In an emotional appeal on Tuesday to the World Bank's board to keep his job, Paul Wolfowitz said a loss of confidence in his leadership would be "grossly unfair" and he called for a fair resolution in a dispute over a pay and promotion deal for his companion.
In a last pitch to explain his actions in the agreement he directed for World Bank Middle East expert Shaha Riza, which sparked controversy in the bank, World Bank President Wolfowitz promised to make changes to his management style to regain the trust of bank staff.
"I respectfully submit, to criticize my actions or to find them as a basis for a loss of confidence would be grossly unfair and would be contrary to the evidence we have presented to you," Wolfowitz said in a statement to the board distributed by his lawyers.
"Rather than fix blame for something that wasn't wrong, we should all acknowledge our responsibility as I have acknowledged mine," he said, acknowledging he was not without fault.
He urged the board to be fair as it considered whether he should stay, resign or be fired for his actions. "I implore each of you to be fair in making your decision, because your decision will not only affect my life, it will affect how this institution is viewed in the United States and the world," Wolfowitz said. "You still have the opportunity to avoid long-term damage by resolving this matter in a fair and equitable way that recognizes that we all tried to do the right thing, however imperfectly we went about it," he added.
The former deputy U.S. defense secretary, whose neoconservative background and high-profile role in planning the Iraq war has dogged his two years at the World Bank, said the controversy had been personally difficult.
"In the last month, Shaha Riza and I have been held up to public ridicule," he said. "I have been caricatured as a 'boyfriend' who used his position of power to help his 'girlfriend'."
He insisted his decisions at the time were made in the best interest of the institution. "Ms. Riza's external placement does not justify taking any action against me or warrant a finding that you lack confidence in my leadership," Wolfowitz said, pointing to the unprecedented nature of the situation.
Still, Wolfowitz said it had become clear to him that the controversy had more to do with his management style and policies than the Riza matter.
He said he had acknowledged publicly and in meetings with staff that he needed to make changes and had relied too long on advisors he brought with him from the Pentagon and White House instead of the advice of career staffers.
"I realized even before this crisis that change in this regard was overdue and I intend to make it, and make it decisively," he added.
He said he would open up direct channels of communication between himself and the bank's senior management and would make an effort to trust staff more. He listed what he regarded as his successes at the bank, including programs in Africa, a donors conference on Lebanon and Afghanistan, targets for delivering education to the poor and a strategy to respond more quickly to the needs of countries emerging from conflict or disaster.
"I know some people may get some short-term satisfaction out of finding that I engaged in wrongdoing," he said, "I hope that none of you feels that way, but if you do, I ask you to stop and think about the long-term interests of the bank."