Neoconservatives andthe Bush Administration

Neoconservatives and

the Bush Administration

On January 3, 2003, as Washington braced for a military showdown in the Persian Gulf, US President George W. Bush rallied soldiers at the Fort Hood, Texas, Army base, telling them: “We are ready, we are prepared!” Should force be required against Iraq, Bush added, “You’ll be fighting not to conquer anybody but to liberate people.”

Hearing Bush use the word “liberate,” I was struck by the thought that the White House had finally succumbed to the cherished wish of a group of hawkish thinkers referred to as neoconservatives (or neocons) and sometimes as neoimperialists. After spending some 40 years with a Japanese news agency reporting on the United States and then moving into a corporate management post, I returned to active journalism in 2002. I have since been following this group closely, meeting with some members personally.

The striking thought, half a year later, was replaced by amazement, and has now been supplanted by anxiety. The Bush administration charged ahead with what has been dubbed “Rumsfeld’s war” (after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) in Iraq, and the US-led coalition’s vastly superior military technology enabled it to topple the regime of President Saddam Hussein with relative ease. Now it is directing its energies to nation building, even as soldiers of the US Central Command combat what Commander John Abizaid himself calls guerrilla warfare. With the shock of the September 11 terrorist attacks still fresh in people’s minds, a majority of Americans and members of Congress supported President Bush’s appeal for a regime change in Iraq to protect the American homeland. But how much longer will they put up with the hardships of nation building? The United States is confronting its biggest challenge since the Vietnam War. In the following, I will retrace the steps the neocons have taken to guide American policy this far.


I was stirred to begin making my current observations after reading an article in the December 9, 2001, edition of the New York Times Magazine discussing in detail the new ideas that had emerged during that year. One of the items introduced was the activities of the Project for a New American Century, “formed around a single idea: support for a new, proud American imperialism.” The article defined PNAC as a group that believes America is already an empire, based not only on its military strength but also on free-market capitalism and its track record of extending rights to women and racial minorities.

I drew four conclusions about PNAC’s stance from the article: (1) The American empire holds no territorial ambitions, unlike other, past empires; rather, its “new manifest destiny” is to disseminate its values and play an active role in the creation of a new, post–Cold War order. (2) Military spending, which was cut back during the Bill Clinton administration, should be hiked significantly with a view to carrying out a “full range of tasks,” such as confronting China over Taiwan, throwing up a missile defense, and hunting down terrorists, drug lords, and guerrillas. (3) The United States and the US military should engage actively in peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan as well as in a state structure to direct that country’s nation-building efforts. (4) Iraqi President Hussein must be toppled.

William Kristol, the chairman of PNAC and editor of the project’s de facto bulletin, the Weekly Standard, insists that the American empire is real: The challenge now is to figure out what to do with it. The project was launched on June 3, 1997, with the following Statement of Principles:


American foreign and defense policy is adrift. Conservatives have criticized the incoherent policies of the Clinton Administration. They have also resisted isolationist impulses from within their own ranks. But conservatives have not confidently advanced a strategic vision of America’s role in the world. They have not set forth guiding principles for American foreign policy. They have allowed differences over tactics to obscure potential agreement on strategic objectives. And they have not fought for a defense budg­et that would maintain American security and advance American interests in the new century.


When reread today, one can see that the statement is rich in implications. It was signed by 25 conservatives, some of whom hold key posts in the current Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff.

PNAC is a nonprofit organization whose website contains articles written by members that have appeared in the Weekly Standard and other conservative publications as well as in the general media. It also conducts public affairs and lobbying activities aimed at the general public, government officials, and members of Congress. In addition, it runs the New Citizenship Project, hosting seminars aimed at convincing ordinary citizens of the need for America to exercise stronger global leadership with enhanced defense capabilities. The nature of the organization can be gleaned from Kristol’s background; the PNAC chairman belongs to an extended neoconservative family of blood relations and friends who have known each other for generations.

Kristol’s father, Irving, is a leading neocon ideologue in his own right. Born in New York in 1920, he is a highly respected Jewish intellectual who still contributes his views to the Wall Street Journal and other publications. Prior to World War II, he was a left-wing Trotskyist in his hometown and was a liberal Democrat until the 1970s, when he began embracing the conservative plank of the Republican Party. Using the American Enterprise Institute of Public Policy Research (AEI) as his launchpad, he attacked America’s liberal agenda since the New Deal and “converted” many Jewish, liberal intellectuals while on the faculty of New York University. He is considered the “godfather” of neoconservatism and is credited with laying the foundations for the present generation of neocons. He was adept at procuring funding from conservative-minded corporations and wealthy individuals and was thus a valued “broker” for conservative think tanks in Washington.

