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Is Richard Perle Really Fagan from Oliver Twist?

Two commentaries on Pat Buchanan’s book Where the Right Went Wrong (which I haven’t read) have called him anti-Semitic for comparing Richard Perle to Fagan in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. The first was in an editorial in the L.A. Times by Jacob Heilbrunn. The second was in a review of the book in the New York Times Book Review by Michael Kazin.

I hadn’t read Oliver Twist in a long time, and Fagan is a very unflattering portrait of a Jew. But if there is anybody who deserves an unflattering portrait, it is Richard Perle.

Dickens describes Fagan as, “a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair.” Later Bill Sikes says to Fagan, “What are you up to? Ill-treating the boys, you covetous, avaricious, in-sa-ti-a-ble old fence?… I wonder they don’t murder you! I would if I was them. If’d been your ‘prentice, I have done it long ago, and — no I couldn’t have sold you afterwards, for you’re fit for nothing but keeping as a curiosity of ugliness in a glass bottle, and I suppose they don’t blow glass bottles large enough.”

So, let’s hear what Richard Perle’s benefactor had to say about him. Lord Conrad Black, the CEO of Hollinger International Inc., was the subject of a study by his company of his misdeeds during his reign. The Washington Post headline for its report of the Hollinger study was “Report Details ‘Kleptocracy’ at Newspaper Firm.” The article went on to say, “A report by a special board committee singled out director Richard N. Perle, a former Defense Department official, who received $5.4 million in bonuses and compensation. The report said Perle should return the money to the Chicago company.”

Even more damning is an article in MSNBC’s Slate about Conrad Black’s personal comments about Perle:

Unchastened by the [previous] losses, Perle started his own private equity firm, Trireme Partners, which he founded in 2001 along with Gerald Hillman, a fellow member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. Perle tried to hit up Hollinger for a $25 million commitment, with $2.5 million up front. Black resisted, in part because Black, a world-class chiseler himself, felt he was getting chiseled by Perle. On Feb. 1, 2002, Black wrote a memo questioning Perle’s habit of submitting personal bills for reimbursement: “I have been consulted about your American Express account which has been sent to us for settlement. It varies from $1,000 to $6,000 per month and there is no substantiation of any of the items which include a great many restaurants, groceries and other matters.”

In late 2002 and early 2003, negotiations between Black and Perle grew heated. Ultimately, Black seems to have concluded that $2.5 million was a small price to pay to get rid of Perle. In a Dec. 28, 2002, e-mail, he told colleagues the Trireme investment was, in the report’s words, “a means to remove Perle from Digital’s payroll.”

And while the report documents how Black spent company cash on himself, he resented it when Perle did the same. The report, again: Black “told [Hollinger executive Peter] Atkinson in an e-mail dated [Dec. 29, 2002] that he was ‘well aware of what a trimmer and a sharper Richard is at times.’ ” Black wrote about Trireme. “As I suspected, there is a good deal of nest-feathering being conducted by Richard which I don’t object to other than that there was some attempt to disguise it behind a good deal of dissembling and obfuscation.” (In Black’s book, it was OK to feather your nest but not OK to lie about it.)

Black admired—in a grudging way—how Perle worked on him. Black explained in a Jan. 7, 2003, e-mail to a colleague: “I have been exposed to Richard’s full repertoire of histrionics, cajolery, and utilization of fine print. He hasn’t been disingenuous exactly, but I understand how he finessed the Russians out of deployed missiles in exchange for non-eventual-deployment of half the number of missiles of unproven design.” After discussing compensation with Perle, he wrote: “My feeling is that we are finally dealing with Richard Perle of Reykjavik and the Zero Option, who realizes that mental agility must be applied to bringing us into the coalition and not straight-arming us like a bunch of NATO-ninny psuedo-allies.”

In the end, Hollinger did invest $2.5 million in February 2003 in Trireme Partners. True to its name, Perle’s venture firm has set about to try to ream its partners. According to the Breeden report, Hollinger’s $2.5 million investment in the fund is worth only $1.5 million—a loss of 40 percent in one year.

Lord Black is no anti-Semite; he owned the Jerusalem Post and put Perle on its editorial board. While Richard Perle may not have red hair, according to Lord Black he was “covetous” and “avaricious.” He is certainly close enough to a Fagan to warrant Pat Buchanan’s comparison.

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