Wednesday, April 18, 2007

James Fallows on Paul Wolfowitz

Fallows writes:

James Fallows | Author and Journalist » Blog Archive » Wolfowitz = Swaggart, chap. 1: I was wrong to suggest that Paul Wolfowitz was like Robert McNamara. That is disrespectful to McNamara. The better comparison is to Jimmy Swaggart. Let me explain, through the roundabout medium of Norman Podhoretz....

That is, [Podhoretz] could end up agreeing with my specific arguments if he believed I was, deep down, in favor of American strength.... But he might think something different if he suspected that I was merely grabbing another argument to denigrate the military. That is: first he’d figure out whether I was with-him or against-him. That would tell him whether to agree or disagree with my analysis. He didn’t put it quite that bluntly — and he was perfectly affable about it — but that was the point.

Everybody is like this to some degree. But in modern U.S. politics, I think the neocon/Bush comb is more “tribal” in its thinking than anyone else is. If you’re on the team, it’s very hard for you to do or say anything wrong. If not, the reverse. For instance: no organ of either the “mainstream” or the actually leftist press is as disciplined about propping up allies, no matter what, and shooting enemies on sight as are the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and most of what’s on Fox News....

This brings us back to Paul Wolfowitz. A natural extension of the in-group/tribal approach to life is the inability to ask or wonder: how would this look if the other side did it? How will it look to people who mistrust us or don’t automatically believe that everything we do is for a higher cause? This is a kind of political autism — an inability to sense or imagine other people’s reactions — and it runs the gamut. How would we feel about someone else “water boarding” our prisoners? How would we feel about the other political party intercepting our phone calls or emails? How would we like it if there were no right of habeus corpus? What would the world be like if everyone did what we are doing now?

The question Wolfowitz apparently failed to ask, is: given that I am basing my entire tenure at the World Bank on a crusade against corruption, how will it look if I extend special favors to a handful of political confidantes plus my girlfriend? Considering how many speeches I have given about those who use public office to do private favors, can I afford to dole out favors this way? Do the words “Caesar’s wife” ring any kind of bell? Or the name Jimmy Swaggart?...

And that’s why cozy self-dealing is such a problem for Paul Wolfowitz. He has said he is sorry, which is more than Cheney, or Rove, or Rumsfeld, or Gonzales has managed to choke out. But — already in a complicated position at the Bank, because of what he calls “my previous job” — he has guaranteed that no subsequent speech on his central topic, the evil of self-dealing, will ever be taken seriously by anyone he hopes to convince. Say this for Robert McNamara: he has lived his post-Vietnam life with an awareness of what he can and cannot say or do. Paul Wolfowitz, you’re no Robert McNamara.

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