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A Legacy in Peril at the World Bank

The bank staff is up in arms. America's allies are grumbling.

Wolfowitz, in turn, has hired blue-ribbon Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett to represent his interests before an executive board that would be wild with joy if the former deputy defense secretary and Iraq war architect, along with his handpicked staff, simply cleared out.

Now we have the spectacle of a World Bank president careering from meeting to meeting with groups of subordinates, copping pleas, admitting that he's "lost a lot of trust" -- even going so far as to offer to bring in a "coach" to teach him how not to alienate the staff. And next week he goes before a committee of the executive board -- accompanied by his lawyer -- to try to convince those board members that he should keep his job. How low must he go?

It's embarrassing to watch. It's even more infuriating to think about the opportunity that Wolfowitz has squandered and the jeopardy in which he has placed America's key role in the bank.

His lawyer argues that Wolfowitz's role in getting his girlfriend more money and a cushy State Department job in 2005 was not a "hanging offense." Certainly no charges of criminal activity have been filed against Wolfowitz, and none, to the best of my knowledge, are expected. Whether there have been ethical lapses on his part is a matter yet to be decided by the bank's board.

But Wolfowitz has managed to take the president's traditional role with the executive board and senior staff to a new low.

Bank executive directors and presidents often clash over policies and their respective responsibilities. McNamara and I (acting on behalf of the U.S. government) butted heads over the pace of seating China at the World Bank. But never before was there an unseemly public eruption between the bank's directors and its president over personal behavior. That's a breach that will be hard to repair.

If Paul Wolfowitz knows nothing else, surely he must know that.

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