Paul Wolfowitz: Freedom Fighter

COMMENTARY Political Process

Paul Wolfowitz: Freedom Fighter

Jun 1, 2005 13 min read
Nile Gardiner, PhD

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow

Nile Gardiner is Director of The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

Few policy makers in recent American history have been as controversial on the world stage as Paul Wolfowitz, the newly elected President of the World Bank. For critics of Bush Administration foreign policy, Wolfowitz is the embodiment of a new American imperialism, supposedly driven by an elite cabal of Washington neo-conservatives. A chief architect of the Iraq war and the war on terror, Wolfowitz is portrayed by his opponents as the arch warmonger, driven by a ruthless desire to project U.S. power across the globe, as part of a unilateralist American attempt to impose its values on the world.

The announcement that Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld, was heading to the World Bank, provoked outrage in many quarters, in Europe and the United States. Britain's former international development secretary, Clare Short, was quick to describe the nomination as little more than President Bush showing a symbolic "two fingers to the world."[1] The Financial Times described Wolfowitz as "a poor choice for the World Bank" who "will be seen as just another U.S. proconsul... to put the unilateralist architect of the Iraq war in charge of the world's multilateral development agency is, many must think, to put a fox in charge of the chicken coop."[2] In the words of The Economist, "his appointment tells the world that Mr. Bush wants to capture the World Bank and make it an arm of American foreign policy."[3] In a classic case of understatement, Germany's development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul dryly remarked that "we are not exactly seeing floods of enthusiasm across old Europe."[4]

The response from liberal elites in Washington and New York was just as scathing.[5] The New York Times called the Wolfowitz nomination "a slap at the international community, which widely deplored the invasion and the snubbing of the United Nations that accompanied it."[6] Robert Stiglitz, the American Nobel laureate and former chief economist of the World Bank described it as "either an act of provocation or an act so insensitive as to look like provocation" that "could bring street protests and violence across the developing world."[7]

The Wolfowitz caricature however belies a fiercely intellectual and complex figure that defies simple categorization: a unique thinker who has served six American presidents, speaks six languages, and has taught at some of the world's finest institutions of higher learning[8]; a staunch defender of Israel as well as a great admirer of Islam; a conservative foreign policy hawk and a "bleeding heart" dove on social issues. Diverse influences on his thinking have included Albert Wohlstetter, Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom and "Scoop" Jackson.[9] On closer examination of his writings, speeches and statements, Wolfowitz emerges as a 21 Century warrior leading the war on terror, a romanticist with a deep fascination for Islam and the Middle East, a humanitarian interventionist, an avid historian with a penchant for learning the lessons of history, and a modern day visionary idealist with echoes of T.E. Lawrence.  What ties all these threads is a firm belief in spreading freedom and democracy across the world, and the principle that the West must confront and defeat totalitarianism and evil.

Wolfowitz's World View

Perhaps no figure has been more influential in shaping the foreign policy outlook of President Bush than Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz is driven by a clear-cut black and white single-mindedness, not dissimilar to that of some of the great figures of modern times, such as Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher. It is individuals that largely shape history, not social movements, and Wolfowitz's role in shaping the future direction of American strategic thinking has been pivotal.

The imprint of Wolfowitz's ideas was stamped indelibly on Bush's inaugural speech marking the beginning of his second term of office. It was one of the most important speeches given by an American president since the Second World War, and probably the most idealistic. The speech drew heavily from themes and ideas that Wolfowitz had advanced for many years - principally the United States must play an aggressive, proactive role in advancing freedom and democracy on the world stage.  

"There is only one force of history" stated President Bush, "that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom… the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." The President's speech was a powerful enunciation of a new, idealistic vision for a muscular American foreign policy, whose ultimate goal is the defeat of tyranny across the world:

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.[10]

The President's vision owes a significant debt to Paul Wolfowitz. What Bush was describing was what Wolfowitz has called America's "mantle of responsibility"[11], the belief that America's own freedom and destiny is intertwined with her ability to project liberty and freedom on a world canvas. Bush's speech combined two main themes that have dominated the thinking of his former Deputy Secretary of Defense: the need to confront totalitarianism, and the belief that democracy can flourish in the Middle East.

