Just a week ago, Richard Perle, the powerful chairman of
the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (DPB) and the leader of the
neo-conservative hawks who have pushed the drive to war in Iraq
, reportedly threw a victory party at his house in celebration
of the US-led invasion.
One week later, a far less cheerful Perle not only resigned as
DPB chairman amid mounting conflict-of-interest questions, but
also "slammed down the phone" on an inquiring New York Times
reporter who had disclosed his controversial financial
relationship with the bankrupt Global Crossings company last
For the first time in memory, the neo-conservatives, whose
ideology and media and political savvy have fuelled the imperial
trajectory of the administration since the Sep. 11, 2001
terrorist attacks, are on the defensive and taking hits from
just about every direction.
They are being blamed in particular for the growing public
impression that the US military campaign is not going according
to plan and may indeed be bogging down, exposing US servicemen
and women to much greater risks and a much longer war than
virtually anyone, especially the neo-conservatives, had
More than any other group, it was the neo-conservatives who
surround Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick
Cheney, like Perle and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz,
who had predicted that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein would collapse like a house of cards once the Pentagon's
"shock and awe" strategy was on full display.
It was they who also predicted that the Iraqi military would
surrender in the tens of thousands at the first hint of battle
and that common Iraqis, particularly the Shias in the south,
would greet the US "liberators" with flowers and sweets.
"I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating
Iraq would be a cakewalk," argued Kenneth Adelman, a prominent
neo-conservative and member of Perle's DPB, in a 'Washington
Post' column last February that was cited in both the Post and
the Times on Friday as typical of the neo-conservatives'
"There may be pockets of resistance, but very few Iraqis
are going to fight to defend Saddam Hussein," Perle said in one
of scores of television appearances at the same time, in what
appeared to be a concerted and ultimately successful propaganda
effort to move the focus of Bush's war on terrorism from
Afghanistan and Al Qaeda to Saddam and Iraq.
He's been beating the drums of war for a decade. Richard Perle, the man who's done perhaps more than anyone to lay the
intellectual and political groundwork for a preemptive strike
against Iraq. Perle was arguably the Beltway's most influential
foreign-policy hawk, an outside-insider who used his bully
pulpit as chairman of the quasi-official Defense Policy Board to
argue on behalf of neo-conservatives that a full-scale,
preemptive strike against Iraq was the next move in
America's post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism.
Richard Perle is also a man with many enemies. Some he
has designated himself, the list being topped by Saddam Hussein,
whom he has elevated almost single-handed to world-threatening
despot. The majority, however, he has made in the course of more
than 30 years as the most convinced and uncompromising of
So there was undisguised glee among US
liberals and old-style cosmopolitan conservatives this week when
Perle suddenly resigned his one official post: chairman of the
Pentagon's shadowy Defense Policy Board (DPB). It had taken him
several days and much protesting of innocence to conclude that
his position was untenable.
The charge was one of straightforward conflict of interest. The
New York Times – hardly a soulmate of Perle's – had reported
that Perle stood to reap a fat fee as a consultant to the
bankrupt telecommunications company, Global Crossing. The aim of
the consultancy, the article said, was to effect a sale of the
company that would place it under Chinese ownership – something
about which the US government had grave misgivings on national
security grounds. The article followed an exposé in the New
Yorker magazine in which the investigative journalist, Seymour
Hersh, had accused Perle of inappropriately mixing business and
public office in dealings with Saudi Arabia. Perle had
threatened to sue.
Perle did not deny the Global Crossing contract, but insisted
it had nothing whatever to do with his position as a Pentagon
adviser, and everything to do with his past experience of
national security issues. He denied that he had used his
publicly funded post for private gain. In a radio interview, he
called the author of the original story, Hersh, "a terrorist" –
the greatest insult in today's America after being called a
crony of Saddam Hussein.
But, as he stated in his letter of resignation, he had seen
similar controversies before, and had concluded, "as I cannot
quickly or easily quell criticism of me based on errors of
fact," he had little alternative but to resign.
