Iraq War – Timeline Highlights – 1965 to 2009

Timeline Highlights  (note – this is intended to provide broad background information for citizen education; it is not a complete account of all events or may meet some academic standards)

most information is from Context of ‘September 25-26, 2001 at 

1965: Albert Wohlstetter, a professor at the University of Chicago and former RAND Analyst Gathers Young, Nascent Neoconservatives…many of whom are working and associating with the magazine publisher Irving Kristol… group includes Richard Perle, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Paul Wolfowitz. Wohlstetter, himself a protege of the Machiavellian academic Leo Strauss, is often considered the “intellectual godfather” of modern neoconservatism…Wohlstetter wielded a powerful influence on the US’s foreign policy during the heyday of the Cold War… He was such a powerful figure in his hundreds of briefings that he projected far more certainty than his facts actually supported. Though his facts and statistics were often completely wrong, he was so relentless and strident that his ideas gained more credence than they may have warranted. in 2007, “To join Team Wohlstetter, apparently, one had to embrace unquestioningly his worldviews, which eschewed old-fashioned intelligence as a basis for assessing the enemy’s intentions and military capabilities in favor of elaborate statistical models, probabilities, reasoning, systems analysis, and game theory…if you look down the road and see a war with, say, China, twenty years off, go to war now…It was a principle his acolytes would pursue for decades to come—with disastrous results.

Early 1970s: Neoconservatives Coalesce around Conservative Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop’ Jackson…neoconservatives, bound together by magazine publisher Irving Kristol react with horror to the ascendancy of the “McGovern liberals” in the Democratic Party, and turn to conservative senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) for leadership…Jackson assembles a staff of bright, young, ideologically homogeneous staffers who will later become some of the most influential and powerful neoconservatives of their generation, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz

1972 – 1976 Neoconservatives Work to Toughen US Policy towards Soviet Union and Influence US Foreign Policies

Early 1976 After George H. W. Bush becomes the head of the CIA he breaks with previous decisions and allow a coterie of neoconservative outsiders to pursue the allegations of Albert Wohlstetter that the CIA is seriously underestimating the threat the USSR poses to the US, allegations pushed by hardliners on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board….’Proves’ Soviets Far Ahead of US in Military, Nuclear CapabilitiesIdeology Trumps Facts – Neither Stoertz nor anyone else in the CIA appreciated how thoroughly Team B would let ideology and personalities override fact and real data

Late November, 1976: Team B Breaches Security to Successfully Whip up Fears of Soviet Threat

1977-1981: Nationalities Working Group Advocates Using Militant Islam Against Soviet Union

January 1981 – Ronald Reagan inaugurated as President of the United States

Early 1981: Richard Perle Assists Reagan’s Transition Team – places his associates in important national security positions and in the Department of Defense.”

Early 1981 and After: Reagan Categorically Opposed to Arms Control Agreements with Soviet Union; Advisers Reflect Oppositional Agenda

September 1981 through November 1983: Hardliners Block INF Arms Agreement

May 1982 and After: START Talks Supplant SALT Negotiations, Make No Progress

1984: Richard Perle Promotes Propaganda Campaign to Encourage Soviet Soldiers to Defect

October 11-12, 1986: Reagan, Gorbachev Almost Conclude Agreement to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons; Negotiations Founder on US Missile Defense Program

January 1988 – Inauguration of George H. W. Bush as president

1987-2004: Richard Perle Serves as Member of Defense Policy Board

Late March 1989 and After: Defense Secretary Cheney Advocates Enforced Regime Change in Soviet Union -When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson; places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”

December 1991 – dissolution of the Soviet Union

1991-1997: Group of Foreign Policy Analysts Recommends Interventionist Policy

March 8, 1992: Raw US World Dominance Plan Is Leaked to the Media -The New York Times headline on March 8, 1992. The Defense Planning Guidance, “a blueprint for the department’s spending priorities in the aftermath of the first Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union,” is leaked to the New York Times. [New York Times, 3/8/1992;…Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) later says, “It is my opinion that [George W. Bush’s] plan for preemptive strikes was formed back at the end of the first Bush administration with that 1992 report.”

July 1992: Think Tank Publishes Book Proposing Policy of Unilateral Interventionism in the Name of Humanitarianism

Autumn 1992: Influential Neoconservative Academic Advocates Breaking Up Middle Eastern Countries, Including Iraq

November 1993 – Inauguration of Bill Clinton as president

July 8, 1996: Neoconservative Think Tank Advocates Aggressive Israeli Foreign Policy -The paper, whose lead author is neoconservative Richard Perle, is meant to advise the new, right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Other authors include…neoconservative Douglas Feith, who will be the prime architect of the Iraq war…Rebuilding Zionism by Abandoning Past Policies – It advocates making a complete break with past policies by adopting a strategy “based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism.…” Aggressive, Militant Israeli Policy towards Arab Neighbors – …document urges the Israelis to aggressively seek the downfall of their Arab neighbors—especially Syria and Iraq—by exploiting the inherent tensions within and among the Arab States. The first step is to be the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. A war with Iraq will destabilize the entire Middle East, allowing governments in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and other countries to be replaced…‘Seeds of a New Vision’ – All these questions need not be answered right away, according to co-author Meyrav Wurmser. The document is “the beginning of thought,” she says, “… the seeds of a new vision.”

