Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wolfowitz on Thursday, May 17, 2007

(Whoops, as I write, Wolfowitz has resigned - WaPo evening breaking news story here. For those, especially at the Bank, who think this signals a new day dawning for the poor of the world, well, call me unimpressed. Why was it again that we need this institution?)

(See my earlier posts here (on Sebastian Mallaby defending the mission of the Bank), here (on the Bank mission and the Bush administration), here (my piece in the Financial Times criticizing the Bank's ethics committee) and here (responding to criticism on my Financial Times piece), and finally here, (arguing that the next US administration, rather than take on issues like Bank reform, will simply opt for "meek multilateralism," the go-along, get-along approach of the early Clinton administration).)

(ps. Welcome instapunditeers and thanks Glenn! I've corrected the grammar in a couple of places, and improved it in a couple of others, including some bits that Instapundit was kind enough to quote - I don't think I've changed the meaning.)

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Of the main press stories out there in the Thursday, May 17, 2007 papers ... the Wall Street Journal news story on the front page is the best and most detailed, shows actual familiarity with the documents, reports, board reports, and does not seem merely sourced to inside sources with their own agendas at the Bank, the administration, or elsewhere. It's not that inside sources are unhelpful - but if you haven't read the underlying documents, then as a reporter, you can't really know how you're being spun, and it is 100% that you are being spun. Unfortunately, the story is behind the subscriber wall.

Bret Stephens has an opinion page story on yet another of the many ethical lapses at the Bank - yes, yes, Mallaby tells us that the Bank is no more corrupt than other international organizations, but isn't that damning with the worst kind of faint praise? - open link, here. It is about allegations of an affair by Thomas Scholar, an official of the Bank.

It isn't surprising, by the way, that so many of the ethical issues at the Bank and other international organizations involve sex. International organizations, in light of their long questionable practices concerning promotion of women and other gender issues, were forced by feminists, many of them Americans, to adopt sexual harassment and related policies which, while standard at American corporations, nonetheless have never culturally been taken on board by the rest of the world even as they mouth the proper form of words. One might hope that the kind of gender issues involving the UN and international organizations wouldn't so frequently be, for example, twelve year olds being prostituted by UN workers in Africa, but, well, there you have it. The official response is the twinned one of announcing "zero tolerance" of child abuse and rape (never, of course, actually followed) and a call for everyone to adopt a "gender perspective" - take a look, for example, at the September 2005 General Assembly UN reform document - every other line, more or less, calls upon everyone to adopt a "gender perspective" as a cure for everything from child rape by UN staff in Africa to AIDS. Seems as unlikely in the former as the latter.

One of the many ironies in the Wolfowitz affair, however, is that in many respects, the target of the Bank staff seems to have been as much Riza as Wolfowitz - she is a true believer in feminism, and as a true believer, she seems to believe that so many, many things can be traced back to misogyny - and, as a true believer in misogyny, was more than willing to throw fits to get her way by playing the gender card. She deserved, in my view, her raises as compensation for the ending of her career at the Bank, and an institution which makes as much out of gender equity as the Bank theoretically does should be prepared to have its staff demand that it do so even if, to someone outside the institution's official ideology, it constitutes playing the gender card. It seems clear enough that Riza played the gender card on the compensation issue, because she was known for playing the gender card everywhere. And everyone, starting with the Ethics Committee and the human resources department, seems to have preferred to avoid her rather than face a scene. In important ways it was the unwillingness even to face, even to have a meeting with, an angry Muslim feminist whose career, after all, was being sacrificed on the altar of her paramour that is a central reason why that political hack (now hacking away at UNDP, but then the two deserve each other) Ad Melkert would not meet with her and dumped the whole thing back on Wolfowitz. Back in those days, compared to a scene with Riza, it seemed like a good way to handle it, stuff it into the shredder and forget about it. Wolfowitz says as much when he says that everyone at the Bank sought to avoid battle with an angry Riza - people did not want a battle with her, did not want her as a supervisor, pretty clearly feared her in a Bank with Wolfowitz running it, and so would not settle for the usual recusal deal that governed other senior staff relationships. They wanted her out, and got it. Vive la sisterhood of the Bank.

