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World Opinion Roundup: Wolfowitz for President?

News and Views From Around the World

Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; 1:00 PM

In his weekly discussion, washingtonpost.com staff writer Jefferson Morley conducts a freewheeling tour of the best of Internet news sites from Afghanistan to Beijing to Mexico City to Paris to Zimbabwe.

Wolfowitz for president? Today Jefferson Morley discusses global reaction to President Bush's World Bank nominee.

Read today's column: Third World Critics Chide World Bank Nominee (washingtonpost.com, March 22)

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

Roundup brings the diversity of the global online media to your screen, presenting today's news and views from journalists, pundits and commentators from every continent. We'll talk about America in the eyes of the world, compare journalistic practices, analyze politics and perspectives, examine the nature of news and debate styles of journalism.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Jefferson Morley: Welcome all.

Paul Wolfowitz is a very interesting character so let's talk about him.


Seattle, Wash.: Wolfy is not a good choice for pres of World Bank if USA wants to improve relations with the Middle East.
Need sombody of Greenspan type.

Jefferson Morley: I think Wolfowitz may well turn out to be a better World Bank president than war planner.

By a "Greenspan-type" by which I guess you mean a central banker. I think Wolfowitz can do better than that.


Louisville, Ky.: Are there any policy initiatives on Mr. Wolfowitz's resume that have been actual successes rather than catastrophic successes? His World Bank appointment should be viewed as an acknowledgement that his Defense Dept. work has just been catastrophic, and he is no longer wanted in a position in which he can make policy decisions that endanger the United States.

Jefferson Morley: I think Wolfowitz realized (or was told) that he would never succeed Rumsfeld or Powell, so he cast about for something that interested him.

You may be on to something about his not being wanted at the Pentagon. I don't have any inside Pentagon sources but the prospect of uniformed military opposition may have doomed his dream of succeeding Rumsfelt as much as the prospect of a confirmation battle.


Glenmont, Md.: I know all the terrorist-loving liberals, like yourself, can't stand this nomination but do you have any real objections not based on your personal love for Saddam Hussein and the Taliban?

Jefferson Morley: I think you're mistaking me for Donald Rumsfeld.

He was the guy shaking Saddam Hussein's hand in 1983 and 1984, not me.

Unlike the secretary of defense I was never a Saddam Hussein support. I never like the Taliban either. Where did you get these ideas?


Lisbon, Portugal: Wolfowitz would be an exellent choice. He played a key role in defeating the terrorist governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. What better person is there to lead the World Bank?

Jefferson Morley: Well, the World Bank isn't an anti-terrorist organization so his experience in Afghanistan and Iraq policy isn't necessarily relevant. If your point is that Wolfowitz's is committed to supporting successful democracies, I think that quality will indeed help him in his new job.


Potomac, Md.: I am not sure that we know what should be the qualifications of the person who heads the World Bank. What are the criteria applied by governments in deciding whether to approve or reject a candidate for that position?

Jefferson Morley: Good question Potomac.

Once upon a time, the World Bank specialized in huge infrastructure projets in developing countries: dams, highways and the link.

Over time, this approach not only failed to help countries grow but it also seemed to breed kleptomanical dictators a la Marcos in the Phillippines and Mobutu in the Congo.

So under the leadership of the James Wolfensohn, a Clinton appointee, the Bank listened to its critics and turned to a more grass-roots, consultative style of development assistance aimed at reducing poverty.

So most governments are looking for a World Bank president who will focus on reducing poverty and building upon the Bank's limited but real success stories.

The fear of Wolfowitz's critics is that he isn't interested in this agenda.


Madison, Wis.: Jefferson I know that you won't like hearing this but as someone who has listened to your chats for alomost 9 months it is hard not to conclude that you have some deep seated problems with Israel that a reasonable person could regard as anti-semitism. The fact that you call yourself a "liberal" does not excuse your excessive harping on Israel's faults and your rather benign neglect of the far greater sins of the Palestinians and frankly the arab world as a whole.

Jefferson Morley: Madison, this isn't talk radio where verbal abuse and ad hominem masquerade as politics.

