Richard Perle

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Richard Perle is Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who has held a number of U.S. defense policy posts, and is recognized for his neoconservative ideology. A number of commentators refer to him, ironically, as the "Prince of Darkness." Perle says he has seen a dozen explanations of the name, and most are wrong. He says it came from British parliamentarian Denis Healey confusing Perle and columnist Robert Novak, and journalists gave it immortality. [1] Novak says he is the real Prince of Darkness, and a British Member of Parliament mixed up the two: "There was a British parliamentarian who came over and got me and Perle mixed up. At that time, we might have looked a little bit alike, dark-complexioned and sinister-looking." [2]

Alan Weisman, who told Perle that he was writing his biography but did not seek authorization, said Perle was "kind, courteous, witty and inquisitive". His first offer was espresso; those of his opponents who have sampled his cooking say he is superb, although his political enemies would rather he contributed to cuisine rather than foreign policy. French cuisine is among his specialties, and he has a vacation home in Provence although he is routinely opposed to French foreign policy.

Perle has authored several books and many articles, and holds a M.A. in political science from Princeton. He was a high school classmate of the daughter of Albert Wohlstetter, who introduced him to strategic concepts. In the summer of 1969, new from graduate school, he and Paul Wolfowitz worked with Dean Acheson and Paul Nitze in the short-lived but influential Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy; these elder statesmen of containment policy were a lifelong influence. Afterwards, he went to work for Jackson, as the lead Congressional staffer on opposition to arms control agreements with the Soviet Union.[3]

He and Wolfowitz remain friends and colleagues; Wolfowitz has tended to work inside the system while Perle is more an external advisor.

In a Public Broadcasting System interview with Ben Wattenberg, he described neoconservative thinking, in response to Wattenberg's comment "Irving Kristol said a neoconservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality."

Right. And I think that’s a fair description, and I suppose all of us were liberal at one time. I was liberal in high school and a little bit into college. But reality and rigor are important tonics, and if you got into the world of international affairs and you looked with some rigor at what was going on in the world, it was really hard to be liberal and naïve...Anyone who looked at the facts in Nineteen Thirty-six knew what was coming or could at least see that the balance of power was in the process of shifting from one in which the democracies could expect to contain this growing totalitarian threat in Nazi Germany to a balance in which they couldn’t...the indulgence of Saddam led to the invasion of Kuwait.[4]


He started his career, while still a graduate student, as a staff member to Senator Henry Jackson (D-WA) (1969-1980), focusing on promoting the "Star Wars" ballistic missile defense legislation. This diverted him from finishing his dissertation. He had been invited by Albert Wohlstetter to work on the project, along with Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz returned to academia but Perle stayed on Capitol Hill and joined a "band of brothers" that moved U.S. policy from detente to confrontation with the Soviet Union. The group included Frank Gaffney, Jr., Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, R. James Woolsey and Michael Ledeen. Perle was the center of the young group,[5] which was directed by a Jackson staffer, Dorothy "Dickie" Fosdick.[6]

In 1975-1976, he was involved in creating "Team B", a group that internally challenged the Central Intelligence Agency estimates on Soviet power and intentions, based on a different set of assumptions about Soviet motivations. According to its chairman, Richard Pipes, he had no access to its conclusions, [7]

The Committee on the Present Danger, in 1977, published a report called "What is the Soviet Union Up To", which Weisman said was written by Perle from leaked information; others said Pipes wrote it. Its publication was intended to help block the SALT II arms control treaty, which was withdrawn when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

He has been a member (1987-2004) chairman of the Defense Policy Board and its chairman between 2001 and 2003 and assistant secretary of defense for international security policy (1981-1987),[8]. He resigned from the Board over conflict of interest concerns in 2004.

Middle East

Perle was the head of a study group that prepared a 1996 paper, entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm", for Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.[9] It recommended Israel "work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back" regional threats, help overthrow Saddam Hussein, and strike "Syrian military targets in Lebanon" and possibly in Syria proper.

Ahmed Chalabi

Perle had long been a patron of Ahmed Chalabi, whom he met in 1985 in London. Perle grew confident that Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress was the proper vehicle for regime change in Iraq. While the U.S. indeed had been exploring overthrow of Saddam, the main assumption was that a military coup, from within the Ba'ath Party, would be needed. Chalabi proposed to use Shi'a militia in the south, in cooperation with Kurds in the north. The CIA, however, found his efforts were thoroughly penetrated by Iraqi counterintelligence.

