| Perle: Tainted departure
Washington, March 28: This capital city’s first casualty of the conflict in Iraq came on the day the US-led war entered its second week.
It came in the form of Richard Perle, friend and adviser to defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who appointed him in 2001 chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board.
He quit that post on Wednesday and the Pentagon made it public last night.
Perle has been the focus of incipient criticism here this week over US military preparedness in Iraq. He was one of those who had argued that no more than 50,000 troops would be needed to subdue Saddam Hussein.
There is five times that number in the Gulf now and more are being rushed as the battle threatens to stretch beyond the best-made US plans.
Perle has been criticised in recent weeks for his business dealings that allegedly conflict with his honorary but influential position at the Pentagon.
In particular, he represented Global Crossing, a telecommunications firm which retained him to overcome the Pentagon’s opposition on national security considerations to the company’s sale to a foreign conglomerate with Chinese interests.
Perle was paid $125,000 as retainer and would have received another $600,000 if the sale had been approved by a committee that included his friend and mentor, the defence secretary.
On Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are cautious of any open criticism of the war in Iraq, Democrats chose, instead, to attack Perle for business links, citing alleged conflict of interests.
Congressman John Conyers, the senior-most Democrat on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, asked the Pentagon to order an inquiry into Perle’s business dealings.
Senator Carl Levin, the counterpart of Conyers on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to Rumsfeld, saying Perle should choose between his chairmanship of the Defense Policy Board and his business.
Perle wrote to Rumsfeld on Wednesday that “I have seen controversies like this before and I know that this one will inevitably distract from the urgent challenge in which you are now engaged.… As I cannot quickly or easily quell criticism of me..., the least I can do under these circumstances is to ask you to accept my resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board”.
For Rumsfeld and his colleagues, the bad news from the Perle front came on a day when there was equally bad news from the battlefront.
A serving lieutenant general in the US army told reporters in central Iraq on Thursday that “the enemy we are fighting is different from the one we had war-gamed against. We knew they were here, but we did not know how they would fight”.
The public comments by Lt Gen. William Wallace, commander of the Army’s V. Corps, immediately hit television headlines across the Atlantic, but was not reported on US networks, at least until the time of writing.
This morning, the US Central Command in Qatar moved quickly to limit the damage done by outspoken comments by Lt Gen. Wallace.
Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said in his daily briefing in Doha that “I don’t think that we have necessarily underestimated. No one can ever predict how battle will unfold”.
Brooks concededed that officers “closer to the line” may have a different assessment of the situation than those remaining in Doha. But “at the operational level, with what we seek to achieve, it remains unchanged”.
He qualified it ominously, however, adding: “It is a different view down on planet Earth, if you will. As you get closer to the line, the more precise the realities are, and we take all this into account from all our commanders throughout the theatre before making decisions to proceed”.