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Richard Perle v. Paul Krugman: A Debate On The War On Terror

StoryJanuary 13, 2004
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We host a debate between Richard Perle, the man the Washington Post calls “the intellectual guru of the hard-line neoconservative movement in foreign policy” and one of its fiercest critics, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

Perle, a Pentagon adviser and former assistant secretary of defense, calls for the U.S. secession of Saudi oil fields, for regime change in Iran, for the isolation of Syria, possible attacks and a blockade against North Korea and the treatment of France as an enemy.

Perle says Saudi Arabia should be included in the “axis of evil” but refuses to condemn the Bush family financial ties to Saud Arabia. [includes transcript]

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post calls him the “intellectual guru of the hard-line neoconservative movement,” saying “he has profound influence over Bush policies and officials.” Columnist Jim Lobe says he has written the “Neocons’ Manual for Global Warmongering.”

I’m talking about Pentagon adviser and former assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle. He has a new book out called “An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror,” co-written with David Frum, a former special assistant to President George W Bush.

As Perle promotes his book, he continues to make headlines. On Sunday, he told CNN that Saudi Arabia qualifies for the “axis of evil” club. Saudi papers blasted Perle yesterday, saying that he only speaks the language of “force, murder and destruction.”

The book is written as a victory manual. But it has already caused a firestorm of controversy around the globe and in Washington.

Perle calls for the U.S. secession of Saudi oil fields, for regime change in Iran, for the isolation of Syria, possible attacks and a blockade against North Korea and the treatment of France as an enemy. He describes France and Russia as the UN mouthpiece of the Iraq.

Domestically the book targets the State Department and CIA for being too soft on the war on terrorism. The Clinton Administration is blamed for turning a blind eye to the growing threat from Islamic fundamentalists.

Regarding Muslims the authors write “The roots of Muslim rage are to be found in Islam itself. There is no middle way for Americans. It is victory or holocaust.”

To Washington, insiders Richard Perle has been a well-known figure. He has been a close friend of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz since 1969 and is a close ally of both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.

  • Richard Perle, co-author of the new book “An End to Evil: How To Win the War on Terror” with David Frum. He served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and as chairman of the Defense Policy Board under President Bush. He is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
  • Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and Professor of Economics at Princeton University. His latest book “The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way In The New Century” is a collection of his New York Times columns.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To Washington insiders, Richard Perle has been a well known figure. He has been a close friend of Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz since 1969, is a close ally of both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. He joins us on the line now. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Richard Perle.


AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the Saudis qualifying for their own membership in the axis of evil. The Bush family has had a long, close relationship with the Saudi regime. President Bush senior getting a million dollars for the Bush presidential library. Also Barbara Bush getting a sum like that for literacy program from the Saudi regime. That’s just the beginning. Do you condemn their relationship with the Saudi regime?

RICHARD PERLE: I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is what have the Saudis been doing with their vast oil wealth. It’s clear that billions have gone to supporting extremist institutions around the world. Places where young people are taught it is their mission to bring about an Islamic universe by force, if necessary, by suicide omissions if necessary. The propagation of that extremist is a threat to us, and to the world, and I think the Saudis are now beginning to realize it, too themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: But that relationship between the Bushes also, James Baker, who has been named as the kind of point man on Iraq right now. Baker Botts representing the Saudi regime against 9-11 families in a lawsuit.

RICHARD PERLE: Well, that’s not a case I would take on. There are theories about everyone being entitled to a defense. I think it really trivializes a very large issue to focus on whether this or that member of the Bush family at some time in the past or even now deals with some Saudis in a way other than the way we should be dealing with the Saudi government on the issue of their funding of terrorism. We ought to be persuading the Saudis by every means we have that the continued support for this extremism is a danger to themselves and others, and is intolerable.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Perle is co-author of a new book, “An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.” Paul Krugman is also with us, an OpEd columnist for the New York Times. He, too, has a new book, “The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in The New Century.” Paul Krugman, your response.

PAUL KRUGMAN: I have no grief for the Saudis. I think there’s a lot that you can say. They have not been good allies here. The trouble that I have with all of this is there seems to be some delusions of grandeur going on here about how many — how much of the world the United States is prepared to take on all at once. If you have got a point of view that says that well, France is practically an enemy, that we’re going to pursue a regime change in every nasty regime in the world, and where is this — where are the resources for this coming from? The United States has about 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s gross product. If we are — we are a superpower, but we’re not a colossus bestriding the world. What I saw in the run-up to the Iraq war and subsequently is that we saw again and again the limits of US power in everything except ability to fight an open battle. The kind of program, as I understand it, that Perle and Frum are pushing, is one that would require a huge increase in the army, would — you know, put enormous drain on our resources. It’s inconceivable you would be doing all of this without reinstating the draft. Is this a practical, sensible thing to be advocating?

RICHARD PERLE: You have read our book. I haven’t read his. We are not recommending what he suggests. We are not recommending going after every nasty dictatorship in the world. We’re not recommending reinstating the draft or increasing the size of the army. What we are recommending is a sustained and concerted effort to isolate a relatively small number of terrorists, and the States that support them before they can do even more damage than they did on September 11. And I don’t understand.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Let me ask — I mean — we’re told that the book includes our advocacy of regime change in Iran, that it calls for a blockade of North Korea. The book hasn’t been available. Mine’s been out for a while.

RICHARD PERLE: Hundreds of thousands of copies are out there. It calls for a blockade of North Korea, if we are unsuccessful in stopping their production of nuclear weapons. The alternative is to leave them free to ship those weapons around the world.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Let’s just go back here. You know, stage one, the pilot project was Iraq. There were many warnings from the professional military that the initial battles would be easy, but that the occupation was going to severely strain our military forces. And so, it has turned out. Now —

RICHARD PERLE: We — 100,000 — we are going down to 100,000 troops in Iraq out of the uniformed military in excess of a million. I don’t believe. .

