This article originally appeared in GQ and is reprinted on Longform by permission of the author.
YOUNG. That's the first thing you think when you see him. He looks too young. Too little. Not fragile—his shoulders and arms are bulky—but soft. Adolescent. Almost innocent. He smiles. He doesn't mind. It was always that way. "When you get older, you really appreciate it," he says sheepishly, sitting in his low chair behind his enormous table in his enormous office on the enormous outer ring of the Pentagon, a ridiculously vast and expansive room with its own private bathroom, three separate telephone banks, a view of the Washington and Jefferson memorials and, as the centerpiece, the desk of General Ulysses S. Grant, complete with lions' heads on the drawers and an assortment of beer, wine and Macallan twelve year-old scotch inside, all of which, for a lesser man, might be a bit overwhelming but for Paul Wolfowitz is merely the natural order of things—or disorder, as the case may be. Because he is a man to whom the natural order is disorder, for whom organizing principles seem to drop away and disappear. You can see it all around him here, in the books and objects strewn about like toys in a child's bedroom, scattered across the conference tables and coffee tables and side tables and desks, the position papers and maps, the political-science texts, the doctoral thesis, the old photographs, the letters from his father that he keeps tucked away in books, the trinkets from Indonesia that remind him of people he once knew, the daggers, the Asian good-luck charms, the yellow folders with headings like ARAB DEMOCRACY and ISRAEL: SETTLEMENTS, the collection of military coins, the small mirror for untold purposes, anything and everything that might amuse or stimulate him, things that he slips and springs between, thinking, remembering, reading, wondering, turning over in his mind, considering how the world does or does not or might or could perhaps be put together better, or at least differently. He is addicted to such thoughts. If you could know only one thing about him, that should be it: that he is endlessly, relentlessly curious, and boyishly so, with his fullmoon face and half-moon ears, his crescent grin and his wavy mass of black hair flecked with gray, which orbits his head like a halftone starry night. You can see the dreamlike wonder in his cinnamon eyes, bathed now in the yellow light that streams through the yellow windows, tinted to block enemy surveillance. He is a kingling here.
Today more than ever. Today the boss, the Donald, the SecDef, is out of the office, leaving him, the deputy, the modest son of Professor Jacob Wolfowitz of Cornell, in charge of the great beast that is the Pentagon, this short, squat stub of a man whose vaguely imposing presence is more a result of his lofty position than any individual characteristic he projects, presiding in his small, imperious way over 23,000 employees spread over 3.7 million square feet of office space, an indoor city connected by seventeen miles of hallways, 131 stairwells, nineteen escalators and, for relief along the way, 691 water fountains. To be here, today, in this position, in these shoes, at the top of this heap, is a very good feeling. The only thing is, it might have been this way every day, and that is what's hard for him to forget.
Two years ago, he came within a hair of that. Two and a half years ago, actually. Soon it will be three years, and, well, he hasn't quite forgotten it yet. "There was definitely a point at which I was a candidate to be secretary of defense," he mumbles in a by-the-way kind of way, staring at his knees, his hands folded in his lap. "I wasn't disappointed when he was chosen. I thought it was a good choice. But I remember watching his confirmation hearings and joining him and his family for lunch. I wasn't allowed to appear out in the open because I wasn't officially nominated as deputy. But—and this was not flattery, it wasn't calculated; I mean, I've known them for a long time—I gave Joyce Rumsfeld a hug and I said, 'Now I know why he's number one and I'm number two.' "
And it's true. He does know why, and everyone who knows him knows, too. Because there is something in Rumsfeld, something to him, some charge of authority that practically emanates from the granite-jawed former fighter pilot, something that Paul Wolfowitz has never, ever, not even on his best day, begun to approximate. And yet, if Rummy is the perfect stone visage of Defense, well, Wolfowitz is the grappling soul of it, a one-man think tank, a former dean at Johns Hopkins, a man prone to long deliberations and slow conclusions that set like cement in his mind. "Paul is an old friend of mine, and I like him," says Frank Gaffney, the director of the Center for Security Policy.
"But I have worked with him, and you should know this: Paul is not the most decisive of men. The people I know who worked for him were constantly frustrated that decisions went unaddressed. So that's a shortcoming. But in a way, I think it's probably why he's better suited toward working in the macropolicy arena."
