Rick Perry and the Neocons

by , August 18, 2011

The only change anyone can believe in in Washington is that nothing ever changes. The choice between Republican and Democrat in 2012 will likely boil down to who will be making what kind of cuts in social programs to support continuous warfare overseas. Only Ron Paul stands out from the pack with his commitment to constitutionalism and nonintervention, but sustained efforts by establishment Republicans and the media to make his candidacy go away render him a long shot at best.

The most recent Republican presidential wannabe is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Having lived in Texas, I know from personal experience that the Texas miracle of employment is based on low wages, no health benefits, and nonexistent protection for the employed, but I will let others who are better qualified than I make that argument. For me the issue is America’s wars and my fading hope that the insanity of multiple overseas conflicts combined with a global war against presumed terrorists everywhere will stop. It will certainly not stop if Perry is elected.

The following, which appeared on the Foreign Policy website, speaks for itself regarding where Rick Perry would take us if he is elected. He would  return to George W. Bush’s foreign policy, complete with “you are with us or against us,” “they hate our freedom,” and 1-percent doctrines, and he would likely staff his administration with many of the same people who brought us disaster the first time around.

Perry, who has no formal campaign policy team because he has not yet announced that he is running, has however held an increasing number of meetings with foreign policy experts of all stripes. These meetings, which have sometimes gone on for hours, have helped Perry brush up on a range of issues, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to proliferation, from Middle East policy to international trade, according to those familiar with the meetings. The experts that he has reached out to include former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, former NSC strategy guru William Luti, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy, former Pentagon official Charles “Cully” Stimson, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe Daniel Fata, former Pentagon China official Dan Blumenthal, the Heritage Foundation’s Asia expert Peter Brookes, and former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. Politico reported that Donald Rumsfeld helped Perry set up the initial meeting with Feith, Luti, McCarthy, and Fata (Stimson was invited but couldn’t attend), but there have been several more since then and the Perry team is continuing to fly in experts to meet with the governor in Texas. Foreign policy hands with knowledge of the prospective candidate’s identity, which is still taking shape, told The Cable that Perry is planning to stake out political territory as a defense-minded but internationally engaged candidate, contrasting himself with the realism of Jon Huntsman, the ever-changing stance of Mitt Romney, or the tea party budget cutting focus of Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul. “He will distinguish himself from other Republicans as a hawk internationalist, embracing American exceptionalism and the unique role we must play in confronting the many threats we face,” one foreign policy adviser with knowledge of Perry’s thinking told The Cable. “He has no sympathy for the neo-isolationist impulses emanating from some quarters of the Republican Party.”

The fact is, apart from Paul, all of the Republican candidates, like President Barack Obama, support a strong and assertive U.S. military and intelligence presence worldwide. When you hear the expression “American exceptionalism,” it is time to pull out the atlas and consider which Muslim country will be invaded or bombed next. Perry’s advisers are all hawks and supporters of both the Iraq War and of a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan. They apparently believe, against the evidence, that military interventions produce good results.

Doug Feith should be particularly noted, as it appears he might be resurfacing in government, a normal recycling that neocons go through as they move through the revolving door from high government office to the private sector and back again. He is also a poster boy for just how corrupt and dishonest the Bush regime was. Perhaps not inappropriately, Gen. Tommy Franks once referred to Feith as the “the f***ing stupidest guy on the face of the earth,” which apparently was not a disqualifier from holding one of the highest offices in the Department of Defense.

Feith and Luti were associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which used fabricated intelligence from Iraqi National Council head Ahmed Chalabi to convince the White House to support an invasion of Iraq. They might even have been involved in the Niger uranium forgeries that convinced the White House that Saddam Hussein was attempting to obtain fuel for a nuclear weapon. All of which led to American Secretary of State Colin Powell’s eventual humiliation after making a speech at the United Nations in which he claimed that Iraq had secret weapons and intentions that it clearly did not have. But he and the White House still managed to get their war, facts be damned. That war and the consequences of the American invasion still continue to bring death and destruction eight years later.

