By Elliot D. Cohen
Sen. John McCain’s ideological ties to the Bush-Cheney administration have mostly passed beneath the radar of the mainstream media, but if McCain loses the presidential race to Barack Obama, his neoconservative legacy could erupt into the open with a force that should not be underestimated.
In a little discussed speech titled “A Period of Consequences,” given at The Citadel military college in South Carolina on Sept. 23, 1999, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush laid out his plan for America. Bush’s speech succinctly reflected the ideology of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative institute initiated in 1997 by The New Citizenship Project, under the direction of its president, Sen. John McCain.
Bush’s Citadel speech was mirrored by a report that PNAC produced in September 2000, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century” (“RAD”). As noted by the authors of “RAD,” PNAC was based on the defense strategy outlined by Dick Cheney’s Defense Department in the 1992 Defense Policy Guidance (DPG) at the end of the George H.W. Bush administration.
The DPG (also known as the Wolfowitz Report) provided a “blueprint for maintaining U.S. preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.” The PNAC directors had lamented the fact that the DPG was “leaked [by The New York Times and The Washington Post] before it had been formally approved.” It was criticized as “an effort by ‘cold warriors’ to keep defense spending high ... despite the collapse of the Soviet Union,” and was subsequently “buried by the new [Clinton] administration.” PNAC was accordingly organized to resurrect Cheney’s defunct plan. [The quotations are from the “RAD” document.]
PNAC’s plan was a long-term project to be accomplished over decades. It sought to transform the military through research and the development of advanced warfare technologies. The approach included a global anti-ballistic missile system (the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative), a more effective nuclear capability, modernization of conventional weapons and development of biological and chemical weapons. The proposed biological weapons included ones that could “ ‘target’ specific genotypes” and thereby “transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.” The PNAC plan shunned arms control and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as obstacles to U.S. pre-eminence and ability to thwart the rise of other great geopolitical powers. Thus it sought to cultivate and use military superiority “to preserve an international security environment conducive to American interests and ideals.” [All quotations from “RAD.”]
In his Citadel speech, Bush proclaimed: “… if elected, I will set three goals: I will renew the bond of trust between the American president and the American military. I will defend the American people against missiles and terror. And I will begin creating the military of the next century.” But he was very clear that the project would not be completed by the time his administration ended. “Even if I am elected,” he said, “I will not command the new military we create. That will be left to a president who comes after me. The results of our effort will not be seen for many years.”
Obviously, to carry out the PNAC vision, Bush’s successor would have to be dedicated to the vision. This individual could not, as did Bill Clinton, present a conflicting ideology. Currently, the only candidate who appears to satisfy this requirement is John McCain—who, as mentioned, was a principal founder of PNAC. In addition, his campaign advisers and likely members of a McCain administration largely consist of former PNAC officials and signatories, including William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Randy Scheunemann, James Woolsey, John R. Bolton, Robert B. Zollick, Gary Schmitt, Richard Armitage, Max Boot and Michael Goldfarb.
There are two important considerations. First, the Bush/PNAC administration has a decade of planning and implementation at stake on the upcoming election. Second, a McCain presidency would assuredly mean another four years of militaristic Bush/PNAC policies.
So what, in particular, could we expect from a McCain administration? President Bush’s Citadel speech gives us some answers, as does PNAC’s “RAD.” Following are (1) statements from the 2000 PNAC “RAD,” (2) parallel remarks made by Bush in his 1999 Citadel speech and (3) what we might expect from John McCain as president and a PNAC supporter.
Strategic Defense Initiative:
PNAC: “Creating a system of global missile defenses is but the first task of transformation.”
Bush: “At the earliest possible date, my administration will deploy anti-ballistic missile systems, both theater and national, to guard against attack and blackmail.”
In line with this PNAC/Bush transformative priority, McCain has indicated his support of global missile defenses, a project that was scrapped under Clinton because of its costliness, destabilizing effects and failure to provide a bulletproof missile defense system.
Control of the Internet:
PNAC: “… divine [find] ways to control the new ‘international commons’ of … cyberspace.”
Bush: “Yet today our military is still organized more for Cold War threats than for the challenges of a new century—for industrial age operations, rather than for information age battles.”
Internet freedom has already been compromised by recent changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These changes fail to provide the necessary judicial oversight to prevent warrantless, mass spying on American citizens’ Internet activities and e-mail exchanges. Bush’s illegal warrantless surveillance program conducted between 2001 and 2007 appears to be a part of PNAC’s concept of controlling cyberspace. In the name of national defense, the National Security Agency has engaged in copying, parsing and downloading millions of American citizens’ computerized records into a central government database (so-called Total Information Awareness).
Defense Research and Development
PNAC: build new kinds of conventional forces for different strategic challenges and a new technological environment.
Bush: “The real goal is to move beyond marginal improvements—to replace existing programs with new technologies and strategies.”
It is obvious that the economy, health care, education and social services would be sacrificed in order to finance the research and development of such high-tech weaponry under a Bush/PNAC plan. An administration that placed a premium on defense R&D, as McCain’s commitment to the PNAC ideology requires, could not realistically address these other concerns. Indeed, the thrust of the PNAC plan has been toward vastly increased R&D defense spending:
PNAC: “… 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.”
Bush: “The transformation of our military will require a new and greater emphasis on research and development. So I will also commit an additional $20 billion to defense R&D between the time I take office and 2006.”