Of course, he knows all that. He admits as much. You can't lead an army with questions. There's a story that reminds him of this. "There was a commander of the Indonesian armed forces," he says. "A very impressive individual with many admirable traits. I don't know if I can say this on the record, but his definition of leadership was, 'Even if you're crapping in your pants with fear, you mustn't let your boys see it.' "
Wolfowitz laughs hard, then shrugs. "People who have to get the job done need to think that you're fearless," he says. "Rumsfeld is very good at that. The president is very good at that." He pauses. "I try to be good at that." And there you have it. There you have him, in a nutshell. The man who obsessed on Iraq for more than a decade, who finally pulled from that quagmire of analysis a concrete position and tugged at the president to endorse it, who fought to sell it to the American people, who waged a campaign from this very office to inspire an invasion over there, a war without many allies or any obvious provocation, the man who opened his own little Pentagon spy shop to make the case for his war and, having set his heart on course, refused whatsoever to change it, the man who argued for regime change until he damned well got it, now sitting quietly among his books and ideas, bright-eyed and eager in the canary yellow light, with his boyish face and tousled hair, waiting and smiling while the bodies roll in, trying desperately to look unafraid.
BECAUSE THEY STILL don't seem to understand. His own daughter went to a peace rally this spring. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine the photos, if the press had gotten wind? The warmaker's daughter at a peace rally! And don't kid yourself, because he doesn't: That's what they would have written. Of course they would. That's how they cast him these days: as a warmonger, an agitator, a cold-blooded imperialist.
It would be funny if it weren't so frustrating to him. Because you have to remember that this is a new label, this warmonger-imperialist business. It used to be the opposite. Back when he was at the State Department in the 1980s, working for Ronald Reagan, he put his career on the line for peace. His first big policy initiative there, the whopper idea that clung to his mercurial mind, wasn't the bloody overthrow of a state but the peaceful removal of a dictator. That's right, peaceful. One of the great bloodless revolutions of our time, the ouster of Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos, a conservative puppet of the United States, would never have happened if Reagan hadn't strongly encouraged Marcos to step down. And you can count on this: Reagan wasn't giving any such encouragement until Paul Wolfowitz came along. Talk about a political battle! Forget Iraq. In the Philippines, Wolfowitz was up against his own party, his own people, trying to steer the president's course through a sea of conservative resistance. Because many conservatives considered Marcos an ally and a bulwark against communism in the Pacific, but to Wolfowitz the man was despicable, a liar and a cheat who had faked his own election and suspended his constitution. Wolfowitz wanted to put the heat on Marcos, and to do it he was willing to take some heat himself.
"We took a lot of heat from the right," says Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was in the Defense Department at the time and worked closely with Wolfowitz on the Philippines. "I'll tell you an absolute story. One day we were testifying on this issue, Paul and I, before the Senate. We were sitting in the audience while a panel of outside experts was preceding us, when Paul was called out of the hearing to receive a call from Senator Paul Laxalt, who was close to President Reagan. Laxalt called Paul to say, 'Look, I was just talking to the president, and he's a little upset that we seem to be beating up on President Marcos too much. He's going to be watching this testimony.' Paul comes back to me, and of course the testimonies are already written, and Paul leans over to me, and he's telling me this, and here we are, two midlevel officials about to go on and testify with the president unhappy! And somebody snapped a picture at that time—both Paul and I have them hanging in our office. Only the two of us know what we were conspiring about: We had decided just to go ahead with our testimony. And we did. It was a really ballsy thing for Paul to do, I thought."
"The political minefields that we had to navigate," says Wolfowitz now, shaking his head. "They were real. In fact, when we first started talking publicly about this, even George Shultz said, 'Are you sure you guys are not making the same mistake the last administration made in Iran?' But we had thought things through, and I was able to give him a good answer, which he was persuaded by. Then he carried the ball to the president. He spent a lot of time after we persuaded him—which didn't take too long—bringing Reagan along."
Bringing Reagan along. From Wolfowitz to Shultz to Reagan, a reversal of the chain of command, and the right wing wasn't pleased. This lowly assistant secretary trying to run foreign policy. This kid in an ironed shirt trying to undo President Ferdinand Marcos! The Republican core was dumbfounded.
