The controversial decision to nominate Paul Wolfowitz, widely regarded as one of the key proponents for the war in Iraq, to head the World Bank has placed the spotlight on the inner workings of the second Bush administration. Are the neoconservatives on the wane, now that the man purported to be their main standard bearer in the administration is being moved out? Do the departures of Wolfowitz and other ideologues like Douglas Feith augur a return to a more traditional conservative foreign policy? Or will Condoleezza Rice and the other Vulcans continue the aggressive interventionist agenda pushed by the neocons?
Wolfowitz’s move to the Bank has also spurred a new round of hand-wringing among some pundits about the undue influence of the neoconservatives, who now seem poised to take their agenda to a whole new playing field. Other observers, however, aren’t so sure about where Wolfowitz falls on the ideological sliding scale, and it seems clear that World Bank board members are not worried that its decision making will be held hostage to U.S. geopolitical interests—this despite some neocons’ hope that Wolfowitz will be able to turn the Bank into a “useful tool of American statecraft,” as one American Enterprise Institute scholar said.
It’s odd that a global capitalist institution will be taking on as its new leader a person whose political trajectory has had so little to do with global capital. Nor does Wolfowitz have much experience—apart from his brief stint as ambassador to Indonesia in the 1980s—with the Bank’s core mission, which includes poverty alleviation and development issues. In general, what little neoconservatism or its followers have said about economics can be summed up in two words: supply side.
Wolfowitz is not your average neoconservative. Although a longstanding hawk who seamlessly made the transition from anti-Soviet crusader to neo-imperialist true believer after the end of the Cold War, Wolfowitz nonetheless has expressed several contrarian views within the neoconservative camp. In particular, he has been much more flexible when it comes to Middle East peace, shying away from the extreme Likudnik line espoused by many neocons and showing concern for the plight of the Palestinians, including opposition to the Jewish settler movement.
Wolfowitz is also considered to be more of a thoughtful idealist than a pure neocon ideologue. But some fault this very idealism as being at the root of U.S. problems in Iraq. After accompanying Wolfowitz on a visit to Iraq in late 2003, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius wrote that he asked Wolfowitz if his “passion for the noble goals of the Iraq war might overwhelm the prudence and pragmatism that normally guide war planners. Wolfowitz didn’t answer directly, except to say that it was a good question.”
Similarly, in an interview conducted shortly after Wolfowitz’s nomination to the World Bank post, Tom Malinowksi of Human Rights Watch said of Wolfowitz: “He is a serious and thoughtful person who is genuinely interested in the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world and someone who understands that very few interests can be advanced without paying attention to the way people are being governed.”
Wolfowitz has a long track record of producing influential—and controversial—policy proposals on key aspects of U.S. defense policy: In the late 1970s, he participated on the Team B Strategic Objectives Panel, a notorious effort to reinterpret CIA intelligence on the Soviet threat that helped put the country on a confrontational path with the Soviet Union and set the stage for the Reagan arms build up; as Dick Cheney’s undersecretary of defense for policy in the Bush Sr. administration, he drafted—with I. Lewis Libby—a controversial “defense policy guidance” report that is widely regarded as an early blueprint for the George W. Bush administration’s preemptive defense posture and interventionist foreign policies; and he collaborated with the Project for the New American Century’s advocacy campaign calling for war in Iraq. He has also been associated, along with Doug Feith, with the work of the Office of Special Plans, the Pentagon outfit that George Tenet and others blamed for twisting the intelligence on Iraq.
Before joining the Bush administration, Wolfowitz was the dean of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, the DC-based graduate school that has been home to a number of key neocon figures, including Gary Schmitt of the Project for the New American Century and the Defense Policy Board’s Eliot Cohen.
In 1992, while he was Cheney’s undersecretary of defense for policy, Wolfowitz was charged with producing a policy guidance report aimed at formulating a post-Cold War defense posture. Upset by President George H.W. Bush’s decision to leave Saddam Hussein’s regime in place after the 1991 Gulf War, Wolfowitz—along with “Scooter” Libby—argued in a draft version of the Defense Policy Guidance that the U.S. should actively deter nations from “aspiring to a larger regional or global role,” use preemptive force to prevent countries from developing weapons of mass destruction, and act alone if necessary.
Although the draft guidance was quashed soon after it was leaked to the New York Times, many of its ideas—in particular, the doctrine of preemption—later found their way into President George W. Bush’s national security strategy. The document also seems to have served as a template for the founding statement of principles of the Project for a New American Century, which was signed by a who’s who list of hawks and neocons who have served in the current administration, including Cheney, Libby, Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliott Abrams, Peter Rodman and Zalmay Khalilzad.
MICHAEL FLYNN is a research associate with the Right Web program of the International Relations Center (IRC), online at www.irc-online.org.