Project for the New American Century/Iraq War

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The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was noteworthy for its focus on Iraq, a preoccupation that began before Bush became president and predates the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In 1998, the group wrote an open letter to President Bill Clinton, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott (then Senate Majority Leader) and Newt Gingrich (then Speaker of the House of Representatives), demanding a harder line against Iraq.[1] By then, the group had grown in numbers, adding individuals such as former Reagan-era U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, and long-time Washington cold warrior/pro-Likud Richard N. Perle.

In the wake of 9/11 PNAC sent President Bush a letter which lays down a plan to achieve a win in the war on terror. Just 9 days after the attack on the Twin Towers PNAC were pushing for an attack on Iraq and a change of regime there:

But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.[2]

This suggests that an attack on Iraq was on the cards even before the 9/11 attacks and that 9/11 was only used as an excuse in order to give authority to the attack. A letter from PNAC to President Clinton in 1998, three years before the 9/11 attacks, states that America needs to attack Iraq before Iraq uses WMDs on moderate Middle Eastern states who are friendly with the US:

We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.[3]

According to an editorial by William Rivers Pitt, PNAC

has been agitating since its inception for a war with Iraq. PNAC was the driving force behind the drafting and passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act, a bill that painted a veneer of legality over the ultimate designs behind such a conflict. The names of every prominent PNAC member were on a letter[4] delivered to President Clinton in 1998 which castigated him for not implementing the Act by driving troops into Baghdad.
PNAC has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to a Hussein opposition group called the Iraqi National Congress, and to Iraq's heir-apparent, Ahmed Chalabi, despite the fact that Chalabi was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court to 22 years in prison on 31 counts of bank fraud. Chalabi and the INC have, over the years, gathered support for their cause by promising oil contracts to anyone that would help to put them in power in Iraq.
Most recently, PNAC created a new group called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Staffed entirely by PNAC members, The Committee has set out to "educate" Americans via cable news connections about the need for war in Iraq. This group met recently with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice regarding the ways and means of this education. ...
The Project for the New American Century seeks to establish what they call 'Pax Americana' across the globe. Essentially, their goal is to transform America, the sole remaining superpower, into a planetary empire by force of arms. A report released by PNAC in September of 2000 entitled 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' codifies this plan, which requires a massive increase in defense spending and the fighting of several major theater wars in order to establish American dominance. The first has been achieved in Bush's new budget plan, which calls for the exact dollar amount to be spent on defense that was requested by PNAC in 2000. Arrangements are underway for the fighting of the wars.[5]

William Rivers Pitt writes:

Two events brought PNAC into the mainstream of American government: the disputed election of George W. Bush and the attacks of September 11th. When Bush assumed the Presidency, the men who created and nurtured the imperial dreams of PNAC became the men who run the Pentagon, the Defense Department and the White House. When the Towers came down, these men saw, at long last, their chance to turn their White Papers into substantive policy.[6]

Several original PNAC members, including Richard Bruce Dick Cheney, Zalmay Khalilzad and the Bush family, have ties to the oil industry. Many other members have been long-time fixtures in the U.S. military establishment or Cold War "strategic studies," including Elliott Abrams, Dick Cheney, Paula Dobriansky, Aaron Friedberg, Frank Gaffney, Fred C. Ikle, Peter W. Rodman, Stephen P. Rosen, Henry S. Rowen, Donald H. Rumsfeld, John R. Bolton, Vin Weber, and Paul Dundes Wolfowitz. It should not be surprising, therefore, that while the group devotes inordinate attention to Iraq, its most general focus has been on a need to "re-arm America." The prospect of mining oil riches may explain part of the group's focus on Iraq, but this motivation has been buried under the rhetoric of national security and the need for strong national defense.

To justify a need to "rearm" the country, however, reasons must be found. In the more peaceable world of the late 1990s, with no rival super-power in sight, Iraq and "ballistic missile defense" against "rogue states" were the main games in town. The group's links to advocacy for ballistic missile defense came through Donald Rumsfeld, who in 1998 chaired a bi-partisan commission on the "US Ballistic Missile Threat" and Vin Weber, a registered lobbyist for Lockheed Martin and other Fortune 500 companies.

