The Corner

Wolfowitz On Leo Strauss

The Defense Department released the full transcript of Sam Tannenhaus’ interview with Paul Wolfowitz. Here’s the section where Tannenhaus asks about the alleged Leo Strauss connection which the New York Times takes so seriously:

Q: Believe it or not, because this is a feature magazine, I’d like to ask you a little bit about your background. None of this is going to be personal. I know that you protect the privacy of your family so this has really nothing to do with that.

First of all, the question of ideas. That is, is there anything at all, we talked about this a little off the record, is there anything at all to the Straussian Connection?

Wolfowitz: It’s a product of fevered minds who seem incapable of understanding that September 11th changed a lot of things and changed the way we need to approach the world. Since they refused to confront that, they looked for some kind of conspiracy theory to explain it.

I mean I took two terrific courses from Leo Strauss as a graduate student. One was on Montesquieu’s spirit of the laws, which did help me understand our Constitution better. And one was on Plato’s laws. The idea that this has anything to do with U.S. foreign policy is just laughable.

Q: There is something kind of humorous in it because a few weeks ago all we heard was he’s been the kind of cowboy, rampaging around the globe looking for evildoers. And now he seems to be in the vehicle of erudite philosophy.

This is very helpful.

Wolfowitz: It sort of calls to mind the joke about the President and the Pope are on a boat, and the Pope’s hat blows off. The President says, no, I’ll get it for you and walks across the top of the waves, picks up the hat and walks back across the top of the waves, hands the hat to the Pope and the next day the headlines are, “President Bush can’t swim.” [Laughter]

Q: Let me ask about one other [inaudible], and that’s Albert Wohlstetter. A couple of people, believe me, who are not [inaudible] at all, say that Wohlstetter was a far-sighted military strategist whose notions have been about low yield nuclear weapons that we’re hearing about today, and different ways of fighting wars. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing, zero sum, no mutually assured destruction. Are there any notions like that on where the military is today or how you look at –

Wolfowitz: Wohlstetter is a much more relevant figure and it’s interesting too, by the way, that the same fellow who, or one of the same fellows who discovered the Straussian Conspiracy kind of throws Wohlstetter in as a Straussian when Wohlstetter was actually philosophically a student of Quine.

Q: The analytical –

Wolfowitz: Exactly. If there was anything anathema to Leo Strauss it was analytical philosophy.

Q: I bet.

Wolfowitz: And Wohlstetter was somebody who really just almost painfully resisted being labeled even as to political party. He was so insistent on ascertaining the facts. He had a very fact-based approach to policy. It’s very impressive. And indeed, I was his student and often identified as such, and it occasionally troubled me just a little bit that I thought, well, maybe he was also associated with these sort of cold-blooded systems analysts who kind of seemed to leave the moral piece of politics and strategy as though it wasn’t part of the equation.

It was terrifically gratifying to me as I got to know him better, to realize that there were intensely moral considerations in the way he approached these issues. Most dramatically in his deep concern about the fate of Bosnia in his late years.

But to come back to sort of more concretely, I mean here’s something that I think is quite important, quite relevant. Albert Wohlstetter was one of the first people, most influential people, to understand what a dramatic difference it would make to have accurate weapons. And that in particular what he was really interested in was the ability, two things. Number one, to be able to use conventional weapons in ways that people, that only nuclear weapons could be used, to be able to get out of the nuclear mindset kind of things.

But secondly and importantly, to be able to avoid unnecessary loss of innocent life in war. And in fact there’s a fairly seminal document that was done under Fred Ikle when he was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy called Discriminate Deterrence which may be interesting to know if you can find it on the internet. As I recall, even at the time, the State Department didn’t like it because for some reason or other it offended some of our allies.

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