The Magazine

The Visionary

Tales from the Wolfowitz era.

May 9, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 32 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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IT WAS ONLY 7:15 a.m. on October 26, 2003, and Paul Wolfowitz was already thinking about Saddam Hussein. The deputy secretary of defense had been awake for just over an hour when he and two civilian Pentagon advisers walked into a large office for a briefing on electricity.

Wolfowitz wasn't happy. The office was in one of Saddam's opulent palaces. Six months after the fall of Baghdad, there were still three-story busts of the former Iraqi leader perched atop the four corners of the massive structure. Virtually all of the images of the deposed dictator throughout Iraq had been defaced or otherwise destroyed in the celebrations that accompanied the toppling of his regime. But not these. Here in the heart of the "Green Zone"--the nerve center of the new American-run occupation, right in the middle of Iraq's capital--a smug, half-smiling Saddam took the measure of the activity below.

"Why haven't we brought those statues down?" Wolfowitz barked before the formal electricity briefing began. His tone was one of exasperation, not anger. It drew a meek response--the kind you give when you know you're about to make a lame excuse--from one of the soldiers.

"Sir, we asked the engineers about bringing them down on the Fourth of July, and they said they thought it would be too dangerous."

"Not this engineer," Wolfowitz shot back. "Get them down."

The meeting itself was unremarkable. That it took place at all, however, was significant. A little more than an hour before the briefing began Wolfowitz had nearly been killed in a rocket attack on the al Rashid Hotel in Baghdad. One of the 17 rockets that had penetrated the reinforced walls of the hotel missed his room by 50 feet but killed Lt. Colonel Charles Buehring, a communications adviser to Iraq administrator Paul Bremer.

Wolfowitz insisted on keeping his schedule that day, adding only a stop at the 28th Combat Support Hospital to visit the wounded. One of the wounded was Elias Nimmer, an Army colonel working on health care financial management issues for the Coalition Provisional Authority. Nimmer had been living in Room 916 of the al Rashid and had rolled from his bed to the floor when the attack began. This quick thinking saved his life. One of the rockets hit his room directly. Nimmer's injuries were serious. He had emergency surgery to remove shrapnel, including several pieces lodged in his spine.

Ten hours after the attack, Wolfowitz walked into Nimmer's hospital room and found a man barely able to move. The soldier was receiving oxygen and his face was flecked with cuts from the attack.

"Where are you from?" Wolfowitz asked. (The conventional "How are you?" was plainly unnecessary.)

"Are you asking where I live or about my accent?" Nimmer replied.

"I hadn't noticed your accent, but why don't you answer both questions."

"I live in Northern Virginia, but I grew up in Beirut," explained the colonel.

"How do you feel about building a new Middle East?"

IT WAS, PERHAPS, AN ODD QUESTION, coming just 10 hours after both men had narrowly escaped death. Not to Wolfowitz.

For nearly a quarter century he warned about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. And for more than a decade he has advocated democracy for Iraq and the Middle East.

These ideas are no longer as controversial as they once were. When Wolfowitz, then a mid-level bureaucrat at the Defense Department, authored a paper in 1979 warning that Iraq was "the country most capable of undermining stability" in the Middle East, he did so at a time when the U.S. government was supporting Saddam Hussein. When Wolfowitz began to speak of the possibility of Islamic democracies throughout the region, his views were dismissed as utopian.

As Wolfowitz prepared to leave the Pentagon last week to become president of the World Bank, Saddam Hussein was in jail awaiting trial, newly elected Iraqi leaders were holding debates in parliament, the Lebanese were hailing the departure of Syrian troops from their country after 29 years, and democratic rumblings could be heard throughout the region. But last week also saw a spike in insurgent violence, news that Abu Musab al Zarqawi had narrowly escaped capture, and the release of the final report of the Iraq Survey Group, reminding us again that many prewar claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program were in error.

Most of the world knows Paul Wolfowitz, if at all, only in caricature. Media reporting about him is overwhelmingly negative. Global conspiracy theories are rampant. Some place him at the center of a neoconservative cabal, the Big Jew conducting a secret Likudnik scheme to maneuver American foreign policy according to the wishes of Ariel Sharon and the Mossad. Others suggest he is a devotee of political philosopher Leo Strauss, and is running the world based on esoteric messages contained in ancient texts. Still others brand him, quite simply, the new American Imperialist.

