The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was an American think tank based in Washington, D.C. that lasted from early 1997 to 2006. It was co-founded as a non-profit educational organization by neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan. The PNAC's stated goal was "to promote American global leadership." Fundamental to the PNAC were the view that "American leadership is both good for America and good for the world" and support for "a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity." The PNAC exerted influence on high-level U.S. government officials in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush and affected the Bush Administration's development of military and foreign policies, especially involving national security and the Iraq War.
PNAC's first public act was releasing a "Statement of Principles" on June 3, 1997, which was signed by both its members and a variety of other notable conservative politicians and journalists (see Signatories to Statement of Principles). The statement began by framing a series of questions, which the rest of the document proposes to answer:
As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's pre-eminent 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?
In response to these questions, the PNAC states its aim to "remind America" of "lessons" learned from American history, drawing the following "four consequences" for America in 1997:
- we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
- we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
- we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad; [and]
- 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.
While "Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today," the "Statement of Principles" concludes, "it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next."
The goal of regime change in Iraq remained the consistent position of PNAC throughout the 1997-2000 Iraq disarmament crisis. They followed that up with a letter to Republican members of the U.S. Congress Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott.
On January 16, 1998, following perceived Iraqi unwillingness to co-operate with UN weapons inspections, members of the PNAC, including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Robert Zoellick drafted an open letter to President Bill Clinton, posted on its website, urging President Clinton to remove Saddam Hussein from power using U.S. diplomatic, political, and military power. The signers argue that Saddam would pose a threat to the United States, its Middle East allies, and oil resources in the region, if he succeeded in maintaining what they asserted was a stockpile of Weapons of Mass Destruction. They also state: "we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections" and "American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council." They argue that an Iraq war would be justified by Hussein's defiance of UN "containment" policy and his persistent threat to U.S. interests.
On November 16, 1998, citing Iraq's demand for the expulsion of UN weapons inspectors and the removal of Richard Butler as head of the inspections regime, Kristol called again for regime change in an editorial in his online magazine, The Weekly Standard: "...any sustained bombing and missile campaign against Iraq should be part of any overall political-military strategy aimed at removing Saddam from power." Kristol states that Paul Wolfowitz and others believed that the goal was to create "a 'liberated zone' in southern Iraq that would provide a safe haven where opponents of Saddam could rally and organize a credible alternative to the present regime ... The liberated zone would have to be protected by U.S. military might, both from the air and, if necessary, on the ground."
In January 1999, the PNAC circulated a memo that criticized the December 1998 bombing of Iraq in Operation Desert Fox as ineffective, questioned the viability of Iraqi democratic opposition which the U.S. was supporting through the Iraq Liberation Act, and referred to any "containment" policy as an illusion.
In September 2000, the PNAC published a controversial 90-page report entitled Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. The report, which lists as Project Chairmen Donald Kagan and Gary Schmitt and as Principal Author Thomas Donnelly, quotes from the PNAC's June 1997 "Statement of Principles" and proceeds "from the belief that America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces."
The report argues:
The American peace has proven itself peaceful, stable, and durable. It has, over the past decade, provided the geopolitical framework for widespread economic growth and the spread of American principles of liberty and democracy. Yet no moment in international politics can be frozen in time; even a global Pax Americana will not preserve itself.
After its title page, the report features a page entitled "About the Project for the New American Century", quoting key passages from its 1997 "Statement of Principles":
In its "Preface", in highlighted boxes, Rebuilding America's Defenses states that it aims to:
ESTABLISH FOUR CORE MISSIONS for the U.S. military:
- defend the American homeland;
- fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars;
- perform the “constabulary” duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions;
- transform U.S. forces to exploit the “revolution in military affairs”;
To carry out these core missions, we need to provide sufficient force and budgetary allocations. In particular, the United States must:
MAINTAIN NUCLEAR STRATEGIC SUPERIORITY, basing the U.S. deterrent upon a global, nuclear net assessment that weighs the full range of current and emerging threats, not merely the U.S.-Russia balance.
