Project for the New American Century

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Tom Barry is a senior analyst at the Interhemispheric Resource Center and codirector of Foreign Policy In Focus. Jim Lobe writes for Inter-Press Service and Foreign Policy In Focus.

The backlash against the Clinton administration has fostered a conservative coalescence not seen since Reagan's first presidential term. Disaffected or right-wing Democrats known as neoconservatives, along with social conservatives and right-wing Republican internationalists have banded together forming powerful groups that are directing White House foreign policy more and more.

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Central to this new policy agenda is the conviction that the United States must assert its global dominance. One right-wing front group -- Project for the New American Century (PNAC) -- has played a key role in championing an agenda based on U.S. hegemony.

In 1997, an influential grouping of neoconservatives, social conservatives, and military/industrial complex proponents came together to form PNAC. The group lamented that conservatives had not "confidently advanced a strategic vision for America's role in the world," according to its statement of principles. Instead, conservatives had allowed disagreement over tactics to obscure agreement on objectives and had failed to set forth principles to guide American foreign policy, the statement said. This new group declared: "We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership."

Citing elements of the Reagan administration's success as "having a strong military," a foreign policy that "boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad," and a national leadership that "accepts the U.S.' global responsibilities," the PNAC visionaries sought a reprise of the Reagan agenda. This time, in the absence of a Soviet counterweight, it would be on a truly global scale.

Concluding their 1997 statement of principles, Elliott Abrams, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and the other right-wing luminaries noted: "A Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the U.S. is to build on the successes of this past century and ensure our security and greatness in the next."

Though not fashionable in 1997, the aggressive Reaganite policy of right-wing internationalism -- encompassing large military budget increases, Star Wars defense, Manichean formulation of U.S. foreign policy imperatives, and a rash of direct and covert military interventions -- has come back in fashion with the Bush administration.

George W. Bush has drawn heavily from the staff and boards of the PNAC, Center for Security Policy, and American Enterprise Institute to form his administration. Even so, before the September 11 attacks, the White House was having difficulty moving its Reaganite agenda forward. Although stalled in the first months of the administration, that agenda has now kicked in with alarming intensity.

At the heart of this new agenda is a conviction of America's supremacy -- a transcendent superiority with military, diplomatic, and cultural dimensions. It is a messianic belief arising from America's Puritan roots and sense of God-given mission.

Military Supremacy

Those who follow this doctrine reject traditional balance-of-power structures in international relations, and believe the United States must spend whatever is needed, and intervene whenever necessary, to preempt or respond to military threats. According to this philosophy, all international arrangements -- détente, arms control treaties, or any other multilateral agreement that might constrain U.S. freedom of action -- should be opposed. Military supremacists argue that the United States must mobilize -- at whatever cost -- the troops and weaponry necessary to assert U.S. global control.

While some say American military supremacy is a legitimate or effective defense posture, it's worth noting that the ideology has immediate rewards for weapons manufacturers.

The rightwing Center for Security Policy, with its close connections to both military contractors and the Pentagon, epitomizes this military industry nexus. The center's director, Frank Gaffney, was one of the signers of the PNAC statement of principles. He also serves on the board of the newly launched conservative front group, Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT). AVOT is a project of Empower.org, a conservative policy institute headed by William Bennett, former education secretary, and Jack Kemp, former secretary of housing and urban development.

As during the Reagan years, when many of the center's current associates directed military policy, the present administration has invited "an extraordinary number" of the center's National Security Advisory Council members and other center affiliates to serve in top government positions, Gaffney said. An early member of the center's board, Richard Cheney, is now vice president, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a recipient of the center's Keeper of the Flame award.

Diplomatic Supremacy

While critics have assailed the Bush administration's unilateralist tendencies, conservative groups believe U.S. 'moral supremacy' justifies America's exceptionalism, its global unilateralism, and its "multilateralism à la carte," as one senior Bush administration official said. This doesn't dismiss the need for international law and norms, but it exempts the United States from these rules.

Conservative activists and scholarly right-wing elements have long been concerned that the United Nations constituted a forum for leftist, anti-Zionist, and anti-imperialist views, and they have attacked the U.N. as a barrier to the direct pursuit and defense of U.S. national interests. Today, with the United States as the world's only superpower and the U.N. increasingly sidelined in global affairs, the anti-U.N. campaign has faded, replaced by a directed focus on strategizing how, when, and where to deploy U.S. might.

Cultural Supremacy

Why do Americans accept that the United States does whatever it wishes with such blatant disregard for other countries? It comes down to a sense of cultural supremacy. Americans have been raised and educated with the belief that the political, moral, religious, and social manifestations of American culture are superior to those of other cultures. More than just superior, U.S. culture -- its free market democracy -- is supposed to embody the culmination of Western civilization and represents what Francis Fukuyama has labeled the "end of history."

In the 1990s, the mandarins of the New Right increasingly drew connections between the internal and external threats to American culture and Judeo-Christian values. Paralleling the cultural wars on the domestic front (where fundamentalists face off against secularists, creationists attack evolutionists, etc.), these right-wing ideologues perceive a global conflict -- a clash between societies in which Western society is being undermined, weakened, and attacked by what Samuel P. Huntington called the "rest" in his book, Clash of Civilizations. China and the Islamic world are the main threats to Western culture, according to supporters of this theory.

The right has long sought to link its cultural war at home with U.S. foreign policy. The war on terrorism has provided the chance to forge that connection. Anti-American forces are not all alien -- some are homegrown, U.S. cultural supremacists say. In a full-page New York Times ad on March 10, 2002, AVOT warned that we have to fight the war at home as well as abroad.

"The threats we face are both external and internal," says AVOT Chairman William Bennett, a PNAC signatory. He added that within the United States, "there are those who are attempting to use [9/11] to promulgate their agenda of 'blame America first.'"

Bringing It All Together Today, the administration is advancing a strategic vision for America's role, and that vision is one of U.S. global hegemony. It's a vision of cultural wars fought against internal and external threats to Judeo-Christian values (as interpreted by the right).

Antiterrorism has substituted for anticommunism and has given the right's foreign policy elites the opportunity needed to launch their agenda.

The call to "victory over terrorism" has been construed to encompass most of the objectives of the supremacist right -- from missile defense to counterinsurgency in Colombia, from support for Likud militarists in Israel to securing a hold on Central Asian oil supplies, from targeting Saddam Hussein to zeroing in on the "blame America first" dissidents at home.

In one year the Bush administration has succeeded in shifting the U.S. foreign policy agenda hard right.

Thus far the American public -- still in shock from the 9/11 attacks but boosted by a new sense of patriotism -- has stood behind the administration.

Will this support extend to counterinsurgency in Colombia, a military campaign against Iraq, and ideological wars at home and abroad asserting U.S. supremacy? Working in tandem, the right wing and the public diplomacy operations of the Bush administration aim to keep Americans facing right and marching forward.

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