There still remains some controversy over the real reasons the U.S. went to war in Iraq. The official reasons for the war, that Iraq had WMD and threatened to supply them to terrorist organizations, namely al-Qaeda, intent upon using them against the U.S., have long since proven to be false and we may dismiss them. We know much in hindsight that we did not know at the time, but the fact is that no credible evidence was presented at the time to support the claims being made and the available facts contradicted the Bush administration’s case. Hence, a campaign of deception was necessarily orchestrated against the American people in order to create a false pretext to invade Iraq.
The question of the true motives for such violence is an important one, relevant both for history and for a more complete understanding of events today. The most prominent theory is that the U.S. invaded Iraq for oil. Another which remains particularly popular among many is that the war was fought not for U.S. interests, but to further the interests of Israel.
The theory that the U.S. invaded Iraq for Israel’s sake is usually argued by pointing out the fact that many of the policy-makers responsible for orchestrating the war are Jewish, and that many have demonstrated deep concern for perceived Israeli interests.
A principle document cited in making the case is entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”. The “realm” referred to is Israel, and the paper was prepared for the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, then Prime Minister. The 1996 report was the result of the Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000 from the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. Among those who participated in the group were several prominent U.S. policy-makers, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser.
The paper argues for “a clean break” from old policies and the forging of “a peace process and strategy based on an entirely new intellectual foundation” designed for “rebuilding Zionism”. One of the goals is to “Forge a new basis for relations with the United States” based in part on “strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern”. A suggested talking point for political leaders is, “Our claim to the land—to which we have clung for hope for 2000 years—is legitimate and noble.” For there to be peace depends upon “the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension….”
“Syria,” the paper notes, “challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which America can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon, including by…establishing the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces” and “striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.”
“Israel can shape its strategic environment” by “rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq—an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right—as a means of foiling regional ambitions.” One possible alternative to Hussein’s rule is “the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq”, something in which “Israel has an interest” because “Were the Hashemites to control Iraq, they could use their influence…to help Israel wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hizballah, Iran, and Syria.”
Proponents of the theory point to this document as proof that some U.S. policy-makers wanted regime change in Iraq to further Israeli interests. Indeed, the report does demonstrate this quite clearly, and it begs the question of where some policy-makers’ loyalties truly lie. However, the report also notes that “relations with the United States” would be based in part on “strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern”. While it is true that some of the architects of the war believed it would further Israel’s interests to overthrow Saddam, this does not preclude them from also serving percieved U.S. interests.
To further the theory, proponents also point to the think-tank called The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a virtual who’s who of neo-cons calling for regime change in Iraq. As has been noted, many are Jewish and have a strong affinity for and loyalty to Israel. But a thorough examination of documents issued by PNAC reveals little evidence that they have Israel’s, rather than the U.S.’s, interests predominantly in mind. The goal of the group “is to promote American global leadership” and this theme is repeatedly reiterated in documents they’ve issued concerning Iraq.
PNAC’s Statement of Principles clearly outlines their “vision of America’s role in the world” and “guiding principles for American foreign policy”, which should be designed to “maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.” The “United States stands as the world’s preeminent power” and should build up the military to maintain that power.
In 1998, PNAC wrote a letter to President Clinton stating that “American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding” and that U.S. “strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.” The reasons are given. “The policy of ‘containment’ of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding” and “we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections.” This would make it difficult “to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess” weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Were Saddam to actually have a WMD capability, “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard.” Concerns over WMD, though real, are secondary to concerns over access to oil.
Another letter was sent from PNAC to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in May 1998. The letter reiterated the points of the Clinton letter and the fear that “Saddam will be effectively liberated from constraints”, meaning the sanctions that had resulted in widespread poverty, malnutrition, and disease—and the deaths of half a million children by the U.N.’s own account. The end of these sanctions would be “an incalculable blow to American leadership and credibility” and hence “the goal of U.S. policy should be to bring down Saddam and his regime.” The U.S. simply could not afford to lose face to Saddam.
In September 2000, PNAC released what is generally regarded as its manifesto, entitled “Rebuilding Americas Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century”, which makes the case for maintaining U.S. preeminence and global hegemony through a buildup of the military; to “extend the current Pax Americana”. The document states that “Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
The overall goal is to “preserve American military preeminence”. However, “the process of transformation”—the strengthening of the military—”is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”
This assessment echoed one from Andrew Krepinevich, Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on March 5, 1999. After stating that “There appears to be general agreement concerning the need to transform the U.S. military into a significantly different kind of force from that which emerged victorious from the Cold and Gulf Wars,” he noted that “this verbal support has not been translated into a defense program supporting transformation.” He stated further that “While there is growing support in Congress for transformation, the ‘critical mass’ needed to affect it has not yet been achieved.” In conclusion, “in the absence of a strong external shock to the United States—a latter-day ‘Pearl Harbor’ of sorts—surmounting the barriers to transformation will likely prove a long, arduous process.”
