Mr. Paul Wolfowitz has taken the helm of the World Bank. His nomination was marked by numerous protests and concerns; his tenure at the U.S. Department of Defense worried many who feared that he would turn the organization into an arm of U.S. foreign policy or that he did not understand its mission. Mr. Wolfowitz is likely to surprise his detractors: His resume shows a deep understanding and appreciation of the importance of development and a single-mindedness that should help him realize the World Bank’s mission.
Mr. Wolfowitz is best known for helping provide the intellectual framework for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Serving as No. 2 in the Pentagon, he made and implemented the decisions that underpinned the war and created the current situation in Iraq. He pushed for the aggressive promotion of democracy, arguing that Iraq could become a domino that could spread democracy throughout the Middle East.
Far more important for his new assignment is Mr. Wolfowitz’s tenure as the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia from 1986-89. During that time, he was said to be a force for democracy who pushed for economic and political reform, but quietly and from behind the scenes. In Indonesia, he also become intimately acquainted with the importance of development and was sensitive to the broad range of issues encompassed in the rubric of development. There are few laboratories to better understand the complexities of poverty than the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.
Mr. Wolfowitz is well aware of his “baggage.” After being nominated, he courted the members of the Bank’s Board of Governors; he apparently allayed their concerns and won unanimous approval. He has reached out to his critics and promised to be objective and credible.
On his first day on the job, he said he hoped to focus on Africa and transform it from a “continent of despair and poverty to a continent of hope.” While the World Bank has work to do around the globe, he noted that “we cannot have a large part of the world with 600 million people left behind and sinking.” He will soon test that commitment. He will make his first trip as president to Africa, and then will attend the Group of Eight summit in Scotland, where host British Prime Minister Tony Blair will make aid to Africa a key element of the agenda.
He pledged to carry on the anticorruption campaign of his predecessor Mr. James Wolfensohn, to continue to empower women, and to ensure that development projects truly meet the needs of recipient nations, rather than a cabal of financiers and developers that often profit at the expense of the most needy. To accomplish that, he promised to work closely with developing nations, to treat them less like clients and more like partners, as well as other institutions that do related work.
Significantly, Mr. Wolfowitz acknowledged that there is no single formula for development. Each project has to be adapted to the particular situation and the needs of the recipient. That may sound obvious but it is not orthodoxy. His term as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs should have helped sensitize him to regional concerns. He also called for continuing assessment of World Bank projects to make sure that they adapt to changing circumstances.
A key task is getting more money for the fight against poverty. Currently, the World Bank lends about $20 billion annually. Most experts agree that much more development aid is needed. The United Nations and Mr. Wolfensohn have endorsed a doubling in aid from the rich countries. That call is sure to be echoed at the upcoming G-8 meeting.
This is sure to be a real test of Mr. Wolfowitz’s worth. One of the key arguments in support of his nomination, in addition to his intellect and proven ability to run a sprawling organization — with 10,000 employees, the World Bank is like the U.S. Department of Defense — was the idea that he would be able, precisely because he was a member of the Bush administration, to win backing from the United States for expanding World Bank lending and programs. (A similar argument is made to support the nomination of Mr. John Bolton to serve as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.) Mr. Wolfowitz is a known quantity and therefore will have considerable credibility with Republicans and other conservatives, especially in Congress and the administration.
If Mr. Wolfowitz can deliver on that promise and attacks these issues with his trademark intensity, then his term at the Bank will be a successful one. That is the best way to silence his detractors.
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