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Tomorrow the World

This firmness is about all Bush shares with Perle. Intellectually they are poles apart; Bush sticks to the official line with numbing tenacity while Perle has a lively comment about everything. There is a dazzling, at moments disorienting extravagance to An End to Evil, like the grand climax to an evening of fireworks. No hyperbolist could exaggerate the range or confidence of Perle’s opinions. It seems that success in defeating terror is going to require changing pretty much the whole of the rest of the world as well—from the culture of bureaucracy in the CIA to the position of Britain in Europe, from the timidity of the State Department to the irresolution of the United Nations, from the foot-dragging of Pentagon generals to the ingratitude of old allies like France and Germany. Among the obstructionists scolded by Perle are not only Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, but former President Clinton, the State Department’s Richard Armitage (for his “incredible statement that he considered Iran to be a ‘democracy’”), Brent Scowcroft and Richard Haass (for “almost certainly” instructing US Ambassador April Glaspie to shrug off Saddam Hussein’s plans to invade Kuwait in the summer of 1990), CIA director George Tenet (“He has failed. He should go”), and even the first President Bush, because he “tried to prevent the Soviet Union from disintegrating“—a failure of nerve so egregious that Perle puts the words in italics.

An End to Evil makes so many charges against enemies abroad, accuses so many people of cant and confusion, issues so many warnings of imminent peril, and proposes so many bold undertakings that it is difficult to find the idea at the core of the book—identification of the danger that America faces, and the strategy Perle believes will bring victory. When the reader gets a grip on the danger at last it turns out to be a kind of mirror-image of the President’s claim that terrorists hate America for what it is—Western, tolerant, democratic, pluralist, materialist, and so on. In Perle’s view the source of Islamic terror is to be found in who they are—blocked at every turn in societies where hatred and violence are the only means of self-expression:

Take a vast area of the earth’s surface, inhabited by people who remember a great history. Enrich them enough that they can afford satellite television and Internet connections, so that they can see what life is like across the Mediterranean or across the Atlantic. Then sentence them to live in choking, miserable, polluted cities ruled by corrupt, incompetent officials. Entangle them in regulations and controls so that nobody can ever make much of a living except by paying off some crook-ed official. Subordinate them to elites who have suddenly become incalculably wealthy from shady dealings involving petroleum resources that supposedly belong to all…. Deny them any forum or institution—not a parliament, not even a city council—where they may freely discuss their grievances. Kill, jail, corrupt, or drive into exile every political figure, artist, or intellectual who could articulate a modern alternative to bureaucratic tyranny…. [Ensure] that the minds of the next generation are formed entirely by clerics whose own minds contain nothing but medieval theology and a smattering of third world nationalist self-pity. Combine all this, and what else would one expect to create but an enraged populace….

Perle’s argument for an aggressive assault on “terror,” by which he means “all regimes that use terror as a weapon of state against anyone, American or not,” begins with the assumption that no strategy can succeed which does not fundamentally alter the world that breeds terror. The most important change—the one that must precede and open the door to all others—would be to replace closed, authoritarian governments with open ones—in a word, bring democracy to the Islamic world. This bold idea has also been embraced by President Bush, who told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington a year ago that “the world has a clear interest in the spread of democratic values, because stable and free nations do not breed the ideologies of murder. They encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life.” The invasion of Iraq did not merely end the possibility that Saddam Hussein would give nuclear weapons to Osama bin Laden; it created an opportunity to build a freer, fairer, more open society to serve as a beacon of hope in the Islamic world, “and it is vital,” Perle writes, “that we succeed.”

Of this bold scheme, after a day’s reflection, one might say what Jake Barnes told a wistful Lady Brett in The Sun Also Rises—“Isn’t it pretty to think so.” Perle’s plan to transform the Islamic world beginning with Iraq, an idea shared by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and others in Washington, represents what is possibly the single most ambitious program to change the world in American history. Not even the fabled Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II matches it for imagination, generosity, sweep—and difficulty. As I write, success in the democracy-building effort in Iraq seems far from certain. Rather than one free state with a newborn democracy, it seems that Iraq is breaking into three super-nationalist, mutually hostile mini-states comprising the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in the center, and the Shiites in the south. In Afghanistan the military victory of late 2001 seems to be slipping away as the Taliban proves to have life in it yet.

I have no quarrel with Perle’s vision of what Iraq might become. “If Iraq’s new legislature is freely chosen,” he writes,

…if its bureaucracy is generally honest and competent and its courts are fair, if Iraqis can engage in private business without harassment and favoritism, if Iraq’s different communities can live without fear—then that is an achievement as impressive as anything the democratizers could hope for.

This is nobly said. Who would fault the dream? Where my credulity fails is with the implicit claim that the scope of this grand intervention is the brainchild of “realists” and “pragmatists.” What makes Perle think that the United States can do for the warring factions of Iraq, burning with the grievances of centuries and still raw from thirty years of oppression under the police state of Saddam Hussein, something it has conspicuously failed to do over half a century for the Israelis and the Palestinians?


