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As an analyst and political adviser for Foreign Policy in Focus, Jim Lobe has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since the well before their rise in the aftermath of the attacks of Al Qaeda on New York and the Pentagon on September 11th. His expertise has been recognized by major international media, including the BBCâ€™s “Panorama” news magazine and the London-based Al Hayar newspaper, among others.His articles can be read on many web site which are dedicated to strengthen and support independent and alternative journalism, such as “antiwar.com”, presentdanger.org” , “why-war.com” and “alternet.org”.
Crisis of Feith
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JIM LOBE: Well they may make some money as consultants because people do know that they're smart and they're well connected so it's not as if they were going to take a major loss of income. Most of the neo-cons were actually pretty much excluded from the Bush administration primarily because the Bush administration was a realist administration par-excellence and they have never considered themselves to be realists in fact in many ways they think realists are as much of an enemy as any other other enemies at any particular time. But in the 1992 election the neo-cons pretty much split. They were so unhappy with Bush's realism, with his failure for example to go after Saddam Hussein or to support those who rose up against Saddam Hussein in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, that many of them actually endorsed the candidacy of Bill Clinton, for example James Wolsey, I think Robert Kagan, decided to go back to the Democrat Party because at least Clinton was articulating a more idealistic view if you will of including much greater hostility toward China in particular but also promising to pursue a more globalist foreign policy generally. So neo-cons split in 1992.
JONATHAN HOLMES: What do they do when they're in opposition, how do they cope with that?
JIM LOBE: I think when they're in opposition they create they create a counter government in hopes of becoming the next government. They are extremely active in terms of organising. They organise extremely well and when they're in opposition they inevitably always inexorably try to create new coalitions of people who may not be in total agreement with them on a variety of issues but are in enough basic agreement that they can put coalitions together that include powerful people and politically powerful tendencies. An example of that would be in 1997 the group of neo-cons created the project for the new American century which is really just a kind of platform for various currents of the right in this country to kind of come together or leaders of those currents and make statements about foreign policy. The founding manifesto of the project for the new American century included from the right the classic republican right, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who of course later became Vice President and Defence Secretary. From the neo-cons there was Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Eliott Abrams and other people who now occupy very important positions in the administration and from the Christian right there was I believe Gary Bauer and the Catholic right Bill Bennett and this coalition really was preparing to take power under a future republican administration, which in fact they did.
JONATHAN HOLMES: What to your mind does 'neo-conservative' mean, I mean who does it describe and can you tell us a little bit about its origins in the 1970s and perhaps how they came together with with those real conservatives, those Cheneys and Rumsfelds.
JIM LOBE: Neo-cons are people who came from the left, as far left as as Trotskyite left or Social Democrats USA which was a kind of Trotskyite related organisation or simply the liberal wing of the Democratic Party who began questioning their liberalism over a number of key issues in the late 60s and I think the issues I could say very quickly were over the question of Israel and defence of Israel because many of these neo-conservatives are Jews, indeed the neo-conservatives themselves say that most of them are in fact Jews. They were very worried and very um angry about the anti-war movement that was becoming increasingly powerful in the late 60s because they felt that it was a kind of betrayal of the United States and I think also they feared that if the United States withdrew from Vietnam, it would also withdraw its protection of Israel and finally a lot of them were based on university campuses and they were very angry about the black power movement, for lots of reasons most importantly many of them had fought quotas and were very much in favour of integration when they were kind of growing up through the college and university system and then only to find that blacks whose cause they had championed so much were essentially turning their back on what had been the white leadership of the of the civil rights movement. I think all those things shocked them very deeply.
JONATHAN HOLMES: When you talk about the influence of two people in particular and we might be moving a few years here but Albert Wohlstetter and Scoop Jackson.
JIM LOBE: I can't really talk about Wohlstetter in that context because I don't know that much about his political origins. Scoop Jackson never really in a sense became a neo-conservative himself because he never abandoned the Democratic Party but he was a Senator from Washington state, sometimes called the Senator from Boeing who as a result was very much tied to the defence industry in the country. He was always a very strong anti-communist hard liners with very close links to the labor movement which at that time was dominated also by very anti-communistic elements. Scoop Jackson was also a very effective legislator in the US Senate and he gathered together very skilled people who worked in his office, several of whom now are extremely prominent in both neo-conservatism and in the current thrust of the US foreign policy, of the more radical elements today of US foreign policy. They were very, very anti-communist, very, very pro-Israel, and that is their kind of common denominator. They include Richard Perle is probably the most significant and most well known, but in addition to Perle, Irving Kristol's son William Kristol worked on that staff for a short period, Eliot Abrams was also worked in Scoop Jackson's office. He's now the head of the Middle East at the National Security Council and Frank Gaffney who's the head of the Centre for Security Policy was in the Reagan administration and is one of the more what shall we say vociferous boosters of a very aggressive US foreign policy.
JONATHAN HOLMES: And as far as you know, how did Paul Wolfowitz get to know this group?
