Who is Richard Perle, and why is he saying these things

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 at 04:33 PM

I had an interesting experience on Sunday. I turned on Meet the Press just as Russert started his four-way debate on Iraq, with the one-and-only Richard Perle as one of the two voices insisting on victory & nothing but (Tom DeLay was the other). Perle sounded so....irrational...that I started doing a little background checking and, yikes!

It may help to get the flavor of Richard Perle--and it is a very strong, not very tasty, flavor indeed--before seeing what he said on Meet the Press, so check out these:

Next year at about this time, I expect there will be a really thriving trade in the region, and we will see rapid economic development. And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad named after President Bush.
Perle, in the Spring of 2003.

Not far enough out? Try this:

We'll look back and see the liberation of Iraq and the establishment of a freely elected government that respects human rights as a turning point in history.
Perle, in Feb, 2005.

Okay, here he is, the oracle of the ages, the Delphic demon himself, on Sunday's Meet the Press

... MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Perle, is the war, war in Iraq worth the price we've paid?

MR. RICHARD PERLE: Forgive me for saying it, but I think it's the wrong question. It's a bit academic for one thing. But the question is what is in our national interest now, what is going to make Americans safer. I disagree with what we've just heard. A defeat in Iraq brought about in the worst instance by precipitous withdrawal would have terrorists around the world celebrating. It is the idea that the United States can be defeated that motivates terrorists. And we have Osama bin Laden himself saying that and saying it repeatedly. So the question the country faces now is not is this a reason--is this a bargain, is it a reasonable price. The question is what do we do. And I think we have to win this war, and I hope that the new strategy that's been adopted will enable us to do that.

... MR. PERLE: Redeploy--redeploy is a euphemism for cutting and running and you know it.

.... MR. PERLE: Well, no. I think--I think Saddam Hussein posed a threat that had to be dealt with, and I think the decision to remove him was a correct decision. I think there were lots of things subsequent to his removal that might well have been--should have been done differently. But the fact is he posed a threat. Let me quote--I don't usually quote Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, but on this occasion I will. These are his words. "The war against terrorism will not be finished as long as Saddam Hussein is in power." This was not an eccentric view. This was certainly not a Republican view. It was a widely accepted view. .... Tim, we went into Iraq to defend this country against the threat that, after 9/11, we understood to be an intolerable threat. That is that Saddam Hussein, with a history of weapons of mass destruction, with known ties to terrorists, might use that weapons capability by placing it in the hand of terrorists. We were right to take that threat seriously. Now we find we're in a difficult situation, and it makes no sense to abandon this fight without giving the new strategy a chance to succeed. It's accepting defeat unnecessarily, and it will be a catastrophe in the continuing war against terrorists who want to destroy us.

I don't want to carp on Tim Russert, but it would have been nice if Russert had armed his viewers with a couple of statements about how far off base Mr. Perle has been so far in this debacle, don't you think?

And, frankly, the scariest Perle quote I've ever seen really isn't in any of the material above. It's this little gem:

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.

That's virtually indistinguishable from the publicized sentiments during the glory days of the Third Reich, I think.

So who the hell is Richard Perle, why is he saying this crap, and why-oh-why the hell is anyone giving him the air time to say it?

Well, Slate described him thusly, way back in 2002 before the first mistake ever took place in Iraq:

slate.com August 23, 2002 Richard Perle - Washington's faceful bureaucrat By Chris Suellentrop

Anyone who has listened to a single political speech knows that Washington, D.C., is a swampy morass controlled by pencil pushers, experts in bureaucratic intrigue. Richard Perle is one of these men. By dint of his mastery of the dark arts of memos and news leaks, Perle has become a Washington eminence, appearing on TV shows, publishing op-eds in the national dailies, and getting quoted (by name!) in news stories. He's something you don't hear about in politicians' speeches: the faceful bureaucrat.

Consider his current appointment as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, the Pentagon's advisory panel. It's an important and influential job but typically a fairly anonymous post--the board, whose members are unpaid, is a pasture where washed-up politicos such as current board members Newt Gingrich and Tom Foley graze contentedly. Perle, however, has used the hitherto unremarked-upon position as a perch to establish himself as the official spokesman for neocon hawkishness, the leading voice calling on the Bush administration to topple Saddam Hussein. Like many Washington insiders, Perle influences the powerful. Unlike many, he achieves a certain celebrity for doing so.

