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Context of 'May 29, 1996: Netanyahu Elected Israel’s Prime Minister; Clinton Administration Dismayed'

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Paul Wolfowitz.Paul Wolfowitz. [Source: Boston Globe]A draft of the Defense Department’s new post-Cold War strategy, the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), causes a split among senior department officials and is criticized by the White House. The draft, prepared by defense officials Zalmay Khalilzad and Lewis “Scooter” Libby under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, says that the US must become the world’s single superpower and must take aggressive action to prevent competing nations—even allies such as Germany and Japan—from challenging US economic and military supremacy. [New York Times, 5/23/1992; Rupert and Solomon, 2005, pp. 122; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 165] The views in the document will become known informally as the “Wolfowitz Doctrine.” Neoconservative Ben Wattenberg will say that its core thesis is “to guard against the emergence of hostile regional superpowers, for example, Iraq or China.” He will add: “America is No. 1. We stand for something decent and important. That’s good for us and good for the world. That’s the way we want to keep it.” [AntiWar (.com), 8/24/2001] The document hails what it calls the “less visible” victory at the end of the Cold War, which it defines as “the integration of Germany and Japan into a US-led system of collective security and the creation of a democratic ‘zone of peace.’” It also asserts the importance of US nuclear weapons: “Our nuclear forces also provide an important deterrent hedge against the possibility of a revitalized or unforeseen global threat, while at the same time helping to deter third party use of weapons of mass destruction through the threat of retaliation.” [New York Times, 3/8/1992] The document states, “We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” [New York Times, 3/8/1992] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that deterring “potential competitors” from aspiring to a larger role means “punishing them before they can act.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 116]
US Not Interested in Long-Term Alliances - The document, which says the US cannot act as the world’s policeman, sees alliances among European nations such as Germany and France (see May 22, 1992) as a potential threat to US supremacy, and says that any future military alliances will be “ad hoc” affairs that will not last “beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished.… [T]he sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US will be an important stabilizing factor.” [New York Times, 5/23/1992] Conspicuously absent is any reference to the United Nations, what is most important is “the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the US… the United States should be postured to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated” or in a crisis that demands quick response. [New York Times, 3/8/1992] Unger will write of Wolfowitz’s “ad hoc assemblies:” “Translation: in the future, the United States, if it liked, would go it alone.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 116]
Preventing the Rise of Any Global Power - “[W]e endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union and Southwest Asia.” The document advocates “a unilateral US defense guarantee” to Eastern Europe, “preferably in cooperation with other NATO states,” and foresees use of American military power to preempt or punish use of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, “even in conflicts that otherwise do not directly engage US interests.” [Washington Post, 3/11/1992]
Containing Post-Soviet Threats - The document says that the US’s primary goal is “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” It adds, “This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to general global power.” In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, “our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve US and Western access to the region’s oil.” The document also asserts that the US will act to restrain what it calls India’s “hegemonic aspirations” in South Asia [New York Times, 5/23/1992] , and warns of potential conflicts, perhaps requiring military intervention, arising in Cuba and China. “The US may be faced with the question of whether to take military steps to prevent the development or use of weapons of mass destruction,” it states, and notes that these steps may include pre-empting an impending attack with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, “or punishing the attackers or threatening punishment of aggressors through a variety of means,” including attacks on the plants that manufacture such weapons. It advocates the construction of a new missile defense system to counter future threats from nuclear-armed nations. [New York Times, 3/8/1992]
Reflective of Cheney, Wolfowitz's Views - Senior Pentagon officials say that while the draft has not yet been approved by either Dick Cheney or Wolfowitz, both played substantial roles in its creation and endorse its views. “This is not the piano player in the whorehouse,” one official says.
Democrats Condemn Policy Proposal - Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), an advocate of a reduction in military spending, calls the document “myopic, shallow and disappointing,” adding: “The basic thrust of the document seems to be this: We love being the sole remaining superpower in the world.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) attacks what he sees as the document’s emphasis on unilateral military action, and ridicules it as “literally a Pax Americana.” Pentagon officials will dispute characterizations that the policy flatly rejects any idea of multilateral military alliances. One defense official says, “What is just dead wrong is this notion of a sole superpower dominating the rest of the world.” [New York Times, 3/8/1992; Washington Post, 3/11/1992]
Abandoned, Later Resurrected - Wolfowitz’s draft will be heavily revised and much of its language dropped in a later revision (see May 22, 1992) after being leaked to the media (see March 8, 1992). Cheney and Wolfowitz’s proposals will receive much more favorable treatment from the administration of George W. Bush (see August 21, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Ben Wattenberg, Craig Unger, Robert C. Byrd, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Bush administration (41), United Nations, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, US Department of Defense, Joseph Biden

