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ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – They’ve won. They got their war against Afghanistan (planned before September 11). They’re getting their war against Iraq (planned slightly after September 11). After Iraq, they plan to get their wars against Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Last Sunday, one of them, Vice President Dick Cheney, said that President George W Bush would have to make “a very difficult decision” on Iraq. Not really. The decision had already been taken for him in the autumn of 2001.

As far as their “showdown Iraq” is concerned, it’s not about weapons of mass destruction, nor United Nations inspections, nor non-compliance, nor a virtual connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, nor the liberation of the Iraqi people, nor a Middle East living in “democracy and liberty”.

The American corporate media are not inclined to spell it out, and the absolute majority of American public opinion is anesthetized non-stop by a barrage of technical, bureaucratic and totally peripheral aspects of the war against Iraq. For all the president’s (sales)men, the whole game is about global preeminence, if not unilateral world domination – military, economic, political and cultural. This may be an early 21st century replay of the “white man’s burden”. Or this may be just megalomania. Either way, enshrined in a goal of the Bush administration, it cannot but frighten practically the whole world, from Asia to Africa, from “old Europe” to the conservative establishment within the US itself.

During the Clinton years, they were an obscure bunch – almost a sect. Then they were all elevated to power – again: most had worked for Ronald Reagan and Bush senior. Now they have pushed America – and the world – to war because they want it. Period. An Asia Times Online investigation reveals this is no conspiracy theory: it’s all about the implementation of a project.

The lexicon of the Bush doctrine of unilateral world domination is laid out in detail by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), founded in Washington in 1997. The ideological, political, economic and military fundamentals of American foreign policy – and uncontested world hegemony – for the 21st century are there for all to see.

PNAC’s credo is officially to muster “the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests”. PNAC states that the US must be sure of “deterring any potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role” – without ever mentioning these competitors, the European Union, Russia or China, by name. The UN is predictably dismissed as “a forum for leftists, anti-Zionists and anti-imperialists”. The UN is only as good as it supports American policy.

The PNAC mixes a peculiar brand of messianic internationalism with realpolitik founded over a stark analysis of American oil interests. Its key document, dated June 1997, reads like a manifesto. Horrified by the “debased” Bill Clinton, PNAC exponents lavishly praise “the essential elements of the Reagan administration’s success: 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 United States’ global responsibilities”. These exponents include Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory panel to the Pentagon made up of leading figures in national security and defense, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Reagan-era White House adviser Elliott Abrahms.

Already in 1997, the PNAC wanted to “increase defense spending significantly” to “challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values” and “to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles”. The deceptively bland language admitted “such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity 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”.

The signatories of this 1997 document read like a who’s who of Washington power today: among them, in addition to those mentioned above, Eliot Cohen, Steve Forbes, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, William Bennett, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, Lewis Libby, Norman Podhoretz and Dan Quayle.

The PNAC, now actively exercising power, is about to fulfill its dream of invading Iraq. In the PNAC’s vision of Iraq, the only vector that matters is US strategic interest. Nobody really cares about Saddam Hussein’s “brutal dictatorship”, nor his extensive catalogue of human rights violations, nor “the suffering of the Iraqi people”, nor his US-supplied weapons of mass destruction, nor his alleged connection to terrorism.

Iraq counts only as the first strike in a high-tech replay of the domino theory: the next dominoes will be Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The idea is to carve up Syria; let Turkey invade northern Iraq; overthrow the Saudi royal family; restore the Hashemites to the Hijaz in Arabia. And dismember Iraq altogether and annex it to Jordan as a vassal kingdom to the US: after all, Jordan’s King Abdullah is a cousin of former Iraqi King Faisal, deposed in 1958. This would be one solution for the nagging question of who would have any legitimacy to be in power in Baghdad after Saddam.

Rumsfeld loves NATO, but he abhors the European Union. All PNAC members and most Pentagon civilians – but not the State Department – do: after all, they control NATO, not the EU. These things usually are not admitted in public. But Rumsfeld, the blunt midwesterner, former fighter pilot and former servant of presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, prefers John Wayne to Bismarck: even Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a staunch ally of Bush, complained out loud that diplomacy for Rumsfeld is an alien concept. Rumsfeld even has his own wacky axis of evil: Cuba, Libya and … Germany. If Rumsfeld barely manages to disguise his aversion for dovish Secretary of State Colin Powell’s views, one imagines to what circle of hell he dispatches the pacifist couple of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder.