As George Shultz remembers it, "bringing Reagan along" meant walking a thin line between the president's loyalty and his principles. "President Reagan felt that Marcos had been a loyal ally," says Shultz. "This took a real effort, probably the best team effort that anyone could imagine. Later I would scratch my head and say, 'That worked so well. Why can't we work it that well again?' "
But it wasn't work for Wolfowitz, that's just it. For him, it was nothing less than an act of faith. Because he had been to the Malacanang Palace and the elite enclaves of the Filipino ruling class, had seen the extravagant carnivals they threw there, the festivals that Armitage calls "the Illustrative Lifestyle in Manila," and at those events Wolfowitz had witnessed the kind of ostentatious luxury that can have only one of two effects on a man—to seduce him or repel him. Wolfowitz was repelled. He would come home from those trips daunted, aggravated, determined that it was wrong to live so well in the face of public starvation.
One of his subordinates in the State Department then was a slight, wiry kid named Scooter Libby, a Yale grad with the body of a dancer and eyes that wouldn't keep still. These days Libby works in Dick Cheney's office as the vice president's chief of staff, a position in which he is not encouraged to spend much time with the media, but on the rare occasion when he does sit back for a moment to indulge a reporter, settling himself deep into the recesses of a leather armchair in his vaulted, wood-paneled office in the Old Executive Office Building, his awe of the Marcos lifestyle is overshadowed only by his respect for the way Wolfowitz rejected it.
"One party that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos threw," Libby remembers with a smile creeping around the corners of his mouth, "was a grandiose Philippine dinner. A hundred and fifty people. Band playing. The former vice president of Vietnam was there. Filipino models squiring all around the place. But what Paul took from that was how revolting it was and what a waste." He raises his eyebrows as if to say, "Only Paul…"
On the way home from those trips, they would stop sometimes in Hawaii, the State Department team lounging on the beach or a hotel patio, when out of nowhere Wolfowitz would appear, racing down the shore in his swimming trunks, pale and quick, bursting into the water, paddling straight out from the coastline, out into the far reaches of the ocean until his head was just a dot on the horizon, until it would shrink away and disappear, and his staff would be left standing there, wondering, Where is the assistant secretary going? But he wasn't going; he was gone, disappeared, sometimes for almost half an hour, until finally his head would reappear, a pinprick, then a speck, then a spot, and slowly he'd paddle back to the beach, grinning like a mischievous kid.
Faith. That's what it is for him—and what it takes to understand him. Not religious faith but a secular kind, the faith that good intentions will prevail, that everything can and will work out, if only you give things a chance. That even the most oppressed, isolated populations in the world will embrace the principles of democracy if you let them, and what's more, those new democracies will adopt Western market ideas, will promote fair trade and hold summits and otherwise keep the peace, just as soon as you take their tyrants away. It was with this unwavering faith that he convinced the U.S. secretary of state to convince the U.S. president to convince the Filipino president to "cut and cut clean" in 1986—and, well, you can see where it all goes next.
Bringing change to a trampled nation through the use of benevolent power? If it worked in the Philippines, well, why not in Iraq? Even back then, he had his sights on Saddam, who was not only corrupt but genocidal. Wolfowitz had written a paper in 1979 suggesting that Hussein would eventually lunge for Kuwait, and he had glowered from the sidelines while the administration nevertheless supported Iraq in its eight-year war against Iran. He took a three-year breather after the State Department gig, serving as Reagan's ambassador to Indonesia; then he hurried back to Washington to work in Cheney's Pentagon as the undersecretary for policy, a position from which he continued to argue for the outright seizure of Baghdad, an argument he lost to James Baker's coalition as the first gulf war drew to a close. After that, while his buddies spent the Clinton years getting rich at Boeing and Halliburton, he bided his time running a foreign policy school in Maryland, but continued his campaign against Saddam, sending position papers to political friends and newspapers, arguing that the tyrant was a threat to civilization and had to be crushed before democracy could prosper in the Middle East. And when at last, after that eight-year intermission, his coterie finally returned to office, there he was again, arguing in meetings just after September 11 that the war on terrorism should include Iraq, pressing the president every chance he got to make an example of Saddam. And so it was that for Paul Wolfowitz, a man who spent nearly all his adult life earning a modest wage in government, the war on Iraq really wasn't about "seas of oil" or "bureaucratic reasons" or any of the devious motives attributed to him lately, but was more of a personal crusade for the exaltation of his beliefs, an article of his faith, a reflection of his certainty that democracy cures all— a glimpse of his hopeless, childlike optimism.
