In April, Mr. Verheugen, a former German parliamentarian for the Social Democrats, appointed economist Petra Erler as his chief of staff. In August, the couple was spotted au naturel on a Baltic shore. Mr. Verheugen–who also has a wife–has dismissed allegations of impropriety as “pure slander” and asked the German newsweekly Der Spiegel whether “two adults [can’t] do as they wish in their private lives?”
In fact, they can’t: The EU Commission’s Code of Conduct, which he helped draft, observes that “in their official and private lives Commissioners should behave in a manner that is in keeping with the dignity of their office. Ruling out all risks of a conflict of interest helps guarantee their independence.”
Here’s the real story:
When Mr. Wolfowitz arrived at the World Bank in 2005, it was to an institution ideologically committed to seeing him fail. When he announced that he would make the fight against corruption his signature issue, the ideological opposition became institutional as well. As development economist William Easterly observes, for the World Bank “priority No. 1 is to get the money out the door. When you introduce a wild card like cutting off corrupt governments, you threaten the loan-pushing culture.”
Since then, it’s been a steady dribble of leaks about Mr. Wolfowitz’s every misstep and perceived wrongdoing, most of them to the suggestible Financial Times. The operative theory here, says former Bush administration diplomat Otto Reich, is that if you throw enough mud at a man “the stain will remain even if none of the mud sticks.” That’s just what has happened in the campaign at the World Bank: Having doused Mr. Wolfowitz in skunk juices, the critics can now say, with justice, that he stinks.
This isn’t to say that Mr. Wolfowitz’s tenure at the World Bank has been without disappointments: Mr. Easterly faults him for indulging utopian ambitions for what the Bank can do to alleviate poverty and promote democracy.
But that can’t possibly justify the furies that have now descended on Mr. Wolfowitz. Like Mr. Verheugen, he sought to use his office to change an organization he thought–mistakenly, as it turns out–that he ran. Unlike Mr. Verheugen, he never really did anything improper. That he is now on the firing line while Mr. Verheugen is not is a point worth noting. That both men, despite the great differences between them, have been thwarted by their bureaucracies should be a reminder to everyone that the government of mandarins is more than just a danger to interloping neocons.
It is indeed.