For Bush's World Bank pick, contentious time at Pentagon

Wolfowitz, architect of war in Iraq, had optimistic predictions

March 17, 2005|By Susan Baer and Tom Bowman | Susan Baer and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Perhaps even more than the president himself and the secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz has been the chief intellectual architect of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

A conservative scholar, the deputy defense secretary became a lightning rod for criticism and was vilified by those who opposed the invasion. His optimistic predictions for postwar Iraq and dire warnings of weapons of mass destruction turned him into one of the most controversial figures within the Bush White House, ridiculed in the opening moments of Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11.

But in tapping Wolfowitz as his pick to lead the World Bank yesterday, President Bush dismissed any whiff of the controversy and explosiveness that has marked the deputy secretary's four years at the Pentagon, calling the former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies "a man of good experience" and "a skilled diplomat."

A veteran of six administrations, including two stints at the State Department and three at the Pentagon, Wolfowitz, 61, believed that the United States as a superpower should use its might to push for reform in other nations.

Convinced that regime change in Iraq would jump-start democracy in the Middle East, he became one of the administration's strongest - and earliest - proponents of toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He is seen as the ideological center of a group of foreign policy hawks who set the administration's security posture, including Vice President Dick Cheney, his boss at the Pentagon in the first President George Bush's administration, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, his current boss.

"He's a first-rate intellect and his policy priorities were fully compatible with those of the president and the president's team," says Loren B. Thompson, a military analyst at the nonprofit Lexington Institute who is also a government consultant.

"He was the ideologue behind the whole thing [in Iraq] as much as anyone in the government," said Thomas White, a former secretary of the Army whom Rumsfeld fired over policy differences.

Dire warnings

In the lead-up to the war, Wolfowitz made frequent trips to Capitol Hill warning of the danger of Hussein and describing how a liberated Iraq would spread democracy throughout the region and accelerate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But many of his arguments and words came back to haunt him, especially as a postwar insurgency in Iraq deteriorated into violence, chaos and bloodshed - and the cost of the war, in dollars and American lives, escalated. Many lawmakers angrily accused him of misleading them and having no post-combat plan.

He had assured Congress that Iraqis "are going to welcome us as liberators, and when that message gets out to the whole Arab world, it is going to be a powerful counter to Osama bin Laden."

He also said the cost of the war to U.S. taxpayers would be limited because of Iraq's oil revenue and frozen assets.

After former Army chief of staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki told Congress in the weeks before the war that it would take "several hundred thousand" troops for postwar security operations in Iraq, Wolfowitz publicly challenged that number, calling Shinseki's estimate "wildly off the mark."

White, the former secretary of the Army, said Wolfowitz was "grossly incorrect" in his judgments, especially his dismissal of the need for more troops in the post-combat phase and his assumption there would be little Iraqi resistance.

`Great deal of pain'

"A great deal of pain we have suffered since then could have been avoided," White said, pointing to the more than 1,500 U.S. servicemen and women killed and the several hundred billion dollars spent to secure and rebuild Iraq. "We have paid a tremendous price as a nation for the errors of that judgment."

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales Jr., former commandant of the Army War College, said that it is too soon to know the full impact of Wolfowitz's vision for Iraq but that he believes the Pentagon official will likely be remembered most for his misjudgments, especially the degree of Iraqi resistance once major combat had ceased. "Where we are now is not where he expected us to be," Scales says.

Democratic movements

But more recently, as democratic movements have begun to flicker in the Arab world, some are suggesting another view, as New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote last week, of "the man who has pursued - longer and more forcefully than almost anyone else - the supposedly utopian notion that people across the Muslim world may actually hunger for freedom."

Former Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who was in charge of relief efforts in Iraq until spring 2003, called Wolfowitz a "visionary" for his views on spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.

Garner says the Iraqi elections in January have been an impetus for democracy movements in Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. "It's causing movement," Garner said. "People have to look back and say, `He was probably right.'"

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