WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush chose Paul Wolfowitz yesterday to head the World Bank, selecting an architect of the Iraq war whose hard-line foreign policy stance as deputy defense secretary has made him a target of critics at home and abroad.
Bush called Wolfowitz “a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job at the World Bank.”
International aid and other groups as well as some Democrats on Capitol Hill voiced concerns about the president’s choice to take the helm of the 184-nation development bank. They say Wolfowitz, 61, lacks both the development credentials and collaborative management style needed for the job.
“I really believe in the mission of the bank, which is reducing poverty,” Wolfowitz told The Associated Press in an interview.
“It is a noble mission and a matter of enlightened self-interest.”
The selection came on the heels of another Bush pick that has courted criticism: the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador. Bolton, currently the State Department’s arms control chief, has spoken dismissively of the United Nations.
Steve Clemons of the liberal New America Foundation, said the Wolfowitz pick demonstrates that “neoconservatism maintains a tenacious, tight grip on U.S. foreign policy.”
The Wolfowitz nomination could further strain U.S. relations with Europe, where France and Germany were among the countries that vociferously opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
He said yesterday that he recognized the need to smooth relations with European allies, saying, “I have a lot to listen to.”
If approved by the board, he said, “I will be an international civil servant responsible to that board.”
Wolfowitz was among the most forceful Bush administration figures in arguing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. A foreign policy hawk who believes the United States should use its superpower status to push for reforms in other nations, he also predicted Americans would be welcomed as liberators rather than occupiers once they toppled Saddam.
If approved by the bank board, Wolfowitz would replace World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who is stepping down June 1, the end of his second five-year term.The United States is the bank’s largest shareholder. The bank traditionally has had an American president, and the 24-member board typically defers to the U.S. selection.
One foreign official Bush called to notify of his selection was French President Jacques Chirac.
His office said he “took note of this candidacy (and) indicated that France would examine it in the spirit of friendship between France and United States and with an eye on the capital mission of the World Bank to the service of development.”
Bush also discussed his decision to pick Wolfowitz with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, the White House said.
Wolfowitz has been criticized on Capitol Hill for underestimating the number of U.S. troops needed in Iraq and for understating the number of troops killed in Iraq during testimony to a House panel.
He also was criticized for predicting before the invasion that Iraqi oil would generate $50 billion to $100 billion over two to three years, limiting U.S. war costs. Instead, Iraq generated just $17 billion in oil revenues in the first 19 months after the invasion.
“After Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz’s repeated and serious miscalculations about the costs and risks America would face in Iraq, I don’t believe he is the right person to lead the World Bank,” said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, one of several congressional Democrats to express skepticism over the choice.
“Coming on the heels of the appointment of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, this is now another mystifying choice by the Bush administration for an important role in the community of nations,” he said.
A poverty adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also criticized the choice, contending Wolfowitz has no experience helping developing nations.
“It’s time for other candidates to come forward that have experience in development,” said Annan adviser Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
“This is a position on which hundreds of millions of people depend for their lives,” he said.
“Let’s have a proper leadership of professionalism.”
The Bush administration said Wolfowitz’s management experience at the Pentagon and his diplomatic experience at the State Department prepared him for the job. At State, he was assistant secretary for East Asia and U.S. ambassador to Indonesia.
“He is a man of good experience,” Bush said.