Paul Wolfowitz: Smart Idiot

My latest for The National Interest, "It's Not Too Soon to Tell," has posted.

Paul-Wolfowitz

My latest for The National Interest, “It’s Not Too Soon to Tell,” has posted.

Paul Wolfowitz, a leading cheerleader for and planner of the Iraq War, says “it’s too soon to tell” how it turned out.

[…]

American war aims were something other than merely toppling Saddam’s regime, making sure his “equally brutal sons” did not replace him, or even assuring that Saddam was brought to justice. Because, otherwise, we could have gotten out with only 92 dead American troopers.

Remarkably, Wolfowitz not only misapprehends the war that he played a vital role in initiating, planning, and overseeing but he has the unmitigated gall to blame people who managed to win their war in Iraq and keep it from mission creeping into a fiasco of epic proportions. While proclaiming that, “the US should not be sorry about the ‘failure’ to install a new dictator in Iraq to restore the old false stability” he urges that, “What did require a US apology—which the Ambassador to Iraq, Jim Jeffrey, offered in the Fall of 2011—was the failure to assist the Shia uprising in 1991, in the aftermath of Saddam’s defeat in Kuwait.”

Oh, it gets better. Toward the end of his essay, Wolfowitz argues that the Obama administration should work to “forge a coalition, one which includes Iraq, to bring an end to the bloody conflict in Syria and provide international support for a new Syrian government. But that would require real US leadership, whereas the US is not even ‘leading from behind’ as it did in Libya.”

More at the link.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Published Elsewhere,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Wolfowitz argues that the Obama administration should work to “forge a coalition, one which includes Iraq, to bring an end to the bloody conflict in Syria and provide international support for a new Syrian government.

    Ha! That’s a good one. First he’s quoting Zhou En -Lai, now he’s a comedian. The only side the Iraqis will back (and ordered to do so by their Iranian masters) will be Assad. Isn’t that already clear by their actions so far?

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    @DC Loser:

    The only side the Iraqis will back (and ordered to do so by their Iranian masters) will be Assad. Isn’t that already clear by their actions so far?

    In a word yes and many of us predicted at the time that the eventual winner would be Iran.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Biggest blunder in US Foreign Policy history. (Yes…the argument can be made that it was a bigger blunder than Vietnam)
    And Wolfie has blood on his hands.
    That’s all you need to know about anything he says.

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Colin Powell: Smart Idiot

    Doesn’t have quite the ring to it, does it? And that wouldn’t be politically correct, as they say. Or whatever.

    Not that Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld & Co. covered their banners in glory. Au contraire. When McNamara & Co. arguably look OK by comparison that’s a very bad thing.

    This quote received my rapt attention:

    While proclaiming that, “the US should not be sorry about the ‘failure’ to install a new dictator in Iraq to restore the old false stability” [Wolfowitz] urges that, “What did require a US apology—which the Ambassador to Iraq, Jim Jeffrey, offered in the Fall of 2011—was the failure to assist the Shia uprising in 1991, in the aftermath of Saddam’s defeat in Kuwait.”

    Now that’s a really interesting set of points. Hindsight always is 20/20, of course, but even in real time it was curious as to why the H.W. Bush administration (with Colin Powell ironically serving as one of the key common denominators; go figure) didn’t go ahead and take advantage of that civil war to help get rid of Saddam. It’s not as if anyone in that coalition would have objected. Hell, the Saudis, the Syrians, the Egyptians, etc., probably would have thrown lavish parties. I guess Team H.W. Bush were worried about Iran filling a power vacuum. Perhaps the Shia rebellion in Iraq in any event would have failed. But had Saddam been taken down back in 1991 or thereabouts the ensuing two decades would have been quite different. Staggeringly different. Boggles the mind.

  5. Franklin says:

    Idiot – granted. But where’s the part that describes how Wolfowitz is smart?

  6. Franklin says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    But had Saddam been taken down back in 1991 or thereabouts the ensuing two decades would have been quite different.

    Yup, the first of those decades would have looked quite a bit like the past decade actually did. Which leads me to believe that H.W. was right.

  7. Barry says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “Colin Powell: Smart Idiot

    Doesn’t have quite the ring to it, does it? And that wouldn’t be politically correct, as they say. Or whatever.”

    No, but lying wh*reson would be, and I’ve used that. As for Wolfowitz, he’s a liar, pure and simple. There are no excuses for him or any other of these guys.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Yes, indeed, pretty much everyone in the Bush 41 administration—and General Schwarzkopf—thought the coalition would collapse and epic blowback occur had we done that. The mission was very narrowly defined: liberate Kuwait and contain Saddam.

    @Franklin: He’s an extraordinarily bright and accomplished guy. He’s just got blinders on with regard to this one.

