This piece from the New Yorker is about a year old, and in that respect it offers some usefulness as a way to gauge Paul wolfowitz’s claims and expectations against the reality a year later. (The very last line of the article being the most poignant of those.) But less so than one might think, for an article subtitled “Paul Wolfowitz defends his war”. This article is more of a look into the man himself– how he came to where he is in his views, and how he operates “in the field” in present day. (Well, present day a year ago.) In this case, the reporter accompanied Wolfowitz on a multi-stop tour in Europe.
It’s long, and informative, and not hostile or incendiary– though it doesn’t give Wolfowitz a free pass, either. Just an in-depth look at neocon Paul Wolfowitz, in development, and in action.
Paul Wolfowitz defends his war.
by PETER J. BOYER
Issue of 2004-11-01
On the night of October 5th, a group of Polish students, professors, military officers, and state officials crowded into a small auditorium at Warsaw University to hear Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, give a talk on the subject of the war in Iraq. It was an unusually warm evening for October, and every seat was filled; the room seemed nearly airless. Wolfowitz began by joking that his father, a noted mathematician, would have been proud to see him in this academic setting, even as he was saddened that the younger Wolfowitz had pursued the political, rather than the “real,” sciences. After a few minutes, Wolfowitz’s voice, which normally has a soft tremble, grew even more faint, and his aspect became wan. For an instant, he seemed actually to wobble.
It had been a tiring day, preceded by an overnight flight from Washington. This was to have been a routine official trip for Wolfowitz—a visit with soldiers in Germany and some bucking up of Iraq-war allies in Warsaw and London. The bucking up, however, was made a bit more complicated by developments within the Administration. The previous afternoon, as Wolfowitz was preparing to board his plane at Andrews Air Force Base, an aide had handed him a report containing some vexing news. Wolfowitz’s boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had just delivered a speech in New York and, in a question-and-answer exchange afterward, had declared that he had not seen any “strong, hard evidence” linking Al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein’s regime. Rumsfeld’s unexpected remark—undercutting one of the Administration’s principal arguments for going to war—had already prompted press inquiries at the Pentagon, suggesting a bad news cycle ahead. Meanwhile, the Washington Post was preparing to report that L. Paul Bremer, the former administrator of the American-led occupation of Iraq, had faulted the U.S. postwar plan for lacking sufficient troops to provide security—affirming a principal contention of the Administration’s critics. In addition, the government’s Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, was about to release a final report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; already the report’s substance was being summed up in headlines as “report discounts iraqi arms threat.” And the Times had learned of a new C.I.A. assessment casting doubt on links between the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Saddam’s regime—undermining yet another of the Administration’s rationales for the war.
Wolfowitz has been a major architect of President Bush’s Iraq policy and, within the Administration, its most passionate and compelling advocate. His long career as a diplomat, strategist, and policymaker will be measured by this policy, and, more immediately, the President he serves may not be returned to office because of it. The Administration had been divided over Iraq from the start, and new fissures seemed to be appearing. The Poles sitting in the Warsaw audience, “new” Europeans who had cast their lot with America, might understandably have been concerned. The government in Poland, where public opinion has shifted against the war, faces elections next year, and will probably reduce its forces in Iraq in the coming months.
After his faltering start, Wolfowitz, nearing the midpoint of his speech, began to find his voice. 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.”
Finally, Wolfowitz thanked the Poles for joining in a war that much of Europe had repudiated, and continues to oppose. His message was clear: history, especially Europe’s in the last century, has proved that it is smarter to side with the U.S. than against it. “We will not forget Poland’s commitment,” he promised. “Just as you have stood with us, we will stand with you.”
