The Plan

ABC - Nightline
March 5, 2003
[transcript]

 

 

WILLIAM KRISTOL,

PROJECT FOR THE NEW AMERICAN CENTURY

If America doesn't lead, no one else will.

TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS

(Off Camera) It has been called a secret blueprint for US global domination.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

America was being too timid and too weak and too unassertive in the post-Cold War era.

TED KOPPEL

(Voice Over) A small group of people with a plan to remove Saddam Hussein, long before George W. Bush was elected president.

PROFESSOR IAN LUSTICK,

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

This group set an agenda and have made the President feel that he has to live up to their definitions of manliness and fear their definitions of failure.

TED KOPPEL

(Voice Over) And 9/11 provided the opportunity to set it in motion.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

One of the lessons of 9/11 is that you can't sit back and wait to be hit.

graphics: The Plan

TED KOPPEL

(Voice Over) Tonight, "The Plan", how one group and its blueprint have brought us to the brink of war.

graphics: ABC NEWS: Nightline

ANNOUNCER

From ABC News, this is "Nightline." Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) You can watch our story tonight on at least two levels. One, the conspiracy theory, as in this excerpt from a Scottish newspaper, the Glasgow "Sunday Herald". "A secret blueprint for US global domination reveals that President Bush and his cabinet were planning a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure regime change even before he took power in January 2001." And a similar, if slightly more hysterical version from a Russian paper, the "Moscow Times". "Not since Mein Kampf has a geopolitical punch been so blatantly telegraphed, years ahead of the blow."

TED KOPPEL (CONTINUED)

(Off Camera) Take away the somewhat hyperbolic references to conspiracy, however, and you're left with a story that has the additional advantage of being true. Back in 1997, a group of Washington heavyweights, almost all of them neo-conservatives, formed an organization called the Project for the New American Century. They did what former government officials and politicians frequently do when they're out of power, they began formulating a strategy, in this case, a foreign policy strategy, that might bring influence to bear on the Administration then in power, headed by President Clinton. Or failing that, on a new Administration that might someday come to power. They were pushing for the elimination of Saddam Hussein. And proposing the establishment of a strong US military presence in the Persian Gulf, linked to a willingness to use force to protect vital American interests in the Gulf. All of that might be of purely academic interest were it not for the fact that among the men behind that campaign were such names as, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. What was, back in 1997, merely a theory, is now, in 2003, US policy. Hardly a conspiracy, the proposal was out there for anyone to see. But certainly an interesting case study of how columnists, commentators, and think-tank intellectuals can, with time and the election of a sympathetic president, change the course of American foreign policy. Here's more from Jackie Judd.

JACKIE JUDD, ABC NEWS

(Voice Over) Inside this building, behind this door, is the brain trust that some suspect has led the US to the brink of war.

GARY SCHMITT,

PROJECT FOR THE NEW AMERICAN CENTURY

I think we've had a lot of influence because I think we've set the terms of kind of a way to think about the world that, in fact, has been picked up in some measure by this Administration.

JACKIE JUDD

(Voice Over) The Project for the New American Century is a loose collection of mostly Republicans who came together out of frustration in 1997.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

I think the principles are those of Ronald Reagan. A strong America. A morally-grounded foreign policy. As well as a foreign policy that defended American security and American interests. And understanding that American leadership was key to, not only world stability, but any hope for spreading democracy and freedom around the world.

JACKIE JUDD

(Voice Over) With a Democrat in the White House, these were people in the political wilderness. Then. . .

GARY SCHMITT

Included Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Zellic, John Bolton. We had a very good list of very senior and very solid, obviously, former officials.

JACKIE JUDD

(Voice Over) Now, Cheney is Vice President. Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary. Wolfowitz, his deputy. Of the 40 people who signed the Project's letters, sent to then-president Clinton in 1998, ten are now in the Bush Administration. Others, including Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, have become leading advocates of war. That letter argued the case for a comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

We didn't finish the job in 1991 against Saddam. So, our sense was that lots of lives were being lost, lots of instability was being loosed upon the world. Lots of terrible things were really being loosed upon the world because America was being too timid and too weak and too unassertive in the post-Cold War era.

