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Paul Wolfowitz: The Talkative American?

11/04/2003

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz exerts a powerful reality distortion field, as evidenced by the very nearly sycophantic rendering of the National Journal's James Kitfield, one of several veteran Washington journalists who accompanied the Great Man on his recent trip to Iraq.

The trip memorably featured a rocket artillery attack on Baghdad's al-Rashid Hotel early on the morning of Oct. 26. (According to his roommate at the al-Rashid, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, Kitfield was in the shower when all hell broke loose.) Kitfield's own account moves quickly past that morning's blood and fire to illuminate the glow that he perceives, seemingly against his own better judgment, emanating from Wolfowitz's glamorous idealism and unshakeable optimism. A highly condensed version:

Probably no Western functionary has so captured the imagination of Arabs since British intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence joined the forces under Faisal al Hussein in 1916 and became "Lawrence of Arabia." In the minds of many Iraqi sheiks and governing officials, and the international press, Wolfowitz is the man most readily associated with the United States' drive to oust the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein and set Iraq on the largely uncharted path to democracy...

"When you first arrived in Iraq, we thought you wore the ring of Solomon!" laughed Sheik Ali Khalid Al Iman, welcoming Wolfowitz to a roundtable discussion with local Kurdish, Arab, and Turkmen religious leaders in Kirkuk, held in the shade of a long pavilion. "Now we see from your behavior and politeness toward Islam that you may even be one of us, because you come hoping to try and help us solve our problems. And as you can see at this table, we are of three ethnic groups, and two strands of Islam, Sunni and Shiite, and there are no problems among us."

...Just for a moment, you wanted to see the landscape below the way Paul Wolfowitz sees it -- without doubts or fears of ignoble failure. You wanted to believe.
  --James Kitfield, "Ramadan Offensive," National Journal, Nov. 1, 2003

Something about Wolfowitz's having brushed off the al-Rashid attack so lightly seems to have impressed a few of our jaded scribes as more than bravado. David Ignatius of the Washington Post, who apparently got a pretty good look at one or more of the rockets rising towards the hotel, had this to say:
It was a classic Paul Wolfowitz moment: He was speaking at a new women's rights center [in Hilla, Iraq] nine days ago when someone asked for his advice on writing an Iraqi constitution. Wolfowitz, the professor turned Pentagon war planner, began quoting Alexis de Tocqueville's theories about democracy to the residents of this ancient city on the banks of the Euphrates River.

"There are people in the world who say that Arabs can't build democracy," Wolfowitz told the crowd. "I think that's nonsense. You have a chance to prove them wrong. So please do it."

...I traveled through Iraq with Wolfowitz on the whirlwind trip last weekend that concluded with a rocket attack Sunday on the hotel where we were staying in Baghdad. For people watching on television, that assault may have conveyed the vulnerability, and perhaps futility, of America's mission...

But seen through Wolfowitz's eyes, the rocket attack was just a blip -- no more daunting than the car bombs, assassinations and ambushes that are daily facts of life here for U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies. More important to Wolfowitz were the dozens of Iraqis and Americans he met who are risking their lives for the U.S. mission and the ideals that Wolfowitz holds dear. In that sense, the trip was fuel for Wolfowitz's intellectual engine.
  --David Ignatius, "A War of Choice, and One Who Chose It," Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2003

Yet neither writer has wholly lost his saving skepticism. If they now subscribe to the nobility of their protagonist -- and Ignatius' article in particular reads like a book treatment -- they have not accepted that he is, in fact, right about Iraq's prospects. He is good, but he is wrong, and seems destined to fail despite his best intentions; indeed, because of them. In short, he is a tragic hero.

For anyone who has not yet taken leave of his senses, the idea of a visionary wading through guerilla attacks while citing Tocqueville and exhorting Iraq towards its rendezvous with democracy ought to be a terrifying thought, bringing to mind the famous Graham Greene novel. [For an explanation, see here.] But strip away our journalists' literary conceits, and what's left? Posturing ideology, too drunk on visions of the future to see the present, all just faintly cloaking an instinctive belief in the redemptive power and self-justification of an America righteous, unchecked, and unbound. George W. Bush with a bookshelf and a penchant for gazing into the middle distance.

What are we really being told? The portrayal of scandals and policy disasters of the first magnitude always involves some tension between malice and foolishness. Ignatius in particular offers us Babe-in-the-Woods Wolfowitz, undone by his own eager ideals. He's no villain, we are assured. Indeed, his passion for an Araby remade "undercuts the widespread notion that Wolfowitz is simply a neoconservative tool of Israel." (That's in case anyone is still wondering what "neoconservative" is code for.)

Ignatius must d-mn even as he exculpates: pure in spirit, the ever-curious Wolfowitz seeks out an interpreter of Iraq. He discovers and is "mentored" by one Ahmad Chalabi, who helps him understand that the solution for Iraq is -- surprise! -- one Ahmad Chalabi. (Shades of the Vice Presidential selection process.) Doesn't that suggest a certain, oh, I don't know, lack of critical faculties?

It doesn't add up. If Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, or Bush failed to ponder deeply what sort of Iraq Chalabi was capable of delivering, it was because they didn't care so much to begin with. The point was Get Saddam, and with Saddam more or less gotten, what else is there to do but go to Iraq (Bush with a flyover, Wolfowitz on foot) and celebrate victory? The future will have to look after itself -- the long-longed-for prize is the Saddamless present.

Ignatius dismisses malice too quickly, setting up a straw man designed to shame readers into rejecting the notion prematurely. "Neoconservative" is indeed little more than an ethnic slur wrapped up in a McCarthyite smear, a veiled repetition of the old tale about misplaced Jewish loyalties -- a tale so old it antedates the State of Israel and even Zionism -- a tale so old that, through the case of the alleged Germanophile Dreyfus, it helped bring Zionism about. (It's a tale not unknown even in relatively enlightened, self-congratulatory America, whose revolution at one point sought to impose loyalty oaths on the sons of Jacob.)

But there is malice other than treason. There is also malice against Saddam, which surely is no vice. No vice, that is, so long as one's country doesn't have to pay an unreckoned price in blood and treasure. Here is our future: to be haunted by Bushian spite garbed in virtue.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000098.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 09:17 AM CST [Link]

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