In other words, there was a consensus among policy-makers that the military needed to be rebuilt, but in the wake of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the American public expected and wanted a decrease in military spending. The “transformation” of the military into a force able to enforce the U.S.’s will globally would therefore not occur unless a catastrophic event occurred that allowed policy-makers to shift American public opinion back towards increased military spending.
Indeed, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were viewed as an opportunity by those favoring this “transformation” of the military to enforce U.S. global hegemony. Robert Kagan, a director of PNAC, wrote in the Washington Post that “Just as the Korean War, Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the Lusitania taught us that we can’t immunize ourselves against the world’s problems, Sept. 11 must spur us to launch a new era of American internationalism. Let’s not squander this opportunity.”
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice similarly stated, “No less than Pearl Harbor, September 11 forever changed the lives of every American and the strategic perspective of the United States.” Rice also stated that “an earthquake of the magnitude of 9/11 can shift the tectonic plates of international politics…. If that is right, if the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11 bookend a major shift in international politics, then this is a period not just of grave danger, but of enormous opportunity. Before the clay is dry again, America and our friends and our allies must move decisively to take advantage of these new opportunities. This is, then, a period akin to 1945 to 1947, when American leadership expanded the number of free and democratic states—Japan and Germany among the great powers—to create a new balance of power that favored freedom.” (We will return to how “freedom” is defined under the Bush administration).
The Bush administration did indeed take advantage of the “opportunity” provided by 9/11 to effect the “transformation” of the military to be used to further the goal of U.S. global hegemony, which explains why so much of their case against Iraq centered on either psychologically linking Iraq to the terrorist attacks or claiming directly that Iraq had some role. It was crude propaganda, but effective enough against the American people.
In the days after 9/11, PNAC wrote to President Bush encouraging him in the “war on terrorism” but stating that, “We agree that a key goal, but by no means the only goal, of the current war on terrorism should be to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and to destroy his network of associates.” It then moves quickly on to Iraq. Saddam Hussein, in the words of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is “one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth” and “It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But 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.”
Their reasons had already been outlined in earlier documents, but evolved to suit the pretext offered publicly by the administration. Proponent’s of the theory that the war was fought for Israel point to PNAC’s letter to Bush in April 2002 commending him for his “strong stance in support of the Israeli government”, America’s “besieged ally” and “fellow victim of terrorist violence.” The letter states that “No one should doubt that the United States and Israel share a common enemy” and urges Bush “to accelerate plans for removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”
This time, the official reasons for the war were cited; fear of WMD and Iraq’s “links to the Al Qaeda network.” This, of course, was not so much reflective of their true concerns so much as a change in marketing strategy reflecting the official administration stance that was more palatable to the American public. As they’d acknowledged previously, they didn’t know whether Iraq had WMD or not, but were now stating unequivocally that not only did he have them, but also that he was allied with Al Qaeda, to which Saddam might provide weapons. The letter was essentially a clear endorsement of the false pretext offered publicly by the administration to justify the war.
The letter concludes that “Israel’s fight against terrorism is our fight. Israel’s victory is an important part of our victory. For reasons both moral and strategic, we need to stand with Israel in its fight against terrorism.” In other words, the U.S. should continue to support Israel not because it is in Israel’s interests, but because it suits the interests of the U.S., as perceived by the authors.
The reasons given for wanting regime change seen in the earlier PNAC documents reflected the earlier assessment of Paul Wolfowitz, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration and who, like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had signed a number of the PNAC documents calling for regime change. The “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” document, in which Wolfowitz participated, reflects a 1992 Pentagon draft document supervised by Paul Wolfowitz entitled “Defense Planning Guidance”.
This document declared that the “first objective” of U.S. “defense strategy” should be “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival”. The U.S. “must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”
The “second objective” is to “address sources of regional conflict and instability in such a way as to promote increasing respect for international law, limit international violence, and encourage the spread of democratic forms of government and open economic systems.”
Of course, each of these points is used in their usual euphemistic sense. For instance, “Respect for international law” follows the usual pattern and means forcing others to heed the terms of treaties to which they are party if it suits U.S. interests to do so. The U.S. (and its official allies, such as Israel) may of course continue to ignore its own treaty commitments and violate international law when it gets in the way if its agenda. This assumption was reflected in Richard Perle’s statement following the invasion of Iraq that, “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.”
“International violence” likewise means their violence, not ours, and “democratic forms of government” goes hand in hand with “open economic systems” and, following the long-established norm, refers to any regime which trades with and allows U.S. corporations to operate within their borders (which has to do with the Bush administration’s definition of “freedom” to which we will return).
