An unsavory character on Bush team
By James O. Goldsborough
THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE - September 13, 2004
Richard Perle, a foreign policy guru who has oozed his way through Republican administrations for two decades making a fortune as he went, has met his match in Conrad Black, the former head of Hollinger International, the U.S.-based newspaper conglomerate. Black stepped down as Hollinger CEO after being accused by shareholders of being a crook.
As Black goes down, Perle, who worked for the Bush administration and deserves as much credit for the Iraq war as anyone, is going with him. A special committee investigating Hollinger's financial losses accuses both men of corruption.
Perle is an important figure for he stands at the nexus of power and money. More than most, he has advocated policies that would make him money.
Perle, along with Henry Kissinger, serves on the Hollinger board of directors, as well as on the board of the Jerusalem Post, part of Black's newspaper empire. The Hollinger committee accuses Perle of "flagrant abdication of duty" and of "putting his own interests above those of Hollinger's shareholders," and called on him to return $5.4 million in pay. It wants $200 million back from Black.
Perle, who served as chairman of the Bush administration's Defense Policy Board until being forced out in May because of other conflicts of interest, initially defended Black against the charges brought by the shareholders. Now, however, from his summer home in the South of France, Perle says Black "misled" him.
Black, in turn, accuses Perle of "nest-feathering, dissembling and obfuscation."
A center of ethical controversy as long as he has been in Washington – twice in the 1980s over perceived conflicts of interest with Israel – Perle has survived because of powerful patrons like Kissinger and Black, whose wife, Barbara Amiel, also serves on the board of the Jerusalem Post. Black's Hollinger holdings include some 200 publications, including conservative newspapers such as the Chicago Sun-Times, London Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and Jerusalem Post.
Perle turned down an appointment in the Bush Defense Department in order to take the position as chairman of the policy board and continue his business interests, which center around Trireme Partners Ltd., a company that invests in defense and security companies and has Kissinger as one of its advisers.
Perle was forced out of his Pentagon position when it became public this year that Global Crossing was paying him to lobby the Pentagon at the same time he was heading the Pentagon advisory group. His resignation came two weeks after allegations by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker that Perle used his position as Pentagon adviser to try to profit from the war in Iraq.
In the Hersh article, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, accuses Perle, a longtime critic of Saudi Arabia, of trying to blackmail his government. "Here he (Perle) is," said Bandar, "on the one hand trying to make a hundred million dollar deal, and on the other hand there were elements of the appearance of blackmail – if we get in business, he'll back off on Saudi Arabia."
Perle used his Pentagon position to lobby both for war and for turning postwar power in Iraq over to Ahmad Chalabi, the long-time Iraqi exile. Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, chief war supporters in the Bush Pentagon, had sponsored Chalabi since he set up the Iraqi National Council in 1992 to lobby for war.
Chalabi received $27 million from Congress for the express purpose of lobbying the Clinton administration – unsuccessfully – to go to war against Iraq. Chalabi and Perle got their war with Bush, though Chalabi was cut off by the Pentagon last May when it was determined the information he provided was both misleading and useless.
Perle's conflicts of interest and "nest feathering" have been known in foreign policy circles and pointed out in the media for years. Thanks to his official protectors, however, he has survived and thrived.
Last April, even after resigning his Pentagon post over conflicts of interest, he was invited by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to testify as an "expert" on Iraq. According to Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan and a leading expert on Iraq who was also on the panel, Perle used his time "flacking for Ahmad Chalabi." Perle was added to the panel at the last minute, says Cole, "and it is mysterious why he was there, since ours was supposed to be an 'expert' panel."
With these latest charges, even people in the foreign policy establishment can see Perle for what he is: a sleazy, self-interested operator. Leslie Gelb, a former colleague of both mine and Perle's and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, says Perle was "seduced by money."
Black, says Gelb, "thought Richard Perle was the font of foreign policy wisdom. Once that happened, Black and Perle figured out how to work together to make more money."
How comforting to know U.S. foreign policy – especially the war power – is in the hands of such principled people. If Bush is re-elected, rest assured Richard Perle will be back.
Goldsborough can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.