Similar to American Christian Right’s Vision – According to author Craig Unger, the ideology of “ACB” is, in essence, a secularized version of the theology of the American Christian Right. Christian Zionists insist that Jews were ordained by God to reclaim the Biblican land of Judea and Samaria in the West Bank; the paper asserts that claim as well. The paper echoes Christian fundamentalists by demanding “the unconditional acceptance of Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension.” Perle and his fellow neoconservatives want to push the boundaries even further: the Bible can be interpreted to countenance Jewish dominion over all or parts of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and even Saudi Arabia. Thusly, the authors claim that Israel and the US, by waging war against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, would reshape the “strategic environment” in the Middle East and greatly expand Israel’s influence in the region.
Influence in Upcoming Bush Administration – Perle will later become chairman of President Bush’s influential Defense Policy Board and will be instrumental is moving Bush’s US policy toward war with Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, as will Feith and the Wurmsers.

Late Summer 1996: Neoconservatives Push for War with Iraq, Reshaping of Middle East to Favor Israel…At first, the offensive takes place in the pages of US newspapers and magazines. William Kristol and Robert Kagan write articles for the magazines Foreign Policy and the Weekly Standard; syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and A. M. Rosenthal use their columns to push the idea; Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz pen op-eds for the Washington Post; “Clean Break” co-author David Wurmser writes op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and publishes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he proposes that the US use its military to literally redraw the map of the Middle East (see Late Summer 1996). Neoconservatives are transforming Christian evangelicals’ argument that Americans are God’s “chosen people” into secular terms, and argue in their op-eds and articles that it is, in author Craig Unger’s words, the US’s “moral duty to project that greatness throughout the world—using American military power, if necessary.”

1997: Neoconservative Advocates Forcible, Bloody Retaking of Palestinian Land by Israel

November 12, 1997: Neoconservative Advocates Backing INC in Overthrowing Hussein

January 26, 1998: Neoconservative Think Tank Urges US to Attack Iraq -The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter to President Clinton urging war against Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein because he is a “hazard” to “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil.” In a foretaste of what eventually happens, the letter calls for the US to go to war alone, attacks the United Nations, and says the US should not be “crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” The letter is signed by many who will later lead the 2003 Iraq war. 10 of the 18 signatories later join the Bush Administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Paula Dobriansky, presidential adviser for the Middle East Elliott Abrams, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, and George W. Bush’s special Iraq envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Other signatories include William Bennett, Jeffrey Bergner, Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Peter Rodman, William Schneider, Vin Weber, and James Woolsey… Clinton does heavily bomb Iraq in late 1998, but the bombing doesn’t last long .. The PNAC neoconservatives do not seriously expect Clinton to attack Iraq in any meaningful sense, author Craig Unger will observe in 2007. Instead, they are positioning themselves for the future.

February 19, 1998: Neoconservative Group Calls on US to Help Overthrow Hussein

The Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG), a bipartisan group made up largely of foreign policy specialists, sends an “Open Letter to the President” Largely Neoconservative in Makeup – Many of its co-signers will become the core of the Bush administration’s neoconservative-driven national security apparatus. These co-signers include Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Stephen Bryen, Douglas Feith, Frank Gaffney, Fred Ikle, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis, Peter Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, Gary Schmitt, Max Singer, Casper Weinberger, Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser, and Dov Zakheim. The CPSG is closely affiliated with both the neoconservative Project for the New American Century and the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), both of which boast Perle as a powerful and influential member.

May 29, 1998: PNAC Calls on Republican Congressional Leaders to Assert US Interests in Persian Gulf

July 1998: Rumsfeld Commission Wildly Inflates Threat from Iran, North Korea

February 1999: David Wurmser Urges US to Support Insurgency in Iraq

2000: Michael Ledeen: Leaders May Have to ‘Enter into Evil’ under Certain Circumstances

In his book, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, neoconservative Michael Ledeen measures modern leaders against Machiavelli’s rules for leadership and concludes that “[e]ven after a half a millennium, Machiavelli’s advice to leaders is as contemporary as tomorrow… if new and more virtuous leaders do not emerge, it is only a matter of time before we are either dominated by our enemies or sink into a more profound crisis.” Such a situation, he explains, would put the US in the “same desperate crisis that drove Machiavelli to call for a new dictator to set things aright.” He adds, “In either case, we need Machiavellian wisdom and leadership… the ends may justify the means. In some situations, “[i]n order to achieve the most noble accomplishments, the leader may have to ‘enter into evil….the Christian god sanctions this view. Machiavelli, he notes approvingly, wrote: “I believe that the greatest good that one can do, and the most gratifying to God is that which one does for one’s country.” Ledeen thus adds: “Since it is the highest good, the defense of the country is one of those extreme situation in which a leader is justified in committing evil.”

September 2000: Neoconservative Think Tank PNAC Writes ‘Blueprint’ for ‘Global Pax Americana’

People involved in the 2000 PNAC report: Vice President Cheney, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim, and author Eliot Cohen….The document, titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, was written for the George W. Bush team even before the 2000 presidential election…Plans to Overthrow Iraqi GovernmentThe report calls itself a “blueprint for maintaining global US preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.”…The report calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the internet, the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and other countries. It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool”
‘A New Pearl Harbor’ – However, PNAC complains that thes changes are likely to take a long time, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/12/2003]
Bush Will Claim a ‘Humble’ Foreign Policy Stance – One month later during a presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush will assert that he wants a “humble” foreign policy in the Middle East and says he is against toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of “nation building” . Around the same time, Cheney will similarly defend Bush’s position of maintaining President Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” [Washington Post, 1/12/2002] Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” [Salon, 3/15/2004] A British member of Parliament will later say of the PNAC report, “This is a blueprint for US world domination—a new world order of their making. These are the thought processes of fantasist Americans who want to control the world.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/7/2002] Both PNAC and its strategy plan for Bush are almost virtually ignored by the media until a few weeks before the start of the Iraq war (see February-March 20, 2003).

