Joe Conason's Journal

Perle's whiny resignation to Rumsfeld. Plus: A hawk on why "we love war."

Published March 28, 2003 3:57PM (EST)

Cakewalk casualties
Richard Perle has quit the chairmanship of the Defense Policy Board rather than answer any more questions about his dubious business deals. But then you probably already know about that. He hasn't quit the board itself, which advises the secretary of defense and includes such other public-spirited citizens as Henry Kissinger and Newt Gingrich. (Do you suppose Kissinger's and Gingrich's private consulting clients include a few big military contractors?) In his letter of resignation to Donald Rumsfeld, Perle managed to sound self-important and a tiny bit whiny:

"I have seen controversies like this before, and I know that this one will inevitably distract from the urgent challenge in which you are now engaged," he wrote. "I would not wish to cause even a moment's distraction from that challenge. As I cannot quickly or easily quell criticism of me based on errors of fact concerning my activities, the least I can do under these circumstances is to ask you to accept my resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board."

Poor Richard was so upset about leaving the chairmanship that he barked at the Times reporter who called to confirm that news. "If I had [resigned], you'd be the last person in the world I'd want to talk to," were his final words before "slamming down the phone." Actually, "poor" may be the wrong word to describe the ultrahawkish intellectual, who is apparently wealthy enough to donate his controversial fee from Global Crossing "to the families of American forces killed or injured in Iraq." That's a fine public relations gesture, but the amount in question is $125,000 -- an amount somewhat smaller than the cost of the damage attributable to Perle's policies.

"We love war"
I would prefer to assume that people like Perle really care about American soldiers and oppressed Iraqis, but the attitudes expressed by his best-known publicists raise doubt. In today's Washington Post, Thomas Edsall quotes a few truly stunning remarks (Salon has a few here, too) from certain happy hawks whose enthusiasm for warfare and armed violence is strictly academic. According to Edsall, "They maintained that eventually the war would prove a success, and that even a prolonged war could become an opportunity to demonstrate renewed American resiliency and backbone." They seem serenely unworried about the cakewalk's increasing body count, which they apparently regard (from a safe distance) as an exercise in national character-building and international image-making:

"I think the American people are going to have great tolerance for the war taking longer, and they are going to have great tolerance for more casualties," said Weekly Standard editor (and Project for a New American Century founder) William Kristol, adding that "in a certain way, the willingness to stick it out would be as impressive as" a quick victory.

If Kristol's insouciance sounds slightly off-key, listen to Michael Ledeen, another Perle pal and one of those former Iran-contra characters who has regained a degree of respectability in Bush's Washington:

"I think the level of casualties is secondary. I mean, it may sound like an odd thing to say, but all the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a war-like people and that we love war ... What we hate is not casualties but losing."

Oh, and Kenneth Adelman still thinks he was correct when he predicted this war would be "a cakewalk." Forever to be known as Cakewalk Ken, he and his comfortable comrades are fortunate indeed that some merciful editor buried Edsall's story on page A34.
[8:12 a.m. PST, March 28, 2003]

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