Commentary Magazine


Topic: Paul Wolfowitz

The New York Times’s War on Wolfowitz

The 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq unfortunately has provided the occasion for some who ought to know better to propagate bizarre myths about the war. In this regard, the New York Times editorial board is in a class by itself. In an editorial today, “Ten Years After,” the Times casually writes: “In 2003, President George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to wage pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein and a nuclear arsenal that did not exist.”

It is perhaps a sign of how far gone into the land of fantasy the Times editorialists actually are that they could write a sentence like this and not have anyone fact check their assertion. Was it really the case that the Iraq War was the result of a plot by President Bush and, of all people, the deputy secretary of defense? Weren’t there some other, rather more important figures in the Cabinet who supported the invasion too–not only the president but also Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice?

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The 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq unfortunately has provided the occasion for some who ought to know better to propagate bizarre myths about the war. In this regard, the New York Times editorial board is in a class by itself. In an editorial today, “Ten Years After,” the Times casually writes: “In 2003, President George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, used the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to wage pre-emptive war against Saddam Hussein and a nuclear arsenal that did not exist.”

It is perhaps a sign of how far gone into the land of fantasy the Times editorialists actually are that they could write a sentence like this and not have anyone fact check their assertion. Was it really the case that the Iraq War was the result of a plot by President Bush and, of all people, the deputy secretary of defense? Weren’t there some other, rather more important figures in the Cabinet who supported the invasion too–not only the president but also Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice?

More significantly, wasn’t the war authorized by both houses of Congress? Perhaps the Times editorialists have forgotten that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq was approved in October 2002 by a vote of 296-133 in the House and 77-23 in the Senate. This was a war that had bipartisan support, winning the backing of 82 Democrats in the House and 29 in the Senate.

Among those who backed this undertaking were, inter alia, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Defense Hagel, former Secretary of State (and possibly future presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton, and then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Their position–that we had to be willing to use force against Saddam Hussein–was overwhelmingly popular, backed by over 70 percent of those surveyed.

The Times is right that, no matter the vote in Congress or the state of public opinion, President Bush ultimately bore responsibility for the invasion because he was commander-in-chief. But, news flash, Paul Wolfowitz was only the No. 2 official in the Department of Defense. Not only was he not in the chain of command (which runs from the president to the secretary of defense to the combatant commander), he was often ignored by his boss, Donald Rumsfeld. So why on earth, out of all the possible candidates in Washington, would the Times ascribe 50 percent of the responsibility for the invasion of Iraq to Wolfowitz?

The obvious explanation, although the Times editorialists don’t use the word, is that this is an attempt to resuscitate the old canard about how the “neocons lied us into war.” That is the kind of nonsense you expect to hear from the likes of Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul. Shame on the Times editors–they should know better.

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Neoconservatives and Democracy: A 30-Year Story

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent. Read More

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent.

For example, in the case of the anti-Communist efforts in Nicaragua, the CIA preferred working with the Contras, for whom its agents had essentially bought and paid, no matter their political coloration; officials at the State Department, however, thought that it was a mistake to align the United States with elements of the previous thug regime and that the U.S. should be promoting liberal forces within the Contra movement.

But probably the key year for the maturation of these ideas was 1986. It was a general axiom on the right, including among neoconservatives, that efforts to impose an economic embargo on South Africa were dangerous and naive because, though the apartheid regime might be unjust, it could be pushed to reform, and the sanctions might lead to a Soviet-aligned takeover of a strategically important country. When Congress voted for such sanctions, Ronald Reagan vetoed them. His veto was overridden.

And those of us who thought the sanctions would be disastrous were proved utterly mistaken. They turned out to be an effective strategy for crippling the regime without toppling it and forcing its end in a manner more pacific than anyone expected. (Not that South Africa post-apartheid is a wonderful model, but it was a gravely wounded civil society, and its healing will take a long time.) Part of the reason that sanctions have been a part of the American diplomatic toolbox ever since, and always with neoconservative support, is that they proved successful in South Africa.

The other thing that happened was an election in the Philippines, whose authoritarian junta regime was closely allied with the United States. The clear theft of the election by Ferdinand Marcos’s forces created a massive groundswell in the streets. At first, the White House did what Barack Obama did with the revolt in Egypt — it tried to stay out of it. Then-Secretary of State George Shultz, together with the later-notorious Paul Wolfowitz, who ran the State Department’s East Asia bureau, convinced Ronald Reagan to change policy, support those who said the election had been stolen, and eventually, with great efficiency, convince Marcos it was time for him to go.

And on it went, with South Korea and Taiwan and Chile and many other nations whose authoritarian regimes peacefully gave way to more liberal ones in part because of the encouragement of the United States.