WELL, WHAT ELSE would you call it? What do you call a man who knows so much of history yet expects to find allies in Iraq? What do you call a man who thought instant democracy had a fighting chance in a country with no democratic tradition? As though the people of that country don't blame America for walking away in 1991, as though they haven't been bombarded with anti-American propaganda every day since, as though they and their neighbors across the Middle East haven't become inflamed with hatred for America, embittered by the chaos in Afghanistan and Somalia and the long history of American support for Israel, as though the people of the Arab nations aren't inundated daily on Al Jazeera and the Arab News Network with images of Palestinians dying, as though American policy in the Muslim world hasn't sponsored corrupt dictators for the past half century, creating a world where Saudi schools teach hatred of non-Muslims, where imams preach the holy jihad, where a majority of people trust Osama bin Laden more than George W. Bush, where Daniel Pearl was killed in Pakistan merely for being an American Jew, where, in the interest of market advantage, America has overlooked tyranny throughout Arabia, allowing the people of Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Iraq to languish under the whims of our cronies?
There is a name for a man who expects democracy to spring up in spite of all this, to flourish in a region deprived of secular education and liberal ideas, a place so bitter and mistrustful of our motives that nineteen of their young men, even after living in the Western world for ten years, were willing to spend their lives on our destruction. There is a name for a man who could look past all this and expect to find goodwill. He is a hopeless optimist.
"He's been this way since the Cold War," says Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense under Reagan. "His idea is that the world is ready to embrace democracy and the United States should embrace hegemony. You get rid of Iraq, you'll have democracy in the Middle East, you'll stop terrorism, you'll get peace between the Palestinians and Israel. That's his view. It's terribly overoptimistic. He's kind of a Wilsonian optimist."
"Paul is cheery," agrees his friend Ken Adelman, the Reagan Defense Department official who introduced Wolfowitz to both Rumsfeld and Cheney over brunch in 1981. "His default is for being optimistic. That's his distinguishing characteristic, as opposed to the Scowcroft-Kissinger-Eagleburger crap. Those are Real politik thinkers. Paul is more of a moralist. He thinks things will work out well. The rap is that he is unrealistic, because things can fall apart. He's been in government long enough to know that lots of things fall apart."
Wolfowitz considers the charge for a moment, then takes a deep breath. "Well," he says, "I think I am on the optimistic side of things.… When I'm given a problem, I don't view it as an academic might, by predicting the probable outcomes. I say, 'What can we do to make things better?' And I mean, I've noticed this in the past sometimes. I still think it's the right way to approach things. You may be swimming up a very difficult stream, and you may not make it very far, or you may not make it as far as you want to. But this sort of historian's/academic's tendency to step back and say, for example, 'Shia-Sunni conflict is a fact of centuries of history and it's endemic to Iraq and therefore you're going to fail'—you do need to think about those treacherous waters when you step into them, but when you're in them, it doesn't do you any good to have a pessimistic view of what's achievable. It's very important to figure out what you can change, what you can improve, what you can utilize. And the so-called realist view said, 'Well, the Chinese have never had a successful democracy; there's no way Taiwan will be democratic. Koreans have never had a successful democracy; there's no way they'll be democratic.' If we had proceeded with the so-called realist view that things will always be the way they have been, very little in the last fifty years would have happened. So I think that characterization I would plead guilty to."
And if democracy were to spontaneously appear in the Middle East today—if the majority of Egyptians and Kuwaitis and Saudi Arabians, not to mention Iraqis, were suddenly able to choose their own governments and foreign policy, to determine the price of their oil and the nature of their laws and their relationship to the United States, without any of our pet dictators to decide those things for them—would Paul Wolfowitz be ready to face the consequences?
"That's the risk you take," he says. "We haven't done so well with these dictators, either the enemy dictators or the more friendly ones, who are supposedly keeping a lid on things. So yes, there are risks. But it's very important what the president is doing on Arab-Israeli issues; the more progress you can make on that, the less the risk that a democratic Arab country is going to be hostile to the United States."