JIM LOBE: Well Wolfowitz was a student of Albert Wohlstetter at the University of Chicago as was Richard Perle, Perle was very close to Wohlstetter, in fact he married Wohlstetter's daughter, and Wolfowitz knew Perle while at the University of Chicago. Wolfowitz at that time was a student in mathematics but he switched under Wohlstetter's influence and became very interested in strategy so he was very much part of the group that was dominated by Wohlstetter and certainly included Perle who in sense becomes the crowned prince for Wohlstetter, both in a kind of figurative sense but also if you will in a familiar sense too due to his relationship with Wohlstetter's daughter. So Wolfowitz is plugged in by the late 60s already and he goes to work for the government I think initially in the State Department and the Arms control area and he becomes a key figure in the mid 70s when he serves on what's called Team B which was a group of independent analysts essentially chosen by hawks in the Ford administration but hawks who were already working with people in Scoop Jackson's office, notably Richard Perle, in order to take issue with CIA estimates about Soviet strategic abilities and intentions, and Team B essentially writes an analysis in which Wolfowitz wrote one chapter which says that the CIA has been far too optimistic about US advantage over the Soviet Union and about Soviet intentions and that in fact the Soviet Union is preparing for war and is preparing to prevail in a nuclear exchange and this Team B hammers some very important nails kind of in the coffin of détente by the mid 70s under the Ford administration and that really was its purpose, that's why it was selected. Wolfowitz is very highly regarded at that time as a strategic analyst and he becomes a key player in this very hardline faction.
JONATHAN HOLMES: And of course Team B was set up even protected to some extent by the then Secretary of Defense.
JIM LOBE: The creation of Team B and the whole process of kind of undermining the CIA and the US intelligence community marks the time in which an alliance is created between the neo-conservatives out of Scoop Jackson's office who are still Democrats and Republican right-wingers, hardliners if you will, of the Don Rumsfeld ilk, because Rumsfeld at that time is Secretary of Defense and he helps establish Team B and he is kind of manoeuvring around Henry Kissenger who at that time was trying to work out a fairly far-reaching arms control agreement with the Soviet Union which was essentially scuttled by Rumsfeld and this partnership.
JONATHAN HOLMES: What did the neo-cons in particular have against détente do you think? Why were they so opposed?
JIM LOBE: Well the neo-cons again come from a liberal or even Trotskyite background and that Trotskyite background I think is important and it was easy frankly to move from a kind of Trotskyite to a liberal background, even the common denominator there is extremely anti-communist now Trotsky himself of course was a communist but he obviously had some hard times with Joseph Stalin who was in a position to define what communism was and to define the policy of the Soviet Union which was...
JONATHAN HOLMES: Was one of the reasons that they were opposed to détente that they were opposed to the notion that there was essentially no moral difference between the United States and the Soviet Union, I mean this this Kissenger sort of 19th Century imbalance of power stuff.
JIM LOBE: I think neo-conservatives take issue with realists on very fundamental issues that most importantly perhaps have to do with the question of the morality of the exercise of power and who were moral agents. The neo conservatives were very good at adapting a certain moralism that already exists in the American public and has existed since its puritan origins back in the 17th century and that is this notion that America is a country apart, it's exceptional, it is good, that's why it creates a new world which is distinct from the old world which is corrupt, authoritarian, Machiavellian, cynical and so on and so forth. The United States is supposed to be something all together different and neo-conservatives I think very much adapted that. Again many of them were Jews whose families fled, usually Tzarist persecution and came to the United States, many of them with very left-wing views, very idealistic, but who identified very strongly with their new country and wished to assimilate as all immigrants do, and I think they very easily assimilated this kind of puritan notion of moral superiority particularly because it comes right after World War II where the United States fought the good war against a terrible and evil enemy and I think this kind of dichotomy really is very much set in concrete in their minds that America, the United States, is necessarily a force for good, is a redemptive country, redeems the world in one way or another and even in conversations among themselves that you get, this is really believed, I mean I've heard Elliott Abrams say with great conviction that "well America may have made mistakes here and there but there's no question that it is the greatest force for good in the world today," and so they tend to see the world in highly moralistic terms where the United States and whoever is allied with the United States, even if they have may be some evil tendances, is much preferable to whoever may be the American enemy at the time and that's very reflected in the very fervent anti-Sovietism of the 70s which they very much pursued, even to the extent of backing, as Scoop Jackson was, an alliance, a defacto alliance with China which was also communist of course but because it was opposed to the Soviet Union it was okay.
JONATHAN HOLMES: What about the Holocaust, I mean Paul Wolfowitz's extended family, not his immediate family, his extended family all perished in the holocaust, that may have been true of many of the others I don't know, how important was that in their view?
JIM LOBE: Yeah. Well one thing that's freely been consistent with neo-cons since they began to be a self conscious group in the mid 70s was that their history often reduces itself to Munich and the Holocaust with Munich being the cause and the Holocaust being the result. And in a sense both are absolute evil and this is part of their very, very deep complaint against realists because it's realist thinking they feel that led to Munich which was the appeasement of evil and it led to this total catastrophe which in many cases touched their own families or certainly families they knew and I think this has an almost traumatic affect and you remember when I was talking about the late 60s, it was only in the early 60s that kind of the Holocaust reached the kind of consciousness that it did particularly in the United States, especially like with the Eichmann trial in Israel, judgment at Nuremberg, that was kind of early 60s, people didn't talk about the Holocaust much in the 50s and I think this made an enormous impression on people like Perle and Abrams and Wolfowitz and others and as a result they see every conflict in a sense as a test similar to the test that Chamberlain faced and failed at Munich in 1938 and that therefore the potential result is a second holocaust which they feel has to be avoided at all costs. I think this is a kind of unconscious thing, it's not something they necessarily think about in the way that I just articulated, but I'm quite persuaded that it's a very, very strong factor and again the fact that even Nicaragua, the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, that just negotiating with that government was considered by many neo-cons as form of appeasement that was morally unacceptable.
JONATHAN HOLMES: At the end of the Carter era and the beginning of the Reagan era, there's a bit of a wholesale conversion isn't there of many neo-cons, although incidentally I should tell you that Richard Perle told me that he's still a Democrat.
