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Wolfowitz’s War


As defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was driven from public life thanks to the catastrophe of Iraq, and for the moment at least lurks in obscurity. Wolfowitz, his deputy until 2005, contributed in almost equal measure to the debacle, yet managed to slide from the Pentagon into the presidency of a leading international institution with every chance to redeem himself. Blame for torture at Abu Ghraib and Guant·namo, bungling over troop levels, chaos in Iraq’s reconstruction, and the general meltdown in Pentagon management has all too often been laid at Rumsfeld’s door alone. However, Wolfowitz was an energetic enabler of these outrages and many other notorious initiatives.

To cite just one example: among the most infamous documentary testaments to Rumsfeld’s place in the hierarchy of torture is the First Special Interrogation Plan for use at Guant·namo that received his approval in December 2002. It cleared the way for prolonged sleep deprivation, 20-hour interrogations, and sexual and religious humiliation, along with other favoured techniques. But as the document signed by Rumsfeld notes, the plan had earlier been reviewed and approved by “the deputy”, ie Wolfowitz.

There are indications that Wolfowitz was even more hands on when it came to Abu Ghraib. At the May 2006 court martial of Sergeant Santos Cardona, who was one of the low-ranking personnel called to atone for the collective sins of the military establishment, testimony from one of the interrogators alleged that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were in direct contact with the prison and received “nightly briefings” on the intelligence being extracted under torture.

Just as Rumsfeld will forever be uniquely associated with the torture policy, the hapless former US viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, is credited with the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army. Yet numerous sources in Baghdad and the Pentagon at the time were insistent the disbandment decree had been drafted with Wolfowitz’s assent, probably as a means of removing a potential pool of support for a rival to the neoconservatives’ favourite Iraqi, Ahmed Chalabi.

Earlier Wolfowitz had manoeuvred to have himself appointed as viceroy in Iraq. That effort failed. But a newly revealed inquiry by the Pentagon’s inspector general found that, in a foretaste of things to come, he did his best to secure a high-level position in the administration of the conquered country for Riza. Seemingly, he was in awe of her expertise on Iraqi matters. Participants in high level meetings to discuss intelligence on Iraq told me they were startled to hear the deputy secretary of defence invoke his girlfriend: “Shaha says …” Other Pentagon officials were less impressed by her knowledge of the country, not to mention the enormous salary she demanded for her services, and successfully blocked the appointment. Instead, a huge Pentagon contractor, Saic, was directed to hire Riza for a temporary Iraq mission.

Before we conclude that Wolfowitz was the original author of the policies that destroyed Iraq, we should note that his entire career, at least up through his Pentagon service, has been in the service and at the direction of others. His early work in Washington promoting the dubious merits of an anti-ballistic missile programme, for example, was sponsored by Paul Nitze, a powerful insider who devoted a lifetime of intrigue to boosting east-west tensions and US defence spending. Nitze served as godfather to the neoconservative movement in the 70s, correctly calculating that a fusion of the pro-Israel lobby with the military-industrial lobby would create an alliance of unstoppable power. Among the early and most potent recruits was an old friend of Wolfowitz’s, Richard Perle, known and feared in Washington as “the Prince of Darkness” for his ruthless bureaucratic skills and commanding position in the neoconservative forces.

The relationship flourished into Wolfowitz’s sojourn in the Pentagon. Officials who worked closely with him remarked to me on the amount of time Perle, then a close associate of Conrad Black, spent closeted with the deputy secretary. They remained in constant touch, as Wolfowitz’s phone logs attest. Other regular recipients of Wolfowitz calls included Lewis “Scooter” Libby, then chief of staff to Vice-President Cheney and now a convicted felon, and Robin Cleveland. Cleveland was in charge of national security programmes at the White House office of management and budget. From that powerful position, according to a former close colleague of Wolfowitz’s, she “was one of the most important people in the group that gave us the Iraq war”.

Late last year Perle and other leading neoconservatives lashed out publicly at Rumsfeld, deriding his mismanagement of the Iraqi enterprise they had worked so hard to set in train. “Interesting they are not going after the puppet,” the former colleague emailed me in reference to Wolfowitz’s absence from his old friends’ denunciations.

Given recent sordid revelations, his role in shredding the reputation of the World Bank and the morale of its employees may be harder to obscure.

ANDREW COCKBURN is the author of Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall and Catastrophic Legacy.


Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.  An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years.  In addition to publishing numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis American Casino.  His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Henry Holt).

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