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 nuclear weapons.
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 testimony.
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 pre-eminent 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 Richard Armitage.
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 pre-eminent 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. …