Perle is being interviewed on Europe's "soft power" in relation to the Bush second term and, as you might expect from a man styled as an "arch neo-con", he is deliciously robust.
The essence of the interview is that Bush will not change the thrust of his policies, but the interview starts with Perle being asked if he has any private doubts about the decision to go to war in Iraq?
Perle has no doubts. "Given the circumstances at the time," he says, "doing what we did was the right thing. At the end of the day we’ll look back on this effort and see it not only as successful and very much necessary, but also as the beginning of comprehensive change in the region.
Then comes the first "crunch" question: "Will President Bush continue on the same course in his second term or will he listen to people who advise him to rely more on soft power than on military force?"
Perle’s answer both typifies the US attitude and shows not a little contempt for the "European" position. "We don’t want to emulate the Europeans", he says. "The Europeans employ soft power day and night. They cannot get enough of it. That isn’t our role. Our role is not to pretend – as the Europeans pretend – that soft power can change North Korea’s Kim Jong Il or the mullahs."
A primary European criticism of the America, he is told, concerns its behaviour with respect to international law. Europeans regret that the US deliberately undermines the world order created by Roosevelt and its institutions, such as the UN.
"What world order?", retorts Perle. "The UN passed 17 resolutions against Saddam Hussein and did nothing to enforce them. It was weak and ineffective." Ouch!
But, says the interviewer, "the Europeans especially deplore the doctrine of preventive war. Can any country now justify a war-like attack with the claim that it pre-empted a threat?"
On the day that the world remembers the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the answer is priceless, and instructive: "The Europeans have learned nothing from their own history," Perle says. "Would a preventive war against Nazi Germany have been a mistake?"
Our interviewer answers back, saying: "It would not have been a pre-emptive war if Europeans had attacked after Hitler’s march into the Rhineland in 1936. They would have been punishing a violation of the Treaty of Versailles. The Iraq war is, as Kofi Annan and most Europeans see it, a violation of international law."
"Nonsense," is Perle’s robust response. "Claiming that there was a world order, in accordance with international law, upon which we could rely, is nonsense. There was no such order." He adds, "Who is Kofi Annan to say what is legal and what is illegal?" He then continues:
Every country has the right to defend itself. This right is not granted by the UN Charter, but is mentioned in Article 51. This right existed longbefore there was a UN Charter. At the time the Charter was written, there was no terrorism that could pose a danger such as that which we now face. Theconcern was tank divisions advancing across borders. Today’s concern is people who conduct terrorist attacks. Do we have to wait until the attacks have been carried out before we move against the terrorists?The interviewer comes back on that, stating that in Europe, "people resent that the US has moved away from multilateralism." Again Perle give no quarter:
We will not allow our fate to be determined by a majority vote in the UN when there are dictatorships casting a vote. The world in which we live is not a world that we can trust with our fate. We cannot depend on Zimbabwe’s vote to assure our safety. We will not subject ourselves to this sort of multilateralism.He is then asked whether he sees parallels between Bush and another underestimated president, Harry Truman?
Perle does. And he sees parallels with Ronald Reagan. "Bush is straightforward, honest and says what he thinks. When he visits Europe in February he’ll say some reconciliatory things but he won’t change the thrust of his policies – policies with which he is completely comfortable."
That’s it. It will not please Solana and his merry crew and – if this interview is a reliable guide - the "Europeans" are going to get very little from Bush when he visits Brussels in February.