second innings of George Bush Jr. at the White House
promises to be more than just a replay of the first
term, although that prospect alone would have been
horrifying enough. Re-election has legitimised for
the incumbent US President his most blatant and aggressive
past actions. But it has done even more, in terms
of imbuing new energy and confidence into the unilateralist
and bullying agenda with which the Bush administration
tends to take on all comers, both domestic and international.
Certainly, the recent flexing of US muscles in international
arenas provides adequate intimation of the more overtly
interventionist attitude that the world is likely
to see with respect to the Bush administration even
in multilateral organisations. Only two weeks John
Bolton, an established State Department hawk and known
UN-baiter was named to be the new US Ambassador to
the United Nations. Bolton reportedly once famously
declared that "the UN 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 UN should be radically
restructured and "reformed" to make it more acceptable
to the US.
Coming close after that was another possibly even
more shocking announcement: the nomination of Paul
Wolfowitz as the Bush administration's candidate for
the President 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 US, while the IMF 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 US Defence Secretary in Vietnam) none
has come close to being as openly challenging and
dismissive of developing country concerns as this
Quite simply, George Bush is showing the equivalent
of the symbolic finger to the rest of the world, and
indicating both his contempt for the international
community as well as his purpose of bending the major
multilateral organisations to the US will. There is
no secret about either Paul 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 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" (neo-conservatives) who
have assumed so much power in the US over the past
years. He was one of the main proponents - and chief
architects - of the US 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.
His record in the Defense 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 US invasion
of Iraq, but is also passionately pro-Israel and was
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,
2005), he once wrote that a major lesson of the cold
war for American 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
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 "weapons of mass
destruction" held by Saddam Hussein, 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 disclosure, he admitted in an
interview to the US 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 US 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 US Congress which was debating
the issue, he was openly critical of the then US Chief
of Staff Eric Shinseki's estimates of the required
personnel and costs of the war. General Shinseki had
estimated that a post-war US occupation force of around
60,000 to 70,000 men could be required, and that the
operation could cost the US 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. In the event, it is Wolfowitz's estimates
which have proved to be completely wrong. As of March
2005 over 170,000 US military personnel are in Iraq
with another 20,000 plus stationed in Kuwait and Qatar.
A further number of around 30,000 private security
workers are employed in Iraq, mainly by multinational
companies. The current estimates for total cost for
the war and reconstruction ranges from $250 billion
to $350 billion.
Some observers feel that this move has enabled President
Bush to kill two birds with one shuffle - by removing
Wolfowitz from the US 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 embarassment. Given the
US 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 US Ambassador in 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 America'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 find they 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 US foreign
policy objectives and domination by other means. Already
it is clear that the Bush administration's approach
to development is that US-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 George Bush affectionately calls "Wolfie"
may really become just that for a much wider public
- the wolf at the door of developing countries.