Strange, no journalist has stood up and ask Rumsfeld, in one of those cosy Pentagon spinning sessions, how was his 90-minute session with Saddam in Baghdad in December 20, 1983. The fuzzy photo of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam, observed by Iraqi vice premier Tarik Aziz, is now a collector’s item. Rumsfeld was sent by Reagan to mend relations between the US and Iraq only one month after Reagan had adopted a secret directive – still partly classified – to help Saddam fight Iran’s Islamic Revolution that had begun in 1979. This close cooperation led to nothing else than Washington selling loads of military equipment and also chemical precursors, insecticides, aluminum tubes, missile components and anthrax to Saddam, who in turn used the lot to gas Iranian soldiers and then civilian Kurds in Halabja, northern Iraq, in 1988. The selling of these chemical weapons was organized by Rumsfeld.

Washington was perfectly aware at the time that Saddam was using chemical weapons. After the Halabja massacre, the Pentagon engaged in a massive disinformation campaign, spinning that the massacre was caused by Iran. Cheney, as Pentagon chief from March 1989 onwards, continued to cooperate very closely with Saddam. The military aid – secretly organized by Rumsfeld – also enabled Saddam to invade Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Between 1991 and 1998, UN weapons inspectors conclusively established that the US – as well as British, German and French firms – had sold missile parts and chemical and bacteriological material to Iraq. So much for the moral high ground defended by America and Britain in the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction controversy.

September 2002’s National Security Strategy (NSS) document simply delighted the members of the PNAC. No wonder: it reproduced almost verbatim a September 2000 report by the PNAC, which in turn was based on the now famous 1992 draft Defense Policy Guidance (DPG), written under the supervision of Wolfowitz for then secretary of defense Cheney. Already in 1992, the three key DPG objectives were to prevent any “hostile power’ from dominating regions whose resources would allow it to become a great power; to dissuade any industrialized country from any attempt to defy US leadership; and to prevent the future emergence of any global competitor. That’s the thrust of the NSS document, which calls for a unipolar world in which Washington’s military power is unrivalled.

In this context, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is just the first installment in an extended practical demonstration of what will happen to “rogue” states alleged to have or not have weapons of mass destruction, alleged to have or not have links to terrorism, and alleged connections to anyone or anything that might challenge US supremacy. The European Union, China and Russia beware: the Shock and Awe demonstration that is about to be unleashed on Iraq is pure theatrical militarism, a concept already analyzed by Asia Times Online.

It’s no surprise that Bush, on February 26, chose to unveil his vision of a new Middle Eastern order at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a right-wing Washington think tank. The PNAC’s office is nowhere else than on the 5th floor of the AEI building on 17th St, in downtown Washington. The AEI is the key node of a collection of neoconservative foreign policy experts and scholars, the most influential of whom are members of the PNAC.

The AEI is intimately connected to the Likud Party in Israel – which for all practical purposes has a deep impact on American foreign policy in the Middle East, thanks to the AEI’s influence. In this mutually-beneficial environment, AEI stalwarts are known as Likudniks. It’s no surprise, then, how unparalleled is the AEI’s intellectual Islamophobia. Loathing and contempt for Islam as a religion and as a way of life leads to members of the AEI routinely bashing Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. They also oppose any negotiations with North Korea – another policy wholly adopted by the Bush administration. For the AEI, China is the ultimate enemy: not a peer competitor, but a monster strategic threat. The AEI is viscerally anti-State Department (read Colin Powell). Recently, it has also displayed its innate Francophobia. And to try to dispel the idea that it is just another bunch of grumpy dull men, the AEI has been deploying to the BBC and CNN talk shows its own female weapon of mass regurgitation, one Danielle Pletka. Lynn Cheney, vice president Dick’s wife, a historian and essayist, is also an AEI senior fellow.

The AEI’s former executive vice president is John Bolton, one of the Bush administration’s key operatives as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Largely thanks to Bolton, the US unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. Bolton has also opposed the establishment of the new International Criminal Court (ICC), recently inaugurated in The Hague. The AEI only treasures raw power as established under the terms of neoliberal globalization: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. Its nemesis is everything really multilateral: the ABM treaty, the ICC, the Kyoto protocol, the treaty on anti-personal mines, the protocol on biological weapons, the treaty on the total ban of nuclear weapons, and most spectacularly, in these past few days, the UN Security Council.

The AEI’s foreign policy agenda is presided over by none other than Richard Perle. As Perle is a longtime friend and advisor to Rumsfeld, he was rewarded with the post of chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board: its 30-odd very influential members include former national security advisers, secretaries of defense and heads of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Perle is also a very close friend of Pentagon number two Wolfowitz, since they were students at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s. Perle now reports to Wolfowitz.

