World recoils at Wolfowitz nomination

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Coming on the heels of his nomination of extreme right-winger John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, President Bush has delivered another slap in the face to the international community with the appointment of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank.

Wolfowitz, who would replace James D. Wolfensohn on May 31, was instrumental in promoting Bush’s rush to war and is seen around the world as a key figure in American unilateralism and the doctrine of pre-emptive war.

“Paul Wolfowitz has a serious credibility problem,” William Hartung of the World Policy Institute at New School University said. “He understated the cost of the Iraq war, while promoting vast distortions about Baghdad’s weapons capabilities as a way to sell the conflict to the American public.”

The World Bank, with its purported policy of reducing poverty and fostering economic growth among developing countries, has come under heavy fire from the justice movements around the world. The bank is dominated mainly by the United States and other Western powers. As a prerequisite for making the loans, the big powers have demanded that developing nations submit to “structural adjustment policies,” which require severe austerity measures and, critics say, undermine national sovereignty.

While European allies and members of the World Bank — most notably the Netherlands — have recoiled at the nomination, and while much of the world public has reacted with outrage, Wolfowitz’s appointment is a virtual sure bet. Historically, the United States, as the bank’s largest financier, has always picked its president.

Neil Watkins, coordinator of the Jubilee USA Network, a coalition of more than 70 churches, unions, and environmental groups dedicated to erasing developing nations’ debt, said, “If the World Bank is a development organization of more than 180 member nations, as it claims, it is unacceptable for one nation to unilaterally select its leader.”

According to experts, Europeans could possibly block the nomination, but this is not likely. The three other major powers — Britain, France, and Germany — are worried about retaliation by a vengeful Bush administration.

Soren Ambrose, senior policy analyst at Fifty Years is Enough, a network for global economic justice, told the World that the president of the World Bank has a tremendous amount of power over its activities and is often treated as a “roving ambassador of development.”

Previous U.S. presidents have tended to have a more multilateral approach, said Ambrose. In essence, Wolfowitz’s administration of the bank might have the same effect there as the Bush administration has had on international politics.

“The Europeans tend to be very zealous about preserving the idea of multilateralism. For them that means having some voice in these decisions, usually under more cooperative diplomatic presidents,” Ambrose said.

The World Bank president “has a big platform to talk about international development and economics and it would, under Wolfowitz, be someone talking about it from the neoconservative, pro-Bush kind of angle, rather than a more conventional development-first angle.”

Ambrose said that most likely there would be no radical changes at the World Bank, but an intensification of current policies. However, taken together with the recent promotion of Bolton as UN ambassador, Ambrose added, a pattern emerges.

“It is entirely possible, Ambrose said, “that some of the conservative commentators are correct in saying that this signals that Bush is trying to use his nominations to multilateral institutions as a way of both dominating them and using them for U.S. purposes as opposed to the kind of benign or malign neglect that went on in his first term.”

Dmargolis @ pww.org