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Evil is as Evil Does

Frum & Perle: Apologists for Pre-emption

by RICHARD FORNO

Those unfamiliar with foreign policy and national security studies may interpret "An End To Evil" for what it claims to be: namely, a "manual for victory" [against all of America's enemies.] Those familiar with foreign policy, current and historical events, and who possess a modicum of common sense and objectivity will see the book for what it is: namely, a dogmatic and ideological view of the world replete with fanciful–some would say extreme–whims about what to do about it.

The authors espouse the controversial neo-conservative political beliefs that, among other things, America should be free to use its unbridled power (or military) to promote its values around the world, that Israel is the focal point to bring about Middle East stability, and that the United States is hampered unnecessarily by international institutions and agreements like the United Nations.

Both authors are experienced Washington insiders: Richard Perle is a longtime defense hawk, member of the secretive Defense Policy Board, and former assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration. Canadian-born David Frum is the former speechwriter in President George W. Bush’s administration who coined the now infamous "axis of evil" catchphrase used in the 2002 State of the Union speech. As insiders, both are privy to significant insights, debate, and views from all corners of the Washington establishment–which makes it perhaps surprising how little diversity of opinion and analysis makes it into the book.

To their credit, the authors provide concrete examples of the roots of terrorism around the world and the many complexities associated with effectively dealing with this international challenge. And, surprisingly, they make a noticeable effort to discuss non-military concerns such as woman1s’ rights in the Islamic world, the religious hypocrisy of certain Islamic nations, and also confirm what many Washington insiders believe yet have never put into practice: namely, that despite the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the single greatest obstacle toward truly improving America’s national security is Washington’s ongoing inability to fundamentally reform the FBI bureaucracy, culture, and operational mindset in a way that enables the agency to support America’s new homeland security needs effectively, correctly noting that America’s domestic war on terrorism is "…being waged by the same people who so dismally mishandled it in the 1990s." These very real concerns unfortunately appear toward the end of the book, and are overshadowed by other, more questionable, items in the pages beforehand.

Despite the aforementioned–and quite salient–observations regarding the presence and causalities of terror in the present day, "An End to Evil" serves as an apologist’s view of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption and unilateralism by sternly defending the Administration’s stated (and unstated) goals and definitions of national security and American interests. The book’s prescription for American "victory" essentially boils down to this: forcing "regime change" in Iraq, Iran, and Syria; blockading North Korea; "squeezing" China, working to force internal change in Saudi Arabia, punitatively isolating the "cowardly" French, and participating with the United Nations and other international bodies only on terms favorable to American interests. Also, in their eyes, Israel can do no wrong, and as the undeserving victim of Islamic extremism, warrants America’s unwavering support.

The authors openly advocate "tossing aside" dictators and undemocratic governments without compunction when it suits American purposes. While they prefer that allies support American policies, they request them to refrain from actively opposing them publicly (or by denying us military overflight rights of their airspace.) Where they once supported a unified European bloc earlier in their careers, they now fear one. Finally, the authors’ disdain for the State Department is obvious from the start — unless it marches in political lockstep with (and never offers a contrary view or analysis in public or private) from the President, that is.

In other words, if the world won’t let America do what it wants, America will go ahead and do it anyway, because nobody else can match us dollar-for-dollar or military-for-military and because dissenting domestic views or international calls for multilateralism are simply unimportant, irrelevant, or made by the uninformed and for political gain by the minority (the latter being a convenient and partisan defense of existing policies.) The authors believe that, as the world’s hyperpower, America is free to place its own interests ahead of anyone else — and even the cherished tenets of international law — whenever expedient or convenient. (One wonders if an early title for the book was "Let Them All Eat Cake" and written with Frank Sinatra’s "My Way" playing in the background.)

Beyond these key points and the occasional nugget of reality-based analysis and commentary, the book is replete with selective sets of facts (or, rather, the selective interpretation of such facts) to support the authors’ ideological arguments. Frequent partisan sniping and Richard Perle’s characteristic smugness undermines the authors’ credibility and clearly indicates that despite their claims to the contrary, "An End to Evil" is nothing more than a bully pulpit to defend the existing, sometimes controversial, neo-conservative polices of the Bush Administration. "Propaganda" may be too harsh of a term, though not by much.

For example, the authors note that in response to critics of the Iraq war, the Bush Administration "succeeded" in "acting" against al-Qaeda following September 11–not "eliminating" the terror organization (which it hasn’t) but merely "acting" against it. On the surface and word for word, this claim is true–the United States indeed has "acted" against al-Qaeda–but ‘action’ is not necessarily the same as ‘progress’ or even ‘victory’ as the authors imply. Such semantics are reminiscent of the now-infamous "sixteen words" fiasco regarding alleged uranium sales from Africa to Iraq mentioned in the 2003 State of the Union address.

Like the Bush Administration, questionable facts are treated as gospel by the authors. One example is the alleged meeting of September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta with Iraqi intelligence in Prague. Despite the FBI producing public evidence such as credit card receipts showing Atta in South Florida during that time and otherwise refuting this allegation, both the Administration and the authors continue to treat it as an unassailable–and useful–fact. The authors also charge alleged ‘dirty bomber’ Jose Padilla is an Islamic terrorist, yet despite his ongoing incarceration as an ‘enemy combatant’ and not being charged with a crime in over two years, this has never been confirmed reliably from multiple sources.

