Fallows@Large April 2007

Wolfowitz = McNamara, Chapter 402

"Jeez louise. How much inner peace does it suggest about a person if he refuses to talk about the event for which he will always be principally known?"

From John Cassidy’s (very good) profile of Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank, in the New Yorker:

Wolfowitz refused to talk about Iraq specifically, but he told me that he still believes in the vision of a moderate, democratic Middle East.

Jeez louise. How much inner peace does it suggest about a person — the most famed intellectual in the Bush administration — if he refuses to talk about the event for which he will always be principally known? (”John Hinckley refused to talk about shooting President Reagan specifically, but he told me that he still believes in his vision of a happy future with Jodie Foster.”)

There is of course a precedent: Robert McNamara’s flat refusal to discuss the Vietnam war for 27 years after he left the Pentagon — going first, of course, to the presidency of the World Bank. I know, from asking during those years, that McNamara was willing to talk about world poverty, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the threat of nuclear proliferation, and many other (important and worthy) topics. But not the event for which he will always be principally known.

McNamara finally broke his silence in 1995, with his book In Retrospect. My reaction at the time now looks somewhat harsh. It is impossible not to acknowledge the worthiness of what McNamara has done in the nearly four decades of his post-Vietnam life. There is a steely logic and public- mindedness connecting the chapters of his life. But The Fog of War did not suggest a person 100% at peace with his role in history and his own explanations of it. I await the version of this film starring Paul Wolfowitz.

James Fallows is a National Correspondent at The Atlantic.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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