He is married to Gertrude Himmelfarb, also a neoconservative powerhouse, who is a professor emeritus at the City University of New York and a leading authority on Victorian England.

Their son William inherits their legacy and passion. A graduate of Harvard University, William has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Like his father, he too was a card-carrying Democrat before switching over to the GOP. He initially supported Hubert Humphrey, a champion of civil rights and other liberal causes, but in the mid-1970s joined the staff of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who had become isolated within the Democratic Party for his hard-line stance toward the Soviet Union. It was around this time that he met Richard Perle, whose disciples include many of the leading figures in PNAC today. Kristol joined Perle in moving to the Republican Party and served as chief of staff to Education Secretary William Bennett under President Ronald Reagan and to Vice President Dan Quayle during the administration of the elder George Bush. He became a chief architect of Quayle’s policies and gained prominence within the neoconservative camp. Kristol started theWeekly Standard in 1995 and was instrumental in the founding of PNAC. With his good looks, he appears regularly on television and is a leading spokesman for the neoconservative movement.

Perle has been no less an influential figure. Born to Jewish parents in Los Angeles, he attended the same high school as the daughter of Alfred Wohlstetter, the neocon giant and strategic thinker who became a mentor to Perle as well as to Wolfowitz while the latter attended the University of Chicago. Perle, who later married Wohlstetter’s daughter, Joan, grew up as a dyed-in-the-wool hawk. Wohlstetter openly criticized the policy of détente with the Soviet Union built on the idea of nuclear deterrence and argued that a nuclear war can be won by erecting a missile defense shield.

Perle received a master’s degree in political science from Princeton University and became a staff aide to Senator Jackson after a stint at AEI. He then steered the current group of neocons to the Republican Party and served as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy during the Reagan administration. Until March 2003 he was the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an advisory panel to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, a perch from which he had long clamored for an attack on Iraq. He is a shadow PNAC leader who still seethes over Colin Powell’s recommendation not to attack Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War and openly claims to be Powell’s watchdog.

Among Perle’s PNAC-affiliated allies are Wolfowitz; vice presidential aides Libby and Eric Edelman; Elliott Abrams, Robert Joseph, Wayne Downing, and Zalmay Khalilzad at the National Security Council; Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith; and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. While the names of both Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appear in the PNAC Statement of Principles, they are former Congressmen and thus are essentially politicians, and they should not be considered together with the other neoconservatives who have been appointed to policymaking positions. If anything, these two use the neocons to help provide a theoretical underpinning to their policies. I interviewed both men during the first Reagan administration and recall being highly impressed with their political acumen.

Before the start of fighting in Iraq, most Washington observers perceived a quiet, but tenacious, tug-of-war for influence over Bush’s policies between Perle and two-time National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, who espoused a line stressing the importance of international coordination. On the latter’s side stood an all-star cast, including Bush Sr. and two former secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and James Baker. Also in the wings at the State Department were Powell, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, Policy Planning Director Richard Haass (now departed), and Under Secretary Marc Grossman, a career diplomat. Others included Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet (a carry-over from the Clinton years), UN Ambassador John Negroponte, and Middle East experts Anthony Zinni and William Burns.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice seemed to side with the PNAC group along with Deputy Advisor Stephen Hadley, despite having worked under Scowcroft in the elder Bush’s administration and been nominated for her present White House post by her former boss. Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz—who was Rice’s mentor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution—is said to have supported her estrangement from Scowcroft. There is no refuting the fact that Bush decided in favor of the Perle faction on Iraq’s regime change. But whether he will continue to favor the neocon line in the nation-building stage remains to be seen.


Soon after returning to a journalistic career in May 2002, I had an opportunity to visit the United States and meet personally with several PNAC members. These meetings gave me firsthand exposure to the harshness of their polemic.

On the day I arrived in the United States, I met with Max Boot in New York. Thirty-three years old at the time, Boot was an editorial features editor for the Wall Street Journal. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago before studying at Yale under Paul Kennedy, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. He had just published a book entitled The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, which he had been writing for many years. It traces the history of small but pivotal wars involving the United States, beginning with the 1794 signing by President George Washington of a bill to build a navy to rescue American businessmen captured along the Barbary Coast, and proceeding to recount the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion, intervention in Siberia, occupation of Cuba and the Philippines, and the more recent involvement in Vietnam, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Boot analyzes both the successful and failed examples of US engagement, while drawing parallels between American mistakes and those committed by other colonial empires from which, he claims, America should draw greater lessons. In the book’s final chapter entitled “In Defense of the Pax Americana,” he concludes by claiming: “America should not be afraid to fight ‘the savage wars of peace’ if necessary to enlarge the ‘the empire of liberty.’ It has been done before.”

The reason I hoped to meet Boot was because he had written an article in the October 15, 2001, issue of the Weekly Standard on “The Case for American Empire,” claiming that the “most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role.” This article contained arguments that symbolized PNAC’s combative tone. The points that appeared quite novel to me at the time include the following:


1. Unlike nineteenth-century European colonialists, America would not aim to impose its rule permanently. Instead, as in Germany, Italy, and Japan, occupation would be a temporary expedient to allow the people to get back on their feet until a democratic government takes over.

2. Building a working state administration is a practical short-term objective, as demonstrated by the achievements of General Lucius Clay in Germany and General Douglas MacArthur in Japan. The United States can lead an international occupation force under UN auspices, with the cooperation of some Muslim nations. This would be a huge improvement over the present situation in many areas that support or shelter terrorists.

3. It will probably not be possible to remove Saddam Hussein without a US invasion and occupation. Once he is removed, an American-led, international regency can be established in Baghdad, which would be left with the responsibility of feeding the hungry, tending the sick, and imposing the rule of law. This is what the United States did for the defeated peoples of Germany, Italy, and Japan, and it is a service that should be extended to the people of Iraq as well.

4. Over the years, America has backed repressive dictators like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and the Saudi royal family. Iraq would be a chance to right the scales, to establish the first Arab democracy, and to show the Arab people that America is committed to freedom for them.


The point that Boot often repeated was that the first Arab democracy can be established once Hussein is removed from power, turning Iraq into a “beacon of hope” for the oppressed peoples of the Middle East, including those in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. Once American credibility was restored, he believed, the region’s many opportunistic leaders and policymakers would show a newfound eagerness to be helpful.

The removal of Saddam Hussein, in other words, was a struggle to bring democracy to the Arab world.

Boot’s comments were laced with references to “Pearl Harbor,” “Tojo,” and “Douglas MacArthur,” as if to instill in the mind of his Japanese interviewer that America had a duty to democratize the Middle East, just as it had democratized Japan following World War II.

After meeting with Boot, I also spoke with Thomas Donnelly, who was then PNAC’s deputy executive director and is now a senior fellow. Donnelly is a graduate of Ithaca College and received his master’s degree from the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University. He began his career as a journalist, working for the Army Times and helping found Defense News before becoming executive editor of the National Interest, a conservative magazine that ranks alongside the Weekly Standard. Donnelly has also coauthored Operation Just Cause: The Storming of Panama, published in 1991, which cites the 1989 invasion of Panama and the arrest of dictator and drug lord Manuel Noriega as a successful example—alongside postwar Germany and Japan—of democratization through US military intervention.

Donnelly echoed Boot’s sentiments. He surmised that many Arab leaders were concerned not so much about Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat as about democratization demands in their own country driving them from power. Such nation-building tasks are America’s new “manifest destiny,” Donnelly contended, and carrying them through was America’s fateful mission. By his definition, Israel was the region’s only democracy. President Bush had expressed his sympathy for the hard-line policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and backed the ousting of Arafat from power, insisting that “reform” of the Palestinian Authority was a prerequisite for US recognition of Palestinian statehood. The “road map” to Middle East peace—brokered by President Bush following the fall of Saddam Hussein and agreed upon between Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas—can be seen as an extension of the “democratic revolution” being sought by the “empire of liberty.”


Such talk of America’s mission in Iraq reminded me of the idealistic zeal with which America marched into war in Vietnam. I was a witness to the enthusiasm that swept over the United States as a correspondent in that country, where I also saw the actions that were taken and the subsequent letdown.