For months, Perle appeared on television programs and newspaper
Op-Ed pages urging the U.S. to topple Saddam. A formidable
Washington heavyweight who for decades has been expertly
maneuvering his way in and out of the highest levels of
government (and newsrooms), Perle found himself the public point
man for the war with Iraq.
The former Reagan administration arms-control expert and pro-Israel hawk
has been urging a U.S.-led regime change in Iraq for the last
decade. Perfecting his rhetoric about Saddam Hussein's
insatiable appetite for weapons of mass destruction and how one
day soon they will be unleashed on America, Perle, through sheer
dint of sound-bite repetition, helped lay the groundwork for
serious talk of war with Iraq.
But there were
signs that even some Republican statesmen and generals were
concerned about what Perle and his allies had unleashed. Writing
on the New York Times' Op-Ed page, former Secretary of State
James Baker had recently struck a cautious tone on Iraq, and
took issue with the freelance campaign being waged by the
president's "advisers and their surrogates" to generate support
for a war with Iraq.
Perle was by far the most prominent of those surrogates. During the 1970s he
gained notoriety inside the Beltway as an influential staffer to
Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, D-Wash., who at the time was among
the most fiercely anticommunist and staunchly pro-Israel members
of the Senate. In 1981 Perle was appointed deputy secretary of
defense, where he earned the nickname "Prince of Darkness"
for opposing arms-control agreements with the Soviets.
Perle maintained a platform through constant Op-Ed submissions and
television appearances, as well as his chairmanship of the
Defense Policy Board. Formerly an obscure civilian board
designed to provide the secretary of defense with non-binding
advice on a whole range of military issues, the Defense Policy
Board, now stacked with unabashed Iraq hawks, has become a
quasi-lobbying organization whose primary objective appeared to
be waging war with Iraq. Perle was the anchor man.
amazing that he [Perle] is not part of the administration but he
has this immense amount of power," noted Yvonne Haddad,
professor of Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown
the unpaid Defense Policy Board position allowed him to say he's
not speaking for the administration when he advocated war with
Iraq during media appearances, and to articulate extreme
positions that government officials perhaps could not.. (It's
also unlikely he'd have been approved by the Senate if given a
post that required confirmation.) Yet his constant contact with
senior administration hawks -- Vice President Dick Cheney,
Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz,
Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, and the State
Department's Undersecretary for Arms Control and International
Security John Bolton -- meant that Perle was a major player with
the Bush White House.
"If at any
point Perle was too far out in front and his status as a
semi-official spokesman for the administration became a problem,
they'd pull him off TV," says John Pike, director of
GlobalSecurity.org, a nonprofit defense policy group. "That
True, but some Republican critics had Perle in their sights. Fed up with
his constant advocacy of war with Iraq, Nebraska Republican Sen.
Chuck Hagel, who volunteered for Vietnam and earned two Purple
Hearts, suggested perhaps "Mr. Perle would like to be in the
first wave of those who go into Baghdad." Perle, like many
Beltway hawks, has never seen military service. Nonetheless, he
recently urged Bush to dismiss "the unsolicited advice of
retired generals" when contemplating war with Iraq.
During the '90s, Perle's advocacy of launching a preemptive strike against
a country like Iraq, based on what Iraq might do to the
U.S., rather than what it had done, was relegated to the fringes
of foreign-policy debate. But there, the hawkish think-tank fixture
was limited to signing off on indignant open letters to
deomcratic President Clinton urging him to take action against Saddam
Today, with fellow hawks in high places throughout the Bush
administration, and an unprecedented global war against terror
underway, Perle found his opening. All this despite the fact
that no solid link between Saddam and Sept. 11 or the anthrax
attacks was ever established. Nor had Perle and his allies been
able to provide irrefutable evidence of Iraq's nuclear arsenal.