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat, with Clinton symbolically bringing the two together.The famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat, with Clinton symbolically bringing the two together. [Source: Reuters]President Bill Clinton presides over the historic signing of the Oslo Accords, an overarching peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has agreed to give up large swaths of Palestinian territory Israel has occupied since 1967 in return for a Palestinian commitment to peace. Rabin is loathe to actually shake hands with his Palestinian counterpart, Yasser Arafat, in part because he knows the gesture would inflame extremists on both sides of the issue. But Clinton insists, and the two sign the accords and, symbolically embraced by Clinton, indeed shake hands. Clinton will later write, “All the world was cheering [the handshake], except the diehard protesters in the Middle East who were inciting violence, and demonstrators in front of the White House claiming we were endangering Israel’s security.” Those demonstrators include Christian fundamentalists, neoconservative ideologues, and Orthodox Jews. “Every grain of sand between the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and the Mediterranean Sea belongs to the Jews,” says US evangelist and Moral Majority co-founder Ed McAteer. “This includes the West Bank and Gaza.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 121-122]

Entity Tags: Ed McAteer, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset.Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset. [Source: Neuhaus Nadav / Corbis Sygma]During the first Knesset debate on the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993), Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists, compares the accords to British attempts to appease Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler before World War II. Referring to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, he shouts at Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, “You are worse than Chamberlain.” Netanyahu is so aggressive in part because he has the public and private support of influential US neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists. “I was ambassador [to the US] for four years of the peace process, and the Christian fundamentalists were vehemently opposed to the peace process,” Israeli ambassador Itamar Rabinovich will recall (see July 1993). “They believed that the land belonged to Israel as a matter of divine right. So they immediately became part of a campaign by the Israeli right to undermine the peace process.” Netanyahu’s outburst on the floor of the Knesset is a deliberate part of this strategy. [Knesset Homepage, 2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: Itamar Rabinovich, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat goes to Gaza as outlined by the Oslo peace agreement (see September 13, 1993). The next day, as many as 100,000 right-wing protesters vent their spleen at Arafat, the peace process, and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, chanting, “Rabin is a homo!” and “Rabin is the son of a whore!” Near a huge banner reading “Death to Arafat,” Israeli Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu attacks the “blindness” of the Rabin administration for precipitating “the destruction of the Jewish state.” Netanyahu tells the crowd: “Arafat, who is personally responsible for the murder of thousands of Jews and non-Jews, this war criminal, is being hoisted aloft by the government of Israel.… What Arafat truly wants is not an Arab state beside Israel, but an Arab state in place of Israel.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 137]

Entity Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Palestinian Liberation Organization

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Most Israeli lawmakers and politicians distance themselves from the Jewish extremists calling for the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin over the Oslo peace accords (see September 13, 1993). However, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu actively curries their favor (see July 1-2, 1994). On the floor of the Knesset, he often attacks Rabin (see September 21, 1993) for giving away “parts of our homeland.” After one particularly fiery speech, thousands of right-wing protesters gather in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, where they put of posters of Rabin wearing a Nazi SS uniform, display banners calling Rabin “Arafat’s Dog,” and chant, “Death to Rabin! Nazis! Judenrat!”—a particularly odious epithet referring to the “Jewish councils” that were forced by the Nazis to expedite the transfer of Jews to concentration camps. Housing Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is horrified by the frenzy of the mob, and tells Netanyahu, who is orchestrating the demonstration, “You’d better restrain your people. Otherwise it will end in murder. They tried to kill me just now.… Your people are mad. If someone is murdered, the blood will be on your hands.… The settlers have gone crazy, and someone will be murdered here, if not today, then in another week or another month!” Netanyahu ignores the warning, and, basking in the chants of “Bibi! Bibi! Bibi!,” takes the podium, where he is optimistically introduced as the next prime minister of Israel. [Unger, 2007, pp. 139-140]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Benjamin Netanyahu

