Interview Richard Perle (March 23rd, 2003)

Q: As someone who has been advocating military action against Iraq for years, are you happy with how the war is now going?

A: I think the war is going very well. I never said that war is easy but I continue to believe that it is going to be a quick war. Few people are willing to fight for Saddam Hussein.

Q: How does it make you feel to watch the TV pictures of the bombing of Baghdad?

A: The images of war are never attractive. I take no joy in the fact that it is necessary to use the instrument of war to remove Saddam and his regime. It would have been far better to do that without war but that is not possible.

Q: Do you expect any major resistance by the Iraqi forces?

A: There may be some resistance. There are certainly people around Saddam who have a great deal to lose. But the overwhelming majority of Iraqis will be happy to see the end of Saddam Hussein's regime and will feel liberated.

Q: So far, Iraq has not used any of the weapons of mass destruction you claim it possesses. If the coalition forces do not find any such weapons in Iraq after all, your whole argument for a legitimate war would collapse, would it not?

A: No, because Saddam Hussein is in violation of seventeen UN resolutions and only one of the issues raised in those resolutions is about weapons of mass destruction. Saddam poses a threat to the United States. In any case, we will find those weapons because we know the weapons were produced and Saddam chose not to prove they had been destroyed.

Q: This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters marched through the streets of New York and other U.S. cities. Is that going to affect your war policy?

A: No, this President is going to see this through. I expect that young people will be motivated to oppose wars, even just wars. But the polls indicate that on the whole the opposition to the war is not growing.

Q: With Iraq sitting on the world's second largest oil reserves, many people believe that this war is about securing Iraq as a strategic oil supplier to the United States.

A: That is not our motive. I assume that whoever is governing Iraq is going to want to produce oil from the wells and offer it on the world market. That would be a rational economic decision by the government of Iraq whoever it happens to be. The benefits of these oil sales will go to all the people of Iraq, and no longer to a small number of people who are part of Saddam's dictatorship.

Q: How long will US troops need to stay in Iraq to impose a post-Saddam order?

A: I don't believe that it will be a long occupation of years and years, or that it will require a large number of American and coalition forces.

Q: How do you believe this war will bring democracy to the volatile Middle East?

A: I believe that when a tyrant of the magnitude of Saddam Hussein falls it has an impact on the whole region. In Iran, for example, some people will be inspired by the fall of Saddam Hussein to challenge their own government.

Q: With American help or on their own?

A: Well, there are already signs of dissatisfaction without any American help. I never suggested that the effort to encourage democracy in the region means wars to impose democracy. The situation in Iraq is unique because of the nature of the threat posed by Saddam, his past invasions and his violation of his cease-fire obligation to disarm. That situation does not apply to anywhere else in the region but in the long run, if we want a peaceful Middle East, it will have to be a democratic Middle East.

Q: Will you also make this clear to the region's many far-from-democratic rulers who are supported by the United States, like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak?

A: I would hope that we would use our influence to push that regime in the direction of greater openness and participation in political life by all elements of Egyptian society.

Q: Compared to the Gulf war in 1991, your "coalition of the willing" is very small and most of the world's public opinion is against you and this war. Why?

A: War is never popular. And the reasons for this war are complicated and some countries are affected by it more than others so it is not surprising that there is a wide range of views.

Q: By waging this war without explicit UN authorisation, the Bush administration has wrecked, as you recently put it, "the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions." Does the United States now claim the exclusive authority to decide whether there should be peace or war in this world?

A: Other nations are absolutely entitled to their view. But I don't believe they are entitled to have a veto, or a unique right to judge the justness of this war. The Security Council is not the only source of legitimacy of military action. Saving the Muslims of Kosovo from extinction was done without the approval of the UN Security Council. It was no less moral, or just, or legitimate.

Q: Has the UN become irrelevant?

A: The UN was set up principally to deal with aggressions across national borders. However, in this century, the principal security concern of my country involves terrorism and the development of chemical, bioilogical and nuclear weapons that can take place entirely within national borders. The UN was not set up to deal with those threats and that is why it is inadequate for the purpose of security in the 21st century.

Q: You are even bypassing Nato, as you did during the Afghan war?

A: In this instance, Nato is in the same situation as the UN. It was very clear that this war would not have gained approval by Nato simply because of the French and German veto. The aftermath of this war is going to precipitate, as it should, a debate at least among Western democracies about what their future approach is going to be to collective security.

Q: Are you planning to replace the rule of law by the rule of the strongest?

A: Our right to self-defence under the UN Charter Art. 51 cannot be taken away from us. We do not violate any international law. In the case of Iraq, it is Saddam who defied seventeen UN resolutions.

Q: By more or less unilaterally waging a pre-emptive war against a potential threat, do you not set a dangerous precedent that could motivate other countries such as Pakistan and India to attack each other?

A: Countries have gone to war many times without worrying much about what the excuse is. The excuse is not the motivation.

Q: You have written that coalitions of the willing are "the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the UN". Aren't they rather a smokescreen for United States assertion of unilateral world leadership?

A: Look at Bosnia. There, it was necessary that the US take the lead because No one else was prepared to do it. There was an experiment in European leadership and hundreds of thousands of innocent people died. And the UN made it worse because it imposed an arms embargo that left one side defenceless.

Q: After Iraq, what country is next in the American war against terror?

A: There are other states that now have or are in the process of acquiring weapons of mass destruction: Iran, North Korea, Libya…it is a long list. But we are not gearing up to go to war against anyone because each of these situations poses a different set of threats and circumstances. I am hopeful that we will be able to discourage some of the things that threaten us by diplomatic means.

Q: And by mounting military pressure and showing that you mean business?

A: That is what we are doing in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. It is important because if it looked to states that are trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction and harbour terrorists that we were not ready to defend our interests, they would only feel encouraged.

Q: But North Korea resumed its nuclear programme for precisely the opposite reason: it realised that possession of a nuclear bomb is the only way to prevent an American attack.

A: We have not attacked North Korea all these years despite many provocations. The same is true for Iran, which is trying quite hard to get the bomb. We are not threatening countries who do not harbour terrorists and have weapons of mass destruction. We are not eager for military action. Our strong preference is that we are not threatened in the first place.

Q: But North Korea now poses a much greater threat than Iraq. Why don't you go against that country?

A: Well, at the moment we are busy with Iraq. North Korea does pose a big threat but there is still a lot we can do politically to try to restrain North Korea though they may already have the bomb. It is a complicated situation because the North Koreans clearly have the capacity to cause great injury to civilians in South Korea.

Q: The Iraq war and a perception of American imperialism have provoked an enormous surge of anti-Americanism not only in Arab countries but also in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Isn't this going to make it easier for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda to recruit new fighters and perpetrate new attacks?

A: No. We are going to win this war in Iraq and the people of Iraq will make it clear that they have been liberated. I don't see why bringing freedom to the Iraqi people would inspire people to take up arms against the United States. It is the belief that we are in Iraq to steal the oil or to dominate Iraq that fuels anti-Americanism but when this war is over people will have a chance to judge whether there was any truth to those charges. Frankly, our success in the war on terror is not dependent on the goodwill of the Afghan or the Pakistani population. After this war, there will be a sharply reduced danger of terrorism because governments will be much less willing to tolerate terrorist organisations on their territory after they have seen what we are prepared to stop them.