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Book Review of An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, by David Frum and Richard Perle
Reviewed by Geoffrey Riklin
17 March 2004

Page after page reads like a campaign speech delivered by a very mediocre politician. In fact, many pages contain little more than bumper sticker slogans. The authors offer few suggestions for resolving the problems they bring up. Overall, a big disappointment.

"An End To Evil". No less! No modest aspirations here. It is, alas, a thin and useless book. A polemic that lacks wit and substance, its analysis of the world's problems is featherweight and its policy recommendations are dubious at best and silly at worst. It is a book to avoid.

The authors are Richard Perle and David Frum. Perle served under President Reagan as an assistant secretary of defense and as chairman of the Defense Policy Board under the current president. As everybody knows, he has lately gained worldwide notoriety for his hawkishness. David Frum is a prominent conservative writer and lately a speechwriter for President Bush.

They address the situation in which the United States currently finds itself, having won battles in Afghanistan and Iraq but with victory still not an immediate prospect. This situation causes the authors deep concern. They write that "our allies dither and carp" [p.4] while "[w]e can feel the will to win ebbing in Washington, we sense the reversion to the bad old habits of complacency and denial." [p.5] "At the State Department, there is constant pressure to return to business as usual, beginning by placating offended allies and returning to the exaggerated multilateral conceit of the Clinton administration." Meanwhile, "as memories of 9/11 fade, the advocates of a weaker line against terror have pressed their timid case. Like rust and mildew, they make the most progress when they receive the least attention, for their desired policy coincides with the natural predilections of government." [p.7]

Perle and Frum assert that we have reached a "crisis point" [p.8] in which our momentum has flagged and the next steps are uncertain, while the ranks of "the faint hearts are growing". [p. 8]

Having chosen such title and with lines like "[t]here is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory." [p.9], nobody can ever accuse Perle and Frum of underselling their case.

Having announced their intentions, Perle and Frum then launch into an analysis of the recent past that hardly even rehashes those events, let alone provide any new insights. Page after page reads like a campaign speech delivered by a very mediocre politician. In fact, many pages contain little more than bumper sticker slogans.
All too predictably, the authors rap Clinton for his alleged "disinclination ... to respond forcefully" [p. 28] to the attacks launched by Al Qaeda during his presidency. They say that everything we did after 9/11 could have been done before, but "[i]nstead we allowed Al-Qaeda to strike first." True enough, but this conveniently ignores the fact that at the time few people called on Clinton to do any more than he did. Did Perle and Frum themselves make such a call? If so, they should quote their own remarks and provide the citations. Besides, we now know how great an effort was required to rout the terrorist regime in Afghanistan, and is it not fair to suggest that any call for such an action before 9/11 would have been dismissed as absurd? Who on 9/10 imagined that a few months later Afghanistan would be our basket case to save and succor? Keep in mind the fact that during the 2000 campaign neither Bush nor Gore spoke much about terrorism.

In their third chapter, entitled "The New Axis," Perle and Frum rightly condemn the rise of radical Islam, but unless you've been trapped in a caved in mine for the past fifteen years, you will find nothing of value in their discussion. They mention that the Nazis and their Fascist cousins found Middle Eastern soil fertile for the their ideas, and that after the destruction of Hitler and Mussolini, some Arabs found Russia to be an inspiration. Now the radical Islamists are the problem. But why have some Arabs found these noxious ideas appealing? We can't hope to respond to the problem unless we understand it, and Perle and Frum provide us with no insights at all. They repeatedly cite appalling examples of Muslim extremism both in the United States and abroad, much of it anti-Semitic. [pp. 72-82] But if there are any Muslims anywhere who don't espouse such views, Perle and Frum have no interest in talking about them. One would think that reaching out to moderate Muslims might be one method of combatting the radicals, but one searches in vain for any mention of such moderates.