JIM LOBE: I know, he always says that. He does that out of respect for Scoop Jackson he says, always.
JONATHAN HOLMES: Whether literally or just emotionally, but I mean there is tremendous movement across to the Republicans, is there, can you talk about that and why that happened?
JIM LOBE: I think well there are two things here, I'm sort of speaking kind of parenthetically now, the Likud government takes power in Israel in 1977 and they begin recruiting the Christian right in a very direct sort of way and the idea that we understand that Begin had or that Likud had was now that fundamentalists were getting involved in politics because of Carter and they voted for Carter, a way of defeating Carter would be to get fundamentalists to go right and to become supportive of Israel. I mean that's a very important factor. Sorry I'll back up. The Carter administration was seen as a period of defeat abroad for the United States and of weakness and moreover Carter said some things as President which greatly worried many neo-conservatives of the Scoop Jackson kind, he was the first American president to say for example that he believed the Palestinians had the right to a homeland, which was considered to be very unsupportive of Israel so that was one of the factors that disillusioned them but in addition it seemed to them that the late 70s was a period when the Soviet Union was on the march, Vietnam had fallen in '75 as had the rest of Indochina, Angola, the MPLA government in Angola was getting support from the Cubans and from the Soviets against South Africa and against the UNITA insurgency, Ethiopia had had a coup which brought a communist pro-Soviet government to power, same with Yemen, it seemed the United States was being pressed by an expansive Soviet Union, all capped in 1979 as you remember by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which was seen as a major strategic push and finally you have the humiliation of the embassy situation in Tehran also in late 1979 which Carter was unable to resolve and this was all seen as foreign policy weakness and one thing that the neo-cons and the hard right had always agreed upon was that the only way to have peace in the world or that is to have a world order that was beneficent to their view was through strength and Carter they thought and they attacked him in this way was creating the image of an America that was weak and that was intolerable, and so they went Republican. But at the same time, they created the Committee on the Present Danger within weeks of Carter's inauguration in 1977, and that was the first alliance between the neo-cons and the right-wing represented by Rumsfeld who was the important player in that and they really worked very systematically with media, with on Capitol Hill, to discourage any moves by Carter toward détente, so it wasn't a sudden 1979 conversion, these people had decided very early on that Carter was not their kind of President and the Democratic Party had really been captured once and for all by anti-war forces which they disdained and had contempt for. So they were already building very consciously a coalition and a movement that would be one of the building blocks for Reagan's victory in 1980.
JONATHAN HOLMES: You had a struggle going on at one stage in the early 80s between the United States and its allies in Europe who wanted to install intermediate missiles and a big public outcry in Europe about that although it was not as great as the current one, there are sort of parallels there I think. Now Richard Perle was the lead man in terms of that intermediate missile thing, do you think that his attitude to Europe of contempt really was formed then or was it something that that happened earlier?
JIM LOBE: I think his contempt for Europe happened much earlier. And I think there are lots of reasons for that, I was talking a little while ago about how readily the neo-cons even before they were neo-cons adapted to kind of the puritan exceptionalism this morally superior attitude that has existed in American's image of themselves acting in the world and that derives I think from the sense in which Americans have distinguished themselves from Europeans. Isolationism has never meant in this country isolationism from the world. There all been all kinds of isolationists who have said we should intervene in Latin America and Asia any time we like and they've done that. Isolationism has mean isolation from Europe because of the stereotypes around Europe, anti-Europeanism is a very strong force, a historical force in the United States, and has been for centuries and I think that fitted very well with the emerging neo-con philosophy; Europeans are always seen as too peaceful or wanting to conciliate or being realists and being cynical in that way, they were amoral and that stereotype has existed long before. Even during the Vietnam war, these people were very upset with France's role, with De Gaulle constantly saying you know the Americans could really help themselves if they got out of Vietnam, they thought this was traitorous because after all we were in Vietnam to save the South Vietnamese, just like we saved the French in World War II.
JONATHAN HOLMES: But that sort of hostility to a morality and hostility to realism took a bit of a holiday didn't it in terms of their Reagan administration's attitude to Saddam Hussein?
JIM LOBE: The neo-cons are not idealists when it comes to ends and means, in that I believe neo-cons are extremely good at believing that the ends justify the means and therefore if you describe the worst evil as the Soviet Union against whom you must organise all your forces, the fact that you do so in alliance with some really despicable people, be they the proto Nazi military junta in Argentina or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, we'd have that opportunity, or the Shah of Iran or for that matter the communist regime in China, well then so be it you're still serving a larger good. They don't say that the United States should not have allied itself with the Soviet Union in World War II, they believe that was an appropriate alliance to make even though Soviet Union would emerge as the sworn enemy and similarly in the 80s you have an alliance with Islamic fundamentalists throughout the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia which is bankrolling a lot of very questionable insurgencies around the world but especially the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and then it's too bad, but it's a kind of fact of life that once the Soviet Union dissolves and the mujaheddin or what becomes of the mujaheddin become an enemy, it's no problem for them to turn around and say well that's the enemy now against whom we have to organise. They'd never had as far as I can tell, any qualms about the question of alliances, they're very flexible in that respect.
JONATHAN HOLMES: And so the tolerance of Saddam Hussein, the knowledge that he had chemical weapons, the knowledge that he was using them, the absolute lack of protest at that time and now we're told that this is you know a sign that he's a devil incarnate, that doesn't strike you as contradictory?