The truth is more complicated.

Wolfowitz leaves as one of the most powerful sub-cabinet officials in the history of the United States. In some ways, he has been influential by accident. The views on foreign policy and national security that George W. Bush holds instinctively or because of his faith are, in many cases, the same ones Wolfowitz has come to after decades of study and experience. Bush believes in the possibility of a democratic Middle East because "the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth." Ask him to explain and you will likely hear about equality in the eyes of God.

Wolfowitz believes the same thing. "The values of freedom and democracy are not just Western values or European values," he has said. "They are Muslim and Asian values as well. Indeed, they are universal values." Ask him to explain and you will get a 30-minute response that includes several real-world examples--from Indonesia to the Philippines to Romania--and that is garnished with references to competing philosophies of human nature.

Wolfowitz's aides eagerly point out that he has been involved in the full range of issues that normally occupy the deputy secretary of defense--from budgets to acquisitions, from information technology to military transformation. But these are not what he will be remembered for. Instead, Wolfowitz will be remembered for Iraq. If, even after the successful elections of January 2005, the fragile Iraqi government fails, Wolfowitz--fairly or unfairly--will get much of the blame. But if Iraq succeeds, and if it continues to provide what Wolfowitz calls a "demonstration effect" for the region, he will rightly be able to claim credit. With the obvious exception of George W. Bush, no American policymaker has as much at stake in the future of Iraq as Paul Wolfowitz.

Much has been written about his policy positions on Iraq. Some if it has been accurate, more of it has not. To understand Wolfowitz it is helpful to observe him on the job, thinking and reacting, at different times through the painful transformation of Iraq from a brutal dictatorship to a fledgling democracy. On two trips to Iraq in 2003--one in July, the second in October--Wolfowitz saw firsthand a relatively stable Iraq with bustling markets and a newborn transitional government, then just three months later a volatile and violent Iraq threatening to descend into chaos.

WOLFOWITZ GREW UP IN NEW YORK CITY, one block from Columbia University in Morningside Heights. His sister remembers seeing the car of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (then Columbia's president) drive by as she and her younger brother roller-skated in the neighborhood. Their father, Jacob, taught math at Columbia, and he expected Paul to choose a line of work in either mathematics or the hard sciences. But the younger Wolfowitz found himself spending his free time reading about politics and world history. In 1963 he was on the Mall to hear Martin Luther King Jr. preach "I Have a Dream."

After graduating from Cornell with a degree in mathematics in 1965, Wolfowitz dutifully applied to study biophysical chemistry at MIT. But increasingly he realized that his real interests lay elsewhere, and he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in political science at the University of Chicago. He took two courses (on Montesquieu and Plato) from the famous political philosopher Leo Strauss, but studied mainly under political scientist Albert Wohlstetter, the preeminent nuclear strategist in the United States through much of the Cold War. It was a perfect match. Wohlstetter was a mathematical logician who was eager to work with a student of Wolfowitz's background. The association would serve as a springboard for the young man's career.

In 1972, Wolfowitz left Chicago for Washington, where he worked his way up through the foreign policy bureaucracy under both Democrats and Republicans. He served President Ronald Reagan for two years as director of policy planning in the State Department before being named U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. His time in Jakarta would have a lasting impact. Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country and most populous Muslim nation, demonstrated to Wolfowitz the possibility of moderate Islam.

Wolfowitz served as undersecretary of defense for policy--the Pentagon's third-ranking position--during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. He worked closely with then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, particularly on issues related to Iraq and the Middle East. Then, from 1994 to 2001, Wolfowitz served as dean of the prestigious Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

But Wolfowitz kept one foot in the political world during his tenure as an academic, serving as a foreign policy adviser to Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and to George W. Bush's campaign four years later. After Bush was elected, he interviewed Wolfowitz for the top job at the Pentagon, along with former senator Dan Coats. But Bush, who had already named Colin Powell secretary of state, wanted a defense secretary who would have the stature and inclination to counter Powell in interagency debates. Wolfowitz turned down an opportunity to serve as Bush's U.N. ambassador, then accepted the job as Donald Rumsfeld's top deputy.

ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, Wolfowitz was in the Pentagon briefing members of Congress on threats to America. They were notified that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, but not realizing immediately that the crash was an attack, continued their meeting. When American Airlines Flight 77 hit their building, Wolfowitz initially thought it was an earthquake. He was shortly disabused, and Rumsfeld ordered him out of the building to ensure continuity of government should the attacks continue.

Wolfowitz thought it possible that Saddam Hussein--who he believed might have had a hand in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing--had once again tried to exact revenge on the United States for his embarrassing defeat in the Gulf War in 1991. At a meeting of the Bush war cabinet on September 15, 2001, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz made the case for an expansive war on terror--a campaign that would target not only terrorists and their organizations, but also the states that sponsored them. They talked specifically about taking the war to Iraq.

The question of how to handle Saddam Hussein was the subject of a lengthy debate. Several top Bush advisers, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld among them, wanted to target Iraq in the first stage of the war. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his top deputy, Richard Armitage, argued forcefully that the focus of our early efforts should be al Qaeda and the Taliban. Both men were disinclined to include Iraq as part of the longer war on terror, or at least wanted to defer any decision to do so until after the initial military response to 9/11 had been completed. That debate broke out into the open two days later.

Wolfowitz had spoken--he says misspoken--of "ending states" that sponsor terror. Powell, asked about the comment, delivered a stern rebuke: "We're after ending terrorism," he said. "And if there are states and regimes, nations, that support terrorism, we hope to persuade them that it is in their interest to stop doing that. But I think ending terrorism is where I would leave it. And let Mr. Wolfowitz speak for himself."

In retrospect, it is clear that Bush sided with Powell and Armitage on the matter of timing. But it is equally obvious that Bush was inclined to wage a far-reaching war on terror. Bush asked Powell and the State Department to persuade state sponsors of terror, notably Pakistan, to stop. But in what is surely the defining element of the war on terror, Bush has demonstrated twice--in Afghanistan and Iraq--that he is open to "ending states" that sponsor terror.

BY THE EARLY FALL OF 2002, the Bush administration had started to make its public case for regime change in Iraq. That effort began in earnest with President Bush's address to the U.N. General Assembly on September 12, 2002, and it effectively ended with Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council on February5, 2003. Mindful of their audience, both men focused their remarks on Hussein's serial violation of U.N. resolutions. Although Bush and Powell mentioned resolutions regarding human rights and terrorism, most of the U.N. resolutions on Iraq concerned the production and concealment of weapons of mass destruction. Both presentations heavily emphasized Iraq's WMD programs. (Powell spent approximately 85 percent of his presentation on WMD, 10 percent on terrorism, and the remaining 5 percent on human rights.)

In a sense, this focus was natural. The U.N. had been monitoring Iraq's WMD programs on-and-off for over a decade. Hussein had possessed and used the deadly weapons. U.N. teams in Iraq had uncovered an elaborate bureaucracy dedicated to keeping Iraq's WMD programs from inspectors. There was widespread agreement in the international community--among policymakers and intelligence professionals--that Hussein had such weapons and wanted more.

The emphasis on WMD programs made sense at home, too. Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, had given dozens of tough-minded speeches over the course of his two terms warning about Saddam Hussein and his WMD. Democrats in Congress largely supported Clinton. Many were on record defending Operation Desert Fox, four days of airstrikes on Iraq in late December 1998. The consensus of the U.S. intelligence community, though not unanimous, was that Iraq possessed WMD.

Wolfowitz would have preferred a more balanced public case for war--equal parts WMD, terrorism, and human rights. He made this point shortly after the war in an interview on May 9, 2003, with Sam Tanenhaus of Vanity Fair.

The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but . . . there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction. The second is support for terrorism. The third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two.

The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it. That second issue about links to terrorism is the one about which there's the most disagreement within the bureaucracy, even though I think everyone agrees that we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around, that we've arrested that al Qaeda guy in Baghdad who was connected to this guy Zarqawi whom Powell spoke about in his U.N. presentation.

But the first one, WMD, to finish Wolfowitz's line of thinking, was the issue that engendered the most agreement.

