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A Wolfowitz in sheep's clothing

By Maureen Dowd

10/04/05 "New York Times"
-- -- WASHINGTON - Paul Wolfowitz is having fun.

"It's fun to have the chance to be a retail politician again," he told Andrew Balls of The Financial Times on a recent trip to India. It was an economic odyssey designed to warm up his image by tipping off the press to record his shirt-sleeve visit to a slum and his street-dancing with children in Andhra Pradesh.

When the reporter noted that Wolfowitz's role as No.2 at the Pentagon must seem distant, he agreed, saying, "Yes, it does seem like a long time ago."

A lot has changed for this architect of the Iraq war since he left the scene of the accident. Following the lead of that other wooly-headed war theoretician, Robert McNamara, Wolfie scuttled to the World Bank, where he changed the subject from bollixing up Iraq to fixing up Africa.

Unlike the Powell maxim "If you break it, you own it," the Wolfowitz philosophy is "If you break it, walk away from it."

Where on earth are those who egged on the Iraq civil war? The neoconservatives have moved on to debates about China and Iran. Richard Perle has dropped out of sight, except to pop up, as he did at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual meeting in May, to urge a military raid on Iran if it's "on the verge of a nuclear weapon."

The president and his generals are still offering gauzy assessments of our fight against an insurgency that grows ever more vicious, and dishing out loopy justifications for the war.

Wolfie and fellow hawks turned Iraq into a harbor for al Qaeda with an invasion they justified by falsely calling Iraq a harbor for al Qaeda. Gen. Richard Myers has said that America couldn't leave and allow al Qaeda to dominate Iraq because "then in my view we would have lost, and the next 9-11 would be right around the corner, absolutely."

The president spent years saying that al Qaeda was on the run, and Rummy spent years saying we just had to finish off a few Saddam "dead-enders." But four years after Bush promised to get "the people who knocked these buildings down," they are finally talking about al Qaeda as a threat again.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Gen. John Abizaid called al Qaeda "the main threat we face" in Iraq, citing its 400 suicide bombers deployed worldwide. So when W. says if we fight them there we won't have to fight them here, that's just nutty.

Though the Bushie gang has maintained that it would be hard for al Qaeda to operate on the run, Abizaid noted that the group is "empowered by modern communications, expertly using the virtual world for planning, recruiting, fund-raising, indoctrination and exploiting the mass media" to break the U.S. will and try to form a haven in Iraq.

Al Qaeda is exploiting tribal tensions intensified by the bungled U.S. occupation. Wolfowitz's assumption that America could conquer Baghdad and install the Shiites at the expense of the Sunnis, with bouquets thrown, in a religious war that has been going on for centuries, was naive and dangerous.

The rest of us may be glued to the gruesome pileup of bodies in Iraq, but Wolfie has moved on. He told The Financial Times that he still thought the United States and the British did "the right thing" for "the right reasons," and "hopefully, it's going to turn out the right way."

He said that wherever he travels, from Burkina Faso to Bosnia, Iraq rarely comes up. How fortunate for him.

Maureen Dowd writes for The New York Times. liberties@nytimes.com 

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