CLASH OF CULTURES
For Washington Insider, Job Was an Uneasy Fit
Friday, May 18, 2007
As he prepared to assume the World Bank presidency in the spring of 2005, Paul D. Wolfowitz reached out to the bank's skeptical senior managers. In informal meetings, he took copious notes and asked respectful questions. He knew they had doubts about him, Wolfowitz said, not least because of his role in designing the Iraq war. But he told them that he was committed to the bank's goal of reducing world poverty, that he would learn from them and rely on their guidance.
According to several attendees, they were won over by his humility. "I went back and reported to my staff that I didn't see any horns," recalled one senior official. "He was personable, charming, intelligent, and said all the right things. None of which he lived up to."
Yesterday, two years later, Wolfowitz resigned from the World Bank, effective June 30. He has become a virtual pariah, forced out by the bank's executive board for ethics violations and reviled by much of the staff as an arrogant intellectual who cared more about his ideas and image than about the institution or its customers.
Some do not think he deserved this. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has said craven European governments opposed Wolfowitz's efforts to cleanse a corrupt and hidebound institution. Many in the Bush administration consider his ouster unfair payback-by-proxy for the Iraq war.
But others, including some friends and admirers, saw the seeds of Wolfowitz's demise in the arc of his 34-year Washington career -- a steady rise through the State Department and the Pentagon, interrupted only to become dean of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies during the Clinton years. Throughout, Wolfowitz built a reputation as a foreign policy iconoclast, a mild-mannered intellectual with a steely ideological core, and an inept manager.
Wolfowitz, they concluded, should never have been in charge of a multinational institution owned by more than 180 governments and with 10,000 employees.
"At the World Bank, you're not as well protected" as in government, said Fred Ikle, a veteran national security official who brought Wolfowitz to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1973. "You don't have somebody above you who will endorse what you want to do."
Another former colleague who served with Wolfowitz in four administrations said that "the kinds of problems he got into were predictable for anybody who really knew Paul." Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the source voiced admiration for his intellect but said Wolfowitz "couldn't run a two-car funeral."
The immediate cause of Wolfowitz's resignation was a pay deal he ordered for Shaha Riza, a bank employee with whom he was romantically involved. But the public vitriol that poured from the bank once his fall began in late March with revelations about the deal underscored wider problems.
Far from respecting the bank, member governments and staffers charged, Wolfowitz surrounded himself with doctrinaire former White House and Republican officials and gave them wide authority. He altered long-standing policies and imposed new ones without consulting the staff or member governments. He risked the bank's credibility and the future of the poor countries it serves.
A turning point came last month when Wolfowitz's handpicked managing director, New Zealander Graeme Wheeler, told him he should resign for the good of the institution. In a signed letter to the Financial Times, more than three dozen former top bank officials described his signature anti-corruption initiative as "implemented with no consultation, and little transparency or apparent consistency." Employees wore blue ribbons supporting "good governance," a signal that they wanted Wolfowitz to go.
Proof of Wolfowitz's estrangement from the bank came when he hired a famously aggressive lawyer to fight for his job and warned that if he were fired, the bank's reputation would fall along with his own.