Interview Richard Perle (March 23rd, 2003)
Q: As someone who has been advocating military action
against Iraq for years, are you happy with how the war is now
A: I think the war is going very well. I never said that
war is easy but I continue to believe that it is going to be a
quick war. Few people are willing to fight for Saddam Hussein.
Q: How does it make you feel to watch the TV pictures
of the bombing of Baghdad?
A: The images of war are never attractive. I take no joy
in the fact that it is necessary to use the instrument of war
to remove Saddam and his regime. It would have been far better
to do that without war but that is not possible.
Q: Do you expect any major resistance by the Iraqi
A: There may be some resistance. There are certainly people
around Saddam who have a great deal to lose. But the overwhelming
majority of Iraqis will be happy to see the end of Saddam Hussein's
regime and will feel liberated.
Q: So far, Iraq has not used any of the weapons of
mass destruction you claim it possesses. If the coalition forces
do not find any such weapons in Iraq after all, your whole argument
for a legitimate war would collapse, would it not?
A: No, because Saddam Hussein is in violation of seventeen
UN resolutions and only one of the issues raised in those resolutions
is about weapons of mass destruction. Saddam poses a threat to
the United States. In any case, we will find those weapons because
we know the weapons were produced and Saddam chose not to prove
they had been destroyed.
Q: This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of anti-war
protesters marched through the streets of New York and other U.S.
cities. Is that going to affect your war policy?
A: No, this President is going to see this through. I
expect that young people will be motivated to oppose wars, even
just wars. But the polls indicate that on the whole the opposition
to the war is not growing.
Q: With Iraq sitting on the world's second largest
oil reserves, many people believe that this war is about securing
Iraq as a strategic oil supplier to the United States.
A: That is not our motive. I assume that whoever is governing
Iraq is going to want to produce oil from the wells and offer
it on the world market. That would be a rational economic decision
by the government of Iraq whoever it happens to be. The benefits
of these oil sales will go to all the people of Iraq, and no longer
to a small number of people who are part of Saddam's dictatorship.
Q: How long will US troops need to stay in Iraq to
impose a post-Saddam order?
A: I don't believe that it will be a long occupation of
years and years, or that it will require a large number of American
and coalition forces.
Q: How do you believe this war will bring democracy
to the volatile Middle East?
A: I believe that when a tyrant of the magnitude of Saddam
Hussein falls it has an impact on the whole region. In Iran, for
example, some people will be inspired by the fall of Saddam Hussein
to challenge their own government.
Q: With American help or on their own?
A: Well, there are already signs of dissatisfaction without
any American help. I never suggested that the effort to encourage
democracy in the region means wars to impose democracy. The situation
in Iraq is unique because of the nature of the threat posed by
Saddam, his past invasions and his violation of his cease-fire
obligation to disarm. That situation does not apply to anywhere
else in the region but in the long run, if we want a peaceful
Middle East, it will have to be a democratic Middle East.
Q: Will you also make this clear to the region's many
far-from-democratic rulers who are supported by the United States,
like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak?
A: I would hope that we would use our influence to push
that regime in the direction of greater openness and participation
in political life by all elements of Egyptian society.
Q: Compared to the Gulf war in 1991, your "coalition
of the willing" is very small and most of the world's public
opinion is against you and this war. Why?
A: War is never popular. And the reasons for this war
are complicated and some countries are affected by it more than
others so it is not surprising that there is a wide range of views.
Q: By waging this war without explicit UN authorisation,
the Bush administration has wrecked, as you recently put it, "the
liberal conceit of safety through international law administered
by international institutions." Does the United States now
claim the exclusive authority to decide whether there should be
peace or war in this world?
A: Other nations are absolutely entitled to their view.
But I don't believe they are entitled to have a veto, or a unique
right to judge the justness of this war. The Security Council
is not the only source of legitimacy of military action. Saving
the Muslims of Kosovo from extinction was done without the approval
of the UN Security Council. It was no less moral, or just, or
Q: Has the UN become irrelevant?