Naturally, the report adds, “Various types of U.S. interests may be involved in such instances”, such as “access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil”. With regard to the Middle East and Southwest Asia, “our overall objective is to remain predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil.”
The Bush administration’s 2002 National Security Strategy mirrors all of the above and outlines a plan for U.S. global hegemony. “Today,” it says, “the United States enjoys a position of unparalleled military strength and great economic and political influence.” The gist of it is that the U.S. should use that strength and influence to rule the world.
Being a document intended for public consumption, it’s full of rhetoric about freedom and democracy, intended in the usual sense. Along that vein, it asserts that “we do not use our strength to press for unilateral advantage. We seek instead to create a balance of power that favors human freedom….” “Freedom” is later defined: “The concept of ‘free trade’ arose as a moral principle even before it became a pillar of economics. If you can make something that others value, you should be able to sell it to them. If others make something that you value, you should be able to buy it. This is real freedom, the freedom for a person—or a nation—to make a living.” Thus “freedom” is defined in terms of U.S. economic interests, which, as we have seen in the case of the Middle East, are “primarily Persian Gulf oil”, which the U.S. wants access to but which Saddam Hussein was willing to deny us.
This problem with Iraq is outlined in great detail in a 2001 report resulting from a task force sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations entitled “Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century”. The document notes that “For many decades now, the United States has been without an energy policy” and that, “In fact, the world is currently precariously close to utilizing all of its available global oil production capacity, raising the chances of an oil-supply crisis with more substantial consequences than seen in three decades. These limits mean the America can no longer assume that oil-producing states will produce more oil. Nor is it strategically and politically desirable to remedy our present tenuous situation by simply increasing dependence on a few foreign sources.
“So, we come to the report’s central dilemma: the American people continue to demand plentiful and cheap energy without sacrifice or inconvenience. But emerging technologies are not yet commercially viable to fill shortages and will not be for some time.”
The report states, “For the most part, U.S. international oil policy has relied on maintenance of free access to Middle East Gulf oil and free access for Gulf exports to world markets. The United States has forged a special relationship with certain key Middle East exporters, which had an expressed interest in stable oil prices and, we assumed, would adjust their oil output to keep prices at levels that would neither discourage global economic growth nor fuel inflation. Taking this dependence a step further, the U.S. government has operated under the assumption that the national oil companies of these countries would make the investments needed to maintain enough surplus capacity to form a cushion against disruptions elsewhere. For several years, these assumptions appeared justified.
“But recently, things have changed. These Gulf allies are finding their domestic and foreign policy interests increasingly at odds with U.S. strategic considerations, especially as Arab-Israeli tensions flare. They have become less inclined to lower oil prices in exchange for security of markets, and evidence suggests that investment is not being made in a timely enough manner to increase production capacity in line with growing global needs. A trend toward anti-Americanism could affect regional leaders’ ability to cooperate with the United States in the energy area.
“The resulting tight markets have increased U.S. and global vulnerability to disruption and provided adversaries undue potential influence over the price of oil. Iraq has become a key ‘swing’ producer, posing a difficult situation for the U.S. government.”
To further complicate the situation, “U.S. unilateral sanctions as well as multilateral sanctions against oil-producing countries have discouraged oil resource investment in a number of key oil provinces…. In the case of Iraq, the U.N. sanctions imposed as a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait have had a severe effect on potential Iraqi production.
Moreover, “Iran and Iraq accuse Saudi Arabia of seeking higher production rates to accommodate the economic interests of the United States, Japan, and Europe at the expense of the needs of local populations, creating internal pressures in the Arabian Gulf region against a moderate price stance. Bitter perceptions in the Arab world that the United States has not been evenhanded in brokering peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have exacerbated these pressures on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and given political leverage to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to lobby for support among the Arab world’s populations.”
The report continues, “Over the past year, Iraq has effectively become a swing producer, turning its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its strategic interest to do so. Saudi Arabia has proven willing to provide replacement supplies to the market when Iraqi exports have been reduced. This role has been extremely important in avoiding greater market volatility and in countering Iraq’s efforts to take advantage of the oil market’s structure. Saudi Arabia’s role in this needs to be preserved, and should not be taken for granted. There is domestic pressure on the GCC leaders to reject cooperation to cool oil markets during times of a shortfall in Iraqi oil production. These populations are dissatisfied with the ‘no-fly zone’ bombing and the sanctions regime against Iraq, perceived U.S. bias in the Arab-Israeli peace process, and lack of domestic economic pressures.”