  9. john personna says:

    There is a pretty common warning that we might all just have internal biases, and use our intellectual [and] rhetorical skills to back those up. We think whatever we think, but the smart are that much better at making it all sound good (to themselvdes and to others). Introspection and caution are the only guards against that kind of thing.

    I’d say Wolfowitz is someone without caution, who recklessly argues his “priors” with all the IQ he can muster. And yeah, that is more dangerious when a guy has more IQ.

  10. john personna says:

    (Colin Powel was at least rational enough (as distict from IQ) to break from the case, and to not go to his grave arguing failed logic. Contrast with say Cheney.)

  11. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: Quite right.

    I’m one who opposed Wolfowitz’ rationale for going to war for more than a year before finally getting swayed by the Colin Powell-Condi Rice arguments on WMDs, etc. And, once on board, it took me a long time to get off the train because there was always a reasonable argument for continuing, not least of which was that a lot of Iraqis were marked for death by siding with the invaders and we owed them something.

    I’m open to arguments that, while the effort was a failure, it was worth 4712 American lives fighting on after regime change. I don’t believe that, of course, but I think there are intellectually and morally worthy arguments that could be marshaled. What infuriated me about Wolfowitz is his pretense that all those deaths are justified on the basis of getting rid of Saddam. That only cost us 92 dead.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Larison takes common cause with James:

    “If there’s one thing Iraq war dead-enders don’t lack, it’s a copious supply of gall. A person would have to have a lot to be one of the architects of a debacle as great as the Iraq war and still think that his opinions about the debacle should be taken seriously. So it’s not surprising that Wolfowitz would choose to complain about the decision not to plunge the U.S. into new war after Desert Storm.”

    Money quote:

    “Andrew Bacevich addressed that question here, and suggested that the Iraq war might prove to be no more significant over the long term than the War of 1812 was for the later history of the United States. The Iraq war was unnecessary, appallingly destructive, and extremely stupid, but perhaps the most damning thing that will be said about it one day in the future is that it ultimately didn’t matter very much. The outcome of the Iraq war is much more straightforward: it was a costly, wasteful failure. It advanced no concrete American interests, and instead did real harm to U.S. security. Then again, that was clear to some of us over eight years ago.”

  13. Mark Ivey says:

    Paul “Da Wolf” Wolfowitz.. sigh… How do these guys from the George W Bush administration sleep at night?

    I´m reminded of a cartoon in 2005(?) showing Robert S McNamara(The Sec of Defense during the first few years of the Vietnam war) meeting the Bush cabinet to offer them advice on Iraq:

    “Take care of yourselves, eat right, drink the booze light, work out and stay in shape, get regular doctor check-ups, do everything you can to stay healthy and live as long as you can. Because you´re all gonna go to Hell when you die, just like me.”

  14. James in LA says:

    Arrest him for war crimes, and see if his tune changes.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    He’s an extraordinarily bright and accomplished guy. He’s just got blinders on with regard to this one.

    Wolfowitz is an idiot. He is also very intelligent. Smart? No way. Most people intuitively know better than to put their hand into a meat grinder. I would bet even money that Wolfowitz had to learn that one the hard way. (I am looking for pictures that show all ten digits. No luck so far…. I think he is hiding something.)

  16. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: “He’s an extraordinarily bright and accomplished guy.”

    Where’s the evidence for that? A brief glance at his Wiki page shows a bright guy, to be sure, but one was that massively wrong about both Iraq and the Soviet Union (as part of that Team B nonsense). What extraordinary feat of intellectual might can be attributed to Wolfowitz?

    And if by accomplished you mean “has a lot of impressive sounding jobs” on his resume, then yes. But if you contend that Wolfowitz as actually accomplished anything extraordinary in any of those jobs, aside from the disastrous Iraq War, what are you talking about?

    Mike

  17. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    For what it’s worth, my initial position on Afghanistan was that it as morally justified, but likely to lead to a quagmire (as it did for the Soviet and the British a century apart). I ended up giving qualified support on that one, trusting our planners, but ended up with the quagmire I feared.

    I never gave Iraq II my support. I believed the UN searches should have been continued and were the correct path to resolve the WMD issue.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: @MBunge: He’s a Chicago PhD who held a variety of increasingly important jobs in Democratic and Republican administrations. He was a neocon before neocons came into ascendancy and has a particular ideological outlook that I dislike. But it’s possible to be ideologically wrong and still bright and accomplished.

    @john personna: Once North Korea got nukes, and I understood that our options had been reduced to nil, I became quite persuaded that stopping Saddam from doing same was worth war.

  19. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: “But it’s possible to be ideologically wrong and still bright and accomplished.”

