Wolfowitz watch

by Chris Bertram on April 17, 2007

There’s a useful blog covering l’affaire Wolfowitz “here”:http://www.worldbankpresident.org/ . So far as I can see the Wall Street Journal is almost alone in spinning a pro-W line (what a surprise!).



Maria 04.17.07 at 9:18 am

Not only is the WSJ alone, but it’s going down a dangerous path. The received wisdom that while the WSJ’s editorials are deeply skewed its news coverage is reliable is no longer the case. The European version WSJ carried some striking untruths and wilful mischaracterisations in its news coverage of this affair last Friday.

Remind me again, why does anyone outside financial services read this newspaper?


Richard 04.17.07 at 12:35 pm

When I heard he was going to be “tackling corruption at the World Bank” I thought “well, who knows corruption like Paul Wolfowitz?”


jay bee 04.17.07 at 12:55 pm


Richard 04.17.07 at 1:15 pm

re 3: this is far from being a pro-Wolfie article – it says he should never have been appointed, and that the World Bank has a lot more problems than its president; both, I think, valid points.

I don’t quite understand why its author thinks nepotism isn’t all that serious, though.


Hidari 04.17.07 at 1:34 pm

I know no one takes him seriously any more, but that great legal mind of our time, Glenn Reynolds, is also pursuing the ‘Wolfowitz is’ (or soon will be) ‘a political prisoner’ line.


Ben Alpers 04.17.07 at 1:45 pm

Remind me again, why does anyone outside financial services read this newspaper?

For years, perhaps still, the WSJ was virtually given away free to college students in the U.S. (they charged some sort of very nominal subscription rate).


glenn 04.17.07 at 1:46 pm

If he had any smarts or respect for the institution, he’d just recognize his mistakes and resign. The dude has no credibility within the World Bank. That’s should be reason enough for him to ackowledge that getting the job done is FAR more important than HIM doing the job.

Show some class and leave.


Doug 04.17.07 at 2:28 pm

I think that’s a Galbraith Score of two now, though I can’t immediately find the first.

Gonzales’ score is also, I think, two. So it’s still neck-and-neck. Pass the popcorn.


Sk 04.17.07 at 2:34 pm

I read the wall street journal article, and if the facts expressed in that article are correct, they completely exonerate Wolfowitz of wrongdoing. Is it your view that the facts in that article are inaccurate?



abb1 04.17.07 at 2:47 pm

Getting Wolfy on this minor corruption incident is like getting Al Capone on tax evasion. The problem with this guy is not corruption – it’s his extremism, fanaticism.


rea 04.17.07 at 3:22 pm

if the facts expressed in that article are correct, they completely exonerate Wolfowitz of wrongdoing.

Well, the article is apparently behind a subscription firewall, so I’m left to speculate how the WSJ managed to express facts that completely exonerate the man. Did it claim she wasn’t really his girlfriend, or did it assert that she didn’t get a $195,000 per year job? Or maybe the WSJ simply furnished conclusive proof that hiring girlfriends at $195,000 per year is a good thing?


Johannes 04.17.07 at 3:40 pm

This is what my colleague at http://www.openDemocracy.net had to say about the the Riza affair, or Rizagate as the FT referred to it:

“Riza, described as a secular muslim feminist, may well have influenced Wolfowitz in the development of the World Bank’s gender equality plan (which is being championed by Wieczorek-Zeul herself). It just goes to show that some are more equal than others. I’m not referring here to the fact that Riza now earns more than Condaleeza Rice. But World Bank economic policies, which impose lending conditions on governments, continue to negatively affect the livelihoods of women as householders, farmers and traders throughout sub-Saharan Africa. When did we last see that as front-page news?”.

Find it at:
oD Today, join in a debate or challenge her view. We’d be very pleased to hear your view!


Sk 04.17.07 at 4:12 pm

I read the article yesterday, but the quick summary is that when Wolfowitz was hired onto the World Bank, he told them he was dating the woman who was already working at the Bank(I don’t remember any of the names-sorry). The World Bank board (or leaders, or whatever they are called) said that expecting the woman to leave the World Bank without any compensation was an unfair burden on her, so they
(not Wolfowitz) proposed the financial benefits in question (I can’t remember if the financial benefits were a different job, or some kind of separation compensation, or what). Copies of these statements-both Wolfowitz’s initial disclosure of his conflict of interest, and the Board members’ (not Wolfowitz’) response of appropriate compensation to the woman, are publically available.



Sk 04.17.07 at 4:14 pm

BTW: Here is the link to the article.




abb1 04.17.07 at 4:16 pm


P O'Neill 04.17.07 at 5:10 pm

This just in … where Wolfie and the Wall Street Journal lead, can this man be far behind?