It’s not a perfect strategy, by any means. No strategy is, and no strategy is applicable in every circumstance. The danger that Egypt might not follow in the path of the Philippines but rather in the path of revolutionary Iran is very real. But as the year of Carter-administration fecklessness on Iran that preceded Khomeini’s takeover in 1979 proved, a policy of passivity is not a way out for a president who does not know what to do.

America can’t not choose sides in such a struggle. Not choosing sides is, in effect, to choose sides. So it’s better to have a policy that offers a direction congruent with our values, and with a proven track record, than one that offers nothing but confusion.

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About Those ‘Likudniks’

The theory that a powerful cabal of Jewish intellectuals pressured President Bush into launching wars on behalf of Israel is one that’s become associated with the anti-Semitic political fringe. But it wasn’t long ago that this idea was being promoted in mainstream publications — for example, the 2003 Washington Post cover story entitled “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”

The article was about a so-called group of “Likudniks” — loyalists to the right-wing Israeli government — who allegedly pulled the foreign-policy strings in the Bush administration. According to the report, the faction included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams.

“Some Middle East hands who disagree with these supporters of Israel refer to them as ‘a cabal,’ in the words of one former official,” reported the Post. “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.”

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” the story quoted an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying.

In certain circles, the term Likudnik has been used interchangeably with neoconservative, and both have carried allegations of dual loyalty to Israel.

“What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel,” wrote Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative. “They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.”

Obviously, these charges were nonsense. And this is illustrated, once again, by the very different positions the Israeli government and neoconservatives have taken on the crisis in Egypt.

As Max has pointed out, Israel has come out in support of the Mubarak regime:

The newspaper said Israel’s foreign ministry told its diplomats to stress that it is in “the interest of the West” and of “the entire Middle East to maintain the stability of the regime in Egypt.”

“We must therefore curb public criticism against President Hosni Mubarak,” the message sent at the end of last week said, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper said the message was sent to Israeli diplomats in at least a dozen embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries.

And yet the alleged “Likudniks” from the Bush administration haven’t been out disseminating pro-Mubarak propaganda of some sort on Fox News.

Instead, Abrams has come out strongly in support of the Egyptian people. As have Wolfowitz and Feith. In fact, neoconservatives are overwhelmingly in favor of democratic reform in Egypt, just as they were under Bush. And that makes the old allegations of dual loyalty look even more shameless.

The theory that a powerful cabal of Jewish intellectuals pressured President Bush into launching wars on behalf of Israel is one that’s become associated with the anti-Semitic political fringe. But it wasn’t long ago that this idea was being promoted in mainstream publications — for example, the 2003 Washington Post cover story entitled “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”

The article was about a so-called group of “Likudniks” — loyalists to the right-wing Israeli government — who allegedly pulled the foreign-policy strings in the Bush administration. According to the report, the faction included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams.

“Some Middle East hands who disagree with these supporters of Israel refer to them as ‘a cabal,’ in the words of one former official,” reported the Post. “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.”

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” the story quoted an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying.

In certain circles, the term Likudnik has been used interchangeably with neoconservative, and both have carried allegations of dual loyalty to Israel.

“What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel,” wrote Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative. “They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.”

Obviously, these charges were nonsense. And this is illustrated, once again, by the very different positions the Israeli government and neoconservatives have taken on the crisis in Egypt.

As Max has pointed out, Israel has come out in support of the Mubarak regime:

The newspaper said Israel’s foreign ministry told its diplomats to stress that it is in “the interest of the West” and of “the entire Middle East to maintain the stability of the regime in Egypt.”

“We must therefore curb public criticism against President Hosni Mubarak,” the message sent at the end of last week said, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper said the message was sent to Israeli diplomats in at least a dozen embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries.

And yet the alleged “Likudniks” from the Bush administration haven’t been out disseminating pro-Mubarak propaganda of some sort on Fox News.

Instead, Abrams has come out strongly in support of the Egyptian people. As have Wolfowitz and Feith. In fact, neoconservatives are overwhelmingly in favor of democratic reform in Egypt, just as they were under Bush. And that makes the old allegations of dual loyalty look even more shameless.

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Wolfowitz on the Convulsions in Egypt

In an interview with the Spectator (UK), Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz makes some insightful observations as they relate to the revolution now unfolding in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, (a) the predominant sentiment in the streets is not strongly Islamist; (b) Islamists, however, are hurrying to get into the game — and in Egypt, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood increases the risk of a bad outcome; (c) Western governments can be a positive force on behalf of genuine freedom and against attempts to impose a new kind of tyranny of the Islamist variety; and (d) we can’t be a positive force if we are seen as propping up a hated tyrant or, worse, if we are perceived as encouraging the kind of bloody crackdown that could at best produce an artificial “stability” for a relatively short period of time.

“The possibility of a bad outcome is very real, particularly because we did nothing to encourage more evolutionary change earlier,” Wolfowitz says, “but I believe we have a better chance of a good outcome if we support positive change than if we support the status quo.”

