Almost a year has passed since Iraq War architect and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank — and the reviews have been slow to come, largely because he’s been surprisingly quiet on the job. Back in 2005, Wolfowitz’s nomination raised alarms across the international community, even and especially among erstwhile neoliberals like Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz. Sachs publicly called for another candidate with more “experience in development,” and Stiglitz predicted that the World Bank would become a “hate figure” causing “street protests and violence across the developing world” and “an explicit instrument of US foreign policy” that will “take a lead role in Iraqi reconstruction.”
Stiglitz’s own, mutating views on the World Bank aside, his worst fears of a Wolfowitz presidency have yet to materialize. Only last month did Wolfowitz float the idea of returning the World Bank to Iraq (and apparently, only at the urging of donor nations). And following last year’s G-8 meeting, he recently announced $37 billion in debt relief to 17 poor countries. Such moves have left even critics of Bush’s foreign policy and the Washington consensus with little to say (see Clare Short).
But a story in the latest New Statesman by former World Banker Robert Calderisi asks if Wolfowitz is, in fact, “the worst man in the world?” World Bank staffers interviewed by Calderisi portray a “secretive, unilateralist, omniscient” leader who has surrounded himself with former Defense Department cronies, rarely emerges from his office and is obsessed with his public image. Gee, sound familiar? (Wolfowitz, readers may recall, is the spit and comb guy from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.)
More worrying, however, is Wolfowitz only notable campaign to date — his crusade against corruption. Last year when the G-8 announced its debt relief program to much fanfare, this magazine warned that Wolfowitz’s emphasis on fighting corruption could become an excuse to stall debt relief. Earlier this year Wolfowitz laid out a far-reaching anti-corruption plan that according to the New York Times has already “delayed, suspended or canceled hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Chad and Argentina” and blocked $2.9 billion in debt relief for the Congo. What other debt relief might get caught up in Wolfowitz’s new comb?
According to Calderisi, World Bank staffers see his campaign as “opportunism rather than sober policy.” Moreover, global activists have criticized Wolfowitz’s plan for suggesting corruption is endemic to the developing world, rather than something caused and perpetuated by the World Bank’s anti-democratic, non-transparent policies that favor multinational corporations over small civil society groups. As the IMF/World Bank watchdog organization the Bretton Wood Project puts it, “Wolfowitz has so far failed to systematically address the roots of the problem.”