JIM LOBE: No it strikes me as highly contradictory but I think they have a way of rationalising that. Because at that time for them Saddam Hussein did not represent the threat that he represents today because there were other threats that in their eyes were more frightening, more immediate and had to be dealt with and if you have to ally yourself with the devil in order to overcome a worse devil, well so be it.
JONATHAN HOLMES: Let me ask you about that defence guidance that Wolfowitz and Libby wrote in 92. Can you enumerate the major points in that guidance that caused shock horror in 92 but which are now so central to the new National Security Strategy of the United States?
JIM LOBE: Well in the first place the actual draft document has never been disclosed. We don't know all of the points that were included in that document because we really only know those parts that were leaked to the New York Times and we don't even know much about what the original reporter may have seen, we only know that which appeared in the Times and then a little bit later in the Post and indeed some of the defenders of these people have said that "oh the Times made it look worse than it really was" but we do know that what appeared in the Times was massively changed in the final edition when it was finally released publicly. I think that the parts if I remember correctly that were most difficult to take were first the notion that the United States would be the ultimate guarantor of international security, it disclaimed the idea that the United States would be a policeman to the world but it did suggest that the United States would be the policeman at least to Eurasia which is a very large part of the world, particularly granted that we already have a Munroe Doctrine that takes care of the America's. It also forecast a situation in which US military intervention would be, I believe, a constant feature of kind of the geo-strategic situation in the future and that of course brought up memories of Vietnam and the early part of the 20th Century with constant interventions in the Caribbean basin and that was unnerving to a lot of people. It also said that we would have to have a military that was sufficiently strong to take on any conceivable emerging rival not just before that rival becomes a global threat, but even as a regional threat viz a viz Eurasia, the Eurasian continent which means that it essentially called for a possible confrontation with China for example, even before China could extent its power much beyond the Asian litorale around it. I think another area was the way it referred to allies, it suggested that we must prevent even our friends from accumulating sufficient military power to rival us in some way, even regionally so there was this notion of a certain distrust even of European allies which alarmed a lot of people.
JONATHAN HOLMES: And Japan.
JIM LOBE: And Japan of course yes in fact Japan was very much on their minds at the time. And finally the document, I don't think even mentioned the United Nations and that was very important because the United States had just fought a war, the Gulf War under a UN Security Council mandate so it seemed to be a kind of turning turning away entirely from a mutilateral order that seemed somewhat promising coming out of the Gulf War to many, many people in the United States, to a very large majority indeed, and deciding well that's not really a very useful mechanism, we just need to do it all ourselves. I think all those were issues and I probably left out a few, that really alarmed people in very significant ways.
JONATHAN HOLMES: And if we now look at the National Security Strategy that was published in December of last year, how many of those things have reappeared do you think - it seems to be most of them.
JIM LOBE: Well I don't believe it like discussed Eurasia as a unit and it did mention the United Nations and it did say we'd really like to work with the United Nations, I mean that we recognise there may be some utility here but at the same time it understood that well at many times, the UN and for that matter even NATO may not be that you know forthcoming in which case we're going to have to do it all ourselves. The document's a very interesting document, not only because of kind of the core elements that repeat the Wolfowitz draft of 1992 insofar as we know it, but also because there are entire elements that kind of go off out of the blue, like there's a big attack on the international criminal court in that document and you wonder well why do they consider it so important to include in such a small document where you lay out your goals and of course the answer is to show, again real contempt for multilateral institutions that they see may be used as a way of binding the United States to an international system and to an international law that the United States feels that it's really morally superior to, that it should not be bound by. And in that respect, again it's a very interesting document but it does retain many of the core elements of the '92 draft.
JONATHAN HOLMES: So was there another element in the 1992 document that was new at the time?
JIM LOBE: Another element was a doctrine of pre-emption, which basically said that the United States kind of reserved unto itself the right to pre-empt possible attack or the creation of a capability for weapons of mass destruction on the part of rogue states for example and moreover if I recall correctly, it also raised the possibility of devising specific kinds of nuclear weapons to deal precisely with that kind of threat. Both ideas have since popped up of course in the last year as a fundamental elements of this new and very radical strategy of the United States government, of pre-emption and of developing new kinds of nuclear weapons which again take us out of an entire international legal regime and says we're not bound by that.
JONATHAN HOLMES: So do you think it says anything about the fact that there were these similarities in the document from the Cheney Wolfowitz era if you like in '92, does it say anything about the intellectual force if you like of Wolfowitz in particular and perhaps Cheney as against others in the Bush administration?
JIM LOBE: I think that the fact of the similarity means above all that they had it on the shelf, that this really was their plan, this is what they wanted the US foreign policy and strategic policy to be and they'd wanted it at least for 10 for 9 years and then when September 11th happened, they were empowered to implement it and I mean I'm sure their their intellectual skills and their debating skills were very important although it's clear that Secretary of State Powell was not really enthusiastic about this but I think really it was the event itself and the shock and trauma of the event that enabled them to argue that we are facing a whole new world with whole new threats and we've got the strategy and they took it down from the shelf and said you know this is it, this really was the opportunity for them to put their hopes and plans into effect and when you have a president like George W. Bush who really is as inexperienced in world affairs as this one is and who tends to see the world in highly moralistic good and evil terms and who by all accounts is intellectually let's say not particularly curious or energetic, you can easily see that somebody who comes forward with the plan for the world in the wake of such a shocking and traumatic event is going to have a lot of advantages in debating those who say we have to be careful now which is what Powell undoubtedly did argue at the time.
