By Dana Milbank
Thursday, December 8, 2005
On another day when the Iraq war was tearing Washington apart, a leading architect of that war, Paul D. Wolfowitz, was donning sheep's clothing over at the National Press Club.
The former deputy defense secretary, now president of the World Bank, gave a 30-minute speech yesterday about the virtues of peace, the ills of poverty and the benefits of multilateralism -- without a mention of Iraq.
"One of the things that's fun about this job is [that] development is a unifying mission and you can get a lot of people together across a table to put their political differences aside," said the man President Bush calls "Wolfie."
Only when questioners pressed him about Iraq would Wolfowitz address the subject. "How do you account for the intelligence failures regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?" he was asked.
"Well," he said after a long pause, "I don't have to."
Being Wolfie means not having to say you're sorry. Nearly three years ago, he offered some of the most memorable forecasts about Iraq: that it was "wildly off the mark" to think hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to pacify a postwar Iraq; that the Iraqis "are going to welcome us as liberators"; and that "it is just wrong" to assume that the United States would have to fund the Iraq war.
Wolfowitz was 0-for-3 on those, but since taking the World Bank job six months ago he has found a second act. He has toured sub-Saharan Africa, danced with the natives in a poor Indian village, badgered the United States to make firmer foreign aid commitments, and cuddled up to the likes of Bono and George Clooney.
But Iraq haunts him still. Outside the National Press Building yesterday, a half-dozen demonstrators greeted Wolfowitz with a sign saying, "Wolfowitz Is a Weapon of Mass Destruction." Upstairs, Wolfowitz entered the ballroom to scattered applause from a respectable, but not capacity, crowd. Wolfowitz lunched on filet mignon -- and press club President Richard S. Dunham of Business Week tried to goad him into a red-meat speech.
"His admirers have called him the intellectual high priest of the neoconservatives," Dunham said in his introduction. "I can't repeat some of the things his critics have called him." Wolfowitz pursed his lips and sipped his coffee as Dunham recalled how Wolfowitz "drew fire from Democrats for predicting that U.S. forces would be welcomed as liberators." By the time Dunham got to Wolfowitz's student deferment during Vietnam, Wolfowitz was shaking his head.
Wolfowitz, hoarse with a case of laryngitis, said he had received some lavish introductions before, and "this isn't that kind of introduction." He then read a prepared text that sounded more Mother Teresa than Vice President Cheney.
He noted that there are "as many orphans from AIDS in sub-Sararan Africa as there are children east of the Mississippi." He recalled his visit to "a poor village just outside of Ouagadougou." He lamented the "1.2 billion people worldwide living on less than a dollar a day." And he urged people to remember the World Bank's lofty mission, "helping free the world of poverty."
The crowd was silent through this talk, except for the occasional clink of teaspoon in coffee cup. Dunham, reading questions submitted by the audience, softened up Wolfowitz with some queries allowing Wolfowitz to establish his independence. "I work for 184 countries; I don't work for the Bush administration," Wolfowitz said. He even asserted that Bush's foreign aid spending is not "adequate."
With 10 minutes to go, Dunham started the Iraq questions. Wolfowitz insisted that, "believe it or not," his Iraq role has not interfered with his work at the World Bank.
Asked about the weapons in Iraq, Wolfowitz explained that this wasn't his problem. "And it's not just because I don't work for the U.S. government anymore," he said. "In my old job I didn't have to. I was like everyone else outside the intelligence community. . . . We relied on the intelligence community for those judgments, so the question is, in a way, how do they account for it?"
It was an unexpected response from a man who, as the Pentagon's No. 2, sat atop 80 percent of the nation's intelligence budget and an intelligence agency that made particularly aggressive claims about Iraq's weapons. But Wolfowitz said the military shared his fear that weapons of mass destruction could be used against U.S. troops. "If you have any doubt about it, read Bob Woodward's book," he suggested.
Wolfowitz was asked about the common criticism that more troops should have been used to pacify Iraq. "Um," he said after a long pause, then paused again before concluding, "I personally don't think more troops would have answered the problem."
Dunham took the precaution of presenting Wolfowitz with the customary press club mug and certificate "before we ask the final question," and for good reason: It tied the Nuremburg war trials to Wolfowitz and the Iraq war.
Wolfowitz was unbowed. "I still think that what has been done for the United States and the world is something important," he said. Praising the sacrifices of U.S. and allied troops, he added that Iraq will become a place of "tolerance and freedom" in the Muslim world. "I think the whole world, frankly, should be enormously grateful."
Wolfowitz took a back elevator to the garage and avoided the protest outside.