In two major speeches at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 2003, President Bush sketched the outlines of what he called “a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East”: in short, a militantly interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. This new paradigm, according to the President, is a “the calling of our time, the calling of our country.” And the neoconservatives have answered this call with a plethora of thinktanks and front groups, which are described by author Tom Barry below.
While neocon institutes such as PNAC and AEI were laying out the overall agenda, the specific targets of the neocon transformative strategy have been developed by region- and country-focused front groups created and led by neoconservatives. One of the most successful neocon groups was the US Committee on NATO, directed by Bruce Jackson.
Because of Jackson’s success at the US Committee on NATO in corralling bipartisan support to usher Central and East European nations into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Bush administration tapped Jackson to help build bipartisan support for the Iraq invasion.
Bruce Jackson, who sits on PNAC’s five-member board of directors and was until 2002 Lockheed Martin’s director of strategic planning, was the point man in establishing the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI) in November 2002. By Jackson’s account, the current administration encouraged him to set up CLI. “People in the White House said, ‘We need you to do for Iraq what you did for NATO’,” Jackson asserted.
The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq was the quintessential modern front group, built on a diverse membership, international connections, a broad and unifying statement of purpose, and internal disciplines. Scheunemann, CLI’s executive director, was like Jackson a board member of the US Committee on NATO; and he was at the core of the early efforts in Congress and within the Republican Party to support the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Ahmed Chalabi, INC’s chieftain, was a wealthy Iraqi expatriate who gained favor with neocons and hawks during the 1990s but was distrusted by the State Department and the CIA. In his position as national security adviser to Senator Trent Lott, Scheunemann had drafted numerous legislative bills shaping Washington’s Iraq policy. One of these bills, the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, authorized $98 million to the INC funds that were never fully disbursed by the Clinton administration, partly because of serious infighting within the INC.
Most CLI board members were prominent neocons, such as Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, William Kristol, and Joshua Muravchik. But the success of the CLI as a front group stemmed from its ability to incorporate Democrats and Republicans outside the politically incestuous circle of neocons, including former Senator Bob Kerrey, former Congressman Steve Solarz, Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute (an offshoot of the center-right Democratic Leadership Council), Sen. John McCain, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and former Secretary of State George Shultz, who served as honorary chairman of the CLI advisory board.
On to Damascus
Visions of regime change in Iran and Syria preoccupy Middle East experts at the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. In early May 2003, Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute, the convener of an AEI forum on Iran, alerted the administration and Congress that Iran should be the next target of the war on terrorism’s Operation Enduring Freedom the Pentagon’s name for its first antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan. “Our fight against Iraq was only a battle in a long war,” the Israeli-born Wurmser asserted. “It would be ill-conceived to think we can deal with Iraq alone We must move on, and faster,” she insisted.
Amid much controversy President Bush appointed Daniel Pipes, the founder and director of the Middle East Forum, to the board of the US Institute of Peace during the summer 2003 congressional recess. In 2000 Pipes, son of the anti-Soviet crusader Richard Pipes (who was both a Team B and Committee on the Present Danger member in mid-1970s), coauthored a jingoistic report with Ziad Abdelnour, director of the US Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL), advocating US military action to force Syria out of Lebanon and to disarm Syria of its alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Virtually all 31 signatories of the MEF report, which was used to persuade Congress to introduce and pass the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act in 2003, were USCFL members, and several became high officials or advisers in the Bush foreign policy team, including Elliott Abrams, Paula Dobriansky, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser. Passed in the House of Representatives on October 15, 2003, and signed by President Bush on December 12, 2003, the act enumerated several reasons support for terrorism, possession of weapons of mass destruction, and harboring Iraqi Ba’athists that laid the groundwork to justify another “regime change” invasion in the region.
The US Committee for a Free Lebanon is the self-proclaimed “cyber-center for Pro-Lebanon Activism.” Like Ahmed Chalabi, who founded the Iraqi National Congress, the USCFL’s Ziad Abdelnour is a wealthy, exiled investment banker who seems set on currying favor among the US policy elite hoping for a regime change in Syria and another round of political upheaval in Lebanon.
No More Schmoozing with the Mullahs
Even before the invasion plans were finalized, several neocons associated with the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq created a new “war party” calling for the US government to support regime change in Iran. Cofounded by Michael Ledeen and Morris Amitay, the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI) is yet another one of the neocon front groups pressuring the US public and government into supporting policies that aim to radically alter the political landscape of the Middle East. Other prominent neocons joining Ledeen and Amitay in CDI are James Woolsey, Joshua Muravchik, Jack Kemp, and Frank Gaffney.
In the summer of 2003 the CDI-driven Iran Freedom and Democracy Support Act, which among other things called for a tightening of the trade embargo against Iran, received overwhelming bipartisan support. The proposed act received the immediate support of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Although it did not authorize funding for exiled opposition groups, its sponsors, such as Rep. Christopher Cox and other associates of the Center for Security Policy, promised that funding would be forthcoming as part of future spending bills.
With their front groups in place for regime change in Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, and having secured bipartisan support for their democratization resolutions, the neocons remain intent on leading the nation down the same path that has led to quagmire in Iraq.
Tom Barry is Policy Director of the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC), online at: www.irc-online.org