November 1, 2000: David Wurmser Urges US and Israel To ‘Strike Fatally’ Against Arab Radicalism

Late December 2000 and Early January 2001: Bush Transition Teams Install Neoconservatives in Key Offices – The Bush team moves into Washington. Neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad heads the Pentagon transition team, and he ensures that plenty of his friends and colleagues move into the civilian offices of the Defense Department. Four of the most influential advocates for the US overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and Abram Shulsky—are waiting to learn where they will serve in the department. But Vice President Cheney is still concerned with ensuring the placement of his own colleagues and cronies who will help him build what many will call the “imperial presidency…

January 22, 2001 and After: Neoconservatives Begin Push for Invasion of Iraq -An orchestrated push in the media begins to make the case for the need to invade Iraq…

March, 2001: Perle Says Hussein Has Weapons of Mass Destruction -Defense Policy Board chairman and prominent neoconservative Richard Perle tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Does Saddam [Hussein] now have weapons of mass destruction? Sure he does.…. And, unless you believe that we’ve uncovered everything, you have to assume there is more than we’re able to report.” Perle fails to offer any evidence of his claims to the senators, and fails to provide evidence from UN inspectors that shows virtually all of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and programs have long since been destroyed.

Shortly After September 11, 2001: Perle Says Iraq ‘Has to Pay a Price for’ 9/11

September 15, 2001: President Bush Tells Neoconservative Adviser that US Will Attack Iraq after Afghanistan – During a morning meeting with advisers at Camp David, President Bush indicated that he wanted to focus on attacking Afghanistan first, and then look at the issue of attacking Iraq later …Bush told Perle at Camp David that once Afghanistan had been dealt with, it would be Iraq’s turn.”

September 19-20, 2001: Defense Policy Board Discusses Advisability of Attacking Iraq

September 20, 2001: Neoconservative Think Tank Demands Bush Invade Iraq ‘Even if Evidence Does Not Link Iraq Directly’ to 9/11 Attacks; Also Demand Attacks against Syria, Iran, Hezbollah

September 24, 2001: Neoconservative Columnists Advocate Overthrow of Hussein as Part of a ‘Larger War’ to Reestablish US ‘Dominance’ in Middle East

September 25-26, 2001: Neoconservative Commentator Kristol Advocates Regime Change in Iraq, Slams Powell – Neoconservative commentator and publisher William Kristol writes that the US must implement “regime change where possible” throughout the Middle East, and especially in Iraq. He excoriates Secretary of State Colin Powell for being against such an aggressive policy…

October 29, 2001: Neoconservative Scholar: ‘This Is Total War’ – Michael Ledeen, speaking at an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), states: “No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq… this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war… our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”

November 14, 2001: Neoconservative Foreign Policy Adviser Perle Says Iraq War Should Alert Other Nations: ‘You’re Next’

November 18-19, 2001: Perle: US to ‘Absolutely’ Go After Iraq for 9/11

November 20, 2001: Neoconservative: US Must Realize It Is Involved in ‘World War IV’ – Neoconservative professor Eliot Cohen writes that the Afghan war is misnamed. It should be, he says, the latest salvo in “World War IV

November 29-30, 2001: Neoconservative Group Encourages Bush Administration to Invade Iraq as First Step to Dominating Middle East

December 7, 2001: Neoconservative Michael Ledeen Argues in Favor of Perpetual War against the Muslim Worldn – Michael Ledeen, an avid admirer of Machiavelli, argues in a piece published by National Review Online that the US must be “imperious, ruthless, and relentless” against the Muslim world until there has been “total surrender.” Any attempt on the part of the US to be “reasonable” or “evenhanded” will only empower Islamic militants, he asserts. He writes: “We will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.” The piece is republished in the Jewish World Review four days later.

February 2002: Neoconservative: Bush Must Attack Numerous Arab Nations to Fight, Win ‘World War IV’ against Terrorism – Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.”

April 2002: Neoconservatives Say War against Iraq Is about Redrawing ‘Geopolitical Map of the Middle East’

April 23, 2002: Neoconservative: US Should ‘Pick Up Some Small, Crappy Little Country and Throw It against the Wall’ – In a column for the National Review advocating the immediate overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, neoconservative Jonah Goldberg praises his fellow neoconservative Michael Ledeen and urges the US to implement what he calls the “Ledeen Doctrine,” which he paraphrases as: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small, crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

May 2002: Wilson Breaks Decade-Long Silence to Speak out against Iraq War – Former ambassador Joseph Wilson participates in the annual conference of the American Turkish Council. One of the keynote speakers is Richard Perle, the neoconservative head of the Defense Policy Board and the chief author of the 1996 position paper “A Clean Break,” which argued for the forcible redrawing of the political map of the Middle East. In 1996, Perle had called for the overthrow of the Iraqi government. At the conference, Perle makes the same call. Wilson will later recall being deeply troubled by Perle’s “fire and brimstone” speech. The next afternoon, when Wilson is scheduled to speak, he voices his concerns over Perle’s position. Although he had journeyed to Niger to learn the truth or falsity about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims he has not spoken publicly about Iraq in over a decade. He does so because he urgently feels that Perle’s views need to be countered. “No decision is more important than that to send a nation’s sons and daughters to a foreign land in order to kill and perhaps die for their country,” he will write. “As a democracy, we are all participants in that decision. Not to speak out would amount to complicity in whatever decision was taken.” … Wilson will later write: “As I discovered while debating the issue, the prowar advocates were little inclined to listen to the views of others. They had made up their minds long ago, and now it was a matter of ramming their agenda through the decision-making process.”