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Israel’s Knesset approves Oslo II (see September 13, 1993), a complex set of agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For Israeli law student Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993), this is the last straw. He has already made three half-hearted attempts to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, but as of now he commits himself to carrying the deed through. For his part, Rabin continues to ignore warnings (see Early 1995) from Israeli intelligence and media reporters alike trying to alert him to the danger he is in from radical fundamentalists. [Unger, 2007, pp. 140]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Knesset, Yigal Amir, Palestinian Liberation Organization

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

The sheet with the lyrics to the ‘Song of Peace,’ stained with Rabin’s blood.The sheet with the lyrics to the ‘Song of Peace,’ stained with Rabin’s blood. [Source: Knesset]Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated at a rally in Tel Aviv. Over 100,000 people have gathered in Kings of Israel Square to support Rabin and the Oslo peace process (see September 13, 1993 and October 6, 1995). The rally is designed to be light-hearted, in contrast with the angry, combative rallies staged by radical conservatives to oppose the peace agreements (see October 1995). Rabin gives a short radio interview before leaving the stage at the rally, and tells listeners, “People have their personal security but they do not have doubts that the path of peace should be pursued.” Rabin’s wife Leah is asked if her husband is wearing a bulletproof vest. “Have you gone crazy?” she replies. “What are we, in Africa?… I don’t understand the ideas you journalists have.” Meanwhile, law student Yigal Amir (see September 13, 1993 and October 6, 1995) is sitting on a concrete flower planter in the parking lot. A guard notices Amir and whispers into his microphone, “For God’s sake. What’s that dark guy doing down there? Is he one of us?” When Rabin walks by Amir to go to his car, Amir pulls out a gun and fires three shots. Two hollow-point bullets strike Rabin in the chest, severing major arteries and destroying his spinal cord. The third strikes Rabin’s bodyguard in the arm. “It’s nothing!” Amir shouts. “It’s just a joke! Blanks, blanks!” Police seize Amir; the wounded bodyguard rushes Rabin to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead 90 minutes later. When the police inform Amir that Rabin has died, he tells them, “Do your work. I’ve done mine.” Turning to an officer, he adds, “Get some wine and cakes. Let’s have a toast.” Someone later goes through Rabin’s pockets and finds a bloodied piece of paper with the lyrics to a popular tune, “The Song of Peace,” copied on it. Rabin had joined in singing the song at the rally. Author Craig Unger later writes that aside from the personal tragedy of the assassination, “In part because of his legacy as a great Israeli military commander, no one in Israel was, or ever could be, a more forceful figure than Rabin in promoting the peace process. As a result, his murder was a devastating blow to the Oslo principle, the principle of land for peace.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 141-143; Knesset Homepage, 2008]

Entity Tags: Craig Unger, Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin, Leah Rabin