So the rest of the world, starting with the staff of the Bank, may talk the gender talk - but it doesn't mean it, at least not in the way that Americans, following conditions laid down by a combination of Mackinnon and the US Supreme Court, understand it. Maybe they're right and we Americans are wrong - I'm not a feminist and see many problems with how the United States has evolved on these things. But in any case, in an international organization, these gender rules seem inevitably on a collision course with the fact that, among other things, extramarital and other affairs are socially acceptable at the Bank and the UN and all sorts of international institutions, no American puritanism for them - a collision course, that is, unless the institution reconciles them with a large, large dollop of hypocrisy and double standards. Which is the usual attitude I have found at international organizations. For that matter, I recall, while serving as a general counsel for a large transnational charity, having to deal with the outrage - much of it from very committed feminists in Western and Eastern Europe - at the attempt, in the interests of avoiding liability in NY courts, to impose an American sexual harassment standard on the global organization. They didn't buy it, and my experience of Europeans - and Asians and Africans and people from many places - is that although political correctness of the kind that infuses institutions like the Bank and oozes from its many pores and orifices is the official line, it is not really adhered to and not really believed. And since there is no recourse to American courts, which do believe it, it is honored in the time honored fashion of European diplomatic hypocrisy, an elegance of words but something quite different in the way of action.

Well. The Washington Post story is pretty good today, as well. Here, by Paul Goodman. He, too, seems to have read the documents and talked with more than just a coterie of Bank sources. The New York Times, as has been usual in this as well as other international organization scandals, fares the worst, with Steven Weisman's front page story (behind the subscriber wall) simply seeming to channel Bank insiders. Who knows, maybe he diligently combs through everything, but it sure doesn't show up in the reporting.

The reporting is shifting, with a certain relief it appears, away from factual reporting to soft opinion journalism about the mission and future of the Bank. Not investigative, not reading documents, but interviewing some talking heads on one side or the other. Mind, this is an important discussion, but it has not been very helpful to have it shoehorned into a (non) scandal that is really about corporate governance, or the lack thereof at the Bank - and I refer to the Bank board, and its ethics committee, and its former general counsel - not anything as highminded as the Bank's mission. I've posted here earlier on the fundamental weaknesses of its mission/business model, but that's not what the Wolfowitz affair is all about.

4 comments:

Mindsteps said...

Could you direct me to the evidence you have supporting your contention that the bank was targeting Riza as much as Wolfowitz?

Also, couldn't Wolfowitz have declined the job at the World Bank, when offered, on the grounds of it being a potential conflict of interest given his friend worked at the institution? It would have demonstrated Wolfowitz's sensitivity to ethical issues and his respect for his girlfriend's career. It would have been the honorable thing to do. I suspect this gentleman would have received other job offers.

Eric Rasmusen said...

For documents on the case, follow the link from http://www.rasmusen.org/x/2007/05/15/the-wolfowitz-world-bank-affair-documents my blog's entry on this and look especially at the documents Wolfowitz provided (the rest are mostly interview transcripts). The transcript of the Coll interview is the one to look at for getting a feel for Riza's aggressiveness and feminist self-pity. My reading is that Professor Anderson's story is plausible, though I find equally plausible the theory that the Bankers were trying to focus responsibility on Wolfowitz so they would have a trap to spring in case he became too troublesome to them. Yet a third theory is that they were following a prime rule of bureaucracy: flee responsibility for making any controversial decision and preserve your freedom to use hindsight to condemn whatever choice is made.

Eric Rasmusen said...

Sorry about the long address. For the
link, go to www.rasmusen.org/x/ and then go to May 15 or search for
"wolfowitz".

Richard Jennings said...

FYI - You can get free access to those WSJ.com articles through http://www.congoo.com

That was in PC World and I thought it was an excellent tip.