From the Pentagon to the World Bank

The international community, especially countries that opposed the Iraq invasion, must wonder what it means that the top Bush administration neocon has been named to head the world's largest development agency.

Topics: War Room,

He was in, then he was out. But now Paul Wolfowitz, top Bush administration neo-con and deputy defense secretary, has been named President Bush’s choice to head the World Bank, the biggest and most influential development institution in the world. (Perhaps it was that fawning David Brooks column that put Wolfowitz over the top!)

With fighting global poverty leading the agenda for the rest of the world this year, the World Bank job will be a critical one. And Bush’s choice of Wolfowitz will likely be controversial. The global development community has to wonder exactly what it says about American plans for the World Bank that Bush has named a leading war planner to head the world’s leading development agency. Will countries opposed to the Iraq war, including European nations that have to approve his appointment, ever get over Wolfowitz’ key role in planning the invasion? Will Wolfowitz’ appointment cement even more the impression that the Bank is but a tool of the U.S. government, and not in fact a multi-lateral agency? Do we imagine George W. Bush even cares about any of that, given his most recent appointment of U.N. hater John Bolton to the post of U.S. ambassador to the U.N.?

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Wolfowitz doesn’t have development experience, but you can see how, as World Bank president, he would fit in to the broader Bush administration goal of “spreading democracy” throughout the world. The World Bank already, rather notoriously, attaches many strings to its loans to struggling, developing nations, and it’s reasonable to expect that with Wolfowitz leading the Bank, there will be more emphasis on doling out loans to nations that satisfy certain U.S. requirements for taking steps toward democratization. But in this endeavor, Wolfowitz and the Bank would face the same dilemma the Bush administration faces in general — it’s a slippery business, trying to take a hard line with some dictatorial regimes while continuing good relations with others.

The last person to make the transition from the Pentagon to the World Bank was another architect of a controversial war, Robert McNamara, who ran the Bank from 1968 to 1981. McNamara’s tenure was seen by many as a way of making up for the carnage of Vietnam. Wolfowitz, of course, is not remorseful about Iraq. But Europeans fear his tenure at the Bank could prove similar to McNamara’s in another way — that he would funnel aid to nations based more on their support of U.S. policy than their neediness.

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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