RESTORE THE PERSONNEL STRENGTH of today’s force to roughly the levels anticipated in the “Base Force” outlined by the Bush Administration, an increase in active-duty strength from 1.4 million to 1.6 million.
REPOSITION U.S. FORCES to respond to 21st century strategic realities by shifting permanently-based forces to Southeast Europe and Southeast Asia, and by changing naval deployment patterns to reflect growing U.S. strategic concerns in East Asia. (iv)
It specifies the following goals:
MODERNIZE CURRENT U.S. FORCES SELECTIVELY, proceeding with the F-22 program while increasing purchases of lift, electronic support and other aircraft; expanding submarine and surface combatant fleets; purchasing Comanche helicopters and medium-weight ground vehicles for the Army, and the V-22 Osprey “tilt-rotor” aircraft for the Marine Corps.
CANCEL “ROADBLOCK” PROGRAMS such as the Joint Strike Fighter, CVX aircraft carrier, and Crusader howitzer system that would absorb exorbitant amounts of Pentagon funding while providing limited improvements to current capabilities. Savings from these canceled programs should be used to spur the process of military transformation.
DEVELOP AND DEPLOY GLOBAL MISSILE DEFENSES to defend the American homeland and American allies, and to provide a secure basis for U.S. power projection around the world.
CONTROL THE NEW “INTERNATIONAL COMMONS” OF SPACE AND “CYBERSPACE,” and pave the way for the creation of a new military service – U.S. Space Forces – with the mission of space control.
EXPLOIT THE “REVOLUTION IN MILITARY AFFAIRS” to insure the long-term superiority of U.S. conventional forces. Establish a two-stage transformation process which
• maximizes the value of current weapons systems through the application of advanced technologies, and,
• produces more profound improvements in military capabilities, encourages competition between single services and joint-service experimentation efforts.
INCREASE DEFENSE SPENDING gradually to a minimum level of 3.5 to 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, adding $15 billion to $20 billion to total defense spending annually. (v)
The report emphasizes:
Fulfilling these requirements is essential if America is to retain its militarily dominant status for the coming decades. Conversely, the failure to meet any of these needs must result in some form of strategic retreat. At current levels of defense spending, the only option is to try ineffectually to “manage” increasingly large risks: paying for today’s needs by shortchanging tomorrow’s; withdrawing from constabulary missions to retain strength for large-scale wars; “choosing” between presence in Europe or presence in Asia; and so on. These are bad choices. They are also false economies. The “savings” from withdrawing from the Balkans, for example, will not free up anywhere near the magnitude of funds needed for military modernization or transformation. But these are false economies in other, more profound ways as well. The true cost of not meeting our defense requirements will be a lessened capacity for American global leadership and, ultimately, the loss of a global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity. (v-vi)
In relation to the Persian Gulf, citing particularly Iraq and Iran, Rebuilding America's Defenses states that "while the unresolved conflict in Iraq provides the immediate justification [for U.S. military presence], the need for a substantial American force presence in the [Persian] Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein" and "Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the [Persian] Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region."
On September 20, 2001 (nine days after the September 11, 2001 attacks), the PNAC sent a letter to President George W. Bush, advocating "a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq," or regime change:
...even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.
From 2001 through 2002, the co-founders and other members of the PNAC published articles supporting the United States' invasion of Iraq. On its website, the PNAC promoted its point of view that leaving Saddam Hussein in power would be "surrender to terrorism."
By the end of 2006, PNAC was "reduced to a voice-mail box and a ghostly website", with "a single employee" "left to wrap things up", according to the BBC News. According to Tom Barry, "The glory days of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) quickly passed." In 2006, Gary Schmitt, former executive director of the PNAC, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of its program in Advanced Strategic Studies, stated that PNAC had come to a natural end:
When the project started, it was not intended to go forever. That is why we are shutting it down. We would have had to spend too much time raising money for it and it has already done its job. We felt at the time that there were flaws in American foreign policy, that it was neo-isolationist. We tried to resurrect a Reaganite policy. Our view has been adopted. Even during the Clinton administration we had an effect, with Madeleine Albright [then secretary of state] saying that the United States was 'the indispensable nation'. But our ideas have not necessarily dominated. We did not have anyone sitting on Bush's shoulder. So the work now is to see how they are implemented.