Sk 04.17.07 at 5:18 pm

p o’neill-
Same question. Do you believe the facts in your article are wrong? the analysis?

“Getting Wolfy on this minor corruption incident is like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.”

But there’s an important distinction. Al Capone was actually guilty of tax evasion.

True, in the reality-based community, actual guilt isn’t terribly important (witness the Duke case). But to us faith-based yokels, actual guilt and innocence still matter…



Luis Alegria 04.17.07 at 5:21 pm

Mr. Abb1,

Wolfowitz’s “fanaticism” helped us get rid of our dictator, against the long-standing advice of the “realists”.

I would rather the whole US government consisted of such “fanatics” and “extremists”.


James F. Elliott 04.17.07 at 5:40 pm

Christopher Hitchens has a piece up on Slate today defending Wolfowitz as well.



dsquared 04.17.07 at 5:47 pm

SK: yes, Hitchens lies by ommission – he fails to mention that Wolfowitz sent a memo to the Ethics Committee specifically setting out the exact terms of Ms Riza’s settlement.


James F. Elliott 04.17.07 at 5:48 pm


If that article accurately reports the facts, then Mr. Wolfowitz’s acted appropriately by asking to recuse himself from any decisions related to Ms. Riza. The relevant information is here:

“The paper trail shows that Mr. Wolfowitz had asked to recuse himself from matters related to his girlfriend, a longtime World Bank employee, before he signed his own employment contract. The bank’s general counsel at the time, Roberto Danino, wrote in a May 27, 2005 letter to Mr. Wolfowitz’s lawyers:

“‘First, I would like to acknowledge that Mr. Wolfowitz has disclosed to the Board, through you, that he has a pre-existing relationship with a Bank staff member, and that he proposes to resolve the conflict of interest in relation to Staff Rule 3.01, Paragraph 4.02 by recusing himself from all personnel matters and professional contact related to the staff member.'”

If this is the case, then it is indeed much ado about nothing. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Paul Wolfowitz. This appears not to be one of them.


abb1 04.17.07 at 5:52 pm

Wolfowitz’s “fanaticism” helped us get rid of our dictator, against the long-standing advice of the “realists”.

Is this Indonesia? If you have the facts to back this up, you may want to correct the relevant wikipedia entry that implies otherwise.


howard 04.17.07 at 6:01 pm

Sk seems to be holding his (her) own on this. But since one of the themes of CT is the quality of rhetorical argument, I feel compelled to point out to those addressed by Sk as well as to Chris Bertram who opened this, that the following are not legitimate arguments:

1. I can’t address the legitimacy of the Wolfowitz defense because i haven’t read it. (See also the oped page of today’s LA Times, for a piece by a SAIS professor that is devastating to the claim that Wolfowitz is guilty of favoritism to his girlfriend.)

2. I don’t have to address the legitimacy of the pro-Wolfowitz arguments because the people making those arguments are flawed in some way. (“No one but the Wall Street journal …. “)
3. I can assert that there are flaws in the pro-W arguments (“striking untruths and willful mischaracterizations”) without specifics.
4. Finally notice the “moving goalposts”: the subtle evolution of the anti-W case. “Ok, the reason he should be fired is not really the favoritism, it’s something else.” This is not so obvious in the comments here, but is in the blog to which Bertram links. (Stiglitz’s comments, 10 strikes and you’re out.)


Luis Alegria 04.17.07 at 6:14 pm

Mr. Abb1,

No, the Philippines, when he was in an advisory position, and helped shift US policy.

The Suharto business rather neatly illustrates the defects of “realism”, and Wolfowitz was not in such a good position to make policy as an ambassador. Or perhaps then he was at that point being a “realist”.

Let us specify the presence of two Wolfowitzes – #1 is a “fanatic” and #2 is a “realist” – which do you prefer ?


abb1 04.17.07 at 6:23 pm

“Ok, the reason he should be fired is not really the favoritism, it’s something else.”

But that’s obvious, isn’t it; doesn’t really warrant special item with a number on your list. If this wasn’t Wolfy we all know and love for his previous achievements, who would give a shit?


P O'Neill 04.17.07 at 6:28 pm

Here’s one element of spin at the heart of the WSJ/Hitch line on Wolfie



abb1 04.17.07 at 6:29 pm

Luis, pretty much anything is preferable to a messianic megalomaniac at the helm of a powerful bureaucracy.


Luis Alegria 04.17.07 at 6:37 pm

Mr. Abb1,

“Messianic megalomaniac” ?

That he is not. And that is not the worst thing to be anyway, when your cause is the best in the world.

