Adam Ash

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Monday, April 16, 2007

World Bank: the wolf is at the door for Wolfowitz

1. Out of America
Fall of Wolfowitz Marks Twilight of the Neo-Cons
by Rupert Cornwell/ The Independent/UK

In contemplating the near-certain downfall of Paul Wolfowitz, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Does one weep at the outrageous hypocrisy of it all: the president of the World Bank, self-appointed apostle of “good governance” and scourge of corruption, caught in a blatant act of nepotism and cronyism - exactly the vices he wants to stamp out in the Third World countries his organisation lends money to?

Or does one roar with laughter at the incongruity of it all: sex at the World Bank, as Wolfowitz the cerebral ideas man (even if his ideas about Iraq were as misbegotten as they get) is brought down by matters of the flesh, as he arranged promotions and lavish pay rises for his girlfriend Shaha Riza?

Or does one simply lie back and enjoy the spectacle of a president hissed at and heckled as he tried to explain himself to his staff at an impromptu meeting in the front atrium on Thursday? Is this how international development experts behave? Has there ever been such a lowering of the tone at the annual spring meetings of the bank and the IMF here, normally devoted to less emotional matters, such as debt reduction formulae, exchange rate aberrations and discreetly expensive lunches?

Not, of course, that one should feel too sorry for bank employees themselves, whose handsome tax-free salaries and generous allowances must soften the pain of working even for a boss like Mr Wolfowitz. As for Ms Riza, on the bank’s payroll but on secondment to the State Department, she received a rise last year from $132,000 (£66,500) to $193,000, a higher salary than even the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice (and Condi pays taxes).

Mr Wolfowitz apologised - which was more than he ever did for his advocacy of the Iraq invasion, of which he was a prime architect. But there is surely no way he can serve out a full term until 2010, even if the bank’s executive board lets him off right now with a reprimand. International institutions tend not to be advertisements for good governance. But even they cannot function properly when 90 per cent of the staff want the boss to resign.

I was one of those who thought that, for all his Iraq baggage, Donald Rumsfeld’s former deputy at the Pentagon might make a decent president of the World Bank. Mr Wolfowitz is a firm believer in helping poorer countries, and as a former ambassador to Indonesia had first-hand experience of the Third World and the problems of development. And was it not an earlier Secretary of Defence, identified with an equally unpopular war, who became the best head the bank has ever had?

But Robert McNamara saw the job as penance and atonement for the sins of Vietnam. Not so Mr Wolfowitz, who has admitted neither error nor responsibility for his war. In a deeper sense too, the fall of Paul Wolfowitz is a metaphor for the double standards that are a hallmark of the shatteringly inept administration to which he belonged. It blithely launched a war, even though those who did the launching had taken extreme care not to be sent to Vietnam when they were young men of fighting age.

His appointment was a gift from George W Bush, an unswerving believer in the principle of jobs for the boys and someone who values loyalty above all else. This administration prides itself on executive efficiency. In fact, never has America been run by a more incompetent bunch, the gang that brought us Michael Brown and the Katrina clean-up fiasco. It preaches liberty and democracy, but props up dictators and presides over outrages like Abu Ghraib. Mr Wolfowitz’s public strictures against corruption and his private favouritism are part of the same hypocrisy.

The rout of the neo-cons is thus all but complete. Former UN ambassador John Bolton, Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Pentagon intelligence manipulator Douglas Feith, even Richard Perle, the “Prince of Darkness” himself - for different reasons they’ve been discredited or have simply vanished from the scene. Now the man President Bush fondly refers to as “Wolfie” joins their number. True, a few remain in government, but no one listens to them any more.

In retrospect, I now admit, Mr Wolfowitz was a wretched choice. The bank’s staff are drawn from more than 100 countries. They are just the sort of educated people, with wide experience of the world as it is, not as neo-cons dream of it, who instinctively opposed the Iraq war. Could they shut out of their minds the biggest foreign policy issue of their age - and support the man who pushed harder for war than anyone? Last week’s turmoil has provided the answer: a resounding no.

2. Wolfowitz Fight Has Subplot

WASHINGTON — When President Bush appointed Paul D. Wolfowitz as the president of the World Bank two years ago, the White House had to put down an insurrection among European nations that viewed the administration’s best-known neoconservative as a symbol of American unilateralism and arrogance.

