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
us into war is frightened to death of being held responsible for the 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.
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
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
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.
Perle, it seems, has joined the ranks of the Bush-haters. I wouldn't be surprised
to learn that his next perch is at the Huffington
Post. His vehemence is Olbermannesque:
"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
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
with Perle's neocon
comrades at the
Project for a New American Century on the eve of war with Iraq, is a high-profile
(Incidentally, for all Perle's railing against those pantywaist diplomats, it
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Newt Gingrich, Natan
Sharansky, the deputy prime minister of Israel, and former CIA chief and
World War III proponent R.
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
"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.
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…