Attack of the Wolfman

By MAUREEN DOWD

The New York Times

June 24, 2004

WASHINGTON - It would be hard to top the grandiosity of Bill Clinton's self-pity. The man, after all, compared himself to communism with a straight face.

Talking to the audience after a New York screening of "The Hunting of the President," by his pal Harry Thomason, Mr. Clinton said: "When the Berlin Wall fell, the `perpetual right' in America, which always needs an enemy, didn't have an enemy anymore. So I had to serve as the next best thing."

Interviewed by David Dimbleby of the BBC, Mr. Clinton angrily turned questions about his Monica Lewinsky dalliance into a self-justifying denunciation of the press: "People like you always help the far right 'cause you like to hurt people, and you like to talk about how bad people are and all their personal failings" — instead of, Mr. Clinton said, referring to himself, "whether the Bosnian people were saved and whether he brought a million people home from Kosovo."

He said the press cared more about hurting people than "whether 27 million people had jobs at the end and whether we moved a hundred times as many people out of poverty as Reagan and Bush. This is what I care about."

Ranting, he said the press didn't care "a rip" that Kenneth Starr "sends a woman like Susan McDougal into a Hannibal Lecter-like cell and makes her wear a uniform worn only by murderers and child molesters," but merely about getting a juicy story. Of course, Mr. Clinton is peddling his book by telling a lot of juicy stories in interviews with the press and dishing about his personal failings, but that's different, I guess.

Still, the former president pales when put up against the grandiosity of Paul Wolfowitz's self-delusion. On Tuesday, Mr. Wolfowitz, Rummy's top deputy, told the House Armed Services Committee that one reason so many negative stories come out of Iraq is that "a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors — and rumors are plentiful."

Beyond sliming journalists (much as he slimes his hair with his own saliva in Michael Moore's new movie) who are risking their lives traveling around Iraq to cover the cakewalk that became chaos, Mr. Wolfowitz dodges the responsibility he bears for turning Iraq into a shooting gallery and Al Qaeda recruitment center.

When challenged by Democratic lawmakers about the lack of a connection between Saddam and Sept. 11, Mr. Wolfowitz was unrepentant — and unmoved by the 9/11 panel's conclusion that Saddam and Al Qaeda had no collaborative relationship.

"I don't need proof of involvement in Sept. 11 to be concerned that Saddam Hussein is providing mutual support to Al Qaeda," he said. "It seems to me it's like saying if someone breeds Rottweilers and leaves the gate open but doesn't tell the dog who to attack, that he's not operationally involved in the thing." (What's he talking about, and why are we still paying him?)

Perhaps that's not the most felicitous metaphor, given the revelations that it was Donald Rumsfeld who O.K.'d the use of vicious dogs by U.S. guards to threaten Iraqi prisoners.

The White House refuses to admit that, as far as U.S. security was concerned, Saddam was more bark than bite. As Hans Blix put it, Saddam had put up a "Beware of Dog" sign, so he didn't bother with the dog.

But instead of admitting he got the Saddam threat wrong, Mr. Wolfowitz lectured Americans not to be impatient. Referring to our foes, he said, "The more they sense that we're impatient . . . the more car bombs there will be." He seems to imply that we're complicit in killing our soldiers if we don't sanguinely go along with the Bush administration's delusions.

"The notion that this was `a war of choice,' that we could sit there and live with the Middle East status quo after Sept. 11, I think is wrong," he said.

Once again, Mr. Wolfowitz conflates 9/11 and Iraq. Instead of finishing off Osama in Afghanistan, the neocons dragged us into an Iraq adventure, which has ended up destabilizing the Middle East. So much for the "status quo."

At least Colin Powell has the decency to be embarrassed about the State Department's preposterous initial understatement of terror incidents.

Wolfie's never embarrassed, even as he continues to spin his version of the truth about why we went to Iraq, how we're doing there and when we'll be able to leave. The man is quite a talented propagandist —Michael Moore without the laughs.  

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com