By Eric Boehlert
Nov. 26, 2003
An influential über-hawk who enjoys close ties to the top of the Pentagon's civilian leadership, Perle got his wish earlier this year when the United States launched the preemptive war against Saddam Hussein that he'd spent a decade lobbying for. (The "Prince of Darkness" nickname stems from Perle's apparent dislike of nuclear arms treaties and Middle East peace accords.) A private businessman who once worked for an Israeli arms manufacturer, Perle maintains a public platform through the Defense Policy Board, a civilian advisory group stacked with hawks -- including James Woolsey, Newt Gingrich and Henry Kissinger -- who supported a war with Iraq.
Though he was forced to give up the board's chairmanship when some of his private defense-contracting clients were revealed, Perle maintains a unique position as a shadowy Beltway operator who blurs the line between private business and foreign policy. He's been making lots of noise -- and news -- lately, and his critics are asking questions about his intentions.
It's too early to tell how the accumulating controversies will affect Perle's role as a pro-war spokesman. In the past though, despite a history of missteps, Perle has managed to prosper. Or more important, to maintain the loyalty of senior administration officials ("the string of Perles"), many of whom he's cultivated for years and who find his pro-war bravado helpful.
Still, virtually none of Perle's predictions about the surprisingly messy war with Iraq have proven true. ("Support for Saddam, including within his military organization, will collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder," he told PBS in 2002.) Moreover, Perle recently found himself involved in a controversial story about how, on the eve of war, the Bush administration rebuffed a last-minute back-channel offer from Saddam Hussein that could have averted an invasion. And last week he raised hackles when he ventured away from the White House talking points and conceded that the war itself, however justified, was illegal under international law.