The Iraq war was a major projection of American power in the Middle East following 9/11. For some the US-led invasion in 2003 was about answering the attacks. For others it was about taking Iraq’s oil and giving the US control over global energy supplies. But for one group, Iraq was about a vision for a new world based on aggressive and interventionist US foreign policy. The Neoconservatives saw breaking Iraq as essential to its vision.
On 31 October 1998 US Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act which committed American foreign policy to the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. President Bill Clinton signed the act into law and it would become the basis of Congress’ 2002 vote in favour of US military action in Iraq.
The Iraq Liberation Act had its roots in a letter sent to Clinton in January 1998 by a think tank called the Project for the New American Century, which called for the United States to commit itself to toppling the Ba’athist regime. The letter, which was signed by a number of influential politicians including: Donald Rumesfield, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Richard Perle and others – said the then existing US foreign policy of containing Saddam Hussein had failed, his regime had violated a number of restrictions imposed upon it and Baghdad’s lack of cooperation with UN weapon inspectors meant it was possible Iraq had rebuilt its chemical and biological weapons capability. The Iraqi president was dangerous and posed a ‘threat’ to American security, the letter cautioned.
The Project for the New American Century was established to promote American global leadership and Washington as a unipolar superpower. The project belonged to a semi-shadowy group called the Neoconservatives or ‘New conservatives’. While there is much debate about the movement, most trace the origins of the Neoconservatives to the intellectual circles of German-American political philosopher Leo Strauss and his students in the 1960s. Strauss argued ‘the crisis of the West consists in the West’s having become uncertain of its purpose’ and his attempt to give Westerners faith in its classical past is cited as a major influence over Neoconservative thought – although many still debate whether or not Strauss was a Neoconservative.
Most of those who became Neoconservatives came from Marxist, Trotskyist, Liberal and Democrat Party circles. The term Neoconservative was coined by fellow leftist opponents as a term of abuse at their former comrades, which the Neoconservatives decided to adopt anyway. What drove people to the movement was a sense American liberalism had eroded itself and produced a society that no longer knew what to believe or understood the moral superiority of the United States. There was a powerful evil out there and Americans were increasingly blind to it, the Neoconservatives believed. In the 1970s and 1980s, they fixated on the Soviet Union and sought to drive a more aggressive policy towards it. Under President Ronald Regean, many Neoconservatives made it into second and third tier political positions in his administration. However they grew disillusioned with many of Reagan’s foreign policy stances.