I’ve just read a WSJ interview by James Taranto with (who else) Paul Wolfowitz–“Wolfie” to his friends. That’s right, the guy who had the distinction of working under two Bush’s and two US defense secretaries–Dick Cheney (under George I) and Donald Rumsfeld (under George II) is now looking for a spotlight and a microphone.
Presumably his two disastrous stints in government, the ones that brought us au cours the beginnings of the Iraq conflict under H.W. and everything else under W. (including a strategy for “finishing what we started”) gives him the right to be quoted. That’s why Cheney and his elves are making the talk show rounds, trying to find enough crumbs of recognition to make a real piece of pie before the Democrats take it all.
In the interview, Wolfowitz claims that Obama missed the clear signals of the Arab spring. If you missed it too, this is the period that lasted for 28 days in March and April of 2011 before turning into just another sandstorm.
Unable to lecture on the “War of Terror” in the light of last week’s killing of Osama bin Laden, Wolfowitz thinks this is credible change of topic, a technique he perfected in his attempts to convince a sleepy and perpetually dumb American electorate that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were really co-conspirators in 9-11, maybe even the same “tearist.”
“Egypt we just bungled completely,” he adds. “I mean, our position was always three days behind whatever was actually going on.” As for Syria, “we’ve failed under both [the Bush and Obama] administrations to recognize how hostile [Bashar] Assad is to everything we want to accomplish in that region,” even when Assad backed foreign fighters killing American soldiers in Iraq. “Now he’s clearly declared himself as an enemy of his own people. At the very least, symbolism matters, and the symbolism of leaving an American ambassador in Damascus. . . . He should have been out a long time ago. Then there’s Libya…”
Here’s a radical thought. The reason the United States has not reacted decisively to the Arab Spring is because there isn’t one. There are only disaggregated movements that can’t be put together into any coherent pattern. There is instability. There is agitation. There is unrest and dissatisfaction. But Peter Cottontail and American style democracy are not waiting to hop on stage.
No one knows what the Egyptians are after beyond wanting–having wanted–regime change (which btw Wolfowitz and his bosses were notoriously poor in providing once the dust of invasions had settled). We now know that even during the headiest moments of the “pro-democracy” gatherings in Tahrir Square, 300 demonstrators were hand raping an American reporter in full view of the crowds. It just doesn’t have that Lexington and Concord feel, does it?
The latest news out of Egypt suggests that before elections are held, the army will act like any army and rule with its boots when areas of conflict threaten public peace. When they don’t want to intervene, they won’t.
That’s what’s happening right now with Coptic Christians and Muslims, over what might have been a minor incident under Mubarak. The violence started with rumours that a Christian woman who had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim had been abducted and was being held in a Coptic church. Crowds of Muslims marched to the church and hundreds of Christians gathered to defend it. So far, six people on each side have been killed.
Protective of its numbers, the Copts are hated by the conservative Salafi movement who as recently as last month paraded through sections of Cairo waving placards of Osama bin Laden. (This despite Mr Wolfowitz’s express statement: “I don’t know of a single instance of these Arab freedom fighters holding up pictures of bin Laden. I know many instances of them displaying American flags in Benghazi or painting ‘Facebook’ on their foreheads in Cairo.” It is good that Mr Wolfowitz’s current remit doesn’t require him to review events on the ground.
On the ground reports are grim, and almost all agree that 300,000 protesters plus one swallow doesn’t make a spring:
“…Increasing hostility toward Egypt’s Coptic Christians over the past few months has met with little interference from the country’s military rulers…. Salafis have been blamed for other recent attacks on Christians and others they don’t approve of. In one attack, a Christian man had an ear cut off for renting an apartment to a Muslim woman suspected of involvement in prostitution.”
Looking at the total situatiion, Justice Minister Abdel Aziz al-Gind says that “Egypt has already become a nation in danger.” What would Wolfie have done that wasn’t done? Invade Tunisia?
Putting Wolfowitz’s Egypt to one side, has spring really arrived in Libya? Or would it be fairer to say that no one knows what the end game is, what the prize is, who the rebels are, or why the United States, France and NATO decided on this as a cause célèbre. Has Obama’s circumspection (France taking the lead in a military operation, Printemps en effet!) been just another case of the “tone deafness” his critics accused him of, until April 30th. Or is it an expression of something more rare? Brains, for example.