Kurdish factionalism brought an end to any serious plan, when Massoud Barzani, leader of one of the Kurdish Democratic Party, invited Saddam to send in troops against his rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Chalabi, David Wurmser, and Perle attempted to work with the Israelis to get support for a program in which, in a new Iraq, an oil pipeline would be built from Mosul to Haifa. Perle tried to get Israeli support in Congress for Chalabi, but the Israelis distrusted Chalabi. Max Singer, influential in Israel, met with Mossad officials, they told him they were unwilling to work with Chalabi.[10]


Perle, however, is not as clearly identified with Zionist groups as Wurmser and Feith. Wurmser told Weisman that

He has some ambivalent feelings about Israel. I think he was turned off a lot by the cynicism of Israeli politics, the cynicism of Israeli leadership. I don't think he particularly trusts their judgments. He has had as many run-ins with Israeli elites as he's had positive relationships. On the Iraq issue, he tried desperately to make the Israe4lis understand that this may be in their interest. And it was the Israelis that were very cynical. They were very dismissive of everything, and I think Richard was put off by that. [11]

Perle has spoken at many American-Israeli lobbying organizations, and is on the board of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In 2002, Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar wrote [12] "are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments...and Israeli interests." He signed an 2002 open letter to George W. Bush that linked Israel's security to the overthrow of Saddam" No one should doubt that the United States and Israel share a common enemy. We are both targets of what you have correctly called an “Axis of Evil.” Israel is targeted in part because it is our friend, and in part because it is an island of liberal, democratic principles -- American principles -- in a sea of tyranny, intolerance, and hatred. " It pointed out that Iraq and Iran both funded terrorism against Israel. [13]

He and David Frum expanded this to book length in 2003, End to Evil, adding the goal of with targeting Saddam Hussein.

General Middle East strategy

He invited Laurent Murawiec to address the Defense Policy Board in July 2002. Murawiec, then working for the RAND Corporation, [14] Murawiec, in a presentation disavowed by the Defense Department,[15] advocated that the United States invade Saudi Arabia, seize its oil fields, and confiscate its financial assets unless the Saudis stop supporting the anti-Western terror network.


Perle was concerned about terrorism well before the 9-11 Attacks. He has been consistent in calling for aggressive action against both non-national terrorist groups and states providing support to terror.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand that Perle had no position of authority within the George W. Bush Administration, although he was certainly influential on an informal basis. Unquestionably, he urged the invasion of Iraq and pushed for Ahmed Chalabi's role before, during, and after the war.

He resigned from his only post, the advisory Defense Policy Board in February 2004.

9/11 and immediate aftermath

On 9/11, he was vacationing in France, on a telephone call to a lawyer friend, Les Goldman, in New York. Goldman told him of the first and second attack. At the first Defense Policy Board meeting after the 9-11 attack, he had Ahmed Chalabi speak to the group, arguing that Iraq was behind it. He raised other controversy in the board, such as the appearance of a conflict of interest with a telecommunications company. [16]

A short time later, David Frum, then a speechwriter for George W. Bush, called Perle. Frum had been, along with the rest of the staff, evacuated from the White House and was using Perle's office at the American Enterprise Institute. Perle said he cannot remember all the conversation, but he said that Frum said that President Bush should say "he will not distinguish between the individual terrorists and the countries that support them. I didn't identify the attack with a specific group since there are multiple groups that cheerfully could have done this. But I had felt for a long time that chasing individual terrorists was a losing proposition. Terrorists could hide, but the countries that accommodated them couldn't." [17]


He consistently regarded Saddam Hussein's Iraq is presented as at the core of terror and demonstrating the lack of American will, describing him as "probably the most dangerous individual in the world today...not only because he supports terrorism, not only because he trains terrorists and gives them refuge — but because he is the symbol of defiance of all Western values." in October 2001. [18]

He wrote that the 2003 invasion of Iraq violated international law, but "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."[19]

An End to Evil

In a 2003 book, An End to Evil, coauthored with David Frum, he advocates a strong policy against terror:

