The comic tragedy of Paul Wolfowitz's many trials

What connects new World Bank policy on "family planning" with the World Bank president's personal life? S-e-x.

Published April 13, 2007 4:47PM (EDT)

Aeschylus would have had a lot of fun with the drama swirling around Paul Wolfowitz, current president of the World Bank. As if it wasn't already enough that the war Wolfowitz played a primary role in designing has destroyed the Bush presidency and handed Congress to the Democrats, the man is now in danger of being forced to resign because of accusations that boil down to clear and obvious nepotism. New revelations from the Financial Times indicate convincingly that in contravention of bank rules, Wolfowitz personally arranged for his girlfriend and fellow World Bank employee Shaha Riza to get a plum State Department job that pays her a salary higher than Condoleezza Rice receives. This, from a man who has made a crusade against corruption in developing nations one of the central goals of his World Bank tenure! Hubris, thy name is Wolfowitz. Watching the flames mount on his pyre, one cannot avoid the feeling that the neocon House of Atreus has finally fallen.

The Financial Times, not known for its rabble-rousing instincts, is calling for his immediate resignation. (The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, continues to defend him, demonstrating yet again which publication is the real grown-up in the world of business journalism.) You simply cannot demand more "transparency" from African governments, and then refuse to deliver it yourself. But the girlfriend caper, as embarrassing as it is, isn't the real reason Wolfowitz should be looking for a new job.

Wolfowitz is also under fire because one of his appointments to the World Bank, Juan Jose Daboub, a former minister of finance from El Salvador, has been accused of ordering that all references to "family planning" be removed from a strategic aid plan for the country of Madagascar. Denials are flying, but the evidence trail seems pretty clear. Daboub is a prominent member of El Salavador's right wing ARENA party, which itself is closely affiliated with the Catholic Church. Contraception, in other words, is a no-no.

Upon reflection, maybe Aristophanes, the author of "Lysistrata," would be a better choice for chronicling Wolfowitz's woes than Aeschylus. In "Lysistrata," the women of Athens decide to deny their men all "sexual favors" until they stop fighting a disastrous war against Sparta. And sex, of course, is what the Wolfowitz story is all about. Bush administration dogma declares that the citizens of developing nations who want to get AIDS drugs and money for development must stop having sex. Meanwhile, the girlfriend of the World Bank president gets amply provided for.

As a last note, much credit is due to the Washington-based whistle-blowing organization, the Government Accountability Project, which appears to have played a key role in breaking both the family planning scandal and the Shaha Riza mess. The Greeks had a word for people like that, too. They called them "heroes."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works Neoconservatism