An abiding goal: Topple Hussein

Paul Wolfowitz, ex-Johns Hopkins dean, is at the intellectual center of a hawkish group of Bush advisers on foreign policy.

May 12, 2002|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Among the photographs outside the office of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz is one where the veteran foreign policy official is flanked by Vice President Dick Cheney, his boss at the Pentagon of the first Bush administration, and his current boss, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Playfully signed by Cheney - "Paul, Who's the best Secretary of Defense you ever worked for? Dick" - it is more than just a picture of old friends who find themselves in the trenches together again.

In this Bush administration, it is a portrait of a powerful and disciplined team of like-minded hard-liners that is wielding extraordinary influence on foreign policy, edging into the domain of the State Department and shaping the debate on such issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the specter of a U.S.-led invasion to rid Iraq and the region of Saddam Hussein.

At the ideological center of the group is Wolfowitz, former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a defense intellectual known for a muscular approach to international challenges.

"Paul conceptualizes what Rumsfeld and Cheney feel in their gut," says foreign policy analyst Lawrence Korb, a Reagan administration Pentagon official. "He is the intellect of the group. That makes him very influential - more influential than most deputy defense secretaries. And it makes them a very powerful team."

Wolfowitz's prominence offers an insight into the Bush administration's often inharmonious foreign policy-making process, in which the president has increasingly been compelled to referee between the clashing ideologies of the Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz Pentagon and the more dovish State Department of Colin L. Powell.

In some of the recent policy battles - most notably, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and dealing with Iraq - the soft-spoken, yet persuasive Brooklyn, N.Y., native appears to have leveraged himself into a singular force.

Wolfowitz's ideas can be heard in everything from Bush's aggressive State of the Union speech to, most dramatically, the shift in the administration's debate over toppling Saddam Hussein from "Shall we do it?" to "How shall we do it?"

For his part, Wolfowitz, one of Bush's foreign policy tutors during the presidential campaign, finds in the president a commander-in-chief instinctively inclined toward an assertive and hawkish world view. Sept. 11 has given more currency to Wolfowitz's long-held belief that the best defense is a strong offense, and that, when dealing with such threats as Hussein, it is wiser to move pre-emptively than risk being someday caught by surprise.

"We can't afford to wait until there's an act of terrorism using weapons of mass destruction to then find the people afterwards and catch them and round them up," Wolfowitz said in an interview in his Pentagon office, laying out the president's position. "It was bad enough with civilian airliners loaded with jet fuel. ... We can't wait until they've done it in the case of nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.

"And we can't afford to fool around for another 10 years."

The son of a prominent mathematician, Wolfowitz, 58, came to Washington nearly three decades ago along with a number of other conservative scholars who sought to challenge Henry A. Kissinger's pursuit of warmer relations with the Soviet Union.

Since then, as a veteran of six administrations - including two stints at the State Department and three at the Pentagon - he has earned a reputation as one of the GOP's chief hawks, believing that the United States, as a superpower, should use its might to try to reform other nations, help them topple their oppressive leaders and re-orient them to reflect U.S. values of democracy.

His background in East Asian affairs during the Reagan administration has made him a player in efforts to bring democratic reform to places like the Philippines, South Korea and Indonesia, where he was ambassador. And for years he has spoken forcefully about the need to cultivate moderate voices in the Muslim world. But, more than anything, Wolfowitz is associated with Iraq.

As the chief policy adviser to then-Defense Secretary Cheney during the Persian Gulf war, he favored continuing the U.S. offensive and ousting Hussein, a position opposed by Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and ultimately by President George Bush, who made the decision to end the war with the Iraqi leader still in place.

`20/20 hindsight'

"There are things, at the time, that I felt would have made sense," says Wolfowitz, asked about his position at the end of the Gulf war. "I think, with 20/20 hindsight, it's even clearer that they made sense."

Some who know him say one of the principal reasons he returned to government was to deal with Iraq and finish the job.

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