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The War Party Gets Organized

The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq is being touted as a "new" organization. But it is made up of the same cabal of conservatives who have been pushing for a militaristic, aggressive foreign policy for decades.
 
 
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A group of well-placed Republican activists are planning to launch a new organization to rally popular support for a war on Iraq. But a closer look at the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq reveals it to be just the latest addition to an incestuous web of rightwing front-organizations staffed and funded by a small but well-organized segment of the foreign-policy elite.

According to the mission statement, the new organization "will engage in educational and advocacy efforts to mobilize U.S. and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein and freeing the Iraqi people from tyranny." It also promises to "work beyond the liberation of Iraq to the reconstruction of its economy and the establishment of political pluralism, democratic institutions, and the rule of law."

An Echo Chamber of Hawks

The new Committee appears to be a spin-off of the Project for the New American Century, (PNAC) an umbrella group that consists mainly of neo-conservative Jews associated with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and leaders of the Christian and Catholic Right, including former Education Secretary and moralist William Bennett and erstwhile presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

The president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq is Randy Scheunemann, House Majority leader Trent Lott's former chief national-security aide who also worked as an adviser to Donald Rumsfeld on Iraq last year. And its chairman, Bruce P. Jackson, is a former vice president of Lockheed Martin who headed the Republican Party Platform subcommittee for National Security and Foreign Policy when Bush ran for president in 2000.

While both Scheunemann and Jackson previously worked with PNAC, another Committee member, Gary Schmitt, has served as its executive director since it was founded by two prominent neo-conservatives, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, in 1997.

PNAC's formidable reputation is based on its extraordinary influence over the Bush foreign policy. The group's recommendations, issued in the form of a series of open letters to Bush since Sept. 20, 2001, have anticipated to a remarkable degree how this administration's policy, especially with respect to Iraq and Israeli-Palestinian Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Middle East, has evolved over the past 14 months.

The source of PNAC's power is hardly a secret. Its charter members included: Dick Cheney and his top national-security assistant, I. Lewis Libby; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and four of his chief aides, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Founding members also included half a dozen other rightwing political appointees in senior policy positions, such as Elliot Abrams and Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. Richard Perle, the controversial chairman of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board (DPB) whose main base of operations is the conservative think-tank American Enterprise Insitute (AEI), is also closely associated with PNAC -- along with Lynne Cheney. It's a small world when you are a neo-con.

A Long History of Warmongering
This proliferation -- not to say duplication and redundancy -- of committees, projects and coalitions is a tried and true tactic of the neo-cons and their more traditional Republican fellow travelers, at least since the 1970s. The tactic appears largely to persuade public opinion that their hawkish policies are supported by a large section of the population when, in fact, these groups represent very specific interests and its views are held by a small, highly organized and well-disciplined elite.

In the 70s, many of the same people (or their fathers or fathers-in-law in Kristol's and Abrams' case) formed the Coalition for a Democratic Majority in opposition to the George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party. The same group later formed the more bipartisan Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), which campaigned against detente and arms control treaties during the Carter administration.

In the 1980s, they spawned "new" umbrella organizations, often consisting of the same people, many of which focused on Central America. These included Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America (PRODEMCA) and the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), which was used to attack the overseas work of mainstream Protestant churches, the National Council of Churches, and liberation theology in the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the activists behind such efforts were also associated with AEI. It was another umbrella group called the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG), -- co-chaired by Perle -- and the same overlapping cliques of people who formed new organizations to support U.S. intervention in the Balkans.

The latest group appears to follow very much in this tradition. Scheunemann has also recruited former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, currently the president of the New School in New York City, to the board. The only surprise is the absence of Perle, who has played a central role in these groups for some 30 years, but may yet agree to join.

The Ahmed Chalabi Lobby

It should be no surprise, then, that the intricate network connecting the leading lights of the "Attack Iraq" campaign also includes Ahmed Chalabi, their anointed heir to Saddam Hussein's throne and head of the Iraqi National Congress.