Wolfowitz, who is sixty, has served in the Administrations of six Presidents, yet he is still regarded by many in Washington with a considerable measure of puzzlement. This is due partly to the fact that, although his intelligence is conceded by all, and his quiet bearing and manner suggest the academic that he used to be—at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies—he has consistently argued positions that place him squarely in the category of war hawk. He began his life in public policy by marshalling arguments, in 1969, on behalf of a U.S. anti-ballistic-missile defense system. Like his mentor at the University of Chicago, the late political strategist Albert Wohlstetter, Wolfowitz was skeptical of a U.S.-Soviet convergence, embraced a national missile-defense system, and argued for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
But most puzzling to some, perhaps, is the communion that Wolfowitz seems to have with George W. Bush. How can someone so smart, so knowing, speak—and even apparently think—so much like George Bush? Except for their manner of delivery—Wolfowitz speaks in coherent paragraphs and Bush employs an idiom that is particular to himself—the language used by the two men when discussing Iraq is almost indistinguishable. It is the stark tone of evangelical conviction: evil versus good, the “worship of death” and “philosophy of despair” versus our “love of life and democracy.” Alongside Bush himself, Wolfowitz is, even now, among the last of the true believers.
Earlier on the day of his speech, Wolfowitz had toured the old city of Warsaw. In ceremonies attended by a Polish military honor guard, he laid wreaths at a memorial commemorating the Warsaw uprising and the monument to the Warsaw ghetto heroes. He laid a wreath, too, at the Umschlagplatz Memorial—the point of departure for some three hundred thousand Warsaw Jews who were transported to the Nazi death camp at Treblinka. Wolfowitz had pillaged the Pentagon library for a copy of “Courier from Warsaw,” the memoir of Jan Nowak, a Catholic who was among the first Warsaw-uprising witnesses to reach the West and testify to the Nazi horrors. In Warsaw, Wolfowitz asked to meet with Nowak, who is ninety. They spoke about the scale of the Holocaust, and about “how terrible it was for the Poles during the sixty-three days of the uprising. Three thousand Poles were killed every day—a World Trade Center every day.”
Wolfowitz told me that he had never before visited the memorials, and that, other than a quick stopover, this was his first trip to Poland, even though his father, Jacob Wolfowitz, had been born in Warsaw. He managed to emigrate during Poland’s brief interwar independence, unlike many other family members, who did not survive the Holocaust. It is probable that some of Wolfowitz’s relatives made their way through the Umschlagplatz, although not much is known. Wolfowitz said that he had learned little about Warsaw life, or the fate of his lost relatives, from his father. “He hated to talk about his childhood,” Wolfowitz said. As a boy, Wolfowitz devoured books (“probably too many”) about the Holocaust and Hiroshima—what he calls “the polar horrors.”
After his meeting with Jan Nowak, Wolfowitz’s conversation in the following days kept returning to what he had heard. “He told about how the ghetto was walled off from the rest of the city, but there was one streetcar that had to cross it,” Wolfowitz said. “And every day he would see bodies laid out, covered with newspaper, because that was all they had to cover them with, and people who’d starved to death and died of typhoid.” Nowak told Wolfowitz that in secret wartime meetings with Britain’s top officials, including Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, he had reported the plight of the Warsaw Jews; yet, when he later examined the minutes from these meetings in the British archives, he found no mention of the Jews. “Nowak said it was wartime inconvenience.” Wolfowitz paused, then added, “There are some parallels to Iraq. One is that people don’t believe these things. First, they don’t know it, because the world doesn’t talk about them. It may be for different reasons, although some of it is ‘wartime inconvenience.’ ”
Wolfowitz said that he was astonished by the argument of some war critics that, with no imminent threat from Iraq, the overturning of Saddam was unwarranted—an argument that he believes implicitly accepts Saddam’s brutality. A corollary phenomenon is the relative lack of opprobrium directed by the international community and the press toward the insurgents in Iraq, whom the Administration brands as terrorists. “It’s amazing,” he said. “If you said the insurgents were terrible, then you couldn’t go on and on about all the mistakes that Bush has made.”
Perhaps, but the other side of that coin is the Administration’s shift in rhetorical emphasis after Baghdad was taken. Given the lack of weapons of mass destruction or proven ties between Iraq and the terror attacks of September 11th, the liberation rationale acquired a primary importance that it had not had in the Administration’s public argument for war.
