to 2001. Joyce added that Bush's
"key people," including Vice President Dick
Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz,
"were clearly influenced by this thinking."
Under Joyce, the Bradley Foundation made 15
grants totaling nearly $1.9 million to the New
Citizenship Project Inc., a group Kristol led and
which also created the Project for a New
American Century, a key proponent of a more
aggressive U.S. foreign policy. The foundation
also is a significant funding source for the
American Enterprise Institute, a Washington,
D.C., think tank with many neoconservative
Perhaps more important, noted Joyce, the
Bradley Foundation was a longtime funder of
Harvard University's John M. Olin Center for
Strategic Studies, which until 2000 was run by
Samuel P. Huntington, who wrote the influential
book "The Clash of Civilizations and the
Remaking of World Order" about the conflict
between the West and the Muslim world.
Huntington trained "a large number of scholars"
who have helped develop neoconservative
theories, Joyce noted.
Read by the right people
But it is Kristol's Weekly Standard, bankrolled
by conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch,
that has popularized these viewpoints. The
Standard may have a circulation of just 55,000,
but it has aimed successfully at policy-makers
rather than average readers, making it "one of the
most influential publications in Washington," a
story by The New York Times concluded.
Hulsman calls the Standard the "house
newspaper" of the Bush administration.
Kristol and Gary Schmidt, executive director of
the Project for a New American Century, have
accused the media of exaggerating their impact.
"I think it's ludicrous to see all these articles, in
this country and in Europe, that somehow we are
the diabolical cabal behind the war in Iraq. It
wasn't the case that Bill (Kristol) was calling
people in the White House advocating for
things," Schmidt told the Journal Sentinel. Their
influence came from "intellectual leverage, not
personal leverage," he added.
In 1997, the Standard's cover story announced
that "Saddam Must Go." In 1998, the Standard
published a letter to then-President Clinton,
calling on him to remove Hussein from power.
The letter was signed by 18 people, eight of
whom would join the Bush administration in
senior positions, including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz
and Richard Perle, who serves on the influential
Defense Policy Board and was until last month
Roman Empire of 21st century?
The neoconservatives argue that we no longer
live in a bipolar world, as when Russia faced off
against the United States. They see a unipolar
world, with America as the Rome of the 21st
century, a colossus that can dictate its will to the
world, noting that America spends as much on
defense as the next 15 countries combined and
has troops stationed in 75 countries.
"The fact is," writes Charles Krauthammer, a
Washington Post columnist who espouses
neoconservative views, "no country has been as
dominant culturally, economically, technologically
and militarily in the history of the world since the
late Roman Empire."
Hulsman summarizes the neoconservative view
this way: "We should acknowledge we have an
empire. We have power and we should do good
In essence, the neoconservatives argue that
national sovereignty is an outdated concept,
given the overwhelming power of America, and
the U.S. should do all it can to impose
democracy on countries. Some have called this
approach democratic imperialism. It echoes the
do-gooder impulses of Woodrow Wilson, the
Democratic president who formulated the
League of Nations as a solution to war, then
paradoxically blends it with American military
might. Hulsman dubbed it "Wilsonianism on
In a world where nuclear weapons are
proliferating, the neoconservatives argue, you
can no longer put the genie back in the bottle.
"The hard truth is that unless you change some of
these regimes, you're going to be hard-pressed
to get rid of the threat," Schmidt noted. "Liberal
democracies don't go to war with each other."
The theory behind this, developed by Michael Doyle, professor of
international affairs at Princeton University, is that democratic governments
are reluctant to go to war because they must answer to their citizens. And
the history of liberal democracies, though comparatively short in the grand
scheme of history, tends to buttress his point.
But for critics such as Hulsman, democracy arises from the bottom up and is
"intimately connected with local culture and tradition. It can almost never be
successfully imposed from the top down," he contends.
Neoconservatives cite Germany and Japan, but Hulsman noted that Japan is
"98 percent ethnically homogenous," unlike Iraq, which is split among three
major groups. Yet Japan still required five years of American occupation
after World War II before it became an independent democracy.
The mission of democratizing the world may have no end, Hulsman says,
because "there are always barbarians to convert."
But whatever his disagreement with it, Hulsman called the neoconservatives'
approach "the first new thought in foreign policy for some time."
These ideas had little impact on presidential candidate George W. Bush,
who espoused a humble foreign policy that emphatically rejected the kind of
nation-building he now envisions for Iraq. In the early days of Bush's
administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell's less aggressive views on
foreign policy prevailed.
But after the attack on the World Trade Center, everything changed.
Wolfowitz was soon declaring that America's intention was not just to target
terrorists connected to Osama bin Laden, but to fight a "global war" and
eliminate any sovereign states "who sponsor terrorism."
