Paul Wolfowitz’s nomination by President George W. Bush as the new president of the World Bank has caused a storm of protests from abroad, but the news is good. At his new post, Wolfowitz will not be able to do nearly as much damage as he has done at the Pentagon.
That damage has been considerable. Over the past four years, he has been the most influential proponent of neoconservatism both as an outlook and as a geopolitical project, within the Bush administration. The Weltanschauung is Shtetl-paranoid, Christophobic, and Straussian. The project is mastery of the world, a “benevolent global hegemony” that is as certain to end in ruin as it is likely to destroy the remaining vestiges of the American Republic.
Wolfowitz’s intellectual maturation, when he was a doctoral student at the University of Chicago in the late 1960’s, proceeded under the tutelage of the late RAND guru Albert Wohlstetter, famous for his view that nuclear deterrence was not enough—the United States had to plan to fight a nuclear war in order to deter it. Richard Perle was another promising protégé of Wohlstetter. He and Wolfowitz got to know each other through their aging mentor and became lifelong political and personal associates.
Perle was the first to go to Washington, in 1969, when Wohlstetter secured his appointment as executive director of the Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy, founded primarily to defeat Nixon’s arms-control negotiations with Moscow. Three years later, Perle was active—together with Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz, and Irving Kristol—in the establishment of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority to promote Sen. Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson’s bid for the presidency. At that time, they were all “Democrats”; when they revamped the Committee on the Present Danger in 1976, they were “Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.” When exactly the same crew created the Committee for the Free World in 1981, Reagan was in the White House, and Perle & Co. had become “conservatives.”
By the time that Wolfowitz had left a teaching position at Yale and moved to Washington, he could rely on a well-developed support network. His first appointment was to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and Wohlstetter’s two prodigies soon became a strong tandem clamoring for confrontation with Moscow. From there, Wolfowitz went to the Pentagon as deputy assistant secretary of defense for regional programs, then to the State Department’s Policy Planning Office, and spent three-and-a-half years as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs before being sent to Indonesia as the U.S. ambassador. He returned from Jakarta to serve under President George H.W. Bush as under secretary for policy at the Pentagon (the post currently held by his friend and protégé Douglas Feith).
Wolfowitz’s rise to national prominence came at that post in early 1992, when he authored a secret 46-page Pentagon memorandum that was leaked to the New York Times. The Cold War was over, the Soviet Union had disintegrated, but Wolfowitz was not satisfied. America had to keep arming herself in order to ensure that no rival power would emerge anywhere. She had to convince “potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role,” and she should promote “the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the U.S.”
In assessing future threats, Wolfowitz stressed the alleged danger of Moscow’s attempt to reincorporate the newly independent western republics of the Soviet Union. He advocated an all-out, U.S.-led NATO war against Russia, especially if Moscow threatened the security of the Baltic republics. Wolfowitz boldly asserted that Russia would be unlikely to respond with nuclear weapons, even though he offered no clear basis for that assessment.
That America should fight an all-out war and risk nuclear annihilation in order to maintain the independence of former Soviet republics was utterly insane, but, instead of being taken to a safe, quiet place where he could do no harm to himself or to others, Wolfowitz became a neocon hero and embarked on a decade of activism that, in 2001, brought him to the Pentagon as Donald Rumsfeld’s No. 2. He enthusiastically supported Clinton’s pro-Muslim interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990’s for the same reason.
These underlying loyalties help explain the single-minded vigor with which Wolfowitz and Perle advocated the war on Iraq for years before they got it. They were founding members of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), established on principles that included “American global leadership.” PNAC began urging the overthrow of Saddam Hussein almost immediately. Its January 26, 1998, open letter to President Clinton demanding war against Iraq is said to have been drafted by Wolfowitz. Testifying to the House National Security Committee eight months later, he declared that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting his weapons capabilities and suggested “a serious policy in Iraq” that would “free Iraq’s neighbors from Saddam’s murderous threats.” This theme would be a mainstay of Wolfowitz’s public-speaking and private-policy advocacy for years to come.
Just nine days after the September 11 attacks, PNAC sent another letter, this time to President George W. Bush, stating: “But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” As he was a government official, Wolfowitz could not sign the letter, but, according to the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, he was doing his bit for the cause, trying to insert the war against Iraq into the package of antiterrorist options. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the commission that, within days of September 11, Wolfowitz had argued that Iraq should be attacked but offered no rational basis for the demand: “Powell said that Wolfowitz was not able to justify his belief that Iraq was behind 9/11. ‘Paul [Wolfowitz] was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with,’ Powell told us. ‘And he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.’”
Using is an apt word: In the end, the commission concluded that there was “no credible evidence” of a terrorist link. Its findings were openly supported by CIA and FBI officials who had been under intense political pressure before the war (notably by Douglas Feith’s “Office of Special Plans” at the Pentagon) to establish such a link.
Once the war was over and the lie became evident, Wolfowitz calmly changed his tune and took to calling the WMD’s a “secondary issue.” (“I’m not concerned about weapons of mass destruction, I’m concerned about getting Iraq on its feet.”) Then came his now-famous admission (Vanity Fair, July 2003) that, for bureaucratic reasons, “we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.” His chutzpah reached a new height when he told the Armed Services Committee in April 2004 that the war in Iraq was fought to remove a “brutal dictator”—and failed to mention any “weapons of mass destruction.”
Wolfowitz’s behavior is coherent only if his objective is to make sure that the United States—redefined and controlled by him and people like him—remains the only power that matters, in the Middle East and everywhere else. This mind-set is the greatest domestic threat to the constitutional order, identity, and security of the United States. Wolfowitz has devoted his life to the pursuit of Power for its own sake and for the sake of interests that are not American. The end of his morbid quest, if allowed to unfurl, will be similar to that which we witnessed in Berlin in November 1989 and in May 1945.