What is far worse is the collection of comfortable whited sepulchres that constitute the US liberal consensus. All pretty talk (when they are occasionally shamed into rationing out some) and no action. They have nothing to say to people like we were back in the 1980’s, or the Kanan Makiyas of the world. They can do, but don’t, and so tolerate the intolerable while pretending to be moral.


aaron 04.17.07 at 7:10 pm

Much as I dislike the WSJ op-ed pages, and other pro-Wolfowitz publications, I think it’s hard for anyone who has actually looked at multiple sources on the case to argue that Wolfowitz should resign over this matter alone.

A quick pro-W case would consist of the following observations:
Wolfowitz disclosed a his relationship with Riza upon becoming president of the world bank.
The Ethics committee gave Wolfowitz authority dictate the terms of Riza’s transfer. Given the conflict of interest, one wonders why he was allowed to do this in the first place, and why the arrangement wasn’t criticized by the ethics committee until this year.

One can argue that Wolfowitz should not have been appointed to head the World Bank, but I don’t think this is the convenient moment to rid the world of Wolfowitz that it appeared to be at first. And he is doing a better job than one might have expected from a crony of GW.

In any case, there is an ongoing investigation into the matter, and Wolfie’s more vocal detractors should perhaps wait until some more definitive evidence is realized to attack him in this affair.


roger 04.17.07 at 7:48 pm

Howard, let’s address your points:
1. “I can’t address the legitimacy of the Wolfowitz defense because i haven’t read it.” Hmm, oddly enough, that seemed to be Wolfowitz’s own defense earlier in the week, when he made the claim that he had nothing to do with Riza’s compensation. Then his spokesman stopped taking calls. Then he said he did have something to do with Riza’s compensation. Now, of course, we know that the World Bank forced him to design a package giving his girlfriend raises above the WB standard by a considerable amount, as well as dictating that, during her period of having nothing to do, she would be evaluated as excellent in her job performance. Apparently, her consulting job on a fake commission that has, in the one year of its existence, not yet met, seems to correspond pretty well to this description.
2. “I don’t have to address the legitimacy of the pro-Wolfowitz arguments because the people making those arguments are flawed in some way.” Flawed, as in friends making arguments that discretely leave out the issues at hand? Flawed, as in making the argument that at least Wolfowitz was shutting down the World Bank’s dealing with corrupt regimes, when, to the contrary, he was the biggest advocate of opening a world bank office in Iraq, which has been listed as at the bottom, internationally, in terms of corruption? You are right – they are somehow flawed by the inability to mount an argument. That is a flaw.
3. “I can assert that there are flaws in the pro-W arguments (“striking untruths and willful mischaracterizations”) without specifics.” See 2. And, of course, see the comment by sk – you might notice that sk’s defense of Wolfowitz gives, uh, no specifics.

4. “Finally notice the “moving goalposts”: the subtle evolution of the anti-W case. “Ok, the reason he should be fired is not really the favoritism, it’s something else.”” Actually, it isn’t moving the goalposts, it is finding ever more shady dealing, ever more incomptence, starting with the pro-Bushie crew he brought with him, and including Riza’s weird synergy with Wolfowitz when he was in the Defense department.

So: a man is nominated for a position at the world bank in spite of the opposition of a large sector of the bank; he comes in demanding a larger than average salary and that the wb suspend its rules about relationships between employees; after he continues to make the issue of Riza important, the bank finally accedes and allows him to draw up a resolution; he finds a resolution that violates the banks protocols; the bank actually shuffles the woman over to the state department to operate without any authority on God knows what, while she gets paid more than the secretary of state. And you think this is fine. If only you and the bush zombie crew had made it clear, in 2000, that this is the kind of thing Bush meant by bringing integrity back to government, we would never have been in this mess. By integrity, he could have said, I mean nepotism and lying. Clarification is next to godliness, you know.


abb1 04.17.07 at 7:54 pm

Please, Luis. What are you, some kind of Trotskyist or something? You feel like acting – pick up a gun and go act and leave the US liberal consensus alone.


Walt 04.17.07 at 8:12 pm

SK: I know that to be a right-wing hack requires a large amount of gullibility, but come on. The World Bank _insisted_ that Wolfowitz’ girlfriend be given a gigantic pay package that made her the highest paid member of the State Department? Really? You have probably made many used-car salesmen happy over the years.


roger 04.17.07 at 8:19 pm

Slate is trying to balance its insane Hitchens defense of Wolfowitz (supposedly they at first looked for a more balanced point of view by asking Wolfowitz’s mother to write an article, but hers was insufficiently por-wolfowitz) with this memo from A. Cave, which quotes a bit of Wolfowitz’s own memo about Riza – pretty funny stuff, all about how she has to get her position back, plus “outstanding job performance” evalutions. Wolfowitz has the Louis XIV attitude, apparently, to job performance evaluations.
Here it is:


Luis Alegria 04.17.07 at 8:21 pm

Mr. Abb1,

No, I was and still am a conservative, of a sort. Or perhaps the proper term is a classical liberal. One does not have to be a Trotskyist to be a revolutionary.

