Like so much that has happened in the career of Paul Dundes Wolfowitz, it was not the leaving of his presidency of the World Bank that mattered, but the manner in which it happened. After weeks of briefing and counter-briefing over the rights and wrongs of the case – Wolfowitz stood accused of using his position to give financial rewards to his British-born girlfriend Shaha Riza – the former US deputy defence secretary, a neoconservative to his boots, finally bowed to the inevitable and sent in his papers.
Following a spate of frenzied soul-bearing, the 24-member board of the World Bank came up with a face-saving solution which allowed Wolfowitz to resign with effect from June 30 and to leave with his reputation relatively intact. In the statement announcing their decision, the board appeared to let Wolfowitz off the hook by accepting that he had “acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution”.
While this fell short of Wolfowitz’s earlier demand that he should be exonerated completely – he claimed he had been given poor advice about Riza’s $50,000-a-year, tax-free pay rise – it has still been a humiliating experience for a man who prided himself on being one of Washington’s “untouchables”.