Perle Without Lustre

Well, the neocons may have their cabal, but I have my own that alerts me to events and information that I would otherwise avoid or find annoying. Just like GW.

A member of my cabal alerted me that Jon Stewart’s interview with Richard Perle would be replayed later in the day, 27 January 2004, 18:00 CST. Perle was on The Daily Show promoting his book, An End to Evil, co-written with David "Axis-of-Evil" Frum. From the interview that followed it could be deduced that about the only thing understated in the book is the title’s indefinite article.

An End to Evil — I will be very relieved when the grocery clerk no longer glares at me when I ask for paper instead of plastic, but I’m as yet skeptical.

Regarding Jon Stewart, alright, I’ll admit, I’d never watched The Daily Show full through, and I’ve always assumed Stewart is just another smart-alecky leftist Gen-Xer. Well maybe he is, but after watching his performance with Perle, I was nonetheless impressed. He is well-informed and/or well-briefed, and he’s quick — I wouldn’t enjoy being his target.

When Perle attempted to credit Qaddafi’s recent acquiescence to the Iraq invasion, Stewart rebuffed, "Wasn’t his willingness to settle the Lockerbie case sort of the first white flag, and wasn’t he trying to get himself back into international standing?" Yes, overtures and negotiations had been years in formation, predominantly with the British, with recent pre-Iraq war culmination.

Score one for Stewart.

Perle then moved the focus to Saudi Arabia: "They have been spending billions, literally billions, to support, subsidize extremist institutions all over the world." Stewart specifies, "Now you make the point that it is difficult for us to confront them because they also spend a lot of money on our politicians."

Without intentional irony, Perle responds: "On our politicians, on officials who have responsibility for making policy that affects them. There’s hardly a law firm in Washington that doesn’t have one Saudi account or another." Stewart displays less than prefect credulity, "Now are all those accounts, in your eyes, a method for them to grease the wheels, so to speak." Perle expounds that "… they do that by employing so many people who have influence in Washington [clears throat]."

Yes, you know all the old clichés. Washington is virtually controlled by Arab lawyers and special interest groups. They also threaten to dominate the entertainment and banking industries.

Score two for Stewart.

Now for the set-up. Stewart asks, "Is Iraq — is that setting an example? Everybody talks about weapons of mass destruction, and all these things. Is the real issue there that we have to make them an example — they’re sort of like our first death penalty case?"

Perle, tripping over himself with enthusiasm, barely allowed Stewart to finish, "Absolutely, absolutely."

At this point, for the first time, I realized that Perle may not be quite as formidable as I thought he was. His famous genius may be as synthetic as Karl Rove’s. Stewart nailed him, luring him to pontificate a mindless "kick-ass" foreign policy, replete with a death penalty analogy as a wink to his at-least-quasi-liberal audience, and Perle didn’t even know it.

Score three for Stewart.

When Stewart asked why, when there were so many other pressing interests, did Bush pursue Iraq? Perle answered: "Well, in part because he was in open defiance of UN resolutions, and we hadn’t …"

Stewart, already smelling blood in the water, struck: "Who’s not in open defiance of UN resolutions! I mean that is like, in some respects saying we have to go to war with Iraq in defiance of the UN to protect the UN." Beautiful.

Score four for Stewart.

Perle defended with the old shell game: "the question of imminence … changed on September 11, because we waited too long, we knew what bin Laden was up to …" I thought we were talking about Iraq?

Perle exuberates, if you don’t meet the U.S. criteria: "Sooner or later you’re going to run into the United States — we’re back!" Stewart finishes, "We’re back, unless you’re our ally, like Pakistan — and then, u2018Would you like some food relief?'”

Score five for Stewart.

As I watched the former campaign manager for Benjamin Netanyahu sucked into the Stewart vacuum, I realized why Perle is so amused by the moniker "The Prince of Darkness." It’s complimentary.

