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"Why Iraq?" Packer asks. "Why did Iraq become the leading cause of the hawks?" He gives two reasons: Paul Wolfowitz's desire to atone for America's failure to topple Saddam at the end of the first Gulf War, and the neocons' obsession with defending Israel.
In Packer's account, Wolfowitz is a fascinating, fatally flawed figure, an idealist who failed to take actions in support of his ideals. As Dick Cheney's undersecretary of defense for policy, Wolfowitz went along with Bush I's decision not to oust Saddam at the end of the first Gulf War. But he was haunted by that choice, and determined to rectify it. "More than Perle, Feith, and the neoconservatives in his department -- certainly more than Rumsfeld and Cheney -- Wolfowitz cared," Packer writes. "For him Iraq was personal." Packer holds Wolfowitz largely responsible for the Bush administration's failure to put enough troops into Iraq, and to plan for the aftermath.
The leading light of the neoconservatives was Richard Perle, whom Packer describes as the Iraq war's "impresario, with one degree of separation from everyone who mattered." A partisan of Israel's hard-line Likud Party and a protege of neocon Democrat Scoop Jackson, Perle recruited two other staunch advocates of Israel, Douglas Feith and Elliott Abrams, to work for Jackson and hawkish Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Packer writes, "When I half jokingly suggested that the Iraq War began in Scoop Jackson's office, Perle said, 'There's an element of that.'" In 1985, Perle had met and become friends with an Iraqi exile named Ahmad Chalabi. "By the time of the PNAC letter in January 1998, Perle knew exactly how Saddam could be overthrown: Put Ahmad Chalabi at the head of an army of Iraqi insurgents and back him with American military power and cash."