Richard Perle was on PBS Tuesday night. An intelligent man, but in the matter of Islam and Iraq, not intelligent enough. Innocent of history, or at least of Islamic history, convinced that the American government can transplant “democracy” to Iraq. In response to the interviewer’s doubts about this, he responds that there have been “three elections” in Iraq. He is still unaware that those “three elections” were, as Ali Allawi says in his just-published book, not about “democracy” in the Western sense at all, but about the assertion of group identity and solidarity, especially by the Shi’a. How many votes went to Mithal al-Alusi in the end? Or to others like him?
Perle apparently is not quite aware of Islam as the problem and the menace. He is certainly inattentive, judging by his public performances, to the instruments of Jihad other than mere terrorism, such as Da’wa and demographic conquest, and the money weapon. But we still don’t know, from Richard Perle, what it is that can now happen in Iraq that will help the Camp of Infidels, that was not achieved by the beginning of 2004. For by then the American government knew there were no major weapons in Iraq, and by then it had thoroughly disrupted any projects that might soon be developed. Yet Perle continues to cling, wanly, to the belief that this Iraq venture, the one to bring “freedom” to “ordinary moms and dads” in the Middle East, as Bush likes to say, is worth the candle.
And he invokes repeatedly Kennedy’s inaugural speech. Indeed, there is a shot of him watching with evident pleasure and great interest a tape of that inaugural speech. The one about “pay any price, bear any burden.”
And he seems to think that is an admirable sentiment, one that makes sense, one that should be more than mere inaugural-speech rhetoric. In January 1961, when Kennedy gave that speech, a certain colossal calamity was just beginning in Vietnam. We were, you see, prepared to “pay any price, bear any burden.” But not to think things through.
“Pay any price”? “Bear any burden”? Even if the price is gigantic — $880 billion in past, present and committed future costs, more than all the wars America has fought, save World War II, put together? Even if it hinders, rather than helps, this country and other Infidel lands in our ability to pay attention to the money weapon, and to Da’wa, and to demographic conquest?
The polypragmonic impulse can be seen in Perle’s belief that we should go about the world righting wrongs, and bringing “freedom” to those who in the American view may long for it, but are prevented merely by a local despot who can be undone. But the belief that “either we bring them freedom or they will destroy us” — Bernard Lewis’s unhelpful formulation — does not make sense. What makes sense in Iraq was only to find, seize, and destroy major weaponry, and then, by removing the Sunni despotism (disguised as Ba’athism), to allow the situation itself to naturally work to weaken the Camp of Islam — with the release of those sectarian and ethnic hostilities which the Americans had done nothing to encourage.
But Perle was a child of, and heroic participant in, the Cold War. Islam is not the Soviet Union. And Perle never studied Islam. He never permitted himself the unhurried and quiet study that meant not only reading, but having the time to thoroughly assimilate what it was he read, and to make sense of things. And he, like Wolfowitz with his pillow-talk, was mightily impressed with all those “good Muslims” he has met. Yesterday it was Ahmad Chalabi and Kanan Makiya (“candy and flowers will greet the American liberators,” according to Makiya, who forgot, or perhaps refuses to understand, what Islam, what minds on Islam, Sunni and Shi’a, are capable of) and Shaha Ali Riza. Right now, it appears from the PBS documentary, it is a young Iranian in exile, Amir Abbas Fakhravar. This young man’s tale, admittedly moving, leaves Perle, still enthralled by the idea of changing the world, eager for fresh fields and pastures new in which to have the United States “bear every burden” and “pay any price.” Not China, not Japan, not Western Europe, not any of the other nations that need oil, or that might be menaced by the worldwide Jihad, but just little old us, transplanting our democracy here and there, with splendid results — now whittled down from Iraq the Light Unto the Muslim Nations to Iraq the Night-Light Unto the Muslim Nations.
Henry Jackson and Dorothy Fosdick would have been less susceptible. They would have been less quick to endorse the universal application of Sharanskian idealism. They would not have been pleased with Richard Perle, who is so careful and insistent to tell the interviewer that he was and is a “liberal Democrat” and that he wants only the best for everyone.
It’s true. He does want only the best for everyone. And that is his problem. He cannot see that resources are finite, that the menace of Islamic Jihad is large and growing, and that the best way to deal with it is not to help Muslim countries, but to exploit the fissures, sectarian, ethnic, and economic, within the Camp of Islam.
Perhaps he will rethink things. He has the leisure to read, and not merely to talk to others similarly situated in Washington, who are unused to study, and have reached the empyreal heights where such study no longer takes place. Instead, there are those position papers that reduce whole countries to a 50-page report. Still worse, for the biggest of shots and busy decision-makers, are those bullet-ridden executive summaries, and all the hectic vacancy of meetings hither and yon with the Great of This Earth. There are the consultancies, and the world leaders to be met, and the dinner parties, and all the rest of it that teaches one so very little about what is likely to happen, and why, in Baghdad or Basra or Baquba.
Perle is seen on camera in a staged three-minute debate with Buchanan, who manages, horribile dictu, to sound more reasonable than Perle, and with Richard Holbrooke, who not so horribly manages to sound more reasonable than Perle — though Holbrooke himself misunderstands what he did in Dayton, or why the bombing of the Serbs was not a triumph but excessive and unwise. And he even talks to Sharansky, and dreams of a day when Amir Abbas Fakhravar, the Iranian, can stand in Tehran as free as Sharansky…well, where? Did Russia work out? Has Russia become a “democracy” in any Western sense, or is it reverting to type? And will not Muslim states such as Iraq and Iran also revert to type, unless the conditions are created that will force Muslims, or the most intelligent of them, to make the connection between the political, economic, social, intellectual, and moral failures of their societies and states, and Islam itself?
Perle does not look as though he has yet engaged in the necessary study, or that he has any sense of the enormity of the mistake of American troops remaining in Iraq beyond the first year. He appears really to believe that “democracy” was brought to Iraq, just like Bush and Rice — but Perle is much more intelligent than either Bush or Rice, and one has a right to expect more.
What does he make of the condition of Christians in Iraq? What does he make of the Sunnis who are united in their refusal to acquiesce in the new order? Does he now have an understanding that all those accomplished, eloquent, westernized Shi’a exiles had been out of Iraq for decades and had forgotten what Iraq was like, and still have trouble locating the problem of the refusal of its sects and groups to compromise in Islam? For it is the spirit, in Qur’an and Hadith and Sira, of aggression and non-compromise that Islam, with its inculcated worldview with but two categories — Victor and Vanquished — that explains the Sunni refusal to acquiesce, and the Shi’a refusal to give up some of their new power (for the Shi’a are now “kto” and the Sunnis “kogo”).
Bush does not understand this, and the generals are busy with their counter-insurgency “lessons” (the Lessons of Algeria, the Lessons of Malaysia, the Lessons of Vietnam, the Lessons of Greece) that fail to take into account Islam, or the fact that there is not one insurgency but many, and that while they may be at cross-purposes with each other, not one of those insurgent groups, nor the government itself, can be considered an unfeigned friend of the Infidel Americans.
Tuesday night’s program I thought would reveal someone who had recognized his folly and that of others. But it did not. It was, more or less, and unrepentantly, the mixture as before.