JACKIE JUDD

(Voice Over) The letter to Mr. Clinton, was in essence, a preview of arguments that would have a more receptive audience five years later. The Clinton White House did bomb Baghdad in 1998, after America's containment policy of Saddam laid dormant, until a Tuesday morning in September. A 76-page white paper, circulating for a year and arguing for an aggressive US foreign policy, suddenly gained new relevance.

JACKIE JUDD (CONTINUED)

(Off Camera) In the blueprint, it says, the process of transformation is likely to be a long one. Absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor. Was 9/11, your Pearl Harbor?

GARY SCHMITT

I think it was the country's Pearl Harbor. I think it was the President's Pearl Harbor.

JACKIE JUDD

(Voice Over) The Project, agitating outside and now inside the Administration, seized an opportunity after 9/11, which made war inevitable, argues Professor Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania.

PROFESSOR IAN LUSTICK

Before 9/11, this group was in the position it is in but could not win over the President to this extravagant image of what foreign policy required. After 9/11, it was able to benefit from the gigantic eruption of political capital, combined with the supply of military preponderance in the hands of the President. And this small group, therefore, was able to gain direct contact and even control, now, of the White House.

JACKIE JUDD

(Voice Over) According to the book "Bush At War," by Bob Woodward, it was only 30 hours after the 9/11 attacks, that Rumsfeld asked the President, why shouldn't the US go against Iraq, not just al-Qaeda? At the Pentagon on September 13th, Wolfowitz, for the first time, alluded to that broader goal.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE

It will be a campaign, not a single action. And we're gonna keep after these people and the people who support them until this stops. It has to be treated that way.

JACKIE JUDD

(Off Camera) What was the Project's influence in shaping that thinking?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Well, we had been making these arguments for a few years and we continued to make them.

JACKIE JUDD

(Off Camera) How?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Magazine articles, faxed memoranda, longer reports.

JACKIE JUDD

(Off Camera) To whom?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

To the whole world. We made it very public that we thought that one consequence the President should draw from 9/11 is that it was unacceptable to sit back and let, either terrorist groups or dictators developing weapons of mass destruction, strike, first at us.

JACKIE JUDD

(Voice Over) Out of all this, a conspiracy theory blossomed, especially in Europe. From Scotland to Russia to England. Writers who oppose a war have written about a cabal of neo-conservatives pulling the strings of the President. A cabal with visions of an imperialist America dominating the world. Even Ian Lustick thinks the Project has acted in a conspiratorial way.

PROFESSOR IAN LUSTICK

This group, what I call the tom-tom beaters, have set an agenda and have made the President feel that he has to live up to their definitions of manliness, their definitions of success and fear, their definitions of failure.

JACKIE JUDD

(Off Camera) You know that the critics have called you and your group, conspirators, the Dominators with a capital "D," fanatics. Any, or all of it, true?

GARY SCHMITT

None. None. It's, very simply.

JACKIE JUDD

(Off Camera) Why have you've been labeled all of that?

GARY SCHMITT

Well, I think there's a lot of folks that are unhappy with the, with the change in the Administration's policy and the American policy at large. And in the absence of actually addressing the concerns directly, they'd rather think that it's some sort of conspiracy.

JACKIE JUDD

(Voice Over) Some critics compare the Project to the group of men who helped lead America into Vietnam and came to be known as "the best and the brightest." Kristol dismisses the comparison. Still, he says, as America seems poised to go to war, there is a degree of accountability he will feel when the first bomb drops.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Of course I'll feel some sense of responsibility. The only point I would also make, though, is one also has to take responsibility, would also have to take responsibility if one advocated doing nothing and then if something terrible happens. And, and I worry. I worry, not because I'm going to look bad, I worry because people could die and will die in this war.

JACKIE JUDD

(Off Camera) And after a war, the Project has a vision beyond a regime change in Iraq. A vision in which the United States government inserts itself in other failed regimes in the Middle East. So this truly does become a new American century. This is Jackie Judd for "Nightline," in Washington.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) So, we know how the founders of PNAC took us from where we were to where we are. But where do they plan to take us next? I'll talk with one of the founders of that group when we come back.

graphics: Nightline

ANNOUNCER

This is ABC News "Nightline", brought to you by . . .

