About ten days after the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, according to Gen. Wesley Clark, when Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz were at the Pentagon members of the joint staff were aware that the decision had already been made to go to war with Iraq. After the end of the first US invasion of Iraq (17 January 1991 – 28 February 1991), codenamed “Desert Storm,” of which he was an outspoken advocate of further action, Wolfowitz co-authored the Defence Planning Guidance (1992) – also known as the “Wolfowitz Doctrine” – with Scooter Libby. Redirecting the primary objectives of foreign policy for the twenty-first century, the DPG made it the United States’ first order of business to prevent the re-emergence (a reference to Russia) of a new global competitor, and to direct foreign policy to thwart all its aspirations.
The People vs. United States Foreign Policy in the Middle East
Designs on Iraq
Wolfowitz’s fears regarding Russia’s re-emergence as a power in the Middle East was by no means unfounded. Later that year on 25 August Moscow and Tehran concluded an $800 million deal for the construction of two nuclear reactors by Russian companies at Bushehr, and from December 1991 the Russian Federation and Iraq forged close economic and military relations, with Russia becoming a strong opponent of US and British led sanctions on Iraq. It was clear to US policy makers that the Middle East – Iran, Iraq, and Syria in particular – would be the meeting ground of US and Russian ambitions.
On the day Al-Qaeda hit the Pentagon Iraq was already firmly in the sights of the Bush Administration as a foreign policy priority. It is with this geopolitical reality in mind that we must consider the words of Paul Wolfowitz in his PBS interview with Margaret Warner on 14 September 2001 – just three days after the harrowing events:
It’s going to take… a broad and sustained campaign against the terrorist networks and the states that support those terrorist networks.
– Paul Wolfowitz (US Deputy Secretary of Defence)
Even though it was known that the 11 September attacks had been perpetrated by an extremist Islamist group headed by a US-trained and Saudi funded member of the Mujahidin, Osama Bin Laden, the Department of Defence narrative was referencing ‘states’ – in the plural – rather than ‘terrorist groups.’ Without any reflection on the role the US had played during and after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in arming and training extremist groups in the region, Wolfowitz’s focus was firmly set on the state-sponsored terrorism hypothesis. It is telling in this regard that in his defence of Muslims he highlights Saddam Hussein as one of the two leaders in the Islamic World who were celebrating the terror attacks.
Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, at an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on the day of the attacks, asked, “Why shouldn’t we go against Iraq, not just al-Qaeda?” This question can be considered as nothing other than a smoking gun. The United States was looking for an excuse to revisit Iraq, and Al-Qaeda had delivered that excuse. All that had been wanting before 11 September 2001 was the public support and the political will. From that point onwards all that had changed. Wolfowitz himself, commenting on the massiveness of the attacks, remarks in the interview that this has the power to make people “think another way.”
The repeated talk of “dealing with states that support and finance terrorists” was, even as Wolfowitz was being interviewed, being used in US military circles as a cypher for the Middle Eastern pawns in the greater strategic game with Russia. Only a few weeks after the Al-Qaeda attacks, as Gen. Wesley Clark notes in his 2 March 2007 interview with Democracy Now, the Secretary of Defence issued a memo outlining the US plan to “take out seven countries in five years” – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Other than putting US involvement in Syria right now in a whole new light, this memo goes a long way to explaining Wolfowitz’s assertion that the military assumptions of 10 September 2001 “don’t apply anymore.” Such a long-term strategy set would indeed involve the sustained campaigns of which he spoke, and the need to get the American public used to the idea of heavy casualties.