This discussion is based on facts so your fact-free message doesn't really deserve a response.


Concord, N.H.: Do the foreign press udnerstand the U.S. fascination (at least in the short-term) with issues like steroids in baseball? Do European legislatures have similar fits over football/soccer?

Jefferson Morley: They do have similiar obsessions. German sports fans have been similarly riveted by allegations of a crooked soccer referee.


New York: I do not believe that Mr. Wolfowitz will change course dramatically from his ideological base, when he joins the World Bank. Given this stance, how do you think his leadership and influence in development will affect the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the ability of the United Nations to garner donor support for developing countries who wish to meet these goals? Is it possible that history will see a net positive effect from Mr. Wolfowitz's term as World Bank president?

Jefferson Morley: I think Wolfowitz understands that the Millenium Development Goals are at the heart of the Bank's agenda and that he cannot and should not change that. If Wolfowitz is serious about listening and learning, I think he can be a good World Bank president.


Washington, D.C.: I wonder about how you select columns to quote. For example, the editorial from the Botswana paper is little more than a rant against America. It contains no serious consideration of Wolfowitz, relying instead on the basest characterizations of him. For example, the editorial states, "Wolfowitz belongs to the ultra-conservatives who believe in absolute Americanization of the world." But this statement really doesn't reflect any of Wolfwitz's writing or activity in or out of government for the last few decades.

Jefferson Morley: Thanks for this question Washington.

In general, I am looking for three things: 1) links that expose Americans to a way of thinking they may not know about; OR 2) that focus on news stories that receive more overseas; or 3) expose Americans to countries that they may not know about.

In the case of Botswana's Mmegi, it was mostly 1) and 3). I agree that the editorial I quote wasn't terribly revealing of much beyond the writer's dislike for the Bush administration. But it tells you something about how southern Africans see Washington, no?


Bahir dar, Ethiopia.: Let me call him Wolfy thinking that he will be one of the best presidents that the World Bank has ever had and at the end he would be the darling of the poor.
Well I really appreciate the gut and the commitment that I have seen from Wolfy before, during and after the second gulf war. For me the war is over. Now America is fighting the restraining forces of democracy and freedom in the ARAB WORLD. Not the dictators and the tyranny. These two had gone for good with Saddam the MONSTER like our Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia.
Now let me come to the point. The poverty in Africa and throughout the world at large needs guys like Wolfy. Who can demonstrate guts and commitment to fight and win. And as far as I am concerned with the strong help of the Bush administration Wolfy will manage to deepen the democratization process, good governance and sense of accountability and urgency especially in sub-Saharan African countries and their respective governments.

So,in addition to guts and commitment to the betterment of human kind in the third world, trade and technical capacity building are also important catalysts for development to come out of poverty. And Wolfy will surly materialize this.

Good Luck Wolfy

Yonas alemu

Jefferson Morley: Thanks Yonas.

You may have a future as a spokesman for the Bush administration


Pueblo, Colo.: What is the rate of return on investment(roi) at the World Bank? Is it a profitable institution? Or is its primary mission 'third world development'? Thanks

Jefferson Morley: No, the World Bank is not a traditional bank aimed at making a profit. Its primary mission is "development" and more particularly, "poverty reduction."


Atlanta. Ga.: Terri Schiavo, obviously a big deal here. What about in other parts of the world? Are we cruel people? Mercy killers? Or something else?

Jefferson Morley: There hasn't been a lot of commentary yet, as the news story has broken very quickly.

In news coverage today, I noticed newspapers in Argentina and France both taking note of a "family battle elevated to a state issue."

I expect commentary to focus on the curious and perhaps selective way that this happened. But you never know.


washingtonpost.com: Outlook: From Both Sides (Post, March 21)


Atlanta, Ga.: Can you name one country that has gone from "developing" to "developed" status due to World Bank loans or grants?

Jefferson Morley: There are several examples of successful World Bank development, along with many examples of failure.

One success story is Uganda.

