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April 14, 2007

Paul Wolfowitz: Liar, Not Idiot

After all the folderol about whether members of the Bush administration were lying about Iraq's non-existent WMD or just morons, my conclusion is: the smarter ones were lying, while the stupider ones believed what they said.

Paul Wolfowitz was one of the smarter ones. So it's interesting to go back and look at an article published about him on September 22, 2002:

Soldiers tend to cock an eyebrow when civilians who have not known combat talk confidently about the coming conquest, but the closest thing to an open challenge this day [at a mid-2002 appearance by Wolfowitz at Fort Leavenworth] comes during Wolfowitz's session with the majors -- from a British officer who raises a hand and asks about Scott Ritter, the former U.N. weapons inspector. Ritter has been in London arguing that Iraq's destructive capability is already neutralized. So where is the threat worth spending American blood?

An exasperated look crosses Wolfowitz's wide, boyish face; Ritter's comments are ''simply amazing,'' he says. Then he stops himself. He acknowledges that Ritter knows something about Iraq and concedes that Saddam has probably not been able to rebuild his nuclear program, not yet.

Here's Dick Cheney on September 20, 2002, two days earlier:

"We now have irrefutable evidence that [Saddam] has once again set up and reconstituted his program to take uranium, to enrich it to sufficiently high grade, so that it will function as the base material as a nuclear weapon."

Now, compare this to Wolfowitz's famous "sea of oil" comment from May 31, 2003, after the invasion when no WMD had turned up:

REPORTER: ...North Korea is being taken more seriously because it has become a nuclear power by its own admission, whether or not that's true, and that the lesson that people will have is that in the case of Iraq it became imperative to confront Iraq militarily because it had banned weapons systems and posed a danger to the region. In the case of North Korea, which has nuclear weapons as well as other banned weapons of mass destruction, apparently it is imperative not to confront, to persuade and to essentially maintain a regime that is just as appalling as the Iraqi regime in place, for the sake of the stability of the region. To other countries of the world this is a very mixed message to be sending out...

WOLFOWITZ: Look, the primarily difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil...The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances which are very different.

So I'm pretty sure Wolfowitz's pre-war view was this: Iraq may or may not have WMD. But due to Iraq's oil wealth, they will eventually be able to build them, and—also due to their oil wealth—we'll never have much leverage on them short of invasion. So it's better to do it now.

Depending on the crowd you run with, that's a halfway defensible argument. Certainly it's far more persuasive than the Bush administration's sledgehammer propaganda line. However, it's also much more difficult to use to whip up war fever, at least if you believe Americans are a bunch of half-witted ten year-olds who need you to protect them.

So I suspect Wolfowitz decided just to go along with the propaganda—some deception of Americans was required to make necessary things happen. Moreover, he likely realized many of his superiors and co-workers were idiots who really believed all the crap they were saying, and it would be extremely impolitic and counterproductive to contradict them.

Wolfowitz essentially admitted to this when he cited Truman's Secretary of State Dean Acheson in a 2004 article by Walter Russell Mead:

When I ask him about where the administration is headed, he goes back to the late 1940s and to Democrats like George Marshall and Dean Acheson who laid the foundations of what became the bipartisan consensus for the cold war. He reminds me that Acheson decided to be "clearer than truth" in explaining the communist menace to the American people.

Acheson said this in his memoir Present at the Creation, in reference to the famous 1950 secret Cold War memo NSC-68. Note how Acheson writes of the need to deceive both regular Americans and the rest of the government:

The purpose of NSC-68 was to so bludgeon the mass mind of "top government" that not only could the President make a decision but that the decision could be carried out...

The paper began with a statement of the conflicting aims and purposes of the two superpowers: the priority given by the Soviet rulers to the Kremlin design, world domination, contrasted with the American aim, an environment in which free societies could exist and flourish. Throughout 1950, I went about the country preaching this premise of NSC-68.

The task of a public officer seeking to explain and gain support for a major policy is not that of the writer of a doctoral thesis. Qualification must give way to simplicity of statement, nicety and nuance to bluntness, almost brutality, in carrying home a point...In the State Department we used to discuss how much time that mythical "average American citizen" put in each day listening, reading and arguing about the world outside his own country. Assuming a man or woman with a fair education, a family, and a job in or out of the house, it seemed to us that ten minutes a day would be a high average. If this were anywhere near right, points to be understandable had to be clear. If we made our points clearer than truth, we did not differ from most other educators and could hardly do otherwise.

Yes, when Americans are dolts, and your government colleagues are dolts, yet you have a world to run, you "could hardly do otherwise" than lie and lie and lie some more. As with Dean Acheson, so too with Paul Wolfowitz.

BONUS: The creation of NSC-68 was supervised by Paul Nitze. As Acheson wrote, NSC-68 explains that the "Fundamental Purpose of the United States" is freedom and puppies for everyone, while the "Fundamental Purpose of the Soviet Union" was to enslave all mankind.

Wolfowitz later became a Nitze protege. Later still, in 1992 while at the Defense Department, he wrote the famous "Defense Planning Guidance" document. It explained that, given the collapse of the Soviet Union, America had the world.

Hey, humanity—PSYCH!!!