He mentions democratic transitions over the past several decades, in places like the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and nations (like Chile) in Latin America. “Few of these countries would qualify as Westminster-style democracies,” according to Wolfowitz, “but most are far better off as a result of these democratic transitions, and so are we.”

So far, he says, Tunisia and Egypt seem to be following this paradigm.

If Arab nations had started the kind of political reform some were advocating years ago, the current convulsions would not be happening. But Egypt is where Egypt is, and the goal of the United States should be to assist the pro-democracy forces there as best we can. Pessimism, fatalism, and lamentations are not a particularly useful guide to policy, especially when events are still unfolding and can, with a mix of skill and luck, go our way.

Nothing good is guaranteed, but nothing bad is inevitable.

In an interview with the Spectator (UK), Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz makes some insightful observations as they relate to the revolution now unfolding in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, (a) the predominant sentiment in the streets is not strongly Islamist; (b) Islamists, however, are hurrying to get into the game — and in Egypt, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood increases the risk of a bad outcome; (c) Western governments can be a positive force on behalf of genuine freedom and against attempts to impose a new kind of tyranny of the Islamist variety; and (d) we can’t be a positive force if we are seen as propping up a hated tyrant or, worse, if we are perceived as encouraging the kind of bloody crackdown that could at best produce an artificial “stability” for a relatively short period of time.

“The possibility of a bad outcome is very real, particularly because we did nothing to encourage more evolutionary change earlier,” Wolfowitz says, “but I believe we have a better chance of a good outcome if we support positive change than if we support the status quo.”

He mentions democratic transitions over the past several decades, in places like the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and nations (like Chile) in Latin America. “Few of these countries would qualify as Westminster-style democracies,” according to Wolfowitz, “but most are far better off as a result of these democratic transitions, and so are we.”

So far, he says, Tunisia and Egypt seem to be following this paradigm.

If Arab nations had started the kind of political reform some were advocating years ago, the current convulsions would not be happening. But Egypt is where Egypt is, and the goal of the United States should be to assist the pro-democracy forces there as best we can. Pessimism, fatalism, and lamentations are not a particularly useful guide to policy, especially when events are still unfolding and can, with a mix of skill and luck, go our way.

Nothing good is guaranteed, but nothing bad is inevitable.

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Deadlines

Obama from last night on Iraq:

Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

And on Afghanistan:

But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s. [emphasis added]

Obama, as many of us discussed at the time, did great damage to his own Afghanistan war strategy — which properly centered on an infusion of 30,000 troops — by imposing a deadline. His secretaries of state and defense have struggled mightily to blur it and redefine it. But it still stands and is, as the outgoing commandant of the Marines, John McCain, and many others have argued, a hindrance to our mission.

Less widely discussed (and kudos to the New York Post editors for picking this up) was the statement on Iraq. A number of distinguished supporters of the war, including former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have cautioned that should the Iraqis request an extension of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we should respond positively. Paul Wolfowitz, likewise, advised:

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

And earlier this year, Fred and Kim Kagan warned:

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

But Obama is, at least for now, saying, in effect “We are out of here.” What if the situation deteriorates? What if conditions on the ground worsen? His statement hints at no wiggle room.

Deadlines, especially in wars against ideologically minded foes, are nearly always a bad idea. It is why George W. Bush, who understood well the nature of the war against jihadists, took such a firm stance against them. He was right, as are Crocker, Wolfowitz, and the Kagans: we should, in fact, be leaving the door open to the the extension of our military presence.

Presidential statements carry immense weight and we should be candid about what is said and why it is problematic. Those who root for success in Iraq owe the president the benefit of their counsel on the danger of deadlines.

Obama from last night on Iraq:

Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.

And on Afghanistan:

But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That’s why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan’s problems. And, next July, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: this transition will begin – because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people’s. [emphasis added]

Obama, as many of us discussed at the time, did great damage to his own Afghanistan war strategy — which properly centered on an infusion of 30,000 troops — by imposing a deadline. His secretaries of state and defense have struggled mightily to blur it and redefine it. But it still stands and is, as the outgoing commandant of the Marines, John McCain, and many others have argued, a hindrance to our mission.

Less widely discussed (and kudos to the New York Post editors for picking this up) was the statement on Iraq. A number of distinguished supporters of the war, including former Ambassador Ryan Crocker, have cautioned that should the Iraqis request an extension of the Strategic Framework Agreement, we should respond positively. Paul Wolfowitz, likewise, advised:

Our commitment must also include continued material support, particularly in the form of military and technical assistance. And though we have agreed to withdraw all our troops by the end of next year — a pledge that we must honor if the Iraqi government so desires — we need to remain open to the possibility of a mutually agreed longer-term security commitment or military presence for deterrence and support.

