A Reporter at Large

The Believer

Paul Wolfowitz defends his war.

by Peter J. Boyer November 1, 2004

On the night of October 5th, a group of Polish students, professors, military officers, and state officials crowded into a small auditorium at Warsaw University to hear Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, give a talk on the subject of the war in Iraq. It was an unusually warm evening for October, and every seat was filled; the room seemed nearly airless. Wolfowitz began by joking that his father, a noted mathematician, would have been proud to see him in this academic setting, even as he was saddened that the younger Wolfowitz had pursued the political, rather than the real, sciences. After a few minutes, Wolfowitzs voice, which normally has a soft tremble, grew even more faint, and his aspect became wan. For an instant, he seemed actually to wobble.

It had been a tiring day, preceded by an overnight flight from Washington. This was to have been a routine official trip for Wolfowitza visit with soldiers in Germany and some bucking up of Iraq-war allies in Warsaw and London. The bucking up, however, was made a bit more complicated by developments within the Administration. The previous afternoon, as Wolfowitz was preparing to board his plane at Andrews Air Force Base, an aide had handed him a report containing some vexing news. Wolfowitzs boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had just delivered a speech in New York and, in a question-and-answer exchange afterward, had declared that he had not seen any strong, hard evidence linking Al Qaeda with Saddam Husseins regime. Rumsfelds unexpected remarkundercutting one of the Administrations principal arguments for going to warhad already prompted press inquiries at the Pentagon, suggesting a bad news cycle ahead. Meanwhile, the Washington Post was preparing to report that L. Paul Bremer, the former administrator of the American-led occupation of Iraq, had faulted the U.S. postwar plan for lacking sufficient troops to provide securityaffirming a principal contention of the Administrations critics. In addition, the governments Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, was about to release a final report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; already the reports substance was being summed up in headlines as report discounts iraqi arms threat. And the Times had learned of a new C.I.A. assessment casting doubt on links between the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Saddams regimeundermining yet another of the Administrations rationales for the war.

Wolfowitz has been a major architect of President Bushs Iraq policy and, within the Administration, its most passionate and compelling advocate. His long career as a diplomat, strategist, and policymaker will be measured by this policy, and, more immediately, the President he serves may not be returned to office because of it. The Administration had been divided over Iraq from the start, and new fissures seemed to be appearing. The Poles sitting in the Warsaw audience, new Europeans who had cast their lot with America, might understandably have been concerned. The government in Poland, where public opinion has shifted against the war, faces elections next year, and will probably reduce its forces in Iraq in the coming months.

After his faltering start, Wolfowitz, nearing the midpoint of his speech, began to find his voice. He recounted the events of Polands darkest days, and the civilized worlds acquiescence to Hitlers ambitions which preceded them. When Hitler began to rearm Germany, Wolfowitz said, the worlds hollow warnings formed weak defenses. When Hitler annexed Austria, the world sat by. When German troops marched into Czechoslovakia before the war, the world sat still once again. When Britain and France warned Hitler to stay out of Poland, the Fhrer had little reason to pay heed.

Poles understand perhaps better than anyone the consequences of making toothless warnings to brutal tyrants and terrorist regimes, Wolfowitz said. And, yes, I do include Saddam Hussein. He then laid out the case against Saddam, reciting once again the dictators numberless crimes against his own people. He spoke of severed hands and videotaped torture sessions. He told of the time, on a trip to Iraq, hed been shown a torture tree, the bark of which had been worn away by ropes used to bind Saddams victims, both men and women. He said that field commanders recently told him that workers had come across a new mass grave, and had stopped excavation when they encountered the remains of several dozen women and children, some still with little dresses and toys.

Wolfowitz observed that some peoplemeaning the realists in the foreignpolicy community, including Secretary of State Colin Powellbelieved that the Cold War balance of power had brought a measure of stability to the Persian Gulf. But, Wolfowitz continued, Poland had a phrase that correctly characterized that as the stability of the graveyard. The so-called stability that Saddam Hussein provided was something even worse.

Finally, Wolfowitz thanked the Poles for joining in a war that much of Europe had repudiated, and continues to oppose. His message was clear: history, especially Europes in the last century, has proved that it is smarter to side with the U.S. than against it. We will not forget Polands commitment, he promised. Just as you have stood with us, we will stand with you.

Wolfowitz, who is sixty, has served in the Administrations of six Presidents, yet he is still regarded by many in Washington with a considerable measure of puzzlement. This is due partly to the fact that, although his intelligence is conceded by all, and his quiet bearing and manner suggest the academic that he used to beat the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studieshe has consistently argued positions that place him squarely in the category of war hawk. He began his life in public policy by marshalling arguments, in 1969, on behalf of a U.S. anti-ballistic-missile defense system. Like his mentor at the University of Chicago, the late political strategist Albert Wohlstetter, Wolfowitz was skeptical of a U.S.-Soviet convergence, embraced a national missile-defense system, and argued for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

The Believer continues
08 16, 2007
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