Interventionist vision for America

Jim Lobe:

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neo-conservative group whose past policy recommendations have often been followed by President Bush, is urging Congress to add 25,000 new soldiers to US ground forces each year over the next several years.

The appeal is certain to fuel the growing debate over whether US can afford the interventionist vision long espoused by PNAC. “The US military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume,” said the letter addressed to the Congress and signed by 34 defence and foreign policy analysts, mostly prominent neo-conservatives but also a smattering of retired generals and, significantly, several national defence alumni of Bill Clinton’s administration.

Since PNAC’s creation in 1997, it has acted primarily as a platform from which neo-conservatives could issue policy recommendations and invite influential analysts from other ideological currents to sign on. Thus, its founding charter, which called for a “Reaganite policy of military strength and moral quality,” was signed mostly by neo-conservatives, such as current chief of staff, Lewis Libby and others. But several individuals more closely associated with an aggressive-nationalist position, notably the current Pentagon chief, Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney, and magazine magnate, Steve Forbes, also signed, as did Gary Bauer, a leader of the US Christian Right.

From 1997 until Bush’s election, PNAC issued a number of policy statements signed by the same or a similar cast of characters, as well as several longer reports and a book, “Present Dangers”, that prescribed many of the policy initiatives the incoming Bush administration has since adopted. PNAC first urged US to work for “regime change” in Iraq in 1998, but, within nine days of the 9/11, the group called for a similar policy to be applied as well to the Palestinian National Authority, Syria, and Iran, if they failed to cooperate fully with the US campaign against terrorism. PNAC first began expressing some disappointment with the administration almost two years ago for its failure to increase the proposed military budget from 3.4 per cent

of GDP to something closer to 4 per cent. Two months later, as US forces launched their invasion, PNAC issued another letter expressing concern that the administration was unprepared to provide the stabilisation and reconstruction process in Iraq with enough military and economic resources. The principal target appears to be Rumsfeld, who has strongly resisted suggestions that US ground forces are inadequate to the tasks they face. He has argued that increasing the size of forces will delay the military’s “transformation” into a lighter, more lethal, and more hi-tech force capable of deploying overwhelming military power to any strategic hotspot within hours. Additional and unanticipated expenses for equipping, training, and maintaining an expanded ground force will take money away from the development.

The only way to do both is to increase the defence budget, since the price-tag for just two new divisions, totalling 34,000 soldiers, is an estimated $20 billion. But with the budget bleeding red ink as far as the eye can see, Bush would have to find new sources of revenue — either by cutting social programmes that have already been slashed, rolling back tax cuts, or imposing new taxes. None of these alternatives is attractive, especially to many Republican lawmakers for whom the mushrooming deficit is seen increasingly as the Achilles heel of their party’s current political dominance. — IPS