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     Mar 18, 2005
Wolfowitz at the World Bank door
By Emad Mekay and Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a chief architect of one of the most unpopular wars in US history, is President George W Bush's choice to head the World Bank, the world's largest development agency. His nomination has sparked a wave of outrage among independent development groups, who blame him for promoting unilateralism and militarism in US foreign policy, and for a lack of transparency in bidding for reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

Traditionally, the World Bank's president has been a US citizen as the US is the largest shareholder in the institution. Wolfowitz's nomination would be subject to a routine vote of the World Bank's executive directors.

"I appreciate the world leaders taking my phone calls as I explained to them why I think Paul will be a strong president of the World Bank," Bush told a press conference on Wednesday. "I've said he's a man of good experiences. He helped manage a large organization. The World Bank is a large organization; the Pentagon is a large organization - he's been involved in the management of that organization," Bush said. He described Wolfowitz, 62, as a skilled diplomat, referring to his positions at the State Department and his tenure as US ambassador to Indonesia in the 1980s. The US president also said Wolfowitz is "committed to development".

The nomination was quickly welcomed by fellow countryman James Wolfensohn, the outgoing World Bank president, and by Rodrigo Rato, the managing director of the bank's sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). "If he is confirmed by the member countries, Wolfowitz will bring to the bank an impressive record of public service with extensive experience of management and of international affairs, in particular in Asia and the Middle East," said Rato in a statement.

Wolfowitz's 35-year public and academic career - notably lacking in direct experience either with banking or development, let alone the bank's supposed core mission of poverty reduction - has also steered a wide berth around both Africa and Latin America, two regions of enormous importance to the bank. Before moving into the Pentagon's No 2 position, Wolfowitz spent seven years as dean and professor of international relations at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. There, he recruited, among others, Francis Fukuyama, a close friend from college days at Cornell, who also worked under Wolfowitz when the latter was director of policy planning at the State Department in the early 1980s.

Many independent development groups and watchdog institutions say they are shocked at the choice. "The deputy defense secretary's strong support for the Iraq war reflects a disdain for international law and a multilateral approach to conflict resolution that disqualifies Wolfowitz from leading a multilateral institution," said the International Rivers Network (IRN), a California-based non-government organization, in a statement.

Some civil society analysts predicted a new phase of confrontation between the global social justice movement and one of the largest symbols of US and European domination, the World Bank. "In his career, Wolfowitz has so far not shown any interest in poverty reduction, environmental protection and human rights," said Peter Bosshard, the policy director of IRN. "His election as World Bank president would most likely exacerbate the current backlash against social and environmental concerns at the World Bank, and would initiate a new era of conflict between the Bank and civil society."

Wolfowitz was behind the US decision to exclude non-US companies from competing for billions of dollars in Iraq's reconstruction contracts, a move that fueled international fury and accusations that the US was motivated by economic greed in its invasion of the oil-rich Arab country. Iraq reconstruction contracts and projects have been marred ever since by charges of favoritism, corruption and fraud because of the no-bid contracting process, little or no official supervision and manipulation of prices by US companies. Watchdog groups say that hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted as a result of corruption by contractors and sloppy government controls.

Wolfowitz is an architect of many of the post-invasion policies in Iraq, including privatization, deregulation and commodification of social services and public goods, along with plans to end subsidies that sustain millions of Iraqi citizens. "Wolfowitz's role in promoting economic changes in Iraq and elsewhere suggest he would work to push the bank to focus even more on imposing the so-called 'structural adjustment' policies like forced privatization and indiscriminate trade liberalization, policies which have failed to create growth and have exacerbated poverty across the globe," said Neil Watkins, national coordinator for the anti-debt campaigning group Jubilee USA Network

"Paul Wolfowitz is the most controversial choice Bush could have made," said Njoki Njoroge Njehu, director of the 50 Years Is Enough Network. "As the most prominent advocate of imposing the US's will on the world, this appointment signals to developing countries that the US is just as serious about imposing its will on borrowers from the World Bank as on the countries of the Middle East," she added.

Critics say that the Wolfowitz nomination, coming on the heels of the nomination of another hawk, John Bolton, as US ambassador to the United Nations, reveals "the contempt this administration has for the international community". According to Robert Weissman, director of Essential Action, "Wolfowitz brings no apparent development experience to the job, but does offer a record of unabashed militarism and unilateralism that represents exactly the wrong direction for the World Bank."

But some economists argue against his lack of experience in development and poverty issues. "His term as ambassador to Indonesia taught him a lot about development," said Peter Timmer, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington. "My personal sense is he got the idea of what a liberal Muslim society would look like by working in Indonesia. I honestly think he is going to surprise people and turn out to be quite effective," said Timmer, who worked as a development economist in Indonesia while Wolfowitz was ambassador, and later served on academic committees with him.

Timmer compared Wolfowitz's anticipated leadership of the World Bank to that of Robert McNamara, a former secretary of defense during the Vietnam War. McNamara later became the longest-serving president of the World Bank, instituting sweeping changes. Those opposed to Wolfowitz's nomination are placing their hopes on a strong European opposition. European countries together form a substantial enough bloc to reject the US choice.

