Perle, the New York Times, and Chutzpah

Marking the impending fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Sunday’s influential ‘Outlook’ section of the New York Times asked “nine experts on military and foreign affairs to reflect on their attitudes in the spring of 2003 and to comment on the one aspect of the war that most surprised them or that they wished they had considered in the prewar debate.” Of the nine, two were serving in the military at the time, two others were war sceptics (Anthony Cordesman — who memorably called the notion that the Iraq war would democratize the Middle East “neo-crazy” — and Anne-Marie Slaughter), and the rest were public boosters of the war, including L. Paul Bremer III, Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, and — not one, not two, but — three fellows from the hard-line neo-con American Enterprise Institute (AEI): Frederick Kagan (who became formally affiliated with AEI well after the occupation had begun); Danielle Pletka; and Richard Perle who, in addition to his AEI responsibilities in the run-up to the war, served as chairman of Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Policy Board (DPB) until he resigned his chairmanship (while maintaining his membership) just before the war. Of the latter three, only Pletka admits she may have been mistaken in a key assumption — that “all who year for freedom, once free, would use it well” — an assumption, incidentally, that I don’t think was in any event central to her support for the war. But confirming Jacob Heilbrunn’s thesis that neo-conservatives always know “they were right,” Perle’s contribution is, predictably, pure chutzpah, a rewriting of history that defies virtually everything that is known about the decisions and the way they were taken in the early days of the occupation.

For those who aren’t fully acquainted with both the meaning of chutzpah (it’s about a man who kills his father and mother and then throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he’s an orphan) and Perle’s penchant for using it, I am reprinting below (the link to the original appears to have gone bad) a story entitled “Chutzpah, Thy Name is Perle” that I wrote for tompaine.com three years ago after Perle blamed the CIA for faulty intelligence regarding Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD). I also published several items, which you can find here, here, and here, on my blog last spring about Perle’s efforts to rewrite his own role in championing the Iraq war and occupation.

What’s so remarkable about Perle’s latest version of events is that he lays the primary blame for the failure of the occupation neither on Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, nor on anyone (God forbid) in the Pentagon — not on Donald Rumsfeld, not on Paul Wolfowitz, and definitely not on his protege, Douglas Feith, who owed his job as Undersecretary for Policy to Perle’s personal intervention with Rumsfeld. Rather, the occupation failed, according to Perle, as a result of the decisions of all those senior officials whose advice, according to virtually every other account (with the dubious exception of Feith’s, of course), was most consistently ignored or marginalized both in the run-up to the war and in the occupation’s early days.

“Rather than turn Iraq over to Iraqis to begin the daunting process of nation building, a group including Secretary of State Colin Powell; the national security adviser Condoleezza Rice; and the director of central intelligence, George Tenet — with President Bush’s approval — reversed a plan to do that,” according to Perle’s account. What is even more remarkable is that he goes on to partially excuse Bremer himself, insisting that he “did his best to make a foolish policy work.”

Bremer himself has written and testified several times that his orders for policy shifts came directly through the Pentagon command — from Rumsfeld down through Feith. And, of course, one of the occupation’s most controversial and destructive policies — de-Ba’athification — was virtually hatched at AEI where it was championed most strongly by Perle’s own AEI associates, including Pletka, Michael Rubin and Reuel Marc Gerecht.

In fairness to Perle, he has long maintained that the occupation would have gone perfectly well had Washington first created a government-in-exile under the leadership of his friend, Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which would then have taken over the country after U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad. And, indeed, it was Wolfowitz, apparently with Cheney’s okay (thus circumventing Powell, Rice, Tenet, and Bush himself), that Chalabi and some 700 of his “Free Iraqi Forces” were flown into the country in the early days of the invasion, presumably to take on precisely that role. “I was astonished (and dismayed) that we did not turn to well-established and broadly representative opponents of Saddam Hussein’s regime to assume the responsibilities of an interim government while preparing for elections,” writes Perle in an apparent reference to the INC and Chalabi. (As documented by reporters on the ground, Chalabi’s “Free Iraqi Forces,” which he promised would restore order to a chaotic Baghdad in mid-April, quickly lost whatever discipline it had after grabbing and securing various prime parcels of real estate that could be of use to Chalabi’s political and financial ambitions.)

