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Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence

Video
Dana Milbank sketches the intellectual godfather of the Bush doctrine and the Iraq war as he disavows neoconservatism. Video by Gaby Bruna/washingtonpost.com

Yesterday, however, Perle said Bush's foreign policy had "no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged." He also took issue with the common view that neocons favored using American might to spread democratic values. "There's no documentation!" he argued. "I can't find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force."

Those in the room were skeptical of Perle's efforts to recast himself as a pragmatist.

Richard Burt, who clashed with Perle in the Reagan administration, took issue with "this argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn't exist." He reminded Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists. "You've got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought," Burt challenged.

"I don't accept the approach, not at all," the Prince of Darkness replied.

Jacob Heilbrunn of National Interest asked Perle to square his newfound realism with the rather idealistic title of his book, "An End to Evil."

"We had a publisher who chose the title," Perle claimed, adding: "There's hardly an ideology in that book." (An excerpt: "There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.")

Regardless of the title, Heilbrunn pursued, how could so many people -- including lapsed neoconservative Francis Fukuyama -- all be so wrong about what neoconservatives represent?

"It's not surprising that a lot of people get something wrong," Perle reasoned.

At times, the Prince of Darkness turned on his questioners. Fielding a question from the Financial Times, he said that the newspaper "propagated this myth of neoconservative influence." He informed Stefan Halper of Cambridge University that "you have contributed significantly to this mythology."

"There are some 5,000 footnotes," Halper replied. "Documents that you've signed."

But documents did not deter denials. "I've never advocated attacking Iran," he said, to a few chuckles. "Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term," he said, to raised eyebrows. Accusations that neoconservatives manipulated intelligence on Iraq? "There's no truth to it." At one point, he argued that the word "neoconservative" has been used as an anti-Semitic slur, just moments after complaining that prominent figures such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- Christians both -- had been grouped in with the neoconservatives.

"I don't know that I persuaded anyone," Perle speculated when the session ended.

No worries, said the moderator. "You certainly kept us all entertained."

For a video version of this Sketch, go to washingtonpost.com.


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