A: The UN was set up principally to deal with aggressions
across national borders. However, in this century, the principal
security concern of my country involves terrorism and the development
of chemical, bioilogical and nuclear weapons that can take place
entirely within national borders. The UN was not set up to deal
with those threats and that is why it is inadequate for the purpose
of security in the 21st century.
Q: You are even bypassing Nato, as you did during
the Afghan war?
A: In this instance, Nato is in the same situation as
the UN. It was very clear that this war would not have gained
approval by Nato simply because of the French and German veto.
The aftermath of this war is going to precipitate, as it should,
a debate at least among Western democracies about what their future
approach is going to be to collective security.
Q: Are you planning to replace the rule of law by the
rule of the strongest?
A: Our right to self-defence under the UN Charter Art.
51 cannot be taken away from us. We do not violate any international
law. In the case of Iraq, it is Saddam who defied seventeen UN
Q: By more or less unilaterally waging a pre-emptive
war against a potential threat, do you not set a dangerous precedent
that could motivate other countries such as Pakistan and India
to attack each other?
A: Countries have gone to war many times without worrying
much about what the excuse is. The excuse is not the motivation.
Q: You have written that coalitions of the willing
are "the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure
of the UN". Aren't they rather a smokescreen for United States
assertion of unilateral world leadership?
A: Look at Bosnia. There, it was necessary that the US
take the lead because No one else was prepared to do it. There
was an experiment in European leadership and hundreds of thousands
of innocent people died. And the UN made it worse because it imposed
an arms embargo that left one side defenceless.
Q: After Iraq, what country is next in the American
war against terror?
A: There are other states that now have or are in the
process of acquiring weapons of mass destruction: Iran, North
it is a long list. But we are not gearing up
to go to war against anyone because each of these situations poses
a different set of threats and circumstances. I am hopeful that
we will be able to discourage some of the things that threaten
us by diplomatic means.
Q: And by mounting military pressure and showing that
you mean business?
A: That is what we are doing in Iraq, and in Afghanistan.
It is important because if it looked to states that are trying
to acquire weapons of mass destruction and harbour terrorists
that we were not ready to defend our interests, they would only
Q: But North Korea resumed its nuclear programme
for precisely the opposite reason: it realised that possession
of a nuclear bomb is the only way to prevent an American attack.
A: We have not attacked North Korea all these years despite
many provocations. The same is true for Iran, which is trying
quite hard to get the bomb. We are not threatening countries who
do not harbour terrorists and have weapons of mass destruction.
We are not eager for military action. Our strong preference is
that we are not threatened in the first place.
Q: But North Korea now poses a much greater threat
than Iraq. Why don't you go against that country?
A: Well, at the moment we are busy with Iraq. North Korea
does pose a big threat but there is still a lot we can do politically
to try to restrain North Korea though they may already have the
bomb. It is a complicated situation because the North Koreans
clearly have the capacity to cause great injury to civilians in
Q: The Iraq war and a perception of American imperialism
have provoked an enormous surge of anti-Americanism not only in
Arab countries but also in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Isn't this
going to make it easier for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda to
recruit new fighters and perpetrate new attacks?
A: No. We are going to win this war in Iraq and the people
of Iraq will make it clear that they have been liberated. I don't
see why bringing freedom to the Iraqi people would inspire people
to take up arms against the United States. It is the belief that
we are in Iraq to steal the oil or to dominate Iraq that fuels
anti-Americanism but when this war is over people will have a
chance to judge whether there was any truth to those charges.
Frankly, our success in the war on terror is not dependent on
the goodwill of the Afghan or the Pakistani population. After
this war, there will be a sharply reduced danger of terrorism
because governments will be much less willing to tolerate terrorist
organisations on their territory after they have seen what we
are prepared to stop them.