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Thread: Decline And Fall Of The Neocons

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Decline And Fall Of The Neocons

    Decline and fall of the neocons
    Paul Wolfowitz’s departure from the World Bank signals the end of an ideological era in Washington

    Sarah Baxter

    As Tony Blair was bidding farewell to President George W Bush in the Rose Garden on Thursday, the World Bank was preparing to kick out Paul Wolfowitz as president. Allies to the left and right in the Iraq war were falling by the wayside that day.

    Was he responsible for Blair’s departure from office, Bush was asked. There had to be a reason why a prime minister who had never lost an election was being dumped. “Could be . . . I don’t know,” the president mused above the distant chant of war protesters outside the White House gates.

    And what did he make of Wolfowitz’s likely resignation? “I respect him a lot and I’m sorry it has come to this,” Bush said, leaving the World Bank head to his fate.

    If Bush and Dick Cheney, his vice-president, are the last men standing with responsibility for the Iraq war it is only because they are protected by their four-year terms of office. One former Bush stalwart told me: “If we had a parliamentary system, Bush would have lost a vote of confidence and have resigned by now.”

    Away from the Rose Garden the funeral cortege for the fundamentalist Rev Jerry Falwell was being assembled in the heart of Bush country in Lynchburg, Virginia. The portly 73-year-old televangelist had done his utmost to assemble the coalition of conservative Christians that went on to provide Bush with two presidential victories. Now he is dead and the government sustained by his followers is looking more and more like a corpse.

    The writer Christopher Hitchens, a friend of Wolfowitz and foe of Falwell, says: “The main noise in Washington right now is that of collapsing scenery. The Republican party is in total disarray. They’ve been dropping their most intelligent people over the side while the presidential candidates are all outbidding each other to be nice about the revolting carcass of Falwell.”

    Wolfowitz, the cerebral neocon, and Falwell, the braying theocon, had nothing in common personally. Indeed, Falwell blamed “the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians” for provoking the 9/11 attacks, an explanation uncomfortably close to the views of the Taliban. But the unlikely alliance between their two movements provided the brains and the brawn behind Bush. Now the neocons have been ousted, one by one, from their positions of influence and trust while the Republican party base is desperately thrashing around for a successor to Bush that it can back in 2008.

    The cleavage between the two marks the end of an era in which Bible Belt conservatives became the surprise champions of radical nation-building in the Middle East in the hope of crushing terrorism and halting the march of militant Islam. After Bush, such reforming zeal is unlikely to be repeated.

    The fall of Wolfowitz is already entering the annals as a morality fable for the Bush administration in which the arrogant, narcissistic former Pentagon official and a handful of his cronies were foisted on an unwilling international institution until it finally found a way to spit them out. By this reckoning, Wolfowitz’s appointment as president of the World Bank in 2005 was an “Up yours” similar to the way the Iraq war was imposed by Bush against the wishes of the international community – with predictably dire results.

    According to Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan and a persistent critic of the Iraq war: “Wolfowitz has demonstrated a penchant for cronyism and for smearing and marginalising perceived rivals as tactics for getting his way. Indeed, these tactics are typical of what might be called the neoconservative style.”

    However, his ousting can also be read as a tale in which the vaunted international community would prefer the World Bank to allow rampant corruption to flourish in developing nations than see a reviled neocon succeed as its president – just as there are plenty of opponents of the Iraq war who would rather let a murderous civil war rip than give Bush the satisfaction of seeing democracy take root in place of a dreaded tyranny. In their own way they are both uncomfortable versions of the truth.

    At the heart of the story lies a romance between an American intellectual with his head in the air and holes in his socks and a secular Muslim Arab feminist in her fifties with a passionate interest in fostering democracy and women’s equality in the Middle East. Wolfowitz’s seven-year relationship with Shaha Ali Riza could have helped to humanise the former Pentagon official and put paid to the antisemitic slur that he was a Jewish agent of Zionism who placed Israel’s interests above those of

    America and other nations. Instead it led to his downfall.