WOLFOWITZ MADE HIS FIRST TRIP to liberated Iraq on July 17, 2003. The security situation was far from ideal, but attacks on U.S. troops were only sporadic and much of the country outside of the Sunni Triangle was relatively peaceful. When Wolfowitz toured a marketplace in downtown Mosul, he strolled among Iraqis hawking their wares without wearing a flack jacket or helmet. He was greeted enthusiastically by Iraqis, who surrounded him as he made his way from shop to shop. (Several Iraqis, apparently mistaking Wolfowitz for his boss, shouted "Baba Booosh, Baba Booosh!!")

The trip included a visit to a mass grave in Hilla, a series of conferences with local Iraqi civic and political leaders, and numerous military briefings. The daytime temperatures in mid-July often reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the blazing sun punishing those who venture out from under protective cover. On an afternoon visit to al Turabah, the now-arid home of the Marsh Arabs who were systematically slaughtered by the former regime, each of the 20 people traveling with Wolfowitz was drenched in sweat within minutes of emerging from the three helicopters that had flown them in from Baghdad.

That same night, Wolfowitz, who'd been up since 5a.m., returned to Baghdad for a reception and dinner with the newly created Iraqi Governing Council. The dinner was held in the ballroom of the al Rashid Hotel. The original trip plans had Wolfowitz staying at the al Rashid, but security concerns necessitated a change of plans.

Minutes after the reception began, the lights in the spacious room flickered momentarily before going out completely. This was the hotel the world got to know during the first Gulf War, when CNN's Bernard Shaw took cover under a desk in his room overlooking the Iraqi capital and described the shelling he saw on the horizon. This was also the hotel that once housed United Nations weapons inspectors and, really, most of the important visitors to Baghdad for the better part of two decades. Several months into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the walls of the hotel had still not been swept for bugs--hidden listening devices left behind by a regime as paranoid as it was brutal.

Many on staff at the al Rashid had dual roles--assisting the guests with their luggage one minute and spying on them the next. For some visitors, it was simply Baghdad's top Western-style hotel, a place with a well-stocked bar and employees who spoke English and French. But for others--black market arms dealers, representatives of corrupt Arab governments, French contractors, and possibly al Qaeda leaders--it was Saddam Hussein's guesthouse. Employees had to be ready for anything. An ill-timed mistake could provoke the severest of reprimands, even death.

So it was hardly surprising on July 19, 2003, when the hotel lost power in one of the temporary blackouts plaguing postwar Iraq that a bartender, a waiter, and several other hotel employees tending to the two-dozen dignitaries in the ballroom instantly produced high-beam flashlights. Two generator-powered lights in opposite corners of the ballroom gave off little more than a soft glow, and the guests struggled for a moment with what felt like a visit to the eye doctor. The hotel staff tried to reassure the gathered crowd that the situation would soon improve.

The lights came on minutes later, and would remain on for the rest of the dinner. Conversation resumed. Ahmad Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress and bête noire of the CIA and State Department, stood sipping his drink and complaining about the slow pace of reconstruction efforts. Saddam Hussein, he worried, remained free because the American military presence in Iraq was confused and unwilling to work with Iraqis tracking the movements of the deposed dictator. Weeks earlier, Chalabi claimed, Hussein had watched from a house across the street in his hometown of Tikrit as American soldiers arrested his personal secretary, Abid Hamid Mahmud al Tikriti. The capture came as a result of a tip provided by one of Chalabi's vigilante agents. Days before that, Chalabi maintained, one of his INC informants had told the Americans that Hussein was holed up in a house in a small town outside of Baghdad. By the time U.S. troops raided the house three days later, Hussein was gone.

Chalabi took note of a large phalanx of guards and advisers entering the ballroom and cut his critique short. The group followed close at hand as Paul Wolfowitz walked over to Chalabi.

"Hi, Ahmad."

"Paul."

"Well," said Wolfowitz, extending his hand. "I guess this is history. We always said we would do this in free Iraq."