August 6, 2002: Prominent Neoconservative Wants to Turn Middle East into ‘Cauldron’ of Violence

August 16, 2002: Perle: Bush’s War Rhetoric Makes Invasion Necessary – Neoconservative Richard Perle, the head of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, says that the Bush administration has expended so much time and effort in making its case for war against Iraq that it has no other choice except to invade. He says, “The failure to take on Saddam [Hussein]… would produce such a collapse of confidence in the president that it would set back the war on terrorism.” In 2006, author Frank Rich interprets Perle’s words, writing: “If Bush didn’t get rid of Saddam after all this saber rattling, he will look like the biggest wimp since—well, his father. If he didn’t do it soon, after all these months of swagger, he would destroy his credibility and hurt the country’s.”

September 4, 2002: Neoconservative Michael Ledeen Advocates Overthrow of Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, and Saudi Arabian Governments – Neoconservative Michael Ledeen argues in a piece published by the Wall Street Journal that the US must not limit the next military strike to Iraq alone. Rather, according to Ledeen, the US “should instead be talking about using all our political, moral, and military genius to support a vast democratic revolution to liberate all the peoples of the Middle East from tyranny.” In addition to Iraq, he says, the governments of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia must also be overthrown. “Stability is an unworthy American mission, and a misleading concept to boot. We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia; we want things to change. The real issue is not whether, but how to destabilize.”

November 2002-December 2002: Abrams Leads Secretive Neocon Planning Group for Iraq Occupation – Elliott Abrams, a well-known neoconservative and former Iran-Contra figure, leads one of a dozen Bush administration working groups charged with drafting post-invasion plans…the group is very secretive… It refuses “to brief not only top State Department officials but also aides of Gen. Tommy Franks, the commanding officer of the US Central Command [CENTCOM], about what it is doing.” Instead it stovepipes its work to its contacts in the White House. Sources in the State Department and CIA believe that one of the group’s apparent aims is reducing the influence of the State Department, CIA and the United Nations in post-Saddam Iraq. These critics also question “why a convicted felon [Abrams], pardoned or not, is being allowed to help shape policy.”  Sources in the State Department and CIA believe that one of the group’s apparent aims is reducing the influence of the State Department, CIA and the United Nations in post-Saddam Iraq…

November 12, 2002: Neoconservative Writer Recommends US Invade Iran First – Neoconservative Michael Ledeen recommends that the US invade Iraq—but only after invading Iran and overthrowing that nation’s government.

November 20, 2002: Perle: UN Won’t Find Iraqi Weapons Because They Are So Well Hidden; US Will Attack Even If No Weapons Found – Richard Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board, attends a meeting on global security with members of the British Parliament… Peter Kilfoyle, a former defense minister and Labour backbencher, tells the Mirror: “America is duping the world into believing it supports these inspections. President Bush intends to go to war even if inspectors find nothing. This make a mockery of the whole process and exposes America’s real determination to bomb Iraq.”

January 9, 2003: US Rejects British Suggestions to Put Off Iraq War

February 2003: Prominent Neoconservatives Argue Iraq War Is Really about US World Dominance – Prominent neoconservatives William Kristol and Lawrence F. Kaplan publish the book The War Over Iraq advocating a US invasion of that country. In the book’s introduction, they assert: “We stand at the cusp of a new historical era.… This is a decisive moment.… The decision about what course to take in dealing with Iraq is particularly significant because it is so clearly about more than Iraq. It is about more even than the future of the Middle East and the war on terror. It is about what sort of role the United States intends to play in the world in the twenty-first century.”

February 13, 2003: Neoconservative Ledeen Says Iraq Invasion Could Be ‘War to Remake the World’

February 15 – worldwide anti-war protest

February 25, 2003: Neoconservative Foreign Policy Adviser Says UN Weapons Inspectors Being ‘Seriously Deceived’ by Iraqis

March 19, 2003: Neoconservative: ‘Iraq Is a Battle, Not a War’ – Neoconservative Michael Ledeen, in an op-ed entitled “One Battle in a Wider War,” echoes the thinking of other neoconservatives when he writes that other Middle Eastern countries, specifically Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, must also be invaded by the US. “Once upon a time, it might have been possible to deal with Iraq alone, without having to face the murderous forces of the other terror masters in Tehran, Damascus, and [Riyadh], but that time has passed,” he writes. “Iraq is a battle, not a war. We have to win the war, and the only way to do that is to bring down the terror masters, and spread freedom throughout the region.”

March 19/20, 2003 – Invasion begins

May 1, 2003 Mission accomplished/continuesYouTube of speech, explanation that President did not actually say “Mission Accomplished” but that it was on a sign not approved by the White House. The President said “Mission continues.”

March 27, 2003: Accused of Profiteering, Perle Resigns from Pentagon Advisory Panel Chairmanship – Embroiled in controversy over multiple conflicts of interests, Richard Perle resigns his position as chairman of the Defense Advisory Panel (DAP). His resignation is the result of criticism of his mix of business activities as an investor, consultant, lobbyist, and political advocacy as an adviser to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In the weeks prior to his resignation, the New Yorker revealed that Perle’s venture capital firm, Trireme Partners LP, solicited funds from Saudi financiers, despite Perle’s vociferous criticisms of the Saudi government

January 24, 2004: Perle Takes Part in Rally for Iran; Denies Knowledge of Connections to MEK

February 19, 2009: Perle Denies Any Neoconservative Influence in Bush Administration – In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack…But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which: Perle is not a neoconservative. Neoconservatives do not exist. Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.”

