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…
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