PNAC/Iraq War timeline


PNAC was launched shortly after their publication of an article in Foreign Affairs in 1996 entitled Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy, in which they outlined the strengths of Reaganite Foreign Policy particularly in relation to the “Soviet Empire”.[7] Reagan, the article argues, treated the Soviet threat seriously, the administration increased defence spending, resisted the Soviet advances in the “Third World”, and the U.S. foreign policy experienced “greater moral clarity and purpose.”[8] While critical of then President Bill Clinton the author Robert Kagan argued the return of such foreign policy was what Washington needed.[9] According to Kagan America’s reduced international role in a post-Cold War world is “bad for the country and, incidentally, bad for conservatism.”[10] Therefore he calls for America to adopt a new role in the international politics, and this new role is “benevolent global hegemony”.[11] The defeat of Communism has won America a reputation for strategic and ideological superiority. Now the main aim of U.S foreign policy should be to protect that reputation, by improving America’s security, supporting its allies, looking after its interests, and defending its principles around the world. The article also assumes that world’s major powers would welcome U.S. global involvement and will support its global leadership role.[12]


Two years later the PNAC wrote a letter to President Clinton urging him to pay more attention to the Middle East issue and to reform the Foreign Policy. The letter makes it clear that the current foriegn policy is not working, and a new policy “should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power”.[13] Along with offering their support the group argue that the policy of “containment”[14]of Saddam is not working, thus America is unable to ensure that Saddam is not producing weapons of mass destruction. America's military and economic safety make up the core argument of the letter. “The safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard…the security of the world in the first part of the 21st century will be determined largely by how we handle this threat." [15] Four days later an article titled Bombing Iraq isn’t Enough was published which starts with a forceful statement of “Saddam Hussein must go”.[16] The article basically argues that in order to put an end to threat in the Middle East regime change is necessary. As well as expressing some levels of satisfaction with administration’s decision to take military action of three to four days bombing of the weapon sites, it shows concern it may not work. Because “the only way to remove the threat of those weapons is to remove him, and that means using air power and ground forces, and finishing the task left undone in 1991.”[17] In September same year another article of the similar content was published titled A Way to Oust Saddam. The article is commenting on Wolfowitz’s plan to establish a “liberated zone”[18]in southern Iraq for opponents of Saddam, where they could mobilise and organise a provisional government, and gain international recognition. The article proposes two ways to implement this plan; first: the Iraqi opposition should be supported with dollars,and weapons and should be politically recognised. Second: the president should be authorised to use force against Saddam.[19] More calls for Saddam’s removal appear in November same year, this time confident about securing the possibility of an action against Iraq, it is now considering ways to attack in How to Attack Iraq. The article welcomes the idea of creating “liberated zone” in the south but insist that the zone should be protected by U. S .military power, both from the air and, on the ground.[20]


Calls for regime change in Iraq continued and became more intense with Bush administration. In an article Like Father, Like Son the author sees little hope for any serious action against Iraq as it starts with a complain that Bush I “sent troops to Iraq to protect oil, but not to oust a repressive regime.” Arguing that Bush II too will be concerned with strategic matter rather than democratic values. [21].


A letter from PNAC to President Bush written just over a week after the 9/11 attack praises the President’s quotes “to lead the world to victory”[22]and show their full support. It particularly likes the idea of not only going after those responsible but also “other groups out there that mean us no good”.[23]Quoting the president again the letter goes on to say in order to carry out the “first war of the 21st century.”[24] The PNAC proposes its strategies to not only attack and destroy Osama bin Laden, but “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein”. [25]