Posted at April 14, 2007 10:19 PM | TrackBack


smart, but not smart enough to avoid fixing the facts around the policy of it's better to do it now, whatever it is

Posted by: hibiscus at April 15, 2007 05:25 AM

Pretty clear, really. He knew he and his colleagues were lying.

Posted by: Jon Husband at April 15, 2007 09:19 AM

You guys miss the point. And that is, where the blame should be pointed. It's all about the Constichantcy' of the Preznit! And who comprises said 'Contichancy'? Their lies are our lies. When we do little or nothing about it, over time there is no one left who would stand against the lying and ruin eventually comes to all... Tis' an old story. And Wolfie is a bum.

Posted by: at April 15, 2007 09:47 AM

Love the old "Communist Menace" gag framed as a justifacation for inhuman behavior, too. A real gol' damn chuckler there...God these people are sick.

Posted by: at April 15, 2007 09:52 AM

I remember well Wolfie's remark about the "sea of oil." I agree with the posting here. This was about Saddam's capability to build weapons in the future. Unlike Cheney, Wolfie was not obsessed about controlling Iraq's oil for the benefit of the oil companies. His underlying motive was future security of Israel from nuclear attack.

Posted by: Barkley Rosser at April 15, 2007 12:59 PM

BTW, this "lying to the masses" approach was perfectly consistent with the general Straussian attitude, although I am inclined to believe those who say that it was not so much Strauss influencing Wolfowitz, as Wolfie being drawn to Strauss because Strauss already embodied his views.

Posted by: Barkley Rosser at April 15, 2007 01:01 PM

How much you want to bet Wolfowitz finds torture AMUSING. The starving of MILLIONS as entertaining. The concept of HUMAN RIGHTS as quaint. His girlfriend more important than ALL those who will die in conflicts he's personally helped start. The welfare of his friends more desirable than commonsense, more VALUABLE than decency. Those traits make him a typical leader in the Bush Administration, about average.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 15, 2007 01:55 PM

I think Jr.'s bench team of aging cold warriors were all vaguely going through a team strategy that worked in the seventies. Wolfie was, I believe, slotted to Team B, the Cia group that invented a monstrous Soviet advantage in weaponry which became the perfect myth n meme - it was ridden by Reagan into a politically beneficial policy of military keynesianism, and of course it was dumb to begin with, and a fairy tale to boot. Of course, to be fair, Team b was simply reproducing, itself, another old pentagon push, from the late 50s, for more money, that Kennedy rode (that missile gap) into the presidency.

There was something heroic about the Cold War deceptions - involving, as they did, apocalyptic scenarios. But the Saddam has wmd deception was not only non-heroic, it was funny. As funny as the whole notion of WMD, actually, one of those non-categories which simply means: "weapons that the U.S. is not selling at the moment." In the weapons mart, it is like a sign saying out of stock. However, if a military dictatorship wants, say, a delivery system for an atom bomb, aka one of the kind of aircraft that we still manufacture right here in the U.S.A., and can actually export, there are these shiny new Boeing bombers we can guarantee ASAP. And as for the Weapons of Non Mass Destruction like automatic rifles, which just happen to kill vastly more people than any WMD has over the last fifty years - why, everybody can have one of those!

One should always remember that, though it is a good idea to argue about whether Saddam had WMD (or was planning on a commando raid on Fort Knox, with Goldfinger in tow), like a layer cake of rich, creamy shit, the deeper argument is - wmd is a totally bogus category, invented to conform to the U.S.A.'s weapon sales policy at any given time.

Posted by: roger at April 15, 2007 02:17 PM

Isn’t this one of Noam Chomsky’s main themes which is in order for the ruling class of a democracy to pursue wars or what ever their little hearts desire is that you need to deceive the population? I believe he said that the most important group to control is the 20 percent of people who are well educated as in doctors, lawyers and most importantly journalists whose job is to feed the propaganda to the population. The other 80 percent are controlled by deflecting their attention from what is actually happening via propaganda, not reporting the real news, and keeping them interested in organized sports and the like. I believe Chomsky had it nailed.

Posted by: rob payne at April 15, 2007 03:55 PM

if noam chomsky were dead today, he'd be spinning in his grave

Posted by: hibiscus at April 15, 2007 04:36 PM

Turns out Chris Floyd just blogged about the Korean War story--I saw it at the Angry Arab site. Okay, that's enough thread-hijacking for one day (I've pointed this story out at two other sites).

Posted by: Donald Johnson at April 15, 2007 06:40 PM

I think Jr.'s bench team of aging cold warriors were all vaguely going through a team strategy that worked in the seventies

Seems to me that at least until now it has worked in these present times as well, more or less. There's been lots of posturing and complaining, but they are still implementing.

Posted by: Jon Husband at April 16, 2007 11:17 AM

Implementing what? They are defeated. Done. Finished. Their only goal now is to escape justice and maintain the fortunes they have been given. Their crusade to attack and subvert China and Russia (because that was what this was always really about)is over. They can't attack Iran (at least not effectively) anymore. If we were smart, we would continue laughing these worthless assholes out of Washington.

Posted by: at April 16, 2007 03:25 PM