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Dogmatists and Pragmatists

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was credited this week by The New York Times as being the “intellectual architect of the plan to oust [Saddam] Hussein.” The occasion for mentioning him was his recent trip to Iraq to get a firsthand sense of what was happening there.

While there is no doubt that he did play an early and energetic role, his “intellectual reasons” for wanting that war, were, in fact, not the popularly publicized reasons offered by the administration for a “preemptive” war. The official reasons were Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and his ties with the international terrorist outfit Al Qaeda. The war was tagged as “preemptive,” which is a fancy way of saying, “we have to hit him before he hits us.”

While Wolfowitz at no time quarreled with this rationale for the war, he had an altogether different concept of why America should invade Iraq. He had a lofty mission in mind. He believed and said that if Uncle Sam toppled Hussein, Iraq would become a liberated nation. He said such a liberation would rally Iraqis around the principles of democracy and that such a revolution would — like the 1776 shot of the American Revolutionaries “heard ’round the world” — inspire the inhabitants of other Islamic nations to rise up and demand democracy for themselves.

That’s what this “intellectual,” a former radical, predicted. What he saw when he went to Iraq was what his fanciful mind wanted to see: namely, the fulfillment of his dream. He saw progress toward democracy and expected more to come. Things were going nicely and on schedule in Iraq.

By itself, this appraisal came as a shocker to many who were knowledgeable. Yet it came on the heels of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s statement to the effect that the Department of Defense has been unable to place Iraq on the path to stability, let alone democracy. In that light, Wolfowitz’s bland blessing had all the earmarks of the intellectual in his ivory tower, commenting on a world he knows not and doesn’t want to know.

The difference between a Wolfowitz and a Rumsfeld is the ancient difference between the dogmatist and the pragmatist. The former bases judgments on wishful fantasy; the latter on objective facts. This was the great difference long ago between Plato and Aristotle. In “The Republic,” Plato created a utopia that was the product of his fertile imagination. Aristotle insisted on putting everything to a reality test.

If the true philosophy of America is pragmatism, as many insist, Wolfowitz’s approach to life might be tagged as “un-American.” Actually, it is unnatural — as Wolfowitz suddenly discovered.

Wolfowitz was mugged by reality in Iraq. His hotel, which is heavily guarded and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis, became the target of rockets fired from a distant park, killing an American colonel and wounding 15 others. Wolfowitz, luckily, was not hit. Yet what did he learn from this experience?

The day Wolfowitz was to leave Baghdad, suicide bombers injured more than 200 people. Wolfowitz was undeterred. “We have witnessed or heard,” he said, “about hundreds of individual acts of courage by Iraqis and by Americans and by the other coalition partners who are working together to build a new and free Iraq.” Apparently Wolfowitz, like the Bourbons, “forgot nothing and learned nothing.”

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