Editor's Note | The following remarks were delivered by William Rivers Pitt to a September 11 symposium hosted by WBAI at the Riverside Church on Friday, September 12. Mr. Pitt was asked to speak about the Project for a New American Century, their pre-9/11 plans, and how those plans have been translated into policy by the Bush administration.
New York, You’ve Been Used
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 15 September 2003
It is an honor beyond words to stand before the people of this great and noble and brave city to speak on issues of such importance. Thank you for having me, New York. You are the definition of greatness.
You are also the definition of America, and that, in the end, is the reason I have come here to tell you what I have to tell you. You are the definition of America, plurality writ large, brave and brassy and strong and free. The differences between you and the men and women within this Bush administration could not be larger or more profound, and that is the wretched irony of it all. Two years ago, you became the test case for this administration, victims of an ideology that has absolutely nothing to do with the definition of America. Your pain became their excuse. Your woe became their cover. Your fear, and the fear shared by all of your fellow Americans, became a sharp weapon that was used deliberately and viciously against you, and against all of us.Before I begin to explain all that, I’d like to share with you the words of a man whom, it would seem, has a potentially brilliant career as a prognosticator and fortune teller ahead of him. Feast upon this:
"Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in ‘mission creep,’ and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome."
Who said that? George Herbert Walker Bush said that, in a 1998 book entitled ‘A World Transformed.’
Someone once said the apple never falls far from the tree. In the matter of George Herbert Walker Bush and his son George W., and on the matter of invading and occupying Iraq, it appears the apple fell, rolled, got picked up, pocketed, carried, and then thrown into a sewage tank. Something clearly got lost in the translation here. What happened? I’ll tell you what happened. The Project for a New American Century happened.What is the Project for a New American Century? It is a Washington-based right-wing think tank formed in 1997 by members of another Washington-based think tank that is basically the godfather of right-wing think tanks, called the American Enterprise Institute. The Project for a New American Century, or PNAC (or ‘panic’), describes its mission thusly on its web page, newamericancentury.org. The following is some lines from PNAC’s Statement of Principles, dated June 3 1997:
"As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests? We are in danger of squandering the opportunity and failing the challenge. We seem to have forgotten 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. We need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles."
There are a number of names signed at the bottom of this Statement of Principles, but we will get to those in a moment. On the surface, this statement basically sounds like your standard boilerplate Ronald-Reagan-Is-God stuff, right? More hawkish than some might feel comfortable with, perhaps, but nothing to send the world spiraling off its axis. Right?
The Project for a New American Century was formed with a number of specific purposes in mind. The first, and foremost, was to fundamentally reorganize the foreign policy standards of the United States, to change forever the way America deals with the world. The first step in doing this, according to PNAC, was to attack, invade and take over the nation of Iraq. This plan was codified in a scolding letter sent to President Clinton in 1998 which chastised him for not rolling tanks on Baghdad. The next step in the process, according to PNAC, was to invade and take out friendly and unfriendly regimes alike in the Middle East, thus ‘Westernizing’ the region through warfare and bringing our values to them. Implicit within this plan is the PNAC idea that open warfare and wholesale regime-change in the Middle East is all part of "Defending Israel." Unfortunately, the most common thing to see within the progressive community today is two people who agree on 99% of the issues screaming in fury at each other. 99% of the time, that screaming happens because of the fundamental differences between supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine. This is the rift within the progressive community, and it is a mile wide, and PNAC falls right in the center of it. Now, there are 100 sides to these arguments and these issues. I am not here to stand and espouse one side or the other, beyond this: It is flat insanity to claim that theater-wide warfare and destabilization in the Mideast will do anything but make Israel less safe, and by proxy will cause further suffering and death within the Palestinian community. These are things we have to be able to talk about. We cannot discuss the Bush administration without discussing PNAC. We cannot discuss PNAC without discussing Israel and Palestine. If we cannot discuss Israel and Palestine without shredding each other, we will never be able to address this profound problem.
The PNAC plan was codified in the passage by the Gingrich-controlled Congress of the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998, an act that made regime change in Iraq a matter of American law. The letter sent to Clinton in 1998, and the strident advocacy for the passage of the Iraqi Liberation Act, both bore the same signatures and fingerprints of the men and women who signed the PNAC Statement of Principles.
