Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and now chairman of the Pentagon's Policy Advisory Board, condemned French and German policy on Iraq in the strongest terms at a public seminar organized by a New York-based PR firm and attended by Iraqi exiles and American Middle East and security officials.
But while dismissing Germany's refusal to support military action against Iraq as an aberration by "a discredited chancellor," Perle warned that France's attitude was both more dangerous and more serious.
"France is no longer the ally it once was," Perle said. And he went on to accuse French President Jacques Chirac of believing "deep in his soul that Saddam Hussein is preferable to any likely successor."
French leaders have insisted the country will oppose any military action against Iraq without a second resolution by the United Nations Security Council, where it holds one of five crucial veto powers. Last November France did vote for Resolution 1441, which promised "serious consequences" if Iraq did not cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors verifying that Iraq has indeed dismantled its programs for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
"I have long thought that there were forces in France intent on reducing the American role in the world. That is more troubling than the stance of a German chancellor, who has been largely rejected by his own people," Perle said, referring to the sharp electoral defeat suffered by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's party in state elections Sunday.
Although he is not an official of the Bush administration, Perle's position as the Pentagon's senior civilian adviser gives his harsh remarks a quasi-official character and reflects the growing frustration in the White House and Pentagon with the French and German reluctance to support their U.S. and British allies.
"Very considerable damage has already been done to the Atlantic community, including NATO, by Germany and France," Perle said.
"But in the German case, the behavior of the Chancellor is idiosyncratic. He tried again to incite pacifism, and this time failed in Sunday's elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony. His capacity to do damage is now constrained. Chancellor Schroeder is now in a box, and the Germans will recover their equilibrium."
Perle went on to question whether the United States should ever again seek the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council on a major issue of policy, stressing that "Iraq is going to be liberated, by the United States and whoever wants to join us, whether we get the approbation of the U.N. or any other institution."
"It is now reasonable to ask whether the United States should now or on any other occasion subordinate vital national interests to a show of hands by nations who do not share our interests," he added.
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