Perhaps Perle’s preferred scenario would indeed have worked out just as he had predicted, although the notion that Chalabi, whose party famously failed to win a single seat in Iraq’s last elections, was either “well-established” or “broadly representative” appears utterly ludicrous in retrospect. And the fact that Perle’s friend may have been more than inclined to help Iran asserts its post-war interests in Iraq — or may even have been an agent of the mullahs — seems still never to have penetrated his otherwise vivid imagination. Yet, according to Aram Rosten, Chalabi’s biographer (via Laura Rozen’s warandpiece.com blog), Chalabi’s main Iranian interlocutor just before and after the invasion was a top Quds Force general who in January was named by the Treasury Department as one of four individuals subject to U.S. financial sanctions for his role in “threatening peace and stability in Iraq”.

In any event, one has to ask why the Times, which, after admitting that its pre-war coverage of Iraqi WMD was highly misleading and journalistically irresponsible, then added a pro-war propagandist like William Kristol to its stable of regular columnists, would not only offer a disproportionate amount of space to people whose judgment with respect to Iraq and Iraqis has proved so disastrously wrong, but also, in Perle’s specific case, offer it to someone with such a long-standing and proven record of contempt for the historical record. I guess it shows that chutzpah has its rewards.

UPDATE: The Times has an important and relevant story Monday on the other major disastrous decision enforced by the occupation (and the Pentagon) in addition to the sweeping de-Baathification order that was so vigorously advocated by Rubin, Pletka, Gerecht, and Perle’s other proteges at AEI and at the Pentagon; namely, the decision to disband the Iraqi Army. While major responsibility for this decision clearly belongs to Bremer and his liberal hawk deputy, Walter Slocombe, it seems clear that from the various accounts included in the article that Rumsfeld and his neo-con advisers, including Feith, willingly went along with the idea, if not helped to ensure that it was adopted. (AEI fellows had been arguing for a massive purge of the officer corps and a drastic down-sizing of the army before the invasion, let alone before Bremer arrived on the scene.) The article makes clear that the State Department and other relevant agencies, including the Joint Chiefs, were left completely out of the decision by Bremer and the Pentagon.

As Bremer states, “I had clear instruction from the president to report through Rumsfeld. I was following the chain of command established by the president.” And here’s a revelatory sentence: “A memo from Mr. Feith’s office to Mr. Slocombe notes that the joint staff, which serves as a secretariat for the Joint Chiefs, provided comments on a draft of the decree to abolish the Iraqi Army. But the disbanding of the army came as a surprise to the officers working on Iraqi reconstruction issues.” The articles goes on to quote the Joint Chiefs chairman at the time, Gen. Richard Myers, as saying that the issue had never been debated by the chiefs. In other words, even as of May 23, 2003, when the decree formally disbanding the Iraq army was issued by the CPA, all of the individuals blamed by Perle for screwing up the occupation — Powell, Rice, Tenet — were unable to exert influence on policy, and the Pentagon — with Perle’s friends there firmly in charge — was making the decisions.

In any event, here’s the 2004 story:

Chutzpah, Thy Name Is Perle
Feb 03 2004

Chutzpah—a Yiddish word that the dictionary defines as “unmitigated effrontery or impertinence, gall”—is best illustrated by a much-cited anecdote.

“Chutzpah is when a man kills his mother and his father and then throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he is an orphan.”

In the last few days in Washington, however, prominent neoconservatives, particularly arch-hawk Richard Perle, are giving new meaning to the word.

It wasn’t enough that Perle, author of a new book titled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terrorism, gave the keynote speech last week at a rally at the Washington Convention Center in solidarity for an Iranian rebel group officially listed by the State Department as a “foreign terrorist organization.” (A self-described terrorism expert, Perle later pleaded ignorance about the rally’s purpose, despite the fact that the Red Cross and the La Leche League had figured out the connection and withdrawn their own association with the event.)

No, now Perle and his fellow neoconservatives are hailing chief U.S. weapons-of-mass-destruction hunter, David Kay. On resigning from his post last week, Kay charged that the intelligence community, and particularly the CIA, clearly exaggerated the size and scope of Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMD programs. “I don’t think they existed,” he said, insisting that he himself, as well as the intelligence community, “were almost all wrong” about Iraq’s alleged WMD stockpiles and reconstitution of Iraq’s nuclear-arms program.

“I have always thought our intelligence in the Gulf has been woefully inadequate,” Perle, former chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board (DPB), confided to The New York Times after Kay disclosed his findings.

