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Wolfowitz Confirmed as World Bank President

by Emad Mekay

on Wolfowitz nomination

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The World Bank's Board of Executive Directors unanimously confirmed the nomination Thursday of U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz to be president of the World Bank.

Non-governmental organizations and activists from the anti-corporate globalization movement were quick to condemn the appointment and call for stronger opposition to the World Bank's policies -- and for protests later this month when the World Bank and its sister institution the International Monetary Fund hold their spring meetings Apr. 15-17.

Wolfowitz replaces his compatriot James Wolfensohn, whose second five-year term in office ends on May 30.

"I want to thank the Board for their vote of confidence," Wolfowitz said in a statement sent out by the World Bank. "It is humbling to be entrusted with the leadership of this critically important international institution."

Several U.S. top officials, including Pres. George Bush and Treasury Secretary John Snow, welcomed the decision. Wolfensohn also congratulated Wolfowitz.

"His work in the developing world has afforded him a deep understanding of the many challenges of development," Wolfensohn said.

"He knows what a remarkable institution this is, he appreciates its outstanding team of development professionals, and I know he will bring continuity to its programs and its mission of fighting poverty."

The nomination was cleared after European countries ended their reluctance to back the U.S. nominee, apparently in anticipation of U.S. endorsement of the French candidate for leadership of another key international financial institution, the World Trade Organization.

Wolfowitz had been trying to assuage concerns over his controversial nomination. He talked to all 24 executive directors of the Bank and met with European finance and development ministers in Brussels on Wednesday. He also discussed his future work with senior officials from Europe, including ministers from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Britain.

Outside the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, demonstrators protested what they called the "one-horse race" for the top job at the Bank. They faulted the selection process and said it illustrated the undemocratic way the Bank's president is selected.

The protestors fear that by placing a right-wing hawk at the head of the World Bank, Bush may be moving to demolish internationalism at a time when the world community needs to come together to tackle the debt crisis, HIV/AIDS, access to clean water, affordable education and healthcare, livable wages and a clean environment.

The activists say that Wolfowitz, an architect of the 2003 United States-led invasion of Iraq, has shown contempt for international law and human rights.

"Making Wolfowitz the World Bank's president places in grave jeopardy the health and well-being of poor people, marginalized communities, and much of the developing world," said Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Some of the opposition to the Wolfowitz appointment also comes from his reputation as a major player behind the post-invasion mismanagement of Iraqi reconstruction aid.

"And so now the developing world has to live with Paul Wolfowitz, a man with no relevant experience but for his oversight of the reconstruction of Iraq -- a project beset by corruption, cronyism and incompetence, and which has failed miserably at delivering water, health, security and other basic services promized to the Iraqi people," said Robert Weissman, director of Essential Action.

Wolfowitz, 61, has shown a penchant for militarism and strong leanings towards U.S. global hegemony.

In 2002, he was one of the primary authors of the Bush administration's National Security Strategy, in which he advocated war with Iraq. The paper called for U.S. economic and military supremacy in different parts of the world and upholds the idea of pre-emptive attacks on countries that oppose U.S. policies.

These ideas are not new, and were preceded by a September 2000 document put out by the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century, whose founding charter Wolfowitz signed, and a Defense Department report Wolfowitz co-wrote in 1992.

"This nomination is an aggressive move by the Bush administration to use international development policy, and the money of the World Bank, to impose its will on developing countries, just as it has used its military to impose its will on Iraq and Afghanistan," said Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, a prominent anti-war group.

John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, expressed concerns about Wolfowitz's record as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia in the 1980s.

"All those who are arguing that Paul Wolfowitz will effectively use the World Bank to promote democracy need to explain how he could testify before Congress in 1997 that the brutal Indonesian dictator Suharto was a 'strong and responsible leader,'" Cavanagh said.

Others criticized his lack of experience in the development field.

"Under his presidency, we expect the Bank to accelerate the weakening of its own social and environmental standards," said Peter Bosshard, policy director of the California-based International Rivers Network. "Sadly we can expect more failed privatizations, more corporate welfare, more subsidies for big dams and oil pipelines."

Much of the concern over the Wolfowitz appointment had also to do with the process by which the head of the Washington-based public lender is selected behind closed doors.

"The confirmation of Paul Wolfowitz is a day of shame for the World Bank and the governments that control it," Bosshard said. "It is disgraceful that governments have chosen to fill this important post via backdoor horse-trading, rather than through an open selection process."

The United States government and other major World Bank shareholders have been sharply critical of the lack of transparency and accountability in many developing countries, something many observers say shows the hypocrisy in international organizations.

"In this context, this secretive leadership selection process is breathtakingly hypocritical," said Atila Roque, executive director of ActionAid International USA.

Prominent economists say that the Wolfowitz appointment could usher in a new era of confrontations between the Bank and its long-time critics in the anti-corporate globalization movement and other civil society groups.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, has called Bush's choice of Wolfowitz, "an act of provocation" that could "bring street protests and violence across the developing world."

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Albion Monitor March 31, 2005 (

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