I first set foot on American soil in December 1964, when I was dispatched to the New York bureau of Kyodo News. Lyndon Johnson, who entered the White House the year before following John F. Kennedy’s assassination, had just scored a landslide victory over Republican conservative Barry Goldwater in the presidential election. He had succeeded in securing passage of the Civil Rights Bill and other key legislation as part of his Great Society reform program, and it was a time when the dream of creating utopia seemed within reach. Just two months later, Johnson crossed the bridge of no return, stepping up direct intervention in Indochina by initiating the bombing of North Vietnamese targets and dispatching ground troops. US policy had been in a shambles since the end of the Kennedy era, when Washington supported the overthrow and assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Johnson believed that America needed to become not only the physician to the world to cure its ills but also the policeman, and that in this particular case, American had a duty to prevent South Vietnam from succumbing to what he perceived as China’s designs to “liberate” the Vietnamese people.

In 1966 I moved to Washington, where I had the good fortune of being able to cover a number of dramatic events, including the fatal decision to plunge deeper into Vietnam, the antiwar demonstrations, the civil rights riots, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and the 1968 presidential election, which Republican Richard Nixon won handily on the strength of his campaign pledge to restore “law and order.”

The new president unleashed a series of “Nixon shocks,” including the rapprochement with China that took advantage of the growing rift between Beijing and Moscow. He conceded the need for an honorable withdrawal from Vietnam, declaring at the same time Washington’s transformation from a global cop into a “competitor” that placed national interests first. The global geopolitical map was redrawn as a result of these decisions, which sowed the seeds for the collapse of the Cold War status quo.

I was transferred to Bangkok as a correspondent for Indochina from 1973 to 1975, where I saw—in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos—the tragic aftermath of American intervention, which cost Washington the lives of more than 58,000 soldiers and $240 billion. I still vividly recall the ceremony marking the pullout of US forces from South Vietnam, held at Tan Son Nhat Airport outside Saigon on March 29, 1973; the tape of the “Star-Spangled Banner” was garbled in several places, and I have never seen the US flag appear so forlorn as it did then.

I was reminded of these episodes during my encounters with PNAC members, who viewed an attack on Iraq, the subsequent phase of nation building, and the eventual democratization of the Islamic world as duties of the “empire of liberty.” Fuller intervention in Vietnam was masterminded by “the best and the brightest” of America—a label of mild contempt taken from the title of David Halberstam’s best-selling book about elite Ivy Leaguers who advised Kennedy and Johnson—despite resistance from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon. PNAC members are no doubt the present-day equivalents of the likes of McGeorge and William Bundy and Eugene Rostow, who may have been brilliant strategists but were lacking in political judgment.

Chief among the modern group of advisors is Paul Wolfowitz, an elite conservative who studied at Cornell and Chicago. While at the University of Chicago, he was influenced by Alfred Wohlstetter and Allan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind. In the Reagan administration, he was director of policy planning at the State Department and also assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. During the Bush Sr. years he served as chief of staff for Defense Secretary Cheney and US ambassador to Indonesia. And he spent the Clinton years as dean of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

He was a strong defender of Reagan’s “evil empire” remark and elicited censure for proposing a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union. He has consistently called for a stronger military to enable America to fulfill its “imperial” responsibilities and build a new world order. Most political observers, moreover, clearly saw Wolfowitz’s shadow in George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” State of the Union speech of January 2002.

Wolfowitz is certainly one of “the best and the brightest” in America today. While criticizing the Vietnam War for being too costly, he also believes that Southeast Asia owes its present condition to America’s intervention. Are “the best and the brightest” in the Bush administration now pushing the president into the same kind of political quagmire as Vietnam? Such a possibility cannot be ruled out.

One must avoid, though, making a simplistic analogy with Vietnam. It is important to take note of the vast changes that have taken place over the past four decades in the frameworks governing both the international and the domestic US situation. America today is free of the shackles that forced Johnson to send ground troops to fight a guerrilla war in the jungles of Vietnam: the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the need to avoid a nuclear showdown. The East-West divide has dissipated with America’s victory in the Cold War. Backed by its overwhelming military superiority, the United States stands head and shoulders above other nations in both the material, hardware aspects and the institutional, software dimensions.


The advantages Washington enjoys today were not available in 1965, when it had to fight on two fronts: in the jungles of Indochina and against mounting domestic opposition to US intervention. Now, not only Vietnam but also such erstwhile rivals as China and Russia are cooperating with the United States in the war against terrorism. Ironically, though, it was the Special Forces created by the US Army to fight the Viet Cong that were instrumental in overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and are henceforth expected to play a central role in Washington’s defense strategy.

