The announcement by Paul Wolfowitz Thursday that he was stepping down soon as World Bank chief marked yet another blow for US President George W. Bush as his Republican administration nears its end.
Wolfowitz, one of the key neoconservative engineers of the strategy that led the United States to war in Iraq, owed his post at the World Bank to the Bush administration, even though he had not served the president since 2005.
The White House had resolutely stood by its former deputy defense secretary as the month-long scandal over a pay package Wolfowitz secured for his girlfriend unfolded, but in past days, as World Bank directors discussed the scandal, its support began to crumble.
"We would have preferred that he stay at the bank, but the president reluctantly accepts his decision," the White House said in a statement just after Wolfowitz announced he would resign effective June 30.
"The president will have a candidate to announce soon, allowing for an orderly transition that will have the World Bank refocused on its mission."
Wolfowitz's departure was a reminder of the tough times facing the Bush camp, but analysts pointed out that even the very public fall from grace of a longtime pal was hardly at the top of Bush's list of concerns.
"This is one of the least of his worries," said political analyst Larry Sabato. "Remember this was a soft landing job for Wolfowitz after he left the Pentagon."
"Iraq is his biggest worry and I would even put Attorney General (Alberto) Gonzales as more of a problem than Wolfowitz," said Sabato, referring to Bush's loyal supporter who is at the center of a scandal over the allegedly political sackings of nine federal prosecutors.
The chaos brewing in Iraq is a source of constant pressure for Bush, who has until September to come up with a new, last-ditch strategy amid increasing opposition from the Democratic-controlled Congress which wants to set a deadline for withdrawal.
Waning support for the war exacted a heavy toll on Bush's Republicans during the November election and the party's loss of seats in the House and Senate means Bush is facing stormy times ahead.
The electoral defeat sealed the fate of former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who Bush stood by for months just as he has with many of his loyal allies.
But now even some Republicans are turning against Bush, concerned about their chances in the presidential and legislative elections in 2008.
Democrats, meanwhile, are seizing every opportunity to contest Bush's authority -- domestically, economically and even globally.
With one scandal after another, Bush has barely a 35 percent approval rating, and even that dove to 28 percent according to a recent Newsweek magazine poll.
"I think it's an embarrassment to the president in that Wolfowitz was so closely associated with him. And here is another senior Bush person in deep trouble," Sabato said.
A Washington Post columnist last month wrote that: "Today's topic is credibility -- specifically, recent claims by certain high-ranking present, former and perhaps soon-to-be-former Bush administration officials."
"The aim is to answer a simple question: Should we believe these three Bush loyalists if they tell us that rain falls down instead of up, or should we look out the window to make sure?" columnist Eugene Robinson asked.
Political guru Karl "Rove, Wolfowitz and Gonzales are making the last-ditch argument of a cheating husband caught in flagrante: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"
Political analyst Eric Davis said the Bush administration is unraveling bit by bit.
The Wolfowitz matter is "just a further indication of the decline in influence of the neoconservatives," he said.
With key neoconservatives Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and former US ambassador John Bolton all gone from their posts, of the "principal architects of the Iraq war ... (Vice President) Dick Cheney is really the only one left in office now," Davis said.
"It's just a further indication of the decline in influence of the neoconservatives."
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