Paul Wolfowitz ’65 assailed those who said President George Bush lied about the War in Iraq in a speech at Cornell on Thursday.
“I really do believe a lot of damage was done to our country and to our position in the world by a line of irresponsible criticism of the War in Iraq,” said Wolfowitz, who is widely considered the chief architect of the war. While Wolfowitz acknowledged that some criticism of the war was legitimate, he excoriated those who maintained that Bush deliberately misled the American people.
The deputy secretary of defense from 2001 to 2005 under President George Bush and the president of the World Bank from 2005 to 2007, Wolfowitz also said that Americans must be vigilant in remedying the world’s wrongs.
“We can’t afford to leave the world alone,” Wolfowitz said. “You say, ‘It’s none of our business; let the world take care of itself.’ But it’s not going to.”
Opponents of the Iraq war have vilified Wolfowitz for, they say, his gross underestimation the difficulties the American invasion posed. Since war was declared, the county has been torn by sectarian violence, nearly 5,000 American service people have died and thousands more Iraqi civilians have lost their lives, families and homes.
While recognizing that the wars in Af ghanistan and Iraq led Americans to question their role in the world, Wolfowitz warned that people “take that questioning much too far.”
“[I] understand why nobody wants another Iraq, but not everything is another Iraq or Afghanistan,” Wolfowitz said.
He also emphasized the necessity of taking pride in America’s foreign policy accomplishments.
“It’s important for Americans to take credit for what we’ve done so we have the self-confidence to face the future,” Wolfowitz.
Though Wolfowitz is widely acknowledged to be a neoconservative, he said he held different political views during his years in Ithaca.
“I was a Democrat when I was growing up here and when I was here at Cornell,” Wolfowitz said. “Back then, Ithaca and Tompkins County were Republican territory. Things have changed since then.”
Wolfowitz emphasized the uncertainty that foreign affairs developments lent his college years.
“October marks the 50th anniversary of an event I remember clearly from my sophomore year of Cornell,” Wolfowitz said. “During the Cuban Missile Crisis ... for almost a week we all lived in fear. The U.S.-Soviet confrontation raised the possibility that civilization as we knew it might be destroyed.”
Wolfowitz spoke about the political and economic developments the world has undergone since his years in college. He discussed the expansion of democracy in Asia, Latin America and Africa, and the way economic growth has expanded beyond Anglo-Saxon countries.
“In the 1980s there was enormous pessimism about the prospects of the developing world,” Wolfowitz said. “But we don’t hear too much about that anymore.”
Wolfowitz said that American leadership played a key role in these world developments, and that America must continue to play an active role in foreign affairs.
“It is critical that the U.S. continue to play a leadership role in a new and powerful world, even though other countries will catch up to us, in relative and even absolute terms,” Wolfowitz said. “We won’t be able to play a role if we don’t restore the dynamism and innovation that characterizes our economy.”
Before the lecture, Cornell Republicans Chair Raj Kannappan ’13 said in an email that Cornellians could benefit from Wolfowitz’s talk, despite their likely political differences.
“The vast majority of faculty members in the social sciences — and students too — at Cornell are either left-of-center or moderate when it comes to politics,” Kannappan said. “Wolfowitz will provide a bold and coherent conservative outlook on the world and how America should proceed in order to secure its national interests ... Whether Cornellians agree or disagree with him, they will surely learn something about the world.”
Wolfowitz alluded to the political differences between him and his audience, but suggested that this is simply a part of the Cornell experience.
“Cornell is committed to diversity and the motto, ‘I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study,’” Wolfowitz said. “Cornell has a commitment to intellectual diversity ... diversity of ideas is the greatest source of creativity and innovation.”