Over the past few weeks, many Bush administration officials have begun rewriting history in an effort to burnish President Bush’s legacy. Following suit, neoconservative war hawk Richard Perle has taken the opportunity to polish his own record during the Bush years — mainly on Iraq.
In the latest issue of The National Interest, Perle devotes 4,600 words — not to congratulate President Bush for invading Iraq — but to wipe his, and the whole neoconservative movement’s, hands clean of the whole affair. In the essay, he categorically denies that both he — and neoconservative ideology in general — had any influence on the Bush administration in its decision to go to war:
I have been widely but wrongly depicted as deeply involved in the making of administration policy, especially with respect to Iraq. Facts notwithstanding, there are some fifty thousand entries on Google in which I am described as an “architect,” and often as “the architect,” of the Iraq War. I certainly supported and argued publicly for the decision to remove Saddam, as I do in what follows. But had I been the architect of that war, our policy would have been very different. [...]
But about the many mistakes made in Iraq, one thing is certain: they had nothing to do with ideology. They did not draw inspiration from or reflect neoconservative ideas and they were not the product of philosophical or ideological influences outside the government.
Perle is right. He strongly advocated publicly for the invasion of Iraq, especially after 9/11, even making claims that Saddam Hussein had links to Osama bin Laden (an assertion he later claimed he never said). But in fact, Perle had direct access to top administration officials during the run up to the war. Former CIA director George Tenet recalled that shortly after 9/11, Perle told him that “Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday, they bear responsibility.”
Seeing that Perle cannot deny he supported the invasion, he then offers two separate justifications for both outcomes of the WMD argument. First, he says the belief that Saddam had WMD was “widely accepted” at the time of the invasion. But, noting that no WMD were found, Perle then says the “salient issue” was not that Saddam had WMD but that he “could produce them” someday. Nevertheless, Perle concludes, “no one should take seriously the facile conclusion that invading Iraq was mistaken because we now know Saddam did not possess stockpiles of WMD.”
Except this statement is a direct contradiction of what Perle wrote earlier this year in an article for The American Interest. Then, he claimed if we knew Saddam had no WMD in March 2003, the U.S. shouldn’t have invaded:
If Saddam had provided solid, confirmable evidence of the destruction of the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction he was believed to possess, we would not have invaded.
Indeed, no matter how many incoherent, contradictory and misleading essays Perle concocts trying to absolve himself from the Iraq debacle, like his fellow Iraq war architects, it’s clear he has no leg to stand on.