HIS FATHER IS somewhere smiling. His late father, Jacob, the Polish-born mathematician who read The New York Times every day. Jacob, who had a scientist's disdain for the ambiguities of politics but an equally irresistible urge to read history books all night. Jacob was known for ambling around the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell doing math problems in his head, lost in a world of numbers and figures, searching for definite answers, but Paul was never excited by his father's precise discipline.
He was good at math, but it felt too abstract. He switched his major to chemistry in search of something more concrete, but it lacked a philosophical dimension. He had always been the kind of kid with a much better idea of what his father wanted than what he wanted for himself, but in his senior year of college he came to a realization.
Looking back, it became clear to him that he had always gravitated toward the more nuanced disciplines, spending his free time not on scientific studies but politics and political struggle. All the way back in ninth grade, he had wanted so badly to read the South African novel Cry, the Beloved Country that, on a family trip to Europe, unable to find a copy in English, he bought it in French and pieced together a translation. On weekends for as long as he could remember, rather than delving into his schoolwork, he'd curl up with George Orwell or with John Hersey's Hiroshima. He had been a fervent supporter of the civil rights and women's-liberation struggles and had marched on Washington that day in 1963 to hear the "I have a dream" speech. He was a political animal, but he couldn't tell Jacob that. Nor could he tell Jacob when, after studying math and science at Cornell, after being accepted into a Ph.D. program for biophysical chemistry at M.I.T., he decided to slip an application into the mail for the University of Chicago's political-science program. The application was more of an answer than a question. He could see, for the first time, an interest all his own, a field that drew him more than any other, and deep down perhaps he also knew that in spite of his father's contempt for the social sciences, there would always be a part of Jacob that was privately drawn to them, too, a thirst for problems without definite solutions, which can only be solved in your head. And so he went to Chicago.
To understand the prestige of the political-science program at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s, all you need to know is the name Wohlstetter—a surname unfamiliar to most Americans but as familiar in Washington's defense community as Kissinger or McNamara. No single person outside of government exerted as much influence on the Cold War as Albert Wohlstetter. A senior member of the RAND think tank in California, Wohlstetter was a mathematician by training but a political theorist at heart. He had studied math, in fact, with Jacob Wolfowitz at Columbia, but the kinship he felt with the mathematician's son, a like-minded convert from hard science, was obvious from the moment they met at a student-faculty tea in Chicago. Within only a few years, Wohlstetter had taken Wolfowitz under his wing, and the 25-year-old found himself on the fast track in Washington, one of Wohlstetter's emissaries, dabbling among a network of defense hawks in the capital, holding meetings with the likes of Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, an environmentalist Democrat who fought hard for civil rights legislation but was much better known for his hard-line approach to the Cold War. In this company, Wolfowitz learned to merge his liberal social ideals with a fervent passion for national defense. He became fast friends with other members of the Jackson-Wohlstetter fraternity, including the 27-year-old Richard Perle, and found that being connected to Wohlstetter was the only passport they needed among Washington conservatives. In certain communities, Wohlstetter was Washington.
"Albert Wohlstetter was one of the most important unknown men of the twentieth century, and he liked it that way," says Jude Wanniski, a former Wall Street Journal writer and one of the architects of supplyside economics. "He was essentially, from the 1950s on, the man who played chess for our political establishment against the Soviet Union. There really was only one guy—master chess player—who was taking the hawk position. Kissinger was always taking the dove position. I didn't meet Wohlstetter until 1972, but I knew he was the mastermind. Maggie Thatcher didn't make a move on national security unless it was cleared by Albert. It was Albert who designed the strategy of destabilizing the Soviet Union by luring them into Afghanistan. He was truly a genius. He died a few years ago, when he was 83 years old, but his principal protégés are Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. They were his acolytes, his kibbitzers." But the network only begins there, the intricate mesh of old friends and collaborators that stretches across the Bush administration like a cobweb of conservative confederates. You can start with Jude Wanniski getting together with Art Laffer and Dick Cheney over a drink one evening in 1975 and, in a moment of some lubricated inspiration, drawing the Laffer Curve for the first time on Cheney's bar napkin—the fountainhead of supply-side economics, born underneath a cocktail. Or you could start with the fact that Cheney was in that bar that night only because his boss, Don Rumsfeld, couldn't make it; he was far too busy, as Gerald Ford's chief of staff, competing with George Bush for the vice presidential nod. Or the fact that, on any other evening during the short-lived Ford administration, you might well have found Alan Greenspan sprawled out on the floor of Cheney's White House office, stretching his sore back and watching the news. Or the fact that Greenspan had been a student of Wolfowitz's father at Cornell. Or that, when Cheney ran the Pentagon and Wolfowitz was his undersecretary for policy, Colin Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And now that Powell is the secretary of state, Rich Armitage is his deputy, and when Armitage worked in Reagan's Pentagon, Colin Powell was the national security adviser and Paul Wolfowitz was at State. The list of names in top positions has stayed about the same for twenty years, merely rotating and shuffling with time.
