For some people, the humiliation of Paul Wolfowitz, who atthe end of this month will step down as president of theWorld Bank after allegedly showing favoritism for his femalecompanion, Shaha Ali Reza, was his second defeat at thehands of the Middle East. The interpretation is tendentious,but it’s true that Wolfowitz paid the price in Washingtonfor his involvement in the Iraq war. And that was theproblem.
Wolfowitz’s legacy will long be debated by historians, muchlike that of Robert McNamara, who was defense secretaryduring the Vietnam war, before being named as head of theWorld Bank. Yet where McNamara spent decades ploddingthrough personal atonement for the war he had played a keyrole in sustaining, Wolfowitz has never doubted himself, orallowed anguish to push him to the edge of mental collapse.
That is what seemed to irritate so many employees at theBank, after the Bush administration named Wolfowitz toreplace James Wolfensohn. Here was a man who personifiedevil in the minds of many employees, who had supposedlystarted a war that no cultivated person could endorse; yetwho also had the bad taste not to admit it. Precisely whyWolfowitz was under any obligation to come clean before aconfederacy of international bureaucrats remains unclear –bureaucrats who are among the most pampered on the planet,therefore, phonier for wearing their self-righteousness on their sleeve, and appointed by governmentsthat often amorally deal with the most corrupt statesaround.
The specifics of the Wolfowitz case notwithstanding, hisposition was untenable from the moment the news leaked outthat he had provided an especially high pay raise to AliReza, after she was forced to temporarily leave the Bank toavoid a conflict of interest. Wolfowitz’s defenders say he’sthe one who admitted to the relationship in the first place,and that Ali Reza was entitled to a high pay raise becauseshe was unfairly removed from her post and paid heavily forthis. Moreover, Wolfowitz believed the Bank’s board hadokayed the step. The president’s critics said the board didno such thing, and that Wolfowitz knew something was amissby trying to cover it up. The point was moot, however, oncethe president found himself disowned by both his staff andby the Bank’s governors.
When the Europeans dropped Wolfowitz, he was pretty muchfinished. While it would be nice to see it as a case of asystem righting bureaucratic abuse, the fact is that much ofthe staff and the governors probably saw a goldenopportunity to get rid of someone they never really caredfor, who rarely tried to compromise with the institution’sbulky bureaucracy.
Which takes us back to the Iraq war. We may not know howmuch of a role Iraq played in Wolfowitz’s removal, but it’ssafe to say that he arrived at the Bank’s headquarterstarred and feathered by the conflict. Similarly, Ali Rezanever fit the mold of Arabs mostly critical of Americanbehavior in the Middle East. She was a believer in USinterventionism to help democratize the Arab world. Herintimacy with Wolfowitz was, if nothing else, a sign thatwhen considering the Middle East, he had a face off which tobounce his grand ambitions; it was not mere manipulation ofpower. Indeed, Wolfowitz was one of the rare Bushadministration officials who actually seemed to care aboutArab democracy, and who brought ideas to the table indefending his choices – albeit sometimes overly abstractones.
I recall interviewing him in 2004 and hearing him mention,with considerable precision, his worries that the Kurds hadgotten too much autonomy in the Transitional AdministrativeLaw, the interim Iraqi constitution. He went on to refer toFederalist No. 10 on how to avoid factionalism, which eventhen he realized was emerging as Iraq’s greatest bane. Thereis no doubt that Wolfowitz bears a great deal ofresponsibility for the fiasco in Iraq, and that won’t goaway, but the war was not for him what it was for manyothers in the administration: an expedient item allowing asenior official to keep his place in the presidential loop.
That’s why the outcome at the World Bank was sounsatisfactory. Wolfowitz erred, but just as he needed tobetter engage the bureaucracy of the World Bank, the Bankcould have responded better to a person well placed toremind entrenched pencil pushers what their job was allabout. There is a moral dimension to the Bank’s work thatthe staff often ignores. And while there are those who willargue that Paul Wolfowitz has no claims to moralitywhatsoever, they will have to prove that the World Bank,frequently a monument of amorality through its devotion tothe status quo, deserves to be the one distributing thebrownie points.