The nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to the World Bank has brought on the widespread gnashing of teeth among America’s liberals, but there’s no real reason for despair. The World Bank has never operated according to its mandate (to reduce poverty in the developing countries through financial assistance), so it’s better to have someone like Wolfowitz at the top-spot where the activities of the bank draw greater public scrutiny. His appointment will serve the same purpose as a warning label on medicine vial; cautioning needy third world states that overuse could be hazardous.
The World Bank has operated below the radar for too long. Rather than reducing poverty, its strategies of readjusting economies to meet the needs of global industrialists have only created greater disparities between rich and poor and a 20- year cycle of economic stagnation. Wolfowitz’s appointment will show the public how political decision-making has contributed to this malaise, and demonstrate how the bank functions as an extension of the US Treasury, working tirelessly on behalf of US financial institutions and big business. For those who think the Bank should be done away with entirely, Wolfowitz provides an identifiable “name brand” that will connect the bank to the egregious policies that keep most of the developing world in perpetual debtor peonage.
Wolfowitz’s Dismal Record on Human Rights
Wolfowitz’s resume is bound to draw brickbats from anti-war Europeans. He brings with him the baggage of two unprovoked wars, 100,000 dead and a constellation of gulags strung out across the globe; not the type of qualifications we normally expect for leadership in the World Bank. So far, his nomination has been greeted with either exasperation or derision, and many believe that his personal history should preclude him from the top position. The ACLU has condemned the nomination citing recently discovered FBI documents that confirm that Wolfowitz “specifically authorized torture techniques” for interrogations at Guantanamo. Such allegations would normally be career ending if not grounds for criminal proceedings. However, in the new Bush paradigm these actions simply indicate a readiness to move up the political food chain.
By any standard, Wolfowitz is unqualified for his new task. He has no experience in finance or administration. As for his skills at managing large reconstruction projects, his history in Iraq speaks for itself. A full year after the initial invasion less than 2% of the $18 billion provided by Congress for reconstruction had been spent, even though electrical power, sewage treatment and clean water were nearly non-existent. In fact, Wolfowitz’s performance would suggest that the administration never had any intention of rebuilding Iraq (“We don’t do nation building”). Whatever money couldn’t be sluiced off to Bush’s constituents (Halliburton, Bechtel etc) simply ended up disappearing in what may be the greatest corruption scandal of all time. (To date, an independent UN commission has acknowledged that over $8.8 billion has gone missing from Iraqi oil receipts.) We should also take notice of Wolfowitz unorthodox manner of awarding contracts. After the fall of Baghdad it was Wolfowitz who said that contracts would not be issued to any country that hadn’t participated in the illegal invasion. Saving money for the American taxpayer was never a serious concern for the Deputy Secretary. Contracts were issued strictly according to a feudal system deigned by Wolfowitz to reward those who were loyal to the administration. (Reconstruction in Afghanistan has been equally abysmal, where only 1 in 5 Afghanis has access to clean water and yet, two-thirds of reconstruction money goes towards Karzai’s security apparatus.)
Despite the spurious claims that Wolfowitz’s experience with Tsunami victims “changed his outlook,” he will continue the same debilitating programs that are the mainstay of World Bank activity. All the talk about poverty reduction is pure nonsense. His task will be to entice corrupt foreign leaders to plunge their countries further into unsustainable debt so the World Bank (and its sister organization, the IMF) can offer “bail-out” loans and apply harsh austerity measures designed to pry open markets, destroy the public sector and deliver valuable natural resources to US corporations. (These usurious policies have frequently been compared to legalized loan-sharking.) The bank has always operated this way. Moreover, this is the process that ensures America’s continued economic hammerlock on developing nations. The policies are devised to perpetuate poverty not reduce it.
In his new role Wolfowitz will oversee construction and development loans to Iraq’s fledgling government. The new Iraqi leadership will be expected to rubberstamp the many enormous loans that pay for the services of American mega-corporations and security services. This way, Iraq will stay in a permanent state “colonial dependency” (Noam Chomsky) even while its vast natural wealth is spirited out of the country.
The Israel Connection
Wolfowitz’s appointment comes at an opportune time for Israel. Now that Arafat is out of the picture, the World Bank is expected “to supervise the implementation of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects in Gaza.” (Jerusalem Post) Newly elected Mahmoud Abbas will be able pay off the corrupt Palestinian Authority with funds from the World Bank to do the job that Arafat always rejected: disarming the militias and cracking down on their own people.
As one senior official said, “Wolfowitz is a no-nonsense administrator who knows what needs to be done in terms of reform and democratization.”
Hardly. When we look at the affect of Wolfowitz’s policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti, it’s difficult to believe that his influence will produce better results in the world’s last sanctuary for apartheid. Realists would expect that Wolfowitz’s involvement will only exacerbate already-existent divisions by expressing an institutional bias in favor of Israel. It is impossible to imagine that Wolfowitz could be evenhanded about an issue for which he has expressed virulent partiality his entire adult life.
Preparing for War
The inserting of Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank is actually part of a global war strategy. The idea is to put Bush loyalists and ideologues wherever they can advance the neocon agenda and undermine international organizations. The Pentagon’s new “National Defense Strategy” released this week makes this perfectly clear.
The document states that America’s strength will continue to be challenged by “a strategy of the weak.”
Asked to explain the paper Douglas Feith (no. 3 at the Pentagon) said, “There are various actors around the world that are looking to either attack or constrain the US, and they are going to find creative ways of doing that, that are not the obvious conventional military attacks. We need to think broadly about diplomatic lines of attack, legal lines of attack, technological lines of attack, all kinds of asymmetrical warfare that various actors can use to try to constrain our behavior.”
Feith is not talking about the nebulous threat of terrorism. He’s talking about the nations of the world that are looking for ways to deter future American aggression (“diplomatic, legal, and technological”). This is an administration that sees the entire world as a potential enemy. The amount of paranoia in this statement epitomizes the bunker mentality that pervades the current White House. Enemies are everywhere, trying to constrain the US with “international forums, judicial processes and terrorism.”
The administration holds itself above the law, and those who would make it conform to the law (Guantanamo, Iraq etc) are the de facto enemies of the state. The Wolfowitz appointment is a part of the “asymmetrical warfare” to which Feith alludes. The administration plans to extend its grip by filling every available position of authority with Bush loyalists, undermining the efforts of the international community to resolve crises through multilateral means. It’s all a straightforward attack on the current world order and, tragically, a prelude to even bigger and more catastrophic confrontations.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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