Ten years of PNAC barbarism

It is now a decade since the establishment of the Project for A New American Century (PNAC) – the neo-conservative think tank whose ideas formed the backbone for the two administrations of George W. Bush. The central legacy of PNAC will undoubtedly be the war on Iraq. It is, put simply, a legacy of barbarism.

Some of the signatories on the original PNAC “Statement of Principles” were hard to take seriously (remember Dan Quayle, the vice-president who couldn’t spell “potato” – or Francis Fukuyama who thought that history had ended?). But others – Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld in particular, would rise to prominence in the regime of George W. Bush, and cause nightmares for millions. By 2006 of these three, only Cheney remained in high office – Wolfowitz sent out to haunt the halls of the World Bank and Rumsfeld quitting to focus on writing his memoirs. The departure of these two PNAC advocates is not a coincidence. The entire PNAC vision has come crashing down around the heads of the U.S. administration, and Iraq is the poster child for its failure. But serious or not, disgraced or not, their advice provided the main justification for the attack on Iraq, and we are today living with the consequences.

The June 3, 1997 “Statement of Principles” by PNAC reads like a wish list for right-wing utopians. Its authors argued for a “Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity.” Such a vision “may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.”[1] When it came to Iraq, its goals were clear. In 1998 they urged then-president Bill Clinton to “act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction.”[2] Of course we now know that such a threat never existed. In the same year, in a letter to Newt Gingrich (remember him?) and Trent Lott, they warned of the consequences of not attacking Iraq. If the U.S. didn’t attack Iraq, then “We will have suffered an incalculable blow to American leadership and credibility” and “The administration will have unnecessarily put at risk U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.”[3] Nine years later, the U.S. has followed their advice, and U.S. credibility is at an all-time low, and nearly 4,000 dead U.S. soldiers have been flown back to the U.S. In 2003, one day before the horrible opening of “Shock and Awe”, they wrote that “Regime change is not an end in itself but a means to an end – the establishment of a peaceful, stable, united, prosperous, and democratic Iraq free of all weapons of mass destruction.”[4] Again, the latter part was easy – the WMDs never existed. But “peaceful, stable, united, prosperous and democratic” – no one, anywhere can maintain that any of these goals have been achieved.

One estimate in November, 2006, said that 1.8 million Iraqis had fled to neighbouring countries, while at least half a million had been internally displaced since the 2003 invasion.[5] According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), by April 2007, there were more than 4 million displaced Iraqis around the world (including those displaced before 2003), 1.9 million of who were still inside Iraq. “By 2006, Iraqis were once again the leading nationality seeking asylum in industrialized countries.”[6] By September 2007, the situation was even worse, the number of refugees in the region rising by close to 200,000, the number of internally displaced by 300,000 so that there were an extraordinary 2,256,000 internal refugees inside Iraq.[7]

Those were the ones who lived. We have no idea how many Iraqis have been killed. Iraq Body Count, basing its statistics on “cross-checked media reports, hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures,” estimated as of December 2007, that between 78,743 and 85,813 Iraqi civilians had met a violent death since the 2003 invasion.[8] This is the low end of estimates for civilian deaths. An authoritative 2006 study estimated that “approximately 600,000 people” had been “killed in the violence of the war that began with the U.S. invasion of March 2003.”[9] And in September 2007, a British polling firm produced an estimate of a minimum of 733,158 deaths since the war began. But, ORB indicates, the actual figure could be as high as an unbelievable 1,446,063.[10]

That is the legacy of PNAC – a country in ruins, body bags by the thousands, and the U.S. more isolated internationally than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

Sections of the U.S. elite are bitterly aware of PNAC’s failure. December 2007 is another anniversary – the first anniversary of the publication of the Iraq Study Group Report.[11] With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the report represented a watershed in U.S. ruling class thinking about wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the beginning of an attempt to find a way to retreat from the mess. But, as the Duke of Wellington is often quoted as saying, “The hardest thing of all for a soldier is to retreat.”[12]

This call for a retreat was not because its authors were converts to the cause of peace. James Baker, one of the two principal authors, was a high-up Reagan and Bush loyalist in the 1980s and 1990s, who “helped orchestrate the international coalition that opposed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait” in 1991, and directed the campaign of George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential elections. [13] Baker is an empire loyalist from way back. His concern was the way in which the Iraq debacle was undermining the empire’s credibility.

