The Neo-Con Foreign Policy of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


Yet Again: Why We Must Impeach Bush and Cheney

A Time for Humble Pie

On Tuesday, President Bush reported to the nation and the world that a recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that four years ago Iran had stopped its covert program aimed at developing nuclear weapons. To many sober minds, this news would be cause not only for a little celebration, but also a little humble pie.

After all, over the past several months, the President and other senior members of his administration have depicted Iran over the last several months as bent upon acquiring nuclear weapons. As recently as October, President Bush said in a press conference, “I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it’s in the world’s interest to prevent them from doing so.”[i] Two years ago, U.S. intelligence reported that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons” and the President’s statements have projected this image ever since. Now that new information has come to light, instead of adjusting his tone to reflect his errors, the President is pushing ahead as recklessly as ever before.

International relations are not that different from normal human relations, after all. If you accuse someone of serious misconduct and turn out to be wrong, the accused generally has reason to expect an apology. It doesn’t matter if the accused is guilty of a great deal of other misconduct either. When justice is the goal, facts are facts. We don’t dismiss our mistaken presentation of them on the grounds that the accused is so bad “he must be guilty of something.” Furthermore, when diplomacy is the goal, every opportunity to acknowledge one’s own mistakes and innocent conduct of others is vital to achieving peace. It is hard to make peace when the other party feels unfairly accused—even if he is indeed culpable of other misconduct.

Accordingly, Monday, when the most recent NIE was released, it was a good time for Bush to eat a little humble pie.

Fat chance.

Bush’s response was: “Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous. If they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon, what’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program?”[ii]

This is the same foreign policy of self-fulfilling prophecy the Bush administration has pursued since before it even knew it would assume office. Given Bush’s claim that Iran is dangerous simply because it might be dangerous, it is extremely important for the press to confront the Bush administration with the way this logic led us into the disaster that is Iraq. This logic of self-fulfilling prophecy can be traced in the papers developed by the neo-conservative think tank, the Project for the New American Century, advocating the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

American Hegemony: Peaceful Freedom or Subjugated Oppression?

Prior to assuming office, President Bush’s defense-department-in-waiting was located at the neo-conservative think tank, The Project for the New American Century, of which Dick Cheney was a founding member. As head of George W. Bush’s transition team, Dick Cheney was responsible for the appointment to high government office of 11 of the 18 signers of PNAC’s earlier “Open Letter to President Clinton.”[iii] All told, more than 20 neo-conservatives were given significant roles in the Bush, Jr. Administration.[iv]

Even before the 2000 election, PNAC was preparing a defense assessment for future Vice President Cheney, future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, future Chief of Staff to the Vice President Lewis Libby, and Jeb, the brother of future President George W. Bush. The PNAC defense assessment was entitled: “Rebuilding America’s Defenses, Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.” It was this report that infamously intimated the need for “another Pearl Harbor” in order to obtain public support for a strategy aimed at achieving American global dominance.

In their seminal 1996 neo-conservative Foreign Affairs article, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” PNAC chairman William Kristol and PNAC member Robert Kagan provided an early articulation of the foreign policy of self-fulfilling prophecy. Kristol and Kagan wrote:

The ubiquitous post-Cold War question—where is the threat?—is thus misconceived. In a world in which peace and American security depend on American power and the will to use it, the main threat the United States faces now and in the future is its own weakness. American hegemony is the only reliable defense against a breakdown of peace and international order. The appropriate goal of American foreign policy, therefore, is to preserve that hegemony as far into the future as possible. To achieve this goal, the United States needs a neo-Reaganite foreign policy of military supremacy and moral confidence.[v]

One shudders to think that the authors were here referring to the same moral confidence expressed by George Bush when he said, “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.”[vi]

Looking at the way the argument is structured in the above paragraph, we observe only repetition without forward motion. The second sentence essentially asserts that peace and security depend on might. The third sentence reiterates that might is the only reliable way to defend peace and security. The fourth sentence concludes that America should focus on might.

In all this “logic,” there is no discussion of democratic principles; there is only the mantra that “might makes right” presented in different formulations wherein “right” equals “peace and security.” Peace and security are in turn code for “American interests,” but these are not necessarily the people’s democratic interests. Instead, they are rather the anti-democratic interests of the industrial arms complex and the multi-national corporations that benefit from American hegemony. Nothing in this paragraph enables the reader to distinguish between peaceful freedom and subjugated oppression. Therefore, the claim that using force to maintain peace is “benevolent” is utterly misleading. It is an argument aimed at justifying the authoritarian impulse to dominate. This approach to foreign policy is a self-fulfilling prophecy of war precisely because its advocates need to experience their power and therefore cannot abide by peace.

