- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

In his book “The Pursuit of the Ideal,” the late Isaiah Berlin wrote, “Utopias have their value — nothing so wonderfully expands the imaginative horizons of human potentialities — but as a guide to the future they can prove fatal.” Such was Paul Wolfowitz’s utopian view of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with its 25 million people desperately waiting to be liberated with a one-size-fits-all democracy.

Three months before the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz dismissed the need to preserve Saddam Hussein’s army and his Ba’ath Party. “If we go in,” he said, “it will be like France in 1944.” In other words, 25 million Iraqis will be waiting to greet their American liberators — and U.S. troops could be home by Christmas.

As chief architect of Operation Iraqi Freedom under former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz’s golden parachute stunned the global community of staid and stuffy central bankers, finance and foreign ministers. Two years ago, “Wolfie,” as both friend and foe call him, landed the ultimate international plum: CEO of the World Bank. Salary: $400,000 tax-free, all expenses paid. Employees: 10,000, including Wolfie’s lady friend Shaha Ali Riza. The bank’s mission: fight poverty throughout the less developed world. Funds dispensed yearly: about $25 billion.

The global community took an instant and intense dislike to the new leader, who bore the onus of a war despised by almost all those he had to work with. Adding to the inbuilt friction was a yawning gap between a conservative president and a staff that is overwhelmingly liberal.

Anyone who has known Paul Wolfowitz for the last quarter-century has been struck by his superior intellect. But then there is the phenomenon of great brains with mediocre judgment. As president of the World Bank, Mr. Wolfowitz led a campaign against corrupt practices in less developed countries, with special emphasis on Africa. One Congolese minister told National Public Radio in French, “We were treated like animals being herded into a pen.”

Despite the bank’s many successes in the world’s poorer countries, there are still roughly 1 billion people living on less than $1 a day, and 2.5 billion, or 40 percent of the world population, on less than $2 a day.

Meritorious though anti-corruption drives may be in the developing world, hardly a day goes by without headlines in the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Times about the latest financial scandals in the developed world’s business capitals. New York, London, Frankfurt and Milan are now cities where over-the-top year-end bonuses make less privileged denizens feel like paupers. Goldman Sach’s Christmas bonus pot was a staggering $16.9 billion — billion, not million. City of London financial district bonuses, says the Economist magazine, were roughly the same as the $18.4 billion the World Bank seeks to raise from 42 governments for its self-loan agency, the International Development Association (IDA).

It was probably the anything-goes-if-you’re-at-the-top culture that led Mr. Wolfowitz to please his squeeze at the World Bank with the equivalent of an almost $400,000 salary (or $193,590 tax-free). The affair triggered hostile reactions throughout the 10,000 staff members at World Bank headquarters in Washington and its 100 offices around the world.

Miss. Riza was not even going to work at the World Bank with those emoluments. “Wolfie” managed to find her a berth alongside Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth at the State Department, hoping this would delete perceptions of impropriety. It only made things worse as she is still on the World Bank payroll and making $7,000 more than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Wolfowitz’s zero tolerance on graft and corruption at the bank was now not quite zero.

The World Bank’s executive board, its governors and the institution’s European shareholder countries want the irreparably damaged Mr. Wolfowitz out, as does the Office of Institutional Integrity and the employees association. Staff members gathered in the bank’s atrium a block from the White House listened to Wolfie’s apology for indiscretion, then heckled him. Graeme Wheeler, one of his two deputies, advised him to throw in the towel.

The lone powerful voice still backing him was President Bush. Unless Mr. Wolfowitz steps down, some European Bank governors were hinting the time had come to take the presidency away from the United States and give it to a European or Asian. But they also know that without a U.S. president, Congress would most likely cancel America’s 16 percent contribution. On the other hand, if Mr. Wolfowitz stays, the others may cut back their contributions.

By the end of last week, Mr. Wolfowitz appeared to have reached rock bottom. And he went on digging.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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