The book maintains the Bush Administration’s mantra for pre-emptively invading Iraq in discussing how to handle North Korea’s nuclear program: we know where some of them are (and should bomb them) even though there are probably others that we don’t know about but will bomb eventually; just sit back and trust us to do what’s best for the country–we’ve got the best intelligence information around. In other words, the authors believe that the best way to deal with rogue states’ nuclear capabilities is the equivalent of playing whack-a-mole at Chuck E. Cheese despite whatever intelligence (or lack thereof) is known about the target. And, in justifying the need for war, recent history shows that if the facts aren’t there to the President’s liking, it’s perfectly acceptable for his supporters to invent them.

In describing how to deal with Iran, those advocating a firm foreign policy (e.g., the Bush Administration and the neo-conservative movement) are accused of "letting ideology prevail over common sense" and that it’s the "soft-liners" (e.g., Democrats and anyone opposed to the neo-conservative agenda) demonstrating a delusional example of ideology running "roughshod over the facts" in formulating effective foreign policy. It seems that Perle and Frum are not without humor, especially given their defense of the secretive Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon that, despite the authors’ defenses, is known to have tailored objective intelligence community reports and analysis to fit the Administration’s desired policy goals for going to war in Iraq. Further, the authors treat Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi–on whose information much of the Iraq planning was based–as the ideal future leader of Iraq despite his current status as a wanted fugitive in Jordan, questionable business activities, and the fact that most of his post-war predictions (e.g., "they’ll greet Americans as liberators") are proving shockingly inaccurate.

Such uses of selective facts–and selective memory–continues throughout the book. The authors believe that foreign governments colluding with terror should feel the "full rigor" of the Bush proclamation that "you’re either with us or with the terrorists." Yet they forget that in prosecuting America’s war on terror, America has teamed up with less-than-savory states (most recently in Central Asia and the Pacific Rim) routinely engaged in terror-like domestic abuses that, had such states not been convenient (and willing) to host military forces and support America’s terror war, likely would be on the Administration’s terrorism hit list. History shows that America has repeatedly tolerated and/or done business with tyrants and dictators to support its interests (including the now-famous meeting between Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld in the 1980s when America was supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.) Unfortunately, in their zeal to present their ideological position on foreign policy, the authors are quick to point out the dangers of hypocrisy in every other nation but our own, as doing so quickly undermines much of the neo-conservative philosophy.

Regarding domestic issues, when it comes to protecting the homeland, the authors contend that the federal government can do no wrong. Those opposing or challenging new federal homeland security laws simply are uninformed or part of the political minority. Perle and Frum are astonished that the American public (and a large bipartisan segment of Congress) was outraged at Attorney General Ashcroft’s "Operation TIPS" program that would turn taxi and truck drivers, warehousemen, cable and phone repairmen, garbagemen, and other omnipresent utility workers into domestic spies, both on the street and inside private homes. (The proposal soon was made illegal by Congress.) We are now seeing a similar concern over privacy issues with the upcoming release of CAPPS-II passenger screening systems and other homeland security-oriented databases.

The authors condemn New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s orders to city employees directing them not to cooperate with federal requests for assistance on immigration (now homeland security) investigations and joining hundreds of other local jurisdictions and many states challenging and curtailing what they believe is an over-reaching federal mandate that can be easily abused. They were right to do so if not downright prophetic — a Department of Justice Inspector General study conducted in 2003 revealed that the USA PATRIOT Act–perhaps the most controversial new federal law pertaining to homeland security–was used repeatedly for non-terrorism-related cases! (Perle and Frum overlooked this small and inconvenient fact, too.)

Never afraid to blithely pontificate despite the presence of reality, Perle discusses the rotating-door nature of foreign government lobbying in Washington; namely that senior acting US government officials are courted by foreign governments (he uses Saudi Arabia as an example) who then retire from public service into lucrative lobbying deals against the government they just served. Perle criticizes this inherent and shady conflict of interest practice yet fails to mention his own checkered past as a paid-for lobbyist working for foreign powers like China or for large defense contractors seeking lucrative Pentagon deals. A devout Reaganite, he continues believing that "facts are stupid things" and if so, can be casually ignored when necessary (Sadly, despite his numerous television interviews espousing the views contained in his book and by the Administration, he’s never had to defend his dealings in any serious manner.)

The authors’ disdain for the State Department clearly is evident throughout the latter parts of the book. Whether true or not, they present a picture of Bush Administration foreign service officers repeatedly conspiring to undermine Presidential policies for institutional gain that borders on treason. While the State Department certainly could stand to be reformed–even in some ways according to Perle and Frum’s proposal–their remarks serve more as a platform for political sniping at the agency and its career personnel and contempt for its current Bush-appointed leadership than anything else. Despite the fact that many ambassadors and senior department leadership are political appointees, the authors would prefer more such appointees (read: unthinking "yes-men") doing whatever the President requests — hopefully without undertaking those thorough, objective, and sometimes-dissenting analysis of major policy initiatives that by definition is the Department’s responsibility to conduct in the best interest of the United States.

These are just a few examples of the skewed and politicized analysis presented in "An End To Evil" — that unfortunately overshadow the periodic nuggets of useful, reality-based analysis and discussion in its pages. However, despite its glaring partisanship and selective use of facts and memory, this book should be considered a readable (if not very disturbing) precis of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy agenda in 2004 as seen from two people who hold the ear of the current President. Although devoid of any overall objectivity, it serves as a valuable resource for those wishing to understand the ideological neo-conservative perspective and dogmatic groupthink driving America into the near future — and into an international environment that unfortunately seems to be hurting our great nation more than helping it.

RICHARD FORNO is a Washington, DC-based security consultant and author of "Weapons of Mass Delusion." His home in cyberspace is at http://www.infowarrior.org.