He started out well. Conscious that he had image issues—he was the Ugly American architect of the unpopular Iraq War—Paul Wolfowitz, the now embattled World Bank president, ate lunch in the employees' mess hall rather than in the Bank president's palatial dining room. Always soft-spoken, he listened and encouraged e-mails from colleagues. Whether it was attacking tyranny in the Arab world or poverty in Africa, the last thing Wolfowitz ever wanted was to be seen as a heartless intellectual or a ruthless hawk. He "deeply, deeply cared" about making the world a better place, says Ray DuBois, assistant to Wolfowitz when Wolfowitz served as deputy Defense secretary. Andrew Young, the civil-rights activist and former U.N. ambassador, says: "If I ever got caught in a dark alley with [Dick] Cheney and [Donald] Rumsfeld, I'd want to whip them. But Wolfowitz is a very sympathetic figure."
He may also be the first president dismissed in the 62-year history of the Bank if its board of directors votes him out this week. Last week a special committee declared that he violated ethics rules by setting up his female companion, Bank employee Shaha Riza, in a high-paid State Department post. He is accused of doing this and then launching an internal-corruption probe, a seemingly hypocritical act that has many on the Bank's 10,000-person staff calling for his resignation. (Wolfowitz's attorney, Bob Bennett, told NEWSWEEK recently that his client believes he did nothing wrong; last week Wolfowitz enlisted not only the help of the White House, but that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called European Finance ministers on his behalf.) Regardless of whether he leaves, the consensus view is that Wolfowitz has crippled the Bank's operations by turning his staff against him. This is the same charge he faced when he left the Pentagon in May 2005. It is, once again, a dramatic falling off from the high expectations that people once had for the 61-year-old political scientist, a man whose managerial talents do not appear to rise to the level of his analytical prowess.
By most accounts, Wolfowitz is a genteel, brilliant figure who as a young idealist fell "in love with political greatness," says a friend from his days in the Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago, Charles Fairbanks. If Wolfowitz has a fatal flaw, it's an obsession with One Big Idea that would set the world right. This made him the intellectual center of the neoconservative movement in Washington. But it also, colleagues say, led to a monomania at the Pentagon, where his cause was bringing democracy to the Middle East, and at the World Bank, where it was fighting corruption. "It is always this single-minded agenda with him," says one of Wolfowitz's superiors at the Pentagon during the George H.W. Bush administration, who would speak about his former colleague only anonymously. "Even back then, I can remember [Defense Secretary] Cheney telling him, 'Oh Paul, just shut up,' when he would go off on one of his tears to save the world."
Despite his promising start at the World Bank, it appears that Wolfowitz soon reverted to form. Bank executives describe a moment in February 2006 when "the save-the-world bug overcame him," says a former Bank vice president who also asked for anonymity discussing a former colleague. Wolfowitz decided abruptly to halt a plan to forgive Congo's debt, charging government corruption, even though Congo had met the appropriate standards and had been approved by both the Bank and the International Monetary Fund boards. "He's told these are the rules, and it's not the president's discretion to override them," the former vice president says. " 'I don't care if they are the rules,' he says. 'If they are, then they need to be changed'." Wolfowitz also began to make increasingly arbitrary decisions, especially on his anticorruption campaign, cutting off countries opposed to Bush administration policies.
Some experts in international development praise what Wolfowitz has tried to do at the Bank—demanding that governments, especially in Africa, reduce corruption as a condition of receiving Bank funds. But rather than moving the whole Bank in that direction—creating a broad-based consensus as a savvy manager might do—Wolfowitz sought to achieve this goal by alienating the very institution he was supposed to be running. As he did at the Pentagon, Wolfowitz relied on employees who were ideologically pure political appointees who rejected the regular staff. Wolfowitz has "a Trotskyite mentality," says Sebastian Mallaby, author of "The World's Banker," a 2004 history of the Bank. "You only trust your own particular group of loyalists, and the rest of the world is against you." It's a self-defeating way of thinking, perhaps, if it's the world you're trying to save.