JONATHAN HOLMES: In 1996, some of the neo-cons out of power sitting round think-tanks in Washington get together at the invitation of a Israeli think-tank and write a paper advocating some very radical new policies for Israel for the benefit of Benjamin Netanyahu. Can you talk about the the kinds of ambitions that some of these neo-cons have for a re-ordering of the Middle East in favour of Israel and how you think that fits into what is now happening with Iraq?
JIM LOBE: You're talking about the "Securing the Realm" memorandum that was written by Perle and Feith and a number of other people who are now either in or very influential with the administration. It's a very simple memorandum, it's not long at all, it's really even talking points almost, and the radical vision is not really all that radical in terms of the Likud Party's general position, viz a viz the Middle East over the last 70 or 80 years, I mean it essentially dates back to the Likud's founding as the Betar movement under Jabotinsky in the '20s already, but it basically arguing to Netanyahu that there should be a clean break with Oslo, that Oslo goes nowhere at all and that Israel should effectively kind of return to the Likud Party position of trying to gain a kind of maximum control over greater Israel and to reshape the Middle East as you've put it and as they often put it, in a way that it gives the balance of power if not the dominance of power to Israel and those countries which are more or less allied with Israel and they name in particular Turkey, and the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan which arguably is not exactly an ally but since '67, it's been at worst a bystander and generally cooperative. The original Betar or Likud view was essentially a very large Israel, even larger than the Israel now plus the occupied territories, both banks of the Jordan, the Palestinians can remain in that area so long as they are a minority, a permanent minority, that other Palestinians kind of belong in what would remain of Jordan and the Hashemites can in a sense rule Iraq because Iraq used to be ruled, the British handed it over to the Hashemites originally at one time, and what's interesting of course is that the policies that are now being pursued by Sharon don't necessarily contradict kind of any of that, he says he favours a Palestinian state and now Bush has said he favours a Palestinian state but nobody has been willing to really describe what that Palestinian state would look like and how viable it would really be, although Bush insists on some viability, but the idea of Iraq as a key piece of this has been around for quite some time in in right-wing Israeli and right-wing Zionist circles in the United States and that if you can tame Iraq you have really the ability to transform the entire region. For one thing it has so much oil that you really don't need Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner in the way that you would've in the past and moreover you can actually possibly break up OPEC's power in the world, which has always been due to its Arab domination, it's always been a real problem for Israel because it's what has given Arab states more influence globally than they otherwise would have without OPEC. You also then isolate Syria which is seen as a very strong enemy and a very determined enemy and may be in the position of forcing Syria into concessions viz a viz possibly Lebanon forcing the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and then Israel might have much more breathing space, can begin trading with Lebanon in ways that it hasn't before and it opens up a whole new panorama and so this paper to the extent that in a sense some of it is now being realised, is quite remarkable and what's even more remarkable is that the United States appears to be acting in support of this kind of vision, the United States really has turned its back on Oslo although it's something that people don't seem to be as aware of as they might be. And for the first time in America since 1967, the United States has lined up behind Likud policies in Israel and that is a very very radical shift.
JONATHAN HOLMES: Would you go so far as to say that the decision to go to war in Iraq with all the attendant risks is being taken at least partly to further that Israeli agenda rather than purely as an issue of security in the United States?
JIM LOBE: Mm. I think the neo-conservatives and their allies generally do not believe that, as strange as it may sound, that there are interests that are distinct and different between Israel and the United States in the region. I think they believe that the interests if not exactly the same are are very similar for lots of reasons and I think they believe that sincerely. I think it is definitely a factor, and I think you can even see that explicitly in the way certain policies and rationales are presented, for example when US officials say that they are concerned that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, that he's used them on his own people, and that that indicates that he would use them against the United States or its allies, I think Israel is considered very much in that context and I think this is motivated in part by wanting to protect Israel from what is potentially a mortal threat to it and you'll recall of course that it was Israel that bombed the Osirak reactor in 1981 because it was persuaded that Saddam Hussein since he had consolidated control over Iraq was determined to use that to develop nuclear weapons that could be used against Israel or that could be used at least as a threat against Israel in a way that Saddam Hussein's regional ambitions could be realised.
JONATHAN HOLMES: Let me ask you though, any suggestion of dual loyalty, I mean that's almost a kind of taboo phrase isn't it in the United States media and any suggestion particularly that the Jewish ethnicity of many of these people as well as their political sympathy with Likud you know has anything to do with or that it's legitimate to kind of question the appropriateness of their passionate attachment to Likud at the same time as they're US government officials. This is all a very taboo area isn't it?
JIM LOBE: Yeah. I mean I think it's safe to say that this is something that people talk about at their peril and they publish at their peril, it's a very sensitive subject. Just in the past week for example, a very prominent neo-conservative writer at the New Republic published a column in the Washington Post talking about a toxic debate and suggesting that people both here and in Europe were suggesting that we were going to war with Iraq because of the quote "Jewish connection" in a sense. He didn't exactly use word anti-Semitism but he argued that to even suggest dual loyalty in that sense was was toxic, was extremely damaging. I mean it's a very sensitive subject, it's discussed much more frankly in the Israeli press than it is in the US press or I think a lot of issues around Israel are handled very delicately in the United States, particularly in Washington, because it is a delicate matter.
JONATHAN HOLMES: But that doesn't mean presumably that it isn't a legitimate topic in a sense?
