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Outside Wolfowitz’s home a day after he resigned (AP photo)

Cronyism was only one of the complaints about Wolfowitz

COMMENTARY | May 20, 2007

The overseas press: Europeans pushed to remove Wolfowitz after the nepotism story broke in April, and there’s mostly glee at his departure.

By John Burke

LONDONThe foreign press has focused on Paul Wolfowitz since the Washington Post first reported the story of his nepotism in April. From the beginning, most expected him to resign; his mistakes were too contradictory to his message.

Europeans were especially miffed by the original appointment of a man who was seen as an extension of the American neo-conservative movement and the architect of a war that has been enormously unpopular. And much of the European press took especial joy in calling for an end to the Wolfowitz reign.    

Perhaps the most important message after the Bush administration lost another battle to keep an appointee in power was the call for an end to the arrangement that the president of the World Bank must always be an American.

Der Spiegel lists a number of cases of Wolfowitz taking part in cronyism, especially during his tenure as part of the Bush administration and his push for the Iraq War. The German weekly uses the fallen World Bank president as evidence of a high level of corruption that defines the White House and has caused much unrest in the world:

“The small morality play unfolding at the World Bank tells us something significant about how the United States became bogged down in the Iraq quagmire when Wolfowitz was highly influential at the Department of Defense. The simple fact is that Wolfowitz has throughout his entire career demonstrated a penchant for cronyism and for smearing and marginalizing perceived rivals as tactics for getting his way. He has been arrogant and highhanded in dismissing the views of wiser and more informed experts, exhibiting a narcissism that is also apparent in his personal life. Indeed, these tactics are typical of what might be called the ‘neoconservative style’…

“The management techniques that got Wolfowitz in trouble at the World Bank mirrored those he used at the Pentagon to get up the Iraq war. Without cronyism, tag-teaming, and running circles around opponents of the war such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet, the pro-war cabal could never have persuaded Bush to launch the conflict or persuaded the American public to support it…

“Wolfowitz's tendency toward clientelism made him vulnerable to groupthink based on unexamined premises. In the case of Iraq, the consequences were tragic. Wolfowitz and his cronies were fixated on overthrowing the government of Iraq…

“Wolfowitz's record of favoritism, ideological blinders, massive blunders and petty vindictiveness has inflicted profound harm on two of the world's great bureaucracies, the U.S. Department of Defense and now the World Bank. He has left both with thousands of demoralized employees and imposed on both irrational policies that pandered to the far right of the Republican Party. He has, in addition, played a central role in destabilizing the Middle East and in leaving one of its major countries in ruins.

“Many of his Himalayan-size errors were enabled by his careful placing of close friends and allies in key and lucrative positions. In the end, his career suffered remarkably little from his substantive policy mistakes. But once he moved beyond the forgiving world of high Republican Party politics, his dependence on cronyism finally caught up with him. That he ran into such trouble at the World Bank for behaving in ways that apparently were business as usual for him at the Department of Defense only underlines how corrupt the Bush administration really is.”

After arguing that Wolfowitz’s nepotism wasn’t as bad as some have made it appear, the Financial Times writes that Wolfowitz wasn’t the man to be running the bank anyway, mainly for his hardheadedness and cronyism:

“Yet there was a case to be made against Mr Wolfowitz. Certain bosses have such an elevated idea of their own capabilities, and such a contempt for those of others, that they can make the most exalted kind of creative work feel like slave labour. They spur their subordinates to new depths of underperformance.

“Enough information has leaked out of the bank in recent weeks to make it obvious that many staffers saw Mr Wolfowitz as such a boss. He sounds like a man who would rather achieve a goal by laying down the law to employees than by inspiring them. Doing the latter, after all, might introduce ambiguity about who the ‘hero’ of the organisation is.

Those who have worked long enough in Washington, DC, will recognise this management style. Its key feature is the henchman. The important role that former political operatives Kevin Kellems and Robin Cleveland played was a bad sign…

“While Mr Wolfowitz’s enemies were distracted by the corruption issue, Mr Wolfowitz was struggling to focus attention back on the area where the case against him was strongest. ‘If you want to have a discussion about my leadership, my management style and the policies I support,’ he said several days ago, ‘let’s do it.’

