Fri Apr 13, 9:44 AM ET
Paul Wolfowitz, whose leadership of the World Bank has become mired in a scandal over his girlfriend's pay package, is no stranger to high-stakes controversy given his role as one of the architects of the Iraq war.
The US foreign policy expert's tenure at the head of the global lender seemed undermined Friday after the board of directors pinned responsibility of the scandal directly on him and rebellious bank staff called for his resignation.
Wolfowitz, 63, was nominated to lead the bank in March 2005 by President George W. Bush and quickly moved to root out corruption in its lending, making the scandal over the 200,000 dollar pay package accorded his Libyan-born partner and World Bank staffer Shaha Riza even more indigestible for some.
But his tenure at the bank has been rough from the beginning, as he sought to change the way the bank handles its 20 billion dollar-plus in loans each year around the world.
"I made a mistake, for which I am sorry," Wolfowitz told journalists Thursday ahead of the weekend's spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
"I will accept any remedies" proposed by the bank's 24-member executive board, he added.
Under a deal that the board said was personally ordered by Wolfowitz, Riza was rapidly promoted and assigned to the US State Department, and paid more than even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Aside from overshadowing this weekend's meeting, the furor over Riza's deal weakens Wolfowitz's bold policy initiatives, including his campaign against corruption.
Wolfowitz has already been forced to backtrack from initial plans to bypass national governments more, in a bid to ensure that aid gets to the poor without being siphoned off by corrupt bureaucrats.
According to a Fox News report, some of the World Bank's biggest borrowers such as China and India are now threatening to go elsewhere for funds, which would undermine the bank's very reason for existence.
One of the more brilliant and controversial US foreign policy thinkers of his generation and a star of the "neoconservative" movement, Wolfowitz has been bound up with US foreign and defense policy for most of his career, rather than the Wall Street background that is the traditional experience of World Bank presidents.
Born on December 22, 1943 in New York, Wolfowitz was a mathematician by training and secured a doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago.
His main experience in development issues was as the US ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989 where he was a tough negotiator on intellectual property rights and an advocate of political openness.
Before that, he had worked at the Defense and State departments, where as head of Asian affairs he played a key role nurturing democracy in the Philippines after the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
On returning from Jakarta, Wolfowitz rejoined the Pentagon as an assistant secretary of defense as the United States started to redefine its military policy after the end of the Cold War in Europe.
He also helped coordinate the US response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the Gulf War that followed.
During Bill Clinton's presidency, Wolfowitz returned to academia as dean of the prestigious School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
He became deputy to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the Republican administration that took power in 2001.
He has defended the US plan to invade Iraq but his position has made him a target of critics such as film director Michael Moore in his award-winning movie "Fahrenheit 9/11."