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

Ron Paul on the Surveillance Bill

Ron Paul opposes both the Republican and Democratic proposals to renew the telecom surveillance bill. Following is his speech before the US House of Representatives, Friday, March 14, 2008.

I rise in opposition to this latest attempt to undermine our personal liberties and violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. This bill will allow the federal government to engage in the bulk collection of American citizens’ communications. In effect, it means that any American may have his electronic communications monitored without a search warrant.

As such, the bill clearly violates the Fourth Amendment, which states:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The assurances in this bill that Americans will not have their communications monitored without warrant are unconvincing. The bill merely states that the government should do its best to avoid monitoring Americans if possible. We have seen how meaningless such qualified prohibitions have been as we recount the abuses over the past several years.

Just today, we read in the news that the federal government has massively abused its ability to monitor us by improperly targeting Americans through the use of “national security letters.” Apparently some 60 percent of the more than 50,000 national security letters targeted Americans, rather than foreign terrorists, for surveillance.

This is what happens when we begin down the slippery slope of giving up our constitutional rights for the promise of more security. When we come to accept that the government can spy on us without a court order we have come to accept tyranny.

I urge my colleagues to reject this and all legislation that allows Americans to be spied on without a properly issued warrant.

State Dept: Criticism of Israel = Anti-Semitism?

In the most recent edition of its annual “Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism” released Thursday, the State Department — and hence the U.S. government — moves ever more closely to a long-standing neo-conservative tenet: that criticism of Israel or Israeli policies often, if not always, equals anti-Semitism. The report also suggests that comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to South African apartheid — as former President Jimmy Carter did in his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid — also amounts to anti-Semitism. And it focuses on the United Nations as a breeding ground for anti-Semitism as expressed through criticism of Israel, another major neo-conservative theme that has intensified sharply over the past five years, notably through the efforts of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the National Review Online and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page.

Here’s the argument as laid out in the introductory section of the report entitled Contemporary Forms of Anti-Semitism”:

“Anti-Semitism has proven to be an adaptive phenomenon. New forms of anti-Semitism have evolved. They often incorporate elements of traditional anti-Semitism. However, the distinguishing feature of the new anti-Semitism is criticism of Zionism or Israeli policy that — whether intentionally or unintentionally — has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel’s perceived faults to its Jewish character.

“The new anti-Semitism is common throughout the Middle East and in Muslim communities in Europe, but it is not confined to these populations. For example, various United Nations bodies are asked each year on multiple occasions to commission investigations of what often are sensationalized reports of alleged atrocities and other violations of human rights by Israel. Various bodies have been set up within the UN system with the sole purpose of reporting on what is assumed to be ongoing, abusive Israeli behavior. The motive for such actions may be to defuse an immediate crisis, to show others in the Middle East that there are credible means of addressing their concerns other than resorting to violence, or to pursue other legitimate ends. But the collective effect of unremitting criticism of Israel, coupled with a failure to pay attention to regimes that are demonstrably guilty of grave violations, has the effect of reinforcing the notion that the Jewish state is one of the sources, if not the greatest source, of abuse of the rights of others, and thus intentionally or not encourages anti-Semitism.

“Comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is increasingly commonplace. Anti-Semitism couched as criticism of Zionism or Israel often escapes condemnation since it can be more subtle than traditional forms of anti-Semitism, and promoting anti-Semitic attitudes may not be the conscious intent of the purveyor. Israel’s policies and practices must be subject to responsible criticism and scrutiny to the same degree as those of any other country. At the same time, those criticizing Israel have a responsibility to consider the effect their actions may have in prompting hatred of Jews. At times hostility toward Israel has translated into physical violence directed at Jews in general. There was, for example, a sharp upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide during the conflict between Hizballah and Israel in the summer of 2006.” [Italics added.]

Of course, it would be interesting to apply this analysis to the rhetoric used by senior political figures, neo-conservative groups (such as FDD or the American Enterprise Institute), and media in the U.S. and Europe about Islam, Muslims or about various kinds of Islamic political movements in the Arab and Islamic worlds, particularly with respect to the notion that these actors may have a “responsibility to consider the effects their actions may have in prompting” Islamophobia. [I suspect the report’s author meant “promoting” rather than prompting.]

The report purports to apply a definition of anti-Semitism established by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) to its own analysis. But it actually goes beyond that by suggesting at various points, particularly in relation to UN conferences, resolutions, and the reports by UN Special Rapporteurs, that any comparison of the treatment by Israel of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories with apartheid amounts to anti-Semitism. Carter, however, goes unmentioned, perhaps because the report’s scope does not cover the anti-Semitism in the United States. If it did, I suppose it would have to also address the anti-Semitism — as opposed to the philo-Zionism — of the Christian Right, and that wouldn’t be good for a Republican administration. That anti-Semites like Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell can be the most zealous supporters of Israel, particularly a Greater Israel, for theological reasons certainly poses some delicate challenges for those disposed to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. So far as the neo-conservatives are concerned, however, that conundrum was settled 25 years ago when Irving Kristol noted that Jews should not be concerned about an alliance with the Christian Right despite its anti-Semitic beliefs. “Why would it be a problem for us?” he wrote back in the early 1980s. ”It is their theology; but it is our Israel.”

The report is being issued in advance of next Wednesday’s a meeting at AEI next week on the subject of “Anti-Semitism and the War on Terror” featuring Germany historian Matthias Kuentzel, the author of the ‘Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11.’ As pointed out in the AEI blurb, the author’s “central thesis is that a great deal of contemporary Islamist anti-Semitism comes directly from the Third Reich, that it was institutionalized in the Middle East during the Second World War, and that is has grown ever since, thanks to organizations and individuals who — in many cases — received direct ideological, political, and financial support from teh Nazis and who are still very active.” AEI fellows Michael Ledeen and Michael Novak (who personally assured me at another AEI seminar back in 1981 that the Argentine military junta could not possibly be considered a neo-Nazi regime as alleged by one its most famous victims, Jacobo Timerman, after his release — as a result of pressure from Jimmy Carter, no less — from one of its secret torture prisons) will comment after the presentation.

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

Raimondo, Penn, Sheehan Protest 5 Years in Iraq in SF 3/16/08 Editorial Director Justin Raimondo will be speaking in San Francisco, CA this Sunday, March 16th at “Iraq: 5 Years Too Many,” an event marking the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Actor Sean_Penn (a longtime activist who recently lent his voice to the documentary “War Made Easy”) and Peace Activist Cindy Sheehan are headlining the evening, which will also feature Reverend Gregory Stewart, Senior Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church, and Matt Gonzalez, former President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

If you’re in the area, the program will begin at 5pm on Sunday, March 16th, 2008 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin Street (near Geary) in San Francisco. After the speakers finish, attendees will march to the War Memorial Auditorium on Van Ness Avenue to read the names of Americans and Iraqis killed in the war. There is a suggested donation of $5-$10 for the evening, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. The program is sponsored by the Iraq Moratorium – SF Bay Area and other local peace groups. More info: or (415) 776-4580.

If you’re in the US, but not near the SF Bay Area, and want to get out and protest 5 years too many in Iraq next week, you can look at United for Peace & Justice’s map of local actions here.