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Daniel Petersen and LeRoy Schweitzer.Daniel Petersen and LeRoy Schweitzer. [Source: Associated Press]The day after the FBI besieges the Montana Freemen compound (see March 25, 1996), federal indictments are unsealed charging Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer, along with Freeman Daniel E. Petersen Jr. and others, with conspiracy, mail and bank fraud, armed robbery, and threats against federal officials (see January 1994, June-July 1994, February - March 1995, May 1995, and September 28, 1995 and After). [Billings Gazette, 3/25/2006] Schweitzer was arrested after passing a fraudulent check to an undercover FBI agent. According to the indictment, Schweitzer gave an FBI agent a fake “comptroller’s warrant” for $3 million, in return for the profits made by selling imports bought with the $3 million. Had the scheme gone as planned, Schweitzer could have netted $1 million in cash from the operation. Lavon Hanson is charged with facilitating Schweitzer’s scheme. Some of the indictments have been pending for a long time; some of them apply to Freemen currently involved in the standoff with the FBI. Schweitzer, Petersen, Rodney Skurdal, Richard Clark, and Emmett Clark are charged with conspiracy to impede government function and threatening to assault, kidnap, and murder a judge and other government officials. The same five, along with John McGuire, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Agnes Bollinger Stanton, William Stanton (see October 17, 1994), Ebert Stanton, Ralph Clark (see 1980s-1994), and Dale Jacobi are charged with 51 counts of conspiracy to defraud and to obtain money through false pretenses, and interfering with commerce (see October 2, 1995). McGuire is in custody in another state; Stanton is behind bars. Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network says of Schweitzer and the Freemen: “They have essentially drawn a line in the sand with law enforcement who have tried to enforce those laws. They have threatened local law enforcement and other public officials.” Addressing accusations that the FBI is harassing Schweitzer and his fellows for their beliefs, Toole says the indictments are “clearly a matter of what they have done, not what they believe.” [CNN, 3/28/1996; Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996] The arraignment hearing does not go well. Schweitzer and Petersen scream down the judge and other members of the court, shouting that the court has no jurisdiction over them and they will not listen to court officers. They demand a change of venue to “Justus,” and yell about “admiralty law” vs. “common law” and the fringed flag voiding any civil jurisdiction (see Fall 2010). The judge sends Schweitzer and Petersen into another room, and completes the arraignment without their participation, giving them written copies of the arraignment. Author Mark Pitcavage later notes that every court appearance by the Freemen is an opportunity for guerrilla theater. Soldier of Fortune writer Jim Pate later observes that their fanaticism is like a holy war (see April 1995). “Their political philosophy is based on their religious philosophy. And in that respect, they are very similar to the young man who was just convicted of murdering the prime minister of Israel (see November 4, 1995). They’re similar in the depth of their convictions to Hamas.” Musselshell County Attorney John Bohlman (see February - March 1995), learning of the FBI arrests, moves himself and his family from their Roundup, Montana, home, fearing Freemen retaliation; CB scanners pick up reports that the Freemen intend to come into Roundup and kill people, though none actually do. [Mark Pitcavage, 5/6/1996]

Entity Tags: Ebert Stanton, Richard Clark, Daniel Petersen, William Stanton, Cherlyn Bronson Petersen, Agnes Bollinger Stanton, Ralph Clark, Montana Freemen, Rodney Owen Skurdal, Dale Jacobi, Jim Pate, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Emmett Clark, Mark Pitcavage, LeRoy Schweitzer, John Bohlman, Ken Toole, John McGuire, Lavon T. Hanson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Right-wing political leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu becomes Israel’s new prime minister. When the campaign to replace assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) began in early 1996, even Netanyahu’s fellow Likud leaders did not believe he had a chance of being elected. At at least one rally after Rabin’s death, crowds chanted “Bibi’s a murderer!” accusing Netanyahu of inciting the violence that led to Rabin’s death (see October 1995 and November 4, 1995 and After). Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres, cast himself as Rabin’s successor, and the Clinton administration tacitly endorsed Peres as the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Netanyahu is a polished orator with a strong following among the hardline conservatives and religious fundamentalists both in Israel and the US. He also knows how to appeal to America’s more secular, cosmopolitan Jewish community. He hired Arthur Finkelstein, a prominent Republican political consultant, to run a campaign smearing Peres as a weak, ineffective leader who will betray Israel to the Arabs. Peres was befuddled by Netanyahu’s slick, US-style attack campaign and his ability to secure financial and other support among American Christian fundamentalists. The election hung in the balance when a timely spate of Hamas bombings in February and March, and a Netanyahu ad campaign blaming the attack on Peres’s supposed weakness, gave Netanyahu enough voter support for him to eke out a razor-thin margin of victory. US envoy Dennis Ross, one of the Clinton officials involved in the Oslo peace talks, later recalls that he and his colleagues were horrified at Netanyahu’s victory. “Our collective relief became a collective dread,” he will later write. [Unger, 2007, pp. 143-144]

