Pentagon advisor Perle becomes first political casualty of US setbacks in Iraq

In announcing his resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board on March 27, Richard Perle became the first political casualty of the initial failure of the US military strategy in Iraq. Perle’s resignation is a surface expression of bitter conflicts and recriminations raging behind the scenes within the Bush administration, within the military, and between sections of the military and the civilian leadership of the Pentagon.

In his March 27 letter Perle cited the public controversy that has erupted over his private business dealings, reports of which have led to charges of conflicts of interest and war profiteering. While the facts that have been uncovered point to a pattern of corrupt and unethical practices more than sufficient to warrant Perle’s removal as Defense Policy Board chairman, the timing of his resignation, and the failure of the Bush administration to seriously defend him, make it clear that his resignation is the outcome of divisions and clashes within the political and military establishment.

Perle is to remain as a member on the Defense Policy Board, an advisory panel to the Pentagon. He is one of the most prominent and outspoken members of the clique of neo-conservatives close to Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who have pushed for a decade for a US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Perle and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in particular, have argued for a US conquest of Iraq as part of a broader plan to transform the entire Middle East into a virtual American protectorate. Both are closely linked to the right wing of the Zionist establishment in Israel, which hopes to prosper as the main ally of US imperialism in a remade Middle East—within which the democratic aspirations of the Palestinians would be decisively suppressed and Israeli control of the West Bank would be strengthened.

From his position on the Defense Policy Board, Perle has played a key role in formulating the Bush administration’s war plan for Iraq. Together with Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, he advocated the strategy, combining relatively small ground forces and “Shock and Awe” bombings, that was adopted by the White House.

This plan was predicated on the assumption that the onset of the American attack would provoke mass defections from the Iraqi military and an outpouring of support from large sections of the population, who would greet the American and British invaders as liberators. A corollary of this prognosis was that the regime of Saddam Hussein, already on the brink of collapse, would break apart in the opening days of the US invasion.

Much of the “intelligence” on which this rosy scenario was based was apparently supplied by the Iraqi National Congress, the CIA-funded opposition-in-exile headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a close associate of Perle and Wolfowitz. These two also pushed, unsuccessfully, for Chalabi and his organization—which have virtually no popular support inside Iraq—to be assigned a more prominent role in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the regime that is to replace him.

In the months leading up to the US invasion, there were bitter conflicts within the US foreign policy, intelligence and military establishment, within the Bush administration, and between Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and sections of the military leadership over the war plan insisted upon by Rumsfeld, with the backing of Perle, Wolfowitz and other neo-conservatives. Much of the military brass wanted to employ a far larger ground force and were highly skeptical of the assumptions made by the Rumsfeld faction. They also resented what they considered the subordination of military considerations to the ideological and political proclivities of the likes of Perle.

The opening days of the US-British invasion have, needless to say, exposed the illusory nature of all the premises underlying the Perle-Wolfowitz-Rumsfeld war plan. The widespread Iraqi resistance has left the basic military strategy in a shambles and exposed as worthless the “intelligence” provided by Chalabi and his group of well-heeled Iraqi expatriates. Not surprisingly, much of the anger and recriminations within the military, the State Department, the CIA and other sections of the state apparatus have been directed against Perle, whose shady business dealings made him a prime target for retribution.

The March 31 Washington Post reported that several key figures from the administration of George Bush senior who are close to the current secretary of state, Collin Powell, including former secretary of state James Baker and former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, had begun an offensive against Rumsfeld and his allies. The Post quoted an anonymous former Republican official as asking “whether this president has learned something from this bum advice he has been getting” from Vice President Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz.

The London-based Financial Times applauded Perle’s resignation, writing in an editorial that it was “not a bad time” to punish his “overweening influence.” The editorial archly described Perle’s role as “funnelling ‘intelligence’ from the more gilded sections of the Iraqi opposition-in-exile into the Pentagon,” and said Perle “has long argued that US airpower would trigger an insurrection against Saddam Hussein—a scenario that betrays little knowledge of Iraq and is now unfolding slightly differently.”

In a dig at officials like former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, for whom Halliburton is setting aside $500,000 per year while it pursues lucrative government contracts for rebuilding a postwar Iraq, the Financial Times added: “The issue over which [Perle] stepped down—conflict of interest between his business interests and political role—is something that ought to concern other members of the Bush administration.”

Though Perle’s resignation was driven by political conflicts within the US government and military establishment, its ostensible reason—his practice of leveraging political influence for private gain—is highly illuminating. Perle’s business machinations provide a glimpse into the staggering levels of corruption and greed within and around the Bush administration.

On March 21 the New York Times revealed that Perle had a conflict of interest involving Global Crossing, the telecommunications firm that filed for bankruptcy following revelations of accounting fraud and other illegal practices. In an effort to return to solvency, Global Crossing is trying to sell its fiber optic networks to Hutchinson Whampoa, a firm controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing and Singapore Technologies Telemedia, which is controlled by the Singaporean government. Global Crossing hired Perle as an adviser and agreed to pay him $725,000, of which $600,000 was contingent on his success in using his influence to obtain US government approval for the transaction.

Since the government uses many of these networks, the Defense Department and the FBI have opposed the sale. The Committee for Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS), consisting of high-level defense and intelligence officials, is threatening to block the transaction. In a March 7 signed affidavit that was to be filed in Global Crossing’s bankruptcy proceedings, Perle claimed that his position as chairman of the Defense Policy Board gave him “intimate knowledge” on the process whereby Global Crossing could obtain the needed clearance.

The Global Crossing deal is only the latest example of Perle’s corrupt business and political relations. [SeeRichard Perle brands journalist Seymour Hersh a ‘terrorist’”]. Perle had previously fallen under suspicion of stacking the Defense Policy Board with his own business associates, using his influence over US policy in the Middle East to secure business for his firm, Trireme Partners, favoring an Israeli firm that had previously paid him $50,000 for a 1983 defense contract, and funneling classified information to the Israeli embassy in the 1970s.

Nor are such practices unique to Perle. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) revealed that at least nine of the thirty members of the Defense Policy Board have links to corporations that have received more than $76 billion in defense contracts. The CPI’s executive director wrote, “It is a picture of what has long been suspected of the incestuousness between the defense industry and the Pentagon.”