Decline and fall of the neocons
From The Sunday Times May 20, 2007 -- Sarah Baxter
Paul Wolfowitzâ€™s departure from the World Bank signals the end of an ideological era in Washington
As Tony Blair was bidding farewell to President George W Bush in the Rose Garden on Thursday, the World Bank was preparing to kick out Paul Wolfowitz as president. Allies to the left and right in the Iraq war were falling by the wayside that day.
Was he responsible for Blairâ€™s departure from office, Bush was asked. There had to be a reason why a prime minister who had never lost an election was being dumped. â€śCould be . . . I donâ€™t know,â€ť the president mused above the distant chant of war protesters outside the White House gates.
And what did he make of Wolfowitzâ€™s likely resignation? â€śI respect him a lot and Iâ€™m sorry it has come to this,â€ť Bush said, leaving the World Bank head to his fate.
If Bush and Dick Cheney, his vice-president, are the last men standing with responsibility for the Iraq war it is only because they are protected by their four-year terms of office. One former Bush stalwart told me: â€śIf we had a parliamentary system, Bush would have lost a vote of confidence and have resigned by now.â€ť
Away from the Rose Garden the funeral cortege for the fundamentalist Rev Jerry Falwell was being assembled in the heart of Bush country in Lynchburg, Virginia. The portly 73-year-old televangelist had done his utmost to assemble the coalition of conservative Christians that went on to provide Bush with two presidential victories. Now he is dead and the government sustained by his followers is looking more and more like a corpse.
The writer Christopher Hitchens, a friend of Wolfowitz and foe of Falwell, says: â€śThe main noise in Washington right now is that of collapsing scenery. The Republican party is in total disarray. Theyâ€™ve been dropping their most intelligent people over the side while the presidential candidates are all outbidding each other to be nice about the revolting carcass of Falwell.â€ť
Wolfowitz, the cerebral neocon, and Falwell, the braying theocon, had nothing in common personally. Indeed, Falwell blamed â€śthe pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbiansâ€ť for provoking the 9/11 attacks, an explanation uncomfortably close to the views of the Taliban. But the unlikely alliance between their two movements provided the brains and the brawn behind Bush. Now the neocons have been ousted, one by one, from their positions of influence and trust while the Republican party base is desperately thrashing around for a successor to Bush that it can back in 2008.
The cleavage between the two marks the end of an era in which Bible Belt conservatives became the surprise champions of radical nation-building in the Middle East in the hope of crushing terrorism and halting the march of militant Islam. After Bush, such reforming zeal is unlikely to be repeated.
The fall of Wolfowitz is already entering the annals as a morality fable for the Bush administration in which the arrogant, narcissistic former Pentagon official and a handful of his cronies were foisted on an unwilling international institution until it finally found a way to spit them out. By this reckoning, Wolfowitzâ€™s appointment as president of the World Bank in 2005 was an â€śUp yoursâ€ť similar to the way the Iraq war was imposed by Bush against the wishes of the international community â€“ with predictably dire results.
According to Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan and a persistent critic of the Iraq war: â€śWolfowitz has demonstrated a penchant for cronyism and for smearing and marginalising perceived rivals as tactics for getting his way. Indeed, these tactics are typical of what might be called the neoconservative style.â€ť
However, his ousting can also be read as a tale in which the vaunted international community would prefer the World Bank to allow rampant corruption to flourish in developing nations than see a reviled neocon succeed as its president â€“ just as there are plenty of opponents of the Iraq war who would rather let a murderous civil war rip than give Bush the satisfaction of seeing democracy take root in place of a dreaded tyranny. In their own way they are both uncomfortable versions of the truth.
At the heart of the story lies a romance between an American intellectual with his head in the air and holes in his socks and a secular Muslim Arab feminist in her fifties with a passionate interest in fostering democracy and womenâ€™s equality in the Middle East. Wolfowitzâ€™s seven-year relationship with Shaha Ali Riza could have helped to humanise the former Pentagon official and put paid to the antisemitic slur that he was a Jewish agent of Zionism who placed Israelâ€™s interests above those of America and other nations. Instead it led to his downfall.
Riza, a British citizen who was born in the Middle East and educated at Oxford, had already worked at the World Bank as a Middle East expert for seven years when Wolfowitz was appointed president. But bank rules forbid office romances between managers and staff so she had to go.
His reluctant involvement in her transfer to the State Department with a salary rise of $60,000 to $193,590 â€“ more than Condoleezza Riceâ€™s annual pay â€“ led bank investigators to complain that â€śhe saw himself as the outsider to whom the established rules and standards did not applyâ€ť.
By the time Wolfowitz was forced out, the ugly side of the World Bank boss was revealed in a memo in which he vowed in the style of a mafia don that â€śif they f*** with me or Shaha, I have enough on them to f*** them tooâ€ť.
THE affair between Wolfowitz, 63, and his â€śneoconcubineâ€ť was known initially only to discreet friends. Hitchens, who knows them both, describes Riza as a â€śvery shy, private personâ€ť who was well regarded in Washington as a champion of democracy in the Arab world.
Wolfowitz taught himself Arabic in the 1980s and had a walk-on part in Saul Bellowâ€™s novel Ravelstein as an official in the first Bush White House who was disappointed that Saddam Hussein was left in place at the end of the Gulf war.
â€śIt is not a coincidence that Wolfowitz has an Arab and Muslim companion because he has always been interested in those issues,â€ť Hitchens says. It was Riza who inspired Wolfowitz with confidence that the largely secular Iraq would flourish once Saddam was removed.
The coupleâ€™s professional and personal life became entangled on the very day the heavy bombing of Iraq began, when Wolfowitz was the number two at the Pentagon. On March 21, 2003, in the middle of â€śshock and aweâ€ť operations including the firing of 500 cruise missiles, Wolfowitzâ€™s office found the time to send an e-mail appointing Riza as an adviser on postwar nation-building.
There was â€śinterest from Wolfowitz on downâ€ť in the matter, e-mails sent by Pentagon staff noted. Another e-mail claimed the â€śeringâ€ť of the Pentagon, where top officials are based, was â€śscreamingâ€ť for action.
Riza, who first met Wolfowitz when she worked for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, was eminently qualified for the job. But the tone of the e-mails was an early sign that he was supremely concerned for her interests even as the Iraq war raged.
By the time Bush was reelected to office, American forces were getting bogged down in Iraq and Wolfowitz was shunted to the presidency of the World Bank â€“ a post where he would not have to face difficult Senate confirmation hearings.
In some circles his appointment was viewed as an inspired choice. David Frum, a former White House speechwriter, wrote: â€śEven the presidentâ€™s detractors have been constrained to admit that Wolfowitz is likely to prove an excellent choice â€“ maybe more excellent than is entirely comfortable either for the bank, for its clients in the underdeveloped world or for its constituencies in the advanced industrial democracies.â€ť
The presidency of the World Bank was given to Robert McNamara, the former defence secretary, after the debacle of the Vietnam war; but unlike McNamara, Wolfowitz had no intention of expiating his alleged sins with good works. He regarded the bank as a bloated bureaucracy whose financial loans to developing nations were being undermined by chronic corruption and graft. But he felt genuinely motivated to help countries to lift themselves out of poverty.
"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon