The invasion of Iraq and the planting of an American army in the heart of the Middle East have encouraged one of the war’s intellectual architects, Richard Perle, to think that the United States may be pulling up its socks at last. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein, following the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, is the fruit, in Perle’s view, of a bracing new clear-eyed toughness in dealing with the enemies of democracy. But the job is far from over and Perle, in the new book he has written with David Frum, worries that “many in the American political and media elite are losing their nerve for the fight.” The enemies are many, friends are few, and summertime soldiers on the left, as Perle sees it, want to call a truce in the war on terror in “the hope that…somehow the threat will disappear on its own.”
About the source of the threat Perle expresses no doubt. It comes from “a radical strain within Islam” driven by “murderous hatred of the United States” to carry out terrorist attacks against America and its friends. Despite a vigorous worldwide counter-terror campaign, “Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas still plot murder”; and the willingness of state sponsors to arm them with weapons of mass destruction threatens “even our survival as a nation.” But where might the terrorists get these weapons, now that Iraq has been occupied? “North Korea claims already to possess some bombs,” Perle argues. “Iran is very close—perhaps three years away, in the optimistic view of US intelligence, maybe twelve to eighteen months, by the less sanguine Israeli estimate.”
We have heard such alarms before, most recently about Iraq, but Perle brushes aside the failure to find the weapons which were cited to justify the American invasion. “The critics’ emphasis on stockpiles,” he writes, “seems to us seriously misplaced.” Iraq fortunately was stopped in time, but other outlaws remain: “Why let an enemy grow stronger?” At the top of the enemies list are Iran and North Korea, which not only engage in terror but support terror. “Both regimes present intolerable threats to American security,” he insists. “We must move boldly against them both and against all the other sponsors of terrorism as well: Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. And we don’t have much time.”
That’s quite a list of target countries—seven nations in all, including the two already defeated and occupied. Does “moving boldly” mean invasion to remove the regimes in all of them? Maybe yes, maybe no. Only a month after the terror attacks of September 11 Perle told an interviewer for Frontline that the resolute action he recommended in Afghanistan and Iraq might be enough to caution others:
Because having destroyed the Taliban, having destroyed Saddam’s regime, the message to the others is, “You’re next.” Two words. Very efficient diplomacy. “You’re next, and if you don’t shut down the terrorist networks on your territory, we’ll take you down, too.”
Few thought Perle’s plan to invade Iraq reasonable or likely when he first began to defend the idea in public. It seemed over-bold even after President Bush, in his second State of the Union speech in January 2002, included Iraq in the “axis of evil”—a phrase partly invented by Perle’s coauthor, David Frum, who put the words “axis of hatred” in an early draft of the President’s speech. But Perle was not speaking lightly. As a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, he was a figure of significance in Washington, close to officials close to the President, and last year’s relentless march to war is ample evidence that Perle’s views were taken seriously in the Bush White House.
Of course Perle was not alone in beating the drum, but he is the first of the Washington hard-liners to have written at length about the strategy behind the war on terror, a fact which makes An End to Evil important and timely. The unraveling of the official case for war, based on intelligence claims, now exploded, that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of banned weapons and vigorous programs to build more, makes it all the more urgent to understand why President Bush was so determined to go to war, what he hoped to achieve by it, and what we ought to expect if the war policy is confirmed by the President’s reelection in November.
Richard Perle and David Frum share the title page and the copyright notice in An End to Evil, but to this reader, at least, it seems that the book belongs in some sense to Perle alone. I do not mean to suggest that Perle did all the work of writing, or that he and Frum did not reach agreement on the text before it went to the printer, or that Frum did not bring experience of his own to the project. But it is Perle who is the one with the public persona, who has held policy-level jobs in two administrations, who is often in the news, and whose pugnacious, bravura intellectual style gives the book its flavor. And above all, it is Perle who has a long history of promoting the hard-line, or “realist,” approach to American foreign policy.