And earlier this year, Fred and Kim Kagan warned:

The U.S. has steadfastly refused to discuss a long-term military partnership with Iraq beyond 2011, despite the fact that the Iraqi military will not be able to defend Iraq on its own by then. It has refused fully to increase civilian efforts in order to accomplish tasks that had been performed by military forces now withdrawing. It has reduced funding for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which allows the military to provide “urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction” projects, as well as for other forms of humanitarian and security assistance.

But Obama is, at least for now, saying, in effect “We are out of here.” What if the situation deteriorates? What if conditions on the ground worsen? His statement hints at no wiggle room.

Deadlines, especially in wars against ideologically minded foes, are nearly always a bad idea. It is why George W. Bush, who understood well the nature of the war against jihadists, took such a firm stance against them. He was right, as are Crocker, Wolfowitz, and the Kagans: we should, in fact, be leaving the door open to the the extension of our military presence.

Presidential statements carry immense weight and we should be candid about what is said and why it is problematic. Those who root for success in Iraq owe the president the benefit of their counsel on the danger of deadlines.

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Will Reality Intrude into the Nuclear Nonproliferation Summit?

It’s not clear whether the Obama administration is practicing misdirection on a grand scale or is genuinely confused about which nuclear threats are real and which are not. But what is clear is that we’re not dealing with the real ones. Paul Wolfowitz explains:

Unfortunately, President Obama’s talk about a world free of nuclear weapons seems to have little connection to the passive U.S. responses to North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear activities.

There is certainly room for additional reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, but it is unlikely to have any effect on those countries. Indeed, if the new treaty constrains U.S. missile defense efforts, it could be counterproductive. Although President Reagan wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons—believing it dangerous to rely indefinitely on a balance of nuclear terror—when Mikhail Gorbachev offered to eliminate ballistic missiles in exchange for eliminating missile defenses, Reagan refused the deal.

We should be focusing on, as Wolfowitz notes, developing our own missile defense and coming up with a backup plan when sanctions fail to thwart the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions. But there is little sign Obama is interested in either. Does he really imagine that a START deal or Ukraine’s offer to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium will induce the mullahs or the North Koreans to throw in the towel on their own plans? If so, the naiveté is stunning. Or perhaps this simply fills the time while we’re not doing anything about the Iranian menace. That’s a more cynical but equally naive approach, for it imagines there will never be a moment of reckoning when Iran goes nuclear, followed by a Middle East nuclear arms race and a legacy for Obama as “the president who let the mullahs get the bomb.”

We keep waiting for the voice of sanity to be heard — an “emperor has no clothes” moment when the charade of nuclear nonproliferation summitry is disturbed and the West is forced to confront in a serious manner the actual threat not only to Israel and the Middle East but to the entire civilized world. It hasn’t happened yet. And time is running out.

It’s not clear whether the Obama administration is practicing misdirection on a grand scale or is genuinely confused about which nuclear threats are real and which are not. But what is clear is that we’re not dealing with the real ones. Paul Wolfowitz explains:

Unfortunately, President Obama’s talk about a world free of nuclear weapons seems to have little connection to the passive U.S. responses to North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear activities.

There is certainly room for additional reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, but it is unlikely to have any effect on those countries. Indeed, if the new treaty constrains U.S. missile defense efforts, it could be counterproductive. Although President Reagan wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons—believing it dangerous to rely indefinitely on a balance of nuclear terror—when Mikhail Gorbachev offered to eliminate ballistic missiles in exchange for eliminating missile defenses, Reagan refused the deal.

We should be focusing on, as Wolfowitz notes, developing our own missile defense and coming up with a backup plan when sanctions fail to thwart the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions. But there is little sign Obama is interested in either. Does he really imagine that a START deal or Ukraine’s offer to give up its stockpile of enriched uranium will induce the mullahs or the North Koreans to throw in the towel on their own plans? If so, the naiveté is stunning. Or perhaps this simply fills the time while we’re not doing anything about the Iranian menace. That’s a more cynical but equally naive approach, for it imagines there will never be a moment of reckoning when Iran goes nuclear, followed by a Middle East nuclear arms race and a legacy for Obama as “the president who let the mullahs get the bomb.”

We keep waiting for the voice of sanity to be heard — an “emperor has no clothes” moment when the charade of nuclear nonproliferation summitry is disturbed and the West is forced to confront in a serious manner the actual threat not only to Israel and the Middle East but to the entire civilized world. It hasn’t happened yet. And time is running out.

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Soft Power and Secular Schools

Gary Anderson is a smart cookie. A retired marine colonel and one of our most respected counterinsurgency strategists, he was also the first person to publicly warn about the dangers of an insurgency after the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was so impressed that he asked Anderson to go to Baghdad and offer advice to Ambassador Jerry Bremer. Bremer ignored his advice (a tale told in Tom Ricks’s Fiasco), which was one of many mistakes he made.