Critics charge the real objective of Perle and his colleagues
was not merely regime-changing in Iraq, but the beginning of a
far-reaching American military offensive. "What people are not
adequately grasping here is that after Iraq they've got a long
list of countries to blow up," says Pike. "Iraq is not the final
chapter, it's the opening chapter."
In fact, Perle is a former Cold War warrior who subscribed to the
rollback school of deterrence, which meant aggressively trying
to roll back, or shrink, the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.
Adopted by Ronald Reagan's White House, rollback was why the
U.S. helped wage war in Nicaragua: to try to drive communist
Sandinistas out. The countervailing strategy for the Soviet
Union was containment, which aimed to simply limit its sphere.
Pike says Perle and neo-cons applied rollback ideology
to rogue nations who sponsor terror or possess weapons of mass
destruction. But since such nations are not aligned under an
umbrella such as communism, it means launching preemptive wars
and knocking them off one by one.
Another clear goal of Perle's rollback strategy was to preserve the
largest possible territory for the state of Israel. For decades
he has been among Israel's strongest, most ardent right-wing
allies in Washington.
In July 2002, Perle made waves when he invited Laurent Murawiec, a
former follower of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche, to brief
the Defense Policy Board about Saudi Arabia. The emphasis of
Murawiec's presentation was that the country should be counted
among "our enemies," and that, if necessary, the U.S. should
threaten Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, which are
located inside Saudi Arabia.
Embarrassed by the revelation of such fringe, anti-Arab
theories being advocated inside the Pentagon, Rumsfeld declared
Saudi Arabia a loyal ally, and said that the analyst's view was
not U.S. policy. Perle claimed ignorance, insisting he didn't
know what Murawiec was going to say.
"The presentation was ludicrous," complains Haddad at
Georgetown, who says it nonetheless reflected Perle's bias.
"There's not a single Muslim country he likes. All of Perle's
arguments are about how to empower Israel, not America."
Perle often made a habit of mixing his Israeli passions
with domestic American politics, often consulting both
governments and trying to marry up his hard-line objectives with
both. For instance, writing in 1996, Perle emphasized that
removing Saddam from power represented "an important Israeli
strategic objective in its own right." Today, the Israeli
government is alone in the world in publicly backing Bush's talk
of war with Iraq.
In 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak, PLO Chairman Yasser
Arafat and President Clinton were meeting at Camp David, Perle
made news when he warned Barak not to let Vice President Al Gore
become involved in the peace summit, for fear it would boost
Gore's election prospects. He also told Barak to "walk away"
from a peace plan if it left the thorny issue of a divided
Jerusalem unresolved. Working as an advisor to candidate Bush,
Perle warned Barak he would urge the Texas governor to condemn
any peace plan that gave the PLO a foothold in Jerusalem. The
Bush campaign quickly distanced itself then from Perle's remarks.
Even the staunchly pro-Israel New York Post editorial page
slapped Perle for his heavy-handed move: "Perle injected an
improper note that can only be interpreted as politically
motivated interference with the discharge of presidential
responsibilities. It's one thing to advise Gov. Bush to oppose
an unwise agreement -- it's quite another to press upon a
foreign government in advance a negotiating strategy that itself
plays into domestic U.S. politics."
While the topic of Israel remained on the periphery of the
Iraq debate, there appeared to be a growing fear, even within
Republican Party and national-security circles, that Perle had
won the upper hand in that debate. Republican politicians,
statesmen and generals thereafter, stepped forward,
hoping to plant a stop sign in front of the Defense Policy Board
chair and his allies.
The turning point for some may have been the Aug. 16 2002 article
in the New York Times that quoted Perle as saying that Bush
essentially had no choice now but to attack Iraq: "The failure
to take on Saddam after what the president said would produce
such a collapse of confidence in the president that it would set
back the war on terrorism."
Two days later, Lawrence Eagleburger, who served briefly as
secretary of state for President George Bush Sr., complained on
national television that Perle was "devious." Hagel, of course,
made his suggestion that Perle be sent to fight in Iraq. And
conservative columnist George Will, noting the relatively simple
scenario Perle routinely outlined for overthrowing Saddam,
warned darkly: "If America goes to war on Perle's cheerful
surmise, any surprises will not be pleasant ones."