The Attack-Syria Coalition: Brought to You By the Same People Who Gave Us the Iraq Debacle

By Samer Araabi [2], Right Web [1] /, October 15, 2012

In late September 2001, less than 10 days after the 9/11 attacks, the Project for the New American Century [3] (PNAC)—a group of prominent neoconservatives, liberal interventionists, and members of the religious right who advocated a host of U.S.-led regime changes in the Middle East—drafted a letter to President George W. Bush, commending his promise to “go after terrorism wherever we find it in the world” and offering a number of recommendations for the remainder of the president’s term.[1] [4] The steps outlined in the letter were prescient in predicting Bush’s foreign policy priorities (and to a lesser extent, the priorities of his successor, Barack Obama).[2] [5]

In addition to their advocacy positions on Iraq (invade immediately),Israel (support unconditionally), and military spending (abide “no hesitation in requesting whatever funds for defense are needed”), the signatories urged a tougher stance on Hezbollah, as well as its state sponsors in Damascus and Tehran.

In the letter, they argued that “any war against terrorism must target Hezbollah,” and urged the administration to “demand that Iran and Syria immediately cease all military, financial, and political support for Hezbollah and its operations. Should Iran and Syria refuse to comply, the administration should consider appropriate measures of retaliation against these known state sponsors of terrorism.”

Today, as Syria remains mired in a seemingly limitless spiral of violence, the question arises—what has become of this attack-Syria coalition and what, if anything, has changed in its view of U.S. intervention?

Target: Syria

Because of the many ties between PNAC and the Bush administration, it came as little surprise to close observers that the Bush administration eventually followed much of the letter’s advice with respect to Syria.[3] [6] After supporting the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, the Bush administration capitalized on the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri to galvanize political opposition to Hezbollah (and Syria by proxy), culminating in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanese territory.

Donald Rumsfeld [7], then Secretary of Defense, produced a “Road Map for Syria” proposing a number of military options for weakening the Syrian regime, including “docking an aircraft carrier within Syrian territorial waters” and “using proxies to undermine Syrian intelligence agents inside Lebanon.”[4] [8] Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad with a long list of U.S. demands, including that Syria cooperate in the “war on terrorism” in Iraq, end its support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, and withdraw its troops from Lebanon.[5] [9]

The administration’s pressure was highly effective in the heady days after Hariri’s assassination, and the Assad regime scrambled to provide the Bush administration with an acceptable counteroffer to prevent a second “regime change” in the region. Bahjat Suleiman, the chief of the internal branch of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, took the unprecedented step of publishing an article in the Lebanese daily al-Safir, where he outlined a course of action that could be acceptable to the Syrian regime. In the article, he implied that Assad would be willing to rein in Hezbollah, control Palestinian armed groups and Salafi extremists in Lebanon, and secure Iraq’s long border with Syriain order to guarantee the regime’s preservation.[6] [10]

The offer fell on deaf ears. Fresh off the invasion of Iraq, U.S.neoconservatives and their allies were optimistic that strong and uncompromising force— and unconditional support for the enemies of their enemies—would be sufficient to reshape the regional order. “There’s no reason to think engagement with Syria will bring about any change,” said letter signatory Richard Perle [11] in 2006. He argued that Syria “has never been weaker, and we should take advantage of that.”[7] [12]

Assad Rebounds

Backed into a corner and facing an existential crisis unlike any it had previously experienced, the regime chose instead to double down and force Washington’s hand. Assad worked to subvert the U.S.experiment in the Middle East, exploiting Syria’s proximity to Iraqand Lebanonto undermine the Bush administration’s cornerstone projects. Syrian intelligence services suddenly began to wreak havoc along the Syrian-Iraqi border, while political machinations in Lebanonhelped the regime regain the upper hand in the Lebanese parliament.[8] [13]

The tide quickly turned againstWashingtonas an increasing number of complicating factors undermined its regional leverage. The implosion ofIraq, the rebounding political power ofSyria’s allies inLebanon, the deteriorating state ofAfghanistan, and growing discontent at home forced the Bush administration to retreat from its hardline anti-Syrian approach. Thus assured of its safety,Damascusquickly reverted to its old ways.

The neoconservative-led PNAC coalition that had once pushed for a unified and hard-fisted approach to redesigning the Middle East was also crumbling [14] in the face of these and other failures.

Though much of the beltway intelligentsia originally supported the “war on terror” in all its iterations, ensuing disasters deeply undermined the neoconservative ideology as well as its liberal interventionist counterpart. Some of the original signatories of the letter, like Francis Fukuyama [15],[9] [16] became deeply critical of the Bush administration’s policies; others, however, maintained a strong allegiance to their hawkish worldview and continued to defend it against any perceived modifications by the Obama administration.

The ongoing crisis inSyria, however, has become something of a litmus test for these individuals, and the coalition has begun to resemble its old self. But the emerging consensus amongWashington’sSyriahawks belies the complexity of the circumstances surroundingSyria’s spiraling civil war, the difficulty of pro-war ideologues to adapt to modern international conflicts, and the dangers of the zero-sum approach toSyriacurrently circulating throughWashington.

Syria Redux

PNAC’s dyed-in-the-wool neoconservatives—the ideologues most responsible for the formulation of the Bush doctrine—have mostly stayed true to the priorities laid forth in the PNAC letter, and they’ve found new energy in calling for regime change in Syria. Most of the signatories to that September 2011 letter—including the likes of William Kristol [17], Jeffrey Bergner [18], Seth Cropsey [19], Midge Decter [20], Thomas Donnelly [21], Nicholas Eberstadt [22], Aaron Friedberg [23], Jeffrey Gedmin [24], Rueul Marc Gerecht [25], Robert Kagan [26], Charles Krauthammer [27], John Lehman [28], Clifford May [29],Richard Perle [30], Norman Podhoretz [31], and Gary Schmitt [32]—have largely kept their initial worldview intact, even if their earlier predictions for a Middle East “democratized” by American arms has proved dramatically off mark.