On September 20, 2001, Perle went on overdrive, fully mobilizing the Defense Policy Board to forge a link between Saddam and al-Qaeda. The PNAC sent an open letter to Bush detailing how a war on terrorism should be conducted. The letter says that Saddam has to go “even if evidence does not link him to the attack”. The letter lists other policies that later were implemented – like the gigantic increase of the defense budget and the total isolation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), as well as others that may soon follow, like striking Hezbollah in Lebanon and yet-to-be-formulated attacks against Iran and especially Syria if they do not stop support for Hezbollah.

The Bush administration strategy in the past few months of totally isolating the PA’s Yasser Arafat and allowing Israeli premier Ariel Sharon to refuse as much as a handshake, was formulated by the PNAC. Another PNAC letter states that “Israel’s fight is our fight … for reasons both moral and strategic, we need to stand with Israel in its fight against terrorism”. The PNAC detested the Camp David accords between Israel and the Palestinians. For the PNAC, a simmering, undeclared state of war against Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Iran is a matter of policy.

Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under Reagan, is also a member of the board of the Jerusalem Post. He wrote a chapter – “Iraq: Saddam Unbound” – in Present Dangers, a PNAC book. He is very close to ultra-hawk Douglas Feith, who was his special counsel under Reagan and is now assistant secretary of defense for policy (one of the Pentagon’s four most senior posts) and also a partner in a small Washington law firm that represents Israeli suppliers of munitions seeking deals with American weapons manufacturers. It was thanks to Perle – who personally defended his candidate to Rumsfeld – that Feith got his current job. He was one of the key people responsible for strategic planning in the war against the Taliban and is also heavily involved in planning the war against Iraq.

David Wurmser, former head of Middle Eastern projects at the AEI, is now special assistant to PNAC founder John Bolton, the undersecretary of State for arms control and a fierce enemy of multilateralism. Wurmser wrote Tyranny’s Ally: America’s failure to defeat Saddam Hussein, a book published by the AEI. The foreword is by none other than Perle. Meyrav Wurmser, David’s wife, is a co-founder of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

In July 1996, Perle, Feith and the Wurmser couple wrote the notorious paper for an Israeli think tank charting a roadmap for Likud superhawk and then-incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. The paper is called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”. Perle, Feith and the Wurmsers tell Bibi that Israel must shelve the Oslo Accords, the so-called peace process, the concept of “land for peace”, go for it and permanently annex the entire West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The paper also recommends that Israel must insist on the elimination of Saddam, and the restoration of the Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad. This would be the first domino to fall, and then regime change would follow in Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Saudi Arabia. This 1996 blueprint is nothing else than Ariel Sharon’s current agenda in action. In November last year, Sharon took the liberty to slightly modify the domino sequence by growling on the record that Iran should be next after Iraq.

Bush’s speech on February 26 at the AEI claimed that the real reason for a war against Iraq is “to bring democracy”. Cheney has endlessly repeated that Iraqis – like Germany and Japan in 1945 – will welcome American soldiers with wine and roses. For Bush, Iraq is begging to be educated in the principles of democracy: “It’s presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world, or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim, is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life.” But this very presumption is seemingly central to the intellectual Islamophobia of both the AEI and PNAC.

The AEI and the PNAC shaped the now official Bush policy of introducing democracy – by bombing Iraq – and then “successfully transforming the lives of millions of people throughout the Middle East”, in the words of AEI scholar Michael Ledeen. At his AEI speech, Bush did nothing else but parrot the idea. Many a voice couldn’t resist to point out the splendid American record of encouraging native democracy around the world by supporting great freedom fighters such as the Shah of Iran, Sese Seko Mobutu in the Congo, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, the Somozas in Nicaragua, Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan and an array of 1960s and 1970s Latin American dictators. Among newfound American allies, Turkmenistan is nothing less than totalitarian and Uzbekistan is ultra-authoritarian, and among “old” allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have absolutely nothing to do with democracy.

Chalmers Johnson is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, based in California, and author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. A war veteran turned scholar, he could never be accused of anti-Americanism. His new book about American militarism, The Sorrows of Empire: How the Americans lost their Country, will be published in late 2003. Some of its insights are informative in confirming the role of the PNAC in setting American foreign policy.

Johnson is just one among many who suspect that “after being out of power with Clinton and back to power with Bush … the neocons were waiting for a ‘catastrophic and catalyzing’ event – like a new Pearl Harbor” that would mobilize the public and allow them to put their theories and plans into practice. September 11 was, of course, precisely what they needed. National Security Advi Condoleezza Rice called together members of the National Security Council and asked them “to think about how do you capitalize on these opportunities to fundamentally change American doctrine, and the shape of the world, in the wake of September 11th”. She said, “I really think this period is analogous to 1945 to 1947 when fear and paranoia led the US into its Cold War with the USSR”.

