Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Tribute to Paul Wolfowitz and Christopher Hitchens

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Christopher Hitchens in Baghdad, 2003
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Christopher Hitchens in Baghdad, 2003

Perhaps no two people have influenced my political development more than Paul Wolfowitz and the late Christopher Hitchens. Their unwavering, passionate support of both a secure world order and the right of Iraqis to federate is frankly unmatched.

Wolfowitz was born into a Polish Jewish family in Brooklyn and grew up in Ithaca, New York. His father, Jacob, was a well-known statistics professor at Cornell University. Though the immediate family immigrated to the United States well before World War II, the Wolfowitz relatives that stayed behind in Poland perished in the Holocaust.

Paul’s moral compass and emphasis on intellectualism has been evident throughout his life. In 1963, Wolfowitz and others briefly left Cornell to attend Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington. Subsequent to earning his PhD from the University of Chicago, he had quite a diverse array of experiences ranging from teaching at Yale to serving as the United States Ambassador to Indonesia and eventually as Deputy Secretary of Defense.

In an interview of reflection, Wolfowitz offered his long-held view on the first Gulf War in which he stated that “the really tragic mistake that we made at the end of the first Gulf War was to allow him (Saddam) to use his tanks and his helicopters to slaughter the Shi’a uprising that, in fact, President Bush had called for. Our army was sitting on the south bank of the river. We could have saved those people.” In this way, he eloquently tackles the well-meaning but harmful influence of non-interventionist officials (such as Brent Scowcroft) within the Republican Party. In addition, he believes that we made the same mistake in our nonsensical lack of residual forces in Iraq, worsening the current struggle against ISIS.

On an issue directly related to the country of this publication, Wolfowitz was never afraid to profess his moral belief in the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. At a pro-Israel rally during the height of the Second Intifada in 2002, Wolfowitz stated, “Innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well. It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact.” In other words, we cannot forget about the universal cause of helping our Arab brothers and sisters that desire freedom just as much as Americans. The two-state solution is the only solution that allows for the self-determination of both peoples, and the extremists on both sides should be unequivocally rejected.

The second figure of whom I derive much my political development to is Christopher Hitchens. He was Born in Portsmouth, England just after World War II. Christopher’s father, Eric, was a commander in the Royal Navy. Much later in his life, Christopher found out that his mother, Yvonne, was Jewish.

Hitchens’ principles permeate my philosophy and I will continue to fight for them until I draw my last breath. The most crucial aspect is his opposition to the theocratic fascism that often manifests itself in many parts of the Middle East. In one of his last columns, Hitchens noted “We do have certain permanent enemies—the totalitarian state; the nihilist/terrorist cell—with which ‘peace’ is neither possible nor desirable. Acknowledging this, and preparing for it, might give us some advantages in a war that seems destined to last as long as civilization is willing to defend itself.”

Importantly, both Wolfowitz and Hitchens shared a rejection of the Kissinger doctrine. Prophetically, they both realized that the long-term consequences of supporting dictators would be more blood and treasure stupidly lost on both sides. Hitchens notes in Hitch-22 that Wolfowitz managed to convince the Reagan administration to support the democratic movement in the Philippines, which eventually spread through South Korea and Taiwan.

Today, the United States is faced with strikingly similar decisions to make about the future of the Middle East in places such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Will we take the easy way out, and remain indifferent to genocide and the havoc being wrought against people? Or will we take the much more difficult, but just path to fight for the eventual realization of freedom throughout the world as figures such as FDR, John F. Kennedy, and Reagan did?

Though Hitchens tragically passed away due to esophageal cancer in 2011, his legacy lives on in Paul Wolfowitz and people such as Robert Kagan, Bret Stephens, and other “internationalists”. Or, as Hitchens would probably have put it as he once did in describing T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell in The Atlantic, “English people who thought other peoples, too, deserved their place in the sun.”

Never give up.