JIM LOBE: I think the main concern is that people are very concerned about being labelled an anti-Semite which is what happened to Pat Buchanan for example and frankly I think that Pat Buchanan is a kind of anti-Semite and incarnation of a lot of old isolationist US values of which one was anti-Semitism, so I think people are very intimidated by that and neo-conservatives have played that card quite frequently and out of conviction, I'm not entirely certain it's cynical on their part, but they have never hesitated to raise the issue of anti-Semitism and last spring as you'll recall when things were getting very hot between suicide bombing by Palestinians and Israeli retaliation, in Israel and the occupied territories, there was a huge cry, particularly by neo-conservative columnists and commentators here about European anti-Semitism, they were not reluctant to raise that as an issue. I think what's important too however is that this is a essentially a political issue, these people by and large support Likud, it's not the religious issue that is motivating them, they believe that Likud's conception of Israel is a good conception and is worth fighting for and those who oppose them do not agree with Likud and the vast majority of the American Jewish community according to polls that have been taken, show that American Jews by and large do not support the neo-conservative or Likud agenda in Israel and haven't for decades. In that respect the neo-conservatives are a minority within the American Jewish community but they are a very well organised, very vocal, very powerful minority.
JONATHAN HOLMES: To the extent that there is or may be a hidden agenda going on here as opposed to the sole reason of the invasion of Iraq being the fear of weapons of mass destruction being given to terrorists, is it more likely to be something to do with Israel than something to do with oil in your view?
JIM LOBE: Mm.
JONATHAN HOLMES: Is that too simplistic?
JIM LOBE: I don't find the oil argument very persuasive, except insofar as a geo-strategic argument, that is Iraq offers a demonstration of US power to go to a country with the world's second largest oil reserves and to take it over if it wishes and I think that conveys a message to potential rivals and I would say at this point in history the rival that the neo-cons and the right are most concerned about is China which will depend on Persian Gulf oil tremendously in the coming years. I think it's a message that says we're here and we can be here any time we like and I think the intent is intimidation and it really has great strategic value in that sense of saying we can do this and really no one can stop us if this is what we want to do. I think that's a very important motivation at this point because in a sense it puts in concrete the National Security Strategy and the ideas behind it, it conveys it to the entire world and I see from time to time military strategists talking very much in this way or writing about that in this way that this is a demonstration of that. I think Israel is important because the Likud plan is very important to to key policy makers... Very prominent neo-conservatives are very attached to the Likud agenda in Israel and Israel is considered a very close ally of the United States whose interests in their view if not identical with the United States are very, very close, and therefore I think Israel is a major factor in this but particularly the Likud program for Israel and I would mention for example... Douglas Feith who is the Under Secretary for policy in the Defense Department and a very influential and forceful adviser has a long history of involvement in Likud politics in the United States, his father was an important figure in the Betar movement which was a right-wing Zionist movement in Poland in the '30s, he's still alive, they were just honoured recently together by the Zionist organisation of America which is a very right-wing Zionist organisation and I believe that it's very difficult for him not to separate out those those kinds of feelings that he has and his commitment to Likud.
JONATHAN HOLMES: Going back to the origins of the friendship of Perle and Wolfowitz, can you perhaps talk about that talk about the University of Chicago?
JIM LOBE: Wolfowitz who's slightly younger than Richard Perle nonetheless knew him at least since 1969 when they were both students at the University of Chicago studying foreign policy and strategy and so when they both moved to Washington, Perle to work for Scoop Jackson, Wolfowitz to enter the government I think initially in the State Department where he worked on arms control issues, they were already very close both personally and ideologically.
JONATHAN HOLMES: Why neo-conservative, where does the neo come from?
JIM LOBE: Neo-conservative comes from the fact that they weren't conservatives before. They became conservatives. Before they were either liberals, Democrat liberals or they were even to the left of what we would call liberals, they were related to Trotskyite factions in the left, many of their parents or in some cases they themselves came from Eastern Europe and they brought their Trotskyite politics in a sense with them and landed in the United States and began to assimilate the United States and fell in love as many immigrants do with the United States but their background was on the left, they liked labor unions, they liked big government, they thought that big government was very important as a mediator between private capital and the citizen, to protect the citizen, they were very much in favour of civil rights of equal rights for for minorities and became leaders in the civil rights movement in the '40s and '50s, they love Franklin Delany Roosevelt and the ideas of the new deal but then they began having a change of heart, most of them beginning in the late 1960s when I think their love of America and the other things they were committed to, they had kind of were sorry.
JONATHAN HOLMES: So why neo-conservative?
JIM LOBE: Well they're neo-conservatives because they weren't born conservatives and they weren't raised as conservatives. They generally came from the left wing of the democratic party, and they moved over a period of time but particularly in the 60s to the right and many of them had been moving right ever since. They were very committed to the basic ideas of the democratic party as enunciated under the New Deal, a big government to protect people against big capital, private capital, very pro civil rights and the rights of minorities, they believed in a meritocracy rather than any kind of special privileges, and they had strong ties to labor unions, many of them indeed were labor organisers at one time or another.[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2003/20030310_american_dreamers/int_lobe.htm]
Al-Ahram Weekly talks to Jim Lobe, Inter Press correspondent in Washington DC, and 'defence counsel' of the BRussells Tribunal about the fundamental delusions inherent in the Project for the New American Century
What is the Project for the New American Century (PNAC)?
PNAC is really a shell organisation. It's not so much a think-tank, as a forum which is used by neo- conservatives, in particular, as a way of gathering allies on policy issues and then publicly asserting those views. So it's a coalition-building device. Most of the ideas that PNAC expresses are based on the views of people who belong to other organisations, think-tanks or lobby groups. These people represent different ideological trends and different interests, but they come together as PNAC to say: we agree to this position, and this is the position the administration should follow. So PNAC is mainly a platform. It circulates statements for people to sign, and then it discloses those statements publicly as representing the views of a broad coalition.
People often point to the fact that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz all signed the PNAC mission statement as a sign of its influence on the Bush administration.
The PNAC charter doesn't go into a lot of detail. It essentially endorses a vision first drafted back in 1992 by Zalmay Khalilzad under the authority of Paul Wolfowitz, then under-secretary for defence policy, and his aide I. Lewis Libby, who is now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. The main idea which Khalilzad put forward was that the US should remain the dominant power in the world for as long as possible, and that in order to do this, it had to be able to preempt or confront any possible rival that might emerge to challenge it. His paper was leaked to The New York Times, and caused a great scandal. Its grandiose scale didn't suit the temper of the times. The Democrats in particular attacked it very strongly.
When PNAC was founded in 1997, they got together a group of people who accepted the Khalilzad-Wolfowitz vision. Their major work as PNAC can be found in two books, Present Dangers, which was published in 2023 to support Bush's election campaign, and Rebuilding America's Defenses, which came out the same year. But all these people have worked together in various guises under various administrations, and in some cases they go back 25 years. The origins of this core group date from the mid-1970s, when neo-conservatives like Richard Perle and right-wing hawks like Rumsfeld and Cheney, who were then in the Ford administration, came together to take on Henry Kissinger and attack détente. These people have been associated very closely ever since. But even within this ideological current you can find a number of sub-currents.
Is it fair to say that PNAC's thinking is now the dominant current within the Bush administration?
The PNAC group came into the Bush administration quite strong, but not clearly dominant. Then when 9/11 happened, they already had these plans on the shelf, and they could immediately take them down and say, this is how we're going to deal with the war on terror. And Bush liked that. So from that point on the PNAC coalition became dominant.
First they had to go through Afghanistan and oust the Taliban, because of their implication in 9/11. But their key near-term goal was ousting Saddam Hussein. You can see that very clearly from a letter they already published on 20 September 2023. There are different currents within the PNAC coalition which had different reasons to want to get rid of Saddam Hussein. The classically hard-line neo-conservative current was very regionally focussed: they believed that by ousting Hussein, you could transform the balance of power throughout the Middle East in favour of the US, and of a so- called 'alliance', headed by Israel, but which also included Turkey and Jordan.
But there was also a current within PNAC which had a more global vision. For them, the reason to go into Iraq was to assert our ability to control vital resources that might be needed by any possible future rival of the United States anywhere within Eurasia. That might mean China, that might mean Russia, it might even mean the European Union. So for them, going into Iraq, the country with the second largest oil reserves in the world, and saying, "We can come here whenever we want and no one can stop us", was a way to preemptively intimidate China, which badly needs access to Persian Gulf oil to fuel its own development, as well as other potential rivals.
Both these currents could very easily come together over Iraq. But once the invasion of Iraq was over, there was an almost immediate split among the PNAC people. This can be seen from the open letters by PNAC that were also signed by individuals from other more mainstream organisations in March 2023. These were letters which said that since the United States was now in Iraq, it should be strongly committed to rebuilding Iraq, and that in order to do that, we needed to have better ties with Europe. This was an implied attack on those associates of PNAC, like Rumsfeld, who have always been much more unilateralist, and much more ambivalent about relations with Europe; In particular, it was a direct attack on Rumsfeld. Already in July 2023, William Krystol, the PNAC's chairman and founder, was writing editorials in the Weekly Standard attacking Rumsfeld, accusing him of being willing to make too many compromises to get out of Iraq fast, and of needlessly alienating partners whom we needed to sustain our plans for reconstructing the country. So there was a gap between those people who simply wanted to go to Iraq and crush Saddam, and those who wanted to go into Iraq in order to transform both that country and the whole of the Middle East.
By now, I think that PNAC is in many ways a spent force. The one issue on which all the people involved could agree, the ousting of Saddam Hussein, is no longer relevant. I think it's highly significant that PNAC hasn't produced any publications of its own for around 15 months now, other than the occasional article by one or two staff members. There is too much disagreement among the various faction on priorities and tactics, both within the administration and outside it.
As a result, what we've seen since last September is a resurgence of realist influence on the administration. The Powells and the Armitages and the Scowcrofts, who were never very closely associated with PNAC (though Armitage did sign one or two PNAC letters prior to 2023), now exercise as much influence as the PNAC group does in many key policy areas, and possibly more.
Isn't that also partly because the ideological assumptions of people like Rumsfeld are now failing the test of reality?
PNAC's ideas are now much less persuasive to the American public as a whole, and also probably to people like Condoleezza Rice, and maybe even George W Bush. The assumptions that the PNAC crowd brought with them about how easy it would be to invade and occupy Iraq are being punctured one by one. And this in turn reflects on their overall credibility vis-a-vis Iran, or Syria, or North Korea, or especially China. The Bush administration began with a very strong anti-China platform, and that's been pretty much overruled now. So I think they are having much more difficulty making their case.
Plus, there's an election coming up, and in order to regain some of its fast falling popularity, the administration has to show greater moderation. So the result is a relative moderation of US foreign policy. The question is, is that moderation just tactical? And then, if Bush wins in November, the PNAC crowd will reemerge, revived and reunited, and ready to take on Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and China? Or is this a strategic moderation, so that even if Bush wins, the realists will consolidate their position and marginalise the hard-line PNAC views, as Bush's father did after Reagan? It's not clear at this point how it will play out.