Not that they agree about everything. There are factions and divisions in the party, of course. Foremost are the realists, or real politikers, the pragmatic group of party elders who tend to be more concerned with national security than, say, foreign aid or intervention. Even among these, there are subgroups, but in general it is fair to lump disparate men like Scowcroft and Kissinger with Rumsfeld and Cheney, since all of them make an effort to read the world and respond to it rather than to shape it with ideals. By contrast, the neoconservatives generally endorse a more idealistic worldview. These are the Scoop Jackson clan, largely associated with Wolfowitz and Perle, men whose ideology drives their decision-making.
Over the course of two decades, the realists and neocons have often debated but never splintered apart. This is for obvious reasons: They have more in common than contrast. In both camps, the military is a dominant concern, if not the dominant one. Both advocate a missile shield, a fast-growing defense budget, a strong approach to perceived enemies and the protection of America's financial interests overseas. However, there are key differences that have remained latent until this point. Realists, for example, hold the Powell doctrine to be self-evident, the notion that U.S. troops should be deployed only when there is a clear "national interest" at stake, meaning a security or economic concern. Neocons, on the other hand, favor military intervention in humanitarian causes as well, such as the crises in Rwanda and Kosovo, cases of governmental genocide.
In fact, in the 2000 election, it was Wolfowitz who convinced Governor Bush not to criticize the Clinton administration for sending troops to Kosovo, arguing that it was the right thing to do, with or without a clear "national interest." Perhaps even more importantly, realists and neocons tend to disagree on key domestic issues, such as the size, scale and role of government, especially in civil liberties, which the idealistic neocons treasure but hardened realists have been known to overlook.
It's notable, then, that in the span of twenty years, the balance of power in the Republican Party has shifted as the neocons have grown exponentially in number. It's also worth noting that Paul Wolfowitz has had a lot to do with that shift, stocking the departments of State and Defense with a host of men and women you have probably never heard of but who are slowly filling the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom with his minions.
People like Don Fortier, a Wohlstetter student whom Wolfowitz hired in the State Department's office of Policy Planning back in the early 1980s, a man who went on to join the National Security Council during the Iran-Contra scandal, working for John Poindexter and supervising Oliver North. Or Doug Feith, who worked for Perle in the '80s, then served as deputy assistant secretary of defense under Reagan (when Colin Powell was an assistant secretary of defense) and who now holds the Pentagon job that Wolfowitz held under Cheney. Or Dennis Ross, another Policy Planning recruit, who later ran that office, then worked as assistant secretary of defense under the first President Bush. Or Jim Roche, yet another veteran of Wolfowitz's Policy Planning team, currently nominated as secretary of the army (after being secretary of the air force for the past two years). Roche got his start in the Senate, working for Scoop Jackson, before Wolfowitz brought him into the State Department, then released him into the military command. Not to mention Scooter Libby, currently working as Dick Cheney's right arm, who studied politics under Wolfowitz at Yale in the 1970s and was shocked when the professor called him a few years later to offer him a job. In its entirety, the Wolfowitz network would fill hundreds and perhaps thousands of pages, a constantly swirling riptide of men shifting and trading positions over the past twenty years, with Wolfowitz always plugged into the center, his ideas washing over them all.
"We have all stayed in close contact," says Secretary Roche now. "We believe that America's might should be used to spread democracy, to make people's lives better. We believe in things like civil liberties and strong national defense at the same time. Some of us are more bullish in the china shop, which is probably me, and others are more subtle about it, Paul being more subtle. But when we focus on something we believe is right, we are not really intimidated off the point. We will drive on the point and drive on the point, even if there are still a lot of people telling us we are crazy."
