Saturday, January 1, 2000

Right Web's Profile of Richard Perle

Richard Perle is widely considered a core representative of the neoconservative political faction; he played a central role in championing the war in Iraq and an aggressive war on terror centered on the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. Once dubbed the “Prince of Darkness” because of his advocacy of extremely hawkish anti-Soviet policies while in Ronald Reagan's Department of Defense, Perle's former post as chairman of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld' s Defense Policy Board (DPB) in the years leading up to the Iraq War gave him a privileged perch from which he helped shape Bush administration foreign policies.
Echoing the efforts of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a leading neoconservative advocacy group with which Perle was closely associated, and former Pentagon number two Paul Wolfowitz, who was the most vocal administration proponent for attacking Iraq in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Perle convened a meeting of the DPB shortly after the attacks to produce policy alternatives for the administration. Perle invited as a guest to the classified meeting Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who was a longtime confidant of Perle's and served as the head of the Iraqi National Congress, which had for years been pushing for regime change in Iraq. Commenting on this apparent coordination in and outside the administration, Jim Lobe and Michael Flynn wrote: “It appears that after 9/11, the network of hawks and neoconservatives that had coalesced around PNAC's founding agenda had mobilized in a highly coordinated way to fashion the administration's response to the terrorist attacks and rally the public behind their new agenda” (see “The Rise and Decline of the Neoconservatives,” Right Web Analysis, November 17, 2006).

In late 2006, however, Perle split with many of his neocon cohorts and began expressing a change of heart regarding the policies he had vociferously championed. In a widely noted interview with Vanity Fair in late 2006, Perle argued that the war in Iraq had turned out to be a mistake. He said: “I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?,' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.' ... I don't say that because I no longer believe that Saddam had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, or that he was not in contact with terrorists. I believe those two premises were both correct. Could we have managed that threat by means other than a direct military intervention? Well, maybe we could have.”

Responding to Perle's change of heart, Gary Schmitt, a founder of PNAC and a Perle colleague at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told the BBC: “I do not agree with Richard Perle that we should never have gone in. I do argue that the execution should have been better. In fact, I argued in late 2003 that we needed more troops and a proper counterinsurgency policy” (BBC, December 21, 2006).

Also in seeming opposition to most neoconservatives, Perle gave an equivocal reaction to the controversial decision by President George W. Bush in early 2007 to “surge” the number of troops in Iraq. While most neoconservatives were supportive of the surge plan, though eager for a larger commitment than 20,000 additional troops, Perle expressed doubt that more troops was the answer. He told the New York Sun (January 11, 2007): “I don't think the additional troops are the key to the strategy [Bush] has announced, it is how effectively those troops are managed.” He added: “The big question in my mind is whether we can implement some practical and prudent measures. I don't know if we can. It will depend significantly on the command in the country.”

Perle's pessimism on Iraq stands in stark contrast to his trademark hard-nosed militarism, which has been a staple of his rhetoric for more than two decades. Reflecting core aspects of what many regard as the neoconservative worldview, Perle's discourse typically reflects a combination of warrior worship, existential conflict, and extreme moral righteousness. As the Australian journalist John Pilger reported shortly before the war in Iraq: “One of George W. Bush's 'thinkers' is Richard Perle. I interviewed Perle when he was advising Reagan; and when he spoke about 'total war,' I mistakenly dismissed him as mad. He recently used the term again in describing America's 'war on terror.' 'No stages,' he said. 'This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq ... this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. 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'” (December 12, 2002).

Like many neoconservatives, Perle seems to have been particularly influenced by his views of the Holocaust, a theme that has repeatedly popped up in his rhetoric. Said Perle in a 2003 interview with BBC: “For those of us who are involved in foreign and defense policy today, my generation, the defining moment of our history was certainly the Holocaust. It was the destruction, the genocide of a whole people, and it was the failure to respond in a timely fashion to a threat that was clearly gathering. We don't want that to happen again; when we have the ability to stop totalitarian regimes we should do so, because when we fail to do so, the results are catastrophic” (Jim Lobe, “Moral Clarity of Moral Abdication?”, May 11, 2005). Similarly, in his 2004 book An End to Evil , he and coauthor David Frum argued: “For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause ... There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust” (Jim Lobe, “From Holocaust to Hyperpower,” Inter Press Service, January 26, 2005).

