So far this has not been a good year for President Bush.First, his plan to pacify Iraq by “surging” more Americantroops appears to have backfired. Since the surge beganIraqis have been dying in far greater numbers than everbefore, and terrorist bombings are claiming nearly 120 livesa day. And, U.S. casualties are increasing, adding pressurein Washington for an early troop pullout.
But if Bush faces a tough time on his handling of foreignpolicies, he now has serious problems at home as well. Afterloosing the majority in both houses of Congress to theDemocrats last November, the president has had anotherawkward moment vis a vis Paul Wolfowitz his choice to runthe World Bank.
Wolfowitz was supposed to fight corruption and alleviatepoverty. To make the task easier, “Wolfie,” as he is know tothose who like him, as well as to those who don’t, was givena yearly salary of $400,000—tax free—and an expense accountto match the status of the job.
As World Bank president, Wolfowitz oversees some 10,000employees around the world. Among them was, ratherawkwardly, his girlfriend, Shaha Riza. Wolfowitz, appearedto be playing by the book. In order to avoid a conflict ofinterest, when he took up his new job it was decidedinternally that she be moved to the US State Department,along with a promotion and a hefty pay rise—due to the factshe was being professionally inconvenienced by the move asit derailed her World Bank career path.
Appointed to the job by President George W. Bush in the formof a golden parachute after leaving the Rumsfeld Pentagon,Wolfowitz, a neoconservative who played a major role inconvincing the Bush administration to go to war in Iraq,stated he would apply a zero tolerance policy regardingcorruption. Now he was being accused of finding ahigh-paying job for his girlfriend.
To make matters worse, the scandal reached a climax as theBank was holding its yearly spring session in Washingtonwith the participation of finance and foreign ministers,central bank directors and financial gurus from around theworld. As the scandal gathered steam, the World Bank’s 24-member board said that the situation regarding the fate ofthe former US deputy defense chief should be dealt with,"urgently, effectively and in an orderly manner."
Calls for Wolfowitz’s resignation began to trickle in withsome finance ministers saying he should step downimmediately. But the US, which appoints the bank’s head,said it still supports Wolfowitz, who they claim had nothingto do with her new appointment. Riza, they argue, wasappointed by a World Bank ethics committee (Wolfie hadpreviously excused himself from all matters pertaining tohis companion). When she was transferred to the StateDepartment she was given the mid-range salary for her newlevel was based on the bank’s existing pay scales.
Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said that PresidentGeorge W. Bush "has confidence in Paul Wolfowitz." Wolfowitzmeanwhile was booed at a meeting with World Bank staff.
By mid April Wolfowitz was told directly by one of his twodeputies, Graeme Wheeler from New Zealand, to step down at asession attended by senior staff members, according to somenews reports. The Bank’s executive board, the Bank’sgovernor as well as a number of European shareholders becameeager to see him go. Senior managers within the bank seemedsplit however, some backing Wolfowitz, others calling forhis resignation.
One of the bank’s main functions is to fight poverty aroundthe world. Yet by the Bank’s own admission, there are stillmore than 1 billion people living on less than $1 a day, and2.5 billion, or 40 percent of the world population,subsisting on less than $2 a day. Wolfowitz’s critics—ofwhich he has many—say that since assuming his new functionsat the Bank he has run the institution “much like a Chicagoward boss or mayor.” He has been said to resort to employ“patronage and intimidation” tactics.
When he moved to the World Bank from the Department ofDefense Wolfowitz took along his political acolytes,upsetting scores of long-time bank senior personnel.
Now there is growing fear in the Republican Party that adragged out “Wolfie-gate” will not help the GOP at a timewhen a vital presidential election is looming just off thehorizon. Many are beginning to echo what World Bankemployees have been saying: it is time for Wolfowitz to go.
Claude Salhani is an international editor and political analyst at United Press International (UPI)