"Outside observers inevitably attribute to government (and especially to presidents) a degree of deliberateness and foresight that is just about never warranted."
You could be forgiven for mistaking both the prose style and the sentiment for the pense'es of former budget director David Stockman. But this passage is from the pen of Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, and describes the underlying assumptions of "Memoranda," the proposed novel for which publishers have reportedly offered him an advance in excess of $300,000.
Bidding on the book began two weeks ago but was suspended pending Perle's return this week from a vacation in the Far East. A copy of the six-page prospectus circulated to publishers was made available to The Washington Post.
"Washington is not Renaissance Florence," it begins, "and the President is no Medici prince. Yet the political maneuvering, the intellectual and bureaucratic courting, the jealousies, rivalries, alliances and networks, papers, studies, dispatches and memoranda are the threads of a Washington tapestry as rich and complex as any that hangs in the Palazzo Medici."
At the end of the proposal is another literary flourish: the suggestion that Saul Bellow's "Herzog" might be taken as a partial model for Perle's planned novel. But between these artful bookends lies the stuff not of salacious, bestselling fiction, but of bureaucracy. Indeed, it appears the novel will be written in bureaucratese.
"It is a story told in the idiom of departmental Washington -- the memorandum -- that governmental art form, in which ideas and arguments are marshalled, power and policy battles fought and decisions made and recorded.
"While the memoranda that compose this book are works of fiction, the subject matter is real, the events are contemporary and the form, style, tone and substance are authentic. They originate in the major departments of government: State, Defense, NSC, CIA, JCS and the Senate and House. Written over several months in anticipation of a Soviet-American summit, they chronicle the struggle for the President's mind . . . "
The book's opening memorandum, penned by the secretary of state, "could have been written before the last summit, or the next." The memo "is, broadly speaking, an argument for detente. It deals with trade, human rights, Jewish emigration, Pershing and cruise missiles, SS20s, Geneva negotiations, Angola, Afghanistan and the like."
You know, foreign policy stuff.
The secretary of defense, "a longtime associate of the President who shares his anti-Soviet views and seeks to reinforce them," follows up with a memo of his own. "Unburdened by the need to conceal his true view . . . His is a straight-forward, anti-detente argument."
On Page 5 of the proposal, we come to the main event. The only two characters who might be said to be "developed" in the proposal are "two assistant secretaries, one at the Pentagon, the other at the Department of State. Young, ambitious and relentless, they are engaged in a bureaucratic war more intense than it is in either's interest to reveal. Both are intelligent and knowledgeable and both are willing to take risks."
Shades of Perle's long-running battle, in Reagan's first term, with Assistant Secretary of State Richard Burt, now U.S. ambassador to West Germany. To which man, the reader wonders, does this description apply:
"For one of them winning the most immediate skirmish becomes, at times, an end in itself, another episode in a contest in which national policy, with international consequences, becomes almost incidental to his drive to win."
And to which does the plot summary's final, succinct paragraph refer? It reads only, "One prevails."
The part of the proposal that has sparked controversy is the implied promise made at the end of the description of Perle versus Burt: "Their activities, in inter-agency deliberations . . . in their dealings with foreign governments (each serves as chairman of a NATO committee), with the press, the Congress and others reveal an array of bureaucratic maneuvers recounted in the context of actual events altered only enough to make them publishable, to preserve the fiction in 'Memoranda.' "
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote an angry letter to President Reagan April 10 suggesting that a book like the one Perle proposes "creates a climate encouraging disrespect for the protection of classified information" and might have "a chilling effect on the candor of officials' policy analysis and recommendations." Nunn also raised questions about the propriety of the sale of the book during Perle's tenure in office.
Later, the Pentagon's Office of General Counsel announced it would open an inquiry into whether the planned sale is a conflict of interest -- despite reports by sources involved in the book negotiations that Perle cleared his actions in advance with the general counsel.
Perle has said that he will neither write the book nor accept money for it while still in office, and that he has no specific plans to leave the Pentagon. However, publishing sources said they were told that Perle might deliver the book as early as next spring for publication in the fall of next year.
In any case, the proposal for "Memoranda" sounds like the work of a man who is tired of his job:
"Misperception, sloppy staff work, interested advice, faulty intelligence, failures of coordination are all important in the behavior of governments," Perle writes. "But read most memoirs and you will likely search in vain for an acknowledgment that confusion, ignorance, pride and inattention has as much to do with events as the ideas, arguments, plans and philosophies of the participants."