Wolfowitz Pick for World Bank Prompts Head-Scratching

If sending arch-unilateralist John Bolton to the United Nations sent a message of contempt for multilateralism, what does U.S. President George W. Bush mean by sending that ardent advocate of "hard power," Paul Wolfowitz, to the planet’s single biggest purveyor of "soft power," the World Bank?

Bush’s confirmation at a press conference Wednesday that he had chosen the deputy defense secretary, best known for being the administration’s earliest and most outspoken advocate of war with Iraq, caused general consternation among both the national security elite and Bank-watchers in the development community.

"I’ve been trying to get my head around the logic of Wolfowitz being the head of the Bank, and I just can’t get there," said the director of one U.S. development group who asked not to be identified.

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.

Aside from a two-year stint in the late 1980s as ambassador to Indonesia, the post where he reportedly gained his interest in Islam, Wolfowitz has never lived in a developing country.

When his possible nomination was first brought up two weeks ago, the reaction was overwhelmingly skeptical, and the Pentagon almost instantly knocked it down.

In a Mar. 7 op-ed entitled "Clueless on the World Bank," Washington Post international economics columnist Sebastian Mallaby expressed relief, noting that, while Wolfowitz has some qualities that might recommend him for the job, "his association with the Iraq war makes him … anathema to most World Bank shareholders" – a consideration that, depending on the reaction of European governments, could still kill his nomination.

Despite his being regarded as the administration’s highest-ranking neoconservative, his temperament and ideas often defy the stereotype. While neoconservatives tend to be socially somewhat incestuous and intellectually dogmatic on key issues, for example, Wolfowitz is seen as intellectually curious with a much broader array of social contacts.

His closest female companion over the last several years has been a Tunisian-born Bank official who has fueled his interest in democratic change in the Arab world.

As with all neoconservatives, Wolfowitz sees the rise of Adolph Hitler as the defining event of the 20th century from which critical foreign policy lessons – above all, the importance of overriding military power and preempting threats before they fully materialize – must be learned. The family of his father, a Polish mathematician who immigrated to the U.S. in 1920, perished in the Holocaust.

As with other neoconservatives, Wolfowitz also believes in a "Pax Americana"; indeed, his 1992 draft of the "Defense Planning Guidance" under then-Defense Secretary Richard Cheney almost got him fired when parts of its were leaked to the New York Times.

That paper, which urged a doctrine of preemption against rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction; the prevention of the emergence of any potential competing regional or global power; and "constant" U.S. military intervention to preserve global peace and security, was repudiated by the administration of former President George H.W. Bush, only to be codified by the younger Bush in his National Security Strategy of September 2002.

And, as with his fellow neoconservatives, Wolfowitz also has special concerns about the fate of Israel, where he lived during 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 neoconservatives, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, with whom he first began working in 1970, Wolfowitz also has shown little taste for polemics or the media spotlight.

He is unique among the most prominent neoconservatives for working in government for 27 of the past 35 years, as opposed to journalism, law, privately-funded think tanks, lobbying, or business consultancies, often for arms industries.

During the eight years of the Bill Clinton administration, he served as president of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where 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.

Wolfowitz is also considered the most idealistic of the neoconservatives 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 Philippines 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 U.S. 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 (HRW).

Indeed, another neoconservative 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," Tom Donnelly, a national-security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) told IPS. "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," Donnelly added. "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 the incumbent, James Wolfensohn.

On the other hand, according to Donnelly, Wolfowitz is certain to take his democratic ideals with him. "It’s not quite like John Bolton going to the UN, but you’re going to get someone who’s really devoted to president’s agenda. … [T]he World Bank could be a useful tool of American statecraft, that would be great."

One former official said he thought Wolfowitz, who had most 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 made good professional sense, according to this source.

"Despite the war in Iraq, the Pentagon is increasingly consumed by the [military] ‘transformation’ process, and is turning inward," he said. "By going to the Bank, where he has a guaranteed five-year term, he can keep doing things he feels passionate about."

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.