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February 19, 2009: Perle Denies Any Neoconservative Influence in Bush Administration

In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle (see 1965 and Early 1970s) attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack (see 1987-2004, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, March, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 15, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 18-19, 2001, May 2002, August 16, 2002, November 20, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 25, 2003, and March 27, 2003). But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
bullet Perle is not a neoconservative.
bullet Neoconservatives do not exist.
bullet Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
Perle had previously advanced his arguments in an article for National Interest magazine. [National Interest, 1/21/2009]
'No Such Thing as a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - Perle tells the gathering, hosted by National Interest: “There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy. It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.” Perle has shaped the nation’s foreign policy since 1974 (see August 15, 1974, Early 1976, 1976, and Early 1981). He was a key player in the Reagan administration’s early attempts to foment a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union (see Early 1981 and After, 1981 and Beyond, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and October 11-12, 1986). Perle denies any real involvement with the 1996 “Clean Break” document, which Milbank notes “is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy” (see July 8, 1996 and March 2007). Perle explains: “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group. I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.” In reality, Perle wrote the bulk of the “Clean Break” report. Perle sidesteps questions about the letters he wrote (or helped write) to Presidents Clinton and Bush demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, and September 20, 2001), saying, “I don’t have the letters in front of me.” He denies having any influence on President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which, as Milbank notes, “enshrin[ed] the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom” (see May 1, 2001), saying: “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements [he wrote]. My guess is he didn’t.” Instead, as Perle tells the audience: “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world. None of that is true, of course.” Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” And Perle claims that no neoconservative ever insisted that the US military should be used to spread democratic values (see 1965, Early 1970s, Summer 1972 and After, August 15, 1974, 1976, November 1976, Late November, 1976, 1977-1981, 1981 and Beyond, 1984, Late March 1989 and After, 1991-1997, March 8, 1992, July 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997, November 12, 1997, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, May 29, 1998, July 1998, February 1999, 2000, September 2000, November 1, 2000, January 2001, January 22, 2001 and After, March 12, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 24, 2001, September 25-26, 2001, October 29, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 20, 2001, November 29-30, 2001, December 7, 2001, February 2002, April 2002, April 23, 2002, August 6, 2002, September 4, 2002, November 2002-December 2002, November 12, 2002, February 2003, February 13, 2003, March 19, 2003, December 19, 2003, March 2007, September 24, 2007, and October 28, 2007), saying, “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.” His strident calls for forcible regime change in Iran were not what they seemed, he says: “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran. Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term” (see July 8-10, 1996, Late Summer 1996, November 14, 2001, and January 24, 2004).
Challenged by Skeptics - Former Reagan administration official Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After and May 1982 and After), who challenged Perle during his time in Washington, takes issue with what he calls the “argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminds Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists, and argues, “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought.” Perle replies, “I don’t accept the approach, not at all.” National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn asks Perle to justify his current position with the title of his 2003 book An End to Evil. Perle claims: “We had a publisher who chose the title. There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (Milbank provides an excerpt from the book that reads: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”) Perle blames the news media for “propagat[ing] this myth of neoconservative influence,” and says the term “neoconservative” itself is sometimes little more than an anti-Semitic slur. After the session, the moderator asks Perle how successful he has been in making his points. “I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” he concedes. [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
'Richard Perle Is a Liar' - Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a regular columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, writes flatly, “Richard Perle is a liar.” He continues: “[K]ey neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others [were] openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and… used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they ‘bamboozled’ Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11.… The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won’t be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider—as is the case with Perle—what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?” [Foreign Policy, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Jacob Heilbrunn, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, Dana Milbank, Bush administration (43), Stephen Walt, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Burt

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence


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