Josh Marshall poses a question regarding Perle’s comments to me last October 2002. Some have written to him saying that Perle’s comments would not be inconsistent with what the neocons believed at the time — that feckless arms inspectors would not find any WMDs, more because of their incompetence and Hussein’s duplicity than because they were not there.
What I will add to this question is that Perle did not make it clear in our conversation that it was UN inspectors he was talking about. He said “we would not find weapons of mass destruction,” according to my notes. When I asked him why he thought that, Perle’s response was not that the weapons did not exist but that Hussein had hidden them so well or intimidated or permanently silenced those who might disclose their whereabouts that we would not find them.
He made this comment in a larger discussion about why he thought Colin Powell had badly served the president by taking us through the United Nations which Perle feared would preempt a just war against Iraq.
So, to be fair to Perle and those who have made queries on this point, his comments would not preclude the UN inspector rationale for his comments — but I didn’t feel that was what he meant given the tone and context of discussion. I do feel that Perle believed Iraq had WMDs somewhere but that we, meaning America, would not be able to find them or point to them in any way to justify the kind of war he was promoting.
Whether Perle believed Iraq had or didn’t have WMDs then is not my main question. What I am interested in is why he was so certain that WE (either the UN inspectors or some other intelligence capacity) would not find WMDs. I just don’t know the answer to that question –but it raised in my mind the possibility that some intel players believed that the WMDs were so ‘not there’ that a case using them as the excuse for invasion could not be made.
I don’t know what intelligence Perle has access to at that time, but I had the feeling that he felt America was tripping the wrong way on the WMD obsessions we had then.
Although I have shared this anecdote with many in spoken comments, I have not written this up before because I wanted to see, over time, if intelligence gaps emerged between what the U.S. government was saying and presenting vs. what some serious intel analysts may have believed — that there were no WMDs or the WMDs were so hidden that they would not be found.
Perle’s comments in October 2002 have always left me with the feeling that Perle probably knew that Powell’s testimony before the UN was trumped up.
Because I felt in October 2002 that we would find far more than we did find in Iraq — though I opposed the invasion for other reasons — I was quite in awe of Richard Perle’s prescience in his WMD commentary or alternatively, his inside knowledge.
Remember, Scott Ritter was out making virtually the same claim though had regrettably allowed himself to become a stooge for Hussein.
Perle’s comments were made during a conversation and are important in helping to broaden our understanding of what some key players were thinking before the build-up to this war.
— Steve Clemons