The Project for a New American Empire
A British magazine called them "the weird men behind George W. Bush's
war." Their Project has led to countless conspiracy theories. Their
principles are now the governing foreign and military policy of the Bush
administration—a plan combining U.S. military forces based around the
world with a doctrine of pre-emptive war and the development of new
Who are they, the creators of the "Project for the New American
Century"? What is the "Project," and why is it cause for concern? The
people behind it are now prominent players in the Bush administration
(see "Powers That Be," at left), and some of them—most notably,
Vice-President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld—are
household names. And their plan is for nothing less than securing U.S.
global domination for decades to come—and that's according to their own
The roots of the Project—both ideological and the people identified
with it—are in the Reagan administration. Combining an aggressive
foreign policy with a then-unprecedented military buildup, they helped
lead the invasions of Panama and Grenada, counter-insurgency wars in
Central America, the Cold War showdown with the Soviet Union, and the
arming of Iraq as a counter to radical Islamists in Iran.
In 1989, the Soviet Union finally imploded—and with it ended the
bipolar world that had existed since World War II. The United States
remained as the lone superpower. Neoconservative intellectuals, inside
and outside the administration of George Bush I, began plotting how to
continue that situation into the future.
After the first Gulf war, Paul Wolfowitz, then undersecretary of
defense for policy, drafted a defense planning document that laid out
the core ideas of what was to become the Project for the New American
Century's vision. It was a strategy of maintaining and strengthening
unchallenged U.S. military superiority against a potential future
superpower rival and against unrest around the world, through
pre-emption rather than containment and unilateral military action
rather than multilateral internationalism. Bush Sr. administration
officials rejected it as too radical.
Bill Clinton's foreign policy emphasized multilateralism, involving
the United States in peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Bosnia. In
response, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) emerged in
June 1997. Its founding "Statement of Principles" was released by a
who's who of former Reagan administration and conservative think tank
intellectuals. After criticizing the Clinton administration for
"incoherent policies," "squandering the opportunity," and "inconstant
leadership," they presented their alternative.
"American foreign and defense policy is adrift," the statement said.
"...As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as
the world's preeminent power…. Does the United States have the resolve
to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?"
The statement ended by calling for "a Reaganite policy of military
strength and moral clarity."
From the beginning, the Project was obsessed with Iraq. In a January
1998 letter to President Clinton, PNAC wrote, "We urge you…to turn your
administration's attention to implementing a strategy for removing
Saddam's regime from power." The letter was signed by, among others,
Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Elliott Abrams, and
In September 2000, the Project released its grand plan for the future
in a report titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and
Resources for a New Century." The report begins with the premise that
"The United States is the world's only superpower, combining preeminent
military power, global technological leadership, and the world's largest
economy…. America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend
this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.… Yet no
moment in international politics can be frozen in time; even a global
Pax Americana will not preserve itself."
The report recommends new missions for the U.S. armed forces,
including a dominant nuclear capability with a new generation of nuclear
weapons, sufficient combat forces to fight and win multiple major wars,
and forces for "constabulary duties" around the world with American
rather than U.N. leadership. It asserts that "The presence of American
forces in critical regions around the world is the visible expression of
the extent of America's status as a superpower" and proposes "a network
of 'deployment bases' or 'forward operating bases' to increase the reach
of current and future forces."
Specifically citing the Persian Gulf, the report notes that "the
United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in
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…. Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to
U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has."
Concluding with the importance of transforming the U.S. military for
new challenges, it provocatively notes that "the failure to prepare for
tomorrow's challenges will ensure that the current Pax Americana comes
to an early end."
This vision of American empire received little attention in fall 2000
and was largely dismissed as the work of hard-liners. The report itself
admitted that the process of accomplishing this transformation was
"likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing
event—like a new Pearl Harbor."
FEW OF THE Project's participants had supported George W. Bush in his
run for the presidency, fearing that with his lack of foreign policy
experience, he would be shaped by the moderate Republicans who had
dominated his father's administration. But Richard Cheney, one of the
Project's founders, was named vice president and placed in charge of the
transition. Suddenly Project participants were in key foreign and
military policy positions.
They immediately began to implement their strategic plan—withdrawing
from the anti-ballistic missile treaty, increasing military spending,
and beginning a missile defense program. But by the end of summer 2001,
the administration was in trouble. The president's approval rating had
sunk to 51 percent, the Democrats had regained control of the Senate
with the switch of Sen. James Jeffords, and the economy was entering a
Then came Sept. 11, the type of catastrophe the Project had posed as
necessary for the realization of its agenda. For them, it was the best
thing that could have happened.
The Project lost no time. Only days after 9/11, it released a letter
arguing that "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." That determined effort culminated in the war this
spring. The real rationale ultimately was not weapons of mass
destruction, oil, human rights violations, or any of the other reasons
given publicly. It was, as had been written two years earlier, the
desire for a permanent role in the strategically important Gulf region.
President Bush's 2002 State of the Union speech declared that "Our
war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun." He singled out Iraq,
Iran, and North Korea as "an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace
of the world." In June, the president signaled his support for a
pre-emptive war strategy, saying that the United States is "ready for
pre-emptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend
our lives." By the end of the year, this was the official policy of the
administration, outlined in two White House planning documents.
The strategy makes pre-emptive war official policy against "rogue
states" with the alleged potential to develop weapons of mass
destruction. "To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our
adversaries," the White House documents say, "the United States will, if
necessary, act pre-emptively." To fight those countries the
administration accuses of attaining (or even seeking) weapons of mass
destruction, the planning documents threaten its own mass destruction:
the possible first use of U.S. nuclear weapons. Admitting that this is a
"fundamental change from the past," the White House documents state that
U.S. military forces will use "pre-emptive measures" against such
states, including "the full range of operational capabilities"—which
many read as code for nuclear strikes. Indeed, this year's defense
authorization bill includes new, low-yield nuclear weapons, including
the "bunker buster."
The real or exaggerated fear of terrorism is being used to drive the
militarization of U.S. foreign policy. There are now U.S. troops in 130
countries around the world, permanent bases in 40, and a growing number
of others providing basing rights. The Wall Street Journal recently
described it as "one of the biggest shifts in U.S. military thinking in
the past 50 years," and noted that the new strategy is "pushing U.S.
forces into far more remote and dangerous corners of the world." Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld, architect of the strategy, is "preparing U.S. forces
for a future that could involve lots of small, dirty fights in remote
and dangerous places."
HOW DID A GROUP of little-known intellectuals gain the power to
control an administration? Partly by capitalizing on fear, with the
American people kept constantly on edge by color-coded terror warnings.
Partly by keeping the focus on one piece at a time—Afghanistan, Iraq,
and now Iran. And partly by their arrogant belief that there is
ultimately no force that can defeat them. It is the same hubris that
always accompanies empire—a desire to dominate the world through
But there is an alternative to empire and endless war. The plan of
the Project for the New American Century must be countered with a vision
that insists militarization and pre-emptive war is not the path to real
security. We must advance the vision of a world where international
institutions are strengthened rather than destroyed, where global
poverty is seriously addressed, where all countries, including the
United States, are disarming their weapons of mass destruction, and
where human rights are taken seriously. People of faith and goodwill in
this country and around the world stood up by the millions to oppose the
war against Iraq. We must now continue that opposition—through doing
justice, loving compassion, and walking with God in the struggle.
Duane Shank is issues and policy adviser for Sojourners.
Reprinted with permission from Sojourners. (800)