Johnson continues: “The Bush administration could not just go to war with Iraq without tying it in some way to the September 11 attacks. So it first launched an easy war against Afghanistan. There was at least a visible connection between Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime, even though the United States contributed more to Osama’s development as a terrorist than Afghanistan ever did. Meanwhile, the White House launched one of the most extraordinary propaganda campaigns of modern times to convince the American public that an attack on Saddam Hussein should be a part of America’s ‘war on terrorism’. This attempt to whip up war fever, in turn, elicited an outpouring of speculation around the world on what were the true motives that lay behind President Bush’s obsession with Iraq.”

The Iraq war is above all Paul Wolfowitz’s war. It’s his holy mission. His cue was September 11. Slightly after Rumsfeld, on September 15, 2001 at Camp David, Wolfowitz was already advocating an attack on Iraq. There are at least three versions of what happened that day. As a reporter, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward (remember Watergate) used to bring down presidents; now he’s a mere presidential public relations officer. In his book Bush at War he writes that Bush told Wolfowitz to shut up and let the number 1 (Rumsfeld) talk. The second version, defended by the New York Times, says that Bush listened attentively to Wolfowitz. But a third version relayed by diplomats holds that in Bush’s executive order on September 17 authorizing war on Afghanistan, there’s already a paragraph giving free reign to the Pentagon to draw plans for a war against Iraq.

Former CIA director James Woolsey, a certified five-star hawk, is a great friend of Wolfowitz. Woolsey is also the author of what could be dubbed “the high noon” theory that defines nothing less than Bush’s vision of the world. According to the theory, Bush is not a six-shooter: he is the leader of a posse.

That’s how Bush described himself in a conversation last year with then Czech president Vaclav Havel. As film fans well remember, Gary Cooper in High Noon plays a village marshal who tries by all means to convince his friends to assemble a posse to face the Saddam of the times (a lean and mean Lee Marvin) who is supposed to arrive in the noon train. In the end, Cooper has to face “Saddam” Marvin all by himself.

It’s fair to argue that the Bush administration today is enacting a larger-than-life replay of a high noon. The posse is the “coalition of the willing”. The logic of the posse is crystal clear. The US first defines a strategic objective (for example, regime change in Iraq). They propagate their steely determination to achieve this objective (an awesome worldwide propaganda and disinformation campaign combined with a major military deployment). And finally they assemble a posse to help them: the coalition of the willing, or “coalition of the bribed and bludgeoned”, as it was dubbed by democrats in Europe and the US itself. A devastating report by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington has detailed a “coalition of the coerced”. Whatever its name, those who do not join the coalition (the absolute majority of UN member-states, as well as world public opinion) remain, as Bush says, “irrelevant”.

With missionary fervor, Wolfowitz has been pursuing his Iraqi dream step by step. In late 2001, James Woolsey roamed all over Europe trying to find a connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda. He couldn’t find anything. But then in January 2002, Iraq was formally inducted in the “axis of evil along with Iran and North Korea. Rumsfeld went on overdrive: he said that Saddam supported “terrorists” (in fact suicide martyrs in Palestine, who have nothing to do with al-Qaeda). He said that Saddam promised US$25,000 to each of their families. The neocons embarked on a media blitzkrieg, and Wolfowitz’s mission finally hit center stage.

During the Cold War in the 1970s, Wolfowitz learned the ropes laboring on nuclear treaties, the endless talks with the Soviets on nuclear armament limitations. At the time he also started a career for one of his better students, Lewis Libby – who today is Cheney’s chief of staff. For three decades Wolfowitz has been involved in strategic thinking, military organization and political and diplomatic moves. Even former Jimmy Carter national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the author of The Grand Chessboard – or the roadmap for US domination over Eurasia – allegedly allows Wolfowitz to figure alongside Henry Kissinger, McGeorge Bundy or Zbig himself: that select elite of academics who managed to cross over to high office and radiate intellectual authority and almost unlimited power by osmosis because of close contact with an American president.

Wolfowitz routinely talks about “freedom and democracy” – with no contextualization. His renditions always sound like a romantic ideal. But there’s nothing romantic about him. During the First Gulf War, Wolfowitz was an undersecretary at the Pentagon formulating policy. Cheney was the Pentagon chief. It was Wolfowitz who prepared Desert Storm – and also got the money. The bill was roughly $90 billion, 80 percent of it paid by the allies: a cool deal. It was Wolfowitz who convinced Israel not to enter the war even after the country was hit by Iraqi Scuds, so the key Arab partners of the 33-nation coalition would not run away.

But Saddam always remained his nemesis. When Bush senior lost his re-election, Wolfowitz became dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Later, he was fully convinced that Iraq was behind the first attack against the World Trade Center, in 1993.

