More Con Than Neo
By MAUREEN DOWD
Usually, spring in Washington finds us caught up in the cherry blossoms and the ursine courtship rituals of the pandas.
But this chilly April, we are forced to contemplate the batrachian grapplings of Paul Wolfowitz, the man who cherry-picked intelligence to sell us a war with Iraq.
You will not be surprised to learn, gentle readers, that Wolfie in love is no less deceptive and bumbling than Wolfie at war.
Proving he is more con than neo, he confessed that he had not been candid with his staff at the World Bank. While he was acting holier than thou, demanding incorruptibility from poor countries desperate for loans, he was enriching his girlfriend with tax-free ducats.
He has yet to admit any real mistakes with the hellish war that claimed five more American soldiers yesterday, as stunned Baghdad residents dealt with bombings of the Iraqi Parliament, where body parts flew, and of a bridge over the Tigris, where cars sank.
But he admitted Thursday that he’d made a mistake when he got his sweetheart, Shaha Ali Riza, an Arab feminist who shares his passion for democratizing the Middle East, a raise to $193,590 — more than the taxpaying (and taxing) Condi Rice makes. No doubt it seemed like small change compared with the money pit of remaking Iraq — a task he once prophesied would be paid for with Iraqi oil money. Maybe he should have remunerated his girlfriend with Iraqi oil revenues, instead of ripping off the bank to advance his romantic agenda.
No one is satisfied with his apology. Not the World Bank employees who booed Wolfie and yelled, “Resign! Resign!” in the bank lobby.
Not Alison Cave, the chairwoman of the bank’s staff association, who said that Mr. Wolfowitz must “act honorably and resign.”
Not his girlfriend, who says she’s the suffering victim, forced by Wolfie’s arrival to be sent to the State Department (where, in a festival of nepotism, she reported to Liz Cheney).
And not his critics, who say Wolfie has been cherry-picking again, this time with his anticorruption crusade. They say he has used it to turn the bank into a tool for his unrealistic democracy campaign, which foundered in Baghdad, and for punishing countries that defy the United States.
Wolfie also alienated the bank by bringing two highhanded aides with him from Bushworld, aides who had helped him with Iraq. One was the abrasive Robin Cleveland, called Wolfie’s Rottweiler. The other was Kevin Kellems, known as Keeper of the Comb after his star turn in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” where he handed his boss a comb so Wolfie could slick it with spittle for TV. (Maybe his girlfriend didn’t get enough of a raise.) Like W., Wolfie is dangerous precisely because he’s so persuaded of his own virtue.
Just as Ms. Riza stood behind her man on the Iraq fiasco, so Meghan O’Sullivan stood behind W.
Ms. O’Sullivan, a bright and lovely 37-year-old redhead who is the deputy national security adviser, is part of the cordon of adoring and protective female staffers around the president, including Condi, Harriet Miers, Karen Hughes and Fran Townsend.
Even though her main experience was helping Paul Bremer set up the botched Iraq occupation and getting a reputation back in Washington “for not knowing how much she didn’t know,” as George Packer put it in “The Assassins’ Gate,” Ms. O’Sullivan was officially promoted nearly two years ago to be the highest-ranking White House official working exclusively on Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was clear that she was out of her depth, lacking the heft to deal with the Pentagon and State Department, or the seniority to level with W. “Meghan-izing the problem” became a catch phrase in Baghdad for papering over chaos with five-point presentations.
But W. was comfortable with Meghan, and Meghan-izing, so he reckoned that a young woman who did not report directly to him or even have the power to issue orders to agencies could be in charge of an epic bungle, just as he thought Harriet Miers could be on the Supreme Court.
This vacuum in leadership spawned the White House plan to create a powerful war czar to oversee Iraq and Afghanistan, who could replace Ms. O’Sullivan when she leaves. The push to finally get the A-team on the case is laughably, tragically late.
The Washington Post reported that at least five retired four-star generals have refused to be considered; the paper quoted retired Marine Gen. Jack Sheehan as saying, “The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.