commercial break

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Joining me now, William Kristol, the chairman of the Project for the New American Century. Mr. Kristol is also an editor of the "Weekly Standard Magazine." And the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle. Bill, if you'll forgive me, I'm a little less interested with where you've brought us and more interested in where you theorize that we are going to go. What is it that you're recommending for the future?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Well, I trust we'll be able to remove Saddam and his threat of weapons of mass destruction. We need to deal with other dictators developing weapons of mass destruction. North Korea is a real threat. I don't think we can allow that to become a nuclear assembly line. And in the Middle East, I really think we need to reverse over probably 20 years of bipartisan US foreign policy, which has made a Faustian bargain with dictators there, and really try to move towards the democratization, liberalization of the Arab societies of the Middle East. I think the status quo there has just proved to be too dangerous.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) When you talk about the democratization of the Middle East, though, first of all, I think you're wise enough to put it in terms of at least 20 years. But what does that entail in terms of the continuing presence of US forces in the region?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Well, look, I think when we go into Iraq and after we remove Saddam, we'll have to stay there for a while. We'll have to remove the weapons of mass destruction. But I think we owe it to the people of Iraq to help them reconstitute their society and to help them establish a decent and, I really hope, democratic government there. That would be a great, it would be great to help the people of Iraq liberate themselves, for one thing, they've suffered under such a cruel and brutal dictator. And it would be a great thing for the Middle East to have a functioning democratic country right in the middle of that region.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) All those things are undeniably true. But what does that mean in the terms of the continuing presence of US forces? I mean, the President famously noted in his State of the Union Address, a little more than a year ago, that there was an "axis of evil," and he mentioned not only North Korea, but also Iran. Should we assume that part of the, larger vision that you and your colleagues had, or have to this day, is the, removal, either by force or otherwise, of the current power structure in Iran?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

I think that would be great. I hope we can do it otherwise. And I think we can do it otherwise than by force. I think getting, rid of Saddam would help there. But, no, we will have to leave American troops in that region, I think in Iraq for quite a while. As we've had to leave them in Bosnia and Kosovo. As we had to leave them after World War II in Germany and Japan. It's a good investment. I think it helps keep stability in the area. And it helps strengthen the forces of freedom in the area. So, we shouldn't kid ourselves, though, this is an ambitious American foreign policy that the President has launched us on, requiring engagement and involvement in many parts of the world.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Does it, bother you that it appears that it is going to be a largely unilateral policy? I don't want to diminish the influence of our British friends, but this is clearly an American policy.

WILLIAM KRISTOL

It is. One would always prefer to have more allies rather than fewer. And I think we actually will have lots of help in the reconstruction and democratization, actually, of Iraq. But, look, I think what we've learned over the last ten years is that America has to lead. Other countries won't act. They will follow us, but they won't do it on their own. And in this case, I think we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) What we've also learned over the past 10 or 12 years is that some of our punitive allies in the region turn out to be not quite as friendly as we thought, like the Saudis, for example. And part of the problem has been that we've had a rather significant US military presence in Saudi Arabia. What makes you and your colleagues believe that a greater military presence throughout the region won't engender even more animosity toward the United States and more terrorism?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Well, I think a military presence in a free and democratic Iraq that is helping the people of Iraq is a lot, is very much preferable to the military presence in Saudi Arabia, actually. And look, I agree that one of the things the Bush Administration has not yet done is rethink policy towards Saudi Arabia, which I think is a necessity. I mean, our policy, we've had a bipartisan, 60 years of accommodation to the Saudi Royal Family. And I think we've paid a big price for that. And I think we need to really rethink our Saudi policy. That's something, that's a bridge the Administration hasn't crossed yet. I think whoever the next president is, whether it's President Bush or someone else, our policy towards Saudi Arabia will have to change.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Do you think that we will have an adequate discussion of all that you are talking about here, which really has not been publicly discussed by the Administration, in the months ahead?

WILLIAM KRISTOL

Well, I think the President's been pretty bold, actually, in laying out his doctrine. But, you, sure, I think we will have an adequate discussion, if only because the critics will insist on it, and should insist on it. This is a bold and ambitious American foreign policy. I think it's right for us and right for the world. I think the alternative, if we fail to do this, is really terrifying and terrible for the world. But I think this needs to be argued and debated. And I think it will be over the next year or two.

TED KOPPEL

(Off Camera) Bill Kristol, many thanks.

TED KOPPEL (CONTINUED)

(Off Camera) When we come back, the Fox Two/Five Marines find out exactly what's expected of them.

 

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