Manufacturing Cause Without a Real Threat

It is due to this need to experience their power, that the only other topic the authors discuss in this quotation is the idea of a threat. They don’t want to have to depend on an actual threat to justify their use of power. Accordingly, the authors first dismiss the presence of a threat as irrelevant. Then, upping the ante, they create a new threat: “our own weakness.” The authors’ breezy dismissal of the question, “where is the threat?” is a revealing impulse, given the unavailing search for either WMDs or the Iraq/al Qaeda connection that were supposed to be the justification for the American invasion of Iraq. The authors’ assertion that a failure to use force is a sign of weakness is sheer childishness.

weeklystandard1.jpgNotably, Kristol is also the editor of the Rupert Murdoch owned conservative news magazine, The Weekly Standard, to which Kagan is a contributing editor. On October 1, 2001, Kristol put on the magazine’s cover the headline: “Wanted: Osama bin Laden [and] Saddam Hussein,” implying that Saddam Hussein had joined with Osama bin Laden in ordering the hijackings that brought down the World Trade Center.[vii] Accurately identifying the real threat was apparently not a priority to Kristol, even as an editor responsible for upholding journalistic ethics and the accuracy of his newspaper’s reporting.

To the PNAC working group that prepared the already mentioned defense assessment report, however, the question, “Where is the threat?,” was anything but “misconceived.” By underscoring the need for “another Pearl Harbor” in order to mobilize public support for a strategy aimed at global dominance, PNAC acknowledged the importance that public opinion invests in the existence of an actual identifiable threat before allowing the use of military force.

Kristol’s October 1, 2001 cover story can thus be understood as the combination of a complete disdain for the public demand that an actual threat exist before military action is justified and the complete willingness to mislead the public in order to make them feel threatened enough to support such military action.

Creating Certain Weakness By Attacking Uncertain Enemies

According to this neo-conservative foreign policy, not only is location of the threat not essential to justifying the initiation of warfare; but failure to attack is what will destroy our democracy—regardless of whether or not there is a threat. As Kristol and Kagan write: “In a world in which peace and American security depend on American power and the will to use it, the main threat the United States faces now and in the future is its own weakness.” Our experience in Iraq has taught us, however, that starting an unprovoked war can greatly weaken our country, perhaps more than failing to attack even where a real threat has been located. After all, Osama bin Laden is a real threat and yet we are not nearly as weakened by his continuing activities as we are by our unprovoked invasion of Iraq.

In January 2005, three-star Lt. General James R. Hemley, leader of the Army Reserves, wrote a memo to his superiors in the military warning that the 200,000 troops under his command were “rapidly degenerating into a ‘broken’ force.”[viii] In December, 2006, former general and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told the press that the American Army is “almost broken” by the second invasion of Iraq.[ix] And in April 2007, Time ran a story entitled, “America’s Broken-Down Army,” detailing the reduced training time, recruitment standards, equipment condition, morale and readiness of our troops. In the story, Time quotes Congressman John Murtha, a decorated veteran of the Marine Corps, as saying: “The readiness of the Army’s ground forces is as bad as it was right after Vietnam.”

It turns out, in fact, that the biggest threat to America’s peace and security is not its hesitancy to use force, but its foolishness in allowing the neo-conservatives to direct our foreign policy. Unfortunately, the neo-conservative ascendance to control over American foreign policy has been a long time in the making and is not likely to be easily undone if PNAC’s role in the disaster of Iraq remains unknown to the American people.

In 1998, Kristol’s “Project for a New American Century” (PNAC) published its first open letter, which was addressed to President Clinton, and which advanced PNAC’s campaign of self-fulfilling prophecy by arguing “in the not-too-distant future we will be unable to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess [WMDs]. Such uncertainty will, by itself, have a seriously destabilizing effect on the entire Middle East,” putting at risk “the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil….”[x]

The only omission in this assessment was the admission that all this instability would arise only because the authoritarian mindset of the neo-conservative leaders in our government could not stand to remain uncertain in its possession of absolute power. A more democratic government would not insist upon creating enemies just so it could exercise its need to dominate them.

