Conservatives regret Iraq war

“I think now I probably would have said, ‘No, let’s consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists’,” said Mr Perle, who sat on the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Advisory Committee until 2004.

Kenneth Adelman, who served on the Defence Policy Board with Mr Perle, said President George W Bush, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration “turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.”

Other leaders of the neoconservative movement, which supports an aggressive foreign policy to promote democracy and was highly influential in the administration, told the magazine that President Bush did not lead decisively, or even understand or believe the speeches he delivered.

“Although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas,” said David Frum, a former Bush speech writer.

Mr Perle, Mr Adelman and other neoconservatives were among the earliest and most vocal proponents of an Iraq invasion to depose Saddam Hussein. Many have grown increasingly critical during the president’s second term.

The White House was not immediately available for comment.

In an interview with American television station ABC, Vice President Dick Cheney declined to address the article directly but said the administration was not going to reconsider its Iraq policy.

“It may not be popular with the public,” Mr Cheney said. “It doesn’t matter, in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: “I am not going to engage in politics. The president and this administration have been very clear about the factors leading up to the conflict and the importance of success in Iraq on the war on terror.”

The full Vanity Fair article will appear in its January edition.

Attempt to influence election

Several of those interviewed for the article told news agency Reuters that Vanity Fair should not have released it so close to Tuesday’s congressional elections.

“This appears to me to be nothing more than a naked attempt by Vanity Fair to selectively use quotations to smear the administration and try to influence the midterm elections,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, where Mr Perle and Mr Frum also work.

Michael Rubin, an AEI Middle East expert who was a political adviser to Iraq’s US-led provisional government after the war, said the article quoted him accurately but he objected to the “timing and the shrillness of the piece.”

“Yes, every policymaker has self doubt … What’s wrong is to take such constant questioning and introspection and try to spin it into a cheap political shot a few days before the election,” Mr Rubin said.