Historians will remember Wolfowitz not as the architect of the Iraq War but as the chief proponent of a radical shift in American thinking about war more generally. As Wolfowitz saw it, when faced with burgeoning threats, American policymakers have habitually tended to prevaricate.Since the 1980s, even before the collapse of the Soviet empire elevated the United States to the status of sole superpower, Wolfowitz has been pressing insistently for a more expansive, forward-leaning approach to using armed force. Nominally, the inspiration of this project was straightforward: it aimed to enhance U. Yet putting off problems merely permits them to fester. In the game of international security, the governing rule was a simple one: pay me now or pay me later.Wolfowitz ranked among the first national-security specialists to appreciate the military potential of advanced information technology.Computers could change the very nature of modern warfare—not by creating an impenetrable defensive shield as Reagan had hoped but by opening up new possibilities for offensive action.The year 1972 found a fervently anticommunist American president in Beijing paying obeisance to China’s megalomaniacal “Great Helmsman.” Mc George Bundy, national security adviser to John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, once remarked apropos of Vietnam, “Gray is the color of truth.” During long decades of the Cold War, the entire fabric of U. policy seemingly consisted of various shades of gray. He was in this sense cut from the same cloth as Ronald Reagan: received circumstance was not destiny.But whereas Reagan looked to the fantasies of Star Wars to void the amorality of Mutual Assured Destruction, Wolfowitz plotted a more subtle and sophisticated, if in the end equally problematic, means of escape.
In an information age, military supremacy was America’s for the taking. The intellectual godfather of precision warfare was Albert Wohlstetter, who had been Wolfowitz’s graduate-school mentor and whose student Wolfowitz very much remained.Niebuhr rendered the definitive judgment: “power cannot be wielded without guilt.” Applied to liberal, democratic America, this somber assessment had two implications: first, it rendered obsolete claims of innocence dating back to the founding of Anglo-America; second, it imposed sharp limits on the uses of power.According to Niebuhr, there was no escaping this vise.Wolfowitz believed that paying up front could markedly reduce the final tab.Well-conceived, adroitly executed action—with action necessarily implying the actual or threatened use of force—could nip threats in the bud.