Many of these same individuals and their fellow travelers are at the forefront of the current push to escalate Syria’s ongoing civil war, arguing that active U.S. support for Syrian rebels—or outright military intervention—would hasten the fall of Bashar Al-Assad and maximize U.S. interests. A recent [33] New York Times op-ed by Max Boot [34], a frequent PNAC letter signatory, and Michael Doran [35], a Bush National Security Council member, is a case in point. In promoting direct U.S. intervention in Syria, the authors—remarkably—were unable to identify any negative consequences of such engagement, instead identifying a plethora of positive developments for U.S. interests, such as improving ties with Turkey, “diminishing” Iran, and “equipping reliable partners” within Syria’s internal opposition.

In February, many of the same individuals who signed the September 2001 PNAC letter—this time operating under the mantle of successor organizations like the Foreign Policy Initiative [36] and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies [37]—penned a missive to President Barack Obama, arguing that the only way to “win” the civil war, and ensure that Syrian security forces do not regain the upper hand, is to supply the Syrian opposition movement with sufficient capital, weapons, and intelligence to overwhelm government forces on the battlefield. The signers urged Obama to “immediately establish safe zones within Syrian territory,” as well as to “provide a full range of direct assistance, including self-defense aid to the [Free Syrian Army].”[10] [38]

The neoconservative establishment, along with a growing number of liberal interventionist allies, explicitly rejected all overtures for negotiation and compromise. They consistently mocked or undermined efforts by the United Nations and the Arab League to mediate the dispute and reach a diplomatic settlement, warning that “the United States cannot continue to defer its strategic and moral responsibilities in Syriato regional actors such as the Arab League, or to wait for consent from the Assad regime’s protectors, Russiaand China.”[11] [39]

“If we were being serious in the Middle East,” William Kristol recently said on Bill Bennett [40]’s “Morning inAmerica” radio program, “we would be using air strikes inSyria [and] we would topple the Assad regime.”

Evolving Militarization

Though Obama has been reticent to embrace full-on militarization of the conflict—preferring instead an approach that relies more on diplomatic pressure and crippling economic sanctions—the continued stalemate has nudged policymakers ever closer to openly arming the rebels [41]. Already the administration has steadily increased the military capabilities of the armed opposition elements, drifting away from its original policy of providing diplomatic support only.

Though this escalation has significantly narrowed the possibilities for any diplomatic solution to the conflict, foreign policy hawks have chided the administration for not going further. In a column for the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer lambasted Obama for seeking international support against Syria“as he stands by and watches Syriaburn.”[12] [42]

In an earlier column, Krauthammer wrote that “the fate of the Assad regime is geopolitically crucial” in the campaign to undermine Iran: “Imperial regimes can crack when they are driven out of their major foreign outposts…[and] the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria could be similarly ominous for Iran.” As in the 2001 letter, he argued that all America’s regional ambitions can be met, “so long as we do not compromise with Russiaor relent until Assad falls.”[13] [43]

Similarly, Rueul Marc Gerecht used the pages of the Wall Street Journal to chastise the Obama administration’s inaction and advocate a “a muscular CIA operation…to pour anti-tank, antiaircraft, and anti-personnel weaponry through gaping holes in the regime’s border security.” Gerecht acknowledged that such a policy would mirror the Syrian regime’s own machinations in 2006, when it “encouraged suicide bombers and other lethal cross-border trade against the Iraq.”[14] [44]

The parallels withWashington’s approach toSyriain 2006 are both ominous and telling. In effect, the same approach of uncompromising militancy is being advocated by the same individuals, and all indications point to a similarly disastrous outcome.

The Syrian National Council, along with its supporters in Washington, has decided that there can be no compromise with the Assad regime.[15] [45] The Syrian government, as it did the last time it faced total intransigence inWashington, has adopted a similarly uncompromising stance. Faced with the prospect of annihilation, Assad has refused to acknowledge the demands of the protestors, and has met every challenge with overwhelming violence. In so doing, it has confirmed for the armed opposition that the Assad regime has no intention for dialogue, compromise, or reform, and the only remaining option is a zero-sum fight to the death.

Considering the scope and horror of the regime’s massacres in the past two years alone, this conclusion may seem reasonable. But it overlooks—and in many ways undermines—alternative approaches that have been drowned out by the same voices that called forSyria’s destruction less than a decade ago.

Looking Forward

The illegitimacy of the Syrian regime is beyond question, but the manner and process of its ouster are not. The armed opposition appears to enjoy limited popular legitimacy,[16] [46] in part because it has committed its own share of atrocities[15] [47] and has been deeply compromised by its affiliations withTurkey,Saudi Arabia,Qatar, and theUnited States.

Popular movements within the country have offered a number of alternative pathways out of the conflict. Syrians on both sides have put down their weapons and started channels of dialogue to find a way out of their current impasse.[18] [48]Even the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), the grassroots groups most responsible for organizing the uprising, have publicly stated that dialogue with the regime is the only credible way to pull the country out of civil war. A statement issued by the LCC in July emphasized “the importance of ending the military and intelligence solution and immediately transitioning to the political process.”[19] [49]

The Syrian revolution remains one in which the vast majority of participants simply want freedom, dignity, and an escape from the brutality of the Assad regime. However, an overreliance on the military capabilities of an unrepresentative few is unlikely to bring about such an outcome. Instead it has produced an even more intransigent government and an opposition that is ever more dependent on the support of foreign powers, with both sides fully committed to the total annihilation of the other.

As the violence escalates, the window for dialogue narrows, and voices from the diaspora calling for maximalist objectives will only serve to narrow these opportunities further. The same individuals who squandered an opportunity to weaken Assad’s grip on power in 2006 have embarked on a similar course of action five years later, with no real modifications but the same grand expectations.

The result, as before, is likely to be one in which everyone loses.


