WASHINGTON: If ever there were any doubt about the Middle East policy preferences of the neoconservative hard core in Washington, Richard Perle and David Frum have put them to rest.
The two fellows at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), known to some as “Neocon Central” in Washington, describe their new book, An End to Evil, as a “manual for victory” in the “war on terrorism.”
In it, the two call for Washington to cut off the flow of oil from Iraq and arms supplies to Syria and pursue suspected terrorists into Syrian territory, unless Damascus implements a thoroughgoing “Western reorientation” of its policies, beginning with a withdrawal from Lebanon. They also recommend actively promoting, through direct action if need be, the secession of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province unless Riyadh provides the “utmost cooperation” in the war on terror.
The authors urge Washington to give up on the creation of a Palestinian state, saying, “We will not cure the vast malaise in Muslim civilization exposed by Sept. 11, 2001, by carving out a 23rd Arab state in the Judean hills.”
Iranian dissidents should be aided to push for the overthrow of the regime in Tehran. “The regime must go,” they write. “That is not merely the opinion of the authors of this book. It is the opinion of the vast majority of the Iranian people.”
With similar self-assurance, Perle and Frum express no doubt about the stakes involved in what one of their fellow neoconservatives, James Woolsey, likes to call “World War IV.”
“There is no middle way for Americans,” they write. “It is victory or holocaust.
Militant Islam seeks “to overthrow our civilization and remake the … West into Islamic societies imposing on the whole world its religion and law,” they declare. “All available evidence indicates that militant Islam commands wide support, and even wider sympathy among Muslims worldwide, including Muslim minorities in the West.”
At a time when US power seems at its zenith at least, in military terms they assert that “militant Islam” threatens “even our survival as a nation.”
Similarly, while giving lip service to their belief in the existence of a “moderate Islam,” they lean to more Islamaphobic views of the Christian right, noting for instance that, “the roots of Muslim rage are to be found in Islam itself,” and, at another, “we need to remind the women of Islam ceaselessly: Our enemies are the same as theirs; or victory will be theirs as well.”
Ultimately, according to the authors, victory over terrorism will be decided “in the minds of the men and women if (sic) the Islamic world.”
Elsewhere in the book, the authors suggest “Muslim rage” is inherent to the Arab culture.
“Religious extremists and secular militants, Sunnis and Shiites, communists and fascists in the Middle East, these categories blend into one another. All gush from the same enormous reservoir of combustible rage.”
The answer lies with what the authors call “democratization,” rather than democracy.
“In the Middle East, democratization does not mean calling immediate elections and then living with what happens next. That was tried in Algeria in 1995 (sic), and it would have brought the Islamic extremists to power as the only available alternative to the corrupt status quo.”
That, of course, is unacceptable. What is needed, rather, is a more gradual, guided reform process “opening political spaces in which Middle Eastern people can express concrete grievances in ways that bring action to improve their lives.”
While not recommended for the faint of heart, An End to Evil offers a useful measure for assessing the degree of influence that the most hard-line neocons, who led the drive to war with Iraq, are exerting on US foreign policy.
Frum is a former speechwriter in the Bush White House who was effectively fired a year ago after his wife bragged to friends that it was he as opposed to the president himself who was behind the geo-strategically fraught “Axis of Evil” passage in Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address. Frum, a Canadian devoid of any noteworthy foreign-policy expertise, was soon hired by Perle to help him write a book about the war against Iraq.
Perle on the other hand does have extensive foreign-policy experience. A protege of Washington State Senator Henry Jackson during the 1970s, Perle earned the moniker Prince of Darkness as a senior Pentagon official under Ronald Reagan for his opposition to any arms-control negotiations with the former Soviet Union. A close friend of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and mentor to Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, Perle sits at the center of the neoconservative network that includes organizations such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Center for Security Policy, the US Committee for a Free Lebanon, the Hudson Institute, the Project for the New American Century, as well as AEI itself. He also holds high-level security clearance as a member and former chairman of the neocon-dominated Defense Policy Board (DPB), which has worked closely with like-minded officials who dominate the Pentagon and Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office.
As noted by the Washington Post, Perle is the “intellectual guru of the hard-line conservative movement in foreign policy … (He) has profound influence over Bush’s policies and officials in the competition for the hearts of the president and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. “
An End to Evil thus offers some insight not only into where Pearl wants to steer the administration next in its war on terror, but also how he views the situation in the Middle East.
At times, the authors sound downright defensive about the failure of their pre-war predictions for Iraq to materialize. The fault in their eyes, of course, lies entirely with the scheming “soft-liners” in the State Department and the CIA, who wouldn’t listen to Iraqi National Congress (INC) chief Ahmed Chalabi, another long-time Perle buddy.
Like a football coach determined to fire up his players in the locker room at half time, Perle and Frum worry that “many in the American political and media elite are losing their nerve for the fight.
“We can feel the will to win ebbing … we sense the reversion to the bad old habits of complacency and denial.”
The authors are unquestionably right that the momentum behind their agenda is flagging. The primary culprit is designated as Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, who, after observing the correlation between the president’s precipitous drop in the polls and US casualties in Iraq, reportedly decided in early October that there was to be “no war in 2004,” at least until the presidential elections were completed in November.
Since then, the neocons’ influence as well as that of the Pentagon and Cheney’s office appears to have dwindled steadily, while that of the “realists,” such as Secretary of State Colin Powell is on the rise.
Thus, the administration’s aggressive and triumphalist rhetoric has been toned down considerably from the immediate post-war period. Substantively, the moderating trend has become particularly pronounced in two areas: Taiwan, whose “freedom” is fiercely embraced by Perle and Frum, and Iran. Indeed, Bush’s offer last week to send a high-level delegation, including a family member, to Iran in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in Bam must have sent Perle and his friends into convulsions.
Washington’s recent warm words for Libya must also have been a bitter blow for the likes of Perle, who calls the notion that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is becoming more moderate “a symptom of the seemingly incurable wishful delusions that afflict the accomodationists in the foreign policy establishment.”
Libya, according to the book, is “aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) of all sorts … (and) should be treated as what it is: an implacably hostile regime.”
What is remarkable is the implication that Perle, despite his access and contacts, may been kept in the dark about the secret negotiations over Libya’s WMD that were taking place while the book was written.
At the same time, however, neocons can hardly be ignored, particularly while Cheney, their highest-level sponsor protector, remains a top-policy player. As much as the realists have gained on China and Iran, Cheney and the Pentagon clearly retain the authority to veto substantive deviations from hard-line positions on North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That is why the An End to Evil bears reading, particularly if Bush wins a second term and retains Cheney as his most influential foreign-policy adviser. If the upcoming presidential election makes it politically impossible to pursue this agenda now, the neoconservatives, who had Iraq in their sites for 12 years, certainly have the patience to wait one more year.