For us, terrorism remains the great evil of our time, and the war against this evil, our generation's great cause. We do not believe that Americans are fighting this evil to minimize it or manage it. We believe they are fighting to win — to end this evil before it kills again and on a genocidal scale. There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.[20]

The authors recognize there were reasons not to go to Baghdad in the Gulf War, and the conventional wisdom of the time was that Saddam would be overthrown by an internal coup. Failure to retaliate strongly against the 1993 Iraqi assassination attempt against former President George H. W. Bush, followed by support of compromised military coups in 1995 and 1996, and failure to support the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi, when Saddam attacked it in 1995, were regarded as signals of lack of American will. In particular, Operation DESERT FOX is considered one of Saddam's greatest victory, as it drove the UNSCOM inspectors, searching for weapons of mass destruction, out of the country. [21]

The evidence of Iraqi WMD programs, as opposed to stockpiles, was judged to be justification for preventive war. [22]

Domestic recommendations

  • Deny terrorists entry into the US: improvements in U.S. border security and in the visa system are at the heart of the proposal, the introduction of a national identification document, and barring aliens based not only on terrorist activity, but sympathy.
  • Curtail terrorists freedom of action: Allow appropriate domestic surveillance, making the observation that the US was quite able to distinguish patriots of German origin, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Chester Nimitz from Nazis; the authors do not note the somewhat greater confusion between West Coast Americans of Japanese ancestry and a Daniel Inouye in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team
  • Denying terrorist material and moral support: this addresses lobbying and support groups that provide funds and other support; restrict "incitement to terror in schools and mosques".

Foreign recommendations

Iraq is treated separately. Perle and Frum distinguish the greatest risk from the nuclear weapons program of North Korea and Iran, and then from the terrorism support of the other three key countries.

  • North Korea
  • Iran
  • Syria
  • Libya
  • Saudi Arabia

These are seen as the national threats. They write of "the dark places", where terrorists operate because political authority failed: Somalia or Sierra Leone. They argue, however, that Afghanistan under the Taliban was not a "failed state" from a terrorist perspective, nor is Lebanon from the perspective of Hezbollah and Syria.

They also point that terrorists find sanctuary in areas that are simply inaccessible to the government, such as the jungles of Colombia, the Abu Sayyaf movement on Mindanao Island in the Philippines, and Aceh in Indonesia. In such cases, the US should give all help possible to governments actively struggling against terrorism; the British struggle against the Irish Republican Army is cited as a case where the US turned a blind eye to an ally.

When a government actively colludes with terrorism, it "should feel the full rigor of President Bush's rule that you are either with us or with the terrorists." They cited Taliban Afghanistan, as well as Syria and Iran.

For the intermediate cases, they point to a doctrine established by Theodore Roosevelt, in which a nation unable to perform the role of a government may require another government to exercise an international police power, as Britain did in Sierra Leone. "How are we justified in turning our backs when the country is ravaged by human wrongdoers rather than by natural disaster? And when these wrongdoers threaten us — or crete opportunities for terrorists who intend to threaten us — then the moral case for intervention is reinforced by the unignorable dictates of self-interest."[23]

They also specifically address Hamas and Hezbollah as organizations that cannot be considered to have a political/social service and a military wing.

Neoconservatives and the Iraq War

Perle has distanced himself from the George W. Bush Administration, and, indeed, neoconservatism. [24] He distanced himself sufficiently to say, at a presentation sponsored by National Interest magazine, "There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy...It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy."[25]

He told CNN "The biggest mistake was not turning political authority over to the Iraqis immediately when Baghdad fell."[26] The context was to put the US in the position of an occupying power, rather than empowering Iraqis, even if the government was to be of exiles.

Lebanon and Syria

After the fall of Baghdad, Perle told a reporter "we could deliver a short message, a two-worded message [to other hostile regimes in the Middle East]: 'You're next.'[27]

Referring to the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel-Lebanon fighting, he wrote

Israel must now deal a blow of such magnitude to those who would destroy it as to leave no doubt that its earlier policy of acquiescence is over. This means precise military action against Hezbollah and its infrastructure in Lebanon and Syria, for as long as it takes and without regard to mindless diplomatic blather about proportionality. For what appears to some to be a disproportionate response to small incursions and kidnappings is, in fact, an entirely appropriate response to the existential struggle in which Israel is now engaged.[28]


In January 2007, he said "I have no doubt that if it becomes apparent to President Bush that during his term Iran will achieve nuclear weapons, he will not hesitate to order a strike."[29]

He brought up regime change in Iran in February 2009, [30], which would involve covert action and work with opposition groups by the U.S. If there were to be military action, it would come from Israel. "I don't think we can persuade the Iranians...They will not be talked out of their nuclear program...Preemptive war has always struck me as a common sense position...Of course, you could get it wrong."