The holocaust, the evils of Nazism and Communism, and the perils of appeasement all loom large in the background to Wolfowitz's thinking. His own tragic family history is testament to the horrors of totalitarianism in the 20th Century. Wolfowitz is the son of a Polish immigrant, whose extended family was largely exterminated in the Nazi death camps of the 1940s.[12] In a speech at the United Nations to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camps, Wolfowitz reminded his audience that "if there is one thing the world has learned, it is that peaceful nations cannot close their eyes or sit idly by in the face of genocide."[13]

For Wolfowitz, the U.S.-led war on terror is a continuation of the epic battle between good and evil, democracy and totalitarianism, the forces of freedom and the defenders of barbarism. The liberation of Iraq was a powerful symbol of America's determination to confront and defeat evil, bringing to an end what Wolfowitz called an "era of systematic savagery".[14] Wolfowitz has compared the terrorists in Iraq, led by Al Qaeda mastermind Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi to the Nazis. Referring to a letter by Zarqawi to his associates in Afghanistan, Wolfowitz observed that "in the contempt he displays in that long letter for whole groups of human beings, including Muslim Kurds and Muslim Shia, Zarqawi calls to mind the racism of the Nazis. And his glorification of death and violence also calls to mind the tyrannical movements of the last century. While he claims a mantle of religion, his rhetoric recalls the death's head that Hitler's SS proudly displayed on their uniforms."[15]

This was a theme that President Bush was to build upon in his 2005 State of the Union address, where he spoke of the desire of Zarqawi and his allies to "impose and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life."[16]

The Broader Middle East Initiative, launched by the White House in November 2003, owes much to the long-term strategic thinking of Mr. Wolfowitz. The Middle East Initiative, which has become a central plank of the Bush Administration's foreign policy, calls for the United States to advance freedom and democracy across the Arab world, a cause which Wolfowitz had championed long before it became fashionable.

Strongly influenced by his time as US ambassador to Indonesia under Reagan, Wolfowitz has been a forceful advocate of the idea of reaching out to moderate Muslims across the Middle East and Asia, and sowing the seeds of democracy in the Islamic world. A speaker of Arabic, Wolfowitz has met frequently with Arab intellectuals and political leaders who share his vision of transforming the political culture of Muslim countries. He has called on Muslims to join the ideological war against terrorism, which "must be fought most emphatically in the Muslim world itself, and by Muslims." The United States, observes Wolfowitz, "must become more attentive to the moderate voices in the Muslim world. For the better we are at encouraging them, the more effective we can be."[17]

Wolfowitz passionately rejects the notion that the West is engaged in a clash of civilizations with Islam. "There is no war between the West and Islam", Wolfowitz told students at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service:

"It is a false distinction - whether we are talking about the Koran, the Bible, or the Geneva Conventions, there is a common, universal regard for human life. There are fundamental moral protections for human rights and the innocent. These extremists kill without reservation, corrupt the hopeless with false promises that suicide and murder are the path to heaven, and they use holy places, orphanages, and hospitals and military platforms. They are only a small minority of the more than one billion Muslims in the world. And they have not only declared war against Islam, but against the civilized world."[18]

By nature an optimist, and by conviction an idealist, Wolfowitz is convinced that the war on terror will unite, rather than divide, the Christian and Muslim worlds. His views on how the West and East must work together to defeat terrorism are encapsulated in his speech to the World Affairs Council in 2002, just eight months after the events of September 11:

"To win the war against terrorism and, in so doing, help share a more peaceful world, we must speak to the hundreds of millions of moderate and tolerant people in the Muslim world, regardless of where they live, who aspire to enjoy the blessings of freedom and democracy and free enterprise. These are sometimes described as "Western values", but, in fact, they are universal. We need to recognize that the terrorists target not only us but their fellow Muslims, upon whom they aim to impose a medieval, intolerant and tyrannical way of life. Those hundreds of millions of Muslims who aspire to the freedom and prosperity that Americans enjoy are, in many cases, on the frontlines of the struggle against terrorism."[19] 

Wolfowitz's Legacy

"Freedom", wrote Paul Wolfowitz, "is the glue of the world's strongest alliances, and it is also the solvent that has dissolved tyrannical rule."[20]It of course remains to be seen whether Wolfowitz's grand vision of a Middle East transformed, embracing western-style liberal democracy, will ultimately become a reality. The early omens however are promising.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians turned out to vote to elect a new president in January 2005, burying the legacy of hopeless despair and violence which had been the hallmark of the Yasser Arafat era. Elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council will be held in July. Saudi Arabia, an absolutist monarchy, held its first regional local government elections in 40 years this February, in a small but symbolically significant step toward democratization. Huge popular demonstrations in Lebanon forced the resignation of the pro-Damascus government in Beirut, and compelled the Syrians to withdraw their troops after a 29-year occupation.