Then Perle and Frum turn their attentions to the problem of tracking down terrorists here in the US. Once again, they have little to say. They recite the now well known failures leading up to 9/11, call for the creation of a national identity card and for better coordination of law enforcement, and they leave it at that.
While most of their book dwells on the problems of the Middle East, they do talk about North Korea. It's hardly surprising that they knock Clinton's policy, and by this point it's no less surprising that they provide no analysis of what that policy was and why it failed. Dealing with North Korea must be the hardest foreign policy problem we face, but that said the authors provide few ideas about how to deal with it. They state that North Korea has thousands of artillery tubes within range of Seoul, and no doubt the North has WMD even aside from atomic bombs. Perle and Frum say "...we should develop detailed plans for a preemptive strike against North Korea's nuclear facilities." [pp. 103-104] But with such an awful threat looming over Seoul, would any first strike succeed? Presumably a round of conventional bombing along the lines of what we've done recently in Kosovo, Belgrade, and Iraq, would require days if not weeks to carry out. And the fate of Seoul in the meantime? Which brings up the possibility that the US might have to take out North Korea's WMD capabilities by using nuclear bombs, no? But Perle and Frum don't even mention this possibility, let alone weigh the consequences. Such superficiality! Perle and Frum demand that North Korea surrender all nuclear material before receiving any aid: "not a phased surrender, not an incremental surrender, but a total and complete surrender." [p. 102] They may be right, but what incentive would the North have to comply? None that is apparent.

Moving back to the Middle East, the authors address the questions of Iran and Syria. Regarding Iran, they declare: "The regime must go." They wish to provide Iranian dissidents with communications gear, money, and computers in order to speed the revolution. They say that "[a]bove all, Iran's dissidents need the consistent and vocal support of the United States." [pp. 110-112] I heartily agree that Iran's regime consists of corrupt thugs and tyrants, but would these proposals really aid the dissidents, or merely make them look like American tools? I don't know the answer to that question, and Perle and Frum don't even bother to ask it. In recent years it's become obvious -- not least to the mullahs -- that an overwhelming majority of Iranians wants desperately to get rid of their government, but mustn't we take great care in how we help them, if help them we can?

As for Syria, Perle and Frum are all carrot and no stick. They demand that Damascus stop supporting terrorism, get out of Lebanon, seal its border with Iraq, stop anti-Israeli propaganda, and open its economy. No doubt a sensible agenda, to be rewarded with "generous economic aid" [p. 115] But what if America puts forth these demands only to see them spurned? The authors do not outline an agenda for disposing of Syria's Ba'athist regime. They don't call for war. They only say "Action!" Not even an "or else". What would we do, give them a dirty look or invade? Again we get no answer.

Next come the Saudis. Perle and Frum ask that we tell the truth about the fact that some Saudis support terrorism, and that we ban such people from entering the US and seize any assets they have here. They also want the US to demand that the Wahhabists (that is, the radical faction of Saudi Sunni Muslims that adheres to the teachings of the Eighteenth century theologian Wahhab) cease their missionary activities around the world. [pp. 138-141] They also suggest that "... we could stir the pot in other ways -- by, for example, requiring all air itineraries to Saudi Arabia to provide passengers with a printed warning of the risks to American women who relocate there..." [p. 179] Perle and Frum neglect to mention that there may be a down side to this strategy, that there is a struggle underway within Saudi Arabia between moderates and radicals, and that such demands could tip the scales in favor of the radicals. If the Saudis fail to comply with our wishes, Perle and Frum contemplate demolishing the Saudi state and splitting off the eastern part of it, the part in which the oppressed Shi'a live and which has the oil. [p. 141] It's hardly surprising that the authors fail to mention what this would do to the price of oil, or world financial markets (in which Saudi investors hold hundreds of billions of dollars of securities), or the certainty that millions of Saudis would then wage jihad against the US.

The Perle and Frum agenda for reforming America's security apparatus is even more laughable. They devote about 200 words to reforming the FBI, which they wish to remove from counter-terrorist operations and replace with a new agency answerable to the secretary of homeland security. [pp. 222-223] Their only specific suggestion for improving the CIA -- which they knock for being too liberal -- is for it to "reemphasize linguistic competence". [p. 224] As for the Pentagon, they call for little more than enhancing efficiency and subduing the turf battles, an idea that even Sharpton and Kucinich would support.

Near the end of this waste of paper, Perle and Frum state that "[t]he 1990s were a decade of illusions in foreign policy." [p. 235] There may be truth in that, but the only way to chart a better course is by carefully studying the problems. Can Perle and Frum offer us no better diagnosis? The kindest thing I can say about "An End To Evil" is that it's a slapdash effort. It would be unsettling to think that two such prominent men can do no better than this.
Unlike many of their critics, I am sympathetic to the hard line to which the authors adhere. But it must be argued much better than this.

Geoffrey Riklin is a writer living in Detroit. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he also attended the London School of Economics, and has lived recently in Chile and Spain.

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