You would think from that remark that Perle had spent the run-up to the Iraq invasion warning Congress and the public that the intelligence community had hyped the WMD threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

But, if you thought that, of course, you would be dead wrong. No, Perle and his close associates—such as Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney and former CIA director James Woolsey—said quite the opposite: their single-minded message, repeated endlessly in op-ed columns, television interviews and Congressional testimony, was that the intelligence community was consistently underestimating the Iraqi threat in a deliberate effort to undermine the drive to war.

Their campaign now—and there is an orchestrated campaign underway, make no mistake—is to blame the CIA for exaggerating the Iraqi threat must rank right up there with parenticidal orphans.

It was Gaffney, a long-time Perle protégè who worked under him in Sen. “Scoop” Jackson’s office and later at the Pentagon during the Reagan administration, for example, who was raising alarms over Hussein’s non-existent “atomic and perhaps even thermonuclear weapons” even before 9/11.

Hawking The War

“He (Hussein) has weapons of mass destruction,” Perle stated unequivocally as early as November 2001—even as his friends in the Pentagon were setting up their Office of Special Plans (OSP), an informal intelligence unit whose job it was to mine raw intelligence to find and disseminate the most threatening possible evidence of Iraq’s WMD programs and alleged ties to Al Qaeda that the neoconservatives thought the CIA or even the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency had not given adequate credence.

Perle even used his good offices as DPB chairman to ensure that “defectors” handled by his good friend Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC)—such as Khidir Hamza, a former nuclear scientist who stoked totally unfounded fears that Hussein was reconstituting his nuclear-weapons program—were given the widest possible exposure to policy-makers. Senior intelligence officials have since identified the INC’s defectors as the source of a great deal of the mis-, if not dis-information, that skewed its assessments.

For Perle, Hussein’s WMD program was simply a given. “If (Hussein) eludes us and continues to refine, perfect and expand his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons,” he testified to Congress in the fall of 2002, “the danger to us, already great, will only grow.” The problem, of course, was that the arsenal whose existence was never subject to the slightest doubt by Perle and his friends didn’t exist.

Indeed, just two weeks before his friend Kay acknowledged there were simply no weapons to be found, Perle insisted to an audience at his home base, the American Enterprise Institute, “I don’t think that you can draw any conclusion from the fact that stockpiles were not found.”

While Perle clearly assumed the existence of a massive WMD threat as described by his INC sources, he was even more expansive in the run-up to the war about Hussein’s alleged operational ties to Al Qaeda, a notion for which only the political appointees at OSP could ever find even the slightest, but almost always uncorroborated, evidence.

Perle, for example, has always insisted that 9/11’s operational mastermind, Mohammed Atta, met with an Iraqi intelligence official, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, at a Prague cafe five months before the suicide hijackings, despite the fact that the CIA and the FBI have both concluded that Atta was in Florida at the time of the alleged meeting. When al-Ani was captured by U.S. forces last July, Perle declared that his version of events would soon be confirmed, but then, in a suggestion that the CIA could not be trusted, added, “a lot depends on who is doing the interrogating.” By all accounts, al-Ani has steadfastly denied ever meeting Atta, a problem Perle has not addressed lately.

An Axe To Grind Against The CIA

Perle and his fellow-neocons’ contempt for the CIA dates to the 1970s when he and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused the agency of being naive about Soviet strategic capabilities and intentions. That set the pattern. To Perle, the CIA, like the State Department, has long been a haven for naive and foolish “liberals” incapable of understanding just how dangerous and threatening the enemy—any enemy—really is.

“Over time, it has become an agency with very strong, mostly liberal policy views, and these views have again and again distorted its analysis and presentation of its own information,” Perle wrote in An End to Evil, which was co-authored by former White House speechwriter, David Frum.

“The CIA is blinded, too, by the squeamishness that many liberal-minded people feel about noticing the dark side of third world cultures,” he continued, arguing that this is especially true of the Arab world. “The CIA’s reports on the Middle East today are colored by similar ideological biases—exacerbated by poor understanding of the region’s culture and a politically correct disinclination to acknowledge unflattering facts about non-Western peoples.”

“(D)ata yields useful information only if it is analyzed without ideological prejudices or institutional biases,” according to Perle’s book. “A good intelligence analyst must constantly question his own ideas about the phenomena he studies.”

Good advice. Now, if only Perle and his fellow-neocons had applied it to themselves, their own assessments might not have been so much worse than the CIA’s.