Wolfowitz and Perle, though close, are not the same thing. Perle is virtually indistinguishable from the hardcore policies of the Likud in Israel. Perle thinks that the only possible way out for the US – not the West, because he despises Europe as a political player – is a multi-faceted, long-term, vicious confrontation against the Arab and Muslim world. Wolfowitz is more sophisticated: he has already served as American ambassador to Indonesia. He definitely does not subscribe to the fallacious Samuel Huntington theory of a clash of civilizations. Wolfowitz even believes in an independent Palestine – something that for Perle is beyond anathema.

Wolfowitz, born in 1943 in New York, is the son of a Polish mathematician whose whole family died in Nazi concentration camps. It was Allan Bloom, the brilliant author of The Closing of the American Mind and professor at the University of Chicago, deceased in 1992, who steered Wolfowitz towards political science. Wolfowitz had the honor of being cloned by Saul Bellow in the novel Ravelstein: the Wolfowitz character shows up under a fictional name in the same role he occupied in 1991 at the Pentagon. Messianic, and a big fan of Abraham Lincoln, Wolfowitz is a walking contradiction: his fierce unilateralism is based on his faith in the universality of American values.

Wolfowitz and his proteges’s are hardcore “Straussians” – after Leo Strauss, a Jewish intellectual who managed to escape the Nazis, died in 1999 as a 100-year-old and was totally anti-modern: for him, modernity was responsible for Nazism and Stalinism. Strauss was a lover of the classics – most of all Plato and Aristotle. His most notorious disciples were Chicago’s Allan Bloom and also Harvey Mansfield – who translated both Machiavelli and Tocqueville and was the father of all things politically correct in Harvard.

Strauss believed in natural right and in an immutable measure of what is just and what is unjust. Thus the Wolfowitz credo that a vague “democracy and freedom” is a one-size-fits-all panacea to be served everywhere, even by force. Plenty of neo-hawks followed Bloom’s courses at the University of Chicago: Wolfowitz of course, but also Francis Fukuyama of “end of history” fame, and John Podhoretz, who reigns over the editorial pages of the ultra-reactionary Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid the New York Post. As to Mansfield, his most notorious student was probably William Kristol, the editor of the also Rupert Murdoch-financed magazine Weekly Standard. In Kristol’s own formulation, all these Straussians are morally conservative, religiously inclined, anti-Utopian, anti-modern and skeptical towards the left but also towards the reactionary right.

Ronald Reagan, because of his “moral clarity” and his “virtue”, is their supreme icon – not the devious realpolitik couple of Richard Nixon and Kissinger. This conceptual choice is absolutely essential to understand where the neocons are coming from. Take the crucial expression “regime change”: there’s nothing casual about it. Strauss used to say that “classic political philosophy was guided by the question of the best regime”. Here Strauss was talking specifically about Aristotle and his notion of politeia. The “regime” – or politeia – designates not only government, but also institutions, education, morals, and “the spirit of law”. In the mind of these Straussians, to topple Saddam is a mere footnote. “Regime change” in Iraq means to implant a Western Utopia in the heart of the Middle East: a Western-built politeia. Many would argue this is no more than a replay of Rudyard Kipling’s “white man’s burden”.

Perle, also a New Yorker, is much, much rougher than Wolfowitz. No Aristotle for him. A dull man with a psychopath gaze, he recently accused New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh of being “a terrorist” – because Hersh, in a splendid piece, unveiled how Perle set up a company that will profit immensely from war in the Middle East. Perle has repeatedly declared on the record that the US is prepared to attack Syria, Lebanon and Iran – all “enemies of Israel”. One of his most notorious recent stunts was when he invited an obscure French scholar to the Defense Policy Board to bash the Saudi royal family. He casually noted that if the invasion of Iraq brings down another couple of “friendly” Arab regimes, it’s no big deal. At a recent seminar organized by a New York-based public relations firm and attended by Iraqi exiles and American Middle East and security officials, Perle proclaimed that France was no longer an ally of the US; and that NATO “must develop a strategy to contain our erstwhile ally or we will not be talking about a NATO alliance”. This hawk, though, is no fool, and loves la vie en rose: Richard Perle spends his holidays in his own house in the south of France.

