Paul Wolfowitz's admirers and detractors agree on one thing - "hawk" is too timid a description of the outspoken deputy defense secretary trying to persuade President Bush to bomb Iraq.
"Hawk doesn't do him justice," said one awed former colleague from academia. "What about velociraptor?"
In Washington, deputy defense secretaries rarely play starring roles, but Mr Wolfowitz, due to put the US case to NATO defense ministers in Brussels today, was an exception even before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Joseph Ralston, right, gestures while speaking to U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz during a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2001. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Since that disastrous morning, he has been a major player, often overshadowing his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, as the leading proponent of a wider war against suspected state sponsors of terrorism, particularly Iraq.
Three days after the attack, Mr Wolfowitz described the US military mission to journalists as follows: "It's not just a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism."
Foreign policy specialists who heard those remarks had few doubts over which state the 57-year-old military strategist wanted to end. As a Pentagon official in the first Bush administration, he pressed for US-led troops to pursue the routed Iraqi forces all the way to Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein.
During the Clinton years, as the Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University, he advocated military intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. He also pressed his argument that not only was Saddam a suspected sponsor of terrorism, he was also likely to be a willing supplier of weapons of mass destruction (WMD in Washington parlance).
From his academic perch, Mr Wolfowitz vigorously argued for the arming Iraqi opposition groups and even using US troops to carve out and protect a mini-state inside Iraq for the rebels to operate from.
In the wake of the suicide attacks on New York and Washington, Mr Wolfowitz has emerged as the loudest voice calling for a comprehensive multi-front war on terrorism which would include strikes on suspected WMD production and storage sites.
His comments triggered a rare open debate inside the rigidly disciplined Bush administration. The secretary of state, Colin Powell, hardly bothered to veil his contempt for Mr Wolfowitz's "ending states" suggestion.
"I think 'ending terrorism' is where I would leave it and let Mr Wolfowitz speak for himself," Mr Powell told reporters.
It is normal for the Pentagon, with its focus on military solutions, to be at loggerheads with the diplomats at the state department whose job it is to keep a fragile global coalition together.
What is unusual about the Wolfowitz-Powell split is its public nature and the fact that a full cabinet member has been pitted against a mere deputy.
Mr Rumsfeld has played an inscrutable role in the debate, sometimes appearing to endorse caution; at other times seeming to back his number two. He is a veteran exponent of backroom bureaucratic intrigue, and may well be happy to cede the limelight to the brash ideologue, who claimed in his job interview that he wanted to be Mr Rumsfeld's "alter ego".
Mr Wolfowitz, a native of Brooklyn, is untroubled by shyness. Soon after his appointment, he interrupted a New York Times interviewer to remind her that in Indonesia, where he was once ambassador, "I am a major international figure." Indonesians, he pointed out, "still have my picture on the walls."
Mr Wolfowitz's mindset was honed at the University of Chicago, where the mathematician's son was the protégé of Albert Wohlstetter, the father of hardline conservative strategic thinking. The pupil became a leading Cold Warrior in his own right. At one point during the Soviet Union's collapse, he advocated using US troops to guarantee Lithuanian territory against Russian invasion.
Pentagon insiders say it would be a mistake to underestimate Mr Wolfowitz's influence. Apart from Mr Rumsfeld, he is the only defense official trusted to speak to the press about the current operation.
He gives occasional briefings in the Pentagon corridors. His appointment was opposed in vain by Mr Powell, and Mr Wolfowitz now has important allies in senior roles in both the Pentagon and the vice president's office. He no longer talks publicly in terms of "ending states" but no one who knows him doubts he is still pushing the case for an attack on Saddam.
Tom Keaney, a colleague from Mr Wolfowitz's days at SAIS, said: "He's very decisive in terms of what he wants and what he doesn't want."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001