Richard Perle was one of the arch hawks who helped to push
Tuesday May 29, 2007
Richard Perle says he has nothing to apologise for. True, in 1998 he signed on to a letter from prominent neo-conservatives calling on the then president, Bill Clinton, to use force if necessary to oust Saddam Hussein. True, too, that as chairman of the defence policy board from 2001 to 2003, he was an adviser to the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in the pivotal days of planning for the
"I will take responsibility for what I argued which was that we should remove Saddam, and I am willing to defend that position today," says Perle, who is to be interviewed by Philippe Sands at the Guardian Hay Festival tonight. "Do I take responsibility for the things that went wrong afterwards? I had no influence over those things, unfortunately."
Perle's refusal to shoulder any share of the blame for the catastrophic consequences of his ideas about the world comes at a time when neo-conservative forces seem to be on the retreat in the Bush presidency. Earlier this month, Paul Wolfowitz, another prime force behind the war in
In January, Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice-president Dick Cheney, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. Last November, Rumsfeld was swept aside as Pentagon chief, following the Republicans' election defeat.
With nearly two-thirds of Americans opposed to the war, one could be forgiven for thinking that Perle might be looking for cover. Earlier this year, Vanity Fair magazine published an article raising the astonishing prospect that Perle, one of the most ardent advocates of war on
But, as soon becomes apparent during our conversation, it is some distance from that glancing admission to a real change of heart, and there is little evidence that the debacle in Iraq has led Perle to question the hawkish views that have guided his life and - not incidentally - made his career in Washington.
Ask Perle for his ideas on how to resolve the standoff over
He would also like to see the
When I arrive at Perle's house in Chevy Chase, still a bastion of liberals just outside the district line of
A disciple of the cold war hawk and Democratic senator, Henry Scoop Jackson, Perle spent several years as a staffer in the US Senate before gaining a post as assistant secretary of defence in the 1980s administration of Ronald Reagan. It was during his Reagan period that Perle acquired a reputation as someone who preferred to exercise his influence outside the public eye. Much to his annoyance, he is still referred to as "the Prince of Darkness" in
He moved on to the defence policy board in 1987, and stayed until 2004, when he was forced to step down amid charges that he had used his position to try to influence the sale of a telecommunications firm to a Chinese company.
Perle, who remains associated with a number of conservative think-tanks, came under additional scrutiny for his role as a director of Conrad Black's Hollinger International Inc. His management of his responsibilities to the board led the authors of the Breeden Report, which investigated allegations that Black was defrauding the company, to describe Perle as a "faithless fiduciary".
But those knocks - not to mention the bloody chaos of
Instead, Perle continues to cling to a view of events in
Against the reams of evidence to the contrary - including congressional inquiries into the administration's misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the war - Perle continues to insist that Saddam Hussein was a friend of al-Qaida.
So if the ideas were sound, where did it all go wrong? It is here, perhaps, that Perle makes his most astonishing statement:
After absolving the intellectuals who planted the seeds of war, and the civilians who were instrumental in its planning, Perle turns his ire on General Tommy Franks, the former commander of forces in
Donald Rumsfeld, it will be remembered, famously said about the looting: "Stuff happens." But Perle is understanding of that. "I think Rumsfeld thought, people have suffered under this regime so they are going to burn down the symbols of officialdom," he said.
Are the Iraqi people better off today than they were under Saddam? "That's a very temporal question," he says. In Perle's view, it should be left to a later generation of Iraqis to decide whether their lives are less wretched now than they were under Saddam. Was it worth going to war against a regime that did not after all constitute an imminent threat? "It's the wrong issue to talk about imminence," he says. Would he agree the situation in
For Perle, it seems, war is something that happens to other people. It is also a condition about which ordinary mortals - those not privy to classified reports and reliant on newspapers and television for information - may not necessarily be qualified to hold an opinion. He says he learned that lesson in 1974 when he visited Saigon as the clock was winding down on the
Just a year after his visit,
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