The controversies surrounding Paul Wolfowitz and Alberto Gonzales present President Bush with a conundrum. On the one hand, the two embattled appointees are in obviously untenable positions--their attentions entirely focused on surviving rather than actually doing their jobs. Their continued presence atop the World Bank and Justice Department are dragging Bush's reputation even lower--no mean feat. On the other hand, Bush is famously loyal and particularly stubborn in the face of prodding by the Europeans, liberals, and media types who are calling for the two loyalists' scalps. In Bush's mind, the World Bank president and the attorney general may well represent walking, talking middle fingers aimed directly at his snottiest critics.
So, what's a Decider to do? Doing nothing probably won't work, since the Bank's board could decide to give Wolfowitz the gate even without American permission, and since Congress may yet bust Gonzales on a lying charge (leading to the spectacle of the nation's chief lawman doing a perp walk). Luckily, there's an answer that could appeal to a bold president like Bush. It's a simple plan, something the chief executive may remember from the happier days when he ran the Texas Rangers: a trade. Wolfie goes to Justice, Gonzo goes to the Bank, and everyone goes home happy.
Consider Wolfowitz's situation. The Bank is preparing to fire him over some small-time favoritism involving a girlfriend, a raise, and some guaranteed promotions. Given that Wolfowitz was leading a high-profile anticorruption campaign, critics call his behavior a particularly galling example of hypocrisy. Administration allies, though, say it's really all about Wolfowitz's past as an architect of the Iraq war and as a leading light of American neoconservatism. As for his struggle against Third World corruption, Wolfowitz's defenders say the Bank's permanent staff and Europe's cynical leaders didn't much like it, since their respective goals are to keep the aid spigots open and to cozy up to dubious postcolonial client states.
Gonzales, though, wouldn't have any of those problems. Anyone who watched him testify last month before the Senate will know he could never be the intellectual architect of a little-league tournament, much less the sort of domino-theory war for democracy whose foolhardy ambition required the full weight of Wolfowitz's Ph.D. Those worried that Gonzales, like Wolfowitz, would use his new post to carry on the ideological battles he waged in a previous job, can also console themselves with the attorney general's response to the outcry over the firings of U.S. attorneys: Having said "I don't remember" 122 times during a single day of testimony, it's evident that Gonzales has trouble recalling what happened last month, let alone which foreign regimes are popular with the neocons. And, as for those foreign leaders worried that a renewed hunt for corruption will undercut friendly regimes, suffice it to say that Gonzales has demonstrated a knack for selectively wielding the knife. In other words, he'll tell any would-be corruption fighter to stay away from your pals in Brazzaville or else suffer the same fate as Carol Lam. Now consider Gonzales's situation: The attorney general is under fire for a U.S. attorneys purge that increasingly looks like an effort to head off indictments of Republicans and to promote the prosecution of likely Democratic voters. It doesn't help that he's seen as a bumbling yes-man who can barely tie his own shoelaces. How better to turn the ship around than to replace him with Wolfowitz--who has made a career out of agitating against regimes that promote yes-men, jail their foes, and free their friends.
Sure, Attorney General Wolfowitz would be unique in that's he's not an attorney--but the guy who promoted Arabian-horse expert Michael Brown to run FEMA has never been a stickler for credentials. As for the Democrats who'd have to confirm him, they could take comfort in his realism-be-damned self-conception as a crusader for democracy above all. If he was willing to push for freedom even when it threatened the Kissingerian status quo in our relations with countries like Egypt, just imagine what he'd do to the Rovian status quo in relationships like the one between the White House and, say, the Florida secretary of state's office. (Of course, given the track record of Wolfie's last crusade for freedom, militiamen loyal to neighboring Alabama might be in control of downtown Tallahassee by the time he's done, but you know what they say: Freedom is messy.) Anyway, after Gonzales, the senators might be so wowed by a nominee who can string a couple sentences together that they'd vote to confirm based on that alone. Once ensconced at Justice, Wolfowitz could also get to stop sleeping on the couch, since the federal government is big enough that it's fairly easy to find a nice, out-of-the-line-of-command job for even the most demanding girlfriend.
Bush, though, needs to move fast. The Europeans have said they'll let America name the next World Bank president if Wolfie leaves soon. And what better way to wipe that smile of Chuck Schumer's face than to force him to confront Attorney General Wolfowitz. Bring 'em on!
By Michael Currie Schaffer