Nov. 18, 2005 - Over a glass of Champagne and under the eyes of raging priests on a vast Old Testament tapestry, I caught up with Paul Wolfowitz in Paris earlier this week. The current World Bank president and former U.S. deputy secretary of Defense, who is seen by many as the architect of the Iraq invasion, was talking mainly about bird flu and development issues in Africa. The cost of fighting the avian-borne pandemic, he said, might be as much as $1.5 billion. He made that sound like an awful lot of money, and probably it is when he’s scrounging for funds from international donors. But since $1.5 billion is about what the United States spends each week in Iraq, I asked Wolfowitz if he didn’t feel a few regrets about that venture.
Wolfowitz has a very pleasant way about him, professorial and quietly passionate. Regrets? No. “It’s extremely important to win the fight in Iraq,” he said. At the cocktail party after the conference in the ornate reception room of a grand palais, I buttonholed Wolfowitz again. We all wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, I said, but when it became obvious in 2002 that we didn’t have a decent plan for occupying Iraq, shouldn’t we have thought again? “I think there shouldn’t have been an occupation,” said Wolfowitz. He thought we should have trained more Iraqis to take over. He didn’t elaborate—he was running out the door—but Wolfowitz always thought that Ahmad Chalabi should run post-invasion Iraq.
So the big mistake in Mesopotamia, it would seem, was not following the grand plans of the best and the brightest who took us to war there in 2003. Others failed, not they. And maybe the armchair war-lovers of the Bush administration really believe this. Ideologues see the world through different lenses than ordinary people. From their perches in government or academe, they like to imagine themselves riding the waves of great historical forces. Faced with criticism, they point fingers at their enemies like Old Testament prophets and call down the wrath of heaven.But there’s no reason the rest of us should delude ourselves, which is one reason, I suspect, that Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a retired Marine colonel and long-time friend of the U.S. military on the Hill, spoke yesterday with such unfettered outrage....
Also see below, Iraq: Murtha in His Own Words, which includes some interesting commentary from readers.