Of course, there were no WMDs. There was no reason to believe there were WMDs. Indeed, there was every reason to believe there were not any WMDs. In the several months leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Saddam allowed what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls “the most intrusive inspection regime in recent history…UN inspectors were crawling all over Saddam’s palaces, interviewing his scientists, and pursuing every tip they could get from Tenet—finding nothing.”

weeklystandard21.jpgMcGovern further reports that when the CIA successfully recruited Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri as an agent, they quoted him to the administration saying there were no WMDs in Iraq.[xi] Sydnie Schanberg reported in The Village Voice that in 2002, “the CIA had sent some 30 Iraqi Americans, at great risk, back to Iraq to interview family members who were weapons scientists. All the Iraqi Americans returned to the U.S. and reported that their relatives were astonished by their inquiries because, the scientists told them, the nuclear weapons program had been abandoned a decade ago. The CIA said it believed the scientists were lying—and rejected the information.”[xii] This was the same CIA so badgered by Dick Cheney to come up with inculpating evidence against Iraq that the House Intelligence Committee had to send Cheney a reprimanding letter requesting that he stop making his unprecedented visits to CIA headquarters.[xiii]

On February 24, 2003, just weeks before the invasion, Newsweek obtained a copy of the 1995 debriefing transcript of Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s brother-in-law, who had been in charge of Iraq’s chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs and who had ordered all such weapons destroyed in 1991 so that they would not be found by UN inspectors, as the transcript clearly stated. According to McGovern, all of the information provided by Kamel that could be checked was confirmed as correct. [xiv]

The authoritarian neo-cons were not satisfied with these promising indications of regional stability, however; they had to go turn Iraq into mayhem to prove their absolute authority was needed because, through their own handy-work, the world had suddenly become dangerous!

These same men who in 1996 claimed that the question, “where is the threat?” was misconceived, upped the ante in PNAC’s 1998 letter to Clinton. This time they argued in no uncertain terms that a threat need not even arise to justify “a willingness to take military action” in the short term but only the mere inability to establish that no threat existed. In the long term, they continued, such uncertainty necessitated “removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.”[xv]

Three years later, PNAC went even further to declare, “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”[xvi]

And as we now ruefully lament, ultimately, in mounting their campaign to invade Iraq, the PNAC neo-conservatives caused all the dangerous conditions to occur that they asserted their policy would prevent. Now that the war has become a disaster, the neo-cons all point to the incompetency of the Bush administration, ignoring the fact that an army of PNAC members made up the administration that took us into war and ignoring the fact that PNAC never questioned Bush’s competence to run a war in Iraq when they were urging him to attack.

What was once a well contained and highly manageable degree of uncertainty regarding any danger posed by Iraq, has now become a killing field of more than 1.2 million Iraqis and thousands of Americans. This is the fruit of the neo-cons’ drummed up paranoia. Propelling our nation into an unsuccessful military campaign from which we are now unable to withdraw and casting the region into extremely violent instability, the neo-conservative foreign policy of self-fulfilling prophecy is still not content with having created the peril it so badly needed to justify its own existence. No, now the neo-cons must also destroy Iran.

Lying About Their Commitment to Diplomacy

An additional component of the neo-con foreign policy of self-fulfilling prophecy is an adamant refusal to negotiate a diplomatic solution. It is not enough to argue that the existence of a threat is irrelevant and that even the possibility of a threat is justification for unprovoked attack. One must further drive a stake into the heart of humanity by refusing to engage in peaceful dispute resolution talks with the nation that is being projected as a threat.

Just as the neo-cons dress up their pursuit of global domination with terms like “peace and security,” “American interests,” and “benevolent hegemony,” they also tell shameless lies about their determination to use warfare as the primary mode of foreign policy. In the run-up to the Iraq War, the American people and the world received repeated assurances from multiple senior members of the Bush administration that the United States would only invade Iraq “as a last resort.”

On October 9, 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell told Larry King, “War should never be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It should always be a deliberate act by people acting rationally, hopefully. And in this case, as the president said the other night, we are trying to see war as a last resort.” On November 14, 2002, White House Press Secretary told the press that Bush “seeks a peaceful resolution. War is a last resort.” On November 20, 2002, Bush himself repeated his own previous assertions that war with Iraq would be a last resort. Indeed, just two days before the war commenced, Powell was still claiming the administration was trying hard to resolve the crisis peacefully. The International Herald Tribune reported that Powell saw a way out of war with Iraq if “Saddam Hussein, his sons and a number of other top leaders were to leave Iraq” and were replaced by “more responsible leaders.”

In September of this year, however, we learned from the Spanish Newspaper, El Pais, that, in fact, President Bush had turned down an offer by Saddam Hussein to go into exile to prevent the United States from attacking Iraq. Two weeks before the invasion, during a February 22, 2003, meeting in Crawford, Texas, Bush told Spain’s president of the offer that had been rejected. Saddam had asked for $1 billion and the right to take certain documents related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program, documents which many have speculated contained some kind of exculpating evidence. Estimates of the total cost of the war in Iraq now range from between $1 and 3.5 trillion.

