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.
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.
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]
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".
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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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