Taking Responsibility

Ostensibly Richard Perle was one of the chief proponents of White House plans to oust then dictator of Iraq Saddam Hussein. Bosom buddies with Donald Rumsfeld this guy wrote position paper after position paper, appeared on many media outlets to push the invasion of Iraq as if his pay check as Defense Policy Board of the United States Department of Defense depended on it.

This morning, making my way around town, I tuned into NPR’s Morning Edition where I caught a seven minute interview with the self-described neo-conservative conducted by Renee Montagne. Most of the interview could be characterized as Montagne and Perle rehashing old myths and political realities that have long since been debunked or starkly proven. All except the last question, in which Montagne asks Perle straight up if he believes the war effort was “worth it.”

Renee Montagne: “There’s no question you were a great proponent of going into Iraq and getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Ten years later nearly five-thousand American soldiers dead, thousands more with wounds, hundreds-of-thousands of Iraqi dead or wounded. When you think about this was it worth it?”

Richard Perle: “I’ve got to say that was not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. Um, you can’t a decade later go back and say ‘well we shouldn’t have done that.'”

Montagne’s question is pointed, but despite Perle’s deflection his response is telling.

I am a fan of Elm Service’s theory that progressively more advanced and thus complicated political structures arise because of “managerial benefits” that these structures impart to their membership. A bureaucracy grows, not because its inefficient, but because its more efficient than the alternative. Imagine if we all had to independently find, organize, analyze, digest, and make intelligence decisions about whether or not Iraq had WMDs. That could not happen, thus we turn over this responsibility to offices and people better trained to accomplish this task.

A bureaucracy or any political structure is an unequal distribution of power. Power is, at its core, an exchange of responsibility between a political structure and its members. Citizens turn over responsibility to a representative or that representative’s proxy because it allows society to function much more efficiently than if we all individually had to accomplish these tasks. In abdicating these decisions we allow the accumulation of power to occur, the higher up a decision is made in the organizational schema the more power has been accumulated.

Perle response imagines that a) no one has or can be held responsible for making a bad decision and that b) his culpability in this can somehow be minimized by simple denial of the of its existence. I would argue otherwise.

In fact, I think that to a certain degree Perle acknowledges that bad decisions were made and that he may, be in part, responsible. There is a thick layer of deflection painted over this acknowledgement — he spreads it out by using words like “we” (as in all of us) and “believed” (which implies that regardless of the actual content of the intelligence reports he routinely cites his faith that something was so is more than enough justification for him to have made the decisions in question).

Now lets look to history for precedence. A well known example of this very question being answered writ large are the Nuremberg Trials in which the Allied forces of World War II publicly prosecuted prominent member of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. I don’t think you’ll find many who would argue that WWII started as a “just” war, but keep in mind that Nazi Germany’s nationalistic military expansion had both popular support and an agile propaganda mechanism so many Germans may have felt this way as they laced up their jack boots and dawned their helmets going into the war too. In fact, there were four ways you could find yourself sitting in front of this tribunal after the war had ended. Indictments were issued for:

  1. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace
  2. Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace
  3. War crimes
  4. Crimes against humanity

Notice that three quarters of these indictments are for crimes against peace; conducting a campaign of violence against another country without provocation. I would speculate that the only reason there hasn’t been more made of our war of aggression in Iraq would be that there isn’t currently a nation or collection of nations powerful enough to prosecute. In this case might is making right.

From his public criticism of the Carter Administrations disarmament talks with the Soviets to the prosecution of the Second Gulf War Richard Perle has been a life long party and advocate of violence. He is no less responsible for the deaths that Montagne cites than any combatant. I suppose we’ll never know if it was worth it or not, but the trend seems to me to be a responding “no”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s