World Bank Scandal: Paul Wolfowitz's Fatal Weakness

By Juan Cole

Part 2: "I Just Don't Understand Why We Are Beginning by Talking about this One Man bin Laden"

When Donald Rumsfeld appointed Wolfowitz his deputy in January 2001, the latter plumped to have his longtime associate Feith installed as assistant secretary of defense for policy and planning. Feith was an odd choice to be the No. 3 man at the Pentagon, given that he opposed much official US government policy. He was, among other things, a diehard opponent of the Oslo peace accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Feith then appointed his former boss, Richard Perle, also close to the Israeli right and a man who had advocated an Iraq war for Israel's benefit, to head the Defense Policy Board, a civilian oversight body for the Pentagon.

Just as Wolfowitz brought in Daboub at the World Bank to enforce narrow ideological programs such as gutting family planning, so he had earlier politicized intelligence at the Pentagon. Wolfowitz's tendency toward clientelism made him vulnerable to groupthink based on unexamined premises. In the case of Iraq, the consequences were tragic.

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 US."

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."

The theory that Saddam was actually behind almost all the terrorist attacks on the United States from 1993 forward had been laid out by wild-eyed crank and supposed Middle East expert Laurie Mylroie in her "Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America," which was published by the American Enterprise Institute (neocon central) in 2000. Peter Bergen has pointed out that the author thanks Wolfowitz and his then wife, Clare Selgin Wolfowitz, saying that Mrs. Wolfowitz had "fundamentally shaped the book," while Wolfowitz himself "provided crucial support."

On Jan. 22, 2002, Wolfowitz wrote Feith, "We don't seem to be making much progress pulling together intelligence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda ... We owe SecDef [Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld] some analysis of this subject. Please give me a recommendation on how best to proceed. Appreciate the short turn-around."

Feith created within the Near East and South Asia bureau at the Department of Defense a body he called the Office of Special Plans that cherry-picked intelligence for any indication, however unfounded, of a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. This propaganda effort came in response to Wolfowitz's special pleading. He did not ask whether such evidence existed. He simply instructed Feith to pull it "together."

The effort was aided by corrupt financier and Iraqi expatriate politician Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi et al. supplied endless reams of lies to Wolfowitz and others about Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons program and ties to terrorism, which Wolfowitz accepted uncritically. He even believed it when they told him that Iraqi Shiites were secular. For their disinformation, Chalabi and the INC were as well rewarded as other Wolfowitz cronies. The INC received $340,000 a month from the Pentagon even after the overthrow of Saddam.

The tight network of neoconservatives, linked by their background in the 1960s and 1970s as Democratic Party hawks, by their devotion to right-wing Israeli politics, and by their previous alliances and networking during the Reagan administration, proved able to "stove-pipe" analysis and so-called intelligence to the office of Vice President Cheney and thence to George W. Bush. Once the stove-piped intelligence had helped to bring about the desired war with Iraq, any dissenters from that preordained policy had to be punished. Domestic critics were accused of treason; historical allies were marginalized. When he could not strong-arm French President Jacques Chirac into supporting his illegal war on Iraq, Wolfowitz told the US Senate, "I think France is going to pay some consequences, not just with us but with other countries who view it that way." It was not enough that Chirac lost the battle to stop what he saw as a ruinous Middle East war that would likely blow back on France. Paris had to "pay."

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. In the end, his career suffered remarkably little from his substantive policy mistakes. But once he moved beyond the forgiving world of high Republican Party politics, his dependence on cronyism finally caught up with him. That he ran into such trouble at the World Bank for behaving in ways that apparently were business as usual for him at the Department of Defense only underlines how corrupt the Bush administration really is.

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