The rest of us should pay attention when Anderson puts forward an idea, as he does in this Washington Times op-ed. He argues that we should pay for schools in the Muslim world that offer an alternative to the madrassas that churn out too many religious fanatics:

We should fund a series of academies in each locality where a madrassa school exists. Its curriculum would be two pronged. Mornings would teach the three “Rs.” Afternoons would be devoted to some kind of vocational training such as masonry, electrical work, and carpentry. The graduates would come out being able to read and write along with a marketable skill. The madrassas would not be able to compete.

No doubt this proposal will be met with howls of outrage on Capitol Hill from eminent congress persons who will protest that more should be spent on schools in their districts, not in foreign countries. But, as Anderson points out, this is not charity–this is self-defense. It’s not enough to capture or kill suicide bombers. We need to stop more of them from being created, and it makes sense to offer Muslim men an alternative to strictly theological education.

Of course, secular education is no cure-all. Witness how many senior Al Qaeda leaders are engineers (bin Laden) or doctors (Zawahiri). But schooling can be part of a larger “soft power” strategy to complement the hard power on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gary Anderson is a smart cookie. A retired marine colonel and one of our most respected counterinsurgency strategists, he was also the first person to publicly warn about the dangers of an insurgency after the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was so impressed that he asked Anderson to go to Baghdad and offer advice to Ambassador Jerry Bremer. Bremer ignored his advice (a tale told in Tom Ricks’s Fiasco), which was one of many mistakes he made.

The rest of us should pay attention when Anderson puts forward an idea, as he does in this Washington Times op-ed. He argues that we should pay for schools in the Muslim world that offer an alternative to the madrassas that churn out too many religious fanatics:

We should fund a series of academies in each locality where a madrassa school exists. Its curriculum would be two pronged. Mornings would teach the three “Rs.” Afternoons would be devoted to some kind of vocational training such as masonry, electrical work, and carpentry. The graduates would come out being able to read and write along with a marketable skill. The madrassas would not be able to compete.

No doubt this proposal will be met with howls of outrage on Capitol Hill from eminent congress persons who will protest that more should be spent on schools in their districts, not in foreign countries. But, as Anderson points out, this is not charity–this is self-defense. It’s not enough to capture or kill suicide bombers. We need to stop more of them from being created, and it makes sense to offer Muslim men an alternative to strictly theological education.

Of course, secular education is no cure-all. Witness how many senior Al Qaeda leaders are engineers (bin Laden) or doctors (Zawahiri). But schooling can be part of a larger “soft power” strategy to complement the hard power on display in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Not So Slick on Iraq Oil

In 2003, when Paul Wolfowitz said that freed-up Iraqi oil would help pay for the Iraq War, the statement was seized upon by members of the anti-war crowd for, shall we say, dual-use purposes. Depending upon what faction was arguing, it was either evidence of the Bush administration’s imperialist worldview or a demonstration of Wolfowitz’s logistical naiveté. That is, we were going in either as rapacious capitalists bent on making the Iraqis pay for our war or as bumbling armchair generals with laughable dreams of turning Iraq’s decimated oil facilities into a viable source of revenue.

So I was understandably surprised to find out that Senator John Warner (who has over the years crept deeper into the anti-war camp) and Senator Carl Levin (who was against the war from the start) wrote a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting that they look into securing some of the Iraq oil profits to pay for Iraq’s reconstruction. Four years after Paul Wolfowitz’s much-derided statement, asking Iraq to pay for its own future is apparently both moral and possible. From the letter:

How much has Iraq and the United States, respectively, spent annually during that time period on training, equipping and supporting Iraqi security forces, and on Iraq reconstruction, governance, and economic development?

[. . .]

We believe that it has been overwhelmingly U.S. taxpayer money that has funded Iraq reconstruction over the last five years, despite Iraq earning billions of dollars in oil revenue over that time period that have ended up in non-Iraqi banks.

This is how the anti-war argument shape-shifts. Of course, the senators do raise an important point—especially for those of us who support this war. By all means let’s get more Iraqi oil money into Iraqi reconstruction and hold accountable those who have prevented this from happening. But the calculated politicking behind the Warner/Levin move is likely to turn any inquiry into a demagogic slog and to produce one more anti-war talking point. In the end, it may just provide those who oppose the U.S. effort in Iraq with a fresh argument about how disgraceful America has become. What a waste.

In 2003, when Paul Wolfowitz said that freed-up Iraqi oil would help pay for the Iraq War, the statement was seized upon by members of the anti-war crowd for, shall we say, dual-use purposes. Depending upon what faction was arguing, it was either evidence of the Bush administration’s imperialist worldview or a demonstration of Wolfowitz’s logistical naiveté. That is, we were going in either as rapacious capitalists bent on making the Iraqis pay for our war or as bumbling armchair generals with laughable dreams of turning Iraq’s decimated oil facilities into a viable source of revenue.