[1] [50] William Kristol et al., Project for the New American Century, September 20, 2001, [51]

[2] [52] Marc A. Thiessen, “The Obama-Bush doctrine,” The Washington Post, May 31, 2012, [53]

[3] [54] PBS Frontline, “Chronology: The Evolution of the Bush Doctrine,” Public Broadcasting Service, [55]

[4] [56] [57]

[5] [58] Nqoula Nasif, “Mq TaqaluhWashington wa Dimashq ‘an Muhadathat Burns,” Al-Nahar, May 5, 2003.

[6] [59] Bahjat Sulaiman, “Suriya wa-l-Tahdidat al-Amerkiya,” al-Safir, May 15, 2003.

[7] [60] H.D.S. Greenway, “The Return of the Neocons,”Boston Globe, December 13, 2005.

[8] [61] Bassel F. Salloukh, “Demystifying Syrian Foreign Policy under Bashar al-Asad,” Demystifying Syria, Saqi Books,London, 2009.

[9] [62] Francis Fukuyama, “The Neoconservative Moment,” The National Interest, June 1, 2004, [63]

[10] [64] Khaira Abaza et. al., “Foreign Policy Experts Urge President Obama to Take Immediate Action in Syria,” Foreign Policy Institute, February 17, 2012, [65]

[11] [66] Ibid.

[12] [67] Charles Krauthammer, “While Syria Burns,” The Washington Post, April 26, 2012, [68]

[13] [69] Charles Krauthammer, “Syria: It’s not just about freedom,” The Washington Post, February 2, 2012,–its-not-just-about-freedom/2012/02/02/gIQAYVhVlQ_story.html [70]

[14] [71] Reuel Marc Gerecht, “To Topple Assad, Unleash the CIA,” The Wall Street Journal July 11, 2012, [72]

[15] [73] Agencies, “Syrian opposition ‘will negotiate with government officials once Assad goes,” The Guardian, August 5, 2012, [74]

[16] [75] Al Jazeera, “Civilians plead with Syrian fighters,” Al, October 3, 2012, [76]

[17] [77] Ian Black, “Syrian rebels accused of war crimes,” The Guardian, September 17, 2012, [78]

[18] [79] Phyllis Bennis, “Syrian Uprising Morphs Into Regional and Global Wars,” Institute for Policy Studies, August 10, 2012, [80]

[19] [81] “Joint Statement on Conditions for Talks,” Local Coordination Committees, May 15, 2011, [82]

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The Neocon Revival By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, August 1, 2013

Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence by Dana Milbank, Washington Post, February 20, 2009

The Attack-Syria Coalition: Brought to You By the Same People Who Gave Us the Iraq Debacle

Mitt Romney Blurts Out the Truth About Neo-Conservatism by Linda McQuaig,Toronto Star, September 28, 2012 – Excerpt – …the Republican presidential candidate [Romney] told the $50,000-a-platers what they wanted to hear: that he hasn’t any intention of helping the 47 per cent of Americans too poor to pay income tax. “My job is not to worry about those people.” With this truthfulness caught on tape, Romney has probably done more than incinerate his own presidential bid. He has so vividly exposed the cynicism and greed that lies at the heart of what is now called “conservatism” that he may have inadvertently begun its undoing. Once upon a time, “conservative” could be used to describe people — Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark — who had a vision of society in which a privileged elite dominated but also had a responsibility to less fortunate citizens and to the broader “public good.” But about 30 years ago, a new breed of “conservative” slithered onto the political scene. Stealing the moniker of conservatism, this new breed embraced the inequality of traditional conservatism (driving it skyward) while unburdening itself of the responsibility for others and the public good. This new breed has proved itself to be self-centered, greedy and indifferent to the public good.John Kenne th Galbraith cut to the essence when he described this “modern” conservative as engaged in “the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”…There never was intellectual honesty or coherence to modern conservatism….It’s time we stopped treating modern conservatives as proponents of a legitimate political philosophy and started treating them as greedy profiteers who — at least until now — have pulled off the biggest heist in modern times.

Romney’s Neocon Foreign Policy Written by Those Who Ignored al Qaeda Threat

What do neocons have to do with Obama? by Jacob Bronsther

Neoconservatism’s Godfather by Michael Schaffer,, September 21, 2009

The Neocon Revolution and American Militarism by Andrew J. Bacevich,, April 22, 2005

Introducing PNAC 2.0 Progress Report, March 31, 2009 



What do neocons have to do with Obama? by Jacob Bronsther

Christian Science Monitor, September 29, 2009


The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fundamentally “neocon” wars. They were shaped by the neoconservative belief that American military might can replace rogue regimes with Western-style democracies that won’t threaten US security… Neoconservatism was founded in the 1960s and ’70s when Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and other Democrats came to view their party – with its demands for an expanding welfare state and a less militaristic approach to the USSR – as a bastion of naive and destructive policies…. George W. Bush didn’t campaign as a neocon, but his staff was dominated by neocon thinkers. After 9/11, neoconservatism was virtually synonymous with Republican foreign policy…there exist core neocon values, all of which relate to a notion of imperialistic democracy. Obama opposes them all. The most crucial feature of neoconservatism is its Manichean worldview, wherein the Earth is pitted in an urgent struggle between purely good and purely evil nations. As George W. Bush famously told then Sen. Joe Biden: “I don’t do nuance.”..A second core feature of the neocon “persuasion” involves a commitment to the military as the ultimate tool of foreign policy. Neocons are skeptical of diplomacy and international institutions…All these aspects of neocon foreign policy – its dualistic worldview, militarism, distrust of diplomacy, and aggressive tone – lead to its unilateralism. It’s not a principled commitment, but rather a natural occurrence that doesn’t worry neocons much. Obama, by contrast, views multilateralism as a crucial foreign policy tool, which works hand in hand with diplomacy…

Full text

President Obama may be a pragmatist, but he’s now in charge of two fundamentally neoconservative wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are fundamentally “neocon” wars. They were shaped by the neoconservative belief that American military might can replace rogue regimes with Western-style democracies that won’t threaten US security.

