In an August 9 piece in the Telegraph entitled “Why the West Must Strike First Against Saddam Hussein”, Richard Perle attempts to teach the British a thing or two about embracing their imperialist prerogative and the corollary doctrine of preemptive war. What is notable about this piece isn’t so much its inherent disregard for principle — just war, violence in self defense, and so on — as its apparent lack of concern with overtly making the case for attacking.
To be sure, Perle goes through the motions of establishing the oppositional dynamic.. Saddam Hussein is “contemptuous of the UN and fearful of America”, and therefore seeks to play his “last card: dividing America and Britain in the hope that the former will be unwilling to act alone to remove him from office.” Hussein is a bad man, apparently, so it is fortunate that there is an “Iraqi opposition” seeking to “liberate Iraq from one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships.” We can presume that the opposition more or less shares the values and beliefs of “doughty cold warriors” [to borrow the London Times formulation] like Richard Perle.
And what might those values be? Perle clues us in while providing quotes for Tony Blair’s eulogy, describing him as having “shown extraordinary courage in defending Western values in the Balkans, in combating international terrorism, and in the current confrontation with Saddam.” Perle stops short of measuring Blair’s biceps with a velvet tape measure, preferring instead to assert that neither Blair nor Bush would be put off by “the feckless moralizing of ‘peace’ lobbies, or the unsolicited advice of retired generals.”
It’s a good thing that we can avoid such “feckless moralizing.” By avoiding it, we are able to appreciate Perle’s contention that the “decision to use force is most difficult when democratic societies are challenged to act preemptively.” He then goes on to assert that dangerous characters like Hitler [who FDR described as a “moderate” before the US got involved in Europe] and Osama bin Laden “could have been stopped by a relatively modest well-timed pre-emption.”
Left out of Perle’s piece to this point is an attempt to address moral considerations. Presumably, that would be feckless. Also left out, by way of establishing the US right to preemptive strike, are issues seemingly central to any military adventure. Just a few here, for starters. How many people will die? How much money will this cost? Who will benefit? To what substances will US troops be exposed?
But those considerations fall short of the notice of Mr. Perle, just as one would expect.
Having linked Osama and Hitler in infamy, and Bush and Blair in heroism, Perle proceeds to list his charges against Hussein. Here, we see the sober side of Richard Perle, as he approaches the problem of “regime change” with the rhetorical panache of a high school history book. The “concerned” Richard Perle shines through in formulations such as “we know that [Hussein] harbors terrorists, about which more evidence will emerge in due course.” While waiting for this evidence to emerge — presumably in the same package that contains hard evidence that 9/11 was not an inside job — we are invited to speculate about Hussein sharing his most “lethal weapons” with terrorists. After all, “his perfidy would be unprovable.”
One wonders why the burden of proof concerns Perle at all, considering his willingness to dismiss the need for proof throughout the balance of the piece. After repeating the usual litany of charges against Hussein — gassed his own people, working to attain nuclear weapons, and such — Perle addresses the question of the “evil of which Hussein is undoubtedly capable” by saying that “we cannot know for sure” whether said evil is “cogently probable.”
I guess Perle is an optimist, really. When he holds forth about a “democratic Iraq” as “a powerful refutation of the patronizing view that Arabs are incapable of democracy,” perhaps he’s actually serious. When Perle holds forth about the imminent danger of Hussein’s arsenal just a few paragraphs before asserting that “the Iraqi force today is a third of what it was in 1991, and it is the same third, 11 years closer to obsolescence”, perhaps I am mistaken in focusing on the apparent contradiction between a description of a military hellbent on destroying the US and Israel and the subsequent description of a ragtag, outmoded, dispirited army.
I expected better from Perle in this piece, but perhaps I shouldn’t have. The US government has proven itself capable time and time again of fabricating provocations for expensive and bloody wars, and it takes little imagination to picture how the October invasion of Iraq will proceed.
Anthony Gancarski is the author of UNFORTUNATE INCIDENTS, a 2001 collection of fiction and poetry. He attends Gonzaga Law School in Spokane, Washington.
He can be reached at: Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com.