So I was understandably surprised to find out that Senator John Warner (who has over the years crept deeper into the anti-war camp) and Senator Carl Levin (who was against the war from the start) wrote a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting that they look into securing some of the Iraq oil profits to pay for Iraq’s reconstruction. Four years after Paul Wolfowitz’s much-derided statement, asking Iraq to pay for its own future is apparently both moral and possible. From the letter:

How much has Iraq and the United States, respectively, spent annually during that time period on training, equipping and supporting Iraqi security forces, and on Iraq reconstruction, governance, and economic development?

[. . .]

We believe that it has been overwhelmingly U.S. taxpayer money that has funded Iraq reconstruction over the last five years, despite Iraq earning billions of dollars in oil revenue over that time period that have ended up in non-Iraqi banks.

This is how the anti-war argument shape-shifts. Of course, the senators do raise an important point—especially for those of us who support this war. By all means let’s get more Iraqi oil money into Iraqi reconstruction and hold accountable those who have prevented this from happening. But the calculated politicking behind the Warner/Levin move is likely to turn any inquiry into a demagogic slog and to produce one more anti-war talking point. In the end, it may just provide those who oppose the U.S. effort in Iraq with a fresh argument about how disgraceful America has become. What a waste.

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Gulf News: “Obama Is Good for Israel”

Everyone who was on the fence about the Obama-Israel question can now breathe easy. “Obama is good for Israel.” Or so reads the headline of an editorial in yesterday’s Gulf News, a major newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. The writer is Patrick Seale, who was a friend of the late Syrian dictator Hafiz Assad and who tried to pin the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Israel. Here are some highlights from Seale’s endorsement:

At an anti-war rally in Chicago on October 26, 2002, [Obama] declared: “What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration, to shove their own ideological agenda down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne”.

Perle was then chairman of the Pentagon’s advisory Defence Policy Board and Wolfowitz was deputy Secretary of Defence. As everyone knows, their “ideological agenda” was to enhance Israel’s strategic environment by overthrowing and “reforming” Arab regimes.

They were, indeed, among the leading advocates of the view that the Arab world needed to be reshaped and remodelled by the power of the United States in order to suit Israeli strategic needs.

Name by Jewish name, Seale castigates the evil neocons before getting to why Obama is the best man for the Jewish state:

Is not overseeing Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world far better for its long-term security and prosperity than Bush’s bankrupt policies of making war on Iraq, threatening Iran and Syria, encouraging Israel’s wars on Hezbollah and Hamas – policies which have done nothing but create a thirst for revenge and hate for the US and Israel throughout the Arab and Islamic world, and beyond?

So: Obama will oversee “Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world” and there will be no more of “Israel’s wars on Hezbollah and Hamas.” I see no evidence that Obama is of like mind with Seale (though I’m not sure he’d be as outraged by these sentiments as one would like, considering they’re identical to the kind of things one hears from this country’s Left). The important thing is that this is Obama’s image in the anti-Semitic world: a toothless, jihad-friendly corrective to George Bush. Every liberal who’s ever complained that President Bush has done untold damage to American soft power should consider the views of papers such as the Gulf News. And every friend of Israel should be worried.

Everyone who was on the fence about the Obama-Israel question can now breathe easy. “Obama is good for Israel.” Or so reads the headline of an editorial in yesterday’s Gulf News, a major newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. The writer is Patrick Seale, who was a friend of the late Syrian dictator Hafiz Assad and who tried to pin the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Israel. Here are some highlights from Seale’s endorsement:

At an anti-war rally in Chicago on October 26, 2002, [Obama] declared: “What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration, to shove their own ideological agenda down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne”.

Perle was then chairman of the Pentagon’s advisory Defence Policy Board and Wolfowitz was deputy Secretary of Defence. As everyone knows, their “ideological agenda” was to enhance Israel’s strategic environment by overthrowing and “reforming” Arab regimes.

They were, indeed, among the leading advocates of the view that the Arab world needed to be reshaped and remodelled by the power of the United States in order to suit Israeli strategic needs.

Name by Jewish name, Seale castigates the evil neocons before getting to why Obama is the best man for the Jewish state:

Is not overseeing Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world far better for its long-term security and prosperity than Bush’s bankrupt policies of making war on Iraq, threatening Iran and Syria, encouraging Israel’s wars on Hezbollah and Hamas – policies which have done nothing but create a thirst for revenge and hate for the US and Israel throughout the Arab and Islamic world, and beyond?

So: Obama will oversee “Israel’s peaceful integration into the Arab world” and there will be no more of “Israel’s wars on Hezbollah and Hamas.” I see no evidence that Obama is of like mind with Seale (though I’m not sure he’d be as outraged by these sentiments as one would like, considering they’re identical to the kind of things one hears from this country’s Left). The important thing is that this is Obama’s image in the anti-Semitic world: a toothless, jihad-friendly corrective to George Bush. Every liberal who’s ever complained that President Bush has done untold damage to American soft power should consider the views of papers such as the Gulf News. And every friend of Israel should be worried.

