Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bartleby*, The World Bank President

Hey, come on. Will you guys quit ragging on Paul Wolfowitz because he threw his honey a little sumpin sumpin? You know you'd do the same thing, especially if you had a lady with as fine a frame as hers.

Wait. That's his girlfriend? We thought it was his mother. OK that dude has got to go.

The Bush administration spent much of yesterday trying to broker a graceful end to the ethics controversy consuming the World Bank offering the resignation of embattled president Paul Wolfowitz senior administration and bank officials said. But since "grace" is something that has often been in short supply in the administration, they generally ended up making a bad situation worse.

The bank's executive board, under pressure from governments worldwide to remove Wolfowitz in response to findings that he engineered and covered up a hefty raise for his girlfriend, appeared intent on forcing him out without voting to fire him. "Do you know what he could collect in unemployment if we fire him?" a World Bank spokesperson asked.

The Bush administration, navigating the currents of international diplomacy for the first time without firearms, remained sympathetic to Wolfowitz's difficulty getting any woman to give him the time of day, but has appeared less willing by the day to spend political capital on him. "We're pretty sure that when Wolfie loses his job Riza will drop him like a hot rock, but hey, that's life. Maybe he can get on the faculty at Regent University. We hear the chicks around there are pretty gullible," White House Press Secretary Tony Snowjob told reporters.

Seeking to break the logjam, the Bush administration pressed a compromise: The board could issue a statement that Wolfowitz had erred in handling the raise for his longtime companion Shaha Riza but it was the board's fault for hiring him in the first place. "Pulling strings to get my girlfriend a plush job with an obscene salary...was that wrong?" Wolfowitz asked. "Because no one told me that was wrong."

The board rejected that formulation, however, insisting that Wolfowitz face consequences for a committee's findings that he broke ethics rules and undermined the reputation of the bank, the officials said. "We should have known there'd be trouble when his first decision was to send his assistant out to 'score some bling for my lady,'" said a board member who asked not to be identified.

Some board members feared that Wolfowitz might accept a statement exonerating him, then stay in the job, a White House aide said. "Well, that was our plan A, until someone noticed Wolfie's fingers were crossed at the meeting."

An official who had been briefed by a European board member said yesterday that the Bush administration's proposal was deemed offensive by several members. "The staff were absolutely horrified by what seemed to be the Bush administration's disdain for a clear-cut case of corruption," an official said. "Then someone gave us a newspaper story about Alberto Gonzales. That explained a lot."

A senior Bush administration official later said the United States had requested the delay to allow Wolfowitz to step down, preempting board action against him. At 2:30 p.m., the board went back into session, and when the members came out about three hours later, no agreement had been reached. "Dude's locked in the bathroom," the administration official said. "We're going to have to call security."

The Bush administration's decision to negotiate an end to Wolfowitz's tenure came in recent days, as it became clear the White House is virtually alone in supporting him, even Canada traditionally a reliable U.S. ally, breaking with the administration. "We lost Canada?" president Bush is reported to have said when told the news. "Can't we send someone to talk to them? Who speaks Canadian?"

A day after telling reporters that all options were open for discussion in terms of the bank's future leadership, White House spokesman Tony Snowjob called the ongoing crisis a "bruising episode" for the World Bank, which seeks to end global poverty. "And yet it shows the talent this administration has. We can screw up a whole world wide institution with only one of our guys."

"What you have to do is figure out a way forward to maintain the integrity of the institution," Snowjob said. "And, therefore, when you do it, you're going to discuss everything. That's what you would normally do. And no, I haven't any idea what I just said."


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