In turn, the developing insurgency, which eclipsed the parades and the cheering throngs, prompted renewed focus on the Administration’s geopolitical strategy—the transformation of the region—as a war rationale. This grand idea of liberalizing the Middle East one country at a time, beginning with Iraq, was associated particularly with Wolfowitz. The State Department was, and is, skeptical, and it is said that Rumsfeld harbored doubts as well.
Wolfowitz’s critics accuse him of naïveté, of setting out a vision that fails to consider fully the complex and unpredictable regional dynamics of tribal loyalties, honor, revenge, and Arab pride in Iraq and in the region generally. They argue that the invasion and the subsequent insurgency have undermined American authority throughout the world and have led to more, not fewer, jihad-minded terrorists. Wolfowitz often responds to critics by drawing an analogy to Asia, where skeptics once argued that Confucian tradition was a barrier to the development of democracy. He has said, “This is the same Confucian tradition that more recently has been given a substantial share of the credit for the success of the Korean economy and many others in Asia.”
En route to Poland, Wolfowitz made a brief stop in Munich, where he met with two men who had helped to shape his view of Islam. One was Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, who was in Germany for medical treatment. Ibrahim had been a nineteen-seventies-era student activist who entered politics and became, in the eyes of Wolfowitz and other Westerners, the embodiment of the moderate Muslim ideal—at once devoutly religious and tolerant, and eager to move his country into the modern world. He was widely expected to succeed his mentor, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, but in 1998 Mohamad had Ibrahim arrested, on charges of corruption and sodomy (a crime in Malaysia), and he was sentenced to a nine-year jail term. Three years later, just after the September 11th attacks, Ibrahim, still in a Malaysian jail, wrote an impassioned essay condemning the attacks as an abomination and lamenting the Muslim world’s failure to address “the suffering inflicted on the Muslim masses in Iraq by its dictator as well as by sanctions.” He was freed in September.
Wolfowitz also met with Abdurrahman Wahid, the former President of Indonesia. Toward the end of the second Reagan Administration, Wolfowitz, who was then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, was offered the Ambassadorship to Indonesia. Wolfowitz had spent more than a dozen years in the policy grind of Washington, and he and his wife, Clare, were eager to get away. Clare Wolfowitz had a particular interest in Indonesia—she’d been an exchange student there in high school, spoke the language, and had made Indonesia her academic specialty; she holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology. (The couple are now separated.) People who have spent much time with Wolfowitz eventually notice that Indonesia is the one subject guaranteed to brighten his mood. “I really didn’t expect to fall in love with this place, but I did,” he told me earlier this year. “I mean, I don’t think I made the mistake of forgetting which country I represented, or overlooking their flaws, but there was so much that was just enormously appealing to me.”
Wolfowitz’s appointment to Indonesia was not an immediately obvious match. He was a Jew representing America in the largest Muslim republic in the world, an advocate of democracy in Suharto’s dictatorship. But Wolfowitz’s tenure as Ambassador was a notable success, largely owing to the fact that, in essence, he went native. With tutoring help from his driver, he learned the language, and hurled himself into the culture. He attended academic seminars, climbed volcanoes, and toured the neighborhoods of Jakarta.
At the time, Wahid was the leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, which eventually morphed into a political party and brought Wahid to the Presidency, the nation’s first in a free election. (Not long after, however, he was impeached by the Indonesian parliament.) Wolfowitz found Wahid to be urbane, witty (his translation of a book of Soviet black humor became a best-seller in the Suharto era), and broadminded. Islam arrived late in Indonesia, and is less deeply rooted there than it is in many Arab states. The constitution protects other religious faiths, and Wahid, who is deeply devout, took that tolerance a step further, advocating total separation of mosque and state. “He’s a remarkable human being,” Wolfowitz said. “I mean, there’s the leader of the largest Muslim organization, and he’s an apostle of tolerance. How can you not admire him?”