Feith’s activities while holding the number-three position at the Pentagon were eventually examined by Defense Department Inspector General Thomas Gimble in February 2007. Gimble condemned Feith’s attempt to create what he charitably called “an alternative intelligence assessment process,” lacking the checks and balances observed by CIA, DIA, and INR. But no punishment was recommended for anyone involved in the relentless advocacy that enabled the slide to war.

Per Gimble’s careful parsing, Feith’s activities were deemed “inappropriate” but “not illegal or unauthorized.” And his investigation’s scope was curiously limited: the yearlong inquiry only examined one of the many questionable activities carried out by the Office of Special Plans, the purported link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The role of Feith’s office in hatching the imaginary meeting between Mohammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague was significant, but it was only a single element in the much broader pattern of deception that provided the “evidence” President Bush used to convince the American people that Saddam’s Iraq was an existential threat akin to Hitler’s Germany.

Feith had also long been advising the Israeli government to pressure Washington to remove Saddam Hussein. So it was unsurprising when he joined Richard Perle, David Wurmser, and others in July 1996 to develop a position paper that had Iraqi regime change as its centerpiece. Intended for incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the document, titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” pushed the new government to launch preemptive war against Israel’s Arab neighbors. “Israel has the opportunity to make a clean break,” the paper said, “to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism.” Baghdad was first on the hit list — “Whoever inherits Iraq dominates the entire Levant strategically,” they wrote — followed by Syria and Lebanon. To secure American support for “rolling back” Arab regimes, the group advised developing contrived motives for the invasions — in Syria’s case, counterfeiting, drug running, and WMD development.

During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, Israeli military officers and diplomats had free access to Feith’s offices and those of his boss, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Both had been investigated earlier in their careers on suspicion of passing secrets to Israel — Feith in 1982, Wolfowitz in 1978. Analysts working for Feith who were not uncritically supportive of the U.S.-Israel relationship were weeded out. Feith’s sympathies were scarcely secret. In 2003, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice commented after a Feith presentation, “Thanks, Doug, but when we want the Israeli position we’ll invite the ambassador,” while Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson described Feith “as a card-carrying member of Likud.”

Then there is the issue — which has never been completely investigated despite a request from former CIA director George Tenet — of how Feith’s presentation of the case for an Iraq-al-Qaeda connection, based on over 50 documents, most of which were classified, was fortuitously leaked to Stephen Hayes at the always receptive Weekly Standard. At that time, several of The Weekly Standard’s regular contributors actually worked in Feith’s Office of Special Plans, a possible conflict of interest that has never been explained or examined. In November 2003, Hayes wrote an article called “Case Closed” based on Feith’s information. The article was subsequently cited by Vice President Dick Cheney as proof positive of the al-Qaeda-Saddam connection.

The Feith report is referred to as circular reporting, where one phony bit of information is used to support another suspect piece, deliberately leading to an incorrect conclusion. Deliberate evasion of the intelligence community’s vetting process and illegal exposure of classified information aside, the Office of Special Plans was scheming in other ways that the IG report didn’t even attempt to address. The OSP refined cherry-picking, permitting the consumer to select information that supported a case while rejecting that which did not. Feith’s office also perfected the stovepipe: if it had a rumor or some tidbit of questionable information that might be dismissed by the limp-wristed defeatists over at State or the CIA, it could be typed up on nice letterhead and sent directly up to friends at the National Security Council or the vice president’s office, where Stephen Hadley or Scooter Libby would ensure that it would be seen by their bosses.

So, Doug, that is quite a record, something to be proud of, and welcome back to the playing field. Another governor of Texas who knows nothing about foreign policy should be the perfect tabula rasa for you and your neoconservative friends to write upon. A badly battered United States has somehow survived eight years since you initiated your last adventure in Iraq, but it is unlikely to survive eight more if Rick Perry takes your advice and resumes the project of remaking the Middle East. “Hawk internationalist,” indeed.

Read more by Philip Giraldi