PNAC was replaced by the Foreign Policy Initiative.
Ebrahim Afsah, in "Creed, Cabal, or Conspiracy – The Origins of the Current Neo-Conservative Revolution in US Strategic Thinking", published in the German Law Journal, cited Jochen Bölsche's view that the goal of the PNAC was world dominance or global hegemony by the United States. According to Bölsche, Rebuilding America's Defenses "was developed by Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Libby, and is devoted to matters of 'maintaining US pre-eminence, thwarting rival powers and shaping the global security system according to US interests.'"
William Rivers Pitt, editorial director of Progressive Democrats of America, wrote, in an editorial published by Truthout.org, that PNAC was motivated by an imperial agenda of US military expansionism, which would bring negative side effects to ordinary citizens of the United States, while enriching some industries: "defense contractors who sup on American tax revenue will be handsomely paid for arming this new American empire."
George Monbiot, a political activist from the United Kingdom, stated: "...to pretend that this battle begins and ends in Iraq requires a willful denial of the context in which it occurs. That context is a blunt attempt by the superpower to reshape the world to suit itself."
"There is a vital distinction between being powerful--even most powerful in the world--and being an empire. Economic expansion does not equal imperialism, and there is no such thing as "cultural imperialism". If America is an empire, then why was it unable to mobilize its subjects to support the war against Saddam Hussein? America is not an empire, and its power stems from voluntary associations and alliances. American hegemony is relatively well accepted because people all over the world know that U.S. forces will eventually withdraw from the occupied territories. The effect of declaring that the United States is an empire would not only be factually wrong, but strategically catastrophic. Contrary to the exploitative purposes of the British, the American intentions of spreading democracy and individual rights are incompatible with the notion of an empire. The genius of American power is expressed in the movie The Godfather II, where, like Hyman Roth, the United States has always made money for its partners. America has not turned countries in which it intervened into deserts; it enriched them. Even the Russians knew they could surrender after the Cold War without being subjected to occupation."
Jeffrey Record, of the Strategic Studies Institute, in his monograph Bounding the Global War on Terrorism, Gabriel Kolko, research professor emeritus at York University in Toronto, and author of Another Century of War? (The New Press, 2002), in his article published in CounterPunch, and William Rivers Pitt, in Truthout.org, respectively, argued that the PNAC's goals of military hegemony exaggerated what the military can accomplish, that they failed to recognize "the limits of US power", and that favoring pre-emptive exercise of military might over diplomatic strategies could have "adverse side effects." (Paul Reynolds and Max Boot have made similar observations.)
judges the PNAC agenda in the same way. At first, argues Carter, Bush responded to the challenge of September 11 in an effective and intelligent way, "but in the meantime a group of conservatives worked to get approval for their long held ambitions under the mantle of 'the war on terror'." The restrictions on civil rights in the US and at Guantanamo, cancellation of international accords, "contempt for the rest of the world", and finally an attack on Iraq "although there is no threat to the US from Baghdad" - all these things will have devastating consequences, according to Carter. "This entire unilateralism", warns the ex-President, "will increasingly isolate the US from those nations that we need in order to do battle with terrorism".
Section V of Rebuilding America's Defenses, entitled "Creating Tomorrow's Dominant Force", includes the sentence: "Further, 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" (51).
In his appearance on Democracy Now!, theologian David Ray Griffin, author of The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11, explains the allusion to "the New Pearl Harbor" from the PNAC report in the title of his book, which argues that PNAC members within the Bush Administration were complicit in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Though not arguing that Bush administration PNAC members were complicit in those attacks, other social critics such as commentator Manuel Valenzuela and journalist Mark Danner, investigative journalist John Pilger, in New Statesman, and former editor of The San Francisco Chronicle Bernard Weiner, in CounterPunch, all argue that PNAC members used the events as the "Pearl Harbor" that they needed––that is, as an "opportunity" to "capitalize on" (in Pilger's words), in order to enact long-desired plans.
