Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Click here for AmazonI received an email from a friend today with the subject heading Bush must be stupid. It contained only a hyperlink to the news that the President will recommend Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has been a primary lightning rod for those opposed to the Administration's national security policies.

I've never understood the animosity some have for Wolfowitz. Certainly he bears responsibility for failed predictions... underestimating the cost of the war in Iraq, for instance. But now, as the world around us changes, due in no small part to his steadfast vision of a democratic Middle East, it is worth considering where his vision led us.

Last week, the New York Times's David Brooks gave us a glimpse at what may end up being Wolfowitz's legacy:

...with political earthquakes now shaking the Arab world, it's time to step back and observe that over the course of his long career - in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Central and Eastern Europe, and now in the Middle East - Wolfowitz has always been an ardent champion of freedom...

...If the trends of the last few months continue, Wolfowitz will be the subject of fascinating biographies decades from now, while many of his smuggest critics will be forgotten. Those biographies will mention not only his intellectual commitment but also his personal commitment, his years spent learning the languages of the places that concerned him, and the thousands of hours spent listening deferentially to the local heroes who led the causes he supported...

...To praise Wolfowitz is not triumphalism... It's a recognition that amid all the legitimate criticism, this guy has been the subject of a vicious piling-on campaign by people who know less than nothing about what is actually going on in the government, while he, in the core belief that has energized his work, may turn out to be right.

...When he was ambassador to Indonesia, Wolfowitz gave a speech calling for political "openness." He was careful not to use the words "freedom" or "democracy" because under Suharto, Indonesians might have felt inhibited about talking in such bold terms. But they were comfortable with openness, and it became the subject of magazine cover stories and a great national discussion...

As far back as 2002, The Economist gazed at Wolfowitz and saw a "velociraptor": a man so far beyond being a hawk that he scared those enamored with the "realpolitik" viewpoint of accepting the status quo.

...But the most important reason [for his influence] is that history has moved in his direction. Mr Wolfowitz has been arguing for years that the world is a far more dangerous place than most people realise; that America needs to increase its military expenditure; and that the best form of defence is offence. September 11th may not have proved him right in every detail. There may be no connection between Saddam Hussein and the September 11th atrocities. Rogue states don't form anything so coherent as an axis. But everybody now understands the premise.

The velociraptor has been right before. In the 1980s Mr Wolfowitz vigorously supported Ronald Reagan's denunciation of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”—a phrase the conventional-minded of the time regarded as bonkers. His willingness to trust his intellect against the weight of conventional opinion is admirable...

In a 2004 speech to Polish academics and officials, Wolfowitz stated his beliefs eloquently and mapped his vision to their worldview:

...he recounted the events of Poland’s darkest days, and the civilized world’s acquiescence to Hitler’s ambitions which preceded them. When Hitler began to rearm Germany, Wolfowitz said, “the world’s 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 Führer 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 dictator’s 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, he’d been shown a “torture tree,” the bark of which had been worn away by ropes used to bind Saddam’s 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 people—meaning the “realists” in the foreignpolicy community, including Secretary of State Colin Powell—believed 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.” ...

History will be the ultimate arbiter, determining whether Wolfowitz's vision can stand the test of time. My money is on his vision and not the alternative, head-buried-in-sand approach of worshipping the status quo. In an age where a single terrorist can unleash catastrophe on the civilized world, Wolfowitz wants to make the civilized world bigger. His longstanding vision of human freedom continues to undermine authoritarian regimes and shake the very foundations of the planet.

In all likelihood, history will not speak kindly of his detractors. Instead it will speak of a man whose vision changed the world.

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