    Not to be a jackass, but you used the adjective “extraordinarily” to describe both Wolfowitz’ intellect and accomplishments. Let’s put aside the whole non-rational nature of his response to the Iraq War and how that’s not at all the same as being indeologically wrong, what is extraordinary about anything except how wrong Wolfowitz has been?

    Is simply getting a Chicago PhD extraordinary? Is working a series of government jobs extraordinary? What feat of intellectual rigor or personal or public accomplishment of Wolfowitz’ merits the term extraordinary?

    Mike

  20. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “Once North Korea got nukes, and I understood that our options had been reduced to nil, I became quite persuaded that stopping Saddam from doing same was worth war. ”

    And yet, as it turns out, NK’s nukes saved us from wasting trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in a futile and unnecessary war. Maybe we would have been better off just giving Saddam a bomb or two…

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    But it’s possible to be ideologically wrong and still bright and accomplished.

    I agree James. As I said, he is an intelligent idiot. That said he is not smart. The smart people all knew the Iraq war was a disaster in the making from the gitgo. I make an excuse for you, as you were just not smart enough to know who not to trust, but you learned pretty quickly.

  22. john personna says:

    @James Joyner:

    Sorry, but that ignores that there was a near-path that avoided war. GWB had succeeded in forcing Saddam to accept full and open [UN] inspection.

    That could have been his signature success, and satisfied your requirement.

    I submit that this option was lying in plain sight, and that only people with too much trust in GWB personally or the Office of the President ignored it.

    People who backed the *pulling* of UN inspectors were badly wrong and history should judge them as … mini-me’s to Wolfowitz.

  23. Anderson says:

    But this thing is not particularly true.

    I am totally going to steal that from you, JJ, next time the opportunity arises in writing a brief. Well played.

  24. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge: Getting a Chicago PhD is, in fact, pretty extraordinary. So is becoming director of policy planning at the State Department (George Kennan and Anne-Marie Slaughter are peers), Deputy SecDef, or head of the World Bank.

    @OzarkHillbilly: Fair enough. I use “smart” to refer simply to raw brainpower. What Wolfie lacked generally, and I lacked in the Iraq case for a while, was “judgment.” They’re very different things.

  25. Anderson says:

    I use “smart” to refer simply to raw brainpower. What Wolfie lacked generally, and I lacked in the Iraq case for a while, was “judgment.” They’re very different things.

    Correct, as anyone can remember who played D&D. Wolfie has intelligence 16+, wisdom around 6 or 7.

  26. MBunge says:

    @James Joyner: “Getting a Chicago PhD is, in fact, pretty extraordinary. So is becoming director of policy planning at the State Department (George Kennan and Anne-Marie Slaughter are peers), Deputy SecDef, or head of the World Bank.”

    1. How many Chicago PhD’s are churned out every year? Are they all extraordinary? Even the Poli-Sci ones?

    2. How many director of policy planning have there been at the State Department? How many Deputy SecDefs? How many World Bank heads? Are they all extraordinary?

    3. Again, what did Wolfowitz do with his degree, what intellectual feat did he accomplish, that merits the term “extraordinary”?

    4. What did Wolfowitz do in any of his government jobs that merits the term “extraordinary”, other than describing how wrong he was on Iraq?

    This isn’t just semantics. The assumption that one must be exceptional to be part of the elite, and particularly to be one of the elite of the elite, is both incorrect and pernicious. In a well established and ordered society, one does not need to be at all extraordinary to become one of the elite. Indeed, the most common way one joins that class is merely by putting oneself on the appropriate career track and then rising through the ranks. That seems a far more accurate description of how Wolfowitz came to be “elite”, rather than suggesting he’s really all that much smarter than the average bear.

    Mike

  27. Anderson says:

    MBunge: have you tried Wikipedia?

    “Wolfowitz speaks five languages in addition to English: Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, and Indonesian.”

    And yes, I think just about *everyone* with a B.A. in math and chemistry from Cornell, who goes on to get a Ph.D. at Chicago, is “smart.”

    If you don’t understand your enemies, you can’t oppose them effectively. The problem with Wolfowitz was never that he was stupid. Foolish and/or evil, more like.

  28. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    He’s a Chicago PhD who held a variety of increasingly important jobs in Democratic and Republican administrations.

    I know several hundred Harvard PhDs, MBAs and JDs who held a variety of increasingly important jobs in public service and in private business. That in alone does not make any of us “extraordinarily” bright and accomplished — it just makes us ordinarily accomplished for our bracket. To merit the “extraordinarily” tag, you have to have actually accomplished something above and beyond.

  29. MBunge says:

    @Anderson: ““Wolfowitz speaks five languages in addition to English: Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, and Indonesian.””

    How many plumbers do you think there are in the world who speak 5 languages? I’ll bet there’s at least a handful of them and they did that while working real jobs. The world is full of people who speak multiple languages or possess this skill or that pool of knowledge.