“Mr Wolfowitz and the bank seem to have brought out the worst in one another. Perhaps this is because, in certain ways, they were perfect for one another. They had similar strengths and weaknesses…

“It is not even clear that Mr Wolfowitz’s ideology was a disqualification. The Iraq war was an exercise in universalism. Mr Wolfowitz and his colleagues at the Pentagon behaved as if there were no such thing as a culture that does not want democracy. Politically, they thought, human beings all want the same things, whether in a Ba’athist barracks in Samara or a Republican suburb of Dallas.

“The driving philosophical assumption behind the World Bank is that there is no such thing as a culture that does not want development. Economically, human beings all want the same things, whether they live in Hokkaido or Harare.

“Ultimately, the bank had the stronger hand. Maybe it was simply time for Mr Wolfowitz to go. Or maybe the case for the universal applicability of capitalism is stronger than the case for the universal applicability of democracy.”

An article in the Financial Times Deutschland before the announcement of his resignation wants to “Save Wolfowitz.”It blames Europeans for despising the man and arguing in his favor because the steps he took while president of the Breton Woods organization were steps in the right direction:

“… one cannot avoid the suspicion that in this affair, facts are of little concern. From the outset, the Europeans have seized on every opportunity to replace the unloved top official. Wolfowitz however deserves a second chance, because the scandal was rather minor and because he has introduced important reforms to the World Bank…

“Incidentally, it was he who drew attention to the fact that his friend worked for the same organization, and it was he who offered to stay out of all questions relating to her. In politics this is not a matter of course - not even in Europe - where fingers now eagerly point at Wolfowitz…

“Strong leadership and responsible behavior are characterized by the ability to remain focused on the issues at hand - without anxiously obsessing about the likely reactions and perceptions of the public. This is all the more true, since such perceptions are so easy to manipulate. If the member states of the World Bank conclude that Wolfowitz’ behavior was more awkward than wrong, then a declaration of solidarity would quickly halt any loss of confidence. In fact, the situation only escalated when the Europeans withdrew their support.

“This rash condemnation is particularly regrettable, because much of what the former Pentagon deputy has dove at the World Bank is quite correct. Contrary to all fears, he has by no means acted as an extension of the American Defense Department. Wolfowitz has especially distinguished himself by making his main preoccupation the fight against corruption. He cancelled projects if questionable channels threatened to swallow up Bank funds…

“Admittedly, Wolfowitz' style of leadership is controversial. He brought in his companions, and decisions were taken within this inner circle. This hasn't gone down well in an international organization concerned with proportionality and consensus. As a public institution financed by the member states, the World Bank cannot be geared for efficiency alone. It needs political legitimacy.

“But the fact that something at the World Bank must change is obvious in view of the failure of traditional policies of development. Ruthless as he may be, Wolfowitz has begun to reform this Washington organization. It would be a setback if he had to go.”

The Dutch de Volkskrant says not only that Wolfowitz was wrong, but that the informal rules through which the World Bank president is always an American must be changed to rules impartial of nationality and based on merit:

“The tale of the crisis surrounding Paul Wolfowitz, which culminated in his resignation as president of the World Bank on Thursday night into Friday, reads like a death notice. From the moment it became clear six weeks ago that ‘something’ improper involving the salary of Wolfowitz' beloved Shaha Riza had occurred, his political enemies both inside and outside the Bank have taken every opportunity - and with a certain relish - to trip up the ‘architect of the war against Iraq.’

“Let us postulate: Wolfowitz was wrong…

“What is obvious is that someone who practices cronyism is not the right person to read the riot act  to African leaders when they can't or won't control corruption in their governments. Also obvious is that this is a man that has fallen victim to an internal power struggle… The staff didn't like the neo-con; and he in his turn did very little to overcome this antipathy, preferring instead to surround himself with his own advisors…

“That it has come to this, when a World Bank president in good health has been obliged to resign - which is an event without precedent - is certainly also due to the absurd appointment procedure in which nationality (American) is more important than the curriculum vitae. If at the start of his tenure in 2005, Wolfowitz had the reputation and respect of the developing world, or at least had shown an affinity for and knowledge of the Bank's area of work, his staff would never have let him drop this hard…

“Abolish the practice whereby the President of the World Bank must by definition be an America, and the leader of its sister organization the International Monetary Fund must be a European. Instead, recruit the best man (or woman of course) irrespective of nationality. A complete depoliticization of the office would of course be a fantasy, but between the current situation and an entirely merit-based appointment procedure, exists a world of possibilities.” 

