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Paul Wolfowitz was the brainy freedom-fighter


Paul Wolfowitz  is a champion of freedom and democracy. He has declared that it is the obligation of the United States to be a strong nation that  is willing to confront tyranny. He was driven by a belief, cultivated by studying with several luminaries of elite academia, that too often a democracy was easily fooled by the deception of a dictator. America must expose these treacheries and demand reform. It is a noble aspiration, but the reality is not so clear-cut.

A long insider career in Washington has seen Wolfowitz hold several highly influential jobs. When George H.W. Bush took over the CIA, Wolfowitz was a prominent member of Bush's "Team B."  Wolfowitz sensed that U.S. intelligence consistently underestimated the threat that the Soviet Union posed. Conducting their own investigation, Team B sought to prove that an entirely different conclusion can be drawn depending on how one gathers and uses information. They suggested Russia was pursuing detente with the U.S. in order to become the sole superpower. It was a stark example of using intelligence to fit a desired policy.

In Reagan's administration, Wolfowitz served as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. Wolfowitz was given the task of speculating on where potential future problem areas for U.S. interests would arise. He was among the first to point a finger in the direction of the Middle East. Wolfowitz raised the fear that Russia would dominate the region and it's oil. Or, another country in the neighborhood, perhaps Iraq, would make a grab for oil and thus greatly expand its' military capabilities.

Cold War thinking had always assumed that China was a necessary, if uncomfortable, ally against the Soviet Union. Wolfowitz attacked this theory, saying that China needed us for protection much more than we needed them. This blasphemy almost cost him his job, but George Schulz instead ended up giving Wolfowitz a promotion.

As the Ambassador to Indonesia, Wolfowitz immersed himself in the culture and cut a very popular figure with his wife while cavorting with the locals. The United States considered Indonesia a strong ally against the evil specter of communism. Ecomonic deregulation had allowed a huge flow of U.S. business. Meanwhile, Suharto was never called on the carpet for mass murder in East Timor and Wolfowitz only quietly pushed for democratic ideals in the midst of a culture of corruption. At times, it seemed Wolfowitz was participating in the deception he had railed against.

In the George H.W. Bush administration, Wolfowitz was in charge of policy at the Pentagon. His office was given the job of drafting the Defense Planning Guidance, a review of the Pentagon's priorities for the following two years. Wolfowitz delegated the job to his protege Scooter Libby, who in turn handed over the job to another aide. The draft was leaked to the press, and many eyebrows were raised. The language suggested that the U.S. would actively prevent any country from becoming a possible competitor in the aftermath of the Cold War. This naturally offended a large number of friends around the world. The draft was then modified to state that the goal was actually for the United States to build up its' military to such an outrageously powerful level that no one would even want to try to keep up. Again, access to oil was an explicit factor in this strategy. No one seemed to object to the plain statement that the United States was willing to go to war for oil.

Paul Wolfowitz served as Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2001-2005 in the George W. Bush administration. After the 9/11 attacks, there was no doubt that there would be retaliation. The Taliban was quickly identified as a main adversary. Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld all pushed to include Iraq on the list of those to be punished. Wolfowitz, for his part, took the romantic neo-con approach. It was a moral imperative to confront evil.  While Cheney and Rumsfeld have been held responsible for the initially disgraceful conduct of the war, Wolfowitz has been blamed (or credited) with the push to find intelligence that linked Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda. There may have been a plethora of reasons for regime change in Iraq, many of them pre-dating the Gulf War. It is unfortunate that the second time around, the Bush administration kept insisting on touting the wrong reasons.

Paul Wolfowitz went on to become President of the World Bank, a tenure that was rocky from the start. There were accusations that his decisions were driven by political considerations, to back the policies of his former boss. More damaging was his relationship with Shaha Riza, an employee at the Bank. Wolfowitz disclosed the fact that Riza was his girlfriend before becoming president. He offered to recuse himself from any decisions that regarded Riza. Curiously, his offer was rejected. Riza was moved to the State Department and received a considerable raise. This was not directed by Wolfowitz, but it led to his inglorious departure from the Bank.

Paul Wolfowitz is often seen as a relentless soldier of the civilian hawks. The reality is that he is an extremely bright scholar who gradually comes to firm conclusions after rigorous thought and research. His thinking led the dramatic change of strategy that the United States used to present itself to the world. A defensive posture of containment turned into an offensive pose of pre-emption. This was likely a necessary change after 9-11. For now, the United States can go it alone and forsake alliances when they do not serve her interests. The United States will be the most powerful nation in the world for a long time coming. Some form of Democracy may indeed take hold in the Middle East, easing the seemingly perpetual tensions in the area. But history has not stopped. As much as Paul Wolfowitz dreams of a peaceful world policed by the United States in perpetuity, even if that is achieved, it will not last forever. Simply because nothing does.

Coming up next: Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage