In 1999, the London Institute of Petroleum invited Dick Cheney to address their Autumn lunch. Cheney had previously served as President George H. W. Bush's secretary of defence between 1989 and 1993, a role in which he had helped direct US forces during the first Gulf War in Iraq. Part way through his speech, Cheney looked ahead to the future: "By 2010, we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously controlling about ninety per cent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East with two thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies. Even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow."
By the time Cheney delivered the speech, he had already been a member of an organisation called The Project for the New American Century since its formation two years earlier. The Project had been described by its chairman and founder, William Kristol, as: 'a non-profit educational organisation dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength'. Meanwhile, The Project's mission statement, signed by 25 influential Americans including Cheney, highlighted the organisation's aims, the first of which read: "We need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernise our armed forces for the future." Other signatories of the statement included Dan Quayle, who had served as vice president under George H. W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, who would go on to serve as George W. Bush's secretary of defense between 2001 and 2006, Paul Wolfowitz, who would serve as Rumsfeld's deputy and Jeb Bush, George W. Bush's younger brother.
The Project envisioned itself as championing policies that would ensure another century of US global dominance and Cheney's speech at the London Institute was emblematic of an obsession the organisation's members had with the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular. Nonetheless, for the first few years after its inception, The Project did little more than hold a series of seminars. Things began to change in September 2000 when the publication of the organisation's first report was deliberately timed to coincide with an election year, in anticipation of George W. Bush becoming the next US president. Titled 'Rebuilding America's Defenses', the report stated that to establish global military supremacy, the US had to be prepared to simultaneously fight two wars: "The understanding that U.S. armed forces should be shaped by a "two-major war' standard rightly has been accepted as the core of America's superpower status since the end of the Cold War."
The report then went into great detail on what sort of military force would be necessary to confront Saddam Hussein's regime, but The Project's did admit that Iraq - a country over which the US had already established a no-fly zone - did not have the capacity even to pose a threat to small neighbours such as Kuwait, let alone the US: "A substantial heavy task force with almost the strength of a brigade rotates four times a year on average for maneuvers and joint training with the Kuwaiti army, with the result that commanders now believe that, in conjunction with the Southern Watch fleet, Kuwait itself is strongly defended against any Iraqi attack."
The report also acknowledged Iraqi efforts to enhance their military capability were not designed to threaten the US, but to defend Iraq from US attacks: "Adversaries like Iran, Iraq and North Korea are rushing to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons as a deterrent to American intervention." In essence, the policies proposed by The Project were not based on any real threat from Iraq, but were part of a wider strategy in the Middle East: "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."
While expressing their desire to increase US military spending and influence in the Middle East, the authors of the report expected their objectives to be long-term ones: "The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalysing event - like a new Pearl Harbor."
However, The Project's leaders received the unexpected 'catalyst' that would allow them to achieve their aims at an astonishing rate. In January 2001, just months after the report's publication, George W. Bush ascended to the presidency. That September, the 9/11 attacks took place and the world was changed. The US and a coalition of its allies embarked on a major war in Afghanistan and began to plan a second in Iraq. A month prior to the Iraq invasion, 30 million people from around the world marched in protest against the war. Their views were ignored and instead the US launched what many consider an illegal campaign, which lasted eight years, cause the deaths of thousands of coalition troops, as well as more than 100,000 civilians, cost over $800 billion and resulted in ongoing sectarian conflict within Iraq . Coalition troops were also accused of committing terrible war crimes.
Of course, the US had already been warned of the consequences of becoming too enthralled with military might decades earlier. During his farewell speech in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower addressed his 'fellow Americans' and said: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Whether Eisenhower's words can prevent future wars anymore than they prevented Iraq is doubtful. Although in 2006 The Project for a New American Century ceased to exist (Gary Schmitt, executive director, explained to the BBC that this was because the organisation had already achieved its goals: "When The Project started, it was not intended to go forever. That is why we are shutting it down. We would have had to spend too much time raising money for it and it has already done its job.") founder and chairman William Kristol is now one of four directors at Foreign Policy Institute, an organisation whose mission statement reads eerily like The Project's. The Foreign Policy Institute has five stated aims, of which one is to build 'a strong military with the defense budget needed to ensure that America is ready to confront the threats of the 21st century.' And what could these 'threats' the US is expected to 'confront' be? As The Project for the New American Century wrote ominously in Rebuilding America's Defenses: "Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has."