Toward the start of the second Persian Gulf War, I found myself in a room with R. James Woolsey, CIA chief during the first two years of the Clinton administration. A television was turned on, and we both watched a news report on the latest development in the North Korea nuclear drama. How much longer, I asked him, could this administration wait before dealing with North Korea and its efforts to develop nuclear-weapons material? A little while, but not too long, he said. Until after the Iraq war? Yes, Woolsey said, we can take care of things then. (That was when the prevailing assumption was the war in Iraq would take about as long as a Donald Rumsfeld press conference.) And, I wondered, is this a challenge that can be taken care of with, say, a well-planned and contained bombing raid, one that strikes the nuclear facilities in question? “Oh, no, ” he said. “This is going to be war.” War, full-out war, with a nation that might already have a few nuclear weapons and that does have 600,000 North Korean soldiers stationed 25 miles from Seoul, with 37,000 US troops in between? “Yes, war.” He didn’t flinch, didn’t bat an eye.
Woolsey is something of a prophet of war. And the Pentagon wants him to be part of its team running postwar Iraq.
On April 2, Woolsey made headlines by telling students at UCLA that the Iraq war was part of “World War IV.” Speaking at a teach-in sponsored by campus Republicans and Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, a pro-war-in-Iraq group founded by William Bennett, Woolsey remarked, “This fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us. Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War.” He cited three enemies: the religious leaders of Iran, the “fascists” of Syria and Iraq, and Islamic extremists like Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. He called for the United States to back democratic movements throughout the Middle East, which “will make a lot of people very nervous,” particularly Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Saudi Arabia oligarchs. “We want you nervous,” he said. “We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you–the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family–most fear: We’re on the side of your own people.” In other words: crusade, anyone?
Woolsey’s comments won him several minutes on the cable news networks. But a quick check of clips showed that he has been saying the same for months, using the exact same words. For instance, last November, during a speech before an audience assembled by conservative provocateur David Horowitz, Woolsey told the crowd “that we are in World War IV” and “I don’t believe this terror war is every really going to go away until we change the face of the Middle East.” Given his much-promoted diagnosis and prescription–correct or not–the other Woolsey news-of-the-week seemed even more bizarre than it had originally appeared.