Twenty years ago, this East African nation was in ruins, due to the legacy of Idi Amin and a civil war. Per capita income has gone from less than $100 per person to $260 per person.
This progress is mostly due to the emergence of a competent, serious and fairly democratic government but the support of foreign aid donors and the World Bank was also key.

Here's a link to the World Bank's study of Uganda's progress.


washingtonpost.com: World Bank on Progress in Uganda (PDF File)


St. Louis, Mo.: I'm pretty ignorant regarding the World Bank. What is its primary goal? Did the world bank do something wrong that would explain why debt relief for poor countries is deserved or is it just the compassionate just thing to do?

Jefferson Morley: Sometimes the most basic questions are the best one.

The World Bank is a international institution consisting of 180 countries which pool their donations and make loans to developing countries. The Bank hopes that these loans will reduce poverty and encourage economic development.

In recent years, the Bank has been shifting away from helping lots of countries to focusing on helping the very poorest countries.

You can learn a lot about the Bank by looking at its Web site, linked below


washingtonpost.com: World Bank Web Site


Leesburg, Va.: Why does the Post give so much attention to Wolfowitz's critics, and zero to his full-throated supporters? Read Christopher Hitchens on Wolfowitz. It may open your eyes.

Jefferson Morley: Because there are a lot more critics than supporters in the international press.

But I took care to include Wolfowitz fan Amity Shlaes of the Times of London.

I have read Hitchens on Wolfowitz, as usual with Hitchens prose, profited from the experience.


Alexandria, Va.: Jeff, I enjoyed the article on world reaction to the Wolfowitz nomination. The reaction, taken as a whole, really seemed to me more like grandstanding against the Bush administration (who many of these folks clearly dislike) than legitimate concern for the World Bank leadership. There is, of course, a valid argument against the selection. This just seemed like sour grapes to me rather than genuine concern. Your thoughts?

Jefferson Morley: I don't agree that its sour grapes.

I think people feel very strongly that the World Bank has a key role to play in helping poor people around the world and they don't believe that Bush or Wolfowitz share this goal.


Toronto, Ontario: What was the rationale for this appointment? What ARE Wolf's qualifications? From what I've read thus far, he doesn't appear to have any. Certainly doesn't appear to be a wise decision from a world politics perspective.

Jefferson Morley: Ultimately, I think Bush nominated him because he wanted the job.

I think Wolfowitz realized that he was not going to get the top job at the State Department or Pentagon but didn't want to leave the government.

I think his rationale for the job is that he truly views himself as an internationalist and a humanitarian and he wants to vindicate himself to a skeptical world.


Seattle, Wash.: What countries are most likely to object to Wolfy's appointment?

Jefferson Morley: Holland and Switzerland--which is why Wolfowitz is cruising toward confirmation on March 31.

Germany has signalled its acceptance of Wolfowitz. The silence of Britain and France means they won't object too strenuously.

Some smaller countries are disgruntled but they will have a hard time mustering the votes to block the U.S. choice.

China, it has been reported, has no problems with Wolfowitz.


Gainesville, Va.: I am a World bank staffer. I find it interesting to note the degree of suspician bordering on paranoia with which the staff are reacting to Wolfowitz. This is a difficult organization to manage with a great deal of staff autonomy. It seems to me Wolfowitz's main challenges are listening to staff, NGOs and other governments, and being willing to go slow in instituing change. Are these qualities which he has?

Jefferson Morley: Thanks for your perspective Gainsville.

I think Wolfowitz will listen. He is an intellectually curious man, formidable but not unwilling to change his view. He is unlikely to admit it until retirement but I suspect he has learned something from the Iraqi ordeal.


Washington, D.C.: His key attributes are his experience with working within and managing a huge bureaucracy (The Pentagon) as well as his emphasis on the importance of strong and sound institutions. The importance of institutions, post-conflict reconstruction, debt forgiveness and the future of the international aid industry are the key themes that will be facing the next 5 years of the World Bank -- issues he does have experience with.

What worries me is whether he will be able to separate himself from those in the White House. Yes this connection may at times help in terms of acquiring more IDA funds etc…. but it makes the World Bank's most challenging battle (the PR battle against its many anti-globalization/privatization/Washington consensus critiques) all that more difficult.

