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9/11: Paul Wolfowitz: Reagan redux?

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Asia Times

October 11, 2001

Paul Wolfowitz: Reagan redux?

By Tim Shorrock

WASHINGTON - Before the bombs began to fall on Sunday, the most hawkish voice in the Bush administration belonged to Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and a veteran of three previous Republican administrations. Forty-eight hours into the crisis, Wolfowitz bluntly stated US military goals as "ending states who sponsor terrorism" and began spinning plans for a massive offensive described by the London Guardian as "open-ended war without constraint either of time or geography and potentially engulfing the entire Middle East and central Asia".

When Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked early on if he shared this vision, he replied: "I think ending terrorism is where I would like to leave it, and let Mr Wolfowitz speak for himself." That set off a frenzy of media speculation that the administration was deeply divided on how to conduct the war, a story that Wolfowitz tried to squelch during a rare public appearance on October 5. "Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers," he said. But two days later, Newsweek reported that Vice President Dick Cheney had told Wolfowitz, his chief aide at the Pentagon during the Gulf War, to "pipe down". He hasn't been seen or heard much since.

So who is Paul Wolfowitz? During the Gulf War, he went toe-to-toe with Powell in a losing battle to finish the war by toppling Saddam Hussein, a cause he has pushed fervently ever since. He is well-known as a hardliner toward China and North Korea and retains close ties with conservative leaders in Taiwan, Indonesia and Israel. He first met George W Bush in October 1998 and quickly became a trusted foreign policy adviser. Since September 11, Wolfowitz has been one of the only non-cabinet members to participate in National Security Council meetings and has met with defense and foreign ministers from Turkey, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Georgia. He was dispatched to Brussels in late September for an important briefing for NATO leaders.

"There is no doubt that today [Wolfowitz] is exceedingly influential on policy matters, much more influential than the second man at the Pentagon normally is," Ted Warner, a former assistant secretary of defense, told the Los Angeles Times on October 6.

Policy analysts say that Wolfowitz's retreat from his "ending states" rhetoric doesn't necessarily mean he has lost his considerable influence within Bush's policy team. "It was a foolish strategy to go public like that, but players win some and lose some," said a former State Department official who writes widely on US policy. "I wouldn't draw any quick and easy conclusions about his power in this administration."

One thing is certain: as the Pentagon's top liaison to foreign military leaders, Wolfowitz will play a key role in cultivating relations with US allies. In that context, the key to understanding his current job is his experience during the Reagan administration, when he was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and US ambassador to Indonesia. During those years, Wolfowitz helped reframe US foreign policy to reflect the fanatical anti-communism of Ronald Reagan, which firmly rejected any linkage between foreign policy and human rights.

In Asia, that meant ending constraints on military and economic aid to authoritarian allies like Chun Doo-hwan of South Korea, who was chosen as the first foreign head of state to visit Reagan at the White House. Chun, a former paratrooper, had seized control of the Korean military in 1979 and massacred hundreds of demonstrators in the city of Kwangju in May 1980. To Reagan, Chun represented a dictator he could work with: anti-communist to the core and supportive of US security interests. Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Suharto in Indonesia received the same friendly treatment. But the policy failed. By the mid-1980s, both the Korean and Filipino people were sick of their US-backed police states. In 1985, a surge of "people power" ended Marcos's reign; the next year, massive demonstrations in the streets of Seoul forced Chun to resign.

To Wolfowitz, however, these popular uprisings vindicated Reagan's approach. In a remarkable speech to the Heritage Foundation last year, Wolfowitz argued that Reagan's diplomacy had actually advanced democracy in Asia. During a 1985 visit to Korea when many dissidents were jailed, Wolfowitz recalled, Reagan quietly advised Chun to "honor the South Korean constitution and to step down after one term as president". Chun's decision not to run again, he said, was "far more important in resolving human rights problems in Korea than any number of lists of political prisoners" Reagan might have presented to him. In the Philippines, he said, Reagan's "pressure on Marcos to reform" inspired "the Philippine people to take their fate in their own hands" and produced "what eventually became the first great democratic transformation in Asia in the 1980s".

Wolfowitz is worse on Indonesia, where he forged close ties with the intelligence and corporate elite. In May 1997, a year before Suharto was driven out of office, Wolfowitz told Congress of "the significant progress" Indonesia has made under the "strong and remarkable leadership of President Suharto". In an interview on PBS in February 2000, Wolfowitz was asked about General Wiranto, who had just been forced to resign after being named by Indonesian authorities as the mastermind of the 1999 military rampage in East Timor. He praised Wiranto as "the general who commanded the army during the first elections in Indonesian history". Wiranto "may have done bad things in East Timor or failed to stop bad things in East Timor, but that's what makes it so tricky," he added.

Tricky indeed. The United States is now engaged in a "war for democracy" that, according to Wolfowitz, has received "spectacular cooperation from intelligence services of scores of countries, some of whom would rather not have it mentioned". Two US allies in the fight, Afghanistan's Northern Alliance and the government of Uzbekistan, already have sordid records on human rights. What happens when, during the course of the war, America's new friends and allies begin to turn on their own people? With Cold Warriors like Wolfowitz on their side, the worst they can expect is having democratic shibboleths whispered in their ear.

Further Reading:

F..W.. Magazine || 9/11: The Archive - The 'Lighter' Side of the New World Order?