PAUL KRUGMAN: You know that every professional military person is talking about the extreme strain. That we have 40,000 soldiers who are on stop loss, who have not been given the freedom to leave when they normally would be able to. Let’s not minimize this. If you want to say the war was worth doing, fine, but to pretend it’s a low cost venture, that’s silly.

RICHARD PERLE: I didn’t say it was a low cost venture. I thought it was an essential venture, and I think we are emerging with an Iraq that has a future. There was no future before the war. I don’t appreciate the incorrect characterizations of what we say. On the regime change in Iran, it has nothing to do with the United States army or the military forces. We are proposing that we give support to the millions of Iranians who don’t want to have every aspect of their lives dictated to by a handful of mullahs who you may have noticed in the last 24 hours have been blocking any possibility of reform in that country through the electoral process. Should we not be identifying with people who want to liberate their country in this case?

PAUL KRUGMAN: Big difference between — I mean, I — I mean, I look forward to reading the book. But let me just come back to this. The — an awful lot of this discussion seems to be predicated on the notion that the United States has a level of power that it doesn’t.

RICHARD PERLE: I don’t know what you mean when you say a lot of this discussion. We are very concrete and very specific about what we ought to do, and not everything that we advocate as a last step is — should be thought of as a first step. So, for example, with respect to North Korea, we encourage the effort to bring the Chinese and others in, in order to persuade the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear weapons program. It is only after all else has failed that we say we would have to act to try to prevent them from moving nuclear weapons they were producing around the world. That would entail a blockade and ultimately possibly even the use of the — the use of force.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something, Richard Perle. A new report from the U.S. Army War College is calling for the Bush administration to greatly scale back the scope of the so-called war on terror because the army is near a breaking point. According to the Washington Post, the study likens the scale of U.S. ambitions in the war on terrorism to Adolf Hitler’s overreach in World War II. It says, “a cardinal rule of strategy is to keep your enemies to a manageable number.” Your response?

RICHARD PERLE: Well, first of all, let’s not describe this as an Army War College product. It is an essay, rather than a study, and it is by Jeffrey Record, who I have known for years, who used to work on Capitol Hill for democratic senators, who was opposed to the war to begin with. So, Jeffrey can make his own argument without having to invoke the army in his behalf. I simply disagree with him. We don’t choose enemies. We have been chosen by our enemies, by countries like North Korea, and Iran, and Iraq, and organizations like al Qaeda and the states that support them. We can’t wish them away. We’re not looking for new enemies. I don’t believe we have created new enemies. On the contrary.

AMY GOODMAN: But speaking of creating enemies, you write the roots of Muslim rage are to be found in Islam itself. There is no middle way for Americans. What about American Muslims?

RICHARD PERLE: Well, I think most American Muslims are very unhappy at what is being done in the name of Islam. Because they certainly don’t subscribe to the intolerant view that says we are all infidels, and the whole world must become an Islamic state.

AMY GOODMAN: But you say that the roots of Muslim rage are to be found in Islam itself.

RICHARD PERLE: Yes, but if you read that in the context, it is not saying that all Muslims believe that, in fact, we go to great lengths in the book to distinguish between the views of Muslims who believe in tolerant Islam and a small fringe group that would be insignificant if it didn’t have Saudi money behind it. That is propagating holy wars, jihad and violence, and death and destruction for Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: The Saudi ambassador to the United States is quoted in the New Yorker saying: “There’s a split personality to Perle. Here he is on the one hand trying to make $100 million deal and on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail. If we get in business, he will back off on Saudi Arabia as I have been informed by participants at the meeting.” He is talking about the meeting that you had with Adnan Kushogi. The piece that Seymour Hersh wrote about where you called him a terrorist. You said you’d sue him though you haven’t. Your response?

RICHARD PERLE: It’s not clear whether the bigger of the two liars is Hersh or the ambassador. It’s a lie. It’s an out and out lie. As it happens, it was investigated thoroughly by the Inspector General of the Defense Department. And I — I was fully cleared of all of Hersh’s malicious charges. And Ambassador Bandar’s lie.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you planning to sue, Seymour Hersh? The statute of limitations is running out.

RICHARD PERLE: There’s time. As you well know, one has to prove malicious intent. That’s a very difficult thing to prove. There is no question that the falsity of Hirsh’s allegations can be proven, can be established, and can be established in court, and those allegations were repeated in jurisdictions where you can get a finding on the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you stand by your statement that he is a terrorist, Seymour Hersh, the reporter?

RICHARD PERLE: Anyone who saw that program understood that this was not a literal designation as a terrorist. I said he was a journalistic terrorist and defined this as someone who sets off bombs without regard to who they injure.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Krugman, I gave Richard Perle the first word. I give you the last.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Let me just come back. We have got an elusive target here. One hand we have strong statements. On the other hand, you — we see Mr. Perle saying, if you talk about anything concrete that might actually involve risk, at least not really advocating that, except as a last resort. Still, what it comes down to is a very broad definition of enemy, a very broad definition of what is a casus belli for the United States. I’m happy with the view that we should not be viewing Saudi Arabia as an ally. I think that something — a definition that leads you to say that France, which we have disagreements with, but which in a fundamental way shares our most important values, is not an ally. There’s got to be something wrong with that world view.

AMY GOODMAN: On that note —

PAUL KRUGMAN: and we are not powerful enough to go it alone.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us.

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