Does anyone remember Paul Wolfowitz? He was that clever little man with the soft, slightly monotonic voice, the man who believed the Iraqis would welcome US troops as their liberators. He was the Pentagon's No. 2 man, the then secretary of defense's deputy, and he now heads the World Bank.
Wolfowitz is the textbook example of the coexistence of cleverness and stupidity or, to put it more politely, for the coexistence of intellectualism and naiveté in a single person.
He was the idealist who was so outraged that America could accept dictatorships in South Korea and the Philippines, and who helped turn them into democracies. He was also outraged by America's double-edged morality in the Middle East, one that meant accepting tyrants or autocrats because they happened to be sitting on a lot of oil. He envisioned a Grand Strategy, and Iraq was to be the beginning. He wanted to see democracy on God's good earth, insisting that that was the way it had to be, how history intended it.
It was a nice dream, and no one can fault him for having dreamed it. But Wolfowitz can certainly be faulted for the carelessness with which he allowed himself to be taken in by people like Ahmed Chalabi, for how greedily he co-opted Chalabi's claims and for how little circumspection he, as an intellectual, exercised in examining his own premises.
New ideas only two days before resigning
Wolfowitz was the first to abandon those who were referred to, both justifiably and unjustifiably, as neocons. He was a true neocon, a man deeply imbued by an aversion against a lukewarm liberalism that accepts the status quo. He was deeply passionate about an American idealism that doesn't shy away from doing things wrong but ends up doing the right thing. Winston Churchill used similar words to sum up his own experiences with America.
Donald Rumsfeld is not a neocon, nor is he an idealist like Wolfowitz. He is an American nationalist who wanted to go to war with Saddam because it was, he believed, good for America. He wanted to win the war, and win it with few troops and little expense. Unlike the neocons, Rumsfeld had a low opinion of nation building.
The neocons who wanted to wrap up the Middle East should have taken care of the matter with a bigger invasion force. Nationalists like Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney wanted revenge for Sept. 11 and thought Saddam to be more dangerous than Afghanistan's odd Taliban.
One of the ironies of the adventures is that Rumsfeld thought of making changes in Iraq only two days before his resignation. Two days before his resignation. It was as if he hadn't had enough time to give the matter more thought earlier in his tenure.
The irony of the neo-cons
John Bolton was among the subservient ones, the vassals who were increasingly congregating around strong figures like Rumsfeld. Douglas Feith was another one. But does anyone remember him? He was allowed to bully intelligence officials who had the audacity to voice an opinion on weapons of mass destruction that diverged from that of the Pentagon and the office of Vice President Cheney. Bolton ended up as the Ambassador of the United States of America to the United Nations. Yet another irony of fate: Bolton, the blockhead and America First type, as UN ambassador. As a diplomat. And now he has resigned. Finally.
It would interesting to know how Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Bolton feel today about what they have done in Iraq and, as a consequence, throughout the entire Middle East. Are they upset about their own actions and omissions?
Are they consumed by what-ifs? What would have happened if we had done things differently? Do they find themselves reaching for the bottle when they spend too much time thinking about what has actually happened there? Does the discrepancy between theory and practice drive them to insanity?
The neocons and Iraq are the stuff that led to the rise of anti-Americanism, almost as if that were a foregone conclusion. But the underlying idea of neo-conservatism, namely that the status quo cannot be everything, at least not when conditions are as miserable and unjust as they are in the Middle East, was and remains fairly obvious.
What an irony of history it is that, today, we find ourselves in the position of having to defend this idea against both sides: the neocons and against those who despise them.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan