Bush Names Iraq War Architect Paul Wolfowitz to Head World Bank

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President Bush named Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to become the new president of the World Bank. Woflowitz is one of the chief hawks within the Bush administration and was a leading architects of the Iraq war. We speak with journalist Jim Lobe and Njoki Njoroge Njehu of the 50 Years is Enough network. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush has named Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to become the new president of the World Bank. Woflowitz is one of the chief hawks within the Bush administration and was a leading architects of the Iraq war. He previously served as the US ambassador to Indonesia and in the Pentagon during the 1991 Gulf War.

At a White House press conference, Bush gave his reasons for naming Wolfowitz to the post.

  • President Bush, White House press conference, March 16, 2005.

By tradition, the United States selects the World Bank president–who serves a five-year term–while Europeans nominate a head of the International Monetary Fund. Although the World Bank’s Board of Governors must approve Wolfwoitz, no nomination has ever been rejected. Current World Bank president James Wolfensohn will leave in June after 10 yeaars, despite seeking re-appointment.

  • Jim Lobe, journalist with the Inter Press Service.
  • Njoki Njoroge Njehu, of the 50 Years is Enough network.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: At a White House press conference, Bush gave his reasons for naming Wolfowitz to the post.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First of all, I think people — first, I appreciate the world leaders taking my phone calls as I explained to them why I think Paul will be a strong president of the World Bank. I said he was a man of good experiences. He helped manage a large organization. The World Bank is a large organization. The Pentagon is a large organization. He has been involved in the management of that organization. He’s a skilled diplomat, worked at the State Department in high positions. Ambassador to Indonesia, where he did a very good job representing our country, and Paul is committed to development. He’s a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job in the World Bank. And that’s why I called leaders of countries, and that’s why I put him up.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush speaking Wednesday at the White House news conference. By tradition, the US selects the World Bank president, who serves a five year term, while Europeans nominate a head of the International Monetary Fund. Although the World Bank’s board of governors have to approve Wolfowitz, no nomination has ever been rejected. Current World Bank president, James Wolfensohn will leave in June after ten years, despite seeking reappointment. To talk about the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz, we’re joined by two guests in Washington, DC: Jim Lobe, a journalist with the Inter Press Service, has been closely tracking the rise of the neoconservatives in Washington; and Njoki Njehu, of the 50 Years is Enough Network. We’re going to begin with Jim Lobe. Can you give us a thumbnail bio of Paul Wolfowitz?

JIM LOBE: Well, Wolfowitz was brought up in Ithaca, New York. His father, Jack Wolfowitz was a very prominent statistician who came to the United States from Poland in 1920. That part of the family that remained in Poland was wiped out in the Nazi holocaust, which appears to have had a major influence on Wolfowitz’s outlook and on his kind of sense of mission since university. He joined, I would say, the hawk establishment, or I would say, the right-wing hawk establishment, in 1970. He was an apostle of Alfred Wohlstetter, along with Richard Perle. But unlike many other neoconservatives, he remained in government almost constantly through the next 35 years. He rose very quickly in both the State Department and the Pentagon. As noted before, he was ambassador to Indonesia, but he was also George Schultz’s assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs. In the 1980s, he served as Undersecretary for Political Affairs in the Pentagon under George H. W. Bush, and came to some notoriety in 1992 when a draft document that he was working on, or he and his office were working on regarding future US strategy was leaked to The New York Times. This document became a kind of bible for what later would be called unilateralists. It was taken as that by the Project for the New American Century. And it put out the idea of a — really, a US-dominated world, in which the United States would be the ultimate guarantor for peace and security, would use preemption as a strategic doctrine and would try to prevent the rise of any conceivable regional or global ally, or sorry, rival in key parts of the world. From the period of the Clinton administration, he was the head of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, where he brought a lot of people who had worked with him in the past like Francis Fukuyama, and made a fairly diverse curriculum, and then was brought into the administration in his current post as Deputy Secretary of State in 2001. We kind of know a lot of the rest, I guess.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Njoki Njehu, I’d like to ask you what you think. Your reaction, and what you think the reaction will be of organizations and civil society groups throughout the third world to this nomination?

NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: The reactions have already started coming in and people are shocked and outraged, because I think it represents a real slap in the face in terms of the Bush administration’s choice of Wolfowitz, because he is a very polarizing personality. He is someone who, unlike many people who have perhaps — except for Robert McNamara, none of the other heads of the World Bank have been figures that were known globally. But Paul Wolfowitz, given his role in the war in Iraq, he’s very well known. People are surprised. You know, in spite of what is being said about his experience in development, he really doesn’t have experience in development. Serving in Indonesia, you know, perhaps qualifies him to be a diplomat or someone who has watched crony capitalism up close and personal, but I don’t think it gives him the credentials of being a development expert. This is where the tension comes in terms of people thinking about what the institution, the World Bank, is supposed to be doing. And given the Bush administration’s very clear ideological bend on many, many fronts, we are worried that this is exactly what’s going to be happening at the World Bank with Paul Wolfowitz as president.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Lobe, what about this comparison of Robert McNamara, who went from one of the architects of the Vietnam War to head of the World Bank, to Wolfowitz, same thing? Even here President Bush, in responding to a question at one of his rare news conferences in Washington, about Wolfowitz, saying, you know, Pentagon, World Bank, they’re both big institutions.

JIM LOBE: Well, first of all, Wolfowitz has never run the Pentagon, actually. He was the deputy. One of the reasons that he didn’t get the top spot is that there was considerable reservation about whether he could manage an institution as large as the Pentagon. There really was nothing in his history that suggested that he could, whereas McNamara was always considered to be a management wiz. So, on that basis, I really don’t think there’s much comparison. One of the articles in the mainstream press, I think in the Times, made the point today that McNamara went to the World Bank kind of in order to perform contrition for a Vietnam War which he always had serious doubts about, but nonetheless carried through, and which killed lots and lots of people, many more than in Iraq. Wolfowitz believes that the war in Iraq, as in Afghanistan, was a correct war, that it was worth waging, and so in a sense, they’re going in — to compare Wolfowitz’s state of mind with that of McNamara’s would also not pass muster, I would say.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But even on that war, obviously, he has made some statements that have come back to haunt him. He said, on WMDs in Iraq, for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on. Certainly, that’s proven to have been the most bankrupt reason of all for the United States to go into Iraq. And do you think, as Njoki Njehu said earlier, that the opinion that people around the rest of the world have of him in regard to his role with the Iraq War will have an impact on how they judge his work here at the World Bank?

JIM LOBE: Well, I think that’s inescapable. And I think, you know, even his defenders concede that his association with the Iraq War, both the lead-up to the war and what he was saying in the lead-up to the war and how the war has played out and the failure of his predictions to come true, his optimistic predictions to come true, will undoubtedly affect how people perceive him around the world, particularly, you know, as president of the World Bank. I don’t think there’s any way he’s going to get around that. He’s going to have to make very clear to people very early on, unless he is opposed, for example, by the Europeans, that he really is more than one dimensional and that he has taken an interest in development, and he wants to take an interest in development. I would make this point — that statement by Wolfowitz in many ways is unsurprising. Wolfowitz believes that Saddam Hussein was a terrible tyrant, and he wanted Saddam Hussein overthrown since at least 1998, and I think he was simply reflecting what really was an interagency process. What could all of the bureaucracies agree on was the least common denominator, as a rationale for overthrowing him, but Wolfowitz had never made any secret. It was his desire to overthrow Saddam. I would also make one additional comment, which is, Wolfowitz is seen as a neoconservative, and indeed, in many ways he is, but in many other ways, he’s very different from neoconservatives, and I don’t want to do an advertisement for him, but he tends to be much more intellectually curious. He has a much wider group of social acquaintances and professional acquaintances than most neoconservatives who tend to be somewhat inbred. He has never been a lobbyist particularly or worked for a think tank or as a business consultant. I mean, to some extent, he has a little bit. He has been on some boards. And the fact that he has remained in government. And his personal style is different. He doesn’t go for the kind of personal no-holds-barred attacks on opponents that neoconservatives are really quite famous for. He’s very different, even in his attitude, for example, to Israel and the Palestine question, which I think is central to neoconservative world view. He has been vastly more sympathetic to Palestinians, and including their national aspirations, for much longer than almost every other prominent neoconservative. He’s a bit of an odd duck.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask Njoki Njehu about that issue. Tom Malinowski, the head of Human Rights Watch, has been quoted as saying that Wolfowitz is, quote, “a serious and thoughtful person who is genuinely interested in the promotion of democracy and human rights around the world.” There are some who say of all of the neo-cons in the close circle around President Bush, that he is the least ideological and the most committed to human rights. What’s your view on that?

NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: Well, but then I would say that he is not — the mandate of the World Bank is very different from the kinds of — when you listen to what people are saying about his experience and the kinds of things that he has done and the kinds of politics that he has, then in fact, in some ways, I think it’s a counter-argument for his being qualified to head the World Bank. They’re not talking about, you know, his years of experience working in the developing world. They’re talking about his diplomacy. They’re talking about his experience at the Pentagon. They’re talking about all kinds of different things, which I think, in fact, would be the same things that I would cite to say that he’s not qualified to head the World Bank. But the other thing to say is that this process of who and how the head of the World Bank is nominated brings up again the question of democratic practice and governance at these institutions. You have a country, the United States, deciding on the head of the World Bank, the Europeans deciding on the head of the IMF. But the countries that are so-called the client countries of the World Bank and IMF have no say in this decision, and so at the same time that there is a lot of talk about freedom and democratic practice, these two institutions are perhaps some of the most undemocratic in the world. And there is a contradiction in a process where one country, in the case of the World Bank, and a handful in the case of the IMF, gets to decide for 184 member countries. These are the contradictions that exist. And again, I really raise the question of what is their commitment even to democracy when these institutions, they are not practicing it, nor do they seem to be open to the idea that developing countries, or you know, many more countries can have a say in terms of the leadership of the institutions.

AMY GOODMAN: Njoki, finally, it was Paul Wolfowitz as Deputy Defense Secretary who went to the tsunami-ravaged region of Aceh and came back and has pushed for the restoration of military ties with the Indonesian military, that had been fully cut off in 1999 when the military razed East Timor to the ground as the people went out to vote, now using the pretext of the tsunami to restore military ties that Condoleezza Rice has supported. Of course, Paul Wolfowitz was the US Ambassador to Indonesia during the time of the occupation, continued to support the Indonesian government through one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Your response to that?

NJOKI NJOROGE NJEHU: Well, I mean, I think that this is again another reason why he is not qualified, because his experience and his tendencies around military issues and defense, and so I think that it does, in fact, indicate to the world that for the United States, the priorities of the United States and the World Bank are changing, and there has been indications in this direction, and I think that — you know, he has also said that what he saw in — when he went to — in terms of the tsunami, the effects of the tsunami, is what has changed his mind and his heart around what he wants to do with the rest of his life. And I think it’s a really — for them to move from that to being head of the World Bank, it’s a really bad beginning, because it doesn’t in a way address the question of the fundamentals. He is coming from this again as many people do, from this idea of charity, of wanting to help versus wanting to change the system and being in what we call — what I would call being in solidarity with the people and of those terrible circumstances around the world or helping build a system that insures the justice. A charity approach is what he has, and I think it’s a bad recipe for the future work of the World Bank, which I think is where we are headed with the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz.

AMY GOODMAN: Njoki Njehu, I want to thank you for being with us, of the 50 Years is Enough Network, and Jim Lobe, journalist with the Inter Press Service.

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