    Riza, a British citizen who was born in the Middle East and educated at Oxford, had already worked at the World Bank as a Middle East expert for seven years when Wolfowitz was appointed president. But bank rules forbid office romances between managers and staff so she had to go.

    His reluctant involvement in her transfer to the State Department with a salary rise of $60,000 to $193,590 – more than Condoleezza Rice’s annual pay – led bank investigators to complain that “he saw himself as the outsider to whom the established rules and standards did not apply”.

    By the time Wolfowitz was forced out, the ugly side of the World Bank boss was revealed in a memo in which he vowed in the style of a mafia don that “if they f*** with me or Shaha, I have enough on them to f*** them too”.

    THE affair between Wolfowitz, 63, and his “neoconcubine” was known initially only to discreet friends. Hitchens, who knows them both, describes Riza as a “very shy, private person” who was well regarded in Washington as a champion of democracy in the Arab world.

    Wolfowitz taught himself Arabic in the 1980s and had a walk-on part in Saul Bellow’s novel Ravelstein as an official in the first Bush White House who was disappointed that Saddam Hussein was left in place at the end of the Gulf war.

    “It is not a coincidence that Wolfowitz has an Arab and Muslim companion because he has always been interested in those issues,” Hitchens says. It was Riza who inspired Wolfowitz with confidence that the largely secular Iraq would flourish once Saddam was removed.

    The couple’s professional and personal life became entangled on the very day the heavy bombing of Iraq began, when Wolfowitz was the number two at the Pentagon. On March 21, 2003, in the middle of “shock and awe” operations including the firing of 500 cruise missiles, Wolfowitz’s office found the time to send an e-mail appointing Riza as an adviser on postwar nation-building.

    There was “interest from Wolfowitz on down” in the matter, e-mails sent by Pentagon staff noted. Another e-mail claimed the “ering” of the Pentagon, where top officials are based, was “screaming” for action.

    Riza, who first met Wolfowitz when she worked for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, was eminently qualified for the job. But the tone of the e-mails was an early sign that he was supremely concerned for her interests even as the Iraq war raged.

    By the time Bush was reelected to office, American forces were getting bogged down in Iraq and Wolfowitz was shunted to the presidency of the World Bank – a post where he would not have to face difficult Senate confirmation hearings.

    In some circles his appointment was viewed as an inspired choice. David Frum, a former White House speechwriter, wrote: “Even the president’s detractors have been constrained to admit that Wolfowitz is likely to prove an excellent choice – maybe more excellent than is entirely comfortable either for the bank, for its clients in the underdeveloped world or for its constituencies in the advanced industrial democracies.”

    The presidency of the World Bank was given to Robert McNamara, the former defence secretary, after the debacle of the Vietnam war; but unlike McNamara, Wolfowitz had no intention of expiating his alleged sins with good works. He regarded the bank as a bloated bureaucracy whose financial loans to developing nations were being undermined by chronic corruption and graft. But he felt genuinely motivated to help countries to lift themselves out of poverty.

    Writing in The New York Times last week, Nicholas Kristof, the commentator, said Wolfowitz was sincerely dedicated to his job. But he added: “We should look at the battle unfolding at the World Bank not as the story of one man falling to earth, but as a moral tale of the risks the US faces unless the Bush administration spends more time rebuilding bridges it has burnt all over the world.” THE appointment of Wolfowitz was opposed by 90% of World Bank staff from the start. Some opposed his anticorruption drive, arguing that it penalised the poor for the wickedness of their governments; others wanted pay-back, pure and simple, for the Iraq war. European governments, which had already felt slighted by Bush and resented the way the presidency of the World Bank was always in the American president’s gift, also saw the chance for revenge.

    Wolfowitz’s relationship with Riza provided the perfect opportunity to accuse him of favouritism and nepotism, rendering him unsuitable to lecture other nations on the need to clean up their act.

