Wolfowitz the lover, not the fighter

Love is never easy, especially for the man who planned the greatest American foreign policy disaster since Vietnam.

Published May 15, 2007 3:46PM (EDT)

Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz does not talk in public anymore about what went wrong with his plan to topple Saddam Hussein. He has penned no finger-pointing memoir. He has granted no blockbuster interviews to "60 Minutes," Bob Woodward or Oprah Winfrey.

But he is talking about a more recent mistake, his decision to arrange a bonus and job transfer for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, a former World Bank employee, after he became the bank's president. Today, the bank's executive board members are meeting to consider whether they have any confidence in Wolfowitz's continued service.

The Washington Post gives a rundown of Wolfowitz's defense, which amounts to this: Everyone was afraid of Riza, so he felt forced to buy her off. "It would only be human nature for them to want to steer clear of her," Wolfowitz told the board in his own defense. "Everyone acknowledges that Ms. Riza was extremely angry and upset."

The Wolfowitz tale of woe goes like this: When Wolfowitz took over the bank, the ethics committee ruled that his girlfriend would have to leave her job to avoid a conflict of interest. Wolfowitz took the matter upon himself because he knew how to deal with her rage. "Due to my personal relationship with Ms. Riza, I was in the best position to persuade her to take out-placement and thereby achieve the 'pragmatic solution' the committee desired," Wolfowitz told the board. Riza had, says the boyfriend, an "intractable position," and Wolfowitz was afraid she would sue the bank.

With her boyfriend's help, Riza's salary jumped to $180,000 from a base salary of $130,000 a year, and then she was shipped to the State Department. Wolfowitz says he did not explain the plan to the bank's ethics committee chairman or general counsel because he wanted to "takes steps to ensure that the negotiations were confidential."

A recent investigation into the controversy by the bank came to a different conclusion about Wolfowitz's actions. "Mr. Wolfowitz placed his own personal interests in opposition to the interests of the institution," the report found. "In so doing, he undermined the legal safeguards the institution had in place to protect itself from the harm it has unfortunately now come to experience."

For more details on the scandal, take a look at Andrew Leonard's Salon blog, How the World Works. A decision from the executive board on the fate of Riza's boyfriend could come as early as Tuesday night.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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