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Matthew Yglesias on Paul Wolfowitz--and Steven Weisman

Steven Weisman's obtuseness drives Matthew Yglesias shrill:

Matthew Yglesias: Steven Weisman offers us an all-too-sympathetic Paul Wolfowitz retrospective:

Now, as friends and critics sort through the wreckage of Mr. Wolfowitz’s bank career, they wonder if it was doomed from the outset. Supporters say he arrived at the bank, a citadel of liberalism, from a four-year stint at the Pentagon, where he was an early champion of going to war with Iraq and left bearing its stigma. [...] But others say Mr. Wolfowitz repeated the mistakes he had made at the Pentagon: adopting a single-minded position on certain matters, refusing to entertain alternative views, marginalizing dissenters...

Look, I have no doubt Wolfowitz was doomed from the state. But to comprehend his doomed-ness and what to make of it, one needs to step back. Why was he given the job in the first place? He had no obviously qualifications for it. He's read some neoliberal political commentary about the need for international development strategies to focus more on good governance. I've read that stuff, too. As have a lot of people. It's convincing stuff. But, genuinely, folks who've read it are a dime a dozen in this town. Do I get to run the World Bank? No. Wolfowitz had no genuine expertise in Africa, in development policy, in economics, in governance, or in any of the relevant fields.

What he did have, that I lacked, was a track-record as a high-level political employee. It was a track-record marked by... spectacular failure. Failure so spectacular that George W. Bush decided Wolfowitz needed to be fired from his job because he was so incredibly bad at it. In order to fire him while minimizing feather-rumpling, he was dumped on the Bank, even though he had no relevant expertise and a long track-record of failure (think Team B) in his previous work. So, yes, he was doomed from the start. Boo-hoo.

But he wasn't doomed from the start. It required a special series of mistakes to doom him, even given his lack of qualifications and previous track record of failure. Here's how Wolfowitz describes his own management style at the World Bank:

Wolfowitz: Let's discuss what this is really about:

With respect to my leadership and management style... there are some significant things that I need to change in order to regain the trust of the staff. Among the most important are:

  • I relied much too long on advisers who came in with me from outside for managerial functions... [that should belong to] the normal organizational structure.... [C]hange in this regard was overdue and I intend to make it, and make it decisively.
  • I have plans... to make [my office] more efficient... facilitate unimpeded acces... communication between me and the Vice Presidents.
  • I now... am very comfortable empowering [Vice Presidents] and delegating to them, and working with them in a trusting relationship.
  • [I will make] a clear separation between managerial and advisory roles and [ensure] that my advisors not cross over....
  • I... need to place more trust in the staff.... I truly believe that I can do much better... provided a make a number of other changes.
  • [I need to have] more frequent and direct engagement with the staff on substance.... I think significant improvement is possible... by a different allocation of time... more time in Washington and less time traveling...

And even given all this, Wolfowitz would still be head of the World Bank if he hadn't engaged in penny-ante corruption to get a sweet deal for his significant other.