    It was unfair, particularly on Riza, who after years of service to the bank felt downgraded to the status of “girlfriend”. She has been forbidden by her employers from publishing an article in her defence but has let it be known in a memo to officials that she feels “victimised” for agreeing to move to a job that she did not want and “that I did not believe from the outset was in my best interest”. The public scrutiny had also imposed “personal pain and stress” on her and her son, she complained.

    Wolfowitz has pointed out that he had attempted to excuse himself from personnel matters affecting Riza and that the bank’s ethics committee had initially approved her deal. Throughout the controversy he has insisted that the charges against him were “bogus” and that he was the victim of a “smear campaign”.

    Frum believes that Wolfowitz should have been above reproach in his dealings with Riza, knowing how many enemies he faced. “The neoconservatives are a tiny faction and less close to each other than people think,” says Frum. “They are very isolated within the larger back-scratch-ing community in Washington.”

    The Wall Street Journal alone has come to Wolfowitz’s defence, effectively taking up his threat to “f*** them too”. In a series of articles it has blasted World Bank officials for their own ethical and conflict of interest problems – most recently accusing Tom Scholar, an executive director of the bank who is tipped to become Gor-don Brown’s chief of staff in Downing Street, of conducting a relationship with a staffer. He has denied giving her preferential treatment.

    The World Bank may come to regret turning the spotlight on itself, given the lavish pensions, tax-free salaries and subsidised private school fees that staff enjoy. But that is beside the point. Wolfowitz’s past was always going to catch up with him. He is merely the latest in a long line of “gotcha” casualties of the war that includes Donald Rumsfeld, the former defence secretary; Douglas Feith, Wolfowitz’s ally at the Pentagon; Richard Perle, the former chairman of the defence policy board; John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who is threatened with jail after being found guilty of perjury in a case involving the outing of a CIA officer.

    Other reputations have been shredded along the way including those of George Tenet, the former CIA director who told Bush it was a “slam dunk” case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, who delivered a hopelessly flawed report on Iraq to the United Nations on the eve of war.

    Of all the 2008 candidates only Senator John McCain is bothering to make a case for supporting the “surge” in Iraq, while his chief rival Rudy Giuliani is having to fend off constant carping about his pro-choice position on abortion. And they are all trying to vacuum up the votes of Falwell’s army of theocon believers.

    Hitchens, who has just published God Is Not Great, an attack on religion, is appalled by the spectacle. He used to tease his neocon friends at influential publications such as the Weekly Standard magazine for joining forces with evangelical Christians, many of whom believe in a day of judgment in which the saved will enter heaven and all nonbelievers, including Jews, will be slaughtered.

    “They would tell me they preferred the moral majority types to secular liberals because they opposed 1960s liberalism and were willing to stand up for family values,” Hitchens says. “It was a very self-conscious alliance.” But he feels the praise being lavished on Falwell has gone beyond a joke.

    With the ousting of the neocons, the Bush administration now places currency only in personal friendship and loyalty. Amid all the farewells last week one man is still in place after months of controversy: Alberto Gonzales, the attorney-general, an old ally from Texas who was responsible for approving the torture of terrorist suspects when he was White House counsel. Hitchens describes him as a “mediocre time server whom nobody would miss”.

    In riveting testimony to Congress last week James Comey, the deputy attorney-general, described how Gonzales attempted to pressure John Ash-croft, his predecessor at the justice department, on his hospital sickbed into certifying that the administration’s domestic spying programme was legal. “I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man,” Comey said.

    Gonzales has been under pressure to resign even longer than Wolfowitz, but he has not gone yet. If he goes, the air may go out of the Bush administration. When the president can no longer save his friends, there will be nobody left to save but himself.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  2. #2
    PhilosophyGenius Guest
    Greed and overzelousness is the downfall of the neo-cons, otherwise they could have kept going.

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