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    ...The Wolfowitz Saga: When
    Ego Trumps Accountability

Last week, one of the most brilliant scholars I’ve
known and a dedicated public servant, Paul Wolfowitz,
resigned from the presidency of the World Bank,
ending a scandal that had riveted Washington.

But even if it wasn’t a big deal where you live, there are
still lessons about human fallibility we could all stand to
When taking over as Bank president two years ago—a
plum job which pays $300,000 in salary and $140,000
in expenses—Wolfowitz disclosed his “personal relationship” with his companion Shaha
Ali Riza, a Bank employee. He consulted the Bank’s ethics committee but didn’t like their
advice, which he said could injure her career.

So he ignored the ethics committee and directed a Bank vice president to reassign his
companion to the State Department, avoiding the appearance of conflict. But it was at a
substantial raise, more than Bank policy would allow, to $180,000 a year tax-free. Not

    But I know Wolfowitz, and I’m certain that he believed that
    just moving her out of his sight was safe. He couldn’t
    affect her job, but the fact is, he didn’t clear it with
    anybody because it probably never occurred to him that
    he could do something wrong. He knew what was best,
    he thought.

    Well, that lasted only until—Washington-style—the press
    got hold of the story. Then it became a matter of when,
    not if, Wolfowitz would leave.

    It’s easy to dismiss this as an “inside the Beltway” story
    that has little, if anything, to do with the “real world,” and
    is all about the corruption of political power. But the truth
    is, we’re all capable of this same kind of arrogance and
    folly. Convinced of our own rightness, we don’t often
    listen to others.

I speak from experience: When I was in the White House, the President and others
sought my advice. I was surprised by my apparent persuasiveness and how it came
naturally to me. Combined with my own self-righteousness and my belief in the rightness
of my cause, I became dangerous, both to myself and others.

We all have, I discovered, an infinite capacity for self-justification. I knew I could do no
wrong, and I could persuade anyone I was right in any event. Well, I went to prison.

People who are successful are particularly vulnerable. Nobody tells us “no,” and if we
think we’re doing the right thing, as Wolfowitz thought he was, we are really then in peril.

That’s why, after I got out of prison I committed to always have a group of people I
respected around me and to submit to them for any major decision I had to make. For
thirty years of ministry, this has protected me from myself.

I’ve seen Christian leaders, sadly, without accountability, and often they fall hard.
Everybody, at every level of life, needs an accountability group—people you can turn to
and lean on and trust yourself to. The heart is infinitely deceitful.

I suspect that the world will continue to produce men like Wolfowitz—brilliant men who go
astray because they’re so confident of their own abilities, they become blind.

The Wolfowitz story is a cautionary tale. Every Christian in authority, from a parent to a
boss in the office, needs to find people who care more about God than our egos and
who will tell us whether what we’re doing is advancing the Kingdom or our vanity—no
matter how great we think we are.
Chuck Colson is the
Founder and Chairman
of Prison Fellowship
and the host of the
radio program
BreakPoint with Chuck

BreakPoint is a program
of The Wilberforce
Forum, a division of
Prison Fellowship. Its
mission is to develop
and communicate
Christian worldview
messages that offer a
critique of
contemporary culture
and encourage and
equip the church to
think and
live Christianly.
From BreakPoint,
reprinted/posted with
permission of Prison