I did act, when it was my time to do so. I have been arrested and shot at by a dictators men.

Are you playing the “chickenhawk” line ? Shame on you.


abb1 04.17.07 at 8:42 pm

Classical liberal revolutionary? That’s a new one for me.

As a classical liberal, you shouldn’t be shaming people, Luis; you’re supposed to be an individualist, mind your own business, and let the others (including US liberals) take care of themselves.


Thomas 04.17.07 at 8:57 pm

Daniel, why would it be troublesome or incriminating that PW informed the ethics committee of the resolution of the conflict issue? That fact, and the committee’s response, seems exculpatory to me. Hitchens’ certainly isn’t obligated to put all the possible exculpatory information in his article.


Luis Alegria 04.17.07 at 9:09 pm

Mr. Abb1,

I think you have the wrong idea entirely. The world has had plenty of liberal revolutionaries, international ones to boot. A great-great grandfather of mine was exiled from Spain in the 19th century (on a charge of sedition) for being exactly that. The 19th century was full of these people. Recently you have people like Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa. Look and you shall find.

And then there is the matter of being your brothers keeper. It is intolerable to “mind your own business” when people are asking for help. In fact, it is utterly dishonorable. Christopher Hitchens is entirely correct on this.

The American liberal (Democratic party) answer to people like Makiya these days is to give them the backs of their hands – and this is true of their attitude toward every other such liberation movement. It was not like this in my day, we had people like Steven Solarz (Democratic chairman of the foreign affairs committee) regularly on the streets with us, in Manila. Imagine that today.

To their shame they have no more outstanding people like Solarz. They seem to have just people with tiny and crabbed horizons, professional cynics, and characters who have lost their perspective to the degree that they think that a dispute of +/- 5% in the share of GDP taken up by government spending is some issue that is more urgent than the need to liberate slave states.


roger 04.17.07 at 9:19 pm

The wolfowitz watch really is a goldmine. I liked this post about global warming – such synergy between Wolfowitz and Imhofe, one of our most respected senators! Wolfowitz’s appointment of Coalition of the Willing deadenders not only went after the birth control policy of the bank, but also watered down the energy policy papers:

“Meanwhile, it turns out that there’s more on the Bank’s stand on climate change and global warming that whatever Juan-Jose Daboub may have recently had deleted from the most recent Board paper on “clean energy”. Just after PW arrived, there were other climate-related papers that had to go to the Board, including one that Robin Cleveland heavily marked up to the point that the Bank’s Chief Scientist, the respected Bob Watson, threatened to resign. He didn’t, so some accommodation must have been found; however, Watson’s boss, long-serving environment VP Ian Johnson, left.”

Wolfie didn’t miss a beat.


howard 04.17.07 at 10:15 pm

I guess I owe Roger (at 30) a response, since he addressed my earlier comment (at 23).

1. Roger agrees with me that “I havent read it” is a fallacious argument; and I agree with him that neither the pro-W nor the anti-W forces should make it.
2. I say that the validity of an argument, or the truth of facts presented, cannot be determined by the presence of flaws in person making the argument or presenting facts. Roger responds in a non sequitur, “But the person making the argument is really really flawed.”
3. Roger agrees with me that arguments should contain specifics. The wallstreet journal article, the LA oped piece and the Slate article contain specifics of the pro-W position. Roger believes that SK’s reference to these is insufficient. I disagree.
4. Roger apparently admits that the whole “Wolfowitz took improper action to help his girlfriend” argument is a red-herring, and that it is completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not W should be fired. I agree with him on this, and I wish the rest of the anti-W crowd would follow Roger’s lead in eschewing this particular argument.


