by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
the elections over, a small group of influential conservatives with close ties to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney are expected to launch a vigorous campaign to rally public support for an invasion of Iraq.
The task may not be easy: Public support for invading Iraq has fallen from highs of close to 80 percent earlier this year to between 52 and 60 percent, and less than one-half of those respondents oppose taking unilateral action if U.S. allies are not on board.
The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which is setting up its office this week, plans to begin operations next week, according to its president, Randy Scheunemann, a veteran Republican Senate foreign-policy staffer who until recently worked as a consultant to Rumsfeld on Iraq policy.
The Committee appears to be a spin-off of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a front group consisting mainly of conservative Jews and heavy-hitters from the pro-Israel Christian Right, whose public recommendations on fighting the "war against terrorism" and U.S. backing for Israel in the conflict in the occupied territories have anticipated to a remarkable degree the administration's own policy course.
Scheunemann, who is best known for drafting the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act that authorized $98 million for the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a loose coalition of Iraqi dissidents supported but not entirely trusted by the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said he was still putting together the group's board of advisers.
So far, Bruce P. Jackson, a vice president at armsmaker Lockheed Martin who chaired the Republican Party Platform's Subcommittee for National Security and Foreign Policy when Bush ran for president in 2000, has signed on as chairman.
Other officers include Gary Schmitt, PNAC's executive director, and Julie Finley, a prominent Republican fund-raiser who worked with Jackson when he served as president of the U.S. Committee to Expand NATO, as well as former secretary of state George Shultz, who strongly supports ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein through U.S. unilateral action, if necessary.
Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey and Ret. Gen.Wayne Downing, a former INC lobbyist who worked on Bush's National Security Council as its top counter-terrorism official until abruptly resigning last summer, have also agreed to serve as advisers.
Aside from its close association with PNAC (whose website is one of only two links featured on its website -- www.liberationiraq.org), the new committee appears to be based on a model that came to prominence before the Gulf War in 1991.
The Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG), whose membership was drawn from a similar mix of prominent conservatives and other right-wing hawks, worked closely with both Bush Sr.'s administration and a second group financed by the Kuwaiti monarchy, called Citizens for a Free Kuwait (CFK).
CPSG received a large grant from the Wisconsin-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a major funder of both PNAC and the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
As recently as 1998, the CPSG called in an open letter to then President Bill Clinton for Washington to adopt a "comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime," centered on support for the INC and U.S. air power.
That 1998 letter was signed by many of the charter members of PNAC, including Rumsfeld, and four of his top deputies at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Dov Zakheim and Peter Rodman.
Other signatories included the current ultra-unilateralist undersecretary of state for arms control and international strategy, John Bolton, Schmitt and several AEI "scholars", including the pugnacious chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle.
PNAC's two co-founders, William Kristol, editor of Rupert Murdoch's The Weekly Standard, and neo-con commentator Robert Kagan, also signed the letter.
In 1999, many of the same figures also created the Balkan Action Committee (BAC) in support of NATO's attack on Serbia over Kosovo, now a NATO protectorate. Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Perle all served on BAC's executive committee which, like CPSG, published open letters to the president and took out ads in major newspapers, like The New York Times and the Washington Post.
The new committee, according to its mission statement, "was formed to promote regional peace, political freedom and international security by replacing the Saddam Hussein regime with a democratic government that respects the rights of the Iraqi people and ceases to threaten the community of nations."
It "will engage in educational 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."
Scheunemann told IPS the group will concentrate its efforts on the media "both in the U.S. and in Europe."
Jackson's position as the committee's chairman is notable because senior executives in the defence industry have generally shunned the limelight, particularly in citizens' or lobby groups that promote wars, lest they be painted by the media as "merchants of death," although their firms are sure to reap huge profits in case of a war.
A former military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, Jackson worked in the office of both Frank Carlucci and now-vice president Cheney when they served as defence secretaries under former President Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
After a brief stint as an investment banker for Lehman Brothers in New York, he joined the defence industry, rising to his current post as vice president for strategy and planning at Lockheed Martin.
An outspoken champion of independence for Taiwan, Jackson came to public prominence as head of the U.S. Committee to Expand NATO, which lobbied Congress in favor of the greatest possible eastward expansion of the alliance, thereby acquiring new members, which will then become a lucrative new market for major arms sales for Lockheed Martin, as well as the five other big U.S. military contractors.
Working with him was Steve Hadley, an assistant secretary of defense under Bush Sr. and currently Bush Jr.'s deputy national security adviser. At the time, Hadley worked for Shea and Gardner, a law firm that represents Lockheed Martin.
More recently, PNAC's deputy director, Tom Donnelly, joined Lockheed Martin but was then assigned to AEI, where he reportedly works with Perle.
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