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Perle says he should not have backed Iraq war

WASHINGTON — Richard N. Perle, the former Pentagon advisor regarded as the intellectual godfather of the Iraq war, now believes he should not have backed the U.S.-led invasion, and he holds President Bush responsible for failing to make timely decisions to stem the rising violence, according to excerpts from a magazine interview.

Perle — a leading neoconservative who chaired the Pentagon's defense advisory board for the first three years of the Bush administration — is quoted in January's Vanity Fair as saying the U.S. might have been able to strip Saddam Hussein of his ability to build unconventional weapons "by means other than a direct military intervention."

"I think if I had been Delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said 'Should we go into Iraq?' I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,' " Perle said, according to interview excerpts released Friday by the magazine.

Perle's about-face is the latest in a series of war recriminations by neoconservatives, many of whom blame Iraq's spiraling violence on the administration's management of the postwar stabilization effort.

Others interviewed for the article included former Bush speechwriter David Frum and former Reagan administration official Kenneth L. Adelman.

Perle's prominent advocacy of invasion after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — and his close relationship with the war's top architects, including Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy Defense secretary, and Douglas J. Feith, the former Pentagon policy chief — makes his reversal particularly noteworthy.

Perle told Vanity Fair he did not anticipate the "depravity" currently underway in Iraq, saying, "The levels of brutality we've seen are truly horrifying."

He said "huge mistakes" had been made in the management of the war, and he blamed disloyalty among top Bush administration officials for a failure to get the policy correct.

"The decisions did not get made that should have been," he said.

He continued: "At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible¬Ö.

"I don't think he realized the extent of the opposition within his own administration, and the disloyalty."

Although the excerpts do not show who Perle blames for disloyalty or mismanagement, he appears to lay the blame at the feet of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the military leaders who put together the war plan.

"Huge mistakes were made, and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad," he said.

"I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had no responsibility for that."

The excerpts include quotes from other neoconservatives who have turned against the war, including Adelman, a longtime friend of Rumsfeld who has received classified Pentagon briefings on the war as recently as March, according to a recent book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Vanity Fair quotes Adelman as saying that though he still believes the reasons for going to war were right, the invasion should not have occurred because the goals were unachievable. He called Bush's national security advisors "among the most incompetent teams" in the post-World War II era, adding he was particularly let down by Rumsfeld: "I'm very, very fond of him, but I'm crushed by his performance."


peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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