In the twilight of the Bush administration, men grown used to power will take a leap too large-and fall. The latest untethered jumper is Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank but better known as deputy defense secretary during the planning and execution of the Iraq War.
That the World Bank president would arrange for his girlfriend a pay package courtesy of donors is stupid for a smart guy. That he should be forced to resign after acknowledging his error-and after all parties admit he received vague advice upon consulting the Bank's ethics committee-is less about justice and more about vengeance.
When the United States went to war in Iraq, it ended almost a decade in which UN careerists were de facto administrators of a country rich in oil but choked by UN sanctions. They reaped a tidy profit margin on what looked like a humanitarian venture. More than 2,000 mostly European firms paid nearly $1.8 billion in kickbacks to Saddam in exchange for under-the-table deals on medicine and spare parts, along with illegal oil sales.
Hans Von Sponeck, then UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, in one typical arrangement, made money himself by introducing German business executives to Iraqi officials, according to Paul Volcker's independent inquiry into the scandal. His colleague, the current German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (pictured), a longtime spokeswoman for Germany's Socialist party SPD, was an early critic of Wolfowitz and the war strategy. Not surprisingly, she was one of the lead diplomats at the World Bank last week calling for Wolfowitz's ouster.
In 2003 Zeul led Socialist opponents in Germany's vote to oppose the war, joined weekend anti-war street demonstrations, and pushed to deny airspace to U.S. military aircraft.
When Wolfowitz issued a guideline barring German, French, and Russian firms from bidding on $18.5 billion in U.S. funds for Iraq's reconstruction, Zeul called his ruling "most selfish." But Wolfowitz was acting as much on principle because major firms in those countries were by then under investigation for sanctions violations. With former Secretary of State James Baker touring European capitals in search of debt relief for Iraq, Zeul fought back: "James Baker can expect no success on the debt issue if the United States doesn't give in on the contracts."
Zeul is playing the politics of payback again, telling reporters that Wolfowitz would not be welcome at a World Bank forum in Berlin scheduled to begin this week. "He would do the bank and himself a great service if he resigned," she said. Her determination, like that of other Europeans pushing for a less doctrinaire World Bank head, is not about ending cushy deals for diplomats as much as it is about preserving them.