A neo-conservative odyssey
Last Updated May 19, 2007
Paul Wolfowitz leaves his home in Chevy Chase, Md., on May 18, 2007.
(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
Unabashed champion of neo-conservatism. Architect of the invasion of Iraq. Compiler of dossiers of flawed intelligence about Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Controversial World Bank president brought down by charges of nepotism and an arrogant management style.
To his opponents, Paul Wolfowitz was all of these things. But to many outside of active politics, he's the man who spat on his comb to slick down an unruly lock of hair. Polemical filmmaker Michael Moore brought that documentary footage to a global audience when he used it as part of the opening scenes of Fahrenheit 9/11.
On June 1, 2005, President George W. Bush named Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank. The appointment was fiercely controversial, not least within the U.S. State Department, which works closely with the World Bank on international development, poverty and public health issues.
One of the right wing's consummate Washington insiders, Wolfowitz brought an impressive resumé to the office of World Bank president. He had degrees from Cornell University in New York and the University of Chicago. His mentors were the intellectual giants of what had become widely known as neo-conservatism.
This philosophy postulated a unipolar world where American military might and economic clout would advance an aggressive agenda of liberal democracy and free-market economics around the world. Neo-conservatives like Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago and Allan Bloom of Cornell took issue with the postwar consensus that American foreign policy should work closely with allies and institutions like the United Nations.
To Strauss, Bloom and their pupil, Wolfowitz, this was unconscionable. They believed in the unfettered power and moral authority of the Untied States, arguing that multilateralism weakened American authority and encouraged bad behaviour by enemies.
During the Cold War, Wolfowitz was a prominent voice in arms-control circles in Washington, first as an aide to the conservative Democratic Senator Henry (Scoop) Jackson and then on the staff of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the organization charged with overseeing strategic and nuclear weapons negotiations with the Soviet Union.
Flexing U.S. muscle
Wolfowitz was brought into those inner realms by President Richard Nixon in 1972. He wrote speeches and policy documents, and championed the view of his mentors and others that the United States had vastly underestimated the military strength and global ambitions of Moscow. In the 1970s, Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and other prominent neo-conservatives successfully pushed the notion that U.S. intelligence agencies were intentionally tinkering with data to support the policy of détente — strategic parity and co-operation with Moscow's Communist leaders.
The political upheaval that followed the end of the Vietnam War and the resignation of Richard Nixon in the mid-70s was an ideal backdrop for neo-conservative challenges to U.S. policies. The election of Democrat Jimmy Carter to the White House in 1976 was no setback to Wolfowitz. In fact, he won promotion to a crucial job at the U.S. Defence Department in the Carter administration, and his views on the importance of securing American access to Persian Gulf oil date from this time.
In retrospect, President Ronald Reagan was a neo-conservative, although the term was not in wide use during the 1980s when the former governor of California dominated American politics. Reagan negotiated hard with Moscow and achieved real strategic arms reductions, but the mistrust of Soviet leaders advocated by Wolfowitz and others was at the centre of the president's approach.
U.S. defence spending soared during Reagan's two terms in the White House, and many historians believe Moscow's attempts to keep up with America led directly to the collapse of Soviet Communism. Prominent neo-conservative writer Francis Fukuyama celebrated this view of events in his 1992 book, The End of History.
The Clinton years of the 1990s saw the neo-conservatives fuming in opposition and developing a coherent policy outlook through think-tanks like the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Wolfowitz left government during this period and taught international relations at Johns Hopkins University. He was a charter member of the PNAC and used his academic pulpit to spread core neo-conservative ideas, such as the importance of securing Persian Gulf oil access, the dangers presented by Saddam Hussein and the need for America to wield its global power confidently and often.
The disputed election victory of George W. Bush in 2000 brought Wolfowitz back to the circles of power and influence he knew well. As deputy secretary of defence under Rumsfeld, he helped develop military and political strategies to isolate and eventually invade Iraq. The al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, accelerated this process, and the American-led assault on Saddam in 2003 was the direct result of a key team of neo-conservatives inside the Pentagon.
Wolfowitz proved himself a formidable political infighter during this time. Almost single-handedly, against the instincts of the State Department and its head, Colin Powell, he moved the U.S. closer to the right-wing Likud administration of Israel, and made a series of speeches asserting America's right and inclination to take unilateral action against its enemies if necessary.
Iraq war aftermath
The quagmire that followed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 probably sped Wolfowitz's departure from government, although being appointed as World Bank president was hardly a punishment. Press reports and books about Iraq say Wolfowitz lost influence over the formation of post-invasion governments and was gradually sidelined by Rumsfeld, Vice-President Dick Cheney and others.
His World Bank appointment was hugely controversial. Some said his links to the Bush administration would help the bank raise money to fight poverty, HIV/AIDS and corruption. But most global development professionals were appalled that someone who'd planned what they saw as a disastrous military intervention was now in charge of a crucial international institution.
At first, his outspoken support for improving the lot of people in sub-Saharan Africa won him reluctant kudos inside the World Bank and among the charities and aid agencies it works with. But an abrasive management style and appointments of right-wing ideologues to what were seen by Bank insiders as professional positions soon restarted the flow of criticism.
His personal role in cutting off bank funds to allegedly corrupt African governments opened him to charges of hypocrisy, on top of a conflict of interest when his role emerged in getting his girlfriend a big pay raise and a new job. His resignation letter says he'll leave office at the end of June, but his enemies can be expected to keep up the pressure for an earlier, more humiliating departure date.
1965: Bachelor's degree in mathematics, Cornell University
1972: Doctorate degree in political science, University of Chicago
1970-1973: Taught at Yale University
1973-1977: Worked with U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
1976-1977: Special assistant for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
1977-1980: Deputy assistant secretary of defence for regional programs
1981-1982: Head of State Department policy planning staff
1982-1986: Assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs
1986-1989: U.S. ambassador to Indonesia
1989-1993: Undersecretary of defence for policy
1993: Taught at the National Defence University
1994-2001: Dean, School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University
2001-2005: Deputy secretary of defence
2005-2007: President of the World Bank