Perhaps it was the impact of this letter that a few months later the internal debate of the administration was no longer about whether to go to war or not but when to go. The idea of creating a democratic Iraq “from which American values would radiate through the region captured president’s imagination.”[26] The weapons of mass destruction issue as a rationale of the attack was to be presented to the public. It had worked well in manipulating public attitude and by the eve of war more than half of the American public believed Saddam was involved in 9/11 attack.[27]The rationale behind the war had failed and no WMD were found in Iraq, and so had failed the decade long calls of PNAC to alert America of Saddam’s possession of WMD. Along with that had failed the assumption of links between Saddam and bin Laden, the evidence suggested that Saddam had in fact rejected bin Laden’s offer for cooperation.[28]Cohen concludes: “the war did nothing to reduce the threat of terrorism. It did not bring democracy to Iraq."[29]Richard Clarke, a counter terrorism specialist, argued that Bush had taken America into an irrelevant and costly war, which instead strengthened terrorism. Bob Woodward revealed that the administration had privately diverted the funds appropriated for Afghanistan to use for war against Iraq.[30]

In 2003 in an article titled Do What it Takes in Iraq, while evaluating the post-war events in Iraq, Kagan and Kristol consider the war a success. They saw success in the fact that there still “is food and water. Hospitals are up and running.”[31] Also they stated that the post war events did not fulfill the predictions of some opponents of the war: “The Arab and Muslim worlds have not erupted in chaos or anger, as so many of our European friends confidently predicted.”[32] Along with evaluating the success in Iraq war they are also making some references to the next possible targets: “terrorists entering the country from neighbouring Syria and Iran threaten to destabilize the tenuous peace that has held in Iraq since the end of the war.”[33]

The only matter worrying them at this stage was that there were too few American troops operating in Iraq.[34]


  1. Iraq Clinton Letter, PNAC website, accessed 21 July 2009
  2. PNAC Website, Letter after 9/11 attacks, accessed 24 March 2008
  3. PNAC Website, Letter to Clinton '98, accessed 25 March 2008
  4. Letter from PNAC to President Clinton, 26 Jan 1998, accessed 28 July 2009
  5. [1]
  6. William Rivers Pitt, Of Gods and Mortals and Empire, Truthout, 21 February 2003, version placed in web archive 27 Feb 2003, accessed in web archive 21 July 2009
  7. Robert Kagan,A Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,Carnegie Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996
  8. Robert Kagan,A Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,Carnegie Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996
  9. Robert Kagan,A Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,Carnegie Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996,
  10. Robert Kagan,A Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,Carnegie Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996
  11. Robert Kagan,A Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,Carnegie Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996
  12. Robert Kagan, Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign PolicyCarnegie Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996,Accessed 24/02/08
  13. letter to President Bill ClintonJanuary 26, 1998 ,
  14. letter to President Bill ClintonJanuary 26,1998,
  15. letter to President Bill ClintonJanuary 26,1998,
  16. William Kristol & Robert Kagan, 1998,Bombing Iraq Isn't EnoughThe New York Times January 30
  17. William Kristol & Robert Kagan, 1998,Bombing Iraq Isn't EnoughThe New York Times January 30
  18. Robert Kagan, 1998,A Way to Oust SaddamWeekly Standard, September 28
  19. Robert Kagan, 1998,A Way to Oust SaddamWeekly Standard, September 28
  20. The Weekly Standard,How to Attack Iraq, November 16,1998, Accessed 16/03/08
  21. Stan Crock,Bush's Foreign Policy: Like Father, Like Son?Week, August 14, 2000,Accessed 27/02/08
  22. ,Letter to President Bush September 20, 2001Accessed 02/03/08
  23. ,Letter to President Bush September 20, 2001Accessed 02/03/08
  24. ,Letter to President Bush September 20, 2001Accessed 02/03/08
  25. ,Letter to President Bush September 20, 2001Accessed 02/03/08
  26. Warren I Cohen, America’s Failing Empire, Blackwell Publishing 2005, p.144
  27. Ibid p.147-149
  28. Ibid p.153
  29. Ibid p.157
  30. Ibid p.158
  31. Robert Kagan and William Kristol, Do what it take in Iraq, The Weekly Standard, September 8, 2003,
  32. Robert Kagan and William Kristol, Do what it take in Iraq, The Weekly Standard, September 8, 2003,
  33. Robert Kagan and William Kristol, Do what it take in Iraq, The Weekly Standard, September 8, 2003,
  34. Robert Kagan and William Kristol, Do what it take in Iraq, The Weekly Standard, September 8, 2003,Accessed 12/03/08