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Another World Bank Triumph

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports:

The World Bank on Wednesday announced the resignation of Suzanne Rich Folsom as director of its anticorruption unit, or INT. “She was not forced out, she was not asked to leave,” said external relations chief Marwan Muasher.”

After detailing “$569 million worth of corrupted bank projects in India” Ms. Folsom was indeed forced out, and she should wear her ejection as a badge of honor. She’s the latest in a string of World Bank employees made to pay for the mortal sin of being honorable and the venial sin of being American. As head of the INT, Ms. Folsom had her hands full. (Imagine someone trying to expose the oil-for-food scandal from inside the UN in real-time, and you’ll get some idea.) The Journal piece details the sundry attempts to block her efforts and malign her character, and notes:

All of this might seem farcical were the stakes not so high. If the India report and others we’ve disclosed are anything to go by, at least some of these loans will go to projects in which nine of 10 dollars are either squandered or stolen by corrupt officials and middlemen, and where filthy, half-built hospitals are certified as completed to project specifications. That ought to matter to a “bank” that purports to have the interests of the world’s poor at heart and whose annual lending portfolio tops $30 billion.

Through the railroading of former Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, senior officer Shaha Riza, and now Susan Folsom, the World Bank has achieved something akin to, say, the NYPD purging its own internal affairs unit. Time and again the international community that decries American unilateralism squashes American cooperation in attempts to help strengthen and improve the institutions of multilateral policy. It seems the World Bank’s doors are now open and ready for business.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports:

The World Bank on Wednesday announced the resignation of Suzanne Rich Folsom as director of its anticorruption unit, or INT. “She was not forced out, she was not asked to leave,” said external relations chief Marwan Muasher.”

After detailing “$569 million worth of corrupted bank projects in India” Ms. Folsom was indeed forced out, and she should wear her ejection as a badge of honor. She’s the latest in a string of World Bank employees made to pay for the mortal sin of being honorable and the venial sin of being American. As head of the INT, Ms. Folsom had her hands full. (Imagine someone trying to expose the oil-for-food scandal from inside the UN in real-time, and you’ll get some idea.) The Journal piece details the sundry attempts to block her efforts and malign her character, and notes:

All of this might seem farcical were the stakes not so high. If the India report and others we’ve disclosed are anything to go by, at least some of these loans will go to projects in which nine of 10 dollars are either squandered or stolen by corrupt officials and middlemen, and where filthy, half-built hospitals are certified as completed to project specifications. That ought to matter to a “bank” that purports to have the interests of the world’s poor at heart and whose annual lending portfolio tops $30 billion.

Through the railroading of former Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, senior officer Shaha Riza, and now Susan Folsom, the World Bank has achieved something akin to, say, the NYPD purging its own internal affairs unit. Time and again the international community that decries American unilateralism squashes American cooperation in attempts to help strengthen and improve the institutions of multilateral policy. It seems the World Bank’s doors are now open and ready for business.

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An American Defense Policy

Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

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Everyone in Washington claims to favor bipartisanship. The difficulty occurs when someone actually tries to practice it. This instantly and inevitably triggers sniping from partisans.

For a small but telling example, see this Washington Times article (previously linked to on contentions) about the selection of John Hamre to chair the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious but powerless group of senior statesmen who advise the Secretary of Defense on various issues. The board used to be headed by Richard Perle, who became a lightning rod for the administration’s detractors. Now Robert M. Gates has selected Hamre, a quintessential technocrat who is currently president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and who, during the Clinton administration, served as comptroller of the Pentagon and Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Hamre is a well-respected figure known for his solidly centrist views and not someone, you would think, who would excite much partisan passion—especially when appointed to nothing more than an advisory position. Yet Bill Gertz of the Washington Times manages to dredge up toxic quotations from anonymous detractors:

“With or without his approval, President Bush’s team has apparently begun the transition to the third Clinton administration,” said one official, in reference to the possible election of Hillary Rodham Clinton next year. “We can see now that with the possible exception of the President himself, their hearts and minds just never were into governing as Republicans.”

“This begs the question of whether the Secretary agrees with the Hamre-Clinton policies, like gays in the military, Draconian defense cuts, women in combat, and environmental friendliness,” said a defense official.

The Hamre-Clinton policies? Give me break. What are these dreaded policies anyway? Are conservatives supposed to be opposed to “environmental friendliness”? Women are already in combat, and it hasn’t been an issue. Gays are also becoming more accepted within the military. As for “Draconian defense cuts,” they were instigated by the administration of Bush Senior following the end of the Cold War.

Whatever you make think of these policies, they are not determined by second- or third-level Pentagon officials; they come right from the top. To blame or credit Hamre for these initiatives is akin to blaming or crediting former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith for launching the Iraq War—a canard spread only by crackpots.

Give it a rest, guys.

