“Corruption at home and aggression abroad to cover it up,” mused wartime British leader Sir Winston Churchill. “Sentiments by the bucketful, patriotism by the imperial pint; the open hand at the public exchequer … ” Churchill’s insightful observation about the warped vagaries of the British Conservative Party could well apply to the Republican Party of United States President George W Bush.
The personal failings of Bush favorite Paul Wolfowitz are a fitting metaphor for the bankruptcy of the entire American political system, or what another Tory statesman named Benjamin Disraeli once called, “that fatal drollery called representative government.” How apt Disraeli’s words are today. Corruption, favoritism and nepotism abound in Western democracies. The latest scandal involving Wolfowitz – the son of immigrant Polish Jews – and his Westernized British-educated secular Arab feminist lover, Shaha Reza, has driven this point home.
Apparently with Bush’s blessing, in the early days of the Iraq invasion Wolfowitz had Reza dispatched to that most unfortunate country. She was sent to ascertain the position of Iraqi women, make sure that their rights would be protected and that they would have a say in the new post-Saddam decision-making process. Reza’s mother was a Syrian national and her father was a Libyan businessman who became a favorite hanger-on of the late Saudi King and founder of the Kingdom, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud.
Reza’s pan-Arab credentials are impeccable. She is at ease in her own Arab world, understands the culture and mentality of her people, and is well acquainted about the Western world. As far as Wolfowitz was concerned, Reza was an indispensable ally. Her impeccable English and flawless French are supplemented by Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. She is precisely the type of Arab and Muslim woman that finds favor in Western eyes.
Bas as far as Arabs and Muslims are concerned, Reza is a sell-out, and she has been hounded by bad publicity throughout the Arab world. One pan-Arab daily derided her as “Wolfowitz’s mistress.”
Bush, apparently oblivious to the scandalous nature of their affair, delivered paeans of praise for Wolfowitz. And, Reza, too, caught Bush’s eye. Indeed, Reza even had a niche in Bush plans to invade Iraq. Bush, like his Vice President and many other top officials Administration officials, has had extensive dealings with well-heeled Arab leaders. There are lucrative oil interests binding Bush to these well-heeled Arab elites. And it was oil that was the real reason that the White House opted to invade and destroy Iraq.
[Editor’s Note: On April 30, Shaha Reza issued a statement in her own defense to the World Bank board ].
During the scandal at the World Bank, Wolfowitz put on a brave face. He first seemed impervious to pressure to oust him and then he searched desperately for a face-saving exit, all the while with the backing of the powers that be.
He had been an indispensable member of the inner circle of the American political establishment. He was among the most hawkish of Bush officials and he came with more political baggage than any past World Bank President. For neo-conservatives, his was a dream appointment.
And what did the Bush team get in return? In the aftermath of the Administration’s debacle in Iraq, the entire world is in a state of disarray. A chronology of violence marks the Bush Administration, and the more bloody corpses pile up in Iraq, the more discredited Washington becomes.
Wolfowitz was convinced of a link between late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wolfowitz was also certain that Saddam stored weapons of mass destruction and was convinced that Saddam had buried enriched uranium somewhere in a deep, dry riverbed in Mesopotamia. The U.S. Central Command advised otherwise and warned against a military strike. But an adamant Wolfowitz gave the green light that led to one of America’s most disastrous and hare-brained escapades in living memory.
America’s misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in catastrophic consequences for the hapless Iraqi people. Meanwhile, Wolfowitz peddled a sneaky six-figure plan for his sweetheart, an expert on civil society upon whose dexterous advice rested the future of Iraqi women. Wolfowitz had emerged as a cause celebre for every neo-con nut wanting to throw a punch at Islam.
At this stage of the wounded Bush presidency, the Wolfowitz scandal came like a bolt out of the blue. When Bush chose Wolfowitz as World Bank chief, little did he know that it would rebound on him so badly.
Yet there were several bad omens to indicate that Wolfowitz’ presidency would not go smoothly. The glee with which his staff celebrated the announcement of his resignation was instructive. Wolfowitz was so unpopular and so out of touch, that not long before his resignation, he was conned into wearing a blue arm-band. He was told it was for an anti-malaria campaign, while in fact it was being worn by Bank employees who wanted him out. It was sort of like a “kick me” sign.
Wolfowitz was neither charismatic nor did he have especially good political instincts. His greatest success was in a stint at John Hopkins University, where he played dean of the School of Advanced International Studies for almost a decade.
At the Bank, Wolfowitz was told in no uncertain terms that his bullying was an intolerable echo of the West’s imperialistic past. Nor was he particularly equipped to head the Bank or mastermind the war in Iraq.
But his biggest weakness was Shaha Reza. The personal is political. And his standards – or rather the lack of them – will make it far harder for America to restore its moral authority.
Their affair has opened up a huge can of worms. America’s religious conservatives preach chastity and sexual abstinence to Africa’s AIDS victims. But this transmission of decadent debauchery is worse than the transfer of sexually transmitted diseases. Worse still, it is people as amoral and depraved as Paul Wolfowitz who are behind attempts at the stalemated WTO negotiations to force a new trade agreement on poor countries.