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Editorial | Paul Wolfowitz

Some standard-bearer

Wolfie's got to go.

What he did wasn't that bad - but it looks bad. And international finance is like the Miss America pageant: You look bad, you lose.

Paul Wolfowitz has a glittering résumé: eminent academic; adviser to presidents; since 2005, the head of the World Bank. Nominated by President Bush, he said he would reform things, make the bank more consistent, more transparent, more effective. Many people cheered. After all, as deputy defense secretary under Donald Rumsfeld, he had been a prime architect of Saddam Hussein's fall: Here was a man who knew how to handle corrupt leaders!

Apparently Wolfowitz forgot that the same standards he demands would also be asked of him.

In 2005, Wolfowitz gave a raise and a promotion to World Bank staffer Shaha Ali Riza, who was also his girlfriend. He says he did so only after clearing it with other World Bank fronts. They say no. But (a) Why did he even consider it? ("Oh, this'll be OK - but first I'll ask the others") (b) Why did he go ahead and do it? and (c) Why won't he go?

(The answer to (c): He's trying to do what this White House does with withering criticism - ignore it.)

Formed in 1945, the World Bank is a huddle of five banks, each owned by its parent country. It works, technically out of the United Nations, to proffer money, advice and resources to developing countries. Much of the time, it plays the taskmaster, World Schoolmarm shaking a huge finger at naughty poor countries and muttering, "Clean up your act - end corruption, pay your debts, get austere . . . if you want the dough."

It has to. Poverty bears no necessary relation to virtue; some developing countries are run by slimers. They shouldn't get aid unless they can show they can be trusted.

As head of World Schoolmarm, Wolfowitz should have been well aware that credibility is everything. Even if his actions only broke bank rules a little, they still look hypocritical. Is it a petty matter? Yes - but its very pettiness suggests bad judgment. Credibility, au revoir. How can he stay?

On Wednesday, it emerged that a World Bank panel investigating l'affaire Wolfie is planning to say he did break bank rules and his own contract. The panel did not say what penalties it would prescribe, but if it tells the world the boss broke the rules - the rules of the bank that sets the rules - how can he stay?

Defenders say Wolfowitz is being targeted by hidebound bank staffers who are bucking at his reforms. No doubt. But as the man who seeks to reform the bank that seeks to reform the world, he can't get a pass. He must be cleaner than Caesar's wife.

Caesar divorced Pompeia because of the appearance of infidelity. That was enough for Caesar - and it should, and perhaps will, be for the World Bank.