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National Politics: Perle Appearance Knits Few Brows

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The press release from St. Vincent College says that "[t]he Honorable Richard Perle" will speak at the Duquesne Club on "Terrorism and Democracy." It provides a partial list of Perle's many titles both in and out of government. But curiously, it omits what many regard as the D.C. think-tank fellow's most notable achievement: getting the United States to invade a country that posed no threat.

 

Indeed, the former assistant secretary of defense -- known in the Beltway during the Reagan administration as "the Prince of Darkness" for his opposition to arms-control deals -- spent much of the 1990s making the case for toppling Saddam Hussein, partly to boost the geopolitical cause of Israel, a country with whose hard-liners Perle has long aligned. Perle chaired the influential Defense Policy Board, a quasi-official body composed of former government officials, retired military officers and academics that advises the Pentagon. He also served as a foreign-policy adviser to George W. Bush's first presidential campaign. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Perle was widely viewed as the leading voice not only for overthrowing Saddam but also for using preemptive military action to oppose terrorism.

 

It was a role the longtime associate of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz played on op-ed pages and political talk shows. In 2002, Perle -- who like many powerful neoconservative hawks has never served in the military -- "urged Bush to dismiss 'the unsolicited advice of retired generals' when contemplating war with Iraq," according to Salon magazine. Perle also compared anti-Saddam forces within Iraq to the military rations known as Meals Ready-to-Eat: "The Iraqi opposition is kind of like an MRE," he told U.S. News & World Report. "The ingredients are there and you just have to add water, in this case U.S. support." Perle once estimated that as few as 40,000 U.S. ground troops were needed to take the country of 20 million-plus. (There are currently about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.) Meanwhile, in the months prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion, Perle was embroiled in conflict-of-interest scandals including one involving Trireme Partners LP, a venture-capital firm that invests in homeland-security- and defense-related goods and services. Perle served as a Trireme managing partner even while continuing to work with the Defense Policy Board.

 

Perle's lunch lecture here at Downtown's historic hangout for Pittsburgh's monied elite was booked by St. Vincent political science professor Bradley C.S. Watson. It's part of a series sponsored by the school's Center for Economic and Policy Education. "I thought it would be good to get someone who has that kind of experience but who isn't in government and who can speak freely," says Watson.

 

Perle left the DPB in February 2004. Three months later he described U.S. policy in occupied Iraq as a failure, and called the occupation itself "a grave error." Perle, today a fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, told BBC radio that Iraq should have been turned back to Iraqis "more or less immediately" after the invasion. But Watson said he's "not concerned" that Perle's credibility might have suffered when much of his war rationale -- including Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction -- proved illusory. "My guess is he will still be a vigorous supporter of the war in Iraq and the democratic changes that are happening in Iraq."

 

For some, however, "the honorable" isn't a descriptor they'd use for Perle. "The Duquesne Club is probably the only place he belongs in this city," says Tim Vining, executive director of the Thomas Merton Center, a peace and social-justice group. "The people who go to the Duquesne Club are the only ones who have been for this war," Vining adds. "But those who've borne the brunt of the war could never afford to go to the Duquesne Club."

Thursday, May 26, Duquesne Club, Downtown. $50 (lunch included). Seating is limited. Info: 724-537-4597.

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