It's a trick he's pulled before. As a staffer for the fiercely anti-Communist Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson, D-Wash., in the 1970s, Perle established himself as "the quintessential Washington operator," as the Washington Post's Robert Kaiser described him in 1977 in a nearly 3,700-word profile, an unusual amount of space to devote to a Senate staffer, even the right-hand man for the senator from Boeing. (Like some other neocons, Perle sometimes reminds reporters that he's a registered Democrat, though he's been associated with Republican administrations and candidates for two decades.) Under Jackson's tutelage, Perle had become one of Washington's most powerful figures, a Cold Warrior who worked to squelch arms control agreements and pushed the Senate to adopt a hard line against the Soviet Union. He helped Jackson scuttle detente, particularly by tying trade benefits to the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel. Over time, Perle's influence extended beyond Jackson--during one unsuccessful effort to derail a Carter nominee whom Perle perceived as too soft on arms control, he wrote speeches for as many as 16 senators. And Perle's tentacles reached into the press, too, which he manipulated through careful leaks of sensitive information. He was said to frequently use Evans and Novak's column to push his agenda and to punish his foes. Later, Perle would add George Will and the Wall Street Journal's Robert Bartley to his list of friends in the media.

After President Reagan's election in 1980, Perle moved into the executive branch as an assistant defense secretary, a third-rank job where he again attained an unusual amount of notoriety. There were 10 other people with that title, but Perle was the only one to receive a three-part 11,000-word Post profile upon his resignation, not to mention the countless column inches dedicated to him in all the national dailies during his tenure. Using the skills and contacts he'd developed in Jackson's office, Perle became the Reagan administration's point man on arms control, becoming known as the "Prince of Darkness" by arms control advocates for his resistance to new treaties. Most notably, Perle devised the tough talk of the "zero option" for any agreement on medium-range nukes in Europe, which meant that the United States would not deploy any missiles in return for the Soviets withdrawing theirs. His influence was such that when Reagan headed to Reykjavik in 1986 for a summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, Perle was the Defense Department's sole representative. Some of his adversaries in the State Department viewed him, rather than Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, as the most powerful man in the Pentagon.

By the time he resigned as assistant secretary in 1987, Perle was well-known enough that Random House paid him $300,000 to write Hard Line, a roman clef about his time in the Reagan administration. In it, Perle explained the methods he used to acquire so much clout. "Knowledge was power. The more you knew, the more you could use what you knew to expand your empire or advance your political agenda--or both," he wrote. It was a "surrogate war": "Since turf wars and ideological battles between the principals on such a high level attracted unwanted publicity, assistant secretaries did the fighting. Urbane guerrillas in dark suits, they fought not with AK-47s but with memos, position papers, talking points, and news leaks."

Fifteen years later, after leaving office to cash in with a variety of private-sector jobs, Perle is back at his old game, conducting another surrogate war by saying what fellow hawks like Paul Wolfowitz cannot because of political constraints. "Basically, Perle is serving as the ventriloquist's dummy and is making the administration's case publicly but in a deniable fashion," says John Pike, a defense policy expert and an old Perle foe. "Donald Rumsfeld adamantly refuses to talk about blowing up Iraq. Richard Perle talks about very little else."

And Source Watch has this to say:

Known in Washington circles as "The Prince of Darkness," Perle is associated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century, both of which have been prominent behind-the-scenes architects of the Bush administration's foreign policy, in particular its push for war with Iraq.

He is closely allied with former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Dundes Wolfowitz, another Iraq hawk. Perle is also a vocal supporter of Israel and a critic of Saudi Arabia. Perle is on the Advisory Board of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and is a former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a Defense Department advisory group composed primarily of former government officials, retired military officers, and academics. ... A veteran Washington insider, Perle has on occasion been accused of being an Israeli agent of influence. It has been reported that while he was working for Jackson, an "FBI summary of a 1970 wiretap recorded Perle discussing classified information with someone in the Israeli embassy." In 1983, after stepping into a Pentagon job in the Reagan administration, Perle came under fire for accepting a $50,000 payment from an Israeli arms manufacturer. He explained that the payment was for work done as a Washington lobbyist before entering government.

Perle was also singled out in an internal report by Hollinger International about questionable amounts paid to the directors and friends of Conrad Black ("A report by a special board committee singled out director Richard N. Perle, a former Defense Department official, who received $5.4 million in bonuses and compensation. The report said Perle should return the money to the Chicago company").

This is one of those men who rises to prominence in unreasonable and irrational times, struts on his little stage, and wreaks great havoc under the guise of strength and defense of national virtue, only to be looked at with amazement in later years as people attempt to discern how someone so obviously wrong, so obviously off, could have ever been taken seriously by ordinary people of good will and good sense.