You can always tell when a politico is in deep, deep trouble about some personal scandal. They appear in public, adopt a hurt demeanour and ask their critics to concentrate on the real issues rather than muck-raking.
So it is with Paul Wolfowitz, who has found running the World Bank a somewhat different challenge to being the Pentagon's uber-hawk on Iraq. Wolfy would rather we allowed him to devote his energies to alleviating poverty in Africa than fielding questions about the nice little package he arranged for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, when she was seconded from the World Bank to the state department after he was shoe-horned into the job by his buddy George Bush.
Sorry, Paul, but it doesn't work that way any more. Even the usually ultra-deferential Washington press corp can scent blood, and even if he now survives Rizagate, it is clear that Wolfowitz is a dead man walking. He may have more three years of his term left as Bank president, but he is now the lamest of lame ducks.
Funnily enough, that's not just because it's a bit rum for the chap running the World Bank to bang on constantly about the need to stop African leaders from sticking their fingers in the till whilst failing to be squeaky himself. Anybody who says that the number one priority of his time at the bank will be a ruthless anti-corruption drive is asking for trouble if he has a skeleton of his own rattling in the cupboard.
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It's more than that, though. In advance of this week's half-yearly meetings of the bank and its sister organisation the International Monetary Fund, the opposition of the leading European countries - Britain and France leading the way - had ensured that all the steam had gone out of Wolfowitz's clean-up Africa campaign. And if there is a Plan B, which many Bank observers doubt, there has been precious little sign of it so far. Despite Wolfowitz's complaints, the rich countries are backsliding on the commitments they made to double aid to Africa at the Gleneagles summit two years ago. His attempts to show that he is not the poodle of the US Treasury appear to have backfired, since there are reports that Hank Paulson, the Treasury secretary, is so unhappy about the Bank's attacks on US aid policy that he would be quite happy to see Wolfowitz booted out.
Whether Bush would be prepared to see this happen remains to be seen. But even if the White House does try to protect its man, the bank's other big shareholders have powerful weapons at their disposal. One is to to turn off the money tap; Wolfowitz is now going cap in hand to the donor countries he riled with his anti-corruption drive asking them to provide the dosh for the bank's soft-loan programme for poor countries. At best, he will be made to sweat for his money. At worst, one of Washington's big beasts will suffer a long, political death in his own backyard. He may decide to jump before he is pushed - and it would be better if he did.
Larry Elliott has been at the Guardian for 17 and a bit years, and the newspaper's economics editor for the past 11.
© 2007 The Guardian