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Richard Perle: Prince of Darkness
Compiled by Irshad Salim


Richard Perle (center)

MAR 30:
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 week.

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 foreseen.

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' confidence.

"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 America's hawks.

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.

"It's 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 University.

For Perle, 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 didn't happen."

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 Hussein.

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 cheap."
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 entire country.

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 Saudi Arabia.)

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 attacks.

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 al-Qaida.

"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 tough sell."

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 us safe."

Life story


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.

Business career

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.

Political career

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

He says

"The Saudis are a major source of the problem we face with terrorism."

They say

"It's Richard Perle's world. We're just fighting in it" – Maureen Dowd.

"I have known Richard Perle for many years and know him to be a man of integrity and honor" – Donald Rumsfeld.


Other articles by Irshad Salim:
Pakistan, Turkey - bhai bhai
Pak politics- National govt. or recipe for disaster?
Pipelineistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan!

Pak politics- Is Martial Law imminent?
Pak politics- PML(Q), MMA alliance- same bedfellows
Pak politics- A new era in politics has dawned
Pakistan's Trojan Horse
General Musharraf's bitter harvest
Pak elections are over, now what?




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