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The Bush administration has had its scandals — conflict of interest, incompetence, influence peddling, political vendettas — but it’s never had a sex scandal. Until now.
And it’s a most unlikely Lothario — World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.
Wolfowitz is a lifelong veteran of academic, think-tank, foundation and government jobs of the kind that have “policy” in the title, not what the gang at Wal-Mart thinks of as “real jobs.” That resume has made him a skilled bureaucrat, but not so skilled at what might be called the “real world.”
That made him a natural to be one of the Bush administration’s leading architects of the war in Iraq as the No. 2 Pentagon official. He was among those who maintained that the war would be fought with minimal troops, at minimal cost and that grateful Iraqis would install the neocons’ favorite son, Ahmed Chalabi, as their leader. By now, the war would be long over and we would be pretty much finished with tidying up the rest of the Mideast.
We know how that turned out.
Acting under the McNamara Principle that if you botch a war, you get to be president of the World Bank, President Bush in 2005 named Wolfowitz president of the global-poverty-fighting World Bank, with a tax-free salary of about $400,000.
Problem: His girlfriend, Shaha Riza, worked for the World Bank. Nothing wrong with having a girlfriend. Wolfowitz was divorced. But having a girlfriend on your payroll is a big problem in Washington.
Wolfowitz personally arranged — and, given how Washington bureaucracies work, this must have taken a lot of his time — for Riza to be seconded to the State Department at a $60,000 pay increase to $193, 590, what the boys at the bait-and-tackle shop call “real money.” In fact, Riza was now making more than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s $186,000. One other thing: Rice has to pay tax on her salary; Riza, as a World Bank employee, does not.
Houston, we’ve got a scandal.
Wolfowitz kept his girlfriend on the payroll, but took personal charge of her career and gave her a fat raise. And it’s not clear from a distance what it is she actually does. She is variously described as a communications specialist or a senior gender coordinator. She is now working, still on the World Bank payroll, at something called the Foundation for the Future.
It also turned out, rather late in the game, that when Wolfowitz was at the Pentagon, one of his deputies arranged for a big defense contractor to sponsor Riza on a one-month tour of post-Saddam Iraq to report back on, well, something. Given the way the war turned out, we doubt she’s clamoring to go back.
All of this has put Wolfowitz’s job in jeopardy. The Bush White House has expressed “full confidence” in him and said the president wants him to remain in the job.
This is hardly one of the lusty, robust scandals of the Clinton years, but for the Bush administration it will have to do. Wolfowitz may beat beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales out the door for a return to what non-Washingtonians like to think of as “real life.”
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com.)