A key element of Perle's regime-changing plan was that it will be a
tidy little war, since Hussein's empire was "a house of cards,"
as Perle told a PBS interviewer. He contended that an
Iraq invasion could replicate the Afghanistan war; U.S. special
operations units would assist rebels inside Iraq much the way
the U.S. helped the Northern Alliance topple the Taliban.
"The Iraqi opposition is kind of like an MRE [meal ready to
eat, or U.S. Army field ration]," Perle once told U.S. News &
World Report. "The ingredients are there and you just have to
add water, in this case U.S. support." (Eagleburger recently
quipped about Perle's band of much-touted anti-Saddam rebels, "I
think there are at least six of them.")
Some weeks ago Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones called the idea of simply
transferring the Northern Alliance blueprint to Iraq "foolish."
And Baker wrote in the New York Times that regime-changing in
Iraq would have to look an awful lot like the Gulf War, using
hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops. Baker didn't mention Perle
by name, but the target of this jibe seemed obvious: "Anyone who
thinks we can effect regime change in Iraq with anything less
than this is simply not realistic. It cannot be done on the
For years, though, Perle had argued it could be done on the
cheap. How many American troops would it take to unseat Saddam?
Before Sept. 11, Perle's answer was, in effect, zero. Appearing
on ABC in 1998, Perle insisted all America had to do was supply
"skillful" air power to protect anti-Saddam forces who, embraced
by the Iraqi people and aided by military defectors, could
topple him on their own.
That same year he told a reporter that removing Saddam "is not something
we should attempt to do with U.S. military force. It is
something the Iraqis should do for themselves."
And testifying before Congress in 2000, Perle insisted, "We
need not send substantial ground forces into Iraq when patriotic
Iraqis are willing to fight to liberate their country, although
measured numbers of Special Forces should not be ruled out."
Even though militarily Iraq remained essentially unchanged in
2002, Perle now said tens of thousands of American troops will
be needed for the regime change. In a plan of attack leaked to
the New York Times, unidentified sources said the
so-called "inside out attack" would feature American troops
swooping down in central Iraq, neutralizing Saddam's weapons of
mass destruction, and then attacking outward and conquering the
About 80,000 troops were needed for the "inside out attack,"
the Times reported. And according to a United Press
International report, the plan was devised in part by Perle.
Eighty-thousand troops? Perle told the Nation's
David Corn only 40,000 troops were needed. Yet by comparison, in
1989 the U.S. sent 24,000 troops into Panama City, Panama, to
change the regime of Gen. Manuel Noriega. That messy mission
took 14 days, even though the U.S. used military bases in
Panama, a country of just 2.3 million people at the time of the
U.S. invasion. Today, Iraq boasts more than 20 million people
and a standing army of 400,000, and the U.S. not only doesn't
have bases inside the country, but it has yet to secure the use
of any in nearby countries. (In 1991, Bush Sr. was able to use
There are other similar gaps in Perle's logic. Trying to
allay fears of protracted warfare in an Aug. 6, London Daily
Telegraph Op-Ed, Perle in one breath dismissed "the competence,
morale and ultimate loyalty of [Saddam's] army" as being "a
third of what it was in 1991, and it is the same third, 11 years
closer to obsolescence." Yet just two paragraphs later, trying
to gin up urgency, Perle compared Hussein with Hitler at the
height of the Third Reich's mighty military buildup.
The other lingering question about the Iraq war was what
the internal Iraqi reaction to an armed invasion would be. Perle
insisted that once anti-Saddam forces made their presence felt,
Iraqis wouldl welcome the cause and help drive Hussein from power
themselves. Northing such has happened so far!
Nearly a decade ago, as U.S. troops stood poised to
battle Iraqi troops in the Gulf War, Perle had predicted that
Saddam would be driven from power by his own people and he
turned out to be dead wrong.
