Two of Washington’s most famed neoconservatives — David Frum and Richard Perle — have issued a stinging critique of America’s fight against terrorism and are urging more aggressive action.
In their new book, “An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror” (Random House), Frum and Perle call for universal biometric fingerprinting, immediate steps to bring about regime change in Iran and Syria, a military blockade of North Korea, a diplomatic approach that treats Saudi Arabia and France as rivals if not “enemies” and a decreasing American involvement in the United Nations. They describe their manifesto as an attempt to present a unifying “conservative point of view.”
Often blunt and unyielding, the book succeeds in providing what some political observers describe as the most comprehensive and coherent summary of the core positions held by various neoconservative camps in the wake of the Iraq invasion.
“The book provides a useful primer on the neoconservative world view,” said Lawrence Kaplan, a senior editor at The New Republic, who wrote a pre-Iraq war neoconservative tract with Weekly Standard editor William Kristol.
Yet “An End to Evil” and the initial responses to it also expose the deepening rift between pro-interventionist neoconservatives and old-line conservatives battling for control over White House policy. In recent weeks, the latter group, led by Secretary of State Colin Powell, appeared to be winning the fight, as the Bush administration has softened its position toward North Korea and Iran — in direct opposition to Frum and Perle’s advice.
“We were with them on Iraq,” said Helle Dale, a foreign policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, an old-line conservative think-tank in Washington. “But if you have any sense of military constraints, you would know further calls to military action right now are a little ill-timed.”
Both Frum and Perle are Washington insiders who have been closely connected to the more hawkish elements of the Bush administration, particularly in the Donald Rumsfeld-led Defense Department.
For the first two years of the Bush administration, Perle served as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a group that advises the Pentagon, and Frum worked as a speechwriter in the White House, where he was most famous for helping to coin the term “Axis of Evil.” Each of them, though, left their positions during the last year, and “An End to Evil” conveys their disappointment with the course of Bush administration policy since then. “We can feel the will to win ebbing in Washington,” they write.
Rather than open with an attack on a foreign enemy, the book starts off with a harsh critique of elements of the Bush administration that have resisted additional military action since Iraq. “At the State Department,” the duo writes, “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.”
On top of a complete reform of the State Department, Frum and Perle advocate firing George Tenet, director of the CIA, and relieving the FBI of the “counter-terrorism job it has bungled.” About all these groups, Frum and Perle write, “We have wanted to fight, and they have not.”
On the domestic front, Frum and Perle advocate more intense policing of immigrants and citizens alike. They cite approvingly a few Portland, Ore. residents who reported a neighbor to the authorities after he grew a beard, donned traditional Arab garb, and started attending a mosque. To help keep track of suspicious behavior, they call for all Americans to carry a “national identification card” with information including “retinal scans or DNA.”
Washington insiders speculate that Frum did most of the writing work for the book, and his unequivocal style is evident, never more so than in the line, “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust.”
Frum and Perle argue that “we must destroy regimes implicated in anti-American terrorism,” and provide a list of potential targets, including North Korea, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“We must move boldly against them… . And we don’t have much time,” they write.
These hard-line positions are raising concerns for Republicans from previous administrations.
“Military action against the North Koreans, for example, is just not feasible — the South Koreans wouldn’t tolerate it,” said Henry Rowen, an assistant secretary of defense during the first Bush administration, who is now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, a conservative think-tank at Stanford University. “Anybody who argues immediate military action clearly has it wrong in many cases.”
Frum and Perle are dismissive of those who say the United States must sometimes defer to the interests of foreign allies. They would be willing to put South Korea at risk because “our interests (and those of Japan) differ from those of South Korea.”
The increased involvement in international affairs advocated in “An End to Evil” already has drawn public censure from some conservative isolationists. In an editorial in the Miami Herald, Pat Buchanan critically wondered whether President Bush will “heed the neoconservatives’ non-negotiable demand that we overthrow all Arab and Islamic regimes.”
In all of the conservative foreign-policy debates, said Tod Lindberg, editor of the Washington-based Policy Review and a fellow at the Hoover Institution, “Frum and Perle may take the bolder, more radical vision” to expand the terms of the debate.
There have been hints of dissension from some neoconservative leaders over the more radical elements of Frum and Perle’s book. Lindberg, for example, said he differed with their calls for a more confrontational approach toward France. “An End to Evil” argues that “a more closely integrated Europe is no longer an unqualified American interest,” and that America should actively try to drive a wedge between France and the rest of the continent.
In many other hives of neoconservative activity, however, few are distancing themselves from the platform outlined by Perle and Frum.
“The political prescriptions contained are terrific,” said Danielle Pletka, a foreign policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute — where both Frum and Perle are resident fellows — a think-tank that is widely considered the nerve center of neoconservatism. “This is a very thoughtful articulation of how to fight the battle ahead of us.”
Political observers say that, in fact, none of the proposals in the book are particularly new, and most of the ideas have been discussed by administration officials before.
“An End to Evil” has taken a new step, though, in putting all these positions together so that the full panorama can be seen in one sweep.
In doing so, Frum and Perle write that they want to appeal to “the average Republican primary voter in, say, Kentucky.” They say they hope the book “will define the conservative point of view on foreign policy for a new generation.”
But observers say it will more likely define the debate on what that point of view is.
“It’s up to framing the issues at hand and the stakes in the battle ahead,” said Lindberg.