Also central to Washington’s plans is war without human casualties. Even accounting for the difference in terrain, the death toll for the multinational force in Afghanistan was marginal—less than 100—compared with the loss of over 58,000 lives in Vietnam and more than 300 during the Gulf War. This has been made possible by three types of pilotless airborne equipment: unmanned aerial vehicles and Global Hawk reconnaissance planes, which spy on enemy positions with video cameras and launch missiles, and joint direct attack munitions, which use satellite transmissions to guide bombs to their targets with an accuracy of around 10 meters. Some $30 million a day are needed to wage this “new war” using cutting-edge information technology, an area where the United States stands unchallenged. The accuracy of such equipment has reportedly improved more than tenfold since the Gulf War, and these machines can be seen in action in real time even from the White House.

The B-52s that took off with a roar almost every night and day for North Vietnamese targets via the Ho Chi Minh route during the Vietnam War still survive today as the “bomb-dropping machines” of the JDAM system. A single JDAM bomb, incidentally, costs $21,000. The factory producing these satellite-guided bombs can turn out 2,000 bombs a month.

Ironically, the United States has such a commanding lead in military technology that joint operations with multinational forces can be carried out in just a limited number of areas. Only the British special forces are considered capable of performing on a par with US units. Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, needless to say, can only play a subordinate role in marginal operations.

Among America’s “software” strengths, meanwhile, are its highly advanced social and cultural infrastructure—including the world’s largest market economy—its firm establishment of women’s rights, and its assimilation of racial and ethnic minorities. Cracks appeared in its free-market foundations two years ago, though, when Enron Corp. was found to have been falsifying its financial records.

I returned to Washington in the early 1980s and covered Reagan’s first term, after which I became involved—until quite recently—in a business partnership with an American information-technology firm as part of the diversification by Kyodo News into new ventures. During those years I learned how turbulent America’s free market could be.

One of my partners claimed last year that Arthur Andersen, a “Big Five” accounting and auditing firm that was found guilty of obstructing justice in the Enron case, should be shut down and the transparency of off-balance-sheet practices enhanced. American capitalism has grown thanks to self-correcting mechanisms, he asserted, and he assumed that they would be applied when improprieties surfaced again. Wall Street, too, has taken the Enron affair in stride, relegating it to history just one year after it came to light.

American capitalism, no longer required to engage in ideological jousts with the proponents of command economies, is being made over with the help of the IT revolution and has solidified its position as the de facto global standard. Russia and even China are now busily transforming their economies into carbon copies of the American model.

At the signing of a contract between Interfax Information Services and Kyodo in 1990 during the closing days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy in the Soviet Union, I was told by Interfax founder Mikhail Komissar that he had no choice but to adopt US management models, even prohibiting the organization of labor unions. He was then still a member of the Communist Party and created the news agency as a side business while serving as a director of state-run Radio Moscow. Tellingly, Komissar arrived at the signing accompanied by an American lawyer. I am reminded of his remarks every time I hear of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent embrace of a pro-US line and the revival of Russia’s oil industry by young, US-style entrepreneurs.

While I still have much to learn about China, I do know that there has been a surge in the number of outstanding Chinese students attending America’s top business schools and taking home not only MBAs but also leading-edge market know-how for immediate implementation. A friend of mine on Wall Street gave me a wink while commenting, “China doesn’t have ‘resistance forces’ like you do in Japan that are impeding the progress of structural reform.”

There is little need to mention the advances made by women in US society. One recent episode that revealed how powerful women have become was the shock greeting the decision by Karen Hughes, President Bush’s personal advisor and close associate since his Texas governor days, to leave the White House to spend what Americans call “quality time” at home with her son.

Perhaps the greatest source of America’s “software” supremacy, though, is the energy born of fusion among various ethnic groups. There is enduring racial discrimination, to be sure, and the problems of inner-city slums as burrows for social outcasts remain unresolved. But having witnessed the open hatred and violence between white and black Americans in the late 1960s following the assassination of Malcom X in February 1965 in Harlem, the riots in Watts half a year later, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ensuing riots in Washington in April 1968, I am impressed by the perseverance with which racial differences have been smoothed over and the channeling of racial tensions into positive, constructive energy.

