Richard Perle: Still Crazy After All These Years
Now that the greatest strategic disaster in American military history is an accomplished fact, its architects are distancing themselves from their handiwork. For the past year or two, we have been treated to the spectacle of what might be called neoconservative panic syndrome – the cabal that lied us into war is frightened to death of being held responsible for the catastrophe. Their catastrophe.
And who can blame them? After all, the consequences could include prosecution for all sorts of crimes, running the gamut from torture to deliberately misleading Congress to violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In a halfway rational world, these people would be tarred and feathered, at the very least, before the law had a chance to nab them. Instead, these war birds are still pontificating from their protected perches on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, albeit to a shrinking and increasingly skeptical audience.
Some have recanted. Others, less reflective, blame everyone but themselves. And a good many are defiant and more full of themselves – as well as other substances – than ever. Such a one is Richard Perle, the so-called Dark Prince of the neocons, the most relentless and disreputable of the lot. Writing in The National Interest, where Francis Fukuyama first proclaimed “the end of history,” Perle treats us to a neocon revision of some very recent history – in other words, an account of the origins and execution of the Iraq war that will appear in the history books of Bizarro World.
According to Perle, the palace revolution carried out by the War Party in the wake of 9/11 – which Bob Woodward likened to the establishment of “a separate government” by the neocons – never really came off:
“For eight years George W. Bush pulled the levers of government – sometimes frantically – never realizing that they were disconnected from the machinery and the exertion was largely futile. As a result, the foreign and security policies declared by the president in speeches, in public and private meetings, in backgrounders and memoranda often had little or no effect on the activities of the sprawling bureaucracies charged with carrying out the president’s policies. They didn’t need his directives: they had their own.”
This is the essence of Perle’s claim of non-responsibility: well, you see, we tried to pull off a coup, but failed to really gain control of the governmental apparatus. The neocon purge of the “bureaucracy” – i.e., the career intelligence and diplomatic officials who knew Iraq would be a disaster and warned against it – was incomplete. Left-wing critics of Stalin often made the same complaint, and in pretty much the same spirit.
“Again and again the president declared ‘unacceptable’ activities that his administration went on to accept: North Korean nuclear weapons; North Korean missile tests; Iran’s nuclear-weapons program; the Russian invasion of Georgia; genocide in Sudan; Syrian and Iranian support for jihadists in Iraq and elsewhere – the list is long. Throughout his presidency, Bush demanded that these states change their ways. When they declined to do so, policy shifted to an unanchored, foundering diplomacy engineered by a diplomatic establishment, unencumbered, especially in the second term, by even the weak, largely useless scrutiny it had come to expect from the National Security Council. When Condoleezza Rice moved to the Department of State, the gamekeeper (however ineffective) turned poacher, and the Bush presidency – its credibility gravely diminished – became indistinguishable from the institutional worldview of the State Department. There it remains today.”
North Korea, Iran, Russia, Sudan, Syria: a veritable cornucopia of missed opportunities to make war. What a waste! A tragedy, really. Yet the neocons have their little compensations. Condi, that poaching peacenik, got her comeuppance when the Israelis yanked the president out of the middle of a formal address and pulled the rug out from under her plan to vote for the UN’s Gaza cease-fire resolution.
Oh, but here’s my favorite part: “the Bush presidency – its credibility gravely diminished”! Who does he think did the diminishing? Why, anyone but he and his gung-ho pro-war pals in the office of the vice president and the policy arm of the Pentagon, where the war plans were hatched.
The neocons really are a fickle bunch: they disdain the very idea of party loyalty, or, indeed, fealty to anything other than their own access to power. Out of power and wildly unpopular, Bush and his party are no longer useful. The neocons were Democrats originally, anyhow, and they won’t have much trouble emigrating to greener pastures.
Not that Perle is going to get a job in the Obama administration, but a reasonable approximation of his viewpoint is well-represented at the highest levels. Dennis Ross, who co-signed statements with Perle’s neocon comrades at the Project for a New American Century on the eve of war with Iraq, is a high-profile example. (Incidentally, for all Perle’s railing against those pantywaist diplomats, it looks like Hillary Clinton’s State Department is slated as the new nesting place for our war birds.)
Perle’s justification for the Iraq war is a typically extreme example of neocon hysterics. According to him, the decision to go to war wasn’t about democracy, oil, Israel, or neoconservative ideology. Instead, it was
“About how to manage the risk that [Saddam Hussein] would facilitate a catastrophic attack on the United States. To say the decision to remove him was mistaken because stockpiles of WMD were never found is akin to saying that it was a mistake to buy fire insurance last year because your house didn’t burn down or health insurance because you didn’t become ill. No one would take seriously the question, ‘Would you have bought Enron stock if you had known it would go down?’ and no one should take seriously the facile conclusion that invading Iraq was mistaken because we now know Saddam did not possess stockpiles of WMD.”
