He was appointed by his friend, the President, after detailing plans for the invasion of Iraq. His mission included tackling corruption and addressing issues of growing global poverty. And, in fact, he discovered a new tool for narrowing at least part of the wealth gap that plagues much of the world: direct the appointment of a woman with whom he was romantically involved in such a way as to maximize her salary without going through the customary formalities. Now, World Bank chair Paul D. Wolfowitz is faced with a revolt by staff and an embarrassment on a world scale.
He excuses his actions as a mistake in judgment. That might work for a teenager who has never been away from home. Mr. Wolfowitz, however, is a sophisticated man who has travelled in the company of kings and presidents. Perhaps he thought he was one. His infamous fiat to the bank’s vice-president of human resources:
“I now direct you to agree to a proposal which includes the following terms and conditions …You should accept immediately her offer to be detailed to an outside institution of her choosing while retaining bank salary and benefits.”
certainly is suggestive of such a regal self-image. But what is not plausible is that he did not know what he was doing was wrong. Of course, if he really wants to maintain that line, then the institution has an idiot on its hands as well as a scandal. The World Bank doesn’t need another Alberto Gonzales at its helm.
All that leaders who head important public and corporate institutions have is their moral franchise. Their reputation for ethics and integrity is both their shield and their sword. Once that is lost, their ability to lead by example is compromised beyond repair, and with it their ability to perform. The staff of the World Bank appear to understand this. The question is: Do the directors who make up its executive board? And does President Bush, who appointed Mr. Wolfowitz and appears to hold the keys to his fate?
We have chosen Mr. Wolfowitz’s failure to resign in the face of the humiliation he has brought upon this institution as a result of his ethical misadventure as our Outrage of the Week. He has made those who supported him look like fools. Let us hope they do not adopt also the trappings of clowns in failing to demand his resignation.