Hamre is exactly the kind of centrist Democrat to whom the Bush administration should have been reaching out from the start. I realize it’s a myth that “politics stops at the water’s edge”—but it’s a nice myth and one that policymakers on both sides would do well to cultivate. And that means cultivating figures from the other side of the aisle.

We shouldn’t have a Republican or Democratic defense policy. We need an American policy.

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We’re All Neocons Now

Last Friday, RealClearPolitics ran in its lead feature spot an essay by Gregory Scoblete, a free-lance writer in New Jersey. The essay had the headline “The GOP, Ron Paul & Non-Interventionism,” and was subsequently commented upon by, among others, guest-blogger Stephen Bainbridge on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Scoblete’s premise is that, just as Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign for president led the Republican party to embrace a limited-government philosophy, so too Ron Paul’s presidential campaign today, doomed though it is, will cause the GOP to embrace his philosophy of “non-interventionism.” Scoblete goes on at great lengths to “distinguish non-interventionism from isolationism.” He writes, for example, “The former seeks a more rigorous and delimited definition of America’s interests, while the latter a walled garden that completely cuts America off from the world. Non-interventionists are not pacifists, but they do reserve war fighting for moments of actual national peril.”

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Last Friday, RealClearPolitics ran in its lead feature spot an essay by Gregory Scoblete, a free-lance writer in New Jersey. The essay had the headline “The GOP, Ron Paul & Non-Interventionism,” and was subsequently commented upon by, among others, guest-blogger Stephen Bainbridge on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Scoblete’s premise is that, just as Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign for president led the Republican party to embrace a limited-government philosophy, so too Ron Paul’s presidential campaign today, doomed though it is, will cause the GOP to embrace his philosophy of “non-interventionism.” Scoblete goes on at great lengths to “distinguish non-interventionism from isolationism.” He writes, for example, “The former seeks a more rigorous and delimited definition of America’s interests, while the latter a walled garden that completely cuts America off from the world. Non-interventionists are not pacifists, but they do reserve war fighting for moments of actual national peril.”

That’s a distinction without a difference. How many self-proclaimed isolationists exist who proudly proclaim that their goal is a policy that “completely cuts America off from the world”? In fact, throughout our history, those who have advocated a de facto policy of isolationism have always claimed that they were in favor of a “rigorous and limited definition of America’s interests.” After the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, even the America Firsters were ready to embrace war; unfortunately, they weren’t willing, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, to take the kinds of actions that might have staved off a world war.

Ron Paul, a self-proclaimed “libertarian,” fits squarely into this isolationist tradition. As noted by Christopher Caldwell in the New York Times Magazine:

Alone among Republican candidates for the presidency, Paul has always opposed the Iraq war. He blames “a dozen or two neocons who got control of our foreign policy,” chief among them Vice President Dick Cheney and the former Bush advisers Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, for the debacle. On the assumption that a bad situation could get worse if the war spreads into Iran, he has a simple plan. It is: “Just leave.” During a May debate in South Carolina, he suggested the 9/11 attacks could be attributed to United States policy. “Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us?” he asked, referring to one of Osama bin Laden’s communiqués. “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.” Rudolph Giuliani reacted by demanding a retraction, drawing gales of applause from the audience. But the incident helped Paul too. Overnight, he became the country’s most conspicuous antiwar Republican.

Paul’s opposition to the war in Iraq did not come out of nowhere. He was against the first gulf war, the war in Kosovo and the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which he called a “declaration of virtual war.” Although he voted after Sept. 11 to approve the use of force in Afghanistan and spend $40 billion in emergency appropriations, he has sounded less thrilled with those votes as time has passed. “I voted for the authority and the money,” he now says. “I thought it was misused.”

Is this a foreign policy philosophy likely to gain much adherence in the Republican Party? Not on the evidence so far. True, Paul has been doing a bit better than expected in the presidential race, but that’s not saying much. He still barely registers in the polls. And all of the mainstream Republican (as well as Democratic) candidates firmly reject his brand of isolationism. Even many libertarians dissent from Paul’s crabbed view of America’s role abroad: see, for instance, this Wall Street Journal article.

One of the most interesting things about this year’s Republican field is that there is not a single major candidate who is running on a foreign policy platform markedly at odds with President Bush’s. Chuck Hagel could have run as an antiwar candidate, but so far he’s stayed out of the race, presumably because he knows he has no chance of winning. The debate among Giuliani, Thompson, Romney, and McCain hasn’t been over whether Bush’s foreign policy objectives are sound; it has been over who would do a better job of carrying out those policies. Even the Democratic candidates offer a foreign policy vision that differs more in rhetoric and details than in substance from Bush’s stated goals of spreading democracy, defeating terrorists, and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, even as the Democrats profess a desire to pull out of Iraq, they are talking up other military interventions from Darfur to Pakistan. It’s enough to make you think we’re all neocons now.

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