When the attacks of Sept. 11 came, a group of like-minded foreign policy wonks sprinkled throughout important posts in the Washington establishment — at the Pentagon, at the White House, at the State Department — saw an opportunity and seized it.
All believed that the power of the U.S. military to mold the world to American benefit had in general been underused; all believed that public anger and fear over Sept. 11 gave them the chance to change that. They even had a first target in mind to demonstrate their theory: Iraq, an Arab country with no ties whatsoever to the attacks of Sept. 11 (although some would try to fabricate such ties as a way to advance their goals.)
The names are familiar to us now, and will be familiar to historians studying what became the single greatest foreign policy folly in U.S. history:
Among others, they include DIck Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, William Kristol, James Woolsey and of course, Richard Perle, all linked by, among other things, their ties to the American Enterprise Institute.
Yesterday, however, Perle denied ever having been at the scene of the crime. He has no idea how his fingerprints got there, no idea how the DNA samples could be traced back to him, no idea who those other men were really. And the idea that he had anything to do with getting us into Iraq? Nonsense.
Dana Milbanks of the Washington Post explains it:
“Listening to neoconservative mastermind Richard Perle at the Nixon Center yesterday, there was a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.
In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack. But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
1. Perle is not a neoconservative.
2. Neoconservatives do not exist.
3. Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.
“There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy,” Perle informed the gathering, hosted by National Interest magazine. “It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.”
So what about the 1996 report he co-authored that is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy? “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group,” Perle explained. “I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.”
Mm-hmm. And the two letters to the president, signed by Perle, giving a “moral” basis to Middle East policy and demanding military means to remove Saddam Hussein? “I don’t have the letters in front of me,” Perle replied.
Right. And the Bush administration National Security Strategy, enshrining the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom? “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements,” Perle maintained. “My guess is he didn’t.”
“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,” Perle told the foreign policy luminaries at yesterday’s lunch. “None of that is true, of course.”
That’s just a taste of Perle’s efforts to write himself out of history. It’s rather astonishing in one sense, and rather predictable in another.