World Bank Scandal: Paul Wolfowitz's Fatal Weakness
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.
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.
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.
- Part 1: Paul Wolfowitz's Fatal Weakness
- Part 2: "I Just Don't Understand Why We Are Beginning by Talking about this One Man bin Laden"
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