The damage flawed men of power do
Syed Badrul Ahsan | Thursday, 26 January 2023
Some years ago, before he was shown the door, Paul Wolfowitz had precious little plan of quitting his job at the World Bank. In a very moral sense, he should have on his own been making his way out of an institution whose reputation his recent actions had unquestionably dented. The favours he had done to his girlfriend Shaha Riza were understandable, from an infatuated man's point of view.
But that is not what public service is about. It is all about drawing a clear, fine line between private predilections and public responsibility. For quite a while, Wolfowitz refused to see things in that light. He eventually bade farewell to the World Bank. There is always a nasty kind of stubbornness about these neocons who have dominated Washington all these years, with the exception of a two-term Barack Obama in the White House, since Al Gore was denied the presidency by the US Supreme Court in the year 2000.
It is intriguing, in case you have not cared to notice, how established careers, or aspiring ones, fall by the wayside through the peccadilloes of individuals who ought to have known better. Back in 1963, Britain's War Minister John Profumo bit the dust when it was discovered that he had been intimately involved with a young woman named Christine Keeler.
Making matters worse for him was the fact that Keeler appeared to have been on similar terms of endearment, simultaneously, with the Soviet naval attaché in London. Profumo's initial denial of the affair soon led to an abject acknowledgement of it. The result was predictable. He left the government and spent the rest of his life doing social work. A year after the scandal broke, the Tory government in which Profumo served lost the elections to Harold Wilson and his Labour Party.
When you look back at the long history of scandals, it is somehow America you tend to turn to. In 1988, Senator Gary Hart had a good chance of becoming the Democratic nominee for the White House and actually taking over as president. His chances were ruined, however, when he was outed in the company of a woman called Donna Rice on a boat named, ironically, Monkey Business.
That spelled the end of Hart's presidential ambitions and though he tried later to get back into the race, the old magic was gone. Maybe that also explains why Nelson Rockefeller never made it to the White House. He became Republican governor of New York in 1958 and had a shot at the party nomination in 1960.
But he thought his real chance would come in 1964. Even President John Kennedy hoped Rockefeller would be beaten by the rightwing Barry Goldwater to the nomination because, as a liberal, the governor had a truly good chance of throwing Kennedy out of the White House. In the event, Rockefeller destroyed his own chances when he divorced his wife and went for a new marriage with a beautiful woman called Happy.
Towards the end of his life, Rockefeller was appointed Vice President when Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon as President in 1974. Two years later, Ford dumped Rockefeller in favour of Bob Dole as his running mate. The team went on to lose to Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.
But, of course, there have been men in power whose relationships with women not their wives did little to hurt their reputations. In such a category you can generally spot the absolute monarchs of old, individuals who somehow were a throwback to England's Henry VIII. The Shah of Iran needed a male heir and so went on marrying one woman after another. It was his third consort Farah Diba who produced a son for him. History, of course, had other plans for the Iranian monarchy.
The Shah was overthrown in 1979. His son, now in proper middle age, will never be king. Pakistan's Iskandar Mirza, a married man with a good wife and good children, clearly placed his honour on the line when he fell in love with the wife of an Iranian diplomat and eventually married her. That second wife was Naheed, who was fated to go into exile with him in 1958 and never return to Pakistan. Mirza's children never warmed to Naheed.
There are places in the world where powerful men will pursue women no matter what the risks are. Or are there any risks at all? Uganda's Idi Amin loved the idea of marriage, the consequence being that when he went into exile in Saudi Arabia in 1979, it was a huge, cacophonous tribe of wives and offspring that accompanied him.
In the case of Argentina's Carlos Menem, the problem was not so much a matter of his gallivanting as it was of the way he treated his wife. He threw her out of the presidential palace, in full view of the country, and so ended a long period of what used to be a happy marriage.
For Wolfowitz, therefore, there were the old instances to learn from, or fall back on. Should Shaha Riza have drawn a salary that was outrageously higher than Condoleezza Rice's? Obviously she should not have.
Damaged men are a positive danger when they hang on to such immaculate conceptions as the Bretton Woods institutions. We must thank our stars that men like Paul Wolfowitz are not around in public life any more.