22 April 2007

Politics, Bedfellows, Etc.

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

There have been thousands of articles in the last few weeks about the scandal involving World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and his romantic partner, Shaha Riza. Most of the focus has been on the cronyism at the heart of this story, revealing yet another ethical misstep by someone with strong ties to President George W. Bush. Interestingly, however, little has been written about the irony of this relationship in the first place.

First, there’s the Jewish – Arab connection. Wolfowitz is an American Jew; Riza is of Lebanese descent, a British citizen who grew up in Saudi Arabia. The Independent notes that Riza’s “strong belief in bringing democracy to the Arab world is said to have only strengthened her partner’s determination to confer that boon on Iraq.” I know nothing of Shaha Riza’s views on Israel, and Wolfowitz’s views are mixed, sometimes staunchly pro-Israel in the typical American neocon fashion, with the occasional recognition of Palestinian “suffering” thrown in. Still, of all the bedfellows for politics to have chosen for Wolfowitz, there is an undeniable irony in this. One cannot but love the idea of this American Jew grandly trying to remake the Arab Middle East while being spurred on – where? in bed? in the halls of the Pentagon? – by his Arab paramour. It's so Lawrence of Arabia-meets-Woody Allen.

Second, there’s the simple moral irony here: it is amusing to ponder the Wolfowitz-Riza relationship while thinking about Wolfowitz as a long-time member of President Bush’s “values”-infused, “sanctity of marriage” administration. Sure, Wolfowitz worked in the Defense Department, not for Health & Human Services or on some bogus “faith-based initiative.” Maybe that’s the difference? I have no issue with two consenting adults having sex sans marriage, and these two lovebirds deserve to be no less happy than the rest of humanity. But the contradictions bother me more than a little, just as they do when I have to listen to “values” crap coming from the mouths of the oft-divorced GOP presidential candidates.

Wolfowitz deserves to be fired because his actions – securing a well-paid job for his lover – have cast an ethical cloud over his presidency and the World Bank itself. This inhibits the Bank’s efficacy, which in turn has an effect not only on its constituents around the world, but on the American taxpayers whose money helps support the Bank’s operations. Just as bad is the sad likelihood that this little episode does nothing whatsoever to dampen the Republican Party’s worst instincts to insist that people should do as the GOP tells them – and not as the GOP’s apparatchiks themselves do.


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