Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle is making the latest Washington entry in the big-money book stakes, with bidding opening yesterday for a novel he proposes to write about a power struggle between assistant secretaries of defense and state.
The bidding for Perle's first literary effort went over $300,000 yesterday, according to a publishing source, and the auction will continue today. Publishers are bidding on the basis of a five-page outline of a book tentatively titled "Memoranda."
Perle's novel was variously described by editors and publishers who saw the outline as a "roman a' clef" and an "epistolary novel" consisting of memoranda circulated among the Defense Department, the State Department and the White House.
Specifically, the proposal describes a conflict between the two assistant secretaries that sounds like the running battle between Perle and former assistant secretary of state Richard Burt in the first Reagan administration.
"The two Richards," who were the key figures in arms control policy at their respective agencies during President Reagan's first term, were in constant conflict over U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union and toward arms control. "Much of the story of the Reagan Administration's arms-control policy is the story of the struggle between them," wrote Strobe Talbott in his 1984 book on the Reagan administration's arms control policies, "Deadly Gambits."
Perle's proposal is said to make a point of assuring prospective publishers that Perle would alter real events only as much as necessary to earn the label of novel. One source said there was also a "Weinberger figure" in the book, occupying the role of Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.
In addition, the proposal advertised Perle's inside knowledge with the enclosure of an article by Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post, in which Perle was described as the chief architect of the Reagan administration's policy toward the Soviet Union. Before joining the Reagan administration, Perle for many years was an aide to the late senator Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.).
He remains perhaps the single most influential administration official on arms control policy, and according to one source, he plans to stay in office while writing his novel.
Richard Burt is now ambassador to West Germany. On learning of the Perle proposal, he said, "It sounds like exciting stuff. I would think a novel like the one you have described is well worth over a million dollars. I hope Richard succeeds in selling movie rights, and if so, I hope that Don Johnson of 'Miami Vice' plays me."
The past two years have seen a rash of high-paying books by and about prominent Washington figures, including David M. Stockman, who was paid about $2 million for his forthcoming account of his years as director of the Office of Management and Budget, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, who was paid $1 million for her memoirs, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr., who reportedly was paid slightly more than $1 million for his memoirs, and historian Edmund Morris, who was paid close to $3 million for an authorized biography of Ronald Reagan.
Acting for Perle in yesterday's auction was Robert B. Barnett of the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly, who also acted for the Ferraro and Stockman books. Neither Barnett nor Perle would make any comment on the book or the auction.
The auction was still in progress late yesterday afternoon, and it could not be learned what publishers were participating in the bidding. Peter Osnos of Random House, a publisher believed by most industry sources to be in on the bidding, said, "We never comment about auctions in progress."
But several publishers who had declined the book said they had decided to do so long before the auction date, on the grounds that the proposal was too scanty to convince them that Perle could write a good novel, and because of the near certainty that big money would be involved.