Wolfowitz and Wahid became lasting friends, and, inevitably, one of their shared interests was the subject of Iraq. Wolfowitz told me that Wahid had studied in Baghdad, and that he was an early witness to the Baath Party’s atrocities. Wahid had described how Saddam’s regime “left the bodies hanging so long, the necks stretched,” Wolfowitz said. “It was in the main square in Baghdad, to send a message, to say, ‘This is who you’re dealing with from now on.’ And he said his teacher was taken away, the body was brought back in a sealed coffin, and they were told not to open it. They went ahead and opened it, and they found he’d been horribly tortured.”
At the reunion in Munich, Wahid, who is nearly blind and has been enfeebled by strokes, made his way slowly down a hotel corridor and embraced his old friend. Wahid is an acquaintance of the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric, upon whom the future direction of Iraq may largely depend. Sistani, who does not openly engage with Americans, is believed to oppose the creation of an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq, and his influence has been instrumental in reining in the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Wahid indicated that he might visit Iraq soon, and, as a Sunni who knows Sistani, he’d like to help improve relations between Sunnis and Shiites.
Another influence on Wolfowitz’s thinking is an Arab feminist named Shaha Ali Riza, with whom he has become close. Riza, who was born in Tunisia and reared in Saudi Arabia, studied international relations at Oxford and subsequently became a determined advocate of democracy and women’s rights in the Islamic world. She is now a senior official at the World Bank, where she works on Middle Eastern and North African affairs.
Wolfowitz says that his hopes for a democratic Iraq now are modest. He claims that he never expected a Jefferso-nian democracy, as some of his critics have derisively asserted. What he wishes to see is something stable, and more liberal than what came before. “It is something of a test,” he told me one day this summer, regarding the Iraqis. “We can’t be sure they’ll pass. And they’re not going to pass with an A-plus. I mean, if they do Romanian democracy and the country doesn’t break up that’ll be pretty good.”
The morning after his speech at Warsaw University, Wolfowitz flew to London, for meetings at 10 Downing Street and at the Ministry of Defence. That evening, he hosted a gathering of British writers at Annabel’s, in Mayfair, and their questions quickly turned to the subject of Rumsfeld’s remark earlier in the week that he’d seen no hard evidence of an Al Qaeda-Iraqi connection. This had prompted hurried defensive strategizing at the Pentagon, and Rumsfeld put out a clarification of his statement. Still, the issue lingered. The C.I.A.’s latest assessment, based on information gathered since the end of major combat, cast further doubt on the connection, and was now in circulation.
Wolfowitz often prefaces his response to questions about this issue, as he did at Annabel’s and at the Aspen Institute earlier this year, by posing a question of his own. It’s a sort of parlor game that he plays. He asks, in a professorial whisper, “How many people here have heard of Abdul Rahman Yassin, if you’d raise your hand?” In a room of two dozen people, no more than two or three will raise their hands.
Wolfowitz notes the meagre tally, allows himself a slight smile, and then explains that Abdul Rahman Yassin was one of the men indicted for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which killed six people and injured a thousand others. He remains a fugitive, the only one of the indicted perpetrators of that attack still at large.
Then Wolfowitz turns to the September 11th attacks. They were planned, he reminds his audience, by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef, was a nephew and close associate of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “These are not separate events. They were the same target. They were the same people.” And Abdul Rahman Yassin, the fugitive from the first event? He fled to Iraq. “It would seem significant that one major figure in that event is still at large,” Wolfowitz says. “It would seem significant that he was harbored in Iraq by Iraqi intelligence for ten years.”
Many intelligence analysts believe that the presence of Yassin in Iraq was not particularly meaningful. Not long after his arrival there, Yassin, who grew up in Baghdad, was detained by the Saddam regime, and in 2002 he was even interviewed by “60 Minutes” in an Iraqi holding cell; if he was being “harbored,” the argument goes, it was only as a detainee that Saddam hoped to use as a bargaining chip with the United States. Furthermore, during the run-up to the war the Administration didn’t make Yassin a major issue.