Perle has been a fixture on the Washington scene since 1969, when he joined the staff of Senator Henry Jackson, a hard-line Democrat deeply opposed to the whole idea of détente with the Soviet Union. Jackson was a man of the anti-Communist, working-class left, the son of a union man, and he was a combative advocate of keeping ahead in the nuclear arms race, fighting the Communists in Vietnam, and pushing the Soviets hard to open their borders to Russian Jews trying to emigrate—an effort in which he was ultimately successful. Perhaps a quarter of Israel consists now of former Russian Jews and there are those who think Jackson’s hard line also deserves a significant share of the credit for the eventual collapse of communism, the freeing of Eastern Europe, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. It is not quite clear from An End to Evil, or from things Perle has written and said elsewhere, whether he brought a fierce approach to foreign affairs with him to Washington or learned it during the eleven years he spent at Jackson’s side. But hard-line is what Perle is.
“Hard-line” is a word defined by thirty years of examples. At various times hard-liners, Perle often among them, pushed for more and better nuclear weapons, ridiculed the notion of “arms control,” argued for victory in Vietnam, were ready to spread the war into Laos, Cambodia, and even North Vietnam itself, supported Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, wanted to kick the Sandinistas out of Nicaragua, argued that an all-out arms race would spend the Soviet Union into bankruptcy, pushed for American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, backed the scrapping of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, supported a clear commitment to defend Tai-wan, and expressed contempt for the United Nations. To be hard-line involves the willingness to use force, realism about using money and power to get one’s way, impatience with feel-good idealism, all-out backing for friends, and contempt for efforts to placate enemies. “Hard-liners” share an Old Testament view of the world, promise an eye for an eye, know what they want, and never forget an injury.
But perhaps most important of all, hard-liners are comfortable with the fact of overwhelming American military and economic power, and argue that it ought to be used without apology to chastise enemies, support friends, and get what America wants. In a recent column in The Wall Street Journal Perle and Frum argue that most definitions of hard- and soft-line get things exactly backward. “It is the soft-liners who are driven by ideology, who ignore or deny inconvenient facts and advocate unworkable solutions,” they write. “It is the hard-liners who are the realists, the pragmatists.” In their view the confusion is nowhere more evident than in the discussion of Israel and the Palestinians, where East–West friction brings almost daily bloodshed. Hard-liners face facts, Perle and Frum argue: Arafat will never make peace with Israel. Period. But the soft-liners, including many in the US State Department, “cling to this belief” that dialogue, negotiation, compromise will bring a settlement at last.
Perle’s devotion to Israel runs deep. Decades of war and near-war with hostile neighbors have made the country tough and self-reliant, in many ways the ideal archetype of hard-line realism as state policy. Perle has been a director of the Jerusalem Post, a consultant for Israeli weapons manufacturers, a member of the board of advisers of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and one of the coauthors of “A New Strategy for Defending the Realm,” an influential paper recommending a hard-line policy to Benjamin Netanyahu, Sharon’s predecessor as Israeli prime minister. In an interview with Ben Wattenberg on PBS in November 2002, Perle was asked why “these neoconservative hawks” were mainly Jewish, and how he answered charges that there was a “hidden agenda” in his call for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein—that, as Perle restated the question in his reply: “We are somehow motivated not by the best interest of the United States but by Israel’s best interest.” Behind the first, Perle replied “there’s clearly an undertone of anti-Semitism,” and the second claim, in his view, gave off the same aroma. “It’s a nasty line of argument,” he said, “to suggest that somehow we’re confused about where our loyalties are.”
Perle strikes me as a little nervous and defensive on this point. Why not admit openly that of course the fate of Israel is much on his mind? Anglophiles of yesteryear did not apologize for arguing that it was in America’s best interest to come to the aid of Britain in 1940, and Polish Americans did not worry in silence about the fate of Lech Walesa. Complex loyalties are part of the American style. But the decision to attack Iraq was made by President Bush, whose loyalties are not complex. Bush has no history as a hard-liner himself but he seems to have adopted a hard-line position as a governing style, telling enemies abroad what he will not tolerate, pushing for his agenda without compromise at home, taking the support of allies like Britain’s Tony Blair as if it were his by right, dismissing the hesitations of other longtime friends as somehow meanly motivated. Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill reports in his quasi memoir of two frustrating years in the Bush administration, The Price of Loyalty,1 that Bush was rigid on questions of policy. “I won’t negotiate with myself,” he often said, meaning, in O’Neill’s view, that once the President had taken a position it was set in concrete, and no one should expect to revisit its rationale. The President’s frequent use of the word “evil,” echoed by Perle and Frum, is a sign that he is not about to negotiate with himself when the question on the table is how to deal with enemies.