This radical outlook on foreign affairs deeply influenced both Perle's reaction to 9/11 and his initial response to the growing turmoil in the Middle East in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. For example, despite the growing violence in Iraq by late 2005, Perle remained committed to a larger “regime change” strategy for the Middle East that included both Syria and Iran. On Syria, Perle hosted meetings in late 2005 between Chalabi and Syrian exile Farid Ghadry, who was head of the Syrian Reform Party. Ghadry told the Wall Street Journal: “[Chalabi] paved the way in Iraq for what we want to do in Syria.” Said Perle: “There's no reason to think engagement with Syria will bring about any change,” adding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “has never been weaker, and we should take advantage of that” (cited in H.D.S. Greenway, “The Return of the Neocons,” Boston Globe, December 13, 2005).

On Iran, Perle lambasted the State Department and Condoleezza Rice for being weak on the “mullahs.” In a July 21, 2006 piece for AEI (a version of which appeared in the June 25, 2006 Washington Post) titled “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi),” Perle contended that the offer of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program amounted to “appeasement.” He wrote: “Proximity is critical in politics and policy. And the geography of this administration has changed. Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away. What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of—and increasingly represents—a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries.”

During the summer 2006 conflict in Lebanon, Perle also remained on message, arguing that Israel was involved in an “existential struggle” with Hezbollah. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Perle wrote: “Israel must now deal a blow of such magnitude to those who would destroy it as to leave no doubt that its earlier policy of acquiescence is over. This means precise military action against Hezbollah and its infrastructure in Lebanon and Syria, for as long as it takes and without regard to mindless diplomatic blather about proportionality. For what appears to some to be a disproportionate response to small incursions and kidnappings is, in fact, an entirely appropriate response to the existential struggle in which Israel is now engaged” (New York Times, July 22, 2006).

Perle has for decades supported the work of a number of hardline think tanks and advocacy groups, including the Committee on the Present Danger, PNAC, AEI, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Hudson Institute, and the Center for Security Policy.

In 1996, Perle participated in a study group that produced a report for the incoming Likud-led government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel that urged the country to break off then-ongoing peace initiatives and suggested strategies for reshaping the Middle East. Among the group's arguments was the idea that “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq [was] an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” The report—titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” and coauthored by Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser—also recommended working closely with “Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll back” regional threats and using “Israeli proxy forces” based in Lebanon for “striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon.” If that should “prove insufficient, [Israel should strike] at select targets in Syria proper.” Further, “Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, even rolling back Syria.” This would create a “natural axis” between Israel, Jordan, a Hashemite Iraq, and Turkey that “would squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula.” This “could be the prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East, which could threaten Syria's territorial integrity.”

In 1998, Perle signed a PNAC letter to President Bill Clinton that argued, “Current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War.” The threat from Iraq was characterized as being of such a magnitude that the “only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.” Other signatories included future Bush administration officials Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, Peter Rodman, Robert Zoellick, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz.

In 2001, Perle also signed the now notorious post-9/11 PNAC letter to President Bush arguing that “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism. The United States must therefore provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition. American military force should be used to provide a 'safe zone' in Iraq from which the opposition can operate. And American forces must be prepared to back up our commitment to the Iraqi opposition by all necessary means.”

Perle has been heavily criticized for his abrasive tone and sometimes questionable business interests, which have been the focus of several investigative reports by journalists. When the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh documented Perle's business dealings in the Middle East with the venture capital firm Trireme, Perle threatened to sue the journalist, saying that he was the “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist” (Extra!, May/June 2003).

Hersh's article, “Lunch with the Chairman,” discussed possible conflicts of interest resulting from Perle's dual role as chairman of the Defense Policy Board and as a partner for Trireme, a company that invests in homeland security and defense-related industries. Hersh recounted how Perle met with Adnan Khashoggi, a Saudi arms dealer, and another Saudi businessman in early 2003. Various people interviewed by Hersh, including Khashoggi, indicated that Perle and Trireme seemed to be sending the message that in return for Saudi investment backing, the “Chairman” would use his Pentagon connections to influence U.S. policy (New Yorker, November 4, 2003).

Soon after the Hersh piece was published, columnist Maureen Dowd and other journalists documented Perle's relationship to Global Crossings, a bankrupt communications giant and defense contractor that was seeking Pentagon permission to be sold to the Asian company Hutchinson Wampoa (the same Hutchinson Wampoa whose interests in Panama sparked an anguished round of right-wing hand-wringing about a Chinese attempt to take control of the Panama Canal). Although Perle denied any wrongdoing, he admitted through his attorney that he was hired by Global Crossings to consult with a reluctant Department of Defense about the deal (, March 24, 2003).

In late March 2003, Perle announced that he was stepping down from his post as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, writing in his resignation letter to Rumsfeld: “I have seen controversies like this before and I know that this one will inevitably distract from the urgent challenge in which you are now engaged. I would not wish to cause even a moment's distraction from that challenge. As I cannot quickly or easily quell criticism of me based on errors of fact concerning my activities, the least I can do under these circumstances is to ask you to accept my resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board” (, March 24, 2003).


American Enterprise Institute: Resident Fellow
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: Member, Board of Advisers
Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs: Member, Board of Advisers
Hudson Institute: Member, Board of Trustees
Center for Security Policy: Member, National Security Advisory Council
U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon: Golden Circle Supporter
Council on Foreign Relations: Chairman, Study Group on Nonlethal Options in Overseas Contingencies (report published in 1995)
Project for the New American Century: Letter Signatory
Committee for the Liberation of Iraq: Member
Committee on the Present Danger: Member
Middle East Forum/U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon: Signed 2000 document sponsored by both groups calling on the United States to force Syria from Lebanon
American Committee for Peace in Chechnya: Member
Government Service

Department of Defense: Former member, Defense Policy Board (Chairman until 2003); Assistant Secretary of Defense (1981-1987)
U.S. Senate: Staff (1969-1980); served on the staffs of Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, the Senate Committee on Government Operations, the Committee on Armed Services, and the Arms Control Subcommittee
Private Sector

Hollinger International: Former Co-Chairman
Trireme Partners L.P.: Managing Partner
Global Crossings: Consultant
Morgan Crucible: Co-Chairman
Jerusalem Post: Former Co-Chairman

Princeton University: M.A., Political Science (1967)
University of Southern California: B.A., International Relations (1964)
London School of Economics: Honors Examinations (1962-1963)

American Enterprise Institute, Biography of Richard Perle,,filter./scholar.asp.

Jim Lobe and Michael Flynn, “The Rise and Decline of the Neoconservatives,” Right Web Analysis, November 17, 2006.

David Rose, “Neo Culpa,” Vanity Fair, November 3, 2006.

Paul Reynolds, “End of the Neocon Dream,” BBC, December 21, 2006.

Eli Lake, “Bush Warns Iranians,” New York Sun, January 11, 2007.

John Pilger, “Two Years Ago a Project Set up by the Men Who Now Surround George W. Bush Said What America Needed Was 'A New Pearl Harbor,'” December 12, 2002.

Jim Lobe, “Moral Clarity of Moral Abdication?”, May 11, 2005.

Jim Lobe, “From Holocaust to Hyperpower,” Inter Press Service, January 26, 2005.

H.D.S. Greenway, “The Return of the Neocons,” Boston Globe, December 13, 2005.

Richard Perle, “Why Did Bush Blink on Iran? (Ask Condi),” American Enterprise Institute, July 21, 2006.

Richard Perle, “An Appropriate Response,” New York Times, July 22, 2006.

Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies,

Richard Ryan, “When Journalism Becomes 'Terrorism,'” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Extra!, May/June 2003.

Seymour Hersh, “Lunch with the Chairman,” New Yorker, November 4, 2003.

Charles R. Smith, “Perle Responds to Dowd and Other Critics,”, March 24, 2003.