Richard Perle has been living with the dilemmas at the heart of An End to Evil for many years—at least since the first Persian Gulf War of 1991, when the United States, in his view, made a ghastly mistake in failing to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein, an error he credits (gently here) to Colin Powell and the first President Bush. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11 he has argued his position with renewed fervor “to journalists from around the world, almost all of whom eventually work their way up to the one big question: Is the war on terror a Zionist plot?”

Are those really the words used? I doubt it. I’m guessing that the posing of the question sounds more like this: Is one of the goals of the war on terror to make the Middle East safe for Israel? With the question put that way Perle’s answer would surely be yes, and a careful search through his blizzard of obiter dicta discovers a theory about how this might come to pass. It is based on two axioms—that Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other military opponents of Israel are dependent on state sponsors like Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia for support; and that these groups, by their resort to attacks on civilians, are on the roster of terrorist organizations and thereby pose a threat to the United States, a threat that cannot be distinguished from that of al-Qaeda. This is presumably what Perle means when he says “Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas still plot murder” and why he presses for war on “all regimes that use terror as a weapon of state against anyone, American or not.” It’s a tricky point. According to Dilip Hiro’s The Essential Middle East,2 Hezbollah and Hamas consider themselves to be at war with Israel, not the United States. Treating them as synonymous with al-Qaeda adds to the number of America’s enemies and widens the war on terror without making it easier to fight.

But President Bush seems to have adopted Perle’s inclusive definition of terror, possibly without understanding quite how clearly it commits the United States to support for Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. By declaring Israel’s enemies as our own, the inclusive definition of terror as a strategy to make the Middle East safe for Israel certainly seems more “pragmatic and realistic” than the more grandiose effort to replace the regimes in Perle’s target countries. “Moving boldly” against Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia may not actually bring democracy, but it will certainly impede the flow of money and arms to Hezbollah and Hamas, bring a period of relative peace, and thereby allow Israel to put off again the difficult moment when it must give up the West Bank. Delay of the inevitable, cutting off money and arms, making life hard for opponents—those are goals realists and pragmatists can get behind.

In the world according to Richard Perle everything is clear and all choices are stark—except when it comes to the West Bank and Gaza. There he grows vague. “The Arab–Israeli quarrel is not a cause of Islamic extremism,” he writes. “The unwillingness of the Arabs to end the quarrel is a manifestation of the underlying cultural malaise from which Islamic extremism emerges.” So the suicide bombers are driven by “the under-lying cultural malaise”? It has nothing to do with thirty-five years of Israeli occupation?

On this subject alone Perle is unable to say what he thinks must be done, offering instead a bleak outline of everything that won’t work, starting with the one thing Palestinians have agreed they want—a state in the West Bank and Gaza. Perle concedes that this might be achieved, “if the United States were to denounce Israel as an illegal occupier of Muslim land, attack it, deport the Jewish population, and turn over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians….” Alas, “carving out a twenty-third Arab state in the Judaean Hills” won’t solve anything. The mini-state will be weak and small; extremists will demand more; “every great-niece or third cousin whose family once lived on what is now Israeli territory must be allowed to return.” America will have to take on the job of defending the mini-state from Hezbollah and Hamas. “In the end, we will be fighting its people on its behalf. We will have created a Palestinian South Vietnam.” Yes, yes—“a peaceful, open, and democratic Palestinian state would be a good thing,” he concedes, but “the likeliest result…will be another abject failure of the so-called peace process.” It will all end badly.

What does this mean? Perle’s answers are elliptical. “The greatest… obstacle to peace is the feeling among many people in the Arab and Muslim world that anything that was once theirs can never legitimately be anybody else’s.” Many peoples have suffered the loss of a homeland in the last hundred years, he writes. They got used to it. Jews had to leave their homes in Arab land. “They…let go of the past. The exiled Palestinians should likewise be accepted as citizens of Arab countries in which they now live.” Is Perle saying that the Palestinians ought to give up their hope of a state on the West Bank…and move away?

The hard-liner seems to have run out of ideas. China, Russia, the CIA, the State Department, “the underlying cultural malaise” in the Middle East—all these he can fix. But when it comes to the longest-running open sore in the clash of civilizations, his advice to the Palestinians is what Lucy in her role as psychiatrist used to tell the troubled Charlie Brown—“Get over it!”

That’s what decades of bloody struggle over the West Bank get by way of helpful advice in An End to Evil. After it come eighty pages on “Organizing for Victory” and how to deal with “Friends and Foes.” Firmly is the basic idea. It’s all rousing stuff in its way but hard to take seriously if not for one fact—the American army now planted in the heart of the Middle East. Anybody wondering when that army will return home should follow closely something never mentioned by Perle—the status of forces agreement soon to be negotiated between the United States and the new sovereign government of Iraq, once it is established. A status of forces agreement regulates the presence of military forces in an alien country. It’s my guess that the United States will insist on the right to maintain bases in Iraq, to supply, expand, or contract them at will, and to conduct military operations inside Iraq, or against third countries from Iraq, without requiring the permission of the host government. Anything less would be lacking in realism. The hard-liners have insisted all along that Iraq is not the only regime in the Middle East that needs changing, and the United States will need plenty of latitude if a reelected President Bush is to carry on with the hardline strategy for winning the war on terror.

  1. 2

    Carroll and Graf, 2003.

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