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March 02, 2005

Who is Paul Wolfowitz, and why should you care?

From Roger Simon's blog, I found this link to a fascinating profile of Paul Wolfowitz written in Septermber 2002 by Bill Keller for the Sunday Times Magazine. It's an interesting article for several reasons. First of all, its author is now Executive Editor of the NYT. Secondly, Keller's profile of Wolfowitz is surpisingly positive (and very well written). Lastly, Wolfowitz is a interesting character that I had previously known relatively little about, other than the irrelevent fact (thoughtfully presented in Fahrenheit 9/11) that he puts his comb in his mouth before using it on his head. As Keller aptly put it:

In Washington, some people go straight to caricature, without getting much chance to be interesting or complicated. Paul Wolfowitz, who is interesting and complicated, has been cast since Sept. 11 in the role of zealot. Except for one humanizing incident when he was booed for mentioning the suffering of Palestinians at a pro-Israel rally, Wolfowitz has been summarily depicted as a hawk (The Economist preferred ''velociraptor''), conservative ideologue, unilateralist, nemesis of Colin Powell's State Department and, sometimes, ''Israel-centric.''

But there is much more to Wolfowitz than this one-dimensional image. Most importantly, as this Keller's article lays out, well in advance of any decision regarding a US invasion of Iraq, Wolfowitz may well have been the architect of the Bush administration's pro-democracy policy in the Arab world:

From a few months' immersion in the subject of Paul Wolfowitz, it seems to me he has brought at least three important things to the table where American policy is made, qualities that have made him, though he holds the rank of deputy, a factor in moving America this close to invading Iraq. One is something of a reputation as a man who sees trouble coming before others do, his long anxiety about Iraq being one example.

The second thing he brings is an activist bent. It is forged partly of humanitarian impulse, a horror of standing by and watching bad things happen. He often talks about Kitty Genovese, the New York woman murdered in 1964 while dozens of neighbors watched from their apartment windows without lifting a phone to call the police. His inclination to act derives, too, from his analytical style, a residue, perhaps, of the mathematician he started out to be. In almost any discussion, he tends to be the one focusing on the most often overlooked variable in decision making, the cost of not acting. On Iraq, that has now been taken up as a White House mantra.

The third striking thing about Wolfowitz is an optimism about America's ability to build a better world. He has an almost missionary sense of America's role. In the current case, that means a vision of an Iraq not merely purged of cataclysmic weaponry, not merely a threat disarmed, but an Iraq that becomes a democratic cornerstone of an altogether new Middle East. Given the fatalism that prevails about this most flammable region of the world, that is an audacious optimism indeed.

Wolfowitz's moralistic streak and the generally sunny view of the world's possibilities may explain the affinity between the born-again and resolutely unintellectual president and this man he calls ''Wolfie,'' the Jewish son of academia who dabbles in six foreign languages and keeps Civil War histories at his bedside. A senior official who has watched the two men interact says that Wolfowitz and the president have reinforced each other in their faith in ''a strategic transformation of the whole region.''

If the interventionists are right, America can reasonably expect to be more secure, respected and very, very busy -- and much of the foreign-policy old guard will have been proved wrong. But if Wolfowitz and those with him are wrong, if Iraq comes down around their ears, America will be standing deep in the rubble, very alone.

All in all, it's a terrific article about an interesting man. Read the whole thing.

March 2, 2005 at 12:04 AM | Permalink

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