If you are a Pentagon senior civilian adviser, saying all those things out loud, they pack a tremendous punch in Washington: it’s practically official. As official as Perle musing out loud whether the US should “subordinate vital national interests to a show of hands by nations who do not share our interests” by seeking the endorsement of the UN Security Council on a major issue of policy (that’s exactly what happened on Monday). Perle has been saying all along that “Iraq is going to be liberated, by the United States and whoever wants to join us, whether we get the approbation of the UN or any other institution”. And Bush repeated these words almost verbatim. As for the tremendous unpopularity of the US, “it’s a real problem and it undoubtedly diminishes our ability to do the things that we think are important. I think that’s bad for the world because if the United States, as the leader it has always been, has its authority and standing diminished, that can’t be good for the Swiss or the Italians or the Germans. But I don’t know how you deal with that problem …”

Perle and Wolfowitz may shape policy, but that would not enhance their mundane status among the political chattering classes if they didn’t have a bulldog to disseminate their clout in the media. That’s where William Kristol, the chairman of the Project for a New American Century and the director of the magazine Weekly Standard comes in. Kristol’s co-chairman at the PNAC is Robert Kagan, former deputy for policy in the State Department in the bureau for Inter-American affairs. Kagan is the author of Of Paradise and Power: America vs Europe in the New World Order – where, according to a fallacious formula, Europeans living in a kind of peaceful, Utopian paradise will be forced to stomach unbridled American power. Robert is the son of Donald Kagan, ultra-conservative Yale professor and eminent historian. Kagan junior is a major apostle of nation building, as in “the reconstruction of the Japanese politics and society to America’s image”. He cheerleads the fact that 60 years later there are still American troops in Japan. The same, according to him, should happen in Iraq. Any strategist would remind Kagan that in Japan in 1945 the emperor himself ordered the population to obey the Americans and in Germany the war devastation was so complete that the Germans had no other alternative.

William is the son of Irving Kristol and Gertrud Himmelfarb, classic New York Jewish intellectuals and ironically former Trotskyite who then made a sharp turn to the extreme right. Former Trotskyites have a tendency to believe that history will vindicate them in the end. Irving, at 82 a former neo-Marxist, neo-Trotskyite, neo-socialist and neo-liberal, today is officially a neoconservative and one of the AEI’s stalwarts.

Kristol junior reportedly likes philosophy, opera, thrillers and is fond of – who else – Aristotle and Machiavelli, who not by accident were eminences behind the prince. Instead of rebelling against his parents, he sulked in his bedroom rebelling against his own generation – the anti-war, peace-and-love, Bob Dylan-addicted 1960s baby boomers. Although admitting that Vietnam was a big mistake, William did not volunteer to go to war, a fact that qualifies him as the archetypal “chicken hawk” – armchair warmongers who know nothing about the horrors of war. William wants to erect conservatism to the level of an ideology of government. His great heroes include Reagan – for, what else, his “candor” and “moral clarity”. A naked imperialist? No, he’s not as crass as Rumsfeld: he prefers to be characterized as a partisan of “liberal imperialism”.

As media hawk-in-chief, William is just following up daddy’s work: Irving Kristol was the ultimate portable think tank of Reaganism. Today, Kristol junior is convinced that the Middle East is an irredeemable source of anti-Americanism, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and an assorted basket of evils. Kristol of course is a very good friend of Wolfowitz, Kagan and former ex-CIA chief James Woolsey, who not by accident heaps lavish praise on The War over Iraq: Saddam’s tyranny and America’s mission, a book by Lawrence Kaplan and … William Kristol. Woolsey loves how the book goes against the “narrow realists” around Bush senior and the “wishful liberals” around Bill Clinton.

Under Bush senior, William Kristol was Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. Under Clinton, he was in the wilderness until he finally managed to launch the Weekly Standard. Who financed it? None other than Rupert Murdoch, whose tabloidish Fox News is widely known as Bush TV. The Weekly Standard loses money in direct proportion to the expansion of its influence. It remains invaluable as the voice of “Hawk Central”.

Hawks, or at least some neoconservatives, seem to understand the importance of a lighter touch as a key public relations strategy. That’s where David Brooks comes in. Brooks, former University of Chicago, former Wall Street Journal and now a big fish at the Weekly Standard, was the one who came up with the concept of “bobos” – bourgeois bohemians, or “caviar left” as they are known in Latin countries. “Bobos”, accuse the neocons, do absolutely nothing to change a social order that they seem to fight but from which they profit. Bobo-bashing is one of the neocon’s ideological strategies to dismiss their critics out of hand.

In his conference at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January, Noam Chomsky demistified the mechanism through which these people, “most of them recycled from the Reagan administration”, are implementing their agenda: “They are replaying a familiar script: drive the country into deficit so as to be able to undermine social programs, declare a ‘war on terror’ (as they did in 1981) and conjure up one devil after another to frighten the population into obedience. In the 1980s it was Libyan hit men prowling the streets of Washington to assassinate our leader, then the Nicaraguan army only two days march from Texas, a threat to survival so severe that Reagan had to declare a national emergency. Or an airfield in Grenada that the Russians were going to use to bomb us (if they could find it on a map); Arab terrorists seeking to kill Americans everywhere while Gaddafi plans to ‘expel America from the world’, so Reagan wailed. Or Hispanic narco-traffickers seeking to destroy our youth; and on, and on.”