roger 04.17.07 at 10:59 pm

Howard, what a very interesting way you have of reading.
1. I assume you know that Wolfowitz changed his story – kind words for retracted the lie he told – during the course of last week about his involvement in Riza’s contract. The change of story goes like this: I didn’t have anything to do with it (first story) to I dictated the terms, but only because I was made to by the board (second story). Outside of Bush circles, this is known as a lie.
2. The non-sequitur is actually irony – the flaw I was talking about was the flaw of people who can’t make logical arguments. This is a double flaw: it is a flaw in the maker, and it seems to operate as a flaw in the receiver, especially if the receiver has a religious faith in this administration. One of the nice things about people who can’t make arguments except in bad faith is that after a while, you can simply reference them by their names: you can just say, for instance, Hitchens – to mean “bald faced war mongering propagandist, legacy of the 2003 war boom whose contracts are an embarrassment to the magazines that still employ him” – the way you can use the name Heinz, for instance, to mean “catsup”.
3. Howard thinks a reference to one article, an editorial at that, is suffient grounds for SK and himself to skip over any of the news stories about the Wolfowitz scandal over the past week. In fact, it is such a knock down argument that all references to Wolfowitz should simply be about that editorial. I think… well, I think that’s funny!
4. Red herring is a trope that Howard needs to get better acquainted with. Rather, I think that the accusation is more like a metonymy – that is, a term that refers to something greater than just itself. In this case, the greater thing is the more massive self-dealing and ties to other politically dubious actions of Wolfowitz which have been revealed as we scratch beneath the surface of Riza’s contract. However, even metonomy’s have a material weight in their own right. Certainly, Wolfowitz lied about giving his lover a sweetheart deal. That alone should be enough to have him dismissed from his position. It is, classically, just the kind of relationship that would cause the World Bank to retract aid from a recipient if it came to light. Or does Wolfowitz’s anti-corruption aid make an exception for misteresses?
Thus endeth the reading lesson.


jet 04.18.07 at 12:36 am

Luis Alegria,
Do you have a blog? You sound like an extremely interesting person.

And by-the-by, Abb1 is probably one of those “professional cynics”, except he is disenfrachised by his own hate.


dr ngo 04.18.07 at 4:46 am

Luis: On Wolfowitz’s role in shaping US policy toward Marcos, you might want to read Raymond Bonner, Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy (Random House, 1987), esp. pp. 432ff.

Bonner – who seems to be a pretty good reporter – says that yes, Wolfowitz generally pushed for a tougher US line on Marcos. But when the crunch came in 1986, he backed down. He was annoyed at being grouped with Armacost, Bosworth, Abramowitz et al. as calling for the US to disengage; he wanted to maintain his conservative credentials and was (as Evans & Novak put it) “determined not to be the architect[s] of destabilization.”

It was Shultz and Habib who prevailed after four days of EDSA and persuaded Reagan finally to make the break with FM. Wolfowitz was present, but was not (apparently) one of the prime movers of this shift in policy. No shame in that, but no great glory either, and frankly I don’t think the Filipino people owe him anything.


abb1 04.18.07 at 6:23 am

Please, Luis.

Here’s some classic liberalism for you: as far as I’m concerned, people of your country should have any political system they like. If they have a dictatorship, I have to conclude that what they want is dictatorship. As soon as they decide that they don’t want a dictatorship – they’ll get rid of dictatorship.

Unless, of course, some very powerful foreign country (usually the US, but not necessarily) imposes dictatorship on them. In which case I would like the very powerful foreigners who are meddling in your affairs – Solarz, Wolfowitz and all the rest of them – to get out of there pronto and let your people decide what they want. Note: not you, Luis, but the whole population of your country, including the “dictator’s men”.


Luis Alegria 04.18.07 at 7:41 am

Dr. Ngo,

The Filipinos owe a lot of people a great deal, there were many people involved, officially or unofficially, and our movement got a lot of American help throughout, not just at the very end. Wolfowitz was part of that.

We had embassy personnel, but also other “unofficial” Americans, and other under the table assistance, some from the State Department, some less traceable. Use more than one source – granted, this whole subject is still poorly documented.


Luis Alegria 04.18.07 at 7:58 am

Mr. Abb1,

I’m afraid I have to come out and say that one one level your world-view is just plain silly; it is a normal state of affairs for people to be subject to political authority that is imposed on them. No people deserve a dictatorship, nor do they normally want one. Just because there is no impending revolution does not mean that they like what they have, or even if it is tolerable in the sense of sustaining human life.

I don’t think you have experienced a dictatorship firsthand. Let me clue you in – people can put up with a lot in order to live day-to-day, and will not normally undertake mortal risks for the sake of political reform. And I mean a lot, up to and including general starvation, if the dictator is competent and has a free hand.

It takes extraordinary circumstances to develop an effective, purely indigenous revolutionary movement. And I mean extraordinary, this is rare. The natural state of humanity has been despotism.

As for the moral underpinnings of your world-view – well, I think I have just seen you give the world the back of your hand. I suggest you take a step or two back and examine your attitude, because I cannot believe that if you examine it honestly you will not find it shameful.


Luis Alegria 04.18.07 at 8:04 am

Mr. Jet,

I’m afraid I am not really very interesting, and I do not have a blog. I am normally at TheForvm.org, the successor to Tacitus. Tacitus/TheForvm specializes in debate across party lines, any issue, any subject, the range being akin to that on this site.


