washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Bush Administration

Wolfowitz Strives To Quell Criticism

World Bank Nominee Bolstering Image

By Paul Blustein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 21, 2005; Page A01

He has telephoned Bono, the Irish rock star who champions the cause of Africa's poor. He has granted interviews to French newspapers, planned visits to European officials and praised his prospective staffers.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, the man tapped by President Bush to become president of the World Bank, is energetically reaching out to his critics in the hope of persuading them that he would do a lot better at heading the bank than they might think. He appears to be making progress. But as the neoconservative hawk best known as the brains behind the war in Iraq, he has his job cut out for him.

Paul D. Wolfowitz visited Sri Lanka in January, where he met with survivors of the tsunami that devastated parts of South Asia in December. (Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi -- Reuters)

_____Special Report_____
Globalization and Its Critics
In-depth Reports by Region
World News and Updates
_____World Markets_____
Global Economies
International Stocks
_____Message Boards_____
Post Your Comments

Since the announcement Wednesday, Bush's choice of Wolfowitz has drawn opposition from many quarters, mostly focusing on the fear that the move marked a plan to use the World Bank's antipoverty aid to reward Washington's friends, punish its enemies and advance the Bush administration's ideological agenda, especially in the Middle East. The bank lends about $20 billion a year to developing countries for projects ranging from roads to schools to HIV/AIDS programs.

"The world would view a bank directed by Mr. Wolfowitz as no more than an instrument of U.S. power and U.S. priorities," Britain's Financial Times wrote in an editorial, warning that the credibility of the bank's advice to poor countries would be undermined. With anti-globalization activists in an uproar over the nomination, predictions abounded that demonstrations against the bank, which have subsided in the past couple of years, would erupt anew. "We'll finally be able to use the word 'imperialism' about bank policy without raising eyebrows," chortled Soren Ambrose, an activist with the coalition 50 Years Is Enough Network, a critic of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In a sign of the antipathy toward Wolfowitz at the World Bank's headquarters, staffers last week were e-mailing each other a video clip in which the Pentagon official was skewered on "The Daily Show," the satiric news program, for having miscalculated the problems involved in rebuilding Iraq.

The clip showed Wolfowitz telling a congressional panel, "It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself," and "The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon." The show's host, Jon Stewart, hooted, "[Bleeped] that one up, too!"

Futile though it may be to win over his most fervent detractors, Wolfowitz is striving to dispel some of the deepest concerns about his potential stewardship of the bank.

In a series of interviews that began the day Bush announced his nomination, Wolfowitz has stressed that he attaches prime importance to the bank's goal of fighting poverty, which he called "both a noble mission and . . . a matter of enlightened self-interest." He will be an "international civil servant," he vows, accountable to the board that represents the bank's 184 member nations. He has dismissed suggestions of plans for "regime change" at the bank, telling the French newspaper Le Figaro: "Many people think I will turn the organization upside down, but this is not my style at all." Although some improvements are no doubt in order, he added, "Believe me -- I am not coming with any political program or a ready criticism of the bank."

To underscore his passion and interest in poverty reduction, he reminds people of his previous jobs as dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and as ambassador to Indonesia, "where economic development was the most important issue on the agenda." Despite his well-known zeal for spreading democracy in the Middle East, he has said that the bank's role should remain focused on economic rather than political change.

As a result, some development specialists who were shocked by Wolfowitz's nomination are grudgingly acknowledging that he would bring an intellectual depth to the job that could serve the bank well. And his links to the White House, many speculate, could translate into powerful backing for important antipoverty initiatives.

Within the bank staff, although there is widespread trepidation that Wolfowitz will replace many top managers, his assurances have at least helped to defuse suspicions that he intends to dismantle the institution.

The charm offensive is necessary even though the United States traditionally gets to choose the World Bank president, as part of a gentlemen's agreement in which Europe gets to choose the managing director of the IMF. The World Bank board, which has always operated by consensus, could reject Wolfowitz's candidacy; that is what happened in 2000 to a European nominee for the IMF job who failed to win support from Washington and other key capitals.

Wolfowitz has been scoring points by harking back to his experience in Indonesia. As ambassador in the late 1980s, he said in a statement issued last week, "I saw first-hand what the World Bank could accomplish" in helping to raise Indonesians' living standards. But as a close observer in the late 1990s, when the economy collapsed amid rot in the banking system and cronyism in the presidential palace, "I also saw first-hand the harm that corruption and weak institutions can inflict to defeat development and poverty reduction."

Such comments strike a chord among development experts who have grown increasingly disillusioned with the results in countries that followed the old World Bank advice to balance their budgets, open their markets and privatize their industries yet still failed to make much headway in banishing poverty.

Jessica Einhorn, who succeeded Wolfowitz as dean at Johns Hopkins-SAIS and was a top World Bank official before that, said: "If there is one guy who understands how important strong institutions are, and would have first-hand appreciation for how difficult it is to get them in place, that's Paul Wolfowitz."

With Wolfowitz at the bank's helm, "it could be that there will be a healthy new emphasis on the centrality of political institutions to the development process," agreed Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development. "That is where the field is, where the new consensus is, without question."

But assuming he gets the board's approval, even then he "starts with handicaps," Birdsall said, because suspicions will linger about the administration's intentions in choosing him, and the board exercises heavy influence over major bank decisions. So Wolfowitz's campaign will have to continue for a while, Birdsall predicted. "It will be a lot of listening, and consulting, and allaying peoples' concerns," she said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company