For both the AEI and the PNAC, the Middle East is a land without people, and oil without land – and this is something anyone will confirm in the streets or power corridors in Cairo, Amman, Beirut, Ramallah, Damascus or Baghdad. The image fits the AEI and PNAC’s acute and indiscriminate loathing and contempt for Arabs. The implementation of the AEI’s and the PNAC’s policies has led to the transformation of Ariel Sharon into a “man of peace” – Bush’s own words at the White House – and the semi-fascist Likud Party becoming the undisputed number one ally of American civilization. The occupied Palestinian territories – see never-complied, forever-spurned UN resolution 242 plus dozens of others – became “the so-called occupied territories” (in Rumsfeld’s own words). Jewish moderates, inside and outside Israel, are extremely alarmed.

One of the key excuses for the Iraq war sold by Washington was the elimination of the roots of terrorism by striking terrorists and the “axis of evil” that supports them. This is a total flaw. The excuse is undermined by the US themselves. Not even Washington believes war is the way to fight terrorism, otherwise the Bush administration would not have adopted the AEI and PNAC agenda of promoting “democracy and liberty” in the Arab world. But neither the Arabs nor anyone else is convinced that the US is committed to real democracy or to the “territorial integrity of Iraq” when key members of the administration, like Perle, signed “Clean Break” in 1996 advising Benjamin Netanyahu that Iraq and any other country which tried to defy Israel should be smashed. The message by the PNAC people to Netanyahu in 1996 and to Bush since 2001 has been the same: international law is against our interests; we fix our own objectives; we go for it and the rest will follow – or not. Even Zbig Brzezinski has recognized the American corporate press – unlike the European press – has not uttered a single word about the total similarity of the agendas. But concerned Americans have already realized the superpower has no attention span, no patience, no tact – and many would say no historical credibility – to engage in nation-building in the Middle East.

There’s not much democracy on the cards either. Iraqis and the whole Arab nation view as an unredeemable insult and injury the official American plan to enforce a de facto military occupation. Iraq is already carved up on paper into three sections (just like the British did in the 1920s). Two retired generals – including Arabic-speaking, Lebanese-origin John Abizaid – and a former ambassador to Yemen – will control the three interim “civil” administrations. Abizaid studied the history of the Middle East at Harvard – and this is as far as his democratic credentials go. Everything in Iraq will be under overseer supremo Jay Garner, a retired general very close to Ariel Sharon and until a few months ago the CEO of a weapons firm specialized in missile guidance systems. Iraqis, Palestinians and Arabs as a whole are stunned: not only has the US flaunted international legitimacy in its push to war, it will also install an Israeli proxy as governor of Iraq and will keep pretending to finally be committed to respect the never-complied dozens of UN resolutions concerning Palestine.

As much as Israel is widely regarded by most 1.3 billion Muslims as the de facto 51st American state, many responsible Americans denounce the Iraq war as Sharon’s war. Washington’s Likudniks – the AEI and PNAC people – allied with evangelical Christians – are running US foreign policy in the Middle East. Since Autumn 2002, they have managed to convince Bush to increase the tempo – with no consultation to Congress or to American public opinion – betting on a point-of-no-return scenario in Iraq. Meanwhile, Sharon, in a relentless campaign, managed to convince Bush that war on Palestine was equal to war against terrorism. But he went one step beyond: he convinced Bush that the Palestinian Intifada, al-Qaeda and Saddam are all cats in the same bag, plotting a concerted three-pronged offensive to destroy Judeo-Christian civilization. Thus the subsequent, overwhelming Bush administration campaign to try to convince public opinion that Saddam is an ally of bin Laden. Few fell into the trap. But European strategists got the drift: they are already working with the hypothesis that the geopolitical axis in the Middle East is about to switch from Cairo-Riyadh-Tehran to Tel Aviv-Ankara-Baghdad (post-Saddam).

In a recent hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, undersecretary of state for political affairs Mark Grossman and undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith talked for four hours and through 86 pages, apparently detailing how the US will rebuild Iraq after liberation through massive bombing. Feith has been on record saying that this war of course “is not about oil”, while stating a few sentences later that “the US will be the new OPEC”. A source confirms that it was clear at the Senate hearing both Feith and Grossman had absolutely no idea what the Arab world is all about. Senators asked how much the war would cost (Yale economist William Nordhaus said the occupation may cost between $17 billion and $45 billion a year): nobody had an answer. Feith and Grossman said it was “unknowable”. Rumsfeld is also a major exponent of the “not knowable” school. The cost of war for American taxpayers – some estimates go as high as $200 billion – is “not knowable”. The size of the occupation force – some estimates range as high as 400,000 troops – is “not knowable”. The duration of the occupation – former NATO supreme commander Wesley Clark has mentioned no less than eight years – is “not knowable”.