Interviewed in January 1991 for a television program called
"American Interests," Perle told host Morton Kondracke,
"There'll be a new leadership in Iraq, I think almost
independent of what happens in the next several days. Saddam
Hussein promised his people victory, he promised them glory.
He's obviously not going to deliver either, and I doubt that
they'll keep him in power. So there'll be a new regime in Iraq."
Perle has been wrong about Saddam plenty of times in the
past. Days after the USS Cole was bombed by al-Qaida forces in
2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors, Perle, conceding that he had no
evidence to support the idea, told the Jerusalem Post that
perhaps the Iraqi leader was behind the terrorist attack. (Perle
serves on the Jerusalum Post's board of directors.)
Likewise, in a 1998 London Sunday Times Op-Ed, Perle
complained that the Clinton administration did not vigorously
investigate the bombing at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia
that killed 19 Americans in 1996. Why? Because, according to
Perle, the evidence might have implicated Saddam. Perle also
backed up the conspiracy theory advanced by author Laurie Mylroie
that Saddam was behind the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 as
well. To date, American investigators have not found any
evidence that connects him to any of the three terrorist
Meanwhile, Perle was virtually mum about the threat posed by
Osama bin Laden in those years. Despite his many public pleas to
overthrow Saddam Hussein, Perle rarely mentioned bin Laden or
"You will detect little concern about bin Laden before 9/11,"
says Pike. "The rollback crowd has now wrapped itself in the
bloody flag and basically exploited Sept. 11 to advance a
lifelong agenda and vision of America's role in the world. Sept.
11 presented a unique historical opportunity to enact that plan,
because the subtext of this entire Iraq debate is, 'What is the
hurry?' The hurry is, it's much easier to continue fighting a
global war than to start one. If America's at peace, an
unprovoked attack against the Butcher of Baghdad would be a
And even after bin Laden was connected not only with 9/11 but
with a string of well-documented terror attacks against America
in previous years, Perle told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that Saddam
should still be considered more dangerous to America because of
what he may one day do.
Of course, Perle's many war plans fell apart under the weight
of their inconsistencies. He never adequately answered the
question, for instance, as to what would keep Saddam Hussein, a
"psychopathic" madman with weapons of mass destruction, from
using those weapons if American troops and Iraqi rebels were
storming Baghdad. Perle merely insisted the Iraqi strongman
wouldn't be able to find a single person in his entire army to
carry out such an order -- amazing sang froid from someone who's
normally so nervous about Saddam's strength.
And yet Pike thought Perle was right about one thing: It may
well be possible for U.S. forces to overthrow him and keep
American causalities limited to the hundreds.
"That's what concerns me," he said. "Because then Perle and
his crowd will say, 'That didn't hurt so much, let's blow up
Iran and North Korea and Saudi Arabia.' And we'll spend the rest
of the decade blowing up countries on a preemptive basis to make
Richard Norman Perle, 16 September 1941, New York City.
Son of Jack and Martha Perle; married Leslie Joan Barr 31
July 1977; one child, Jonathan.
BA from the University of from Southern California; MA in
political science from Princeton University.
Adviser to International Advisors Incorporated 1989-1994;
director of the Autonomy Corporation; managing partner of
Trireme Partners LP; adviser to Global Crossing Ltd; director of
The Jerusalem Post; CEO of Hollinger.
Staffer for Senator Henry 'Scoop' Jackson in the 1970s, when
he wrote speeches for as many as 16 senators; Assistant
Secretary of Defence for International Security Policy,
1981-1987; chairman of Defence Policy Board since July 2001.
Reshaping Western Security (1991);
paid $300,000 by Random House to write Hard Line (1992),
about his time in the Reagan administration.
The Prince of Darkness
"The Saudis are a major source of the problem we face with
"It's Richard Perle's world. We're just fighting in it" –
"I have known Richard Perle for many years and know him to be
a man of integrity and honor" – Donald Rumsfeld.