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Rightwing Think Tank Directing Bush Policies

by Jim Lobe

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(IPS) WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush's Wednesday night address on "democratizing" Iraq and the Arab Middle East showed clearly how the most hard-line hawks have captured U.S. foreign policy.

While Bush's words did not go much beyond what lesser officials have been saying for months, where he said them -- the right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI) -- spoke volumes about the trajectory of his views.

More than any other think tank in Washington, AEI and its associates, led by Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, have acted as the public vanguard of the most unilateralist and hawkish views adopted by the Bush administration since its inception, and particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

With long-standing and unusually close ties to the hawks clustered around Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, Perle and other AEI neo-conservatives have led the charge in the media and Washington policy circles toward war with Iraq and toward aligning the administration's overall Mideast policy with that of rightist Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Working with William Kristol, the chairman of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which is also housed in AEI's building in downtown Washington, Perle and fellow AEI "scholars" Michael Ledeen, Tom Donnelly, Marc Reuel Gerecht, and Joshua Muravchik, among others, have also repeatedly assailed administration "realists" led by Powell, as well as former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and CIA and State Department experts.

The hawks condemn the realists for arguing that the administration's plans for "transforming" the Middle East without pressing Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians risks destabilizing the entire region and strengthening the appeal of Osama bin Laden and other radical Islamists.

"The fact that Bush would choose AEI, of all audiences, to talk about his vision for a democratic Iraq and peaceful Middle East, has to be profoundly demoralizing to Powell," noted one Congressional aide whose boss has supported Powell's feeble efforts to keep the hawks in check.

Similarly, friendly Arab governments, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are likely to be taken aback by Bush's choice of venue. "All the Arab leaders see Perle and his friends in the Pentagon as responsible for U.S. policy in the Middle East," according to one Egyptian journalist here. "They all see Perle as an agent of Likud." Likud is Sharon's right-wing party in Israel.

Rumsfeld and Bush were forced to distance themselves from Perle for a short period last summer after media leaks about his role, as chairman of Rumsfeld's hawk-dominated Defense Policy Board (DPB), in inviting a French analyst to brief the DPB on the Saudi royal family's alleged support for Islamist terrorists and the necessity of ousting it from power.

AEI has also been leading the recent campaign against European nations that are not supporting Bush's stance on Iraq, with Perle saying recently that Washington should "contain" France.

More recently, Perle and some of his AEI associates reportedly briefed senior military officers in the Pentagon, depicting Israel as permanently in control of the West Bank, Jordan as the Palestinian state, and Iraq as the seat of the Hashemite Kingdom that now controls Jordan -- precisely the Middle East transformation which Sharon's party has long favored.

That solution, of course, was not the one featured by Bush's remarks Wednesday night, although they were sure to cause a great deal of satisfaction to his audience. Instead he dwelled on the themes that AEI and its neo-con network have used over the past seven months in particular to persuade public opinion that an invasion of Iraq will constitute the first step in democratizing and bringing peace to Middle East.

Bush pledged to "ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another" in post-invasion Iraq and argued that a U.S. victory there "could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace".

"The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime," he said, "will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training, and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated".

That passage closely tracked recommendations made by Perle and 39 other neo-conservative and right-wing personalities associated with AEI and PNAC, who signed a public letter on Sept. 20, 2001, calling for Bush to extend any war against al-Qaeda to Iraq "even if evidence does not link Saddam to the Sept. 11 attack," cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), strike Hezbollah in Lebanon, and retaliate against Iran and Syria if they do not stop supplying Hezbollah.

Echoing more of the neo-con rhetoric that has come to the fore in recent months as a major justification for war against Iraq, Bush insisted that there was no reason that Iraqis and other Arabs should not enjoy the blessings of freedom and democracy like everyone else.

"There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong," he said. "Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. The nation of Iraq is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom."

As for Israel-Palestinian peace, Bush said, "Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state ... Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders: true leaders who strive for peace; true leaders who faithfully serve the people."

As for Israel, "its new government -- as the terror threat is removed and security improves -- will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible toward a final status agreement", Bush said, omitting any mention of the three-year time line that he set for Palestinian independence last June.

"As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end," he noted, departing explicitly from 35 years of U.S. policy that demanded an immediate and unconditional halt to all settlement activity as either a violation of international law or, since the Reagan administration, "an obstacle to peace". Bush also reiterated his support for the "road map" that is being worked out by the so-called Quartet -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia -- to expedite Palestinian independence and ensure Israeli security.

The administration has resisted pressure from the other members of the Quartet to make the road map -- which Sharon has rejected as meaningless -- public as a way of offering hope to the Palestinian population that a viable independent state is within their grasp. Indeed, even 'The New York Times' wrote Thursday that Bush's rhetorical support for the initiative appeared to amount to little more than "lip service".

That seemed to be the reaction of the AEI audience, too. The applause was enthusiastic.

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Albion Monitor February 27, 2003 (

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