The exchange was short and businesslike. Chalabi was sour, despite having been chosen as one of 25 Iraqis to serve on the Governing Council, and one of three Iraqis from the council to represent free Iraq at an upcoming meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Adnan Pachachi, another exile and one of Chalabi's bitter rivals, had been selected to lead the delegation. Chalabi was threatening to boycott.

Wolfowitz had heard about the threatened boycott. What kind of message would it send to the world about the potential success of the new council if Chalabi, one of the administration's closest allies, by reputation anyway, followed through with such a public display of his frustration? Wolfowitz dispatched one his advisers, deputy undersecretary of defense Bill Luti, to work on Chalabi. Luti is a Gulf War veteran who contributed to many of the Pentagon's important discussions on Iraq. He had known Chalabi for years. And even as those gathered for the dinner greeted Wolfowitz and one another, Luti started in on his old friend near one end of the long banquet table. But Chalabi was stubborn. The two men continued talking as they feasted on the appetizer--three stale dinner rolls accompanied by small portions of hummus and other traditional Middle Eastern fare. Chalabi told Luti that it was not any discontent but a scheduling conflict that would keep him from making the trip to New York.

Luti knew otherwise and pressed the sometimes prickly opposition leader. Wolfowitz was seated at the middle of the 30-foot table, diagonally across from Luti and Chalabi. He appeared to be keeping a close eye on their conversation, which, while cordial, was becoming increasingly blunt.

Wolfowitz, meanwhile, was talking with Akila al Hashimi, a mid-level official in Saddam Hussein's Foreign Ministry and one of three women on the Governing Council. Her appointment had raised some eyebrows both in the United States and in Iraq. For one thing, she was a former member of Saddam Hussein's Baath party. More troubling, though, was the fact that immediately before the war she had publicly defended the old regime and criticized efforts to overthrow it. The "defense of Iraq is now the defense of the civilized world," she'd said on February 21, 2003, addressing diplomats from 114 countries at a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Malaysia. "This war is just like a machine, and if it is not stopped with Iraq, the American machine of war will continue rolling over Third World countries."

Wolfowitz had been one of the administration's chief proponents of de-Baathification. That he would be seated next to al Hashimi was either an ironic coincidence or, perhaps, part of a deliberate effort to effect some reconciliation. Whatever the case, the two seemed to get along well, even if much of their conversation was a lesson in avoidance. Al Hashimi spent much of her time discussing a previous trip to New York in June, as an Iraqi "technocrat" lobbying U.N. member states for money to help rebuild Iraq. Wolfowitz listened dutifully.

Al Hashimi's presence on the Governing Council bothered Chalabi. Adding to his displeasure was another uncomfortable fact: Al Hashimi, because of her diplomatic experience and her sex, was the third Iraqi chosen to go to the United Nations.

Wolfowitz asked al Hashimi what she had planned to say in her appearance at the U.N. Then, taking note of the strained conversation between Luti and Chalabi, loudly posed the same question to Chalabi.

"What about you, Ahmad? Have you written a speech yet?"

Chalabi was visibly discomfited, as talk around the long table stopped mid-sentence, and attention focused on him.

"Umm, no. Not yet," he replied, flustered.

"Well, don't you think you had better plan your remarks?" Wolfowitz responded with a laugh, cheerfully pressing the rotund exile.

"I'm not going," Chalabi said flatly.

Wolfowitz affected a momentary look of disbelief before his face dropped with frustration. The rest of the table fell silent. Wolfowitz flashed a quick look of disappointment in Chalabi's direction before turning back to al Hashimi.

As it turned out, the historic appearance at the U.N. by the delegation from liberated Iraq three days later would garner little media attention. It certainly would have been a big story had Chalabi made good on his threat to boycott. But he had been persuaded, perhaps shamed, into going. More important, however, was the fact that shortly before the Iraqis arrived in New York (and less than two days after Wolfowitz left Iraq), Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed in a bloody gun battle in Mosul. Coverage of the clash and subsequent debate about displaying the dead bodies dominated the news for days.

Two months later, as Wolfowitz prepared for his next trip to Iraq, Akila al Hashimi was assassinated in her Baghdad home.

THAT NEXT TRIP CAME IN LATE OCTOBER. The objective was straightforward: to determine what the U.S. government might do to hasten the transfer of power from the coalition to the Iraqi people.