SG 04.18.07 at 8:30 am

Luis Alegria, I would love to see you in an argument with an East Timorese resistance fighter. It was the bold and visionary goal of the US to prevent the spread of communist tyranny in South East Asia (you know, to defend “freedom”) that led them to set up Suharto in the first place, and to support his invasion of East Timor. Has it occurred to you that what bold, visionary US politicians give with one hand they happily take away with another (or from another country)?

You might also like to bear in mind that there is more than one sort of visionary in the world, and the people you call “realists” might actually have thought that the development of economies trumped the development of political freedom. It might have been their vision that 100,000 people dead by a dictators hand is better than a million dead from poverty. You might not like their vision; but that is why you are better making your own future, than relying on the dubious assistance of a power as belligerent, self-interested, calculating and vicious as the US.

And only a fool in any case would believe that Wolfowitz helped them for any reason except to benefit the US. Lucky you if your interests coincided with theirs for a day or two, but I wouldn`t be putting all my eggs in that basket. Wolfowitz`s vision for the US may include your freedom today; but it could include your nation being turned into a crucible of mass murder tomorrow.


abb1 04.18.07 at 8:51 am

Sorry, Luis, I have to disagree with pretty much everything in your comment 45.

People often do want dictatorship.
If there is no revolution, that means that people prefer the status-quo to the alternative.
I don’t want to discuss my personal experiences, but you wrong about that too.
Revolutionary movements do develop all the time and they often replace one sort of dictatorship with another.
If the natural state of humanity is despotism, then what are you complaining about? Sounds like you want to replace a sort of despotism you don’t like with the one you like. That’s fine with me, but why do you presume that everyone should be helping you?

As for my attitude, it’s quite simple: I don’t claim to be in possession of the final truth, which is what makes me different from a messianic fanatic.


Hidari 04.18.07 at 11:11 am

‘I would rather the whole US government consisted of such “fanatics” and “extremists”.’

And Lo! Your wish is granted.

Signed: The Right Wing Non-Reality Based Fairy.


Luis Alegria 04.18.07 at 8:53 pm

Mr. Sg,

Or a Hungarian freedom-fighter maybe ? Or an ex-South Vietnamese army man ?

The US has given, has withheld, and (sometimes, rarely) taken away in the interest of a greater good, if necessary. The US has made deals with the devil since WWII at least. This is a banal point.

The real problem is that since the end of the cold war the argument for making such devilish deals in favor of a greater good has become far less valid. The “greater good” is no longer the preservation of the free world, but the striving for a vain sense of moral superiority, the ability to boast about having clean hands.

If the US had let the world “make its own future” post 1945 it would have been a disaster far worse than WWII; it seems to me that this situation is less urgent now but ultimately no different.

US and world interests, as in the overlap of all sorts of individual national agendas, seems to coincide extremely well. The US is after all the only country in the world that has to develop a global strategy, by default, it being the only country with the means and the political unity to be capable of acting this way. The US also ends up acting in a surprisingly altruistic manner, in pursuit of national interests. What other country would have accepted US trade deficits ?

And policy makers in the US do very often act on principle – as they do anywhere else, even in the most cynical dictatorship. People are complex. I am satisfied that there is a strong strain of such principle in US politics.


Luis Alegria 04.18.07 at 9:20 pm

Mr. Abb1,

I think you and I will never see eye-to-eye on much.

I strongly disagree on your point with respect to dictatorships. Some dictatorships sometimes, that is true. But a sufficiently brutal and clever tyrant can even go so far as to immiserate nearly all the people, terrorise most of them, and slaughter large fractions of them, and yet stay in power in spite of the desire of the large majority for relief.

Your definition of choice seems pedantic and disingenuous. The status quo may definitely be better for an individual – it is often a choice of an unsatisfactory life vs perpetual imprisonment or quick death. You call this a choice ? Are people in such a situation freely preferring a tyrant ?

Revolutionary movements do not develop often in a competent dictatorship without outside intervention, and even less successful ones. We have plenty of cases of these that have survived for 40-50 years, and earlier ones have gone on for centuries. Most modern dictatorships were not overthrown by their people, but succumbed to external forces or leadership failure.

Why should other people help me liberate my country ? Why should you save a drowning man ? Why should you feed a starving child ?

The good news, messianic fellow that I am, is that humans have developed a technology of politics beyond despotism. Where properly implemented it does result in better lives for most. One could posture cynically and question this point, but that is what it is, just posturing as a cynic for the sake of disagreement. The case is settled.

This is not the final truth. As an engineer I know we will not make the ultimate machine, just a better one than the last. We have a better machine, if not yet the best conceivable. The real problem is not that we have an imperfect machine but that too many people are still stuck with old technology or newish but inferior alternatives.


Luis Alegria 04.18.07 at 9:24 pm

Mr. Hidari,

It is not a popular thing, to make a change. It upsets the comfortable.


abb1 04.18.07 at 10:48 pm

Most modern dictatorships were not overthrown by their people…

Come on, Luis, seriously. A whole bunch of Eastern European countries very recently – just as soon as Soviet Wolfowitzs quit trying to make them happy? Iran? Cuba? An unpopular regime gets overthrown, a reasonably popular one survives. It’s your own rhetoric of ‘despotism’ and ‘liberation’ that gets you confused. Avoiding being fooled by your own bullshit is the first step to becoming a realist, and that isn’t such a bad thing.


Luis Alegria 04.18.07 at 11:11 pm

Mr. Abb1,

All those countries in Eastern Europe lost their dictators because the leadership of the Soviet Union cracked, and not under popular pressure.

Equating Wolfowitz to the Soviets, and that denial of the reality of the concepts of despotism and liberation, requires one to have lost all capacity for judgement.

As for Iran and Cuba, both fallen regimes were much weaker as they exerted far less control over their people than their successors; their leaders were far too lax for their own survival.

Batista, like Marcos, had very little in the way of a police state and a tiny military. Batista had no neighborhood committees, did not control the economy and only sporadically limited the press. He even showed mercy to his enemies. People were not fleeing Cuba wholesale in his day, in spite of the fact that there was nothing to prevent them. As a dictator he was weak and lackadaisical.


Tim Fuller 04.19.07 at 12:26 am

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Alegria, he is absolutely one of the most challenging proponents of a conservative world view that I’ve come across.

I highly recommend reading any thread at theforvm.org that he’s active on.

Tim (aka catchy).


SG 04.19.07 at 2:15 am

Luis Alegria,

The US has given, has withheld, and (sometimes, rarely) taken away in the interest of a greater good, if necessary

what is this with the rarely? Most of Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, East Timor, Angola, and those citizens in nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia whose dicatatorships are propped up by people like Wolfowitz – not to mention Iraq – would beg to disagree with you about the infrequency of the US`s occasional “necessary” witholding of the interst of freedom. Also those in North Korea, Iran and Cuba suffering under odious trade sanctions because the US has a vision for their “freedom” might also argue with you.

This doesn`t seem so rare to me. And some of these events – like the destruction of one third of East Timor`s population – hardly rank against the alternatives. Avoiding communism in Indonesia was seen by the US as worth the deaths of perhaps 1 million people, as was fighting communism in Vietnam. Do you really believe the communist order in those societies would have been equally bad?

You may think that its cynical of people in the West to advocate not intervening in other peoples` societies to change them “for the better”, but if so maybe you should visit Iraq. Case in point, and all that. We do have rather a long history of watching warlike US governments “remake” other societies into the stone age. It doesn`t fill us with confidence that the US vision is so much for “freedom” as it is for (as one of Wolfowitz`s mates put it) creative destruction.


J Thomas 04.19.07 at 3:00 am

There’s an old story where a dictator explained how he stayed in power. Was it a spartan king explaining it to Socrates? A persian king? I forget. He pointed to a field of wheat, and he said wherever you see a stalk of wheat that stands out above the rest, cut it down.

I once had an iranian housemate who told a story — I forget most of the details — an iranian wrestler won the olympics, he got a gold medal. The iranian public considered him a great hero. And the Shah had him killed. I asked, how do you know the Shah had him killed? He said everybody knew. And everybody knew the reason — the Shah couldn’t let any iranian be more popular than he was, because any such person could lead a rebellion. I tried to imagine a revolution against the Shah led by a world-champion wrestler, who’d spent all his time for the last x years studying wrestling. It didn’t make sense. But the Shah was unpopular and any seed crystal could start the transformation.

It’s easy to say that people get the government they deserve, but in practice it’s a matter of technology and organization, technique. A government that has to be repressive is already unstable, but the timing of when it collapses depends on how well it manages the repression versus how well its enemies organise against it. It might possibly totter along for decades if it organises well and its opponents organise poorly.

When the USA intervenes we might take either side or both. Which side we take depends on our strategic interests and also on which side does better PR.

It’s like a soulless machine programmed at random. Do you support the repressive corrupt government or the communist terrorists? It usually depends on which PR you’ve been exposed to and which is effective. Which side does the US government support? It depends on what strategic resources we need, and where we need bases, and lots of things like that, plus they have to pay some attention to the citizen dupes who’ve fallen for foreign PR.

When Castro was trying to take over Cuba he told reporters about how he wanted democracy. For the first election before things were real organised he was going to call in civic groups — Rotary and Lions Club etc to help run the election. He trusted them. We might have supported him. Is there a chance that if we had supported him he’d have gone with a democracy? I say yes, if we’d helped him publicise his plans for democracy he might have had a hard time backing down from them later. Maybe he even believed it when he said it. But we backed Batista.