Neither Wolfowitz nor the other intelligence analysts can say unequivocally what Yassin was doing in Iraq. Wolfowitz’s purpose in raising the issue is to illustrate the uncertain nature of intelligence analysis. He believes that there is important unexamined evidence regarding Yassin, yet, he says, when he broaches the matter with members of Congress his arguments are often met with resistance. “Every time you try to raise it, people say, ‘But there’s no proof Saddam was involved in 9/11.’ ”
The issue illustrates Wolfowitz’s own deep and abiding suspicions about the inviolability of the intelligence community’s culture and processes, a skepticism that dates back to his earliest days in government service. In 1973, Wolfowitz was a young new hire at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, his first foray into the national-security side of government. It was the era of the salt talks with the Soviets, and one of the first reports that Wolfowitz saw was the “big prize” itself—the National Intelligence Estimate of Soviet capabilities. Wolfowitz read the estimate, but he was struck, he says, more by a cover letter that accompanied it. The letter said that it was a credit to the report that, on such an important subject, it contained hardly any footnotes. In that world, footnotes were the means by which differing opinions were indicated. Wolfowitz was amazed, and appalled, that the C.I.A. boasted about not presenting dissenting views.
Some years ago, after Wolfowitz had left Washington for Jakarta, he consented to an interview with the C.I.A., which was reassessing its analysis processes. “The idea that somehow you are saving work for the policymaker by eliminating serious debate is wrong,” Wolfowitz told his interviewer. “Why not aim, instead, at a document that actually says there are two strongly argued positions on the issue? Here are the facts and evidence supporting one position, and here are the facts and evidence supporting the other, even though that might leave the poor policymakers to make a judgment as to which one they think is correct.”
Wolfowitz wanted to reëxamine national-security intelligence, and to avoid what he considered the groupthink inclinations of the intelligence professionals (“the priesthood,” he calls them). Eventually, he came to be known for his ability to recognize threatening patterns and capabilities that others had been unable to see. When the common wisdom held that the Soviets would slow the development and deployment of their intermediate-range missiles, Wolfowitz predicted, correctly, that the Soviets meant to modernize and enhance them. When the conventional view held that Saddam Hussein would not invade another Arab nation, Wolfowitz said that we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that he might cross the border into Kuwait—and a decade later Saddam did just that.
In 2001, the Defense Department set up a small in-house operation called the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, whose purpose, according to its creators, was not, as its critics have charged, to cherry-pick raw intelligence in order to justify the invasion of Iraq but to connect the dots between terrorist groups and countries that harbored them. Wolfowitz had his aides run a software program called Analyst Notebook, which, like a wiring diagram, could show links between disparate pieces of information. As a result, all manner of putative links were made, in much the same way that Wolfowitz connects the dots in his little parlor game. This is one way in which the connection between terrorism and Iraq became a fixed idea.
After the session at Annabel’s, Wolfowitz flew back to Germany. The next morning, he began the day by visiting Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, near Ramstein Air Base, which serves as the American military’s hub hospital for an area stretching from Europe to Southwest Asia. As Wolfowitz walked down the facility’s long corridors, he was accompanied by its commander, Colonel Rhonda Cornum. She is a physician, and a pilot—in the Gulf War, she was captured and briefly held by the Iraqis—and she had an agenda. The hospital was running at a high capacity, with some sections—orthopedics, the psych ward—completely full. Since the start of the global war on terror, nineteen thousand people had been admitted, many of them within twelve hours of being wounded in Iraq. But because the Administration continues to categorize the war as a “contingency” operation, she said, she was not able to add permanent staff. This meant having temporary medical staff who were rotated in and out of the facility from other military hospitals around the world, and it added stress to an inherently stressful operation. Wolfowitz accepted her neatly prepared PowerPoint report, and handed it to an aide.