For a while, Mr. Wolfowitz seemed to defuse those fears, even taking on the Bush administration over how best to aid the poorest nations of Africa. But now it is clear that the chorus of calls in recent days for Mr. Wolfowitz’s ouster is only partly about his involvement in setting up a comfortable job, with a big pay raise, for a bank officer who is Mr. Wolfowitz’s companion.

At its core, the fight about whether Mr. Wolfowitz should stay on at the bank is a debate about Mr. Bush and his tumultuous relationship with the rest of the world, particularly the bank, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency , which have viewed themselves — at various moments since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 — as being at war with the Bush White House and its agenda.

As finance ministers gathered in Washington on Friday for the bank’s weekend meeting, Mr. Wolfowitz worked behind the scenes, seeking support for keeping his job. But there were few endorsements of his leadership beyond those offered by the Bush administration.

In foreign capitals, and among the bank’s staff members, it has been noted that Mr. Wolfowitz’s passion for fighting corruption, which he has said saps economic life from the world’s poorest nations, seemed to evaporate when it came to reviewing lending to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, three countries that the United States considers strategically vital. Some longtime bank staff members complained that Mr. Wolfowitz relied too little on experts in international development and too much on a pair of aides who served with him in the administration.

Members of the bank’s board from around the world began comparing what they called the murky way in which the bank made some policy decisions to the secretive habits of the Bush administration.

Nancy Birdsall, the president of the Center for Global Development, a group that monitors aid to the world’s poorest nations, described what she termed “real doubts about Wolfowitz’s judgment” inside the bank.

Mr. Wolfowitz came to the bank with heavy political baggage. Since the bank was set up at the end of World War II, its president has always been an American, a fact that has engendered more and more resentment over time. That reaction was compounded when Mr. Bush selected Mr. Wolfowitz, who had served as deputy secretary of defense and an architect of the Iraq war.

“It took a huge amount of effort to quiet this down,” a member of the bank’s board of governors and an early supporter of Mr. Wolfowitz recalled Friday of the early insurrection. “And you would think, knowing that he was going into an institution that was deeply suspicious of him and the Bush administration, that he would have done everything he could to allay those concerns.”

At first, Mr. Wolfowitz did so. He made Africa his first priority. He displayed a passion and energy for the work — much as he did many years ago as ambassador to Indonesia, where he immersed himself in the culture and took on a dictator, Suharto . His campaign against corruption was intellectually unassailable and quintessentially American, and he was certainly right as far as the facts were concerned, members of the bank’s staff and leadership say.

But eventually his focus on that issue put him at odds with career officials at an institution that is famously resistant to outside influence, and which believes that fighting poverty has to come first, even if that means dealing with countries whose leaders are not above skimming a few million dollars along the way.

“He came in to a mood of skepticism and strong reservations by many,” said Geoffrey Lamb, a former vice president of the bank, who worked closely with Mr. Wolfowitz on questions of finance for the world’s poorest nations before he retired last summer. “My feeling was that he provided a bit of reassurance, by moving actively on aid to Africa and debt forgiveness. Clearly, those early perceptions have changed a lot.”

Over time, Mr. Wolfowitz created an impression that at critical moments he was putting American foreign policy interests first, most notably when he suspended a program in Uzbekistan after the country denied landing rights to American military aircraft, and directed huge amounts of aid to the countries he once recruited to sign on to Washington’s counterterrorism agenda.

It did not help that he relied heavily on a pair of aides drawn from the Bush administration, Robin Cleveland and Kevin Kellems, who created an inner circle that the bank’s professional staff members said they had great trouble piercing.

Mr. Wolfowitz’s defenders say that he was right to come in with a mission of shaking up the ingrown bureaucracy at the bank, and that the place desperately needed shaking up. But even they acknowledge that management has never been his strong suit, and that his judgment in dealing with the transfer of his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, was questionable.

In the backlash against Mr. Wolfowitz, though, there is also an undercurrent of settling scores — including those that go beyond the World Bank. Europeans still fume over Mr. Bush’s decision to send John R. Bolton , one of the biggest critics of the United Nations, to New York to serve as ambassador there — an experiment that ended when it became clear that the newly Democratic Senate would not confirm him to finish Mr. Bush’s term.

Others recall that the administration tried to fire Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei , the Egyptian-born head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who famously declared in early 2003 that there was no evidence Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons program. Dr. ElBaradei proved to be right, and was soon awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

So far, the White House has expressed confidence in Mr. Wolfowitz, but not with much vigor. There were no signs that President Bush was about to rush to his aid, though that could still happen. European and Asian officials bet it will not.