The report’s authors said that their “most important recommendations call for new and enhanced diplomatic and political efforts in Iraq and the region, and a change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.”[14] They warned against a policy of putting more troops into Iraq. “Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq … adding U.S. troops might temporarily help limit violence in a highly localized area. However, past experience indicates that the violence would simply rekindle as soon as U.S. forces are moved to another area.”[15] They warned against a strategy of partition. “The costs associated with devolving Iraq into three semiautonomous regions with loose central control would be too high. Because Iraq’s population is not neatly separated, regional boundaries cannot be easily drawn. All eighteen Iraqi provinces have mixed populations, as do Baghdad and most other major cities in Iraq. A rapid devolution could result in mass population movements, collapse of the Iraqi security forces, strengthening of militias, ethnic cleansing, destabilization of neighbouring states, or attempts by neighbouring states to dominate Iraqi regions.”[16]

It is a little ironic, then, that Bush’s response to the report was to a) increase troop levels through the so-called “troop surge” which had the effect of b) accelerating the mass population movements, ethnic cleansing and de facto division of the country into three regions.

In the end, the U.S. will have to leave Iraq. The troop surge cannot last, the allies are withering away, and whoever is elected president in 2008 will be under tremendous pressure to “declare victory” and leave. But this could still mean years more of death, destruction and misery for the Iraqi people, while a divided U.S. ruling class decides how to retreat without losing face.

There remains only one way to begin the reconstruction of Iraq – an unconditional, immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops.

© 2007 Paul Kellogg


[1] Elliot Abrams et. al., “Statement of Principles,” Project for a New American Century, www.newamericancentury.org (account suspended – available at http://web.archive.org), June 3, 1997
[2] Elliot Abrams, et. al., “Letter to President Clinton on Iraq,” Project for a New American Century, www.newamericancentury.org (account suspended – available at http://web.archive.org), Jan. 26, 1998
[3] Elliot Abrams, et. al., “Letter to Gingrich and Lott on Iraq,” Project for a New American Century, www.newamericancentury.org (account suspended – available at http://web.archive.org), May 29, 1998
[4] Ronald Asmus, et. al., “Statement on Post-War Iraq,” Project for a New American Century, www.newamericancentury.org (account suspended – available at http://web.archive.org), March 19, 2003
[5] “Iraqi Refugee Crisis: International Response Urgently Needed,” Bulletin: Refugees International, www.refugeesinternational.org, December 5, 2006.
[6] UNHCR, “Statistics on Displaced Iraqis around the World,” April 2007, www.unhcr.org
[7] UNHCR, “Statistics on Displaced Iraqis around the World,” September 2007, www.unhcr.org
[8] “Iraq Body Count,” www.iraqbodycount.org
[9] Gilbert Burnham et. al., The Human Cost of the War in Iraq: A Mortality Study, 2002-2006 Bloomberg School of Public Health, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland,
[10] ORB, “More than 1,000,000 Iraqis murdered,” September, 2007, www.opinion.co.uk
[11] James A. Baker, Lee H. Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report, United States Institute of Peace, Dec. 6, 2006 www.usip.org
[12] “Quotes of the Duke of Wellington,” Napoleonic Guide, www.napoleonguide.com
[13] “Baker, James Addison, III,” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online .
[14] Baker and Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report, page 6.
[15] Baker and Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report, page 30.
[16] Baker and Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report, page 31.

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