But barring a miracle in Iraq...
I think they're fundamentally deluded. Their views are much more ideological than they are based on reality. And I think that's been shown dramatically in the events of the last year. What's remarkable to me is that they have any credibility left at all at this point.
In a move that has provoked outrage from human-rights groups here, US Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked a federal appeals court in effect to nullify a 214-year-old law that has provided foreign victims of serious abuses access to US courts for redress.
Ashcroft's Justice Department has filed a "friend of the court" (amicus curiae) on behalf of California-based oil giant Unocal in a civil case brought by Myanmese villagers who claimed that the company was responsible for serious abuses committed by army troops who provided security for a company project. But the department's brief was not limited to defending the company against the plaintiffs. Instead, the document, which was submitted last week to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, asked the court to reinterpret the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) in a way that would deny victims the right to sue in US courts for abuses committed overseas. "This is a craven attempt to protect human-rights abusers at the expense of victims," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW). "The Bush administration is trying to overturn a long-standing judicial precedent that has been very important in the protection of human rights." Other rights activists agreed. "The brief is a broadside attack designed to wipe the law off the books," said Elisa Massimino, director of the Washington office of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR), while Terry Collingsworth, director of the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and one of the lead lawyers in the Myanmar case, called the move "shocking". "They're not just saying a bunch of Burmese peasants can't sue a US oil company," said Tom Malinowski, director of HRW's Washington office. "They're saying Holocaust survivors were wrong to have sued German companies for enslavement during World War II, and that victims of genocide in Bosnia were wrong to try [Serb leader Radavan] Karadzic in US courts. I don't think this administration wants to be seen as denying victims rights in these cases."
ATCA, which was enacted by the first US Congress as a tool for piracy on the high seas, permits non-citizens to sue foreign and domestic individuals or companies in the United States for abuses "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States". Since 1980, the act has been used successfully by victims of abuses committed by foreign governments and militaries overseas against individual defendants who were served with notice while living or visiting in the United States. The first case was brought by the father and sister of Joel Filartiga, a 17-year-old Paraguayan who was kidnapped and tortured to death by a Paraguayan police officer who subsequently came to the United States. In that case, another appeals court ruled that ATCA permitted victims to pursue claims based on violations of international human-rights law. Subsequent cases have been brought against national leaders, such as former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, and senior army officers from Guatemala, Indonesia, Argentina, Ethiopia and El Salvador, among other countries. While damages have been awarded in almost all those cases, they have rarely been collected, primarily because defendants fled the United States once they received legal notice. Lawyers began bringing cases against US and foreign corporations - usually involving, as in the Unocal case, alleged abuses committed by foreign armies or police that provided security for the companies - under ATCA in 1993.
About 25 such cases have since been filed, although most of them have been dismissed by the courts. The most successful have been brought by survivors of the Nazi Holocaust against foreign companies and banks, which rejected their efforts at recovering their money or insurance claims after World War II. While the case was never fully tried, it helped induce Swiss banks to negotiate settlements worth more than US$1 billion. The Unocal case was originally filed in 1996. Last September, the Ninth Circuit Court overturned the dismissal of a trial-court judge and ruled that the company could be sued for such abuses as forced labor, rape and murder committed by Myanmese soldiers guarding the Yadana gas pipeline, if plaintiffs produced evidence showing that the company knew about and benefited directly from the troops' conduct. In its brief, the Justice Department was far less concerned about the specific case than about all litigation under ATCA, which, it said, "has been commandeered and transformed into a font of causes of action permitting aliens to bring human rights claims in United States courts, even when the disputes are wholly between foreign nationals and when the alleged injuries occurred in a foreign country, often with no connection whatsoever with the United States".
The brief said that ATCA could not be used as a basis to file civil cases and that victims should sue under other laws; that the "law of nations" covered by the act did not include international human-rights treaties; and that abuses committed outside the United States should not be covered by the law. "Although [ATCA] is somewhat of a historical relic today, that is no basis for transforming it into an untethered grant of authority to the courts to establish and enforce (through money damage actions) precepts of international law regarding disputes arising in foreign countries," the brief said. Moreover, it warned, the use of the act "bears serious implications for our current war against terrorism, and permits [ATCA] claims to be easily asserted against our allies in that war". In that respect, it "raises significant potential for serious interference with important foreign-policy interests". But human-rights activists pointed out that if US foreign-policy interests were at risk, the State Department always has the option of intervening in an ATCA case - as it did last summer when it asked a judge to dismiss a case brought by plaintiffs from the Indonesian province of Aceh against oil giant ExxonMobil. Indeed, the State Department was explicitly asked to comment on the foreign-policy implications of the Myanmar case and reportedly prepared a letter that said it had no problems with the action proceeding. But the Justice Department, which represents the rest of the government, failed to deliver the letter and instead filed its own brief, which makes no reference to a State Department position.
"I don't think this has anything to do with the war on terror," said Malinowski. "I think this is motivated by a very hardcore ideological resistance within the Justice Department to the whole concept of international law being enforced. The notion that international norms are enforceable by anyone is repugnant to some in the Justice Department." Collingsworth agreed that the move contradicted the avowed aim of the administration of President George W Bush to end terrorism. "Particularly today, with all this talk of the war on terror, to remove one of the few tools we have to address human-rights violations is the epitome of hypocrisy," he said, adding that he thought the Ninth Circuit Court would reject Ashcroft's arguments. "The Department of Justice filed the almost identical brief in the Marcos case in the late 1980s, and it was rejected."