Today, these wars are being led by a commander in chief, Barack Obama, whose views on foreign policy amount to a polar opposite of neoconservatism.

The neocons’ grand ambitions are now in the hands of a pragmatist.

The resulting tension will shape much of Mr. Obama’s work in foreign affairs. And it will also test one of America’s most enduring claims: its commitment to spreading democracy abroad.

Today, Dick Cheney is probably the most famous neocon, so many people assume that neoconservatism is a right-wing movement that took root after 9/11. Not so.

Neoconservatism was founded in the 1960s and ’70s when Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and other Democrats came to view their party – with its demands for an expanding welfare state and a less militaristic approach to the USSR – as a bastion of naive and destructive policies. They were liberals who despised hippies.

They associated themselves with the perceived more muscular liberalism of the first half of the 20th century, especially concerning foreign policy. In a 1995 Foreign Affairs piece, John Judis writes that neocons “were Cold War liberals who searched for a Truman in the 1970s and found Reagan.”
The neocons’ shift rightward initially brought them to the offices of Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the Washington senator and Democratic hawk on Vietnam. Later, many flocked to the Reagan administration. George W. Bush didn’t campaign as a neocon, but his staff was dominated by neocon thinkers. After 9/11, neoconservatism was virtually synonymous with Republican foreign policy.

Across those decades, neoconservatives have supported myriad, sometimes contradictory policies. For this reason, Mr. Kristol describes his creed as neither a social movement nor full-bodied ideology, but rather a “persuasion.” Still, there exist core neocon values, all of which relate to a notion of imperialistic democracy.
Obama opposes them all.

The most crucial feature of neoconservatism is its Manichean worldview, wherein the Earth is pitted in an urgent struggle between purely good and purely evil nations. As George W. Bush famously told then Sen. Joe Biden: “I don’t do nuance.”

During the cold war, this perspective was understandably commonplace, but neocons clung to it dogmatically, even railing against Reagan’s overtures to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. From their view, the USSR was evil, end of story. It is this dualistic mindset that led to Bush’s designation of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “axis of evil.”
Obama, conversely, does nuance and he does a lot of it. Consider his tactic to reach out to “good” Taliban, militants presumed to be more worried about their salary than global jihad.

A second core feature of the neocon “persuasion” involves a commitment to the military as the ultimate tool of foreign policy. Neocons are skeptical of diplomacy and international institutions. President Bush sent an ambassador to France who did not speak French. And he nominated John Bolton, irascible critic of the idea of the United Nations, as ambassador to the UN.

Obama has staked his foreign policy on a return to American diplomacy, renewing discussions with Iran, Syria, and Russia, and sending Susan Rice, one of his closest advisers, to the UN. But diplomacy doesn’t equal pacifism and Obama is no dove, as his Afghanistan troop surge shows.

Related to the neocon’s militarism is their abrasive foreign policy tone. Neocons fear for the future of Western masculinity and pride, maybe understably so, but they project power in a paradoxically juvenile manner, employing the silent treatment and name-calling, among other tactics. They seemingly view aggression in speech and act as intrinsically valuable; whether it leads to the best result often seems beside the point. Obama delivers a markedly calmer and more respectful approach to allies and enemies alike. The result is a cool confidence more genuine than the neocon brashness.

All these aspects of neocon foreign policy – its dualistic worldview, militarism, distrust of diplomacy, and aggressive tone – lead to its unilateralism. It’s not a principled commitment, but rather a natural occurrence that doesn’t worry neocons much. Obama, by contrast, views multilateralism as a crucial foreign policy tool, which works hand in hand with diplomacy.

Neocons believe that American security and moral obligations demand the US spread democracy. They argue simply that every person deserves the freedoms associated with legitimate governance and that democracies don’t fight each other.

In practice, however, neocons often carve out exceptions to their democracy promotion. They didn’t applaud, for instance, when the Islamist Hamas party won big in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Neoconservatism would be more coherent if it promoted liberalism and individual rights, and in nations that had little relationship to US security.

All modern US presidents speak about the spread of democracy, but politics is about priorities. And Obama has focused more on international stability and economic development. For instance, he recognized the legitimacy of Iranian leadership after an illegitimate election because he wanted to maintain a stable negotiating partner. And his support for Afghan and Iraqi democracy is best understood in the context of searching for long-term stability in those nations; he never mentions spreading democracy in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Finally, neocons hold the “realist” view that the only relevant international actors are nation-states. Their answer to Al Qaeda involved wars to remake states that sponsored terrorism. Obama sees a greater role for international institutions and, more important, for global populations. His greatest foreign policy stroke thus far was his Cairo speech in June, which was directed more to Muslim people than Muslim governments.

After “change,” Obama’s second favorite word is “pragmatism.” Obama’s pragmatism prizes global stability. This represents his deepest disagreement with neocons, who desire stability abstractly, but believe it will be achieved only through short-term chaos and US willpower to install democracies globally. Obama separates stability and democracy promotion intellectually.

Obama has five gigantic fires to put out – Iraq, Afghanistan-Pakistan, Iran, Islamic radicalism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – all of which threaten global stability. Unlike the neocons, he doesn’t unite his solutions to these challenges into a grand strategy to save mankind. The flexibility this affords is a good thing. Whether any of his policies will ultimately work is another question.

Jacob Bronsther, a law student at New York University and former Fulbright Scholar, writes for .