Caught with his pants down


Profile/Paul Wolfowitz:High apostle of the neocons, the veteran Cold Warrior remains unruffled by revelations he fixed his partner up with a highly paid job, writes Sean O'Driscollin New York

It has become an icon of the anti-war movement: press secretary Kevin Kellems trying to flatten down the hair of deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Wolfowitz grotesquely licks a comb and uses his own saliva to smooth his hair before Kellems touches the greasy mess into shape.

For those opposed to Wolfowitz, the clip from Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 summed him up: a man obsessed with surface appearance while surrounded by sycophantic underlings who flatten down his spittle-drenched hair when they are not spinning the Iraq war.

The scene came back to haunt Wolfowitz after he took over the presidency of the World Bank in 2005. In February of last year, someone called the World Bank corruption hotline to inform them that Wolfowitz had hired Kellems and another former White House advisor for more than $250,000 (€184,000) each, tax free.

While the World Bank eventually ruled that there were no grounds to pursue an investigation, the caller mentioned a third case, that of one Shaha Riza.

The case of Riza, alternatively described as Wolfowitz's partner, girlfriend, lover or mistress depending on one's newspaper of choice, initially seemed like a model case of civic responsibility. Wolfowitz had agreed that she should leave the World Bank to avoid a conflict of interest and arranged for her to move to the State Department (while she remained nominally a World Bank employee).

Last week, under intense political pressure, Wolfowitz apologised for negotiating the terms of her new State Department salary - $193,000 a year tax free, more than Condoleeza Rice herself, plus a guaranteed 8 per cent increase each year.

The controversy introduced the unlikely coupling of the words "sex" and "World Bank", as well as the unlikely coupling of the pair themselves - the hawkish, macho, furiously pro-Israeli Wolfowitz with Riza, an Arab feminist.

To those who have known him for a long time, however, it encapsulates Wolfowitz: an ardent Jewish loyalist and neo-conservative, but also an intellectual admirer of John F Kennedy's internationalism who has carried a lifelong fascination with Arab culture.

Thomas Rawski, one of his closest high school and college friends, remembers Wolfowitz simultaneously learning Arabic while practising for a school swim team.

"He put an Arabic book on the edge of the swimming pool and would swim a few lengths, look at the book and learn a phrase, swim a few more lengths and then come back for a new phrase. He was an inspiration."

WOLFOWITZ CAME FROM an intellectual, moderately conservative Jewish family. His father, a Polish immigrant, taught mathematics at Ithaca's Cornell University and taught his children about the need for a Jewish homeland. Wolfowitz's sister, a biologist, would later emigrate to Israel.

Rawski, who was raised Catholic, remembers visiting Ithaca's synagogue with Wolfowitz. "He asked me if my family bought Israeli bonds. I remember our mutual incomprehension when I told him that I didn't know what they were. His family was pro-Israel alright."

Wolfowitz won a full scholarship to Cornell University, with free lodgings provided by the Telluride Association, an organisation set up to encourage self-governance and intellectual debate among America's future leaders. At the Telluride house, Wolfowitz met his future wife, an outgoing anthropologist named Claire Selgin, while becoming increasingly enthralled with the growing civil rights movement. Fred Baumann, who followed Wolfowitz from Ithaca high school to Cornell, remembers a group of friends cleaning out the attic in the scholarship house when Wolfowitz suggested they go to see Martin Luther King address the masses in Washington.

"It was the 'I have a dream' speech. We both knew we had heard a heck of a speech, really something," said Baumann.

As social unrest grew in the US, a new political movement emerged: the neoconservatives, much of it focused around a new magazine called Public Interest. For Baumann, it was a way forward for increasingly disaffected liberals like Wolfowitz, who wanted social reform while remaining ardently pro-American, pro-Israel and uncompromising in the fight for global democracy.

"The campus wars were emerging and more and more people found themselves out of sync with the American left," remembers Baumann. "When people got thrown off the train, they dusted themselves off and looked around to see who else the left had thrown off with them." Wolfowitz dusted himself off and fled to the University of Chicago graduate politics programme, where he came under the influence of Leo Strauss, one of the stridently pro-Israeli inspirations for the growing neoconservative movement.