  1. Alan Weisman (2007), Prince of Darkness: Richard Perle: The Kingdom, the Power & the End of Empire in America, Union Square Press, ISBN 978402752308, p. 1
  2. Deborah Solomon (July 15, 2007), "Questions for Robert Novak: The Plame Game", New York Times
  3. James Mann (2004), Rise of the Vulcans: the History of Bush's War Cabinet, Viking, ISBN 0670032990, pp. 31-34
  4. Ben Wattenberg (14 November 2002), "Richard Perle: the Making of a Neoconservative", PBS
  5. Weisman, pp. 29-34
  6. Robert McG. Thomas Jr. (February 10, 1997), "Dorothy Fosdick, 83, Adviser On International Policy, Dies", New York Times
  7. Weisman, pp. 49-50
  8. Richard Perle, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
  9. Richard Perle, James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, "Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000.", Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
  10. Aram Roston (2008), The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi, Nation Books, ISBN 9781568583532, pp. 134-138
  11. Weisman, pp. 141-142
  12. Akiva Eldar, "Perles of wisdom for the Feithful", Haaretz, 1 October 2002, quoted in Mearsheimer & Walt, p. 239
  13. William Kristol, Kenneth Adelman, Gary Bauer, Jeffrey Bell, William Bennett, Ellen Bork, Linda Chavez, Eliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Thomas Donnelly, Nicholas Eberstadt, Hillel Fradkin, Frank Gaffney, Jr., Jeffrey Gedmin, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Charles Hill, Bruce Jackson, Donald Kagan , Robert Kagan, John Lehman, Tod Lindberg, Rich Lowry, Clifford May, Joshua Muravchik, Martin Peretz, Richard Perle, Daniel Pipes, Norman Podhoretz, Stephen Rosen, Randy Scheunemann, Gary Schmitt, William Schneider, Jr., Marshall Wittmann, R. James Woolsey (3 April 2002), An Open Letter to George W. Bush, Project for the New American Century
  14. Jack Shafer (7 August 2002), The PowerPoint That Rocked the Pentagon: The LaRouchie defector who's advising the defense establishment on Saudi Arabia.
  15. Thomas Ricks (6 August 2002), "Briefing Depicted Saudis as Enemies: Ultimatum Urged To Pentagon Board", Washington Post
  16. "Richard Perle's Conflict", New York Times, March 24, 2003
  17. Weisman, pp. 163-165
  18. "Interview: Richard Perle", Frontline, Public Broadcasting System, October 2001
  19. Oliver Burkeman and Julian Borger (20 November 2003), "War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal", The Guardian
  20. David Frum & Richard Perle (2003), An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, Random House, ISBN 1400061946, p. 9
  21. An End to Evil, pp. 16-21
  22. An End to Evil, pp. 25-26
  23. An End to Evil, pp. 119-121
  24. Thomas Frank (February 25, 2009), "Richard Perle's Apologia: Maybe next time the neocons will win.", Wall Street Journal
  25. Dana Milbank (February 20, 2009), "Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence", Washington Post
  26. Roger Cohen (April 27, 2007), "Globalist: The Biggest U.S. Error in Ousting Saddam", International Herald Tribune
  27. Michael Flynn, "The War Hawks: The Right Flexes Muscle with New U.S. Agenda," Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2003, quoted in Mearsheimer & Walt, p. 274
  28. Richard Perle (22 July 2006), "Op-Ed Contributor: An Appropriate Response", New York Times
  29. Yossi Melman, "To attack or not to attack", Haaretz, 24 January 2007, quoted in Mearsheimer & Walt, p. 300
  30. Christopher M. Matthews (20 February 2009), "Perle: It's bound to work this time", Salon