Tuesday, May 15, 2007

John Batiste,Paul Wolfowitz, and Conflicts of Interest (politics)

There are two recent concurrent events that have me really confused about this whole business of “conflict of interests.” First CBS parted ways with news consultant John Batiste, a retired Army General who led the first army in Iraq and who helped plan the invasion. Batiste retired from the army in 2005 to protest Donald Rumsfeld’s handling of the war. He was one of several generals who felt that the Pentagon was not looking out for its own soldiers and had been ignoring the advice of those in the field for too long. CBS hired Batiste, a registered Republican, to be a talking head on military matters. A few weeks ago appeared in a Vote ad. CBS then asked General Batiste to resign because they considered his participation in the ad, a conflict of interest.

Linda Mason from CBS’s standards and practices had the following comment on the decision,
“When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers,” she said. “By putting himself front and center in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn’t seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss.”

Of course, there are any number of commentators on CBS who have been quite openly pro-war.

CBS’s stance appears to be that you can have an opinion, but you can’t act on it or advocate for it outside your appearances on the network.

Compare CBS’s lofty and idealistic standard of impartiality to the administration’s stance on the matter of Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank. Mr. Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq War and former Deputy Secretary of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld was appointed to run the World Bank, essentially an organization that “loans” money from the G7 to developing countries. Unlike regular banks, the world bank does not expect to make money on its loans. Ironically, Robert Macnamara, the Secretary of Defense under JFK and LBJ, was also appointed head of the World Bank after the failure of the War in Vietnam. (kill several thousand people then get job to end world hunger?)

Wolfowitz’s tenure at the World Bank has been marked by two things, a tendency to appoint individuals who appear to have a partisan agenda to positions of influence within the bank and of all things, an insistence that the Bank’s loans to developing, particularly Sub-Saharan African, countries be tied to the elimination of “corruption” in those countries. I had to look up “corruption” and it appears to be the business of having private motives for public decisions. As a result, he has not been a universally popular director of the organization.

Wolfowitz’s actual problem though is far simpler than that. Despite the fact that he works for a pro-family political administration, Wolfowitz was divorced in the last few years and began dating a World Bank employee, Shaha Riza. Early on, the ethics committee of the bank informed Wolfowitz that he could not simultaneously supervise and be in a relationship with Ms. Riza. Wolfowitz then arranged for a transfer of Ms. Riza to the State Department in a position supervised by Liz Cheney (think about that one) but which was paid by the world bank. The new position amounted to a promotion and a sixty thousand dollar/year pay raise for Ms. Riza. Wolfowitz informed the ethics committee of the change, but neglected to mention the extent of either the raise or the promotion.

Critics of Mr. Wolfowitz point out that whatever the motives, Ms. Riza’s promotion and transfer look like a textbook example of corruption. They also point out that Mr. Wolfowitz’s actions undercut his own very public stated policy objectives. Put simply, if I make my brother in law the individual who disperses development money in my small African country, then how can Paul Wolfowitz of all people tell me that there’s anything wrong with all that? What next? The brother of one of the candidates in a national election deciding to resolve the dispute in his brother’s favor? How about a defense Secretary promoting universal swine flu vaccines when he own stock in the company that makes the vaccine? Fortunately, the U.S. doesn’t have such problems, so I think it’s been hard for the Bush administration to get its mind around the idea of why Wolfowitz’s possible conflict of interest might jeopardize the bank’s credibility.

Long ago, a friend of mine suggested a simple plan for success in any endeavor. “You make sure that good people stay and bad people go. If the bad people are staying too long, then that means you’re rewarding the wrong things and it doesn’t matter what you tell your employees.”

This administration wants Alberto Gonzales and Paul Wolfowitz to stay. It even admits that Wolfowitz probably broke World Bank policy, but it insists that it believes in the man who played a critical role in getting us into the Iraq War and failing to plan the occupation. John Batiste left.

After accomplishing his part of "mission accomplished", Batiste took issue with Rumsfeld for recognizing that Iraq was not just a military matter, but a political, diplomatic, economic, and cultural challenge. Wolfowitz simply disappeared from the Departmet of Defense and reappeared at the World Bank.

Now CBS says John Batiste has too much of a conflict of interest to serve as one of their commentators. It does happen that CBS is owned by General Electric, one of the major defense contractors for the war, but of course a conflict of interest at the corporate level is not the same thing. Now the Bush Administration tells the world that Gonzales and Wolfowitz need to stay regardless of possible conflicts of interests between partisanship and the actual responsibilities of their jobs. Could someone please explain to me why conflicts of interest matter some times but not others?

Does conflict of interest only matter when it conflicts with the administration's or CBS's interests?

In the meantime, we have two individuals who once worked together on the war who have now parted ways on the matter. One failed miserably and got himself a better job. He currently refuses to comment about his old job at the Department of Defense. The other did his bit, then quit to speak out on behalf of his troops. CBS says he can't work as a paid consultant because he has a conflict of interest.
What's wrong with this picture?



At 5/17/2007 02:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wolfowitz et ilk are Masters of Hypocrisy. Their behavior is always justified and yours is always suspect.

It appears that Mr. Wolfowitz's pants are on fire in a number of modalitites . . .

[liar liar, pants on fire being one . . .]

At 5/17/2007 09:35:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Looking at the other end. I find General Batiste very admirable. The question is why is one out of "public" life and the other still has the administration's support?

At 5/17/2007 10:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If only Colin Powell had been as principled as Gen Batiste and quit before the UN speech, all these people wouldn't be dead or mutilated.

At 5/18/2007 07:05:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

It sounds like Wolfowitz is resigning after all. The financial times article linked in the post though was pretty interesting.


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