With regard to Israel, the task force report asserts that “The timing might not be appropriate for a major initiative to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict in a comprehensive manner, but it is important to reduce immediate tensions and violence in that conflict. While this is a tenet of U.S. foreign policy for other reasons, it can also be helpful to the oil situation in ensuring that the two issues do not become linked and are kept on separate tracks. Iraq has been engaged in a clever public relations campaign to intersect these two issues and stir up anti-American sentiment inside and outside the Middle East. The bombing of Iraq by the United States led coalition in February 2001 spurred anti-U.S. demonstrations in support of Iraq in traditional U.S. allies such as Egypt. Moreover, Saddam Hussein is trying to recast himself as the champion of the Palestinian cause to some success among young Palestinians. Any severe violence on the West Bank, Gaza, or Southern Lebanon will give Iraq more leverage in its efforts to discredit the United States and U.S. intentions. A focus on the anti-Israeli sympathies of some Arab oil-producing countries diverts attention from the repressive nature of the Iraqi regime. Instead it rewards Iraq in its claim to Arab leadership for ‘standing up to the United States for ten years.’ Israel will assert its right to defend itself from terrorist or other attacks, so it is important that both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict are given a stake in avoiding conflict and violence. Creating an atmosphere where both sides are willing to show restraint can be an important goal for U.S. diplomacy on this issue.”
With regard for Iraq, the report’s recommendation is to “Review policies toward Iraq with the aim to lowering anti-Americanism in the Middle East and elsewhere, and set the groundwork to eventually ease Iraqi oilfield investment restrictions. Iraq remains a destabilizing influence to U.S. allies in the Middle East, as well as to regional and global order, and to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil markets. This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a ‘Pan Arab’ leader supporting the Palestinians against Israel, and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime.
“The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments.”
Returning to the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy, it asserts that “as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against…emerging threats before they are fully formed.” The document cites the principle of “preemption”: “For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack.” But it goes further, asserting that “the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather.” The document thus lays out a policy not of preemption, but of a loosely-defined form of prevention, for which there is no recognition or legitimacy under international law.
“The United States,” the document states, “is fighting a war against terrorists of global reach…. Afghanistan has been liberated; coalition forces continue to hunt down the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” Reflecting the view from PNAC that this is “a key goal, but by no means the only goal, of the current war on terrorism”, the document adds, “But it is not only this battlefield on which we will engage terrorists.”
A clear reference to Iraq, it states, “We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.”
In sum, the document outlines a policy of prevention which was then used as justification for war with Iraq to protect America’s “credibility” and “vital interests”, “primarily Persian Gulf Oil”, but sold to the public under false pretexts, one of which was to protect Israel from the “threat” of Saddam, his WMDs, and his ties to al-Qaeda.
In the end, there is really no need to speculate about the reasons for the Iraq war, as policy-makers have quite openly and explicitly stated their reasons for desiring regime change since the end of the first Gulf War in public documents. The war was not fought to suit Israel’s interests, but to suit the interests of the U.S. as perceived by policy-makers in Washington. Israeli and U.S. interests may coincide at times, but the ultimate objective, repeatedly declared, is U.S. global hegemony, which necessitates military preeminence and guaranteeing access, by force if necessary, to Middle Eastern oil.
 “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, 1996
Richard Perle was Assistant Secretary of Defense under Reagan and member of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee from 1987 to 2004; Douglas Feith was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from 2001 to 2005; David Wurmser was Middle East Advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
PNAC’s directores include Chairman William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle under the first Bush administration, and Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff and principle speechwriter for Secretary of State George P. Schultz under the Reagan administration.
 PNAC’s Statement of Principles
Signers of the statement include Elliot Abrams, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.
 Letter to President Clinton, January 26, 1998
Signers of the letter include Elliot Abrams, Richard L. Armitage, John Bolton, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey, and Robert B. Zoellick.
 Letter to Gingrich and Lott, May 29, 1998
Signers of the letter include Elliot Abrams, John R. Bolton, Robert Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, R. James Woolsey, and Robert B. Zoellick
 “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century”, Project for a New American Century, September 2000
Participants included Stephen Cambone, I. Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and William Kristol.
 Testimony of Andrew Krepinevich, Executive Director, before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, March 5, 1999
 Robert Kagan and Ronald D. Asmus, “Commit for the Long Run”, The Washington Post, January 29, 2002
 Remarks by Condoleezza Rice at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, June 26, 2003
 Remarks by Condoleezza Rice at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, April 29, 2002
 Letter to President Bush, September 20, 2001
Signers of the letter include William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Charles Krauthammer, and Richard Perle.
 Letter to President Bush, April 3, 2002
Signers of the letter include William Kristol, Richard Perle, and R. James Woolsey.
 Patrick E. Tyler, “U.S. Strategy Plan Calls for Insuring No Rivals Develop”, The New York Times, March 8, 1992
 Oliver Burkeman and Julian Borger, “War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal”, The Guardian, November 20, 2002
 The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002
 “Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century”, Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations, April 2001