"In some ways, the most important subject we want to hear about, principally but not exclusively from the Iraqis, is how we can accelerate Iraqi assumption of responsibility for their own affairs, for their security, for their economy, and for their governance," said a senior Pentagon official traveling with the delegation. "That is really the key to success, and there has been a lot of progress made already."

The Pentagon also hoped that the trip would highlight some of the good work U.S. soldiers were doing around the country--work that went unreported in much of the mainstream press. To a certain extent, that happened. But the enduring story of Wolfowitz's second trip to Iraq was the attack on the al Rashid Hotel.

Wolfowitz was staying in Room 1234, and was showering when he first felt the impact. The security guard responsible for his well-being overnight had just transferred responsibility to a successor and headed downstairs to get some breakfast. Within seconds of the successive blasts, a team of security agents hustled Wolfowitz into a room on the side of the hotel away from the point of attack.

When the shelling stopped, Wolfowitz was escorted through thick smoke down bloody stairs to the chaos of the hotel lobby. Various officials and al Rashid residents were describing what they had witnessed. Those who'd seen the attack were unable to describe what they had heard, while those who hadn't seen anything could remember with remarkable precision the sounds of the missiles firing, the building crumbling, and the rockets exploding.

Wolfowitz was wearing khaki pants, a light blue dress shirt, and the same tan combat boots worn by soldiers. He stood hunched over a man receiving medical attention on a sofa near the hotel bar. The man's face was freckled with cuts. Both of his feet were wrapped in gauze. Doctors hurriedly dabbed his wounds and prepared to send him to the nearby combat hospital.

Wolfowitz turned from the injured man and spoke to a small gathering of his top aides from Washington and high-ranking officials with the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. military. It had been about 30 minutes since the first rocket, and nearly everyone else, including most of the journalists traveling with Wolfowitz, had been evacuated to a convention center across the street. Wolfowitz appeared calm and composed. He sent his flight surgeon to attend to the wounded and dispatched another aide to track casualties and obtain an accurate count of the injured. Moments later, he walked outside to assess the damage to the hotel.

Several small holes had been punched in the building. Many of the green and black curtains from inside had been blown through the windows and were now hanging down the façade, like bedsheets after a prison break. Two of the concrete reinforcements that Saddam Hussein had constructed below each window to protect against attacks had been blown clean off. A Phillips television remote control, split in two, was on the ground near Wolfowitz's feet.

As the group stood at the base of the building surveying the damage, objects continued to fall from the rooms above. An alert member of Wolfowitz's security detail insisted the party move inside.

The third item on Wolfowitz's immediate agenda, following the casualty update and damage assessment, was to write a statement for the media. Kevin Kellems, a top Wolfowitz adviser who specializes in communications strategy, recognized immediately that his boss would have to say something meaningful and in a hurry. Kellems had reminded his boss as they'd descended 12 floors after the attack of the possibility that television cameras would be trained on him all day. It would be important that Wolfowitz project the confidence and defiance of the U.S. administration in the face of such attacks.

At 6:45 a.m., Wolfowitz instructed his staff that they were to keep him on schedule. An early morning meeting with Shiite clerics at the al Rashid would have to be rescheduled. But he wanted to make his 7:00 a.m. appointment with U.S. Army officers working to restore Iraqi electricity and, if possible, his 7:30 a.m. meeting with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the top British official in Iraq.

Standing at the hotel's front desk, Wolfowitz began writing out his statement in longhand. In the top right corner, he dated it: "Sunday, October 26, 2003."

This is a terrorist act, but it won't deter us from staying here to do our job, which is to help the Iraqi people free themselves from the kinds of criminals who did this and who abused and tortured Iraq for 35 years, and to protect the American people from this kind of terrorism.

As the president has directed, we are taking this fight to the enemy, we are bringing in international support and--most of all--we have steadily growing Iraqis fighting alongside us for a free Iraq. We are getting the job done despite the desperate acts [sic] a dying regime of criminals.

Paul Wolfowitz

Deputy Secretary of Defense

As he was finishing the statement, several soldiers in desert-camouflage fatigues raced by, heading toward the area where medics were treating the wounded. "Clear the hallway! Clear the hallway!" They carried a severely injured soldier to the makeshift emergency room in the hotel lobby.