The birth of democracy in Iraq however will surely be Wolfowitz's lasing legacy. While terrorists continue to wage a brutal but ultimately futile campaign against freedom in Iraq, Saddam Hussein faces trial for his horrific crimes against the Iraqi people. Gone are the torture rooms and the killing fields of one of the most barbaric regimes of modern times.

Despite the continuing violence and sectarian tensions in Iraq, we are witnessing the slow and bloody emergence of the Middle East's first liberal democracy, with a constitutional commitment to the rule of law, religious freedom, equality of opportunity, and individual liberty.  Even the most cynical critics of the U.S./British decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power could not fail to have been moved by television images of ordinary Iraqis defying the will of the terrorists who had threatened to kill them, turning out in huge numbers to vote in most cases for the first time in their lives. In the face of huge intimidation, 8.5 million Iraqis voted in the February 2005 election for the Iraqi transitional parliament, representing 58% of the registered electorate.

The success of the Iraqi elections was a staggering testament to the desire for freedom among the Iraqi people, and should be seen as one of the greatest achievements of U.S. foreign policy in the post Cold War-era. It was a powerful symbol of the winds of change that are now blowing through the Middle East, a revolution which owes no small part to Paul Wolfowitz.

Nile Gardiner Ph.D. is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He has written extensively on American foreign policy and transatlantic relations, and served as an aide to Lady Thatcher from 2000 to 2002.

[1] Quoted by Alec Russell, "Critics remind caring Wolfie 'what big teeth you've got'", The Daily Telegraph, March 19, 2005.
[2] Editorial, Financial Times, March 18, 2005.
[3] "Wolf at the Door", Editorial, The Economist, March 19, 2005.
[4] "Europeans resigned to seeing Wolfowitz as World Bank head", Financial Times, March 18, 2005.
[5] It should though be noted that there were one or two prominent exceptions. Jamie Rubin, Assistant Secretary of State under President Clinton, leapt to Wolfowitz's defence, arguing that "at the World Bank, he will be leading not an army but a painstaking campaign to build respect for the rule of law, openness and good governance through development projects and international cooperation. He will be doing something that Democratic presidents from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton have supported and that today's Democrats should support too." See James P. Rubin, "Wolfowitz's Idealism May Serve Us Well", The International Herald Tribune, March 23, 2005.
[6] "Why Paul Wolfowitz?", Editorial, The New York Times, March 17, 2005.
[7] Liam Halligan, "The World Bank will be hated", interview with Robert Stiglitz, Sunday Telegraph, March 20, 2005.
[8] From 1994 to 2001, Wolfowitz served as Dean and Professor of International Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of the Johns Hopkins University. He taught political science at Yale from 1970 to 1973, and was the George F. Kennan Professor of National Security Strategy at the National War College in 1993. He received his doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago in 1972.
[9] For more insight into the evolution of Wolfowitz's political thought, see Sam Tanenhaus, "Bush's Brain Trust", Vanity Fair, July 2003.
[10] President George W. Bush, Inauguration Speech, January 20, 2005.
[11] Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, remarks delivered at the United Nations, January 24, 2005.
[12] According to a study by New York Times editor Bill Keller, "Wolfowitz grew up in a household in which Hitler and Stalin were not abstractions. His father, a mathematics professor at Cornell and an innovator in the field of statistics, was a Polish Jew who emigrated from Russian-held Warsaw in 1920. He often told his children how lucky they were to have escaped the totalitarian horrors of Europe for the benign security of America. There were many Wolfowitzes consumed in the Holocaust, and according to Wolfowitz's sister, Laura, the world's perils and America's moral responsibility were constant topics at their dinner table." Bill Keller, "The Sunshine Warrior", The New York Times, September 22, 2002.
[13] Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, remarks delivered at the United Nations, January 24, 2005.
[14] Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, "Terror is Losing", The New York Post, March 19, 2004.
[15] Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, remarks to the Rand Corporation, September 8, 2004.
[16] President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, February 2, 2005.
[17] Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, remarks to Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, October 30, 2003.
[18] Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, remarks to the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, October 30, 2003.
[19] Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, remarks to the World Affairs Council, May 3, 2002.
[20] Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, remarks to the Rand Corporation, September 8, 2004.

First appeared in the German in Internationale Politik