As you can see, Bush’s figure of a $20-billion increase in R&D did not come out of thin air. It is the high end of the figure that PNAC had recommended in its 2000 “RAD.” In fact, according to the Department of Defense, between 2001 and 2004 Bush “steadfastly increased R&D investments” from $41.1 billion to $64.3 billion, an increase of $23.2 billion, “in order to skip a generation of weapons and transform the military into the 21st Century fighting force it must become.”
Using a “New Pearl Harbor” to Propel the PNAC/Bush Plan
In a post-9/11 world where fear of another attack on the U.S. homeland had reached concert pitch, PNAC/Bush was able to exploit the situation to attain the massive increases in defense spending. Bush appears to have been aware of this “homeland” advantage in 1999 before he took office and two years before the tragic attacks took place. And in 2000, one year before the attacks, PNAC lucidly conjectured about the utility of such an attack as a “catalyst” for financing its transformative objective:
PNAC: “… 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.”
Bush: “Not since the years before Pearl Harbor has our investment in national defense been so low as a percentage of GNP.”
Fighting Multiple Simultaneous Preemptive Wars
On the surface, the PNAC/Bush case for a massive increase in defense R&D can be made on the grounds that it is needed to defend the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks. However, when seen in the broader context of the PNAC/Bush objective of maintaining the geopolitical pre-eminence of the U.S., this concern becomes only a corollary. It is a truism that we would be safer if we could defend ourselves more effectively; however, the PNAC/Bush mission was never purely defensive; it was and is essentially offensive—to threaten and if necessary militaristically defeat any potential competitors for the title of pre-eminent world power. Indeed, advancing U.S. economic (oil) interests in the Persian Gulf, not defending our turf from a terrorist attack, appears to have been the real reason for the PNAC/Bush invasion of Iraq and its present preoccupation with Iran:
PNAC: “Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has.”
Bush: “Iran has made rapid strides in its missile program, and Iraq persists in a race to do the same.”
While PNAC was more upfront than Bush about U.S. economic interests in the Gulf as the main motive for establishing permanent bases there, the targeting of Iran and Iraq is clearly part of the geopolitical play for power that PNAC/Bush envisioned all along. Notice that the PNAC/Bush plan had Iraq in its scope well before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The 2000 “RAD” did not mince words about this. “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification,” it stated, “the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
PNAC/Bush Brigade Cannot Afford to Lose Power in Midstream
PNAC: “Over the first seven years of the Clinton administration, approximately $426 billion in defense investments have been deferred, creating a weapons procurement ‘bow wave’ of immense proportions.”
Bush: “The last seven years have been wasted in inertia and idle talk. Now we must shape the future with new concepts, new strategies, new resolve.”
It is obvious that the PNAC/Bush administration does not want to hand over power to an administration that does not share its ideology. How far it will go to stop an Obama administration from coming to fruition remains to be seen, but clearly it is strongly motivated and has already gone too far to graciously bow out.
The situation is therefore a precarious one. Logistically, the PNAC/Bush brigade’s “plan A” is undoubtedly for McCain to be elected. Just how he is “elected” may be less important than whether he is. For example, widespread election fraud such as inserting malicious code into voting machines in battleground states, throwing out ballots, “caging” and other illegal election practices may be sufficient to tip the vote tally in favor of McCain. Such actions aren’t unlikely given the high stakes and the irregularities that occurred in the past two presidential elections.
But what will happen if McCain loses?
This is a power-craving administration that will do what it can to retain power. It has invested billions of dollars in R&D and in building the infrastructure to carry out its mandate to militaristically “preserve an international security environment conducive to American interests and ideals.” It has invested billions of dollars and sacrificed thousands of lives in fighting a war to fulfill its mandate of setting up permanent bases in Iraq, and it deems the Democratic option of setting a timeline for troop withdrawal antipathetic to this goal. It has not yet capitalized on its efforts to further U.S. economic interests in the Persian Gulf, and it still aims to thwart any efforts by Iran to counter such schemes. It has already had eight years of interruption by the Clinton administration in actualizing its “military revolution” and has good reason to believe that the old guard which began this incredibly complex ideologically driven venture may fall out of favor and thereby lose the opportunity to finish what it started. It has weapons systems currently in limbo such as the Strategic Defenses, which is a major budget item in defense appropriations and would probably be cut by an Obama administration just as it was by the Clinton administration. Such a cut in defense spending would also have effects on powerful corporate interests such as Lockheed Martin, which is a major supplier of components for the missile defenses involved in the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Consider, also, that the PNAC/Bush administration greatly enhanced the powers of the executive branch, which can now spy on and imprison Americans at will. The architects of such powers are unlikely to want to hand them over to the opposition.
Add to these reasons the frustration at perhaps seeing an ideological vision dashed after almost two decades, and it is clear that the PNAC/Bush administration is not likely to simply swallow an electoral loss.
The consequences of such defeat are and should be a matter of deep concern to us all. Much will depend on the resolve of the American people and their collective commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We must stand firm against fear mongering, propagandizing, bogus legal challenges, attempts to declare the election invalid by fiat, and other tactics aimed at interrupting the constitutional transfer of power.
This shall indeed be a period of consequences.
AP photo / Carolyn Kaster
Republican presidential candidate John McCain waits as he is introduced at a rally in Cedar Falls, Iowa.