Wolfowitz and a small group of advisers jumped in four new Chevy Suburbans and sped quickly to coalition headquarters. The lead vehicle pulled into a back entrance to the building, where the driver was told by a young soldier that no one was allowed in through that gate. The driver was furious. As tempers flared, one bulky security officer from another car yelled to the driver of the lead vehicle. "Leave him alone. He's a soldier doing what he's been told." With that, the four-vehicle convoy swung around to the front gate.

Once inside, Wolfowitz and his advisers met for the electricity briefing. He was 15 minutes late. After the short exchange about the busts of Saddam Hussein atop Coalition headquarters, Wolfowitz began grilling the officers about electricity output.

"Why is Bechtel so goddamned slow?" he barked at Brigadier General Steven Hawkins, the man in charge of power generation in postwar Iraq, referring to the giant U.S. contractor working with the military on electricity. Hawkins, who seemed surprised by Wolfowitz's aggressiveness, had no answer. "It is slow," Wolfowitz said. "Keep going."

"If the target is 6,000 megawatts next summer," he queried, "has anyone looked at the real demand? As people get jobs and the economy gets humming, people are going to be using more electricity." Wolfowitz explained that he had become so frustrated by the pace of bringing electricity online that he'd done an Internet search to explore the possibility of renting generators.

"We have run those numbers," Hawkins responded, instructing an aide to present a cardboard chart showing projections of need versus demand. "We think that maybe 7,800 to 10,000 megawatts will be needed to meet the demand. If we get to 6,000 by next summer, that's one in the win column for this country, sir."

The electricity meeting broke up after 30 minutes. Wolfowitz rejoined most of his entourage and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in an adjacent room. The group was watching Fox News and saw for the first time a wide-shot of the damaged hotel. The chyron at the bottom of the screen reported: "Wolfowitz unhurt."

Wolfowitz had an impromptu meeting with Sanchez about casualties. He was visibly upset upon learning the news, still unconfirmed, that someone had been killed. After Sanchez briefed Wolfowitz about the particulars of the attack, Wolfowitz moved to a computer to type out his statement. The only significant change from the draft he had written by hand an hour earlier came at the beginning, where, moved by the death of Lt. Col. Buehring, he included words about the Americans sacrificing for Iraqi freedom. He finished and quickly combed his tousled hair at a mirror behind the desk where he had been writing. Wolfowitz borrowed a blue-pinstriped suit coat that Bill Luti had been wearing, and the group departed for the main CPA briefing room, across the street from the al Rashid in the convention center.

Wolfowitz read his short statement and took three questions. After the press conference, he was back on his original schedule. A brief but tense helicopter ride took the group to a lunch at the headquarters of the 1st Armored Division--in charge of security in Baghdad. Everyone was eager for an answer to the obvious but as yet unasked question: How could insurgents attack the hotel housing many of the high-ranking American civilians working in Iraq? To say nothing of the fact that the Pentagon's No. 2--the brains behind the war in Iraq--was in the hotel at the time. How could this happen?

The answer would come eventually, but first there was a surprise. The bright blue trailer in which the terrorists had mounted the rockets that had wreaked so much destruction some six hours earlier had been towed to the base and was sitting harmless just 50 feet from the mess tent. It was surprisingly tall--maybe 9 feet high. Some of the metal was mangled, twisted by the force of the explosions that accompanied the launch of the rockets. There were four rows of tubes, each 10 tubes across. A timer powered by a battery had launched the rockets.

Twenty-nine of the 40 tubes were empty--those rockets had fired. Eleven of the rockets never even launched. Of the 29 that left the tubes, 17 hit the al Rashid. And of those 17, only 6 exploded. Six of the 40 rockets did what they were supposed to do.

As Wolfowitz sat down for lunch with the troops, 1st AD's commanding officer, Major General Martin Dempsey, briefed him on the attack in a voice just loud enough for reporters to hear. Dempsey began with a short assessment of the device--"clever but not sophisticated"--and reported that it had probably taken four to six weeks to construct. "I don't think they were targeting you," he told Wolfowitz, joking. "So I don't want you to take this personally."