Wolfowitz also came under the sway of Professor Albert Wohlstetter, who promoted the need for advanced US weaponry. Wohlstetter helped his young protege get a place on the Committee to Maintain A Prudent Defence Policy, along with Richard Perle, who would go on to become one of the giants of the neoconservative movement. Together, they defeated the growing opposition to the Antiballistic Treaty by drafting reports for its advocate, US Senator Henry M Jackson.

AS WOLFOWITZ MOVED into a two-year teaching post at Yale, he began to formulate many of the anti-Soviet themes that would later become the key arguments for the war in Iraq: the lack of reliability of international weapons inspectors and the danger of weapons of mass destruction getting into renegade hands. A friend at the time, Daniel Fogel, remembers going on a sailing trip with Wolfowitz off Long Island Sound.

"He mentioned his concern about the Russian military command relying on radio communication because radio communications are destroyed by nuclear war. He was concerned that if a nuclear war started, the Russians would not be able to control the situation or give the command to stop. His level of understanding of weaponry really impressed me," said Fogel, who is now president of the University of Vermont.

His fierce distrust of communism would lead Wolfowitz into conflict with weapons control experts when he was appointed to Team B, a group of strongly anti-Soviet consultants approved by the CIA director, George Bush Sr, who wildly exaggerated the threat posed by Soviet nuclear technology. The team won the admiration of Ronald Reagan and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and helped move the political emphasis away from Kissinger-esque detente.

For his efforts to reshape American foreign policy, Wolfowitz was rewarded with the ambassadorship to Indonesia, where he showed a great reluctance in speaking out against the human rights abuses committed by the right-wing government. He took shelter during the Clinton era in academia, as dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC.

Ever restless for political action, he helped set up the neoconservative flagship organization Project for the New American Century (PNAC), along with the future cheerleaders of the Iraq war, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Richard Perle. It was Wolfowitz who drafted PNAC's famous open letter to President Clinton, declaring that US containment of Saddam Hussein was not working and that Iraq now posed a serious global risk. After a blistering account of the dangers of the Iraq regime at a Congressional hearing, he was awarded the deputy defence secretary job under the new Bush administration.

Just after Wolfowitz destroyed 200,000 US army berets because they were made in China, al-Qaeda struck in New York and Washington. The neoconservatives had come of age. Wolfowitz's old Cold War themes - pre-emption, fear of renegade use of weapons of mass destruction, refusal to merely contain anti-American dictators - all came dramatically to global consciousness.

With the much more moderate Colin Powell isolated, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld revisited the old Team B days, this time setting up a small group of analysts called "the cabal" with the task of telling the administration everything it wanted to hear about Osama Bin Laden's supposed links with Saddam Hussein. To Congress, he promised the war would be over in months, the Iraqis welcoming Americans "more or less" as liberators and the oil revenues paying for the war. It would prove to be a fantasy and, as the car bombs went off almost daily, Wolfowitz's position grew untenable. Like Johnson's defence secretary, Robert McNamara, he was graciously punished for his military miscalculations with a transfer to the World Bank. There, amid stormy arguments with World Bank officials, he put enormous pressure on Kenya and other allegedly corrupt countries to tighten up or face massive cuts in assistance from the World Bank.

BUT IT'S PAUL WOLFOWITZ who is now under the greatest pressure, amid reports this week that his own deputy has asked him to resign because of the Shaha Riza controversy. For his old friend, Fred Baumann, the alleged scandal seems to be a "narrative correction", a way of rewriting a suitable ending for an Iraq war villain.

"Paul is an idealist and that's always a problem for his enemies," Baumann said. "The Shaha Riza controversy simplifies the narrative for people who are passionately opposed to the war. Now they have their story: Paul Wolfowitz isn't just wrong, he's morally bad. It may be some time before the real Paul Wolfowitz is truly understood."

The Wolfowitz File

Who is he?Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, former deputy defence secretary and neoconservative guru

Why is he in the news?He's in serious trouble for arranging a plum State Department job for his girlfriend

Appearance?An affable Dracula in a business suit

Most appealing characteristic?An idealistic belief in global democracy

Least appealing characteristic?Willing to bomb anyone into the ground until they love democracy. Also, spitting on his comb before doing his hair

Most likely to say?"It would be easy to take out Iran"

Least likely to say?"Mind if I borrow some hair gel?"