Former U.S. secretary of defense speaks at SIUC

By Gus Bode

Former U.S. secretary of defense speaks at SIUC

William J. Perry shares his thoughts on post-war Iraq

During his days serving as U.S. secretary of defense under former President Bill Clinton, William J. Perry encountered many meetings and discussions with the late Yitzhak Rabin. During his last meeting with the former prime minister and defense minister of Israel, Perry was struck by something Rabin said that rings true today.


“He said the United States is the only country in the history of the world that has had the dominant military power and not used it for imperialistic purposes,” Perry said Monday night to a crowd of about 150 people at the Lesar Law Building Auditorium.

Perry said he felt a sense of pride in America when he heard Rabin’s words. With the war currently being fought in Iraq, Perry said he hopes that in the future he can feel the same sense of pride for his country.

Perry spoke to an audience about the potential hurdles the United States could face in the reconstruction of Iraq after the war. His speech was a part of the “What I Have Learned” lecture series sponsored by the SIUC Public Policy Institute.

Former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, the director of the Public Policy Institute, has known Perry for some time and said he could not think of a more distinguished U.S. secretary of defense.

“I can tell you that among Republicans and Democrats, we have not had a secretary of defense in my memory who is more highly regarded than Bill Perry,” Simon said.

Perry said the intent of his speech was not to critique America’s involvement in Iraq.

“While the war is going on and while our troops are facing danger, I do not feel comfortable critiquing how the war started or any aspects of its ongoing operations,” Perry said to the crowd. “Instead, my talk tonight is going to look ahead to the period when the fighting is stopped, which I hope and pray will be soon.”


He said that many people in the United States are failing to realize the difficult task of Iraq’s reconstruction. Perry said he believes the reconstruction phase will be more difficult than the war in some ways.

Perry said the United States has an obligation to rebuild Iraq’s government after the war. In order to avoid further pitfalls, the United States needs to fully commit to reconstruction but do it in a way that minimizes risks and monetary costs.

Setting reasonable goals is a way Perry said that the United States can properly reconstruct Iraq.

“We could set our goals too low, basically deciding to duck and run as soon as the fighting is over,” Perry said. “If we did this, this would simply plant the seeds of recurrence in Iraq.”

On the other hand, Perry said that if we set our goals too high, such as by trying to establish a Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq, the people of the United States would be opposed to the potential costs.

“Even if you believe that these lofty goals are feasible, the dollar costs for doing this would be enormous and would probably not be supported by the American public,” Perry said.