Confronting the Ghosts of a War Not Past

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A sign marking the number of US soldiers who have been killed or wounded during the war in Iraq is seen at Arlington West on Santa Monica Beach, California, 25 November 2007. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty)

As Iraq continues to unravel, the United States has been forced to once more confront the ghosts of a war not-quite-past.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq ultimately killed more than 4,000 members of the U.S. armed services and cost taxpayers $2.2 trillion. That's notwithstanding the lives lost and damage done to Iraq and its people.

America's fingerprints are everywhere, and the U.S. is again facing questions about its responsibility to a country it invaded in 2003. But does the blame game help? What role, if any, should America take now?

As the United States deliberates, militants continue to gain momentum, garnering their latest stronghold in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar. Their victories place a sense of urgency on the U.S. to decide whether or not it will clean up what it started more than a decade ago.

Richard Perle was there from the start. After serving as assistant secretary of defense to President Reagan and was chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a group that closely advised the Pentagon, from 2001 to 2003, and a close advisor to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Perle backed intervention in Iraq the first time around, and he joins The Takeaway to reflect on what he might change about the way things were done then and how are they are being handled now.

"I believe the elimination of Saddam Hussein, and a more murderous tyrant would be difficult to find, was in itself a very beneficial thing," says Perle. "I'm afraid we didn't handle the post-Saddam situation very well, but certainly eliminating him was a good thing for all mankind."

Perle says that after the September 11th attacks he supported U.S. action to bring down the regime of Saddam Hussein because he, like many other Americans, believed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a claim that would later prove to be false. However, Perle says that he felt an American occupation of the country was the wrong decision.

"I thought and believed the administration agreed with this—that immediately after we should turn Iraq over to an interim government to prepare for elections," he says. "We didn't do that, we became an occupying power, and I think that was a tragic mistake."

The American occupation of Iraq created a hostile political climate, and despite Perle's warnings, it was supported by President Bush, former Sec. Rumsfeld, and General Tommy Franks, the former Commander of the U.S. Central Command.

"The insurgency was able to grow and expand," says Perle. "That's where the trouble really began."

Perle says that the Bush Administration originally planned to turned things over to the Iraqis—something that he had argued for—but as history shows, things did not go that way.

"I argued for turning things over to the Iraqis immediately, but mine was only one voice and not a very influential one since I didn't hold a government position," says Perle. 

When Ambassador Paul Bremer was sent to Baghdad, he reported back that he felt that the Iraqis were not ready to assume responsibility.

"Unfortunately, the rest of the administration acquiesced in that judgment, so we found ourselves running a violent occupation," says Perle. 

What would have happened if the nation was turned over to Iraqi leaders after Saddam Hussein was ousted? Perle says it's possible an insurgency would have developed anyway, but that reality is one the world will never see. 

"We do know what did happened, and what did happen was we became an occupying power," he says. "Nobody likes occupying powers, so we found ourselves facing a very insistent insurgency, elements of which have returned to create the current crisis."

Historically, some occupations have worked—like Germany or Japan after WWII. In those instances, however, Perle says that the government was dealing with "defeated armies," unlike in Iraq.

"In the case of Iraq, the army disappeared," he says. "It wasn't so much defeated as it left the battlefield. Of course you have in Iraq sectarian divisions of a kind that did not exist in either Germany or Japan, and these sectarian divisions lie at the heart of the inability of that country to pull itself together."

So if the U.S. never went into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein—preventing the deaths of thousands of American troops and countless Iraqis—would America and Iraq be better off today?

"I think that's an absurd question," says Perle. "You're asking for a judgement a decade after decisions were made in order to accomplish a specific purpose, which was managing the risk associated with Saddam Hussein in power with, as we believed at the time, chemical and biological weapons. No one can tell you what Saddam might have done had he remained in power. I think there's every reason to expect that he would've rebuilt his arsenal...I just don't think it's productive to look at it in that way."



Richard Perle

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman


T.J. Raphael

Comments [13]

Pat from Oregon

I don't know if the whole interview was published -- because I was going to congratulate John Hockenberry for a stronger push-back than I have heard others do. Richard Perle used the "absurb" response twice. That said, to have any of these folks on the national media is repugnant, truly repugnant. If they have to have them on, the hosts on all stations and broadcasts need to push back much, much harder.

Jun. 19 2014 11:23 AM

i doubt i can say it as eloquently as dave de lorge from fresno, but yes, richard perle is a pompous self-important blowhard. his claim that he wanted to remove saddam n get right out of iraq totally ignores both our pretext for invasion -- WMD -- n our true motive -- OIL. once we were there we had no choice but to keep up the pretense of searching for the former as we carried out the actual agenda of securing the latter. if perle really didn't know that, he's even more obtuse than i imagined.

Jun. 18 2014 01:02 PM
James from Minnesota

I find it astonishing that so many of the war criminals from our government have been actively sought as legitimate voices regarding the ongoing horrors in the Middle East. Perle was one of the instigators of this American foreign policy disaster, and deserves to be held accountable. Instead, The Takeaway consults with him as an expert who can impart his wisdom to Takeaway listeners. This reflects poorly on those who manage the program, and is an insult to all thinking listeners who wish to hear something other than rehashed lies justifying these horrible and unnecessary wars.

Jun. 18 2014 01:02 PM
Dave de Lorge from Fresno

Mr. Perle sounds like he illustrates an interesting psycholinguistic characteristic of which I have never encountered analysis. As he speaks, I visualize pursed lips.

