Perle: It's bound to work this time

One of the key proponents of the Iraq war is calling for regime change in Iran.

Published February 20, 2009 5:15PM (EST)

WASHINGTON -- Richard Perle, a key neoconservative proponent of the Iraq war, offered a strategy Thursday for dealing with Iran that sounded eerily similar to the neocons' Iraq plans -- use military action to remove the oppressive government, then let freedom reign.

"Preemptive war has always struck me as a common sense position," Perle said. "Of course, you could get it wrong."

Facing a hostile crowd at a conference hosted by the National Interest, Perle's positions sounded like a neocon greatest hits album.

One of the conference's attendees, Richard Burt, the U.S.' chief negotiator in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks with the Soviet Union, questioned Perle's approach. "Is regime change really a realistic option?" Burt asked. "The Iranians have a strong national identity, millions of them fought to the death against Iraq."

While Perle didn't go so far as to suggest a military invasion, he advocated covert operations on Iranian soil, working with internal opposition groups within Iran and increasing economic pressure on the Islamic regime, all in the hopes of forcing a regime change. He also dismissed the possibility of defusing Iran's nuclear intentions through diplomatic means.

"I don't think we can persuade the Iranians," Perle said. "They will not be talked out of their nuclear program."

Perle further cautioned that President Obama's expressed commitment to diplomacy could be dangerous, saying, "The danger is that Obama's much more agreeable approach will be misconstrued as weakness."

In an article in this month's National Interest, Perle defended a similar argument -- the one he made for the Iraq war. According to Perle, Saddam had to be removed because of the threat posed by an Iraq armed with WMD. The U.S. only got itself into trouble when it decided to occupy the country.

"The seminal error was, in my view, the failure to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis immediately after Saddam's regime collapsed," Perle wrote. "Had Iraq been enabled to stand up an interim government pending free elections to be held in, say, eighteen months, we might well have escaped the invidious role of occupier."

Similarly, Perle indicated that if we could remove the Mullahs from power and give control to the Iranian people, a "secular" government would likely fill the void. However, Perle explained that he has never advocated American military action in Iran. Indeed, such an attack would likely come from Israel, he said.

By Christopher M. Matthews

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