Visit Lobelog.com for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

Author: Jim Lobe

Visit Lobelog.com for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service's Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

29 thoughts on “Perle, the New York Times, and Chutzpah”

  1. Oh my God… Richard Perle authoring an absurdly self-serving revision of the perverse mechanics surrounding the Iraq War? Can this be? This throws my entire perception of reality out of whack!

    Why does anyone still listen to this pig?

  2. “experts on military and foreign affairs ” oh man that burns me up when they say that about these clowns.

    1. Amazing, isn’t it, the sort of wankers who are blessed with the label “expert” nowadays.

      1. Surely you know the definition of ‘expert’, don’t you? An ‘ex’ is a has-been, and a ‘spert'[sic] is just a drip under pressure.

    1. After he is hanged for treason with his Buttie duHbua who has surrendered to the al quida, in his own words(and beliefs; satans happy) they dont like our freedoms our money system(me either). So he he should hanged for treason admitting destroying our freedoms and not admitting but destroying the wealth of the United States of America!

  3. In any normal society Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith and others who are responsible for pushing for this war on behalf of a foreign country would be tried as traitors.
    The US, however, is not a normanl society. One ethnic/religious group in America is beyond culpability.
    We, and anyone who assists us (the proverbial Golems) can do whatever we like. For our group, the death of four thousand Americans means nothing.
    Indeed, many of us opposed the war. However, many central institutions of our group assisted openly or covertly to bring about this carnage.
    It is easy to claim that this war is being fought for oil, the personal ambition of George Bush and whatever. The truth is that without us this wouldn’t have happened, and certainly this war would not have lasted so long.

    1. How can you blame “we” the people? MASSES saw through it right from the get go. There were demonstrations of 100’s of thousands all over the world….Chutzpah…Hubris …Loeb said it alright !! BUT TOO LATE!! …& they don’t CARE what others think I reckon….
      “WE the people” you refer to have been lied too in a misinformation blitz that makes Gobles look like a mere amateur……we have almost nothing but an endless stream of cooked “news”, surveys & docos and “shill experts”…..incessant “utterly ridiculous media & political debate”…
      I note the GOOD thing is, despite this about 70% want us to stop wrongful meddling in foreign lands……and it’s bad business too.
      The “war promoters” don’t care what we think because they think they have “the power network” that will protect them and they will always get away with it I suspect. …….let them explain it ALL to the lawyers I say. If they are innocent then it’s THEY that have nothing to fear!!

      1. The promoters of the Iraq War and the much desired Iran War and Syrian War do not see the World as we do. Where we see Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Iran, they see the Cananites, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Persians; all eternal enemies that they have scores to settle with. Americans, confused and upset with all of this madness need to recognize that these ancient hatreds are the true cause of the scourging of the Mid East and not the “patriotic” bs called the War on Terror. The notion “bringing democracy to the Mid East” is a sick joke.

  4. Richard ‘black’ Perle, the utterance of the name offers up one colossal commentary titled TREASON! Constitutional treason for which trial and execution would be the “logical” outcome. However this is after all, Richard Perle and logic is nowhere in the ballpark.

  5. …If you want the cruel truth per this War of Occupation in Iraq as the worst US Foreign Policy disaster since Vietnam? Listen to Nir Rosen…whose courage in my opinion, far outweighs his sense of self preservation. But it takes all kinds I suppose.

  6. What can you say? It makes you want to cry, how they’ve turned my U.S. Marine into the Israeli Foreign Legion/corporate mercenary force…Of course, according to Gen. Smedley Butler that’s all it ever was..Our foreign policy has always been chiefly animated by 1. anti-Catholicism. 2. Greed, lies and propaganda..and 3. white supremacy…Consider; what if Italy had been much stronger and was the last axis country standing, do you think they would have nuked a major Italian city?
    The Japanese were defeated..our pilots were bombing Tokyo at will..She was an island nation with really no Navy left…And all they wanted was to keep their Emperor and not suffer occupation…Mercifully Gen. MacArthur, a gentleman almost as great as Lee, became governor..And we hyperventilate about the alleged WMD that other countrys may possess? But, of course, not about Israel’s hundreds of nukes, their golem and their nuclear Sampson strategy which JFK was trying to prevent from happening-which is one of the reasons why he was killed..

