Juan Cole Diagnoses Wolfowitz

Paul Wolfowitz looks almost harmless, like somebody's slightly abused but kindly uncle. He's also one of the most disastrous figures in American political history, and a hot candidate for a war crimes trial. Oddly enough, he is often described as smart, or even brilliant (by Republicans), but his failures of judgement have been monumental. Juan Cole looks for a common thread between Wolfowitz's bungled term at the World Bank and his authorship of the Iraq War, and finds a few: cronyism, corruption and a cocksure arrogance that ignored the voices of those who really knew.

These aren't isolated faults. Corruption feeds the cronies, and the cronyism feeds the corruption, while the narrow echo chamber of cronies reinforces bad judgements and disguises follies.

...Wolfowitz has throughout his entire career demonstrated a penchant for cronyism and for smearing and marginalizing perceived rivals as tactics for getting his way. He has been arrogant and highhanded in dismissing the views of wiser and more informed experts, exhibiting a narcissism that is also apparent in his personal life. Indeed, these tactics are typical of what might be called the "neoconservative style."

Soon after becoming head of the World Bank, Wolfowitz lapsed into his typical favoritism, even while he was, ironically, decrying the technique as practiced by governments of the global South. Instead of having an open search for some key positions and allowing for promotions from within, Wolfowitz simply installed Republicans from the Bush administration in high positions with enormous salaries.

What got him in trouble, of course, was his arrangements for his mistress.

Cole looks back at Iraq and seems a similar dynamic.

The management techniques that got Wolfowitz in trouble at the World Bank mirrored those he used at the Pentagon to get up the Iraq war. Without cronyism, tag-teaming, and running circles around opponents of the war such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet, the pro-war cabal could never have persuaded Bush to launch the conflict or persuaded the American public to support it. State Department officials have complained bitterly to me about meetings called by Wolfowitz and others on Iraq in 2002, to which some relevant officials were pointedly not invited, or where the agenda was prearranged and rigidly stage-managed so as to ensure that only neoconservative points of view were heard. ...

Wolfowitz and his cronies were fixated on overthrowing the government of Iraq. Richard Clarke detailed in his memoirs, "Against All Enemies," how he had enormous difficulty in calling a meeting of high Bush administration officials to discuss the threat of al-Qaida in spring of 2001. When Clarke finally had the opportunity to make his case to them, Wolfowitz "fidgeted" and "scowled" and attempted to shoot him down. "I just don't understand," complained Wolfowitz, "why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden." Clarke says he explained that he was talking about al-Qaida "because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the U.S."

Clarke alleges that Wolfowitz responded, "You give bin Laden too much credit," and insisted that bin Laden's success with operations such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing would have been impossible without a "state sponsor." He added, "Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist."

That was before 9/11, of course. Wolfowitz's delusion didn't end on 9/11, it grew. Cole mentions another tie that Wolfowitz and his fellow neo-cons (Perle, Feith, etc.) shared: a devotion to right-wing Israeli politics. It's hard not to speculate that their shared delusion that Iraq was a threat to the US was motivated (perhaps unconsciously) by the rather more real threat it posed to Israel.

Wolfowitz's record of favoritism, ideological blinders, massive blunders and petty vindictiveness has inflicted profound harm on two of the world's great bureaucracies, the U.S. Department of Defense and now the World Bank. He has left both with thousands of demoralized employees and imposed on both irrational policies that pandered to the far right of the Republican Party. He has, in addition, played a central role in destabilizing the Middle East and in leaving one of its major countries in ruins.

Many of his Himalayan-size errors were enabled by his careful placing of close friends and allies in key and lucrative positions.


Wolfowitz was deluded, but he deserves our contempt rather than our compassion. Perhaps he even deludes himself into believing that he isn't a crook.

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