Dempsey, of course, had no way of knowing whether his claim was true. Shortly after the attack, evidence began to emerge that Wolfowitz had indeed been the target. According to news reports at the time and recently confirmed by the Pentagon, an informant working with Iraqi police had provided detailed information about the anti-American elements still working in the al Rashid. At the center of these allegations was a man named Muslel Muhammed Farhan al Dilemi, identified as a caterer closely associated with Saddam Hussein's security forces.

THE TIMING OF THE ATTACKS could hardly have been worse. In an interview shortly after Baghdad fell, Wolfowitz was asked about the future of the war on terror. He responded that one of the two most important goals was "getting post-Saddam Iraq right." Although he's often reluctant to give a specific time-frame for gauging success, having been burned in the media for doing so in the past, in this instance he was rather precise. "Getting it right may take years, but setting the conditions for getting it right in the next six months. The next six months are going to be very important."

Six months after that interview, many things in postwar Iraq had gone right. But the security environment in the hostile regions of Iraq, including the capital, had gotten considerably worse. Immediately after the war, the U.S. military counted an average of 12 attacks each day on American soldiers. By early November, that number had tripled.

For the five-month period from May through September 2003, a total of 87 U.S. troops had been killed in action--about one fatality every other day. In November alone, 73 soldiers were killed in action--more than two a day. Nongovernmental organizations operating in Iraq had drawn down their staffs. So had the U.N., and some of the most stalwart coalition partners, such as Spain, had begun to withdraw their troops. If the first six months of postwar Iraq were to set the conditions for getting it right, Wolfowitz had reason to worry.

World reaction to the attacks on the al Rashid was swift. "Paul Wolfowitz, who happens to be a Jew and deputy to [Donald] Rumsfeld, paid his second visit to Baghdad this week to report on the situation," wrote Walid Kalaji, a columnist for the Jordanian newspaper the Star. Wolfowitz could have pretended that "'all is normal in Iraq,' were it not for the multiple rocket attack that targeted Al Rashid Hotel in Baghdad where he was staying."

The Hindustan Times of India wrote that Wolfowitz "learnt on Sunday the dangers inherent in such aggressive policies." A commentator on Iran's state-sponsored radio called the Iraq war "illegitimate," and said Wolfowitz "was nearly burnt in the fire which he started."

But the sharpest comments came from Walid Jumblatt, a leader of parliament in Lebanon and head of that country's Druze community, who complained that Wolfowitz is a "friend of Ariel Sharon" and "one of the main architects of . . . the destruction of Iraq." In a prepared statement, Jumblatt went further: "We hope the firing will be more precise and efficient [next time], so we get rid of this microbe and people like him in Washington who are spreading disorder in Arab lands, Iraq, and Palestine."

THINGS CHANGED RATHER QUICKLY. Sixteen months later--following the successful elections in Iraq on January 30, 2005, and the dramatic demonstrations for Lebanese independence three weeks later--Walid Jumblatt gave an interview to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. His words were stunning. "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," he said. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt, the man who once wished Wolfowitz dead, was now celebrating Wolfowitz's war. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

Wolfowitz, not surprisingly, has been spending quite a bit of his time in recent months on Lebanon. On March 13, 2005, three days before President Bush announced Wolfowitz as his choice to run the World Bank, Wolfowitz attended a memorial service in Washington honoring Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister assassinated in February.

Two days later, Wolfowitz attended a dinner to honor Nasrallah Sfeir, leader of the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon, a vocal proponent of Lebanese independence. According to several attendees, Wolfowitz received a standing ovation from the crowd of approximately 600 Lebanese Christians and Muslims upon his entrance, before he was formally introduced.

Wolfowitz lingered after the dinner to greet well-wishers. Among those who stayed to shake his hand was Elias Nimmer, the Lebanese-American soldier who had been severely injured in the al Rashid attack. Nimmer, who has had four surgeries since he saw Wolfowitz in Baghdad, laughs when he recalls their exchange at the 28th Combat Support Hospital.

"Everyone else coming in my room says, 'How are you doing?' or 'What can I get you?' And then he came in and asked me this big, macro question."

How do you feel about building a new Middle East?

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.