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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

To Be Taken Seriously, Wolfowitz Has to Go

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Should Paul Wolfowitz leave the World Bank? The answer to that question is yes. Will Wolfowitz leave? The answer to that question is murkier. The United States gave Wolfowitz the job and it will decide whether he will stay. U.S. President George W. Bush will hate to abandon a loyal henchman. He should do so, nonetheless.

It would be absurd to leave the decision to the bank's executive directors. These mid-level bureaucrats are not going to reach such a decision on their own.

In practice, national capitals will make the choice, unless Wolfowitz himself takes it out of their hands. The United States will be decisive. It is the bank's largest shareholder and has always appointed the bank's president. Bush himself chose Wolfowitz.

Bush tends to be loyal to those he regards as loyal to himself. But to place loyalty above all other virtues is the ethics of a mafia boss not of the leader of a great country. The president also needs to consider both what is right and what is in the interests of his own country.

That the United States has in recent years lost a great deal of moral credit around the world is undeniable. But one area where the Bush administration has been relatively forward-looking has been aid and development. It has raised the share of gross domestic product spent on official aid to 0.17 percent, still low but well above the mere 0.1 percent in 1999. It has supported ambitious debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries. It has also, rightly, put much weight on the need to tackle corruption and improve governance in aid recipients.

The best justification for placing Wolfowitz at the Word Bank was his determination to give battling corruption and improving governance overriding priority. It is possible to debate the wisdom of this, since the quality of governance is not the sole determinant of development. But if the United States has decided that this is what it wants the World Bank to achieve, it cannot sustain a president who is no longer a credible spokesman for that cause. To do so can only destroy yet more of its own battered moral capital. It would be worse than a crime; it would be a blunder.

Loyalty is indeed a virtue. But loyalty is not the overriding virtue. The United States needs to perceive its true interests in having an effective and credible bank. It needs also to preserve its own credibility as a campaigner for good governance. Wolfowitz now needs to go if the aim of his presidency is to survive. The choice is as simple and stark as that.

This appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.