At least they can't blame Paul Wolfowitz on the Jews anymore. That's the good news in the scandal; his lover and neocon political soul mate, Shaha Ali Riza, the World Bank official who received a lucrative transfer to the State Department at Wolfowitz's direction, is an Arab Muslim. She is one in a group of Arab exiles, the most prominent being Ahmed Chalabi, who clearly had as much of a role as the oft-mentioned Israel lobby in driving the U.S. to war. Throw in the Christian right's fierce support for the invasion and responsibility for this debacle is now proved to be quite ecumenical.
The bad news is that the decadent cronyism and malignant imperial stance of the Bush administration have been extended to one of the world's leading international institutions, where Wolfowitz may hang on as president because of Bush's continued strong support.
The Riza-Wolfowitz affair was an open secret in Washington for years, even before the couple became officially involved in the run-up to the Iraq war, during which she seems to have played a major role in influencing former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's top deputy. Back in the spring of 2003, a division of the Defense Department headed by Wolfowitz's neocon crony Douglas Feith ordered defense contractor SAIC to pay Riza to figure out how Iraq should be governed after the invasion. When Wolfowitz followed her to the bank two years later, there was an obvious conflict of interest. So Wolfowitz got his lover reassigned, with a $60,000 pay increase, to the State Department.
As opposed to the scores of allegedly gay Arabic-speaking translators forced out of public service because of the threat that their private life might be used to blackmail them, Wolfowitz was an acceptable heterosexual philanderer. It is not clear whether the Bush administration's security checks defined the lovers appointed to high position as adulterers or merely unmarried fornicators for there is no available evidence as to Wolfowitz's marital status. We do know that Wolfowitz and his wife of more than 30 years separated abruptly amid rumors of his extramarital affairs, just prior to his being appointed to the second-highest position in the Pentagon. Surely this marital instability, a potential security risk, would have shown up in his background check.
The unanswered question in all this is: Has anyone told the president? As recently as last week, a White House spokesperson reiterated Bush's "full confidence" in the troubled bureaucrat, stating that the president believes Wolfowitz "has done a very good job at the World Bank." Maybe compared to the Iraq debacle, but not in the eyes of World Bank staffers, who depicted a leadership in distress even before the current scandal blew up. Indeed, the long-rumored disarray in Wolfowitz's personal life seems to have surfaced only recently, with the news of an exorbitant bonus for his lover, precisely because there is so much dissatisfaction at the bank. The call for Wolfowitz's dismissal has been raised most forcefully by the bank's officially recognized staff association.
Hypocrisy seems to be the staff's main charge against Wolfowitz, who arrived two years ago blasting the institution's coddling of "corruption" and demanding a cut in aid funds to nations, such as Kenya, that didn't meet his high standards. Meanwhile, he was playing loose with the bank's rules and the truth. As the ever arrogant Wolfowitz said in a speech to the bank's staff 14 months before his own corruption scandal broke: "There has to be a lot of teething problems to go from a world where for 50 years the word corruption wasn't uttered in this institution to actually doing something about it."
At the core of the current complaint is a charge that has followed Wolfowitz since his days at the Pentagon—that he distorts the evidence to suit his whims. In this case, he first claimed that he had nothing to do with feathering his lover's nest over at the State Department, insisting that the deal was worked out with the approval of the World Bank's ethics committee and directors. But he now concedes that is false.
Documents released by the bank show that Wolfowitz personally negotiated the gift to his lover of a tax-free salary of $193,590, including a whopping $60,000 raise, making her more highly paid after taxes than her boss, Condoleezza Rice, before taxes. Still, that's peanuts compared with the well more than $400,000 that Wolfowitz earns at the World Bank. Not too shabby for a guy who succeeds by failing, to the woe of U.S. taxpayers, not to mention dead U.S. soldiers and many more Iraqis.
Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com and a columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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