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Ideologues reshape world over breakfast

March 22, 2003

Published on FT March 22 2003

Billed as a “black coffee briefing on the war on Iraq”, yesterday’s breakfast for the influential hawks of the American Enterprise Institute was more of a victory celebration.

With a few words of caution — that the war to oust Saddam Hussein was not yet over — the panel of speakers, part of the Bush administration’s ideological vanguard, set out their bold vision of the postwar agenda: radical reform of the UN, regime change in Iran and Syria, and “containment” of France and Germany.

The failure of the first Bush administration to finish the job in 1991, according to William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, the US magazine, had resulted in “a lack of awe for the US” in the Middle East, an absence of respect that fostered contempt of the US among Arabs and encouraged the rise of the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.

This war would redress those mistakes, Mr Kristol declared, opening up the prospect for real democratic change in the region.

The war was going well, said Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon’s Defence Advisory Board. There were more anti-war demonstrators in San Francisco than Iraqis willing to defend their leader. The “coalition of the willing” was growing.

The fall of Mr Hussein would be an “inspiration” for Iranians seeking to be free of their dictatorial mullahs, Mr Perle said.

While not speaking for the administration, such voices reflect the views of the hawkish faction in the government — including Dick Cheney, vice-president, Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, and Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy — now in the ascendancy.

Michael Ledeen, a former Reagan administration official and author of The War Against the Terror Masters, said this conflict was part of a “longer war” and such terrorist-sponsors as Iran and Syria knew that. France and Germany insisted on “shoring up tyrannical regimes”. Anti-war demonstrators had reached “new lows of disgustingness”.

Mr Kristol said the US should distinguish between France and Germany. Splitting Germany away would be “intelligent American diplomacy — maybe too much to hope for from the state department”.

“Americans are not vindictive,” Mr Perle asserted. Mr Ledeen said, in the context of France, that he hoped they were.

Mr Kristol said that the UN did not matter much. Mr Perle suggested that as a security institution “its time has passed” though it might still be of some use in health matters and peacekeeping.

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