Who do you believe and why do you believe them? If somebody like Luis is sure we ought to intervene on one particular side, who are we to say he doesn’t know the ultimate truth? He could be right. So the next question is, how much money should we bet that he’s right? How many lives? To the extent that we’re a democracy, how much we bet depends on how much of a betting mood the US public is in at the moment. Before we staged our unilateral attack on iraq, a lot of americans were ready for a nice little bet that we could move in quick and clean things up and the oil would pay for it. I tend to think we aren’t going to feel like that for some years, we’ll need time to forget just like it took us time after vietnam.

But I’d kind of be up for an easy little war in saudi arabia. We could let the egyptian army do the work, we might provide them with transportation and equipment and logistics, and muslim US officers could keep an eye on the operation. Call for democracy in saudi arabia, a democracy of good muslims and infidels would get a voice proportional to their numbers, with full respect for religious sites etc. We could probably pull it off, and if it didn’t work it would be mostly surplus egyptians in trouble over it.

And considering how well things are working out in south africa, a similar solution would probably be the best thing for israel/palestine. Except I don’t think the US public would allow it.

But then I think about the *range* of possible results of US intervention, and I get a lot less enthusiastic. I get a wonderful idea for how things can be, and I prod the US government into random action, and we get random results….


abb1 04.19.07 at 6:56 am

All those countries in Eastern Europe lost their dictators because the leadership of the Soviet Union cracked…

Exactly, when there is no external meddling, local people will do what they want.

…, and not under popular pressure.


Equating Wolfowitz to the Soviets, and that denial of the reality of the concepts of despotism and liberation, requires one to have lost all capacity for judgment.

Why, the Soviets used to talk about despotism and liberation exactly like you and Wolfy, only for the most part their villains were your heroes and their heroes your villains. Why are you so sure your kind of melodrama is better?

As for Iran and Cuba, both fallen regimes were much weaker as they exerted far less control over their people than their successors…

These regimes were highly unpopular and people replaced them with more popular regimes. That’s all there is to it.

People were not fleeing Cuba wholesale in his day…

People are not fleeing Cuba these days either: they are not escaping Cuba to go live in Haiti, for example. Rather, some of the Cubans rush to the US (risking their lives) to receive bribes the US government offers them.


ejh 04.19.07 at 9:28 am

What nonsense.

The US backed the opposition movement in the Phillipines all the way through? Really? Including all the time when they backed it financially and militarily?

The fall of the Eastern European regimes owed nothing to the mass movements in those states?

There’s nothing “challenging” about that worldview, it’s just a repeated message which says “US intervention is good for freedom” and sees nothing that might contradict that view.


Isabel 04.19.07 at 9:55 am

“Most modern dictatorships were not overthrown by their people, but succumbed to external forces or leadership failure.”
Might be true, but Portugal, for one, is a counterexample. And the US was very much tempted to intervene in 1975 to prevent the feared advent of communism there. The US Ambassador Frank Carlucci, a (neo)conservative if there was one, was apparently instrumental in letting the Portuguese revolution run its course (by betting on Soares and the Socialist Party).


Hidari 04.19.07 at 11:12 am

‘It is not a popular thing, to make a change. It upsets the comfortable.’

I think I speak for all of us when I say ‘?’.


Uncle Kvetch 04.19.07 at 11:22 am

Over 200 more innocent people became abruptly less comfortable in Iraq yesterday.


Anthony 04.19.07 at 12:07 pm

So what has he done wrong then Chris, because it isn’t immediately apparent to me at all.

Are you suggesting the facts are spin, whereas the spin to suggest Wolfowitz was in the wrong is fact?

What is factually incorrect in the WSJ and Hitchens’ pieces?


deadtrees 04.20.07 at 6:05 pm

As soon as they decide that they don’t want a dictatorship – they’ll get rid of dictatorship.
*That’s* all they need to do?

Man, those Russians must have been gluttons for punishment.


abb1 04.21.07 at 6:59 am

What are you talking about, deadtrees?


J Thomas 04.21.07 at 4:18 pm

Deadtrees is pointing out that the russians have not done very much about getting rid of dictatorships.

Myself, I tend to attribute it to the mongols. The mongols were not very good occupiers. They were unremittingly brutal and they demanded similar brutality of their satraps. Survival meant taking the abuse without visible complaint.

Since that time they’ve been real insistent about accepting strong central authority to handle external invaders. They put up with a whole lot from a government that manages to drive back an invasion. They put up with a lot of military incompetence too, usually.

Yes, gluttons for punishment.


abb1 04.21.07 at 6:05 pm

Dictatorship is not punishment. Like I said, people often prefer dictatorship and they tend to worship their dictators.

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