Entity Tags: Yitzhak Rabin, Arthur Finkelstein, Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton administration, Dennis Ross, Hamas, Shimon Peres

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (see May 29, 1996) flies to Washington, DC, to visit one of his strongest political supporters, neoconservative Richard Perle. Perle is the chief author of a new strategy proposal called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security in the Region” (see July 8, 1996). In essence, Perle’s policy proposal is an update of fellow neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guide (see February 18, 1992), which had so horrified Clinton and Bush officials. But Netanyahu is clearly pleased with the proposal. After meeting with Perle, Netanyahu addresses the US Congress. Quoting extensively from the proposal, he tells the lawmakers that the US must join Israel in overseeing the “democratization” of the Middle East. War might be a necessity to achieve this goal, he warns. While the “Clean Break” authors are primarily concerned with Iraq and Syria, Netanyahu takes a longer view. “The most dangerous of these regions is Iran,” he says. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Bush administration (41), Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Benjamin Netanyahu

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the United States (see July 8-10, 1996), US neoconservatives mount an orchestrated push for war against Iraq and an overall reshaping of the Middle East (see July 8, 1996). At first, the offensive takes place in the pages of US newspapers and magazines. William Kristol and Robert Kagan write articles for the magazines Foreign Policy and the Weekly Standard; syndicated columnists Charles Krauthammer and A. M. Rosenthal use their columns to push the idea; Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz pen op-eds for the Washington Post; “Clean Break” co-author David Wurmser writes op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and publishes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he proposes that the US use its military to literally redraw the map of the Middle East (see Late Summer 1996). Neoconservatives are transforming Christian evangelicals’ argument that Americans are God’s “chosen people” into secular terms, and argue in their op-eds and articles that it is, in author Craig Unger’s words, the US’s “moral duty to project that greatness throughout the world—using American military power, if necessary.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 148-149]

Entity Tags: Robert Kagan, A. M. Rosenthal, Benjamin Netanyahu, David Wurmser, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay M. Khalilzad

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Ariel Sharon, shortly before suffering a stroke.Ariel Sharon, shortly before suffering a stroke. [Source: New York Times]Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson says that a recent stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is divine punishment for “dividing God’s land.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2006] Sharon is in a deep coma after suffering what doctors say is a severe stroke. Sharon, in critical condition, is assumed to be unable to return to public life. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, is named acting prime minister. [New York Times, 1/5/2006] On his television program, The 700 Club, Robertson says: “God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible and he says ‘This is my land,’ and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, ‘No, this is mine.’” Sharon ordered Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Robertson adds that Sharon is “a very tender-hearted man and a good friend” and he is saddened to know that Sharon is so debilitated. However, he says the Bible “makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide my land.’” Sharon “was dividing God’s land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations, or the United States of America.” Robertson implies that God also struck down former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated after working to give land to the Palestinian people (see November 4, 1995). “It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless he was dead,” Robertson says. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, issues a statement urging Christian leaders to distance themselves from the remarks. “It is outrageous and shocking, but not surprising, that Pat Robertson once again has suggested that God will punish Israel’s leaders for any decision to give up land to the Palestinians,” says ADL director Abraham Foxman. “His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. Unlike Robertson, we don’t see God as cruel and vengeful.” Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State says a religious leader “should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life. Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2006] “Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don’t have a place in this or any other debate,” says White House spokesman Trent Duffy. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls Robertson’s statement “completely outrageous, insulting, and inappropriate.” Sharon “is fighting for his life,” Reid says. “He and his family deserve our thoughts and prayers, and I hope Mr. Robertson will offer them after he apologizes.” [MSNBC, 1/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Ehud Olmert, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League, Barry Lynn, Yitzhak Rabin, Trent Duffy, Ariel Sharon, Harry Reid, Pat Robertson

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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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