I’m reminded of Dr. Zhivago, when the powerful and nefarious Victor Komarovsky (played by Rod Steiger) convinces the young Lara (played by Julie Christie — sigh) that she is no more than a slut. He subdues her, she proves his point, and as the well-seasoned Komarovsky takes his leave of her, he calmly adds, "Do not consider calling it rape — you would flatter us both."

But to be sure, the charmless Perle is no Komarovsky, but if only by pretension.

Aside from being an altogether scary presence on television, Perle seems to lack the patience and bearing necessary to participate in The Great Conversation, even for a neocon.

I remember a Perle appearance on Meet the Press. Tim Russert pulsed the Chairman of the Defense Policy Board "about the role of Israel and the formulation of American foreign policy regarding Iraq." Russert read a long quote from a Washington Times article by Arnaud de Borchgrave:

The strategic objective is the antithesis of Middle Eastern stability. The destabilization of "despotic regimes" comes next. In the Arab bowling alley, one ball aimed at Saddam is designed to achieve a 10-strike that would discombobulate authoritarian and/or despotic regimes in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Emirates and sheikhdoms. The ultimate phase would see Israel surrounded by democratic regimes that would provide 5 million Israelis — soon to be surrounded by 300 million Arabs — with peace and security for at least a generation. … The roots of the overall strategy can be traced to a paper published in 1996 by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank. The document was titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." … Israel, according to the 1996 paper, would "shape its strategic environment," beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein … Prominent American opinion-makers who are now senior members of the Bush administration participated in the discussions and the drafting that led to this 1996 blueprint.

Russert bravely asked, "Can you assure American viewers across our country that we’re in this situation against Saddam Hussein and his removal for American security interests? And what would be the link in terms of Israel?"

Perle responds defensively,

I don’t see what would be wrong with surrounding Israel with democracies; indeed, if the whole world were democratic, we’d live in a much safer international security system because democracies do not wage aggressive wars.

Setting aside this ridiculous ahistorical statement … in a spar with Perle moments before, Representative Dennis Kucinich suggests that the war is linked to oil, but the moment has passed, and flared tempers have subdued. But when Perle continues, he releases an hysterical ad hominem attack altogether out of context in order to diffuse the focus on Israel:

But please allow me to say: I find the accusation that this administration has embarked upon this policy for oil to be an outrageous, scurrilous charge for which, when you asked for the evidence, you will note there was none. There was simply the suggestion that, because there is oil in the ground and some administration officials have had connections with the oil industry in the past, therefore, it is the policy of the United States to take control of Iraqi oil. It is a lie, Congressman. It is an out and out lie. And I’m sorry to see you give credence to it.

Perle’s performances are quite unlike those of his partner in crime, Dick Cheney. I at least understand the appeal of Cheney’s seductive tones, his conveyance of calm control and comfy-coziness. He lies with perfect unselfconsciousness.

Speak unto us smooth words, prophecy deceits.

I watched Cheney make the dubious claim of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda on Meet The Press in 2001, then was astonished he was still pushing it on the same program in 2002. Coffee came out of my nose when the shameless Cheney was selling it in 2003. He is like that Iraqi Minister of Information that refused to admit that Baghdad had fallen:

Russert: The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?

Cheney: No. I think it’s not surprising that people make that connection.

Russert: But is there a connection?

Cheney: We don’t know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn’t have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we’ve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization. We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of ’93. And we’ve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven. Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.

Yes, Cheney is still trying to sell the dead-tired Mohamed Atta link, discredited long ago by the U.S.’s own security agencies. But of course, U.S. intelligence doesn’t have the benefit of Cheney’s stove-piped intelligence.

Though despite Cheney’s smooth words, his undisclosed days are numbered. But Perle’s appearances make even less sense. Like the real Prince of Darkness, success is hindered by revelation of the messenger’s existence.

Perle’s talents seem better suited to the underworld, spinning dark unseen threads of esoteric knowledge.