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US Thinktanks Give Lessons In Foreign Policy
Brian Whitaker reports on the network of research institutes whose views and TV appearances are supplanting all other experts on Middle Eastern issues
Monday August 19, 2002
A little-known fact about Richard Perle, the leading advocate of hardline policies at the Pentagon, is that he once wrote a political thriller. The book, appropriately called Hard Line, is set in the days of the cold war with the Soviet Union. Its hero is a male senior official at the Pentagon, working late into the night and battling almost single-handedly to rescue the US from liberal wimps at the state department who want to sign away America's nuclear deterrent in a disarmament deal with the Russians.
Ten years on Mr Perle finds himself cast in the real-life role of his fictional hero - except that the Russians are no longer a threat, so he has to make do with the Iraqis, the Saudis and terrorism in general.
In real life too, Mr Perle is not fighting his battle single-handed. Around him there is a cosy and cleverly-constructed network of Middle East "experts" who share his neo-conservative outlook and who pop up as talking heads on US television, in newspapers, books, testimonies to congressional committees, and at lunchtime gatherings in Washington.
The network centres on research institutes - thinktanks that attempt to influence government policy and are funded by tax-deductible gifts from unidentified donors.
When he is not too busy at the Pentagon, or too busy running Hollinger Digital - part of the group that publishes the Daily Telegraph in Britain - or at board meetings of the Jerusalem Post, Mr Perle is "resident fellow" at one of the thinktanks - the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).