Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Great Difficulty: Why Is Paul Wolfowitz President Of The World Bank?

Andreas Whittam Smith explains why the Paul Wolfowitz presidency is such a big problem for the World Bank, in an analysis brought to our attention by Larisa Alexandrovna, who calls it "fantastic".

Smith notes that the problem with Wolfowitz involves much more than a simple pay increase for his mistress, and he details a difference in priorities that divides the Bush-appointed World Bank President from the Bank's directors. But he says this can't be the whole problem either.
There need not have been the great row that has been running for over a month. It cannot have been for just this, or for just this plus his handling of his companion's job that Mr Wolfowitz was greeted with booing, catcalls and cries for his resignation when he met staff recently.

This is an extreme reaction. These factors can't be the whole reason for the staff association's unprecedented announcement that it was "impossible for the institution to move forward with any sense of purpose under the present leadership." These developments surely don't explain why, at a meeting with about 30 vice presidents of the bank, one of Mr Wolfowitz's two senior deputies, Graeme Wheeler, a former senior Finance Ministry official from New Zealand, suddenly said Mr Wolfowitz needed to step down for the good of the Bank. This last is an almost unimaginable scene in a major institution.

The explosive issue is that Mr Wolfowitz has begun to undermine the Bank's identity. The change started with something very simple. He brought a small group of advisers with him from the Pentagon. His two top aides had worked with him there. These appointments suggested that perhaps Mr Wolfowitz had come to the World Bank in order to carry out American foreign policy - by a different means, in parallel with the Bush administration.

And, subsequently, evidence has accumulated that supports this suspicion Uzbekistan's aid was suspended after it ousted American troops in 2005. Moreover, Mr Wolfowitz's passion for fighting corruption seemed to evaporate when it came to reviewing lending to Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, three countries that the United States considers strategically vital.

No wonder the staff of the World Bank are in uproar. They are international civil servants. They think globally not nationally. They wish to do good in the world, not promote one nation's interests over another's. And no wonder the Bank's shareholders find the matter so hard to resolve, although they are due to come to a conclusion tomorrow or the next day. For many of them, likewise, deplore American foreign policy. They want the World Bank to be the World Bank. But Mr Wolfowitz is Mr Bush's man. That, finally, is the great difficulty.
"Fantastic" this analysis may be, and full marks to Larisa for bringing it to our attention here. But is there anything here that could not have been forseen when Bush appointed Wolfowitz to the position?

Perhaps a better question might be: If the World Bank is really supposed to be the World's Bank, then why is its president appointed by our president?