War, then, is benign, it protects us, it’s a good thing – you know, like an insurance policy with some very high premiums. Does it get any creepier than that?
The Enron analogy is closer to the truth. Enron, after all, was engaged in massive fraud and theft, and those who bought into the scam were duly ripped off. That just about sums up the history of the Iraq war.
To begin with, the idea that Iraq could launch an attack on the continental United States is, and was then, utter bunk. Bush actually claimed the Iraqis were about to mount an air attack using drones, and now Perle is re-conjuring that post-9/11 hallucination, this time without even bothering to make a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
What he doesn’t mention is that the crackpot theories of Laurie Mylroie – who has made a rather strange career out of blaming Saddam Hussein for practically every act of human perfidy since the Haymarket bombing – served as holy writ for top policymakers, including Paul Wolfowitz. Mylroie’s ravings were pushed by the American Enterprise Institute, once the home of so many scholarly warmongers. Perle has seemingly dropped the never quite believable canard that Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda, one supposes because it’s been debunked so thoroughly.
All the propaganda we used to hear, day and night, in the run-up to war has been reduced, by Perle, to a single overriding principle: the only way to reduce risk to manageable levels in the age of terrorism is to overreact as a matter of course. Yet that is putting it far too abstractly. Perle’s fire insurance analogy would make sense if, in order to ensure that your house isn’t gutted by a nearby arsonist, you proceeded to preemptively torch your neighbors’ homes. This isn’t a policy, it’s a war crime.
The shameless Perle is unfazed by the almost universal opprobrium he and his neoconservative confreres have evoked on all sides of the conventional political spectrum. A formerly rarefied distaste and suspicion, largely confined to this Web site and the neocons’ critics on the Right, is today well nigh universal. Perle denies everything, admits nothing. He even denies the neoconservatives had anything to do with the war, either its conception or its execution. A trail of evidence several hundred leagues-long tells us otherwise. Confronted with reality, Perle feints and dodges, claiming that he’s been misquoted, perhaps deliberately. In a footnote he complains that John Pilger attributes to him the following:
“If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war … our children will sing great songs about us years from now.’”
Perle avers: “Despite the fact that I never said this or anything like it, and Pilger offers no source, it has appeared in quotation marks in hundreds of publications.”
Actually, Perle is right, in this instance, and Pilger is wrong. In his book The New Rulers of the World, Pilger attributes this quote to Perle, but he does cite a source: a piece in the Green Left Weekly. Yet the Weekly doesn’t attribute this to Perle, but to Michael Ledeen, then at the American Enterprise Institute, who appeared on a panel moderated and introduced by Perle, shortly after 9/11.
With great fanfare, AEI, otherwise known as Neocon Central, rolled out its program: “A War of Ideas in the U.S. War on Terrorism,” featuring Perle, Ledeen, Newt Gingrich, Natan Sharansky, the deputy prime minister of Israel, and former CIA chief and World War III proponent R. James Woolsey.
When Ledeen called for “total war,” Perle did not dissent. Instead, he took the opportunity, after all the speakers were done, to take the podium to call for immediate war with Iraq:
“Can we afford to wait, given that we are in a situation rather similar to the situation the Israelis were in in 1981? We know that Saddam Hussein hates the United States. He has made that clear. We know that he is engaged in acts of terror himself. We know that he has ties to terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda and others. And we know that he has weapons of mass destruction and is trying to acquire even more of them; but, for starters, we know he has anthrax.
“Can we afford to wait and hope that he chooses not to do something that is perfectly within his means to do, and that is distribute anthrax to anonymous terrorists who might then use it, not a few spores at a time in letters sent through the mail but in a way that could kill tens of thousands of Americans, maybe even more, in a single attack? Is it prudent to wait and hope that he doesn’t do what we know he is capable of doing?”
Perle wasn’t alone in blaming the anthrax letters on the Iraqis, without evidence or apparently the need for any. Andrew Sullivan agreed that Saddam was responsible, although the War Party’s self-appointed intellectual enforcer and chief hysteric upped the ante considerably by calling for an all-out nuclear attack on Iraq.
Sure, there was no evidence linking the Iraqis to the anthrax missives, yet, according to the Perle Principle of Preemption, it would be just too risky to wait for confirmation of our worst fears – and if we’re wrong, what have we got to lose? Just a million or so Iraqis, thousands of dead and wounded U.S. soldiers, and trillions of taxpayer dollars, that’s all.
You see, it’s just like fire insurance…
Read more by Justin Raimondo
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