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Wolfowitz - bank on a big surprise or two

By Josh Ushay - posted Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Paul Wolfowitz's recent trip around Africa marked his first official foreign visit since his appointment as president of the World Bank.

As the principal architect of the Iraq War, the former US deputy defence secretary's appointment is somewhat controversial, and many have serious concerns about the fact that the world's most famous neo-conservative now heads the world's most influential poverty-fighting institution.

This controversy, however, stems from a common and indeed profound misunderstanding of what neo-conservatism is all about. A close look at the evidence suggests Wolfowitz's appointment is probably not as foreboding as many of his critics would have us believe.


The popular perception of the neo-cons in general, and Wolfowitz in particular, is not an overly positive one. Many on the Left see Wolfowitz as the figurehead of an ultra-conservative, warmongering movement, obsessed with American military strength and intent on American global domination.

The truth, however, is more complicated than this. Warmongering? Perhaps. Ultra-conservative? Definitely not. What is as intriguing as much as it is ironic is the fact that neo-conservatives actually share the same fundamental objectives of their harshest critics - the liberal-Left internationalists.

Neo-cons, like the Left, strongly believe that the spread of "free world" core values inevitably improves "free world" security. Because democracies rarely go to war with each other, neo-conservatives - like the Left - believe that the more democratic states there are in the world the more secure the world becomes.

Thus, to both liberals and neo-cons, making the world safe for democracy is the first step towards a new world order in which war and conflict are outmoded and obsolete.

The crucial point of difference, however, lies in the means by which these objectives are sought. Unlike the Left, neo-cons are averse to the view that global institutions, diplomacy and international law are the best ways of containing and resolving conflicts.

In this sense they borrow heavily from the conservative realist tradition of superior military strength, and demonstrated resolve in using it, as being the best way of ensuring security. This is what is meant when neo-cons are described as liberals who have been "mugged by reality".


What all of this means, then, is that Wolfowitz's liberal-Left tendencies are much more pronounced than his supporters and critics seem to realise: a fact, moreover, obscured by the Iraq invasion and the reality that it served conservative and neo-conservative interests simultaneously.

Because Al-Qaida was a Saudi creation and because most of its operatives are of Saudi origin, an invasion of Iraq, in an immediate sense, would surround the Saudi kingdom with US forces, coerce it into eliminating the presence of Al-Qaida within its borders, and hopefully destabilise Osama bin Laden's command network.

On a broader level, however, it would dispel a perception of weakness held by the Saudis and the rest of the Muslim world. The decision to withdraw from Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of a US marine barracks; the failure to remove Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War; the retreat from Somalia after the notorious Black Hawk Down incident; and the weak responses by the Clinton Administration to the Khobar Towers and USS Cole incidents all reinforced a perception that the United States was lacking in resolve.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on June 21, 2005.

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About the Author

Josh Ushay lectures in American foreign policy and international security at the Queensland University of Technology.

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