The Purging of Paul Wolfowitz: an absurd non-scandal might cost the World Bank president his job

When once confronted with a sneering remark about the Washington Post, I.F. Stone replied: "It's a great paper. You never know on what page you'll find a page-one story." One can play a similar game with the New York Times … Read More

By / May 7, 2007
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

When once confronted with a sneering remark about the Washington Post, I.F. Stone replied: "It's a great paper. You never know on what page you'll find a page-one story." One can play a similar game with the New York Times today: You never know in which paragraph you'll find the buried lede. It took me all of three (paragraphs, that is) to disinter the news item in this otherwise unshocking and unenlightening article entitled, "World Bank Panel Finds Wolfowitz at Fault; Aide Resigns":

Bank officials, speaking anonymously because the proceedings are supposed to be confidential, said that the special committee was still working today on what to recommend.

Breaking the rules is such a subjective enterprise these days. But at least Paul Wolfowitz must be smiling at the grim nostalgia of it all. At the Pentagon he was hobbled by leaks from "anonymous" officials at the State Department, and now as top dog at the World Bank he's being undone by a similar don't-ask-don't-cite practice of blabbing to the media.

As ambassador to Indonesia, Wolfowitz amassed plenty of experience in using "soft power" to coax an island dictatorship into overdue projects of reform and liberalization, if not total regime change. So whatever you think of his contribution to the state of modern Iraq, it can't quite be said he was unqualified for the presidency of the World Bank. In the grand Proustian cycle of embattled American war architects, this gig was already known as Credibility Regained, and Wolfowitz has always (and will always) hold up well in comparison with his predecessor as teller to the third world, Robert McNamara. A macabre joke has now been delivered at the World Bank's expense: You can defoliate jungles and rice paddies, and maximize peasant casualties in an illegal war to bail out French colonialism, but whatever you do, you must stay true to the wife.

At the outset of l'affaire Shaha, the Daily Mail quoted one Washington insider as saying: "[Wolfowitz's] womanizing has come home to roost. Paul was a foreign policy hawk long before he met Shaha, but it doesn't look good to be accused of being under the thumb of your mistress." (You know how it goes with centers of global financial power and things coming home to roost.)

Though apparently it wasn't Riza's influence on her boyfriend that scared the pinstriped pharisees. It was that she wasn't married to him. Shengman Zhang, the former Managing Director of the Bank, helped his wife Lingzhi Xu, a World Bank employee at a footling level compared to Riza, go from a "Level D" job status (valued at around $52,000) to a "Level G-G" job status (valued at around $123,000) in record time. According to Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal, Xu's fast-track success "never seems to have raised an eyebrow within the bank's management." It was the sort of by-the-book nepotism that everyone appreciates.

Riza, on the other hand, had been a longtime employee of the bank. She was shortlisted for promotion well before Wolfowitz got there, and her excellent job record would have assured her the same quantity of Condi-surpassing lucre for which she is now so notorious. One might still raise an eyebrow at this, however, were not Riza's ascent so demonstrably reluctant, so evidently coerced and thick with pettifogging nonsense as to make a total non-story out of her and her partner's travails.

The chairman of the World Bank Ethics Committee, Ad Melkert, was characterized by the New York Times on May 1 like this:

Mr. Melkert, a Dutch political figure active in the Labor Party in the Netherlands, said that instead of arranging for the salary and promotion package, Mr. Wolfowitz should have given the job in question to someone neutral.

That's cute. No mention here of the fact that Wolfowitz brought his personal relationship with Riza to the Ethics Committee's attention, and that Melkert was the one who instructed him not to recuse himself from Riza's reassignment. The following is a series of letters exchanged among Melkert, Wolfowitz and Xavier Coll, the Vice President of the World Bank's Human Resources, dating back to shortly after Wolfowitz's assumption of the bank presidency. These messages are worth reading in full:

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