There is a sort of self-satisfied self importance conveyed, as if his very articulation of words comes through a face puffed forward to illustrate his seriousness. Perhaps it is used to distinguish how weighty his current thoughts are relative to those shared in casual conversation with a smile, or bland preoccupation.

If this perception could be illustrated with video, it might be more evident. As it is, I wonder who else might get a feel for it. I wonder if I am accurate in feeling that Mr. Perle is indicating that he feels his thoughts are very important, perhaps more authoritative than those of most of his peers, let alone those of his listeners.

Does Richard Perle give off an audio (and visual) signal that what he is saying is just about the most authoritative thing you will ever hear on the topic, and that he is very self confident in the correctness of his self-assessment, and you should recognize it too? What might this have in common with the school child who irritates the class with a very pompous delivery?

Hey John! Think you might get a psychological or anthropological linguist in for a bit on this hypothetical phenomenon? I won't take up more space here by trying to tie it down more tightly.

Jun. 17 2014 03:48 PM
Terry from Ny

From the imortal words of my local merchant"YOU BREAK

Jun. 17 2014 03:36 PM
oscar from ny

Everyone knows that Satan was sleeping in the middle east and only Mr Bush had the capability of reuniting with millions of Arabs and Satan and consolidate their outcome so the world can hear see and understand that these ppl for thousands of years were Satan's concubine and now millions will have to die because their ideology and perspective was even more off course,..evil vs evil ..this new modern world cannot take no more of these demented mullahs.. This is all gods work

Jun. 17 2014 03:28 PM
Louise Christy from Sunnyvale, CA

Yet again Hockenberry asks absurd and leading questions. How often must his interviewees be the ones who have to point out to him that his journalism is unprofessional.

Jun. 17 2014 03:24 PM

I was astonished to turn on my public radio affiliate and hear Richard Perle saying "I believe the elimination of Saddam Hussein, and a more murderous tyrant would be difficult to find, was in itself a very beneficial thing BUT I'M AFRAID WE DIDN'T HANDLE THE POST-SADDAM SITUATION VERY WELL." Really Mister Perle? And John Hockenberry, what standing does Richard Perle have to comment? He is an apologist for the biggest national debacle since Vietnam. He has nothing to say of any value unless it's "I am so very sorry." My takeaway from this piece would be unprintable.

Jun. 17 2014 02:37 PM
Sandy Mitchell from Mount Shasta, CA

My only question is: Mr. Hockenberry, I've been a fan of yours for years (going all the way back to "Heat")...WTF are you doing allowing Richard Perle a venue for ANYTHING???? I expect that the deliberately mindless MSM will kowtow to all the members of the GWB Cabal - why the hell are YOU doing so? I expect - well, used to expect, I'm rapidly readjusting my expectations of ANY media - downward - used to expect more of public radio. But now it's clear that ALL media kiss corporate ass, daily...

Jun. 17 2014 02:14 PM
John Goeckermann from Grants Pass , Oregon

IF they truly believed there were Weapons of Mass Destruction when they invaded, would their FIRST priority not have been SEND IN A TEAM DEDICATED TO SECURING THOSE WEAPONS????
BUT Nnooooo - - - The team they sent in was TO SECURE THE IRAQI OIL MINISTRY.
They knew there were NO WMDs so they didn't waste their time.
oil. plunder. bases (largest embassy in the world?). UNLIMITED MILITARY PROFITS???? CHENEYBURTON RULES.....

Jun. 17 2014 01:51 PM
Bill Marston from Philly

In listening to (the broadcast version of) John Hockenberry's interview with GWB (Bush#43) foreign policy advisor Richard Perle, I was another who surely heard AT LEAST self-aware mis-speaking by Mr. Perle. Admitting that we lived through that pre- and post-invasion of the US War on Iraq, and thus my open-mindedness on hearing his reply is undoubtedly prejudiced, still he did not address this:

WHY PICK THIS TYRANT to move our huge, powerful nation into a war...??
John Stewart answered this very question last night - why, oil, of course! ;—)

Keeping the global oil markets reasonably stable, so that businesses dependent upon a relatively stable price range and rate of change for oil (either as a raw material in industry, or as a fuel for mostly moving machines) are not placed at inordinate risk, and so that the American people do not become too upset over gasoline availability, fuel price increases, travel time loss, home heating fuel prices, increases in cost of consumer products of all kinds, etc.

Is there a non-edited version of the audio? Was the matter of WHY pursued beyond what we heard on today's show? (my local Public Radio WHYY 91FM, Philadelphia)

Jun. 17 2014 01:42 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N,Y.

Richard Perle is a time traveler... a danger when reflecting on past wars and predicting alternate outcomes, but great for Science Fiction fantasy.

Maybe we need to give the current government of Iraq "weapons of mass destruction" in order to defend themselves against ISIS

Then we'd have a legitimate reason for getting back involved with the removal of "Weapons of Mass Destruction," in Iraq post ISIS. A Win-Win situation!

Jun. 17 2014 01:16 PM
Charley McQuary from Portland

Richard Perle himself still supports that COMPLETELY 'absurd' notion that it was our responsibility to topple Saddam Hussein. This is an untenable postion that I have never heard a believable explanation for. We are not the World Police. It was known before we invaded Iraq that they did not have WMDs. Our country will pay for this horrible mistake for decades, in reputation and resources.

Jun. 17 2014 12:33 PM

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