Then he stepped into the room of a young sergeant named Jeron Johnson, from Bowman, South Carolina. Johnson was connected to several I.V.s and monitors, but he was awake, and alert. Wolfowitz walked to his bedside, leaned in, and asked, “What happened?” In a quiet, raspy voice, Johnson, who had just reënlisted before being wounded, told him that he had been on a mission with his unit in Baghdad, when his convoy got hit. “It was a V.B.I.E.D.,” Johnson explained. An I.E.D., or improvised explosive device, is the military’s term for a roadside bomb, a favored weapon of the insurgents. Car bombs are called vehicle-borne I.E.D.s.
“I saw this big burst,” Johnson calmly recounted. “I said, O.K., I got hit. . . . I called the guys over—I said, ‘My leg’s broke.’ ” Johnson suffered two broken legs, and several lesser injuries.
Another soldier entered the room and approached Johnson’s bedside. “I wanted to stop by,” he said. The soldier, slight and wiry, was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. A long scar zigzagged down the right side of his neck, and much of his left arm was missing, replaced by a prosthesis that ended in two curved steel hooks. He was Adam Replogle, a twenty-four-year-old sergeant from Denver. He addressed Johnson directly: “I got hit with an R.P.G. in the chest. I stopped by here on the way through. I wasn’t conscious like you, but I know what you’re going through.” Replogle had been a gunner on an Abrams tank, and his unit came under attack by insurgents in Karbala in May. He was evacuated to a field hospital, then to Landstuhl, where he was stabilized before being sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington. Wolfowitz, who regularly visits the hospital, came to know him there. (When Wolfowitz is asked if he ever wonders about the war’s costs, he answers, “Every time I visit Walter Reed.”) The Army flew Replogle back to Germany for a reunion with his unit, which had recently returned from Iraq, and he wanted to stop by Landstuhl to offer encouragement.
Replogle said, “You hear about Karbala? That’s where I got hit. Where were you hit?”
“No. Five South.”
“We ran into some smack back in Sadr City a while ago,” Replogle said. “They got a lotta radicals out there. Al-Sadr keeps them around.”
This aroused Sergeant Johnson. “It’s amazing,” he said. “You see these kids around you, ‘Mister, mister, give me water! Give me food!’ And you dig around, tryin’ to give it to ’em, and you give it to ’em. And then, when you’re done, they throw rocks at you. You think, Hey, you little bastard!”
“They don’t know how to act, man,” Replogle replied. “They got their freedom, they don’t know how to act. You can’t really blame ’em for it. It’s frustrating over there. I’ll tell you one thing, man. Just maintain. You can feel a couple of different ways about Iraq. You can feel bad. But when people ask you questions, man, you just tell ’em. They gotta know about the good things we did. We’re not down there smackin’ people around.”
Johnson said that he’d sometimes had difficulty convincing his own soldiers of the utility of their mission. “There’s this long street, we clean it up. Couple of weeks later, it’s trashed up again. I get a lotta guys that go, ‘What are we doing out here?’ I say to ’em, ‘We’ll come back here, let ’em see our work.’ ‘Sarge, they’ll tear it up again.’ ‘Well, that’s our job. Get the trash outta the street, clear the street, make this place a little better.’ But they don’t understand.”
Wolfowitz stood by Johnson’s bed, listening. An aide handed him a copy of Time, the issue that featured the American soldier as Person of the Year. Wolfowitz signed it to a “true American hero,” and then leaned over the hospital bed and looked Johnson in the eye. “I’ll tell you, no matter what people think about the war, ninety-eight per cent of them love our soldiers,” he said. “Period. It’s really the truth. So don’t confuse the fight about the policy for the people. I’m sure we’re going to win, and one day people will feel about you guys the way we feel about the guys who won World War Two. The world didn’t look so great in 1945-46. It took a little while to get it done. You’re getting it done.’’
