The Neocons in Power

Richard Perle
Richard Perle; drawing by David Levine


The conflict within the Bush administration in recent months over policy for postwar Iraq has caused much confusion and has already damaged the reconstruction effort. The stakes are enormous not just for the US and for the people of Iraq, but for the entire Middle East, and the rest of the world. Almost from the outset of the Bush administration there have been battles between the State Department and the Defense Department, but the controversy over postwar Iraq has brought out bitterness and knife-wielding of a sort that Washington has seldom seen.

To some extent, the tension between the two departments is inherent because of their different missions. This conflict spills over into the White House and the think tanks and the offices of various consultants around town. It is really a conflict between the neoconservatives, who are largely responsible for getting us into the war against Iraq, and those they disparagingly call the “realists,” who tend to be more cautious about the United States’ efforts to remake the Middle East into a democratic region.

The word “neoconservative” originally referred to former liberals and leftists who were dismayed by the countercultural movements of the 1960s and the Great Society, and adopted conservative views, for example, against government welfare programs, and in favor of interventionist foreign policies. A group of today’s “neocons” now hold key positions in the Pentagon and in the White House and they even have a mole in the State Department.

The most important activists are Richard Perle, who until recently headed the Defense Policy Board (he’s still a member), a once-obscure committee, ostensibly just an advisory group but now in fact a powerful instrument for pushing neocon policies; James Woolsey, who has served two Democratic and two Republican administrations, was CIA director during the Clinton administration, and now works for the management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton; Kenneth Adelman, a former official in the Ford and Reagan administrations who trains executives by using Shakespeare’s plays as a guide to the use of power (www.moversandshakespeares .com); Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense and the principal advocate of the Iraq policy followed by the administration; Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, the Pentagon official in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq; and I. Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff. Two principal allies of this core group are John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control (though he opposes arms control) and international security affairs, and Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser. Cheney himself and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can be counted as subscribing to the neocons’ views about Iraq.

A web of connections binds these people in a formidable alliance. Perle, Wolfowitz, and Woolsey have long been close friends and neighbors in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The three have worked with one another in the Pentagon, served on the same committees and commissions, and…

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