Maybe Paul Wolfowitz deserved to get pushed out at the World Bank for helping his girlfriend get a new job and a hefty pay raise. At the same time, though, his critics should at least have the decency to admit that the latest scandal disproves the popular (and unfair) claim that Wolfowitz is a neocon-Likudnik whose main goal in pushing for war in Iraq was to help Israel.
How many Likudniks do you know with a “companion” named Shaha Ali Riza?
Whatever you want to say about Wolfowitz, there appears to be nothing cynical or phony about his belief that American military and diplomatic action could let loose a wave of Democratic reforms in the Islamic world that would improve the lives of the Muslim masses.
And it’s not just the Muslim girlfriend.
In April 2002, at the height of the current intifada, with Israel under attack, he stood in front of a right-leaning pro-Israel rally in Washington and drew boos for declaring that “innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well. It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact.” In an October 2003 speech, he warned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was hurting America’s standing in the Middle East and could only be resolved through “political means,” spoke well of the Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, and praised Israeli and Arab leaders who have made land-for-peace deals, including Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan. (Hard to imagine Doug Feith or Richard Perle talking like that.)
And then there was the 1989 farewell speech that Wolfowitz gave at the end of his tenure as America’s ambassador to Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. “If greater openness is a key to economic success, I believe there is increasingly a need for openness in the political sphere as well,” Wolfowitz said. Some observers have argued (here for instance) that the comment buoyed the reform movement that eventually brought down President Suharto — and it’s not hard to connect the dots between Wolfowitz’s conclusions about Indonesia and the view that Muslims deserve better than the usual choice in the Middle East between monarchs and strongmen.
Finally, of course, his decision to go to the World Bank suggests a universalist urge to improve the world, rather than a dedication to advancing Aipac talking points.
Wolfowitz may be arrogant, naïve and incompetent — but he’s not Jerusalem’s lackey.