But some say that given the anti-democratic nature in which the heads of international financial institutions, dominated by the Group of Seven most industrialized nations, are chosen, the Europeans are unlikely to be effective in their opposition. Last year Rato, a European, was appointed to head the IMF after being nominated by the European nations. The US made no objection in what was interpreted as an early preemption of a European objection when it would come to Washington's turn to pick the World Bank president.

The US president, by custom, selects the president of the World Bank. Similarly, the managing director of the IMF has traditionally been a European, handpicked by European governments, much to the dismay of citizen groups and some governments in developing countries who complain about the secretive process of selecting leaders for these two institutions.

But some longtime critics of the bank see a silver lining to the controversial nomination. "If confirmed, we would no longer have to work so hard to convince people that the World Bank is an instrument of US foreign and economic policy," said Soren Ambrose, senior policy analyst with the 50 Years Is Enough Network. "Wolfowitz has no experience in development, just a fierce ideological dedication to hardcore neo-liberal economics and US domination. In other words, between exposing the true dangers of the lack of democracy at the World Bank and putting the most visible symbol of US imperialism in the most prominent position in international development, President Bush will accomplish more in de-legitimizing the World Bank than any other single action ever could," said Ambrose.

Defying stereotypes
Despite his being regarded as the administration's highest-ranking neo-conservative, Wolfowitz's temperament and ideas often defy the stereotype. While neo-conservatives tend to be socially somewhat incestuous and intellectually dogmatic on key issues, Wolfowitz is seen as intellectually curious with a much broader array of social contacts. His closest female companion over the past several years has been a Tunisian-born bank official who has fueled his interest in democratic change in the Arab world.

As with all neo-conservatives, Wolfowitz sees the rise of Adolf Hitler as the defining event of the 20th century from which critical foreign-policy lessons - above all, the importance of overriding military power and pre-empting threats before they fully materialize - must be learned. The family of his father, a Polish mathematician who immigrated to the US in 1920, perished in the Holocaust.

As with other neo-conservatives, Wolfowitz also believes in a "Pax Americana". His 1992 draft of the "Defense Planning Guidance" under the then Defense Secretary, Richard Cheney, almost got him fired when parts of it were leaked to the New York Times. That paper, which urged a doctrine of pre-emption against rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction; the prevention of the emergence of any potential competing regional or global power; and "constant" US military intervention to preserve global peace and security, was repudiated by the administration of Bush Senior, only to be codified by the younger Bush in his National Security Strategy of September 2002.

As with his fellow neo-conservatives, Wolfowitz has special concerns about the fate of Israel, where he spent a part of his teenage years and which now is his sister's home. But unlike his ideological fellow travelers, whose politics generally identify closely with the views of the right-wing Likud party in Israel, Wolfowitz has long expressed sensitivity to the plight of Palestinians, support for their national aspirations, and opposition to the Jewish settler movement.

Unlike many leading neo-conservatives, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, with whom he first began working in 1970, Wolfowitz has shown little taste for polemics or media spotlight. Wolfowitz is considered the most idealistic of the neo-conservatives whose support for democracy and human rights, especially in the Arab world, is a relatively recent development for many of them. As assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, he worked with former secretary of state George Shultz in persuading Ronald Reagan to abandon former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos during the "people power" uprising in 1986.

Wolfowitz later encouraged far-reaching political reforms in South Korea that eventually removed the military from power and was the first US ambassador to Jakarta to meet publicly with opposition leaders, despite the disapproval of former president Suharto. "He is a serious and thoughtful person who is genuinely interested in the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world and someone who understands that very few interests can be advanced without paying attention to the way people are being governed," said Tom Malinowski, the head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch.

Another neo-conservative expressed concern that Wolfowitz's departure from the Pentagon could dilute the administration's proclaimed commitment to democratic change. "The president has sent pretty clear messages about that, but the number of senior administration officials who truly believe in the [democratic] tenets of the Bush doctrine is relatively small," said Tom Donnelly, a national security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "I, for one, am a little nervous about how policy itself may change. He might rather have been secretary of state, but that job was already taken. This is an administration that has been sort of inbred and has relatively few individuals to move around to these jobs."

The White House had been under growing pressure to nominate a prominent individual to the World Bank post by the bank's annual spring meetings next month, two months before the scheduled departure of Wolfensohn. According to Donnelly, "You're going to get someone who's really devoted to the president's agenda. The World Bank could be a useful tool of American statecraft, that would be great."

One former official said he thought Wolfowitz, who had wanted to be secretary of state or defense, had finally despaired of achieving those goals, not only because the posts are still occupied, but also because, given Wolfowitz's over-optimistic predictions about the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and his part in exaggerating the threat allegedly posed by Saddam Hussein before the war, his confirmation by a majority of the senate would be uncertain at best. His move to the bank thus makes good professional sense according to this source.

(Inter Press Service)

What the neo-cons can't tell Americans (Sep 14, '04)

Iraq: Credibility at breaking point (Jun 18, '04)

Paul Wolfowitz: Reagan redux? (Oct 11, '03)

Paul Wolfowitz's Indonesia amnesia (Jul 18, '03)


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