March 23, 2003
Perle's Plunder Blunder
It's Richard Perle's world. We're just fighting in it.
The Prince of Darkness, a man who whips up revelatory soufflés and revolutionary pre-emption doctrines with equal ease, took a victory lap at the American Enterprise Institute on Friday morning.
The critical battle for Baghdad was yet to come and "Shock and Awe" was still a few hours away. (The hawks, who are trying to send a message to the world not to mess with America, might have preferred an even more intimidating bombing campaign title, like "Operation Who's Your Daddy?")
Yet Mr. Perle, an adviser to Donald Rumsfeld, could not resist a little pre-emptive crowing about pre-emption, predicting "a general recognition that high moral purpose has been achieved here. Millions of people have been liberated."
His conservative audience at the Reagan shrine's "black coffee briefing" (they're too macho for milk and sugar) was buzzed that their cherished dream of saving Iraq by bombing it was under way.
The chesty "you repent, we decide" Bush doctrine was cooked up pre-Bush, fashioned over the last 12 years by conservatives like Mr. Perle, Mr. Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Douglas Feith and Bill Kristol.
The pre-emption doctrine prefers ad hoc coalitions, allowing an unfettered America to strike at threats and potential threats. At A.E.I., Mr. Perle boasted that far from going it alone, the Bush administration had a coalition of "more than 40 countries and . . . growing." (Including Micronesia, Mongolia and the Marshall Islands, all of them.)
And he was already looking forward to giving makeovers to other rogue regimes. "I'm rather optimistic that we will see regime change in Iran without any use of military power by the United States," he said.
Michael Ledeen, an A.E.I. scholar on the same panel, called Iraq "just one battle in a broader war. Iran is . . . the mother of modern terrorism."
As Bush 41 learned, waging holy wars can be dicey. After pressing the morality of Desert Storm, he faced questions about his postwar conduct. Critics excoriated Mr. Bush, who had labeled Saddam another Hitler, for turning his back as Saddam laid waste to Kurdish refugees and to Kurds and Shiite Muslims rising up against him after the war.
Now Mr. Perle, who urged America to war with moral certitude, finds himself subject to questions about his own standards of right and wrong.
Stephen Labaton wrote in The Times on Friday that Mr. Perle was advising the Pentagon on war even as he was retained by Global Crossing, the bankrupt telecommunications company, to help overcome Pentagon resistance to its proposed sale to a joint venture involving a Hong Kong billionaire.
The confidant of Rummy and Wolfy serves as the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an influential Pentagon advisory panel. That's why Global Crossing agreed to pay Mr. Perle a fat fee: $725,000. The fee structure is especially smelly because $600,000 of the windfall is contingent on government approval of the sale. (In his original agreement, Mr. Perle also asked the company to shell out for "working meals," which could add up, given his status as a gourmand from the Potomac to Provence, where he keeps a vacation home among the feckless French.)
Although his position on the Defense Policy Board is not paid, Mr. Perle is still bound by government ethics rules that forbid officials from reaping financial benefit from their government positions. He and his lawyer told Mr. Labaton that his work for Global Crossing did not violate the rules because he did not lobby for the company and was serving in an advisory capacity to its lawyers.
But that distinction is silly because Global Crossing has so many other big names on its roster of influence-peddlers that it doesn't need Mr. Perle's Guccis for actual lobbying footwork or advice on the process. His name alone could be worth the $725,000 if it helps win the Pentagon's seal of approval.
His convictions of right and wrong extend to the right and wrong investments. On Wednesday he participated in a Goldman Sachs conference call to advise clients on investment opportunities arising from the war, titled, "Implications of an Imminent War: Iraq Now. North Korea Next?"
Maybe Mr. Perle should remove the laurel wreath from his head and replace it with a paper bag.