Now with respect to Iran, we are seeing the same pattern repeated. Not only is the president preaching the self-fulfilling prophecy that Iran is dangerous simply because Iran might be dangerous, but the administration is also cutting off all efforts to diplomatically resolve the dispute over Iran’s access to nuclear technology. Yesterday, The New York Times quoted Flynt Leverett, a Middle East expert at the New America Foundation who served on the National Security Council under Bush. Mr. Leverett said of the NIE released on Monday: “The dirty secret is the administration has never put on the table an offer to negotiate with Iran the issues that would really matter: their own security, the legitimacy of the Islamic republic and Iran’s place in the regional order.”[xvii]

The Real Threat Is not Iran; It’s Bush and the Neo-Cons

Once we understand the neo-conservative foreign policy of self-fulfilling prophecy and once we appreciate that this foreign policy is now tragically our history and our present reality and possibly our future, we are compelled to form an obvious conclusion. The real threat is not Iran; it is Bush and the neo-cons. Even if Osama bin Laden is a threat, he is not as big a threat to American peace, security, and democracy as is the Bush administration. Whatever crimes Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have committed, they may not be said to have caused the military offensive in Iraq that has cost the lives of over 1.2 million human beings.

If we understand that the Bush administration is the real danger to global peace and security, the approach Americans take to foreign policy must change. Our priority is no longer figuring out how to respond to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nor what it will take to capture Osama bin Laden, nor whether we shall ever extricate ourselves from Iraq. Instead, our priority is figuring out what it will take to get rid of our President and his administration. We cannot positively contribute to the peace and security of the planet while authoritarian proponents of self-fulfilling prophecy hold power in our nation.

How many such episodes must we endure in which we avoid focusing on getting rid of Bush and Cheney as our highest priority? Until we impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney, it makes no sense to argue over whether we should fund the war or bring the troops home. It makes no sense to argue over whether sanctions against Iran are warranted or not. And it makes no sense to worry about the inability of our intelligence agencies to issue reliable National Intelligence Estimates that we can use in crafting our foreign policy. Before any of these debates can be had, we must take the fundamental action that is called for by the ruinous impact of the foreign policy of self-fulfilling prophecy. We must impeach these false prophets before they have the chance to materialize the doom that doesn’t exist in Iran, but that once created will be used to justify yet more authoritarian domination.

Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. His blog is “MP3—My Politics and Progressive Perspective.”  Copyright © Hank Edson 2007


[i] Presidential Press Conference, October 17, 2007, .

[ii] Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper, “Bush Insists Iran Remains a Threat Despite Arms Data,” The New York Times, December 4, 2007.

[iii] Gary Dorien, Imperial Designs: Neo-conservatism and the New Pax Americana, (Taylor & Francis ebook: 2004).

[iv] Ibid.

[v] William Kristol and Robert Kagan, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996.

[vi] “Bush Quietly Meets with Amish Here,” Lancaster New Era, July 16, 2004, as cited in Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy, The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, (New York: Viking 2006), p. 208.

[vii] Gary Dorien, Imperial Designs: Neo-conservatism and the New Pax Americana, (Taylor & Francis ebook: 2004).

[viii] Bradley Graham, “General Says Army Reserve is Becoming a ‘Broken’ Force,” The Washington Post, January 6, 2005, p. A01.

[ix] “Powel: US Army Almost Broken,” GuardianUnlimited, December 18, 2006.

[x] “Open Letter to President William J. Clinton,” The Project for the New American Century, January 26, 1998.

[xi] Ray McGovern, “Four-letter Word for Tenet: Liar,”, May 16, 2007.

[xii] Sydney H. Schanberg, “Empiracle News—The Secret’s Out: Bush is Overtaken By Events—and Overwhelmed,” The Village Voice, January 18, 2006.

[xiii] John Nichols, “The Case Against Cheney,” October 18, 2005.

[xiv] Ray McGovern, “Four-letter Word for Tenet: Liar,”, May 16, 2007.

[xv] “Open Letter to President William J. Clinton,” The Project for the New American Century, January 26, 1998.

[xvi] “Open Letter to President George W. Bush,” The Project for the New American Century, January 26, 1998.

[xvii] Steven Lee Myers and Helene Cooper, “Bush Insists Iran Remains a Threat Despite Arms Data,” The New York Times, December 4, 2007.

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