And so it went, room by room, unit by unit. In one darkened room, a soldier with the build of an offensive lineman lay unconscious, his bare feet extending from the sheet covering his gurney. His wife stood at his side. When Wolfowitz entered the room, she smiled and reported the latest update from the doctors. Then she began to talk about her husband’s long deployment, growing more emotional as she spoke. “Six months is one thing,” she said, “but a year, which usually becomes thirteen or fourteen months, is just too much.” As she began to cry, an aide closed the door, and Wolfowitz spent several minutes with her privately.
Later that day, Wolfowitz flew by helicopter to Wiesbaden, for a ceremony marking the return of the 1st Armored Division. It was a large and clamorous event, attended by, among others, the American Ambassador to Germany, Daniel Coats; the Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker; and the V Corps commander, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Such homecomings are always cause for celebration, but the return of the 1st Armored Division bore special significance. Old Ironsides, as the division calls itself, is perhaps the most put-upon unit in the war. It had rolled into Iraq just after the end of major combat operations, and was assigned the tough sectors of Baghdad, among them Sadr City. When the division’s yearlong deployment ended, last spring, some of its units were packed and were waiting at the airfield for the flight back to Germany. Then the division’s commander, Major General Martin E. Dempsey, broke the bad news: the sudden upsurge in fighting required more force, and the division’s deployment had been extended. Everyone knew what that meant: some of the men who had made it through a year in Iraq now stood a chance of not returning home whole, or at all. Adam Replogle was one of those soldiers.
Wolfowitz made one other stop that day. It was in Würzburg, at the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One). The division’s commander, Major General John R. S. Batiste, had been Wolfowitz’s military adviser at the Pentagon, and is currently deployed in Iraq. Wolfowitz had visited Batiste in January, before the division moved out, and the atmosphere had been pointedly gung ho. Batiste had adopted as the division’s motto a quote from F.D.R., which he felt captured the Big Red One’s attitude toward its coming mission in Iraq: “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until it has struck before you crush him.”
“The Secretary will love that quote,” Wolfowitz had told Batiste.
Wolfowitz had seen Batiste again in June, this time in Iraq, at the division’s forward post, near Tikrit. The mood was more subdued then, and Batiste had adopted a new motto, this one, as it happens, from Gerald Ford: “There is no way we can go forward except together, and no way anybody can win except by serving the people’s urgent needs. We cannot stand still or slip backwards. We must go forward now together.’’ The words reflected the then emerging exit strategy, which was to set up an Iraqi government and an Iraqi security force to fight the insurgency, allowing the Americans to pull back and, eventually, to withdraw.
Now, in Würzburg, the headquarters staff was reduced to a skeletal rear detachment. Still, at a luncheon given in Wolfowitz’s honor, the large ballroom was packed, filled with the spouses and family members left behind. Following the custom of their tightly insular culture, the women betrayed no indication of anxiety over their men “down-range,” as they refer to the battlefield of Iraq. They chatted gaily about the food, catered by a favorite local restaurant, and talked about their children. Wolfowitz showed them a video recorded by the First Lady, and they reacted with a standing ovation. Then he took questions. One woman asked whether anything could be done about the long deployments. The Pentagon is working on it, Wolfowitz assured her. Finally, someone asked, How will this war be won? What will victory look like?
Wolfowitz responded that in January Iraq will hold elections. The resulting transitional government will write a permanent constitution. That government will run Iraq for a year, until elections at the end of 2005 produce a permanent, fully independent government. By then, he said, American forces will have trained several Iraqi Army divisions and, equally important, fifty or more battalions of the Iraqi National Guard, the domestic stability force. Reaching down to the table and knocking wood, Wolfowitz mentioned recent progress in regard to the National Guard, noting the Iraqis’ participation in the wresting of Samarra from the insurgents’ control.
