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Wolfowitz: A View From the Other Side of the Atlantic

Six years into the most disastrous presidency in modern American history, the political class in Washington -- first through fourth estates -- still don't get it.
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London - they still don't get it.

From this side of the Atlantic it is abundantly clear. Six years into the most disastrous presidency in modern American history, the political class in Washington - first through fourth estates - still don't get it. They can no longer operate imperiously in a vacuum sealed tight by America's unrivaled power. Their wish is no longer the world's command.

The Wolfowitz saga proves as much. Don't be fooled by the well-orchestrated fight-back that has played out on the opinion pages of the big American newspapers over the last month and this week on the BBC's airwaves. The "Save Wolfie So He Can Save the World" campaign is organized by an odd combination of the usual right-wing sources and people who should know better. The right-wing sources say the pressure on Wolfowitz is a dastardly plot by those weak-kneed Europeans who have never forgiven Wolfie for his role in planning the Iraq War. The people who should know better, like former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, pay homage to the caring Wolfowitz they have come to know in the field.

But no matter what the apologists say, the hot-air inflating the scandal and the pressure for Wolfowitz to resign are not about payback for Iraq. It is about something they - the Washington crowd - just don't get.

You can't preach anti-corruption and be seen not to practice what you preach. You can't look at African leaders with wives, children, cousins and their children, and families of key cronies all on the payroll and be making special arrangements for your domestic partner and hiring political hacks whose sole qualification for the work seems to be loyalty to President Bush. It's called hypocrisy, and while "hypocrisy" isn't an indictable crime, it makes reforming an institution like the World Bank and insisting on better governance to the recipients of its loans virtually impossible.

Anyone outside Washington can see that. It isn't just the "Europeans" (conservative shorthand for cowardly, ungrateful, former allies) who initially expressed the public disquiet with Wolfowitz. It was an official of America's staunchest ally, Britain, who made the running. Tony Blair's Development Secretary Hilary Benn said more than a month ago that the scandal "had damaged the bank and should never have been allowed to happen." Several weeks later he told Parliament that the government's policy was to allow developing countries a greater say in how the Bank's president was chosen ... a marked change from the tradition that the U.S. administration gets to pick the President. Benn, by the way, is widely expected to be Britain's next Foreign secretary when Gordon Brown replaces Blair as Prime Minister in six weeks.

What is happening over Wolfowitz is more like an intervention by the World Bank's partners to save a drug addict. The Bush Administration and its enablers in the think-tanks and the press are so far gone in their inability to recognize that American power is wildly diminished that the orderly functioning of the world is now jeopardized. By forcing Wolfowitz's resignation the partners hope to rescue the Bank's reputation but also rescue Washington from itself. Not out of a sense of altruism, but because the international order cannot function so long as the most important country on earth is led by people blind to reality in the way drug addicts are blind to reality.

Getting Wolfie out is an act of tough love not directed at the man himself but at the Bush Administration and the rest of the permanent government ... sadly,


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