As Iraq stands on the verge of a complete breakdown into sectarian states, former leading neoconservative and Iraq war advocate Richard Perle had made a sudden appearance on Newsmax TV. His statements in the interview were yet another testament to the intellectual degeneration of a group that had once promised a “new Middle East” — only to destabilize the region with violent consequences that continue to reverberate until this day.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which didn’t exist at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, has seized large swaths of Syria and, along with a brewing Sunni rebellion, stands in control of large chunks of western, northern and central Iraq.
At the time of the invasion, Perle was one of the leading so-called intellectuals that was known for his strong support of right-wing Israeli parties and his particular closeness to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He served as an adviser to the Netanyahu election campaign in the mid 1990s and, along with other leading neocons, made Israeli security — read: regional domination — a top American priority.
Perle is in no mood to accept any responsibility for Iraq’s protracted tragedy, a behavior that mirrors that of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.
As for Perle’s new line of logic, he seems to feel that if you criticize the neocons, you are, well, more or less, an anti-Semite. Although the line is quite useful in the lexicon of Israel’s defenders, Perle’s use of the tactic reflects a level of unprecedented desperation.
Perle said the term “neoconservative” is “often used to describe Jewish Americans because, as it happens, some of the original thinkers whose ideas have now been characterized by this general term ‘neoconservative’ were in fact Jewish, and it often carries conspiratorial tones on the part of people who throw the term around.”
One could in fact agree, except that the former assistant secretary of defense is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which served as a major lobby platform for Israeli interests, and is also one of the major organizations behind the failed Iraq war strategy.
But Perle’s smokescreen of the implied accusation of anti-Semitism could hardly hide the big fib he was about to impart: The neocons “were not doing it (the war and occupation of Iraq) to bring democracy to Iraq, we were not doing it … on behalf of any other government (meaning Israel). We believed the intelligence that was available at the time that the CIA and other intelligence organizations … that Saddam (Hussein) had weapons of mass destruction and there was a danger after 9/11 that he would share those weapons.”
Perle, who was known for his nickname “Prince of Darkness,” is slyly presenting himself as an innocent, if not gullible, average American who too was misled by false intelligence. But it was not the first time that Perle, along with his neoconservative peers, disowned their horrific record in Iraq.
Writing in Vanity Fair in Nov. 5, 2006, under the title “Neo Culpa,” David Rose caught up with Perle together with other neocon enthusiasts as they were starting to repudiate the failed policies of George W. Bush, which until then they had championed.
In 2006, the Iraq war was taking a terrible toll. “At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible,” he told Vanity Fair when the calamity was becoming irrefutable. Although Perle’s views were quote rosy and optimistic just before and soon after the U.S. invasion incited a sectarian civil war.
“Iraq is a very good candidate for democratic reform,” he was quoted earlier as saying. Iraq “won’t be Westminster overnight, but the great democracies of the world didn’t achieve the full, rich structure of democratic governance overnight. The Iraqis have a decent chance of succeeding.”
But that “decent chance” at success will never be achieved through the barrel of a gun and no self-respecting intellectual would argue otherwise. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives and a whole generation was raised in the embrace of death and humiliation as the Prince of Darkness was giving interviews from fancy hotels. Now, he is back — hopefully briefly — crying foul and anti-Semitism.
What is equally appalling is that neocon thinking is also consistent with the philosophy of American foreign policymakers in the Obama administration as well. Not only is Obama failing to accept even a level of moral responsibility over the current plight of Iraqis, but it is haggling to achieve some political gains from Iraq’s misery. Hundreds of U.S. troops have been ordered back to Iraq to “assess” the fighting capabilities of the Iraqi Army, and a cautious attempt at intervention is building up slowly in Washington.
Interventionism is once more permeating American foreign policy thinking; this time around, however, it is “soft” intervention, although it is laden with the same kind of language and misleading references. It seems that the American government has learned so very little since the last botched effort, championed by Perle’s neocons at remaking the Middle East to its liking.
On June 26, the White House asked Congress for $1.5 billion to bolster “stability” in Syria’s neighbors — Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey. A third of that amount will be dedicated to train “moderate” Syrian rebels for the purpose of fighting the Syrian Army and its allies on one hand, and on the other, holding back the growing influence of militants from ISIL who are also in control of large parts of Iraq.
Considering the level of complexity in the Syrian battleground, and the predictable splinters within existing groups, it’s difficult to imagine that the $500 million would lead to anything but greater instability in Syria and neighboring countries including those who are part of the proposed U.S. Regional Stabilization Initiative, for which the funds are requested.
It is reported that the administration was pressured by Republican Sen. John McCain and others. But the reading of the Middle East by McCain has been as erroneous as that of the former leading intellectuals of the neoconservative movement. McCain is as discredited as the rest, but the recent gains of ISIL left the U.S. administration with difficult choices: intervention (which proved to be a complete disaster in the past) or nonintervention (which would leave the pro-U.S. camp in the Middle East vulnerable).
The U.S. seems to be opting for neither option, but “soft” intervention: military and financial support of some groups and forging, even if temporary, alliances with others including Iran.
Despite its attempt to exert pressure and demonstrate its relevance, the collapse of U.S. foreign policy is unmistakable and proves to be, at times, meddling for the sake of asserting its relevance, and nothing more.
Considering the multiple crises created by the U.S. in Iraq in past years, no one, not even the supposedly level-headed Obama, can make any difference without a clear and decided shift in U.S. foreign policy, which is yet to actualize.
Such clarity and decidedness would have to be predicated on a level of moral responsibility and legal accountability for the numerous war crimes committed in Iraq. The roots of today’s war was implanted by that of the original sin, the invasion of a sovereign country, promoted by the likes of Perle, and now manipulated for temporary gains by the Obama administration.
Ramzy Baroud, managing editor of Middle East Eye, is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com.