Arabs, Asians, Europeans – and a few Americans – warn of blowback: the whole Middle East may explode in a violent, vicious anti-imperialist struggle. As this correspondent has been hearing for months from Pakistan to Egypt and from Indonesia to the Gulf, “dozens of bin Ladens” are bound to emerge. The strategy advocated by the evangelic apostles of armed democratization – overwhelming military force, unilateral preemption, overthrow of governments, seizure of oil fields, recolonization, protectorates – is being roundly condemned by the same educated Arab elites which would be the natural leaders of a push for democratization. Many question not Washington’s objective, but the method: they simply cannot stomach the “imperial liberalism” version marketed by the hawks. The current absolute mess in Afghanistan is further demonstration that “democratization” via an American proconsul is doomed to failure. Moreover, 16 eminent British academic lawyers have certified the Bush doctrine of preemptive self-defense is illegal under international law.

Even a tragically surreal, zombie regime like North Korea’s has retained one essential lesson from this whole crisis : if you don’t want regime change, you’d better maximize your silence, speed and cunning to build your own arsenal of WMDs. Muslims for their part have understood that the unlikely Franco-German-Russian axis of peace was and still is trying to prevent what both al-Qaeda and American fundamentalists want: a war of civilizations and a war of religion. And the world public opinion’s insight is that Washington may win the war without the UN – but it will lose peace by shooting the UN down. As a diplomat in Brussels put it, “The world has voted in unison: it does not want to be reordered by a posse in Washington.”

The men in the AEI and the PNAC galaxy may be accused of intolerance, arrogance of power, undisguised fascist tendencies, ignorance of history and cultural parochialism – in various degrees. This is all open to debate. They may be “chicken hawks” like Kristol junior or attack dogs like Rumsfeld. But most of all what baffles educated publics across the world – especially the overwhelming majority of public opinion in Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain – is the current non-separation of Church and State in the US.

George W Bush is not ideologically a neoconservative. But he is certainly a man with a notorious lack of intellectual curiosity. Backed by his core American constituency of 60 to 70 million Bible-believing Christians, born-again Bush is setting out to do God’s will on a crusade to Babylon to “fight evil” – personified by Saddam. Martin Amis, Britain’s top contemporary novelist, argues that Bush, being intellectually null, had no other option than to adopt God as his foreign policy mentor. Amis wrote in the Observer that “Bush is more religious than Saddam: of the two presidents, he is, in this respect, the more psychologically primitive. We hear about the successful ‘Texanization’ of the Republican party. And doesn’t Texas seem to resemble a country like Saudi Arabia, with its great heat, its oil wealth, its brimming houses of worship, and its weekly executions.” For former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, Bush is “a fundamentalist who does not respect international law. The United States is becoming a crusader state.” For the absolute majority of 1.3 billion Muslims, a sinister crusader it is.

The endgame will reveal itself to be a cheap family farce: the Bush family delivers an ultimatum to the Hussein family. What Gore Vidal describes as “the Bush-Cheney junta” has won: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, the AEI and PNAC stalwarts. Paul Wolfowitz, above all, has won his own personal crusade. Colin Powell has lost it all. It does not matter that the State Department’s classified report, “Iraq, the Middle East and change: no dominoes” was unveiled by the Los Angeles Times. Wolfowitz and Perle will play with their dominoes. By predictable mechanisms of power as old as mankind itself (and incidentally very common in the former USSR) it was Powell – the adversary of the new doctrine of preemption – who was charged to defend it in the face of the world. Sources in New York confirm he was told to get in line: his discourse, his body language, his whole demeanor changed. Seasoned American diplomats are appalled by the devastating political and diplomatic failure of the Bush administration. They know that by deciding to go to war unilaterally – and leaving the international system in shambles – the US has squandered its biggest capital: its international legitimacy. And to make matters worse there was absolutely no debate – in the Senate, or in the public opinion arena – about it.

Americans still have to wake up to the fact of how startlingly isolated they are in the world. The world, for its part, will keep deploying its weapons of mass democracy. There can be no “international community” as long as the popular perception lingers in so many parts of the world of a clash between the West and Islam. Always ready to recognize and love the best America has to offer, hundreds of millions of people would rather try to save it from the fatal unilateralism distilled by the American fundamentalists of the PNAC and the AEI. Everyone in Baghdad, the former great capital of Islam at its apex, is fond of saying how it has survived the Mongols, the barbarians at the gate. The evangelic apostles of armed democratization cannot even imagine the fury a new breed of barbarians may unleash at the gate of the new American century.

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