The Project for a New American Century came out with a defense review in September of 2000 entitled ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses.’ This is their flagship document, their reason for existing, and represents the essence of their ideology. It makes for some very interesting reading. This is the document which outlines that revolution in American foreign policy and global military presence I mentioned. It is far, far less benign than the Statement of Principles. In this document lies a plan to make the Defense Department infinitely more massive, and to make America a violently hyperactive and unilateral presence throughout the world. In the section titled ‘Key Findings,’ several items jump right out. Among the ‘Four Core Missions’ listed, you will find the demand to:
"Fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous theater wars;" and, "Perform the ‘constabulary’ duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions;" and, "Increase defense spending to a minimum level of 3.5 to 3.8 percent of gross domestic product."
Page 26 of the report carries the following lines:
"The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
So let’s tie all these threads together, and find out why some wacky right-wing think tank is important. We’ll start with the signatures on that Statement of Principles. Among those who signed on with the Project for a New American Century in 1997, who founded the Project, who stand by its ideologies and who press those ideologies out into an unwitting world, are:
Dick Cheney, Vice President, and former CEO of Halliburton Petroleum;
Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense;
Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of Defense;
Elliot Abrams, senior member of the National Security Council, who pled guilty to the charge of lying to Congress in the Iran/Contra scandal;
Norman Podhoretz, a writer who described the PNAC mission and the war on Iraq as, "A process of the reformation and modernization of Islam;"
Bill Bennett, whom you’ve surely met if you’ve been to Vegas recently;
Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief assistant to Dick Cheney.
The list goes on, and on, and on. Not listed on this page, but prominent throughout PNAC, is Richard Perle, former chair of the powerful Defense Policy Board, and perhaps the single most dangerous human being alive on the planet today. In Washington, they call him "The Prince of Darkness." I could spend this entire evening speaking of his influence over American foreign policy, but as there are so may other issues to discuss, I would compel you to research this man on your own.
Understand the ramifications here. The Project for a New American Century was, in 1997, so far out there that nobody ever thought these goofballs would come within 100 miles of power in government. And yet here we stand today, with the chief men from the Project now controlling every single nook and cranny of America’s foreign policy, defense strategy, military, and budget. These guys I just listed, particularly Cheney and Rumsfeld and Perle and Wolfowitz and Abrams, are quite literally the men running America. The Project asked for the fighting of several major theater wars – not the need to be prepared to fight these wars, but to actually fight these wars - and we now have two: Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Project asked for the creation of a permanent military presence in Iraq, and we have Kellog Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, right there in the mix. Brown & Root’s stock in trade is the building of permanent military bases, and they are there in Iraq today, building.
The Project asked for American commitment to ‘constabulary duties’ in strategically important places, and that is what we now have in Iraq, whether we like it or not.
The Project asked for 3.8 percent of gross domestic product to be poured into the Defense budget, and that is exactly the number – exactly – that this administration’s last budget asked for and got from this Congress.
The Project said, "The need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." That transcendent need is all the explanation required for why this administration lied with its bare face hanging out for months and months about the threat posed by Iraq. The lies were justified by the ideology, by the "transcendent need" to make war on a nation that, while ruled by a tyrant, posed no threat whatsoever to The United States or her citizens.
To understand the final and complete and total influence the Project for a New American Century has over the foreign policy, and by default the domestic policy of this nation, look no further than the ground-breaking and profoundly important White House document entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America." Released in September of 2002, one year ago almost to the day, this report redefines America’s mission in the world. It states flatly that America will act unilaterally, and that the mission of our government and our military has changed forever. That document is a mirror-image, in ideology and design and in many places text, of the Project for a New American Century’s September 2000 ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses.’ If you need any further proof that the leading lights of one of the most extremist right-wing think tanks ever formed in America are now running this government, hold those two reports side by side in your hands. Read them, one after the other. You will have all the answers you need.
So let’s recap, as I have just dropped a whole barnload of data on you. In 1997, this think tank was formed. Their principal goals were to radically change American foreign policy and the basic concept of how and why we go to war. By proxy, they wanted to take Iraq over and establish a permanent military presence there. From there, they wanted to take over, basically, the entire Middle East. One broken election later, the prime and powerful advocates for these clearly documented and clearly fringe concepts became the Vice President (Cheney), the Secretary of Defense (Rumsfeld), the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Wolfowitz), the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board (Perle), and the head of the National Security Council (Abrams). In short, the prime movers of this group became the foreign policy, military, and national security establishment of the United States government.