The head of the World Bank needs to be able to sell the World Bank image and cause -- when Wolfie walks into a foreign ministry's door he will already have the cards stacked against him due to his past (Iraq).

Jefferson Morley: This is a key point made by critics like former Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz: that Wolfowitz's political baggage will poison the proverbial well. This is a real possibility, especially when U.S. occupation troops remain in Iraq.

Despite my optimism about Wolfowitz another possibility is that these political battles will wear him down and thwart his intellectual/policy ambitions. In such a scenario, he might bail out of the job relatively quickly. This would not be good for the Bank or for the United States.

I'm hoping he succeeds.


New York, N.Y.: I do not doubt Wolfowitz's ability or commitment to eradicating poverty around the world today. But the question is whether he is just a pawn being used to advance some ulterior policy motives that exist within the White House today.

Jefferson Morley: This is a key question: how will Wolfowitz deal with issues like Iraq and Iran in his new job.

I don't think anyone knows, maybe not even Wolfowitz himself.


Washington, D.C.: One concern I have about Wolfowitz is his experience in Indonesia, which everyone cites as a plus because he was ambassador to a huge Muslim country. However, Indonesia is also known for excessive corruption -- the kind that makes Halliburton look like small potatoes. Wolfensohn seems to have kept the World Bank clear of any major allegations of corruption, but I would not hold out much hope of Wolfowitz continuing that effort. We're in a time when our major institutions are failing us, so why should the World Bank be exempt?

Jefferson Morley: The problem in Indonesia wasn't that the World Bank was corrupt. The problem was that the corrupt Suharto family dominated the economy

I see that Indonesian civil society groups--non-governmental organizations seeking to promote human rights, woemn's rights, education and development--gave Wolfowitz favorable reviews for his time there.


Rosslyn, Va.: Why aren't any newspapers questioning U.S. monopoly in the top world bank job, and european monopoly in the top IMF job? Rules made 50 years ago are ripe to be demolished today.

Jefferson Morley: The Guardian of London and the Philippines Inquirer are just two of the many international newspapers that are questioning the Euro-American monopoly on the top jobs at the IMF and the World Bank.


Conway, Ark.: Since I am not a fan of what the Bush administration has done to the U.S. in the past five years, I am quite skeptical of Wolfowitz's abilities as head of the World Bank. What do you suppose his first move(s) will be as the head?

Jefferson Morley: I think his first move will be just what he says it will be: to listen. If he does that, he will make a good start.


Falls Church, Va.: While I do not agree with Wolfie on politics, much less the war, I did know him at SAIS at think he actually may bring quite a few positives to the World Bank, notably his relationship with Bush. He's quite personable, very smart, and truly interested in issues that contribute to poverty, such as political constraints.

As for the Millennium Challenge, we can hardly do worse, and his ability to focus and persuade Bush et al may make a crucial difference. I admire Wolfensohn, but he's been completely locked out during the past four years, and it shows.

Jefferson Morley: Thanks for the personal perspective.


Helena, Mont.: Water under the bridge at this point, Sir, but what are your thoughts on other competent, credible candidates to run the bank? Any excellent 'back-ups' or future people you would feel deserving of consideration given the qualifications/criteria you enumerated above?

Jefferson Morley: Here an excerpt from the Daily Telegraph interview of former Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz that is linked in my column.

"Stiglitz suggests Arminio Fraga, Brazil's former central banker, Ernesto Zedillo, the former Mexican President, and Kemal Dervis, who as finance minister steered Turkey through financial crisis. 'All three are first-rate economists who command global respect. Why should the president always be an American?'"


Salt Lake City, Utah: Don't you think Colin Powell would have been a better choice?

Jefferson Morley: No. Colin Powell would have been bored out of his mind after two weeks at the World Bank. No, make that two days.


Washington, D.C.: What is the rationale of little or no negative reaction to Wolfowitz nomination from the Germans? Could this have something to do with Germany wanting to be on the UN Security Council -- a tradeoff perhaps?

Jefferson Morley: Germany doesn't want to pick a fight with Washington now. They want better relations--and a Security Council seat. So yes, that may have been a factor.


Vienna, Va.: I can't help but believe this to be an attempt by our current administration to push a neo-conservative into an internationally influencial position. What's next, the IMF? Am I wrong?

Jefferson Morley: I'm afraid you are wrong.

By tradition, an American heads the World Bank, a European heads the IMF. One reason Europeans are reluctant to oppose the U.S. choice is because they don't want the U.S. to oppose their candidate for the IMF.

So it is safe to say that the next head of the IMF will NOT e an American neoconservative.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Huge admirer and fan of Bono here, but what does it say about the state of the world when the prospective President of the World Bank needs the endorsement of a rock star?

Jefferson Morley: I thought it was politically astute move on Wolfowitz's part to call Bono.

You can mock the idea of a rock star playing development politics but I think Bono has proven his committment to fighting poverty and using his celebrity to educate others.

I think Wolfowitz's call showed a recognition of the political demands of his new job.


Warsaw, Ind.: To be fair, you should acknowledge the human rights organizations in Indonesia and elsewhere have not responded all that favorably to Wolfowitz's tenure at the Defense Department, particularly with regard to the torture scandals.

Jefferson Morley: Good point Warsaw.

Wolfowitz, the ambassador to a moderate Muslim country, and Wolfowitz, the architect of a war to elimintate Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, are two different characters.


Washington, D.C.: What's your reaction to the reporting of Greg Palast that sending Wolfowitz to the World Bank and Bolton to the UN signals the neocons' loss of influence within the Administration? Apparently the American big oil companies, allied with the State Department, successfully opposed Wolfie's drive to totally privatize Iraqi oil in an effort to fragment OPEC. That would have meant the cartel's weakening, and a resulting drop in the price of oil -- which Big Oil certainly doesn't want. The neocons just wanted to get rid of Saddam and impose privatization from the top, but they bungled the peace and we got the nasty scenario that exists today. Also, Bush may be eliminating an adversary of Condi Rice in the process of dumping Wolfie at the World Bank.

Jefferson Morley: The notion that the neoconservatives are losing influence in Washington has been floated by several international online commentators.

I don't buy it.


Washington, D.C.: I had a chance to meet Mr. Wolfowitz this past January at an inaugural ball given by a non-partisan non-profit www.CitizensHelpingHeroes.org to celebrate democracy and honor the wounded soldiers in attendance from Walter Reed and BNH. I must say that I was expecting to meet an evil doer, but what I found was a compassionate man. He spent almost all evening visiting with the over 200 wounded soldiers and their families. It completely changed my opinion of him. Do you think that once people get to learn more about him as a person their opinions will change?

Jefferson Morley: I think Wolfowitz is counting on this happening--and it is certainly possible.


Greenbelt, Md.: Is the Administration committed to the mission of the World Bank, or is this another "counter-apponment," like the new ambassador to the UN?

Jefferson Morley: I don't think the Bush administration particularly cares about the World Bank

I think Wolfowitz does care.


Munich, Germany: So what's happening out there in Venezuela? According to Goss Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is among the hemisphere players who "are very clearly causing mischief for us," noting his association with Cuba's Fidel Castro.

It sounds like Chavez has joined the club of wanna be Axis of Evil. What exactly has Chavez done to the U.S.A. to make him such a bogeyman?

washingtonpost.com: CIA, White House Defend Transfers of Terror Suspects

Jefferson Morley: Thanks for the link Munich.

I will keep following Hugo Chavez's challenge to the United States in coming weeks and months.


Arlington, Va.: I have met Wolfowitz several times and am impressed by his knowledge and ability to listen. I think if he is free to lead the World Bank as he sees fit, he'd do very well. If he will feel beholden to Bush's policies and try to implement the American agenda, the Bank and developing countries will be in big trouble. How independent is the World Bank President from American political influence?

Jefferson Morley: What is this an FOP (Friends of Paul) meeting?

If Wolfowitz doesn't show his independence from the White House, he will probably not last in the job.


Jefferson Morley: We are out of time.

Thanks for all the questions.

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See you next week.


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