It was in Jakarta that weapons-systems analyst Paul Wolfowitz was first exposed to what he took to be a typical Islamic country. It was there, as the American ambassador, with great power, that he met those smiling, friendly, plausible, most eager-to-please local figures. And from the Embassy, he made trips out to see the Good Works being accomplished with American aid money. All this helped show him what Islam was all about. Then his close friendship with Shaha Riza, and his meetings with such typical representatives of Iraq as Ahmad Chalabi, followed up on those lessons subsequently.
It was in Jakarta, in Indonesia, that he must have met many who, keenly aware of his own antecedents, would be sure to inform him that they “were looking forward to establishing relations with Israel.” They had no way of knowing that Wolfowitz had learned much about Israel’s need to surrender land to the “two-state-solution” “solution” from his sister in Israel, just as he later learned so much about the possibilities for reforming and transforming the Middle East from Shaha Riza.
Oh, you can take a boy, a young systems analyst intent on Making the World a Better Place, out of the country. You can send him all the way to Indonesia. You can even make him Ambassador. But you can’t take away his boyish, systems-analyst assumptions. You can take all of these people and send them hither and yon — the people who are sometimes confused about what our own government is and what it should be doing. You can take our government, that is supposed to be instructing and protecting our people, and treat it like one big NGO, with the American military putting on its boots and stuffing its duffel bag with toys and good things to eat for the boys and girls on the other side of the mountain and going off to war not so much to protect us as to Make the World a Better Place. And this, inevitably, you see, will reap so many benefits for us that it will be a bargain at $880 billion, or a trillion, or two trillion dollars. And while this is going on, the rest of the government has no idea how to instruct us, which is an equally indispensable task.
Yes, Wolfowitz, like so many others, had been in Indonesia. He knew, therefore, what Islam could be, would be — just the way Bernard Lewis knew all about what Islam could and would be by visiting Turkey, where he was lionized, and was also exploited by those who lionized him for Turkish purposes.
Travel is so broadening, so much more important than mere study. You pick up a lot, just as soon as the delegation of officials meet you and whisk you away in a limousine to your luxury hotel, where after a half-day to freshen up, you will be taken by limousine to dinner again, and don’t worry — you’ll be taken by officials eventually to see “the real Indonesia” or “the real Syria” (come, Nancy Pelosi, come to the Umayyad Mosque). And through your talks with the local rulers and others trained specially to phrase things in a way you will want to hear, you can also find out how the locals deal with the problems they share with us.
Yes, travel — the kind of travel that Kissinger, or Albright, or Rice, or Brzezinski, or Wolfowitz, or a thousand others, go on. The kind of experience one picks up as a cosseted ambassador in a country whose citizens and society are both famous for a smiles-and-wiles impossible-to-read faÃ§ade. Yet this is what gave Wolfowitz the impression that he “knew” something about Islam.
Yet a man such as Palmerston, who read, and read history, and thought about it, and took the reports of intelligent and uninhibited emissaries, became the most successful Foreign Secretary of Great Britain in history, even though he never left England.
A little less hectic vacancy, fewer meetings and gabblings, fewer solemn Position Papers, less gadding about, fewer meetings with Saudis and other Arab ambassadors, and a lot more reading about Islam as a Total Belief-System, and about the history of Jihad-conquest and subjugation of non-Muslims, is a tall order. But let’s order it anyway, for everyone in the house, and put it on the house — the houses rather. The Houses of Congress. The White House. Every damn House in Official Washington.