While the retaking of Samarra was indeed a welcome event, it may not be a wholly accurate measure of the progress being made by Iraqi forces. The key Iraqi unit in Samarra, the 36th Battalion, was the same one that in August prevailed in Najaf, and it was the only Iraqi unit that did not flee during the Falluja uprising last spring. The 36th Battalion, however, is exceptional. It is composed of fighting forces loyal to various political factions, mostly Kurdish, and it was American policy for much of the first year of the occupation to discourage the development of such units, for fear of losing control of them.
Wolfowitz spoke of the September visit to Washington by the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi. He quoted at length from Allawi’s optimistic speech to a joint session of Congress, which Wolfowitz said had been characterized by some members of Congress as one of the best speeches ever delivered on the floor of the House.
Wolfowitz did not discuss a meeting between Allawi and President Bush during that visit, in which the Iraqi Prime Minister had been less optimistic. Allawi had spoken to the President about the conundrum facing him and the coalition: the insurgency required forceful action, but any forceful action by coalition troops would underline the negative impression of an occupation, thus fuelling the insurgency. Allawi asked the President to provide more training of Iraqi troops and more equipment.
The day after Wolfowitz left Washington on this trip, Allawi had sent, via the American Embassy, a letter to Bush. In it, he again spoke insistently about the situation in Iraq on the ground. The American training program, he said, was fine, but it was proceeding too slowly; the bulk of trained and equipped Iraqi forces would not be ready until well after the January elections, Allawi said, “which is simply too late.” Allawi said that he and the coalition needed an expanded plan for Iraqi forces, “to be implemented now.” He said that Iraq had to make a visible and effective show of force, and reminded Bush of what he had told him in Washington—that Iraq needed at least two trained and equipped Iraqi mechanized divisions. It was a huge request.
American commanders have been hesitant to provide Iraqis with tanks, arguing that the Iraqis are not yet ready for them. Wolfowitz, noting that American forces are glad to have the armored-tank protection for themselves, has said that he thinks the Iraqis will get at least a mechanized brigade fairly soon.
In his letter, Allawi asked Bush to convene a summit this month in Baghdad, with an American delegation headed by Wolfowitz. Such a high-profile meeting just weeks before the American election was unlikely, and the proposal may simply have been Allawi’s way of prodding the Administration. In any case, he was visited in Baghdad the following week by Donald Rumsfeld, who was in the region for a meeting with his commanders.
After leaving Iraq, Rumsfeld travelled to Romania for a NATO meeting. Discussing Allawi’s request for tanks, he proposed a characteristically Rumsfeldian solution. The new members of nato—those countries which Rumsfeld once called the “new Europe”—had been members of the old Warsaw Pact, which had a surplus of Soviet weapons. One way they could help, Rumsfeld suggested, was by supplying their Soviet-era tanks to the fledgling Iraqi Army.
The big miscalculation underlying the American-led intervention in Iraq was that the enemy would recognize defeat, and submit. When the Administration was faced with an insurgency, a new calculation—one that was advocated by Wolfowitz—was made: putting an Iraqi imprimatur on the mission would defuse the insurgency. The first step was the hastened transfer of sovereignty, last June. Yet the insurgency rages on, and Allawi worries about appearing to be an American puppet. Although he assured President Bush in his letter that he had “absolutely no intention” of changing his convictions or policies, he warned, “I am concerned by the concerted effort by some Iraqis and foreigners to paint my government as too close to the US and her allies.” He went on, “This is likely to get worse as elections approach, and makes it harder to rebuild political unity and to isolate the insurgents.” Now the Bush war policy depends upon a final calculation—that an Iraqi security force can be made strong enough, soon enough, to allow the mostly American multinational force to recede.
Wolfowitz seems more confident about this prospect than Allawi does. Speaking in Germany to the spouses of the 1st Infantry Division’s soldiers, Wolfowitz said, “I think you’re going to see a major change over the course of the next six months or a year.” He said he hoped that progress with the Iraqi force might go even faster than expected. “At the moment, we’re just planning for the worst,” he said. Then he added, “But a lot of good should happen this coming year.”
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