In 2000, they put out a report asking to fight several major theater wars. Under Bush, they got their wish. In 2000, they asked for at least 3.8 percent of GDP to go to the Defense Department. Under Bush, they got it. In 2000, they asked for a war in Iraq. Under Bush, they got it, and be damned to the truth. In 2000, they asked for the ability to turn America into a nation that attacked first and asked questions never. Under Bush, and his ‘National Security Strategy’ of 2002, they got it. The Project for a New American Century is, in point of fact, the government of the United States of America. What will they reach for if they win the 2004 election?
So what, you may say. September 11 happened. We have to respond.I would answer with the following: First of all, understand that these ideas were formulated well before September 11. These officials within the Bush administration did not cobble these concepts together in the aftermath of that attack, but had them waiting before the attack ever came, and used the attack to bulldog these ruinous policies out into the world. That is disturbing on its face. In a moment, I will share with you the most disturbing part of all. But first, this. A reaction to the September 11 attacks, and to the fringe ideology and the perversion of Islam that motivated them, was and is necessary. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda are thugs, a protection racket that uses terror instead of Tommy guns. Yet they are heroes to many in the Muslim world. They are not heroes because of what they do. They are heroes because of what we do. They win the hearts and minds of people throughout the world not because of their actions, but because their actions are motivated by our actions.
If we are to win this War on Terror, this new Cold War, we will not do so by bombing decrepit countries and slaughtering Muslim civilians. We will not do so by swaggering across the planet and slapping the international community across the face. In this struggle, I look to one of my favorite Red Sox fans, President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was by no means a foreign policy prince; he pulled crap that would make Richard Perle blush. Yet Kennedy understood something fundamental about the Cold War struggle, from back when that struggle was as hot and dangerous as it ever got, that resonates in roaring truth today. Kennedy understood that to win the Cold War, America did not simply have to defeat the Soviet Union by force of arms, or threaten to be able to do so. America had to give the rest of the world, especially those regions where communism stood a good chance of taking hold, the belief and understanding that we had a better way. We had to convince the world that were right, and righteous, and though we were not perfect by any means, the hope and goodness of what we represented had to be carried to the corners of the world with something besides a bayonet and a bomb. Hatred of America does not take root when America shows its best face. The bastion of immigration that is New York City proves this beyond doubt. We are not perfect, but we can be very good, and bringing this simple truth to the world will defang these thugs, period.
That is the final failure of this administration, and of these boys from the Project for a New American Century. They believe we can defeat Terrorism by kicking ass and taking names, by being violent and unilateral, by basically shoving the worst aspects of our country and our system into the international community’s face and demanding, at gunpoint, that they be with us or against us. Machiavelli said, long ago, that given such a choice, the attacked would always choose to be against. Kicking ass in Iraq, while being exposed as liars and bullies, has proven to be the greatest recruiting poster al Qaeda could have ever asked for. We can defeat these thugs if we go after them properly. We can cut off their funds and their ability to bring in people who will die for the privilege of watching you die. But when we do what we have been doing, when we follow the PNAC plan, we create an unending tide of furious humanity that will, in the end, bury us.
You’ve been used, New York. Your pain and woe has been used to justify a course of action formulated years before those Towers fell. The fear caused by those falling Towers has been used against you, on purpose, to drag us all along on a suicide ride that fulfills the extremist dreams of a tiny minority while filling the coffers of defense and petroleum companies that do not, and will never, have your best interests in mind. Those companies exist to serve themselves, and with the rise of PNAC, they have found their champions. At your expense.
I told you, a moment ago, about the most disturbing part. I told you, also, that these PNAC plans were formulated in that ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses’ report written long before September 11. I didn’t tell you about page 51 of that report. Page 51 of a report that has become the basis for our war in Iraq, and our new and aggressive foreign policy stance. Page 51 of the report that is now the heart and soul and ideology of this government. Page 51, and one simple sentence: "The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."
That was written in September of 2000. It is now September of 2003. Now we have the facts. What are we to do with them? It is not enough to know. We must act