Would You Work for Wolfowitz?

Remember those days when George W. Bush was presented as the kind of guy you could sit down and drink a beer with? Kerry was the aloof windsurfer pretending to know what a feathered duck actually looks like?

(Interestingly when I went to find conservative quotes to support that statement – um – I came up empty. I found lots of Democrats claiming that Republicans voted for Bush because ‘they’d drink a beer with him.’ I even found a transcript of Al Sharpton on CNN claiming ‘people’ thought that. What I didn’t find was that impression in the general conservative camp. Was George W. Bush more accessible than Kerry; was Robocop more cuddly? Seriously? But in researching conservative, cuddly, beer drinker quotes for Bush, I came up empty. Is this an urban legend?)

The problem I see here is that Democrats are framing the issue for an appropriate president incorrectly. They shouldn’t keep hammering on whether you would want the next president as your drinking buddy, ask if you’d want him as your boss. But don’t mention beer. Every time you do, you reenforce Bush’s buddy image.

And while loyally to the top level is important, what kind of boss does Bush support?

Bush has until perhaps today (Washington Post , NYT), Bush has refused to remove support for Wolfowitz. Would you want to work for someone who thinks Wolfowitz makes a good manager?

Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the Iraq war and a man with a sock problem, has been under fire at the World Bank for weeks. But the current controversy, whether he got his current partner/significant other/womanfriend an inappropriate raise, isn’t the internal issue at the World Bank. People were mad at Wolfowitz and found this excuse. (A good excuse, but an excuse nontheless.)

The people working for the World Bank, not the political appointees, the ones who have worked at the World Bank for years, have seen program after program cancelled or delayed because Wolfowitz chose to change priorities according to his rather strange world view. To accomplish this, he brought in a number of well paid henchpersons, Kevin Kellems, Robin Cleveland and Karl Jackson. That lead to claims that Wolfowitz had separated himself from the Bank, from the employees. (Although I did find press accounts from 2005 that Wolfowitz ate in the ‘normal’ cafeteria. I wonder if he still goes there?)

Let’s look at the aides briefly.

Kellems was brought by Wolfowitz from the Pentagon and given a job at the world bank that wasn’t defined as an appointment (unlimited contract). He recently resigned due to ‘poor working atmosphere.’ Look at this from the perspective of an employee. Someone gets brought in and starts to just change things, no explanation and no excuses, just do it ‘his way.’ Not for the better, but because power must be centered on the president; in this case Wolfowitz. Poor working atmosphere. I’m sure that’s true.

For me most damaging is when a senor World Bank vice president talked up Kellems’s ‘team-building skills’ and ‘grace under pressure.’ I have respect for senior management, but when was the last time you saw someone in that kind position accurately judge team-building skills? This is like the captain of a Roman galley pointing out that the guy at the drum is great at “coordinating group activities.”

Wolfowitz’s choice of Robin Cleveland came under attack almost from the day it was announced. According to MSNBC at the time,

Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. nominee to head the World Bank, has recruited Robin Cleveland, a senior White House official involved in post-war Iraq planning, as his staff assistant.

His choice, even for a temporary adviser, has drawn comment in Washington, where Ms. Cleveland is seen as a widely experienced policymaker but a somewhat polarizing figure. One staff member at the World Bank described her as a “wild-eyed” conservative whose expertise lay in national security, not development.

Post War Iraq “planning?!” That went well, didn’t it? But that was then – let’s let bygones be bygones. Look at what she has done since then.

She was involved in creating the ‘background’ for the initial public World Bank stance on the Riza scandal. The original statement claimed that the ethics committee and the general counsel signed off on the pay raise arrangement and that there had been no wrong doing. The liberal rag, the Financial Times, reported the issue slightly differently,

Ms Cleveland met Marwan Muasher [the senior vp mentioned above], the newly arrived director for external relations, on April 4 to discuss how to respond to leaks about the terms and conditions awarded to Ms Riza.

They agreed on a statement that was to be briefed on an anonymous or “background” basis by senior bank officials. This included the apparently misleading claim that “after consultation with the then general counsel, the ethics committee of the board approved an external assignment agreement which was reached with the staff member”.

Mr Muasher confirmed the agreed text with Ms Cleveland in an e-mail, a copy of which has been seen by the FT, and its authenticity has been attested to by two bank officials. The statement was then briefed to the FT and other media organisations by senior bank officials.

The claim that the agreement was approved by the ethics committee after consultation with the general counsel was immediately disputed by Roberto Danino, then general counsel, and Ad Melkert, then chairing the ethics committee.

Compared to these two, Karl Jackson is just a mini-problem. He just gets paid too well. According to the internal anonymous e-mail that got the scandal rolling,

Karl Jackson was given an Extended Term Consultant contract to provide policy advice to the President. Under ETC rules, an ETC must work full-time for the Bank. However, it appears that Karl Jackson has maintained (and plans to maintain) a fairly busy schedule as course instructor and program director at the School of Advanced International Studies. He taught two courses in the fall of 2005, and teaches 2 courses in the spring of 2006. […] The problem is that Karl Jackson is paid US$210,000 (gross) on a yearly basis. If one prorates this fee level for the effective amount of time he can reasonably be expected to work (3 out of 5 days), his fees are the equivalent of US$350,000 (gross) per year.

No tendancy to overpay friends and assistants is there? The people working directly for Wolfowitz haven’t exactly created an atmosphere of love and respect. Wolfowitz either doesn’t care or doesn’t hear the criticisms. Perhaps he is just used to hearing that everything he touches turns to lead not gold.

And the one the people elect; the one who recommended Wolfowitz; the President. The one ‘people would drink a beer with;’ what is he saying? Directly – nothing. Indirectly?

“[T]he President has confidence in Paul Wolfowitz and his work at the World Bank.” (Dana Perino, April 13)

“[T]here’s no change — the President still has confidence in him.” (Dana Perino, April 20)

“We still fully support him” (Tony Snow, May 9)

Well, maybe we’ll throw him to the sharks.

“Again we support him, but we also know, and he has said that he is willing to be sitting down with members of the World Bank to try to figure out the proper way to serve the best interests of the institution,” (Tony Snow, May 17)

So think of the CEO of a company. supporting a manager (need I even mention Rumsfeld?) long after his expiration date has passed. Think of the CEO of a company who refuses to admit that anything is wrong even in the face of the most blatant difficulties. Would it matter if you want to drink a beer with him? No. Now ask yourself if you want kind of person to be your boss.

Would you work for Wolfowitz? Neither would I. And I wouldn’t want to work for Bush either.

Perhaps the most complete coverage of the internal brouhaha can be found, strangely enough, at Wonkette. (The tone is irreverent but they do tend to get the facts pretty straight – and first) / They love scandals, and scandals about people who have holes in their socks – well let’s just say ecstasy doesn’t describe it. For example, Wonkette is the only online outlet I can find that reproduced the internal e-mail attacking Wolfowitz that got the whole thing rolling in the first place.

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