Former US Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin and UK Labour MP and Father of the House of Commons, Tam Dalyell, criticized PNAC members for promoting policies which support an idealized version of war, even though only a handful of PNAC members have served in the military or, if they served, seen combat.
Their [The Project for the New American Century's] signal enterprise was the invasion of Iraq and their failure to produce results is clear. Precisely the opposite has happened. The US use of force has been seen as doing wrong and as inflaming a region that has been less than susceptible to democracy. Their plan has fallen on hard times. There were flaws in the conception and horrendously bad execution. The neo-cons have been undone by their own ideas and the incompetence of the Bush administration.
In discussing the PNAC report Rebuilding America's Defenses (2000), Neil MacKay, investigations editor for the Scottish Sunday Herald, quoted Tam Dalyell: "'This is garbage from right-wing think-tanks stuffed with chicken-hawks -- men who have never seen the horror of war but are in love with the idea of war. Men like Cheney, who were draft-dodgers in the Vietnam war. These are the thought processes of fantasist Americans who want to control the world.'"
Eliot A. Cohen, a signatory to the PNAC "Statement of Principles", responded in The Washington Post: "There is no evidence that generals as a class make wiser national security policymakers than civilians. George C. Marshall, our greatest soldier statesman after George Washington, opposed shipping arms to Britain in 1940. His boss, Franklin D. Roosevelt, with nary a day in uniform, thought otherwise. Whose judgment looks better?"
Commentators from divergent parts of the political spectrum––such as Democracy Now! and American Free Press, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams and former Republican Congressmen Pete McCloskey and Paul Findley––voiced their concerns about the influence of the PNAC on the decision by President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. Some have regarded the PNAC's January 16, 1998 letter to President Clinton, which urged him to embrace a plan for "the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power," and the large number of members of PNAC appointed to the Bush administration as evidence that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a foregone conclusion. 
Media commentators have found it significant that signatories to the PNAC's January 16, 1998 letter to President Clinton (and some of its other position papers, letters, and reports) included such Bush administration officials as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Richard Armitage, and Elliott Abrams.
[as listed on the PNAC website:]
After the election of George W. Bush in 2000, a number of PNAC's members or signatories were appointed to key positions within the President's administration:
|Elliott Abrams||Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations (2001–2002), Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs (2002–2005), Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy (2005-2009) (all within the National Security Council)|
|Richard Armitage||Deputy Secretary of State (2001-2005)|
|John R. Bolton||Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs (2001-2005), U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (2005-2006)|
|Dick Cheney||Vice President (2001-2009)|
|Eliot A. Cohen||Member of the Defense Policy Advisory Board (2007-2009)|
|Seth Cropsey||Director of the International Broadcasting Bureau (12/2002-12/2004)|
|Paula Dobriansky||Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs (2001-2007)|
|Francis Fukuyama||Member of the The President's Council on Bioethics (2001-2005)|
|Zalmay Khalilzad||U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan (11/2003 - 6/2005), U.S. Ambassador to Iraq (6/2005 - 3/2007) U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (2007-2009)|
|I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby||Chief of Staff to the Vice President of the United States (2001-2005) under Dick Cheney|
|Richard Perle||Chairman of the Board, Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee (2001-2003)|
|Peter W. Rodman||Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security (2001-2007)|
|Donald Rumsfeld||Secretary of Defense (2001-2006)|
|Randy Scheunemann||Member of the U.S. Committee on NATO, Project on Transitional Democracies, International Republican Institute|
|Paul Wolfowitz||Deputy Secretary of Defense (2001-2005)|
|Dov S. Zakheim||Department of Defense Comptroller (2001-2004)|
|Robert B. Zoellick||Office of the United States Trade Representative (2001-2005), Deputy Secretary of State (2005-2006), 11th President of the World Bank (2007-Present)|