    I haven’t and wouldn’t dispute that Wolfowitz is smart. He’s probably smarter than me. But is he “extraordinary”? By what standard?

    Mike

  30. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    Getting a Chicago PhD is, in fact, pretty extraordinary.

    Umm, it’s really not. It requires a certain base level of high intelligence, yes, as well as a capacity for hard work, discipline, organization, ambition, and the ability to endure a staggering amount of boredom and tedium. But extraordinarily high intelligence is not actually required. I know quite a few Ivy League and equivalent PhDs, and I would certainly not call all of them extraordinary merely for that.

  31. Rafer Janders says:

    @MBunge:

    In a well established and ordered society, one does not need to be at all extraordinary to become one of the elite. Indeed, the most common way one joins that class is merely by putting oneself on the appropriate career track and then rising through the ranks.

    Three words: Senator Ted Cruz.

  32. Rafer Janders says:

    @Anderson:

    And yes, I think just about *everyone* with a B.A. in math and chemistry from Cornell, who goes on to get a Ph.D. at Chicago, is “smart.”

    C’mon. It’s Cornell. It’s barely an Ivy.

  33. @James Joyner:

    Once North Korea got nukes, and I understood that our options had been reduced to nil, I became quite persuaded that stopping Saddam from doing same was worth war.

    Have you ever seen, or heard of, a small documentary called “Uncle Saddam,” narrated by Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson. I got it from Netflix a few months before the war started and it convinced me that there was no way in hell that Saddam had WMD.

  34. FredW says:

    I’m sorry, but Wolfowitz is just an idiot. From the department of defense web site :

    “There are a lot of things that are different now, and one that has gone by almost unnoticed–but it’s huge–is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia. Their presence there over the last 12 years has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government. It’s been a huge recruiting device for al Qaeda. In fact if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina. I think just lifting that burden from the Saudis is itself going to open the door to other positive things.”

    Think about what Wolfowitz says here; one of the good things about invading Iraq is that we now can comply with the demands the terrorists made of us, we can give them exactly what the wanted when the brought down the towers.

  35. Fredw says:

    oops- Should be:
    “Think about what Wolfowitz says here; one of the good things about invading Iraq is that we now can comply with the demands the terrorists made of us, we can give them exactly what they wanted when they brought down the towers. “

  36. socraticsilence says:

    Is it the fact that nearly his entire career in public service preceded my birth why I view MMcNamara differently than the Bush hacks? I mean would Wolfie, Pearl, et all devoting the remainder of thier useful lives to the betterment of humanity as McNamara did buy them forgiveness?

    Or does the sheer unnecessary nature of Iraq separate them from the “best and the brightest”? Vietnam cost more in men and material (with inflation); killed more innocents; and in unleashing the Khmer Rouge was an isker for perhaps the worst genocide of the late 20th century (per capita worse than the Holocaust, only Rwanda is comparable) and yet I feel more sympathetic to its architects than I do to those of Iraq. Currently, if I had to guess the gulf in opprobrium between the twin tragedies of American power is due to the slow boil consensus of the former vs. the seemingly immediate action in latter. But again these are arguable distinctions.

  37. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    Fair enough. I use “smart” to refer simply to raw brainpower. What Wolfie lacked generally, and I lacked in the Iraq case for a while, was “judgment.” They’re very different things.

    For the record James, I use smart as in “street smart” and intelligent as in “book smart”. One of the savviest guys I ever knew never got past the 4th grade (dyslexia before there was dyslexia). He could read a street in 5 seconds and never make a fatal mistake.

  38. gVOR08 says:

    Everyone’s judgements of Wolfowitz’s “intelligence” seem to assume his goal was to defend the United States, which assumes facts not in evidence. If his goal was to further his own career, that worked very, very well up ’til his arrogance (and perhaps his dauber) tripped him up at the World Bank. If his goal was to defend Israel, that also worked well, at least short term. One can be very intelligent, yet completely ammoral.

  39. Most people who are intelligent aren’t very smart..

  40. The Q says:

    “Wolfowitz speaks five languages in addition to English: Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, and Indonesian.”

    And he still can’t say “I am a totally fucckk up” in any of them…..

  41. grumpy realist says:

    @Anderson: Hell, I’ve got at least as many as Wolfie does under my belt. And I gots a Pee-Aitch-Dee in Physics! AND I works a lotta years for the (Japanese) gummit!

    So what cracker do I win?

    (Wolfie reminds me of a boyfriend I had. Brilliant person, absolutely brilliant. Ended up at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Great theorical physicist. But could NOT understand that if a cooking recipe said “cook at 200 for 20 minutes” you didn’t get the same result by hiking the temperature up to 400 and cooking for 10….)