Unlike many soldiers who have been lied to, most of the key war deciders, the masters of war who determine whether or not wars happen, do not in any sense have noble motives for what they do. Though noble motives can be found in the reasoning of some of those involved, even in some of those at the highest levels of decision making, it is very doubtful that such noble intentions alone would ever generate wars.
Economic and imperial motives have been offered by presidents and congress members for most of our major wars, but they have not been endlessly hyped and dramatized as have other alleged motivations. War with Japan was largely about the economic value of Asia, but fending off the evil Japanese emperor made a better poster. The Project for the New American Century, a think tank pushing for war on Iraq, made its motives clear a dozen years before it got its war -- motives that included U.S. military dominance of the globe with more and larger bases in key regions of "American interest." That goal was not repeated as often or as shrilly as "WMD," "terrorism," "evildoer," or "spreading democracy."
The most important motivations for wars are the least talked about, and the least important or completely fraudulent motivations are the most discussed. The important motivations, the things the war masters mostly discuss in private, include electoral calculations, control of natural resources, intimidation of other countries, domination of geographic regions, financial profits for friends and campaign funders, the opening up of consumer markets, and prospects for testing new weapons.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was a think tank from 1997 to 2006 in Washington, D.C. (later revived in 2009). Seventeen members of PNAC served in high positions in the George W. Bush administration, including Vice President, Chief of Staff to the Vice President, Special Assistant to the President, Deputy Secretary of "Defense," ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, Deputy Secretary of State, and Under Secretary of State.
In 1998, PNAC published an open letter to President Bill Clinton urging him to adopt the goal of regime change for Iraq, which he did. That letter included this:
"[I]f Saddam does acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as he is almost certain to do if we continue along the present course, the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world's supply of oil will all be put at hazard."
In 2000, PNAC published a paper titled Rebuilding America's Defenses. The goals set forth in this paper fit much more coherently with the actual behavior of the masters of war than do any notions of "spreading democracy" or "standing up to tyranny." When Iraq attacks Iran we help out. When it attacks Kuwait we step in. When it does nothing we bomb it. This behavior makes no sense in terms of the fictional stories we're told, but makes perfect sense in terms of these goals from PNAC:
maintaining U.S. preeminence,
precluding the rise of a great power rival, and
shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.
PNAC determined that we would need to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars" and "perform the 'constabulary' duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions." In the same 2000 paper, PNAC wrote:
These papers were published and widely available years before the invasion of Iraq, and yet to suggest that U.S. forces would try to stay and build permanent bases in Iraq even after killing Saddam Hussein was scandalous in the halls of Congress or the corporate media. To suggest that the War on Iraq had anything to do with our imperial bases or oil or Israel, much less that Hussein did not as yet have weapons, was heretical. Even worse was to suggest that those bases might be used to launch attacks on other countries, in line with PNAC's goal of "maintaining U.S. preeminence." And yet Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000 Wesley Clark claims that in 2001, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld put out a memo proposing to take over seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.
The basic outline of this plan was confirmed by none other than former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in 2010 pinned it on former Vice President Dick Cheney: