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Bush Prefers Masters' Voice to Iraq Study Group

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Message Dave Wheelock
When I heard Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute being interviewed as one of National Public Radio's very first guest commentators following NPR's broadcast of George W. Bush's speech announcing his troop "surge" in Iraq, my ears perked up. Who was this guy, and why was his organization being given such a prominent soapbox on this issue? A little investigation was in order.

The content of Bush's "new strategy" would provide a powerful clue to anyone better informed than I was at the time. After feigning fidelity to the widely publicized recommendations of the Iraq Study Group to redeploy troops from Iraq and open diplomatic talks with Syria and Iran, Bush & Company had decided instead to increase troop levels in Iraq, while offering nothing but threats to Iran. Surely the president was sipping a different Kool-Aid than I thought.

As it turns out, as a member of the privately funded American Enterprise Institute, Frederick Kagan enjoys much more influence with this president than the congressionally funded United States Institute for Peace, which facilitated the Iraq Study Group's investigations. As a matter of fact, Bush's new plan bears much more resemblance to a competing AEI plan advanced by Kagan titled Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq, than it does anything recommended by the Iraq Study Group. Case in point: the preference for private counsel over public discussion has always been the primary signature of this president's administration.

The influence of the AEI think tank reveals how United States policy is conducted today. More than two dozen of its alumni have served either in a Bush administration policy post or on one of the government's many panels and commissions. For example, former Exxon-Mobil CEO and AEI board member Lee Raymond was just named by Bush to head his latest study group on -- you guessed it -- energy policy. Exxon-Mobil is on record as the petroleum's industry's number one denier of global warming.

Among the legion of American Enterprise Institute "scholars and fellows" are Vice President Dick Cheney, the late convicted Enron Corporation founder Kenneth Lay, Supreme Court Justice Atonin Scalia, former Bush speechwriter David Frum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Iraq war co-architect Richard Perle, and the lawyer who helped craft Bush's legal justification for torture, John Yoo. Significant in Middle East policy, AEI member Irving Kristol, known as the godfather of neoconservatism, is also the genetic father of William Kristol, cofounder of the Project for a New American Century, which advocated for an invasion of Iraq from its inception in 1997 until it got its way.

As a so-called "think tank," the mountains of material AEI members produce and distribute to Congress and the public at conferences and in the media are free of formal academic review, and reflect the worldview of its patrons, who are among the world's richest foundations and corporations. In the case of AEI, the mission is to nurture the free flow of capital worldwide, at the point of a gun if necessary. By way of advocating a renewed spike in defense spending, the Project for a New American Century's website challenges, "Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?"

AEI has been morally challenged from its inception in 1943. Founder Lewis H. Brown was president of Johns Manville, the largest asbestos manufacturer in the United States. Johns Manville blazed a path for cigarette manufacturers of later years by waging a massive, 40-year cover-up of the severe health effects asbestos caused among its workers. Today AEI continues as a heavily funded megaphone for the 1% of the population with 33% of the wealth. 2005 revenues were $37.9 million with corporate support up 22 percent over the previous year.

AEI's stated mission, which includes "to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism - limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies" would more accurately be summed up as "the domination of the rights of wealth, without consideration for national borders, workers and their families, or the limited resources of the earth." Concepts like "freedom," "entrepreneurship," and even "the American people" have been co-opted to refer only to the ruling class of millionaires and corporations. When AEI invokes "individual rights" they really mean "property rights"; when they say "small business" one should interpret the opposite.

Bush's plan for escalation in Iraq is essentially the wish of the same power elite who advocated an elective invasion in the first place. The writing on the wall now spells reward only for those who profit from the miseries of war.
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Dave Wheelock is a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and a professional university rugby coach in Socorro, New Mexico. He holds a history degree from the University of New Mexico. His Pencil Warrior column appears in the Socorro Mountain Mail (more...)
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