'IN THE hours immediately following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld asked for plans to be drawn up for an American assault on Iraq. The following day, in a cabinet meeting at the White House, Rumsfeld again insisted that Iraq should be 'a principal target of the first round in the war against terrorism'.
The president allegedly replied that 'public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible', and instead chose Afghanistan as a much softer target. These statements and their timing are noteworthy, because the United States had not even determined that the suicide bombers came from Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaida network.
Rumsfeld's early targeting of Iraq therefore suggests that the Bush administration has had a hidden agenda. Ever since the first American war against Iraq, the Gulf War of 1991, the people in the White House and the Pentagon who planned and executed it have wanted to go back and finish what they started. They said so in reports written for then secretary of defence Cheney in the last years of the George Bush Sr administration.
During the period when they were out of power, from 1992 to 2000, they drafted plans describing what they would do if the Republicans should retake the White House. In the spring of 1997 a number of them organised themselves as the 'Project for the New American Century' (PNAC).
In a letter to President Clinton dated 26 January 1998, they called for 'the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime from power'. In a letter dated 29 May 1998 they added, 'We should establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests in the Persian Gulf and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from power.'
The letters were signed by, among others: Donald Rumsfeld; Elliott Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra conspirator who Bush appointed director of Middle Eastern policy on the National Security Council in 2002; Paul Wolfowitz, now Rumsfeld's deputy at the Pentagon; Richard Perle, now chairman of the Defence Science Board; Richard Armitage, now Colin Powell's deputy at the State Department. Such people have made their ideas readily available in a September 2000 report entitled Rebuilding America's Defences: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.
After George W Bush became president many of these men returned to positions of power in US foreign policy. For nine months they bided their time. They were waiting, in the words of PNAC's Rebuilding America's Defences, for a 'catastrophic and catalysing event-like a new Pearl Harbor' that would mobilise the public and allow them to put their theories and plans into practice.
The 11 September attack was, of course, precisely what they needed. Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice called together members of the National Security Council and asked them 'to think about 'how do you capitalise on these opportunities' to fundamentally change American doctrine, and the shape of the world, in the wake of 11 September.' The attacks of 11 September have given the United States a renewed opportunity to expand its power and influence.
I believe the true explanation for the US government's planned second war with Iraq is the same as for its wars in the Balkans in 1999 and in Afghanistan in 2001-2 - the inexorable pressures of imperialism and militarism.
I agree with Jay Bookman, an editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, when he asks, 'Why does the administration seem unconcerned about an exit strategy from Iraq once Saddam is toppled? Because we won't be leaving'.'
Chalmers Johnson is the American author of Blowback, a book on US foreign policy.
His forthcoming book, The Sorrows of Empire , is about US militarism, which the above is an extract from. The full text of the article is available on www.tomdispatch.com