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Wolfowitz at the door

Print edition : Apr 08, 2005 T+T-
Paul Wolfowitz with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House on the day Bush announced his nomination for the top World Bank job.-BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP

Paul Wolfowitz with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House on the day Bush announced his nomination for the top World Bank job.-BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP

The Bush administration's nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to the post of President of the World Bank shows its contempt for the international community and its desire to bend major multilateral organisations to the will of the neo-conservatives.

THE second innings of United States President George Bush Jr. at the White House promises to be more than just a replay of his first term, although that prospect itself is horrifying enough. Re-election has legitimised for the incumbent his most blatant and aggressive past actions. But it has done even more, in terms of infusing new energy and confidence into the unilateralist and bullying agenda with which the Bush administration tends to take on all comers, domestic and international.

Certainly, the recent flexing of muscles in international arenas by the U.S. provides adequate intimation of the more overtly interventionist attitude that the world is likely to see from the Bush administration even in multilateral organisations. Only two weeks ago, John Bolton, an established State Department hawk and known United Nations-baiter, was named to be the new U.S. Ambassador to the world body. Bolton reportedly once famously declared that "the U.N. Security Council should have only one permanent member, because this would correctly reflect the distribution of world power", and has made no secret of his belief that the organisation should be radically restructured and "reformed" to make it more acceptable to the U.S.

Coming close after was an even more shocking announcement: the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as the Bush administration's candidate for the presidency of the World Bank. Through an unwritten "gentleman's agreement" between the big powers, the power of choosing the World Bank President has been accorded to the U.S., while the International Monetary Fund boss is, by the same tradition, a (western) European. However, while past choices have often been suspect (think, for example, of Robert McNamara who came to the job fresh from his role as Defence Secretary during the Vietnam war) none has come close to being as openly challenging and dismissive of the concerns of developing countries as Wolfowitz.

Quite simply, Bush is showing the equivalent of the symbolic finger to the rest of the world, and indicating both his contempt for the international community and his purpose of bending the major multilateral organisations to the U.S. will. There is no secret about either Wolfowitz's agenda or the extent of energy he is willing to devote to this agenda, and it is extremely unlikely that the World Bank as an organisation can emerge unscathed or unchanged from this particular encounter.

While Wolfowitz is ostensibly a soft-voiced academic (he was formerly the Dean of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies) he has for many years been one of the most outspoken and aggressive of the group of "neocons" who have assumed so much power in the U.S, over the past years. He was one of the main proponents - and chief architects - of the invasion of Iraq, which is something he wanted even during the Gulf war of 1991, and which he advocated again within days of the September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

His record in the Defence Department, where he served under Donald Rumsfeld, confirms his reputation as a single-minded hawk whose opinions are not swerved either by reason or by evidence. He has not only been one of the most consistent proponents of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but is also passionately pro-Israel. He was also one of the early theorists of the doctrine of pre-emptive strike rather than containment.

He has also been remarkably blatant and open about expressing these extremely conservative and partisan views. According to The New York Times (March 17), he once wrote that a major lesson of the Cold War for U.S. foreign policy was "the importance of leadership and what it consists of: not lecturing and posturing and demanding, but demonstrating that your friends will be protected and taken care of, that your enemies will be punished, and that those who refuse to support you will regret having done so".

However, all too often Wolfowitz's arguments and judgments have had at best a tenuous relationship with reality and when the reality has been awkward he has shown the well-developed neocon capacity for fancy footwork. His was one of the most vociferous voices insisting on the need for war based on the accusation that Saddam Hussein possessed "weapons of mass destruction". Yet, when it became obvious that no such weapons were to be found, he quickly changed his tune to argue that the war was really about "spreading democracy in the Arab world". In a rare moment of candour, he admitted in an interview to the magazine Vanity Fair what most people have known all along, that the entire official justification for war may have been a deliberate lie. "The truth is," he said, "that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy itself, we settled on the one issue that everyone would agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason."

His assessment of the outcome of the invasion was equally problematic. At the peak of the war on Iraq, in a testimony to the U.S. Congress, which was debating the issue, he was critical of the then Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki's estimates of the required personnel and costs of the war. Shinseki had estimated that a post-war occupation force of around 60,000 to 70,000 men could be required, and that the operation could cost the U.S. between $65-95 billion.

Wolfowitz dismissed such estimates as being "wildly off the mark" and instead argued that most of the costs of continued occupation and reconstruction of Iraq would be borne by allies or be entirely paid for by Iraqi oil revenues. He also contended that the post-war occupation force would require less than 10,000 men. Events have proved Wolfowitz's estimates to be completely wrong. As of March 2005, over 170,000 U.S. military personnel are in Iraq with another 20,000 plus stationed in Kuwait and Qatar. Besides, around 30,000 private security workers are employed in Iraq, mainly by multinational companies. The current estimates of the total cost for the war and reconstruction range from $250 billion to $350 billion.

Some observers feel that this move has enabled Bush to kill two birds with one shuffle - by removing Wolfowitz from the U.S. establishment, where he was becoming something of a thorn in the side of the new Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and where his evident lack of realism was becoming an embarrassment. Given the administration's general contempt for the process of development, it is not surprising that lack of realism is not seen to be a problem for his new job in the World Bank.

Aside from a brief stint as an Ambassador to Indonesia (where he was supportive of the repressive Suharto regime) Wolfowitz has little or no experience of "development" as such. Paul Krugman has pointed out, however, that Wolfowitz has been closely associated with the U.S' largest foreign aid and economic development project since the Marshall Plan - that is, the so-called "reconstruction" in Iraq. Unfortunately, that experience - of hasty and often disastrous privatisations, very slow reconstruction, poor delivery of public services, massive and continuing unemployment and great material insecurity in addition to physical insecurity - is likely to give little ground for developing countries to trust his advice.

Instead, the leadership of Wolfowitz is likely to increase substantially the already large credibility gap that World Bank functionaries have to deal with across the developing world, and, therefore, create more of a backlash against its functioning. It could be argued that this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, since all too often the misleading and even dangerous policy prescriptions of the World Bank come clothed in touchy-feely "pro-poor" rhetoric that conceals their real content in pushing the interests of imperialism. To the extent that the "human face" of the World Bank has only served to mask the monstrous body and its treacherous actions, removing the mask may not be so dreadful after all.

But taking such a position would be to underestimate the sheer power and energy of the neocon drive. And there is no doubt that so far the progressive opposition across the world has underestimated the neocons, to its own detriment and peril. Clearly, this latest Bush appointment implies the pursuit of foreign policy objectives and domination by other means. Already it is clear that the Bush administration's approach to development is that the U.S.-set conditions should determine whether to reward or target particular regimes. This will now be actively applied in the World Bank as well, and any chance that the Bank's policies will be influenced by local priorities and concerns is almost certainly squashed.

The man whom Bush affectionately calls "Wolfie" may really become just that for a much wider public - the wolf at the door of developing countries.