In an effort to shore up their waning influence on United States foreign policy, especially towards the Middle East, a group of neoconservative political figures have launched a new organization, “the Committee Against the Present Danger.” Many of its members represent the most belligerent trend in American politics towards the Arab world. Its chairman, former CIA Director James Woolsey, for example, has called on the United States to engage in “World War IV” against not only Islamist extremists like al Qaeda, but also the Shiite religious government of Iran, and the “fascists” of the former Iraqi regime and Syria.
Neoconservative views have been increasingly discredited in Washington as the occupation of Iraq has run entirely counter to predictions of a small and deteriorating opposition to coalition forces, a quick transition to democracy, and a transformation of political landscape of the Middle East.
Neoconservatives have also been particularly blamed for faulty assessments of Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and alliance with Al-Qaeda,both of which are now widely recognized as having been highly exaggerated.
Even within the Bush Administration, policies advocated by neoconservative officials in the Defense Department and Vice-President’s office are seen to have increasingly lost out to more multilateral approaches pushed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and others.
The new CPD is led by honorary co-chairs Senator Joseph Lieberman, one of the few prominent neoconservatives in the Democratic Party, and Republican Senator Jon Kyl, who has strong ties to right-wing evangelical organizations. In a July 20 article in the Washington Post introducing the group, Lieberman and Kyl wrote that the CPD was formed because the “bipartisan consensus [in favor of neoconservative foreign policies] is coming under growing public pressure and could fray in the months ahead.”
The formation of the new CPD seems to confirm that neoconservatives are recognizing the crisis of credibility they have suffered due to the severe difficulties facing the occupation in Iraq, and have prepared a broad-based organization to advocate from outside the corridors of power. The very real prospect of a John Kerry presidency, in which neoconservatives are unlikely to occupy important positions, has combined with the sense that President George W.Bush has largely abandoned the unilateral and hyper-aggressive approach that characterized the build-up to the invasion of Iraq.
“This is what you do when you are preparing to go into opposition,” a leading Republican supporter of President Bush told the Daily Star, “its what you set up if you think you’ve lost the presidency. These guys don’t think they’ll get their way again no matter who wins in November.” “You set this up so that if Bush looses you are team B and everyone has to join you, and if he wins, you have a base even though everyone is sick of you starting wars,” he said.
The addition of Senator Lieberman as a Democratic patron for the group is a crucial indicator of the need many neoconservatives now feel to expand beyond their home in the Republican camp. This is in fact the third incarnation of a “Committee on the Present Danger,” the first being aimed at militarizing the confrontation with the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the second taking an even more aggressive line on the cold war in the 1970s, led by hawkish Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson. By its very name, the new CPD recalls the original home of many neoconservatives in the Jackson camp of the Democratic Party.
Many traditional conservatives, foreign policy realists and other Republicans have become outspokenly critical of the neoconservative influence on Bush Administration policies and seem set to blame them for any defeat by Kerry.
Reacting to this increasing pressure, journalist and leading neoconservative ideologue William Kristol told the New York Times in April that the movement has “as much or more in common with the liberal hawks than with traditional conservatives,” and that “if we have to make common cause with the more hawkish liberals and fight the conservatives, that is fine with me, too.”
Kristol, along with several other prominent neoconservatives, has not been listed on the CPD membership list, which also has a striking lack of almost anyone with Middle East expertise. However, a quick glance at the 41 CPD members reveals deeply alarming attitudes, which range from the sinister to the absurd.
Perhaps the most hawkish is Norman Podhoretz, editor-at-large of Commentary magazine. He was the first to dub the project World War IV, and calls for “regime change” in a whole list of Middle Eastern states, governed by both pro-and anti-American regimes. He argues that the U.S. needs “the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated parties.”
Another CPD member, Laurie Mylroie of the American Enterprise Institute, has blamed the former Saddam Hussein regime not only for the attacks of September 11, 2001, but also for the first World Trade Center Bombing of 1993 and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh in 1995. Old Washington hands recall, however, that until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Mylroie was chiding the United States for not providing Iraq with sufficient military aid, and arguing it was in American interests that all power in Iraq be concentrated in Saddam Hussein’s hands.
Not that the rest of CPD’s membership, as represented on the organization’s website, could be accused of understatement. The threat is “a unprecedented challenge to international peace and stability” (Peter Brookes) and “as potent a threat to our freedom as? communism” (Henry Cooper). The foe is “every bit as dangerous as a Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, or Stalin” (Victor Hanson), “the greatest threat to the US homeland in nearly two centuries” (Ed Meese), and “the greatest threat this country has ever faced in its entire history” (Norman Podhoretz). Moreover, it is “an unconditional and existential threat not only to America and Israel, but also to Judeo-Christian culture” (William Van Cleave), and “what is at stake? is the survival of our civilization ” (Stephen Solarz).
The CPD mission statement refers to “a global Islamist terror movement,” but gives no clear definition of who or what is included in this beyond Al-Qaeda and its allies. The definition of “the threat” on CPD’s website evinces further confusion, claiming that, “In the Middle East, Sunni extremists in Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza strip have organized into Asbat al-Ansar and the more widely known Hamas and Hezballah?” The last group, of course, is a Lebanese Shiite political organization, again raising the question of how little expertise and even basic knowledge will be informing CPD’s efforts to “educate the American people about the threat posed by a global Islamist terror movement.”
Perhaps even more ominously, CPD’s statements continuously refer to “regimes that support” the terrorist movement, without mentioning any by name. The Daily Star invited CPD’s communications director Geoff Freeman to identify these regimes, and he declined to do so, saying, “at this point the committee has not identified those regimes.” “It’s perfect for these guys,” the leading Bush supporter told the Daily Star, “with formulations this vague it could be anyone, anywhere, anytime.”