THESE DAYS it's hard to tell who's crazy and who's just trying not to look scared. Wolfowitz is standing up now. His broad shoulders and thick chest seem to shrink beneath his sheepish smile. He has to go, sorry. He has a meeting in the next room, a group of Shia Muslims who want to talk about the rebuilding of Iraq. But before he goes, there's something he needs to say. In his mind, if not in the press, he is a friend of Islam.
As the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia in the late 1980s, he lived in the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world, and he learned to speak their language and fell in love with the people and their culture and history. When they wouldlament to him that the U.S. didn't pay enough attention to their country, he would say to them, as ambassador, "Look at the countries we do pay attention to: Lebanon, El Salvador! You should be glad!"
And now he seems more right than ever, at least about that. Now we are paying attention to Iraq, and the whole thing is falling apart, collapsing on everyone inside. All the best-case scenarios, all the working models, all the high-minded principles and elevated promises have come splattering down on the windshield of reality, and it's hard to see the road anymore. There is only the wail of people dying—soldiers, rebels, little girls in red dresses—like a tremolo on trombone. Still. Even if you're crapping in your pants with fear, you mustn't let your boys see it. So he focuses on the catastrophes that didn't happen instead of the ones that are.
No WMDs have been used against us. No major urban warfare. Not many burning oil fields. No other Arab countries in collapse. This is the new definition of success: not to fail in every way. It will have to do for now, because there are new battles to fight already. Extremism, religious despotism and prejudice are bubbling up everywhere you look, not only in Iran and Afghanistan, but in New York and Washington too. For more than two years now, the Justice Department and the INS have been rounding up Muslim immigrants, arresting them for petty offenses like expired student visas, throwing them into jails and prisons, sometimes for months without formal charges, without access to attorneys or contact with the outside world, and the civil libertarian in Wolfowitz reels at the notion of that. Freedom, he wants to make clear, is not just a foreign policy.
"It's a real dilemma," he says wistfully. "I hear a lot from Indonesians who were among the innocent victims of some of that. I don't mean that all people are innocent, but I mean, large numbers of people who are completely harmless have run into real problems because of those rules. And we've had a lot of discussions interagency about it. One of the things that concerns me is that if you weigh the costs and benefits in the war on terrorism, while it's a benefit to keep a terrorist out of this country, it's a cost if you give a harmless person an impression that we're anti-Muslim in some way.
"When the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, three of the greatest civil libertarians in our history—Earl Warren, who was then the governor of California, Hugo Black, who was a justice of the Supreme Court, and Franklin Roosevelt, who was president of the United States—combined together to put Japanese in concentration camps. What we're trying to prevent is the kind of catastrophe not only that will kill a lot of Americans but that will impose horrible changes in what we consider acceptable and unacceptable."
And with that, he begins piling together his things to leave the room.
Scooter Libby calls on a secure telephone line, and Wolfowitz mutters for a few moments about moving troops from here to there. Then he hangs up, pauses, nods, and slips out the door on the far side of the room, closing it behind him. Through the peephole in the door, he can be seen sitting behind another one of his gigantic tables, surrounded by bearded men with white turbans and gowns, shaking hands and laughing together, planning the future of Iraq. The war is won, perhaps, but the peace is certainly not.
The peace consumes him now. It is first among his worries. He has made his life about tackling tyranny, regardless of risk or cost, whether it helps his party or not—and if civil liberties are worth fighting for, they're worth defending too. In Iraq, as in the Philippines. In the States, as in Iraq. And so he goes to the mat again, for the same set of dreamy principles he has professed all his life. He will urge the interim authority to pull out of Baghdad as quickly as possible. He will encourage Iraqi elections in spite of popular opposition. And he will wage a backroom campaign against the Justice Department hounds.
He will relent on none. If he has to go head to head with people like John Ashcroft in interagency meetings, if he has to copy and circulate passages from the U.S. Constitution, if he has to testify before Congress to put the heat where it belongs, well, he's been down this road before. Only this time, he won't be alone. The realists may not be with him, but the neocons are growing up.