Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Wolfowitz Owes Us an Explanation"

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Sonni Efron in today's Los Angeles Times:

ACCOUNTABILITY is one of those ideals, like justice or the triumph of right over might, that are wonderful in principle but usually disappointing in practice.

This is nowhere more true than in Washington, where one of the most powerful men in President Bush's inner circle, a man who helped conceive, plan and execute the Iraq war, has managed to escape scrutiny for steering his country into one of the greatest strategic catastrophes of his generation.

I am referring, although nobody else does, to Paul Wolfowitz. Remember Wolfowitz, best known to readers of this and other newspapers as the "chief architect of the Iraq war"? Before the war, he was hailed by many as one of the great foreign policy intellectuals of our time. He was a leading defense strategist, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and the former dean of the School of Advanced Studies at Johns Hopkins University, a man whose views on democracy and the Middle East were taken seriously by both his admirers and his critics. In 2001, Wolfowitz, then 58, was named deputy secretary of Defense, serving as top aide to Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Yet today, as the policies he put in place come crashing down, Wolfowitz is nowhere to be found — at least not at the Pentagon. In fact, he left in 2005 to become president of the World Bank, where he has been busy trying to save Africa. In seeking refuge at the World Bank, Wolfowitz has followed in the footsteps of Robert McNamara, President Johnson's Vietnam War-era Defense secretary. McNamara was the "architect" of the Vietnam War in his own time, but he bailed out of the Pentagon to run the World Bank in 1968 as the U.S. body count mounted.
In [Bob] Woodward's book [State of Denial], Wolfowitz is shown criticizing some aspects of Rumsfeld's conduct of the war. Yet some of the most fundamental misjudgments of Iraq appear to have been his as well. He testified to Congress, for instance, that U.S. troops were more likely to be treated as liberators than occupiers, and that Iraq's own wealth would likely suffice to pay for most of its reconstruction. He dismissed warnings that ethnic strife could erupt in a democratic or chaotic Iraq, saying that most of the violence in Iraq had always been by the Hussein regime against various ethnic groups. And his promotion of the now-discredited Ahmad Chalabi has never been explained.

In February 2003, on the eve of the invasion, before the House Budget Committee, he heaped scorn on "the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq," saying that the number was "wildly off the mark."

Of course, plenty of other smart people also got Iraq wrong, so why single out Wolfowitz? Because from Bush on down, the politicians are being held accountable. Iraq has destroyed the Bush legacy. Generals have seen their military wounded. The war has tarnished Colin Powell's once-shining reputation, destroyed Rumsfeld's and killed any shot Condoleezza Rice might have had at the White House. But Wolfowitz has failed up, into one of the world's most prestigious jobs. ...

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