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[casi] Perle: Bush's focus on Iraq's WMD "a mistake"

dear All

Richard Perle, chairman of the quasi-governmental US Defense Policy Board
and leading ideologue for the Bush administration's international stance,
took part in a debate in London last night. Although his presentation did
little more than present a defence of Bush's policy on Iraq in a highly
eloquent way, I had an audience with him (ie, I button-holed him)
afterwards for about 10 minutes in which he was able to resort to fewer
ambiguities. A brief account of his points is below. I've re-structured
them to preserve the train of his argument; there were a few other people
attempting to throw a question in which made the conversation slightly


In his initial speech, Perle had said that the problem of Iraq "begins with
Saddam's treatment of his own people", and that a "moral compass" would
point to the need to take military action. I put it to him that if this is
his primary concern, then the issue of Iraq's non-conventional weapons
serves as a distraction: the US should attempt to unseat the Iraqi
leadership whatever happens with inspectors, disarmament etc.

Perle agreed with this assessment. He said that it was "a mistake" of the
Bush administration to focus on "the WMD issue". The history of the Iraqi
government presented a much wider range of problems, and this was enough to
warrant US attempts to remove it.


Perle did not directly respond to my point that if his position on reasons
for removing the Iraqi leadership was accepted by the Bush administration,
it would remove any incentives for Iraqi cooperation with weapons
inspectors. Perle spoke of "overwhelming evidence" that Iraq was attempting
to build nuclear weapons. If Iraq possessed such a weapon, they could
invade any of the surrounding states, and the wider world wouldn't be able
to respond, as they did with regard to Kuwait.

I remarked that his reference to the evidence he alluded to in his speech
about Iraq's nuclear programme was derived wholly from Khidhir Hamza; and
that since Hamza hadn't been a direct participant in Iraq's weaponisation
programme for a long time, he was not the most reliable of sources. Perle
had earlier, in response to another person's question, referred to Ritter
as "a nutcase" who had done "a 180 degree turn", and was "speaking about
things he had no knowledge of" - I put it to Perle that the same assessment
of speaking on aspects of Iraq outside one's direct experience applied as
much if not more to Hamza.

Perle disagreed with my assessment of Hamza, and claimed that Hamza had
been involved with Iraq's nuclear programme as recently as 1996. I pointed
out that Hamza had in fact been based in Libya from 1994, and had prior to
that been working outside the weapons loop since 1987, or at least 1990. As
such, any direct information that Hamza has on Iraq's weapons programme is
probably at least 15 years old. Therefore, to base allegations on Iraq's
current weapons on the testimony of Hamza is disingenous. Perle resorted to
claiming that Hamza still had links to Iraqi scientists, and that there was
considerable further evidence of Iraq's intentions.

(Hamza's CV is at:

I discussed one further nuclear issue - the aluminium tubes story that Bush
has placed significance on - with Perle, and he said that there were
"differing perspectives" on this, but didn't elaborate.


We went on to discuss the concept of the "axis of evil", which Perle
brought up to argue the continuing validity of the notion. I put it to
Perle that this concept would entail that an invasion of Iraq would only be
a first step towards dismantling the axis. Perle was more reticent here,
arguing that different strategies were needed for these countries. I asked
him if he foresaw military action against Iran. He said that it was his
belief that the Iranian regime would be toppled through internal forces
alone, and that this would happen fairly soon.

I asked specifically about Syria, drawing upon the argument put in a 1996
paper for which Perle was the primary consultant, which advised the
then-Israeli government of Netanyahu to seek the toppling of the Iraqi
regime so as to foil Syria's regional ambitions (sic), and change the
balance of power in the region in favour of Israel.

(this paper is at: - it also
advises "using Lebanese opposition elements", ie terrorist groups, to
destabilise Syria).

Perle didn't pick up on my goading here, and said that Syria knew that it
was in a tight bind: its leadership knew that any false moves by it would
lead to a massive Israeli strike against it, and so there was no need for
direct US military measures against it.


Perle also made various comments on pre-1990 and Second Gulf War US policy.
He acknowledged that the US "tilted" towards Iraq in the 1980-88 war, and
was strongly critical of its silence when Iraq used chemical weapons. He
brought up as a special target for criticism a Paris conference which was
silent on Iraq's use of chemical weapons. He provided the standard range of
reasons why the US did not support the 1991 intifada (international
coalition would fragment, lack of UN mandate etc), and also claimed that
Colin Powell was personally opposed to a full invasion of Iraq because of
his desire to avoid further harm to Iraqi civilians.

Dr Glen Rangwala

Lecturer in Politics | Newnham College, Cambridge CB3 9DF, UK
tel (+44/0)1223 335759 | shared fax (+44/0)1223 357898 |

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