An overbearing and arrogant bully

Marketplace Staff May 8, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: About the only people who can’t seem to decide whether they want Paul Wolfowitz to stay at the World Bank work in the White House.

Today, European leaders repeated their calls for Wolfowitz to step down. But White House spokesman Tony Snow would only say that President Bush “supports” Wolfowitz — not whether he’d insist that Wolfowitz keep his job.

The former Pentagon number two is officially in trouble for his part in a high-level reassignment for his girlfriend. But Commentator Benjamin Barber doesn’t think that’s really the problem.

BENJAMIN BARBER: Paul Wolfowitz is crashing and burning at the World Bank not because he did or said something wrong — that’s debatable.

It’s because he’s an overbearing and arrogant bully trying to impose his will on an organization that depends for success on consensus — both among those who work at the Bank and the governments that pay for and sponsor it.

Simply put, the wolves are after Wolf because he failed to cultivate effective leadership. Not because of a mistake in moral judgment or because of his campaign against corruption.

He placed two former administration allies in high World Bank advisory office, and paid little heed to collegiality and common wisdom in an institution that depends on them for its effectiveness.

Like the world it serves, the Bank can be effective only when it has the collaboration of its staff, the support of its national funders and the good will of those to whom it makes loans.

That’s nearly impossible for Wolfowitz to achieve, because he’s the product of the administration he left behind: stubborn, zealously “principled” and absolutely certain of his own moral rectitude. Those who disagree are blind to truth, self-interested or traitors.

But leadership isn’t about giving orders. It’s about listening. Without common ground, no reform, no progress.

The World Bank faces a formidable agenda: correcting global inequalities and augmenting wealth in a world where investment capital is seen by many as the problem, not the solution. Putting Wolfowitz there, like putting John Bolton at the United Nations, was asking for trouble.

Like President Bush, who disdains the national community he was elected to lead and prefers his own voice to careful listening, Wolfowitz is self-destructing around his own self-proclaimed rightness.

Leaders, take notice: democratic leadership in a global world is a two-way street. You need those you lead and you must listen to those you lecture.

RYSSDAL: Benjamin Barber runs the nonprofit Democracy Collaborative.

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