Bush shares dream of Middle East democracy
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - 28 Feb: In a major policy address to the neo-conservative think-tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), US President George W Bush on Wednesday pledged to "ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another" in post-invasion Iraq and argued that a US victory there "could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace".
"The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers," he said. "And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated."
The speech, the latest in an accelerating series of appearances by Bush and other senior members of his administration to drum up public support for war in Iraq with or without the United Nations Security Council's authorization, was notable as much for its venue as its content.
AEI, whose foreign policy "scholars" are closely identified with the most unilateralist and pro-Likud elements in the Bush administration, has acted as the hub of a network of neo-conservative activists and groups, including the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and several others that have agitated for war against Iraq and other Arab states that are believed to threaten Israel since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon near Washington, DC.
More than any other think-tank in Washington, AEI and its associates have consistently formulated and favored the most radical and hardline proposals for US policy, including aligning US policy in the Middle East with Israel's right-wing Likud party; cutting ties with traditional US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; opposing negotiations with North Korea; providing direct security guarantees to Taiwan; and treating China as a strategic threat with which an eventual confrontation should be considered inevitable.
In sympathetic publications - including the Weekly Standard, the National Review, the Washington Times, the New Republic, the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal - as well as on talk shows on Fox News and CNN, they have aggressively pressed those positions, and launched attacks against their perceived enemies, particularly Secretary of State Colin Powell and former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, both of whom are seen as dangerous realists, and, more recently, the governments of France and Germany.
AEI has also served as a major recruiting ground for foreign-policy positions in the administration.
Indeed, its former executive vice president, John Bolton, has become one of the Bush administration's most powerful - despite journalistically undercovered - figures as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, a key post that he has used not only to ensure Washington's withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, but also the undermining of other elements of the international arms-control regime. He has also spearheaded US efforts to attack the Rome Protocol to set up the new International Criminal Court. He told the Wall Street Journal last year that signing the letter informing the UN of Washington's renunciation of adherence to the Rome Protocol was "the happiest moment of my government service".
Presiding over much of AEI's foreign-policy program has been Richard Perle, a close advisor and longtime friend of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, who named him as chairman of the Defense Policy Board (DPB). Lynne Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney's spouse, also works at AEI, albeit not in a foreign-policy position, as does former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Perle, who has also worked closely with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz since they were students at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s, convened the DPB within a few days of the attacks to discuss possible links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and put Baghdad squarely in Washington's crosshairs in the impending anti-terrorist campaign.
Indeed, within just nine days of September 11, 2001, Perle helped mobilize support for an open letter to Bush by PNAC, whose offices are on the fifth floor of the AEI building in downtown Washington, that laid out a program for conducting a war on terrorism that anticipated much of what the administration has subsequently followed.
Signed by 40 prominent right-wingers and neo-conservatives, of whom at least a dozen were directly associated with AEI, the letter argued that the war on terror must not stop with bin Laden, but must also include ousting Saddam Hussein, "even if evidence does not link him to the [September 11] attack", cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), striking Hezbollah in Lebanon, retaliating against Iran and Syria if they do not stop supplying Hezbollah, and sharply increasing the defense budget.
In another letter six months later, the same group called for the US to cut all ties with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and cease pressure on Israel to negotiate with him pending the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership. "Israel's fight against terrorism is our fight," the letter said. "Israel's victory is an important part of our victory. For reasons both moral and strategic, we need to stand with Israel in its fight against terrorism." After a major struggle between the hawks clustered around Rumsfeld and Cheney and more realist forces led by Powell, Bush adopted PNAC's recommendations.
Having won that battle, its AEI associates led by Perle transformed themselves into neo-Wilsonians by leading the charge for a regional policy of "reshaping", "transforming" and "democratizing" the entire Middle East, the main subject of Bush's address on Wednesday.
"This war cannot be limited to national theaters," Michael Ledeen, another AEI "scholar" and JINSA co-founder along with Perle, argued last September. "We face a regional challenge and must respond accordingly. We are the one truly revolutionary country on Earth, which is both the reason for which we were attacked in the first place and the reason we will successfully transform the lives of millions of people throughout the Middle East."
Similarly, another AEI associate, Joshua Muravchik called as early as a year ago for an aggressive pro-democracy policy in the region. Citing a recent survey by Freedom House, a New York-based neo-conservative think-tank, that found Arab states to be the least "free" of any other region, he argued that "far from pointing toward a relaxation of military efforts [in the war against terror, the survey] suggests that the more terror-loving tyrannies the United States can topple the better".
Yet another AEI scholar and former Central Intelligence Agency officer, Marc Reuel Gerecht, has also called for sweeping changes in US policy toward authoritarian Arab regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, although his views about the compatibility of democratic institutions with Arab temperaments have tended to be far more equivocal, if also revealing. "Arabs only respect strength," he wrote last year in an appeal for Washington to back Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's efforts to crush Palestinian resistance in the occupied territories. "Though the Near East Bureau at State hates the notion, the tougher Sharon becomes, the stronger our image will be in the Middle East."
Gerecht has also been a major proponent of severing ties with Saudi Arabia, as has Perle himself, who last summer got in trouble with the White House for inviting a vehemently anti-Saudi French scholar to address the DPB about the necessity of ousting the royal family from power.
Bush's appearance at AEI on Wednesday, however, made it clear that all had been forgiven. And his embrace of virtually all of the think-tank's theories about democratizing the region made clear the extent to which the most radical hawks in the administration have prevailed in the internal policy debate.
"There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values," said Bush. "Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. "The nation of Iraq ... is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.
"A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region," he declared, adding that "it is 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".
Moreover, "success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state ... Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders: true leaders who strive for peace; true leaders who faithfully serve the people.
"For its part, the new government of Israel - as the terror threat is removed and security improves - will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement," Bush said in his one concession to Arab opinion that must have disappointed his hosts. "As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end."