Origins of Regime Change in Iraq

Proliferation Analysis
Long before September 11, before the first inspections in Iraq had started, a small group of influential officials and experts in Washington were calling for regime change in Iraq. Some never wanted to end the 1991 war. Many are now administration officials. Their organization, dedication and brilliance offer much to admire, even for those who disagree with the policies they advocate.
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Long before September 11, before the first inspections in Iraq had started, a small group of influential officials and experts in Washington were calling for regime change in Iraq. Some never wanted to end the 1991 war. Many are now administration officials. Their organization, dedication and brilliance offer much to admire, even for those who disagree with the policies they advocate.

We have assembled on our web site links to the key documents produced since 1992 by this group, usually known as neo-conservatives, and analysis of their efforts. They offer a textbook case of how a small, organized group can determine policy in a large nation, even when the majority of officials and experts originally scorned their views.

In the Beginning
In 1992, Paul Wolfowitz, then-under secretary of defense for policy, supervised the drafting of the Defense Policy Guidance document. Wolfowitz had objected to what he considered the premature ending of the 1991 Iraq War. In the new document, he outlined plans for military intervention in Iraq as an action necessary to assure "access to vital raw material, primarily Persian Gulf oil" and to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and threats from terrorism.

The guidance called for preemptive attacks and ad hoc coalitions but said that the U.S. should be ready to act alone when "collective action cannot be orchestrated." The primary goal of U.S. policy should be to prevent the rise of any nation that could challenge the United States. When the document leaked to the New York Times, it proved so extreme that it had to be rewritten. These concepts are now part of the new U.S. National Security Strategy.

Links to Likud
In 1996, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, now administration officials, joined in a report to the newly elected Likud government in Israel calling for "a clean break" with the policies of negotiating with the Palestinians and trading land for peace. They said "Israel can shape its strategic environment…by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq…Iraq's future could affect the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly." They called for "reestablishing the principle of preemption."

In 1998, 18 prominent conservatives wrote a letter to President Clinton urging him to "aim at the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power." Most of these experts are now officials in the administration, including Elliot Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Paula Dobriansky, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.

The Power of Planning
In 2000, the Project for the New American Century, which is chaired by William Kristol and includes Robert Kagan as a director, issued a report, "Rebuilding America's Defenses." The Project had organized the 1998 letter to Clinton and the 2000 report seems to have become a blueprint for the administration's foreign and defense policies. The report noted, "The U.S. has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in the 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 not explicitly calling for permanent bases in Iraq after regime change, the report notes the difficulty of basing forces in Saudi Arabia, given "Saudi domestic sensibilities," and calls for a permanent Gulf military presence even "should Saddam pass from the scene" as "Iran may well prove as large a threat."

The official National Security Strategy of the United States, issued September 2002, holds that our defense "will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia."

A Rising Chorus
Immediately after September 11, Paul Wolfowitz and other officials urged President Bush to attack Iraq. New Yorker writer Mark Danner notes as part of a PBS Frontline special that they saw this as a "new opportunity presented by the war on terror-that is, an opportunity to argue to the public that Iraq presented a vital danger to the United States." Colin Powell and the joint chiefs opposed them. "Powell's view was that Wolfowitz was fixated on Iraq, that they were looking for any excuse to bring Iraq into this," Washington Post reporter Dan Balz told Frontline. Powell won, but briefly.

Neo-conservative writers began to urge regime change as part of a larger strategy for remaking the Middle East. In June 2002, Michael Kelly wrote that a democratic Iraq and Palestine "will revolutionize the power dynamic in the Middle East…A majority of Arabs will come to see America as the essential ally."

"Change toward democratic regimes in Tehran and Baghdad would unleash a tsunami across the Islamic world," claimed Joshua Muravchik in August of that year. Michael Ledeen on September 4, 2002, called for the US to launch "a vast democratic revolution to liberate all the peoples of the Middle East…It is impossible to imagine that the Iranian people would tolerate tyranny in their own country once freedom had come to Iraq. Syria would follow in short order."

Democracy experts, including Carnegie's Tom Carothers, call this vision "a dangerous fantasy." But on September 12, President Bush embraced the strategy when he told the United Nations, "The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world." The president seems to have absorbed the entire expansive strategy. Now, for him, regime change in Iraq is not the end, it is just the beginning.

Joseph Cirincione is a Senior Associate and Director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

End of document

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of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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