At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, two black Americans who won the gold and bronze medals in the 200-meter dash raised their black-gloved fists in the air during the medal ceremony as a gesture of protest. Today, black athletes waving the American flag during their victory laps have become a common sight.

African-Americans and other minorities have made great inroads into mainstream society. Among the key shapers of US foreign policy are Secretary of State Powell and National Security Advisor Rice; also in the cabinet are those of Taiwanese, Japanese, and Hispanic ancestry; Richard Parsons, the chief executive officer of AOL Time Warner, is a black American, and such superstars as Tiger Woods and Serena and Venus Williams have broken through formidable color barriers to become dominant figures in professional golf and tennis. Ethnic minorities, along with the continuing stream of immigrants from all parts of the world, have kept labor costs down and are a hidden strength of the US economy.

The Internet revolution, moreover, has enabled new forms of economic activity, including dialogue, transactions, and remote-area merchandising that do not necessitate personal contact, and this should be a further boon for America’s multiethnic society. The Internet is truly a perfect vehicle for drawing out America’s strength.

Even top Japanese baseball stars, including Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, have been lured across the Pacific to pursue their personal dreams. While their performance in the Major Leagues has been a source of great excitement in Japan, it is also an indictment against the game as played in Japan. No other country can come close to emulating the all-embracing power of America’s multiethnic society; once one is drawn into its fold, one cannot tear oneself away.


In addition to possessing these innate strengths, the United States has virtually no challengers to its global agenda. While the war in Iraq did trigger protests around the world, they were nowhere near the scale of those seen during the Vietnam era. When I was in Washington in September 2002, there was a demonstration outside Vice President Cheney’s official residence. It appeared, though, to be a mere adjunct of the antiglobalization protests being held nearby during the annual meetings of the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank Group, and it was much tamer than the face-offs seen in the 1960s, when riot police were often seen firing tear gas into mobs of protesters hurling Molotov cocktails.

Three liberal Congressional Democrats who visited Baghdad at around the same time appeared on television to claim that President Bush had greatly overstated Iraq’s military threat. Even this did not generate much momentum for the antiwar forces, as Saddam Hussein may have hoped. During the Vietnam War, American reporters were escorted by North Vietnamese officials to areas bombed by US forces to demonstrate the meaninglessness of the US attacks. This heightened domestic opposition to the war and—coupled with the civil rights movement—resulted in mass protests, enabling Hanoi to successfully establish a “second front” against the White House. Such protests are nowhere to be seen today.

One factor behind the strong support Bush enjoys is the shock of 9-11. By playing on the public’s fear that Hussein may possess weapons of mass destruction, Bush won backing for his hard-line position of maintaining the preemptive-strike option. Both the House and Senate approved a resolution giving the president powers to use force against Iraq, with or without UN blessing. Among those voting for the resolution were House majority leader Richard Gephardt—a liberal Democrat with union ties—and Senator Hillary Clinton, who, despite her denials, remains a potential candidate in the 2004 presidential race. As of September 2003, nine Democrats have declared their candidacy for president, five of whom presently serve in Congress. Four voted for the resolution, and the one who voted against it has yet to make a significant showing in opinion polls. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has been opposed to the resolution from the beginning, and he is thus the only major candidate who can criticize the president’s decision to go to war without appearing hypocritical.

A December 8, 2002, article in the New York Times Magazine by George Packer entitled “The Liberal Quandary over Iraq” neatly summarizes why there was no organized opposition to the war among US liberals, drawing contrasts with Vietnam and other conflicts. He points to the emergence of a small but influential camp of “liberal hawks” who came to see US military power as being necessary to uphold human rights and halt genocide. These liberal intellectuals condoned the use of force in Iraq, setting them apart from antiwar leftists like Noam Chomsky, who continue to view any US military action as imperialist.

Military involvement could, it was argued, protect ethnic minorities and end discrimination against women, as in the intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to rescue Muslims from Serbian suppression in Bosnia. The use of force also won endorsement in Haiti, East Timor, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. The model was no longer the salvaging of a puppet regime in South Vietnam but the halting of genocide with armed American power in World War II. In May 2002 a director of Human Rights Watch, a liberal nongovernmental organization, conceded that US power is necessary to truly protect human rights, as demonstrated by successes in Bosnia and Kosovo. By contrast, the leftists in the Demo-­cratic Party have yet to overcome the aversion to military engagement of any kind that they have held since the setback in Vietnam.

It was Democrat Bill Clinton, though, who in 1999 ordered military action—primarily aerial bombardment—in Kosovo despite the lack of Security Council endorsement. Even today, some 4,500 US soldiers continue to be stationed there as the core members of a NATO force. This, ironically, has won praise from both the liberal hawks and neoconservatives like Max Boot, who has condemned every other aspect of Clinton’s policy, especially the 1994 Agreed Framework for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear development program.

Boot, who had become Olin senior fellow of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations when I met him for a third time in July 2003, is a rising PNAC star and a candidate to join the Bush administration should the president be reelected to a second term.

Nation building is the biggest challenge following regime change, Boot noted, but the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is not going well due to inadequate US military presence.

Returning from an inspection tour of postwar Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz too conceded that nation building in that country is not progressing as smoothly as anticipated due to the resistance of elements loyal to ousted President Hussein. Boot’s fears, it appears, have become reality in Iraq as well.

Among the harshest critics of Boot and his fellow PNAC members today are those claiming the mantle of traditional American conservatism fashioned by Senator Robert Taft. This group is led by Patrick Buchanan, who argues for an isolationist policy in such magazines as the American Conservative. Buchanan ardently believes that 9-11 was a result of spending recklessly on and intervening repeatedly and imprudently in foreign conflicts, betraying the warning by America’s founding fathers to stay out of such wars. As long as the interventions continue, he warns, terrorist attacks on America will not stop, and weapons of mass destruction may someday explode on US soil. Buchanan believes that America should return to its republican roots, rather than pursue an imperial path. This was, in fact, more or less the view espoused by George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign, when he embraced a “humble” role for America and opposed interceding in nation building.

It is ironic, again, that PNAC should clash so violently not with the liberals and leftists—many of whom backed the toppling of the Baghdad regime under the banner of upholding human rights and democracy—but with Buchanan’s supporters, with whom the neoconservatives worked closely during the Reagan years to advance an anticommunist agenda and uphold America’s founding principles, such as freedom, equality, and democracy.

Voices critical of today’s “best and the brightest” are being heard even among retired military officers, who know that America can win a war but are concerned about the lack of a coherent postwar strategy. While Bush embraced the neoconservative agenda on regime change, a clear winner has yet to emerge in Washington’s tug-of-war over how to proceed with nation building.

Bush must now make a choice, and he has a cabinet eager to help him: Vice President Cheney, who appears to be pulling the administration’s strings as the de facto “prime minister”; Secretary of State Powell, a dove allied with Brent Scowcroft who nonetheless negotiates tenaciously as the president’s “foot soldier” for foreign policy; and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who, unlike Robert McNamara, the defense chief during the Vietnam years, conducts his own news briefs. The president has been praised for his expert handling of talented bureaucrats and for instating firm, leak-free discipline at the White House. Known for his early-to-bed, early-to-rise habits, Bush will truly be put to the test when he stands for reelection next year.

I contributed an opinion piece entitled “Trade with a Moral Compass” to the December 6, 1994, issue of the Wall Street Journal comparing Japan and the United States to two ships passing in the night. I pointed out that these two economic giants should have a strong bilateral relationship but that this has proved “stubbornly elusive.” In July 2003 Japan enacted a law enabling it to dispatch ground forces to Iraq to participate in nation building. This required stretching the interpretation of the constitutional ban on the use of force as far as it could go. Inasmuch as Japan is straining its institutional restrictions to support the United States, it behooves us to gain a fuller understanding of our neighbor across the Pacific. It is with the hope of deepening such understanding that I penned this article. I would welcome any feedback, especially from my American friends, on my attempt.

FUMIO MATSUO is a journalist specializing in US affairs. After graduating from Gakushuin University, where he majored in political science, he joined Kyodo News, working as a correspondent in New York, Bangkok, and Washington. He subsequently served as a senior corporate executive for Kyodo’s business arm that had various partnership arrangements with Dow Jones and the Associated Press. He has recently returned to journalism to pursue US-related topics. He is the author of Nikuson no Amerika (Nixon’s America) and numerous journal articles. He has also translated several books, including Richard Nixon’s memoirs. He is currently writing a book on America, scheduled to be published in November, whose title is expected to be Ju o motsu minshushugi (Democracy with a gun). He can be reached at <>.

© Fumio Matsuo 2012