'Critical' voice in Pentagon
Wolfowitz had long held similar views. While third in command at the
Pentagon (under Cheney) in 1991, Wolfowitz had argued in favor of
pre-emptive action against countries such as Iraq and North Korea. "He
was criticized as unduly hawkish prior to September 11th, but you don't
hear that criticism now," Joyce said.
Wolfowitz was also unique in that he was comfortable in academia and
connected to intellectuals.
"Wolfowitz is critical," Hulsman said. "He's the link between intellectual
neocons like Kristol and the world of decision-makers."
Wolfowitz hammered away at the need to attack Iraq, backed by the
Weekly Standard and the huge American Enterprise Institute. The institute
has supplanted the more traditionally conservative Heritage Foundation,
which was more influential with the senior George Bush as the key think
tank for GOP insiders. Heritage scholars argue in favor of building alliances,
as in the first Gulf War, while the American Enterprise Institute scholars say
America's leadership can be decisive, with or without allies.
Turning point of Sept. 11
Joyce said it was inevitable that the younger Bush would embrace the
neoconservative view. "I'm not sure September 11th did more than push the
timetable up," he said. But press accounts suggest that the events of Sept.
11 were crucial for Bush, and even after this his thinking changed gradually
in response to several things:
The anthrax attacks in New York, Washington and Florida in
October 2001 raised fears of Saddam Hussein's involvement.
Evidence found in Afghanistan the next month that showed Osama
bin Laden's group had been trying to secure weapons of mass
destruction raised the question again of whether Hussein could be a
And by early 2002, a source told Time magazine, the stories of
Hussein's cruelty to his own people had convinced Bush that the
dictator was "insane" and therefore capable of giving weapons of
mass destruction to al-Qaida terrorists.
By January 2002, Bush signaled his embrace of the neoconservative vision,
declaring Iraq, Iran and North Korea were an "axis of evil" that must be
resisted. By May, Bush announced that the U.S. would take pre-emptive
action against threats from such regimes.
To the neoconservatives, the question of what weapons Hussein might
actually possess was less important than his intention to get them. "Once the
nuclear materials are there, you're screwed," argued Schmidt of the Project
for a New American Century. "When you can really do pre-emption is
when it's early."
'Draining the swamp'
Overthrowing Hussein could also accomplish broader goals.
Neoconservatives often talk about "draining the swamp" in the Middle East.
Once Hussein is removed, Hudson Institute co-founder Max Singer has
predicted, "there will be an earthquake throughout the region" that could
topple the leadership of Saudi Arabia.
Even more pressing, says Schmidt, is the need to create a more moderate
regime in Iran, which could have a nuclear weapon in 18 to 24 months, he
predicted. (By contrast, North Korea, which already has nuclear weapons,
would have to be approached very differently.)
If the goal is to transform the Middle East, the obvious place to start is with
Iraq, which was already in trouble with the United Nations, had little
international standing and was reviled even by some Arab nations.
A recent story in Time suggests that Cheney became convinced by his
discussions with Fouad Ajami, professor and director of Middle East
studies at Johns Hopkins University, that the people of Iraq would "erupt in
joy" at the arrival of the Americans. Others have predicted a victory in Iraq
could lead to regime changes in Iran, Syria, the Palestinian Liberation
Organization, Yemen and elsewhere.
"To these states," Richard Perle recently suggested, "we could deliver . . . a
two-word message: You're next."
Some Middle Eastern leaders have already gotten this message.
"We are all targeted," Syrian President Bashar Assad told an Arab summit
meeting on March 1.
Quick action required
If the war in Iraq lasts months rather than weeks, the theory that
overwhelming American power can simultaneously pursue objectives in Iraq
and beyond will be tested.
"If this is to be done, it has to be done rapidly," Schmidt said of the Iraq
Lawrence F. Kaplan, Kristol's co-author of the influential book "The War
Over Iraq," has put it this way: "The real question is not whether the
American military can topple Hussein's regime, but whether the American
public has the stomach for imperial involvement of a kind we have not
known since the United States occupied Germany and Japan."
The public's stomach could be affected not just by the war's cost in lives,
but also by its costs in dollars. Beyond the $380 billion defense budget, the
war already is expected to cost an additional $80 billion, with some
administration officials estimating it could go as high as $200 billion.
Michael O'Hanlon, a defense policy expert at the Brookings Institution, a
liberal Washington, D.C., think tank, has argued that most university experts
oppose U.S. policy in Iraq.
There are even naysayers within the Bush administration and among retired
Hulsman described the neoconservatives as "a very incestuous,
self-referential group of people."
"It's like what we saw with Vietnam. If you surround yourself with people
who agree, you get in trouble."
But Hulsman noted that the secretary of state and his staff have been less
enthusiastic about the neoconservative vision and are probably more
comfortable with the international "realists" at the Heritage Foundation, such
as Hulsman himself. And whatever the seeming unity in the Bush
administration is now, the president could change his mind again as world
Which is just what Hulsman and other "outs" are waiting for.
"If Iraq goes badly, then I think the realists are ready to take control," he