Sure, Muammar Gaddafi is despicable. But he has been despicable for forty plus years (he came to power in 1969). He was despicable when he acquiesced in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. When he ordered the assassination of his enemies abroad. When he bombed discotheques in Berlin.
As to the rebels, the story used to be that what began as peaceful protests erupted into violence when Gaddafi got tough. The rebels had no choice but to fight back. The reality is that there has been a steady stream of Muslims from Somalia and other African states into Benghazi (filling a vacuum created by the removal of all government offices to Tripoli) and that the fastest growing sect in the region (known more familiarly as “the rebel stronghold”) is Salafism, which is at the root of conflict in Somalia as well as in Cairo.
We also know that in recent months the rebels have been studying western media, jotting down buzz-words that European leaders like to see in press releases–words like, freedom, equality, democracy, peaceful change–those sorts of words. Rather than being caught in a doomed situation, where anti-American and anti-Western extremists are certainly among the fighters the allies have now promised to protect, Obama played the steady hand of minimizing US involvement. It’s just what he should have done. But it is intriguing to wonder, What would Wolfie do?
Gaddafi has been able to get by with murder by paying his way back to respectability to the tune of a 3 billion-dollar compensation package to be used to compensate relatives of the Lockerbie bombing victims and assorted other casualties of attacks on American citizens. Who approved it? Who was the broker? Paul Wolfowitz’s boss. George W. Bush, in tribute, signed an Executive Order (13477) restoring the Libyan government’s immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing all of the pending compensation cases. The man who said he would “get” bin Laden dead or alive and then immediately lost track of him, was all about forgive and forget when oil was involved.
Does this mean that if only bin Laden had had the sense to negotiate, his sins could have been forgiven for a cool trillion? We will never know because George W. Bush was no longer dealing, and Wolfie had moved on to the American Enterprise Institute to defend his failed ideas for a safer, stronger all-American world.
After praising Morocco (where spring supposedly began, and not typical of anything that has happened since) Wolfowitz says that Obama “bungled” the stirrings of democratic rebellion in Iran and has been slow to capitalize on what’s unfolding in Syria: “Now [Assad’s] clearly declared himself as an enemy of his own people. At the very least, symbolism matters, and the symbolism of leaving an American ambassador in Damascus. . . . He should have been out a long time ago.”
Perhaps he should have been out when he presided over the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister and a liberal-reformer by Lebanese standards, during the presidency of George W. Bush in 2005. The assistant defense secretary who looked on in astonishment and without recourse to any plan when Hariri was blown to bits outside the St George’s Hotel in Beirut was Paul Wolfowitz.
Two years earlier, in 2003, Wolfowitz’s superior, Donald Rumsfeld asked, “Why shouldn’t we go against Iraq, not just al-Qaeda?” According to reports, Wolfowitz claimed that Iraq was a “brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily—it was doable.” While Wolfowitz states his skepticism about interventions in the WSJ article, his reputation belies any such caution: In the famous Seymour Hersh exposé (“Donald Rumsfeld Has His Own Special Sources. Are they reliable?” The New Yorker, May 12, 2003) Wolfowitz is depicted as being the cowboy who viewed Afghanistan as swamp and Iraq as the way to get public attention off the losing campaign to find bin Laden. “There’s no way to go too fast. Faster is better.”
According to Hersh, “little effort to provide the military and economic resources” necessary for reconstruction was made.” What Wolfie cared about was making the case for weapons of mass destruction and convincing the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States that that America was committed to the defense of Israel at all costs–whatever unraveled as a consequence of imprudent action.
Barack Obama was famous before he became famous as the fastest gun in Abbottobad for calling Paul Wolfowitz an ideologue. Some insults just can’t be forgiven. Now that the surgical strike that should have happened ten years ago has happened, the lean and hungry Republicans are circling, growling that torture works, sneering that we were right to go into Iraq (Q: “Who would argue that the world isn’t better off without Saddam Hussein?”A: “Many of the mothers who lost children–4000 before Mission Accomplished and about the same number, under Bush, since.”) and that no matter what people think of Obama today, he’ll be proved a bungler tomorrow. This is the message of hope being preached by survivors of the last administration.
And it’s got to be true: Just look at how he’s missing all these clues about springtime in Arabia.