Wolfowitz’s Move to the World Bank Presidency and the Sharpening of Economic Policy as a W
Not only was Wolfowitz the leading planner and promoter of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but his outlook, with its certitude about the U.S.'s international role, which could only be described as neo-imperial.
On June 1, Paul Wolfowitz will become the 10th President of the World Bank Group. This news, confirmed in March, took just about everyone by surprise. President Bush had just returned from a tour of Europe which he used for mending relationships frayed by disputes over the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The Wolfowitz nomination to head the World Bank, on the heels of the nomination of John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was seen as a slap in the face to the U.S.'s European allies.
Not only was Wolfowitz the leading planner and promoter of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but his outlook, with its certitude about the U.S.'s international role, which could only be described as neo-imperial. His continued presence at the Pentagon, coupled with the trust President Bush invested in him despite his frequent displays of poor understanding and predictive ability about world events, was a continuing concern until his resignation.
But the presidency of the World Bank is no more suitable a position for a man who, like Wolfowitz, has consistently found extremist ideology more persuasive than actual facts. The concern about his leadership at the World Bank came not only from its critics but also from Bank employees. The World Bank's internal pensions and benefits webpage reportedly crashed due to over-use on the day Wolfowitz's nomination was confirmed.
The World Bank is a powerful multilateral institution, lending and investing billions of dollars annually for projects like dams and pipelines as well as for "adjustment" packages for countries with economic problems. Its president, unilaterally appointed by the U.S., is the most prominent figure in the world of international economic development. As World Bank campaigners have been arguing for decades - and especially in the last 10 years, the World Bank is already overstuffed with ideological rigidities that supplant quality analysis, and is unshakably committed to economic policies that benefit large corporations and wealthy countries at the expense of the ostensible beneficiaries -- the impoverished majorities in borrowing countries.
From the legislatures to the streets, citizens in many of the countries that borrow from the World Bank have vigorously opposed the policies it demands --privatization of basic services like water provision, health care, and education; massive public-sector lay-offs; drastic trade and investment deregulation; dismantling established protections for workers. Now a man already notorious around the world for his leading role in the Iraq war has been appointed by President Bush to lead the World Bank. It makes the link between U.S. military and economic policy clear: they are two sides of the same coin.
For the billions of people living in the countries marginalized by contemporary economic and political structures, the actions and motivations of the United States look pretty simple. It will do what is necessary to control whatever resources it considers essential, and it will use the available political, military, and economic tools to ensure that its dominance is never threatened, and in fact extended however possible. People in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have long seen that the culmination of any intervention by the United States and its allies in their countries, whether economic or military, is the re-structuring of their economies to serve foreign and corporate interests. Sometimes that means preserving unsavory regimes; occasionally it means overthrowing them. Most often it requires less violent means -- the enforcement of economic contracts by international institutions like the World Bank.
The World Bank has long been a vital part of building and maintaining a global economy that uses poorly-paid workers and farmers in poor countries to maintain the comfort of consumers in rich ones. The World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have long exploited poor countries' debt burdens to impose the policies that maintain this system. The most vulnerable people in the world are in essence paying off debts for failed policies and projects and the whims of old dictatorial regimes which they never wanted nor benefited from.
Ironically perhaps, Wolfowitz -- when he was focused solely on Iraq, asserted the doctrine of "odious debt." He argued that Iraq's creditors should cancel the debts owed them by Iraq because they were contracted by a dictator and used against the people's best interests. It is an argument that debt campaigners have made in the case of debts incurred by dictators in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Nigeria, Indonesia, Haiti, the Philippines, and elsewhere, as well as in the case of apartheid South Africa and regarding the many failed projects and outright "white elephants." He was right in the case of Iraq and for the sake of justice and consistency the logic must be extended to cover other countries in the same situation. If he were to maintain this principle as president of the World Bank Group, he could be part of transforming the global economy in a positive way. Because that transformation would come at the expense of the World Bank's prerogatives, Wolfowitz will have to decide whether to maintain his principles or preserve his power. There is little in his track record to indicate that he might choose justice over power, but we would be glad to be surprised.
An old saying maintains that "diplomacy is war by other means." Paul Wolfowitz has been both diplomat and war-maker. Now at the World Bank, unless he is willing to change its course dramatically, he will vividly demonstrate that today economic development, along with international trade, is war carried out by other means.
Around the world people have expressed great concern about Wolfowitz's new role and the new kinds of war he will be waging. When he takes office, anti-war and global justice activists will have the opportunity, and the challenge, of demonstrating the coherence of a global system where the odds against the poor and marginalized are kept stacked not by nature, or by accident, but by deliberate policy choices. No better illustration than Paul Wolfowitz is likely to come along soon.
The authors are, respectively, Director of 50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice, a coalition opposing the World Bank and IMF, and National Coordinator of United for Peace & Justice, the U.S.'s largest anti-war coalition
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