    1. Legendary Bill: I heard all kind of versions of who killed Kennedy: the Mafia, Fidel Castro, Vice-President Johnson, etc., but never Israel. So you’re saying that Kennedy was killed because he opposed Israel having all those nuclear warheads? If so, on what do you base your statement?

  7. Re Iraq wars and more;- how was anything these “people” promoted EVER going to benefit the USA or the English speaking world or Justice or humanity? Lies, Lies, denials, scapegoats in an endless cycle whilst the English world AND the Arab world is being absolutely raped…..then predictably, the old PS & Politicians excuse “it was a mistake” “faulty CIA info” etc etc….there is always a ready scapegoat!!
    These war promoters (including the lying mass media promoters) all appear to me like they are really just “pushing” for Israel….(also, to many are “bribed somehow” and/or tow the line to “cover for their job”)??
    To make matters worse “they” have used this so called “war on terrorism” to bring about infrastructure for “total spying on all western people” KGB ex-soviet style…..how long before they are getting people to “turn over info” about all the “non true believers”.
    Then they come out with this “democracy” spiel……Wow….
    So 1 million dead? How much money gone? Justice and future world peace demands thorough & totally transparent and independent investigations and if laws have been broken THEN prosecutions.
    “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”
    If they want to stop terrorism I say try leaving others alone.

    1. Update,….I must ad, I suspect “at the root of these wars/policy” is not only people “pushing for Israel”…it is also a very small group of “war profiteers” …. Banking, OIl, & Military supply owners + various…..an it’s about profiteering whilst seeking “world domination” (for more profits)dressed up as this utterly OUTRAGIOUS and dangerous “one world govt” idea…….research Bilderberg group et al

  8. I so appreciate this article and all the above comments. So very, very sorry, dear Iraqis. IsraelUSA is very evil.

  9. Let's leave Smedley Butler out of it. He was a phony. He grew up on Philadelphia's Mainline and attended exclusive private schools, yet effected the speech and attitudes of a coal miner. His father was the longtime, powerful chairman of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee and personally controlled the budget of the Marine Corps. From that source and that source only came his commission in the Marines and his TWO Congressional Medals, neither for valor.

    We sent thousand-plane raids to firebomb German cities which created more damage and casualties than the Hiroshima bomb. I think we would have preferred to risk one plane to do the same damage had the bomb been available.

  10. …I’m hardly religious in any sense of the word. But in stark pertinence to the malefactions Richard Perle noted herein. The 17th Century French savant Blaise Pascal once observed that: “…There are two kinds of men in the world. Those who as saints feel themselves to be sinners; and sinners that know themselves to be saints.” Thus is Perle not only a self righteous, mendacious villain of the lowest order, but one that despite a commanding intellect—Slenderly knows himself.

  11. Never in history has once small group inflicted as much harm on civilization as have the Neocons. Despite their relatively small number they managed to dictate the foreign policies of the most powerful nation on the planet- The United States. Because of their agenda we are now entagled in a perpetual, unwinnable war with Islam’s billion plus adherents. Now that they started it with the help of our own inept leadership nobody knows how to end it. The wars we fought in the past were against functioning nations whereas this enemy they created in not a nation but a globally dispersed band of religious zealots. When we hear the boast “We will win” perhaps our media should finally do its job and ask “How?” Who do we negotiate with to end this fiasco.

  12. Chutzpah indeed!

    … only Pletka admits she may have been mistaken in a key assumption — that “all who year for freedom, once free, would use it well” — an assumption, incidentally, that I don’t think was in any event central to her support for the war.

    Freedom?! Freedom was watching CNN footage from two weeks before the invasion, where people in the background were buying — far, far freer than I can in the USA — AK-47’s and crates of ammo in an open street bazaar in Baghdad. The “dictatorship” required no paperwork to buy all the guns and ammo one could want.

    Freedom meant after the invasion, when occupied Iraqis in a bombed or shelled township started to restore their own electricity and water they were prevented by armed U.S. soldiers because it was not approved by the U.S.’s Provisional Authority who were waiting for Halliburton contractors to do the job — I am sure they never showed, though I have no doubt they were paid well.

    Keep reading and reporting on the Neocon’s crap for us. Thank god I can read you instead of them. I am worried about the long term effects of Neocon crap on your brain, however. Beer or single malt may help. ;-)

  13. If you were al Ani, would you ever admit meeting with Atta in Prague? At the very least, would lead to endless incarceration.

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