The French daily Le Monde foresaw Wolfowitz’s resignation and followed de Volkskrant by calling for an end to American and European domination of the Breton Woods institution:

“The current crisis must be the occasion to modify the leadership arrangements of (The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund). In a world where Asia has become the planet's principal creditor, this trans-Atlantic monopoly isn't only obsolete, it's harmful…

“However, that remains how it works. Mr. Wolfowitz would never have obtained this post if his candidacy had been put up against others. He is neither a banker nor a development specialist; two areas of expertise one has a right to expect in a leader of the World Bank. Being a specialist in strategic and defense issues, he was one of George W. Bush's key advisers after September 11. The President wanted to reward a loyalist and now hesitates to let him go and undergo another reversal.

“However, there is no lack of qualified candidates…

“Up to now, Europeans have always taken refuge behind the White House. They shouldn't. Together with the Bank's Board of Directors, they control 28.9 percent of the votes (including France's 4.3 percent), against 16.4 percent for the United States. Nothing prohibits them from trying to put the American shareholder in the minority. That would trigger a crisis, but it would be all to the good.”

In two commentaries, the Guardian, while respecting Wolfowitz as a brilliant man, also rallies for the camp that would like to see some modifications in the way in which the World Bank president is appointed:

“But even if Wolfowitz is eventually forced to resign, nothing will be gained if the US president George Bush is allowed summarily to choose his replacement, as US presidents have been doing ever since the Bank was founded after the second world war. Instead, the Bank's head should be chosen in an open and transparent process that aims to select the best-qualified candidate, whether from the US, Europe, or the developing world…

“Why does the world meekly go along with the status quo and let the US dictate the Bank's top position? It is a sorry tale of poor global governance. Europe does not get in America's way because it wants to maintain Europe's equally out-dated privilege of appointing the head of the International Monetary Fund, the Bank's sister institution. Asia has little choice but to defer to the US and Europe's shenanigans because it is grossly under-represented in both organisations. As for Africa, its leaders are loath to do or say anything that might interrupt the flow of World Bank largesse…

“One way or the other, the Bank and the IMF leadership selection process urgently needs to be revamped. What the Wolfowitz debacle tells us most clearly is that the time for patience with the status quo is over.”

“Indeed, a big part of Wolfowitz's weakness today is the way he came to his job, as an in-your-face appointment from a US administration weak at international cooperation. The World Bank is a development finance institution. But Wolfowitz's background at the US state and defence departments gave him no real expertise or experience in either area. Instead, his claim to fame was his role as architect of America's failed war in Iraq. By all accounts, Wolfowitz is brilliant, but it seems inconceivable that an open, transparent, and multilateral selection process would have chosen him to head the World Bank.

“President Bush's announcement in March 2005 that Wolfowitz was the US choice was a stunning thumb in the eye to many of the other countries that supposedly help govern this multilateral institution… If, as I believed, the White House wanted to make the bank more effective in its antipoverty mission - a desperately needed goal - choosing a leading intellectual architect of the Iraq invasion hardly seemed a good way to do it.”

In a review of the Arab Press, the Middle East Times cites the anti-Syrian Lebanese paper An Nahar calling the “Wolfowitz scandal new low for Bush government”:

"’The issue is not [Riza], or the scandal that carries her name and [is now] hounding the president of the World Bank; the issue is about the 'Shah' named Paul Wolfowitz,’ it remarked.

“The mass-circulation daily added that both the ‘Shah of the hawks’ and the World Bank itself had become mired in a scandal that had been unexpected.

"’[Wolfowitz] behaved as if he [drew] confidence [from] the success of the neoconservative policies ... which in fact failed in the ... Defense and State [Departments],’ said the paper, adding that the World Bank president had also appeared certain that ‘the corruption [he promotes toward militarism] will protect him.’

“It is a new failure for the George W. Bush administration as represented by Wolfowitz, it remarked, adding that while he had imagined the Iraq war would serve as the entry-point to spreading democracy in the Middle East, it had instead led to a civil war and a US quagmire.

“The daily maintained that the damage Wolfowitz had done to Iraq was difficult to fix, ‘but the damage that is hounding him now at the World Bank can still be [resolved] - but [only] after he is isolated.’

“To remove the president of the World Bank was not a decision to be left to the Bush administration, it added, because the White House did not distinguish between destructive and positive achievements.”

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