Throughout his term, President Bush has repeatedly surprised and alarmed many with his audacious appointments of loyalists to positions for which they didn’t appear well suited. The nominations of John Negroponte – who was complicit with human rights abuses in Honduras when he was ambassador there – and then John Bolton – a notorious critic of the United Nations, but more visibly the guy with that ridiculous moustache – as U.S. representatives to the U.N. were particularly egregious examples.
If Bush really wanted to send a message, he should have appointed Michael Bolton. His soaring renditions of “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” and “Can I Touch You.There” would have melted the hearts of the Security Council and General Assembly alike. The Iranians and North Koreans would have sought rapprochement within minutes, begging for mercy.
Alas, Bush’s actual choices were less soulful. His 2005 nomination of Paul Wolfowitz for president of the World Bank was viewed with great suspicion and only reluctantly accepted by the Europeans, who traditionally choose the IMF leader while accepting the World Bank leader chosen by America. Wolfowitz’s selection seemed a particularly bad fit for an ostensibly multilateral institution with global development aims, given his key roles in narrowly serving U.S. interests, most notably as a hawkish architect of the Iraq debacle.
Wolfowitz’s resignation as World Bank president is the best outcome for the future of the Bank and international development. But there will be many things to miss about Wolfie. There will be no more “Crying Wolf” headlines, ubiquitous and gratuitous as they’ve been of late (yes, I’m a culprit).
Wolfowitz also shows us that love has no boundaries (it’s tax free, too). The actual ethics violation involving the transfer and pay raise for his girlfriend Shaha Riza seems a minor point in the scheme of things. But there is something touching about the uniting of two unlikely individuals – an Arab feminist and a Jewish neo-conservative – who seemed to share sincere and laudable goals, although regrettably bound together by a love of power.
Wolfowitz indeed, has some important qualities. It was brave of him, while addressing a pro-Israel rally in Washington D.C. on April 15, 2002, to say that Israelis “are not the only victims of the violence in the Middle East . innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well. It is critical that we recognize and acknowledge that fact.” The crowd booed this remark.
Regarding his tenure at the Bank, some African leaders were reportedly impressed by his vision. He also took a clear stand in a July 2006 letter urging wealthy countries to cut farm subsidies that hurt the exports of poorer countries.
However, as The New York Times wrote, his decision to suspend “a program in Uzbekistan after the country denied landing rights to American military aircraft” illustrates how at “critical moments he was putting American foreign policy interests first.” He also “directed huge amounts of aid to the countries he once recruited to sign on to Washington’s counterterrorism agenda.”
Wolfowitz’s ideological bedfellows make predictable arguments in his support. Take this gem from The Wall Street Journal:
“Mr. Wolfowitz has tried to institute more accountability, especially on corruption. Who could be against fighting corruption? Well, for starters, a global poverty industry that thinks ‘governance’ is a distraction from the only real measure of development, which is how much money ‘rich’ nations choose to redistribute to poor ones. Never mind that many of these countries stay poor year after year precisely because they squander or steal foreign aid.”
A contrasting perspective is offered by the leftist magazine The Nation, which decries the Bank as “the global equivalent of a mob enforcer coming in to break the knees of the sovereign nations that do not march to the drum beat of the wealthy nations that own it.”
If the Bank wants a strong meritocracy with effective leadership, it must reject its closed and political appointment process that turned it into a mechanism for realpolitik. For this to happen, the presidency should be offered to innovators like the Grameen Bank founder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus.
But I won’t be holding my breath.
Devadatta Gandhi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.