richard perle

A hawk’s view: Perle speaks out

Former Pentagon adviser defends pre-emptive war, lauds Havel’s integrity

A defeat for George W. Bush in the race for the White House would spur on terrorists who have America in their sights, according to Richard Perle. A former Cold War hawk and until recently an adviser to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Perle is not a man to mince his words. Or to hold back from voicing the kind of views that make left-wingers and opponents of war wince.

For instance, he believes a “surgical strike” against North Korea is one way of ensuring that it is not pursuing a nuclear-weapons program that is a threat to the United States.

“I think it will be dangerous for America” if Democratic contender John Kerry becomes president, said Perle, a leading light among a band of U.S. neo-conservatives who are considered by some to have had a major role in shaping Bush’s policies.

“I fear that if he [Kerry] were elected, without any scientific basis for it, people would say it that it was President Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq and the war on terror that led to his defeat,” Perle said. “And if that becomes believed — and it certainly doesn’t have to be true to be believed, particularly in the Arab world — I think this would be a very great encouragement to the terrorists.”

He spoke to The Prague Post while here for a conference titled “Energy and Security: Global Challenges — Regional Perspectives” held Oct. 19-21 under the auspices of the Prague Security Studies Institute.

Perle, who in February, after 17 years, left the influential Defense Policy Board, an advisory body to the U.S. defense secretary, dismisses arguments that Kerry would be a leader less likely to inflame anti-American terrorism. In the event of a Bush defeat in the November elections, terrorists “would think that they had somehow won a great victory … and the idea of happy terrorists makes me very unhappy. They would have a much easier job of recruiting more terrorists.” Meanwhile, Perle says Europeans who expect a big change in U.S. foreign policy if Kerry is elected may be disappointed.

Perle is a strong supporter of the U.S. Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), which ex-President Vaclav Havel joined in September, charged with developing a European branch of the organization. The CPD, which is supported in America by Republicans and conservative Democrats, takes an aggressive stance toward terrorism and champions a doctrine of pre-emptive action.

Havel’s move disappointed observers such as Milan Znoj, director of an institute of political science at Prague’s Charles University, who said the ex-president had “blurred and confused his reputation as a human rights activist.”

But Perle said he simply does not accept that people involved in the CPD are not strong supporters of human rights. “The left seems extraordinarily insensitive to the brutal, sadistic nature of Saddam’s regime,” Perle added.

Havel, meanwhile, “is without question one of the very few great moral leaders of our time, by virtue of his life of resisting totalitarianism. The mere fact he associated himself with an organization that is aimed at fighting terrorism while preserving our open societies is a very powerful message and it’s a source of inspiration.”

Perle: Invasion justified

Perle, one of the main advocates of the war against Saddam Hussein, says the conflict was justified, despite the fact that no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have been uncovered. Saddam’s refusal to give up his alleged illegal weapons was the key plank of Bush’s case for military action.

“Would [Bush] be in a stronger position politically if weapons of mass destruction had been found? Yes.”
Richard Perle,
former Pentagon adviser

“Would he [Bush] be in a stronger position politically if weapons of mass destruction had been found? Yes he would,” Perle said. “But all the evidence pointed to weapons of mass destruction. The danger of Saddam Hussein with WMD was sufficiently great that there was a strong argument for taking action.”

An Oct. 6 report to the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services by that country’s top arms inspector, Charles Duelfer, maintained that Saddam did not have biological or chemical weapons or the ability to produce them and that his nuclear program was crumbling before the March 2003 invasion. Duelfer’s predecessor, David Kay, resigned in December 2003, telling reporters, “We were probably all wrong” about Iraq’s alleged weapons stockpiles. Regardless, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Perle said, “Americans were no longer ready to wait until it was too late.”

Meanwhile, Perle does not believe the failure to uncover illegal weapons will be a key factor in the U.S. elections. Asked if the daily outbreaks of violence in Iraq — the roadside bombs, kidnappings and beheadings — are hampering Bush’s re-election chances, Perle said the attacks “don’t add up to a fundamental challenge to a new Iraq.”

“I had predicted that by this time Iraq would look pretty good,” Perle admitted. “Then we made the mistake I didn’t anticipate of holding on too long to the occupation. But I think — I should refrain from predictions — but I think a year from now people will not be talking about a quagmire.”

What about the wider “war on terror” — can it ever be won?

“It can be won in the sense that with enough engagement and skillful policies, they [the terrorists] will look like the losing side and will find it difficult to recruit people,” Perle said.

“Will there still be people who will put on an explosive belt and go into a shopping center or on a bus and destroy themselves? Sure. But will there be an organized campaign on the scale we have seen recently? I think that we can defeat.”


In the city Oct. 19-21 for a conference on energy and security, Perle told The Prague Post:

An election defeat for George W. Bush would spur on terrorists

A “surgical strike” against North Korea is one way of ensuring that country is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program

Vaclav Havel is one of the very few great moral leaders of our time

The left seems insensitive to the sadistic nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime

Holding on too long to the occupation in Iraq has been a mistake

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