Ret. Gen. Wayne Downing, a member of the newly-formed Committee and previously a top counter-terrorism official on Bush's National Security Council, is also a former lobbyist for the INC. Scheunemann, during his tenure under Trent Lott, drafted the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA) which allocated $98 million for the INC in 1998. Indeed, Perle has been chums with Chalabi since they both studied under the late arch-hawk and Rand Corporation supreme, Albert Wohlstetter (also Perle's father-in-law), at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s (as did Wolfowitz and fellow PNAC associate Zalmay Khalilzad, the administration's enforcer in his native Afghanistan).

The neo-cons have been lobbying for Chalabi for a long time. PNAC and its associates played an important role in the lobbying effort that ended with the ILA's approval. It published an open letter to Clinton urging him to take unilateral military action against Iraq and, in a familiar echo of current events, called on the president not to go through the U.N. Security Council. "American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council," the letter said. It was signed by, among others, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Khalilzad, Kagan, Kristol, and Perle, to name a few.

A second letter published less than a month later authored by the CPSG urged Clinton to recognize a provisional government headed by the INC as the first step in a "comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime." It called for the INC to launch attacks from "liberated areas" in the country's "no-fly zones" while U.S. airpower destroyed the regime's key military and security installations. The plan also called for U.S. troops to stand by in neighboring countries in case things went wrong.

(The so-called "Downing plan" was characterized by and Gen. Anthony Zinni, then head of the U.S. Central Command as a likely "Bay of Goats" operation. Zinni also described the INC's leaders as "some silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London.")

The CPSG letter was signed by many, indeed most, of the same people who signed the PNAC letter, including (surprise) CPSG co-chair Perle, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and three of Rumsfeld's other top deputies today -- Bolton, Abrams, Khalilzad -- not to mention four of Perle's colleagues at AEI.

Because of this long and close association with the INC, the Committee appears to have a very specific agenda tied to the success of Chalabi, although no such purpose is cited in its "mission statement." It describes the Committee's purpose as "promot[ing] regional peace, political freedom and international security by replacing the Saddam Hussein regime with a democratic government ..."

Chalabi, however, is already proving highly controversial. The Committee - which was supposed to launch this week -- has delayed its plans, perhaps due precisely to its backing for Chalabi, who has become part of the ongoing battle between Colin Powell and the Rumsfeld-Cheney camp. The State Department, backed by the CIA, strongly opposes creating a provisional government dominated by exiles like Chalabi, who are more likely to be seen by the population in Iraq as "carpetbaggers" beholden to Washington. "It's a mess," said one administration official this week.

Reportedly backed by Wolfowitz and their former lobbyists in the new Committee, the INC and Chalabi threatened to boycott a conference designed to unite the various Iraqi opposition groups organized by the State Department in Brussels. The INC want the State Department to expand the invitee list to include many more exiles allied with the INC. Other groups, particularly the two main Kurdish factions and an Iran-based Shia group that already have forces on the ground, have charged that the INC is trying to stack the conference in Chalabi's favor. As a result, the Nov. 22 Brussels conference, which was supposed to offer the international community a dazzling display of united opposition to Saddam, has now been put off for at least two weeks.

But the echo chamber of hawks continues to do its work, orchestrating a chorus of disapproval aimed at Colin Powell, while singing Chalabi's praises. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, a reliable Perle mouthpiece, jumped in the fray Wednesday. "One unhappy irony here is that State is undermining precisely those opponents of Saddam who most share our values and want to run Iraq in a modern, pro-Western direction," the Journal wrote. "Another is that in the Bush Administration it is the Pentagon that seems to care most about building a pluralistic Iraq. State's Near East bureau behaves as if it wouldn't mind another Baath Party thug (to succeed Saddam Hussein)."

Expect to hear a lot more of the same once the war party gets rolling.