Thursday, May 10, 2007

The big bad wolf's big head

Another Guardian Comment is Free post on Wolfie

"People who never called for Kofi Annan to resign amid the $12.8bn oil-for-food scandal are calling for Wolfowitz's head over a $60,000 raise," complains semi-reformed neoconservative David Brooks in an otherwise canny assessment of the World Bank president's problems.

In an oddly reversed way he has a point - many of those who lined up to demand Kofi Annan's resignation have been equally fervently defending Paul Wolfowitz's limpet-like adhesion to his World Bank title.

And of course the answer to Brooks' petulant challenge is that Annan's alleged guilt consisted of not checking out more thoroughly what use his son was making of his name, whereas Wolfowitz is charged with being directly responsible for shovelling his girlfriend oodles of cash.

For someone who set out his stall as opposing corruption in the developing world, it takes some legendary chutzpah to hang on.

It is also worth noting that this side of the event horizon, not one member state of the United Nations, nor one senior official, called for Annan to go, whereas it seems that the few defenders that Wolfowitz has in the World Bank are the officials he directly appointed and governments such as Canada and Japan, worried about the White House reaction.

But we expect no less from the Bush appointee whose CV includes engineering a disastrous war and occupation of Iraq that has been paid for with Chinese loans to the US treasury, but whose conscience bade him, while he was at the Pentagon, to withdraw and destroy 600,000 army berets which were made in China.

This hypocrisy is sadly not unique. The Europeans joined with the Americans last week to thwart the further investigation by Unesco into yet another Bush appointee to go off the straight and narrow road of probity. Following the hasty departure of former Republican congressman Peter Smith, after auditors had found him steering contracts to Navigant, a UN-based consultancy with few apparent qualifications for them, the non-aligned members urged Unesco to "take appropriate disciplinary action," against Smith and to reinstate the whistleblowers he had transferred.

Basically, the Europeans and the Japanese conspired to get Smith off the hook without further investigation, even though Bush had sent him to "reform" the organisation. If Smith had been from a politically incorrect third world country, the Manhattan district attorney would be issuing Interpol warrants and the Wall Street Journal editorialising about the inequities of the unreformable UN system.

Of course, the World Bank is in a funny position compared with two decades ago, when it and the IMF engendered more insurrections than the Third International with their attempts to force neoliberalism on an unwilling world. Wolfowitz's predecessor James Wolfensohn made some fairly convincing attempts to turn the bank around, and in effect stole the UN Development Programme's thunder as the caring, sharing world agency. By all accounts, this turnaround did not convince all his managers, however, which is what makes the bank staff revolt against Wolfowitz so surprising.

Overlooking the little peccadillo of engineering a new Vietnam in the desert, his professed policies at the bank were not that shockingly different, even if, to pay off the White House for his own appointment, he employed American conservatives who imposed their own eccentric anti-birth-control agendas.

And while one can only applaud cutting programmes in Uzbekistan, one can indeed reasonably doubt whether it was Islam Karimov's tyranny, or his quit order to the US bases, that prompted Wolfowitz's unilateral decision.

For all his manifold faults, one can only applaud someone who went to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and told thousands of rabid pro-Israelis that they should think about the plight of the Palestinians. Indeed, having a girlfriend at the World Bank of Muslim origin is a testament to a lack of prejudice in these difficult times.

The pattern here is as much arrogance as bravery, a refusal to listen to advice. A footnote for those on the left is that Wolfowitiz played a catalytic role in convincing Christopher Hitchens to become a neo-neocon and sign up for the Bush crusade. But he never went to so far as to get Hitchens a job at the bank, so there were clearly some limits to his chutzpah. But his refusal to take the hint offered by most of the bank's members and management suggests that those limits are not very constraining.

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