Suzanne Goldenberg managed, somehow, to keep her lunch down during an interview with Richard Perle. The man who never met a war he didn't love sat through much of it all with a dog named "Reagan" in his lap.
With nearly two-thirds of Americans opposed to the war, one could be forgiven for thinking that Perle might be looking for cover. Earlier this year, Vanity Fair magazine published an article raising the astonishing prospect that Perle, one of the most ardent advocates of war on Iraq, had been having second thoughts. Asked whether it would have been possible to contain Saddam without military intervention, Perle told the magazine: "Maybe we could have." A neo-con recants!
But, as soon becomes apparent during our conversation, it is some distance from that glancing admission to a real change of heart, and there is little evidence that the debacle in Iraq has led Perle to question the hawkish views that have guided his life and - not incidentally - made his career in Washington.
Ask Perle for his ideas on how to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear arsenal, and the formula is eerily familiar. He is not yet sure the time is ripe to carry out air strikes on Tehran. "But if the only way to prevent Iran from being a nuclear weapons power is to destroy one or more facilities that will give them that capability I see no moral basis for rejecting that option," Perle says.
Perle, as you may recall, was the fellow who wanted Israel to extend its disastrous mini-war with Hezbollah by attacking Syria, so his view of what does and does not have a "moral basis" might be called rather narrow.
Instead, Perle continues to cling to a view of events in Iraq that has now been comprehensively discredited. Even now, when it is abundantly clear that Saddam Hussein did not have the weapons of mass destruction that were the pretext for the war, Perle insists that it was the right decision to remove Saddam by force. "Even after recognising that some of the information was wrong, the judgment that Saddam proposed a threat and a serious threat was right," he says.
Against the reams of evidence to the contrary - including congressional inquiries into the administration's misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the war - Perle continues to insist that Saddam Hussein was a friend of al-Qaida.
So if the ideas were sound, where did it all go wrong? It is here, perhaps, that Perle makes his most astonishing statement: Washington did not do enough to prop up former Iraqi exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi. But, ever the insider, Perle does not point too high when assigning blame. He carefully avoids fingering President Bush, or his fellow travellers among the hawks and neo-cons - not Cheney, not the former Pentagon officials, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith.
These days, Perle is unself-consciously arguing for the next war, the war with Iran, predicting that Mister Bush will bomb that country if it appears it will obtain nuclear weapons capabilities while he is yet in office. And that, Perle has said at other times in other forums, would be a good thing, just as he still argues that the invasion of Iraq was a good thing. Not a drop of cognitive dissonance. Not a drop of remorse. Not a drop of repentance.