FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Wolfowitz at the New School

by SARAH FERGUSON

You have to give Paul Wolfowitz some credit. It’s not every deputy secretary of defense who can inspire more than 1,000 New Yorkers to queue up on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon just to hear a wonk speak. (Does anyone even remember who held that job under Clinton?) But then, few deputy defense secretaries have ever wielded as much power or aroused so much ire as “Wolfowitz of Arabia,” the key intellectual architect for the Bush administration’s war on Iraq.

It was Wolfowitz who immediately after the 9/11 attacks insisted that the Iraqi regime had to be overthrown as part of a global war on terror, arguing that the fall of Saddam would spark a chain reaction of democracy rippling across the region and help usher peace to the Middle East.

Wolfowitz may still have faith in this fantasy, but with Americans growing increasingly anxious over the mounting casualties and skyrocketing costs in Iraq, he and other Administration officials have been waging a rearguard PR battle to defend the war. And the fact that Wolfowitz agreed to be interviewed yesterday by New Yorker staffer Jeffrey Goldberg at a free forum at the New School in the heart of liberal Greenwich Village was in many ways a measure of how far the White House is willing to go to appear accountable to its critics.

Predictably, “Wolfy” drew boos, hisses, and some persistent heckling by a small but bellicose group of protesters who managed to make it past the heavy security check (more than half the audience was turned away due to lack of space).

“Sieg Heil, you Nazi son of a bitch!” one man screamed before being forcibly ejected by security guards, the first of six hecklers to get the boot. But their Tourette’s-like outbursts of “Liar!” and “War Criminal!” or even “Free Mumia!” only seemed to win sympathy for Wolfowitz from the mostly liberal crowd, many of whom said they’d come in hopes of hearing him make his case for the war “unfiltered” by the media. “Take some medication!” shot back one annoyed woman, drawing a round of applause and laughter.

A former political science professor, Wolfowitz looked on with bemused smile, no doubt more than happy to find Goldberg’s polite probing on issues like the missing weapons of mass destruction deflected by all the wacko interruptions. In contrast to the Administration’s previously tight-lipped, love-it-or-leave-it stance on the war, in the past month, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz have been making the rounds before Congress and on talk shows, attempting to save face as they backtrack on key positions. But the PR blitz has done more to muddy the waters than clear them. First Cheney suggested on Meet the Press that there was a possible link between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of 9/11. Then Bush acknowledged his administration had in fact found no link between Iraq and 9/11.

Wolfowitz did little to clarify things. When asked by Goldberg whether he was “fuzzing the line between groups which pose a global terror threat,” like Al Qaeda, and “regional actors” like Saddam, who, Goldberg noted, had given support to militant groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, Wolfowitz replied, “I think it’s the terrorists who are fuzzing the lines. The lines between these groups are very furry.”

Saying that it would be a mistake to limit the fight to Bin Laden and his followers, Wolfowitz maintained, “The lesson of 9-11 is that there is an interlocking network of groups which has the potential to do enormous harm.” Later he asserted that “Iraq, by the way, did have contacts with Al Qaeda, though we don’t know how clear they were”- an admission that drew more snickers from the crowd.

(The only specific tie Wolfowitz offered was the now-familiar example of Abu Mussab al Zarqawi, the alleged Al Qaeda planner from Jordan who reportedly went to Baghdad to have his leg amputated. Although Powell citied him in his UN speech prior to the war, the US government has never established any link between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi’s alleged terror network.)

Last May Wolfowitz made headlines around the world when a Vanity Fair reporter quoted him blaming “bureaucratic reasons” within the US government as the reason why the Bush Administration made the threat of Iraq’s WMD its primary justification for going to war. Both Wolfowitz and the Pentagon immediately cried foul, claiming his remarks had been misquoted and taken out of context. At yesterday’s forum, Wolfowitz again insisted that the decision to go to war was based on a combination of three factors: the threat of Iraq’s WMD, its nightmarish human rights record, and Iraq’s connections to terrorism.

But Wolfowitz did little to dispel the notion that Iraq’s WMD capabilities were exaggerated for political reasons. Indeed, this time he seemed to put the blame on the UN’s bureaucracy: “Basically, what happened is people said the UN will give you a resolution on weapons of mass destruction but not human rights, not [Iraq’s support for] terrorism,” he said, then accused America’s former allies (<a.k.a>. Old Europe) of “avoiding” human rights.

The threat of Iraq’s WMD, Wolfowitz suggested, was simply the easiest thing for all parties to agree on. “I’ve rarely seen the intelligence community as unanimous as they were on the issue of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons,” he said (apparently ignoring numerous published accounts of dissent within the State Department and CIA), prompting Goldberg to ask, “So what happened? Did they just mess up?”

Wolfowitz replied that those with knowledge of weapons programs were likely still too terrified of having their family members tortured or killed to come forward. Any hope of pressing the deputy secretary further during the Q&A session was largely sandbagged by several young LaRouchies, who ambushed the mike to preach about the imminent demise of “liberal imperialist neocon” agenda. When one woman stood up to ask what Wolfowitz had to say to the families of the American soldiers who now feel the war was not justified and who are now “living on food stamps,” he snipped, “at least she memorized the question.”

“The wounds of those who died in combat by letting Iraq go back to the Baathists,” Wolfowitz stated.

Taking issue with those who say the US has no “endgame” in Iraq, he responded, “The answer to security in Iraq is fewer American troops and more Iraqis defending themselves,” — making no mention of a broader UN role, despite Bush’s efforts this week to enlist international support.

The event closed with a mixture of applause and shouts of “Resign!” and “Sieg Heil!”

Outside, as several of the ejected hecklers banged drums and held up a large red “Stop Bush!” banner with a swastika for the`S’, several audience members said they were disappointed by Wolfowitz’s “half-truth” responses, but gave him credit for sticking it out before a hostile crowd. “At least it was more entertaining than the Dalai Lama,” shrugged Jim, a 45-year-old contractor who declined to give his last name, referring to that other famous person who was speaking in New York City on Sunday.

SARAH FERGUSON lives in New York and writes for the Village Voice and other publications. She can be reached at: sferg@interport.net

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail