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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Wolfowitz's Third World Critics

Whose Agenda Will Pentagon Deputy Pursue?

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff
Tuesday, March 22, 2005; 6:00 AM

"I am not going to impose the U.S. agenda on the [World] Bank," Paul Wolfowitz told Reuters last week. "I am ready to listen."

If Wolfowitz, the controversial undersecretary of defense nominated to lead the global anti-poverty institution, listens to online commentators in the developing countries where the bank does most of its work, he will hear plenty of criticism and questions.

Paul Wolfowitz
Paul Wolfowitz
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's nomination brought sharp criticism from some commentators in countries where the bank does most of its work. (Yuri Gripas - Reuters)

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In the Philippines, an editorial in the Daily Inquirer asks, "Can Wolfowitz take the next step and lead the World Bank to accept its mistakes and change some of its policies?"

The question is relevant, says the Manila daily, because Wolfowitz "is one of the principal architects of the US invasion of Iraq. The war was waged on non-existent grounds: there was no immediate terrorist threat from Iraq, there were no weapons of mass destruction, there was no conspiracy between Saddam Hussein's odious regime and Osama bin Laden's equally monstrous terrorist network."

"If in the face of incontrovertible evidence, Wolfowitz cannot bring himself to admit any errors in judgment, can we expect him to continue the reform of the World Bank -- a process which requires him to publicly accept mistakes?"

The editors credit the bank's current president, James Wolfensohn for moving beyond massive development projects in favor of more grass-roots work. They question Wolfowitz's priorities and wonder whether he will support debt relief for poor countries.

Such a policy "will release billions of dollars into the necessary work of easing poverty, stimulating the economy, raising living standards, and investing in education. Instead of essentially working for the creditors, many of whom have already profited from the debt, developing countries around the world can finally work for their own benefit. Like democracy's rising tide, that of economic growth can lift all boats too."

"When billions of dollars are at stake," the editors ask, "whose side will Wolfowitz be on?"

The Times of London supplied a possible answer on Sunday: "Wolfowitz has been a strong advocate of debt relief for Iraq, lobbying the international community to give the post-Saddam regime a fresh start. This may make him more amenable to Britain's plan for 100 percent multilateral debt relief for the world's poorest countries."

But the editors of Mmegi Online in Botswana are skeptical. They describe Wolfowitz as one of "the kingpins in the Bush agenda to Americanise the world and eliminate non-conformists." Mmegi predicts the criteria for World Bank loans will become "purely based on whether the country tows the American line."

In Pakistan, the English-language daily, Dawn says Wolfowitz's "arrogance and hubris" make his nomination "an ill-advised move." Another leading Pakistani daily, The News, says the United States needs to know "that a bank that is too visibly subordinated to narrow US objectives will be ineffective, because it will be illegitimate."

In Indonesia, where Wolfowitz served as ambassador from 1989-93, the Antara news agency suggests Wolfowitz's nomination signals a new U.S. approach in the war on terrorism. "The US is now trying to use 'carrots' instead of 'clubs' to fight terrorism," said one Indonesian expert in Washington.

With European political leaders reportedly accepting the nomination, the issue is less whether Wolfowitz will get the job than what agenda he will pursue, according to the German broadcast network Deutsche Welle.

"My worry is the World Bank will now become an explicit instrument of US foreign policy," economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz said in an interview with a British television program published in the Daily Telegraph. "It will presumably take a lead role in Iraqi reconstruction, for instance. That would seriously jeopardise its role as a multi-lateral development body."

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