“There is a sense that we’re finally at a moment when Bush needs the world more than the world needs Bush,” said a senior foreign official who flew into Washington recently for the annual meeting of the bank and the International Monetary Fund . “And there’s more than a little of that mixed in this whole argument over Wolfowitz’s fate.”

3. More Con Than Neo


Usually, spring in Washington finds us caught up in the cherry blossoms and the ursine courtship rituals of the pandas.

But this chilly April, we are forced to contemplate the batrachian grapplings of Paul Wolfowitz, the man who cherry-picked intelligence to sell us a war with Iraq.

You will not be surprised to learn, gentle readers, that Wolfie in love is no less deceptive and bumbling than Wolfie at war.

Proving he is more con than neo, he confessed that he had not been candid with his staff at the World Bank. While he was acting holier than thou, demanding incorruptibility from poor countries desperate for loans, he was enriching his girlfriend with tax-free ducats.

He has yet to admit any real mistakes with the hellish war that claimed five more American soldiers yesterday, as stunned Baghdad residents dealt with bombings of the Iraqi Parliament, where body parts flew, and of a bridge over the Tigris, where cars sank.

But he admitted Thursday that he’d made a mistake when he got his sweetheart, Shaha Ali Riza, an Arab feminist who shares his passion for democratizing the Middle East, a raise to $193,590 — more than the taxpaying (and taxing) Condi Rice makes. No doubt it seemed like small change compared with the money pit of remaking Iraq — a task he once prophesied would be paid for with Iraqi oil money. Maybe he should have remunerated his girlfriend with Iraqi oil revenues, instead of ripping off the bank to advance his romantic agenda.

No one is satisfied with his apology. Not the World Bank employees who booed Wolfie and yelled, “Resign! Resign!” in the bank lobby.

Not Alison Cave, the chairwoman of the bank’s staff association, who said that Mr. Wolfowitz must “act honorably and resign.”

Not his girlfriend, who says she’s the suffering victim, forced by Wolfie’s arrival to be sent to the State Department (where, in a festival of nepotism, she reported to Liz Cheney).

And not his critics, who say Wolfie has been cherry-picking again, this time with his anticorruption crusade. They say he has used it to turn the bank into a tool for his unrealistic democracy campaign, which foundered in Baghdad, and for punishing countries that defy the United States.

Wolfie also alienated the bank by bringing two highhanded aides with him from Bushworld, aides who had helped him with Iraq. One was the abrasive Robin Cleveland, called Wolfie’s Rottweiler. The other was Kevin Kellems, known as Keeper of the Comb after his star turn in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” where he handed his boss a comb so Wolfie could slick it with spittle for TV. (Maybe his girlfriend didn’t get enough of a raise.) Like W., Wolfie is dangerous precisely because he’s so persuaded of his own virtue.

Just as Ms. Riza stood behind her man on the Iraq fiasco, so Meghan O’Sullivan stood behind W.

Ms. O’Sullivan, a bright and lovely 37-year-old redhead who is the deputy national security adviser, is part of the cordon of adoring and protective female staffers around the president, including Condi, Harriet Miers, Karen Hughes and Fran Townsend.

Even though her main experience was helping Paul Bremer set up the botched Iraq occupation and getting a reputation back in Washington “for not knowing how much she didn’t know,” as George Packer put it in “The Assassins’ Gate,” Ms. O’Sullivan was officially promoted nearly two years ago to be the highest-ranking White House official working exclusively on Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was clear that she was out of her depth, lacking the heft to deal with the Pentagon and State Department, or the seniority to level with W. “Meghan-izing the problem” became a catch phrase in Baghdad for papering over chaos with five-point presentations.

But W. was comfortable with Meghan, and Meghan-izing, so he reckoned that a young woman who did not report directly to him or even have the power to issue orders to agencies could be in charge of an epic bungle, just as he thought Harriet Miers could be on the Supreme Court.

This vacuum in leadership spawned the White House plan to create a powerful war czar to oversee Iraq and Afghanistan, who could replace Ms. O’Sullivan when she leaves. The push to finally get the A-team on the case is laughably, tragically late.

The Washington Post reported that at least five retired four-star generals have refused to be considered; the paper quoted retired Marine Gen. Jack Sheehan as saying, “The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.


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