March 21, 2005

Charm Offensive Watch

Paul Wolfowitz is busy ringing up Bono. Meanwhile development grunts in the trenches--far removed from such lofty rock & roll royalty heights--seem to be coming around too:

As a result, some development specialists who were shocked by Wolfowitz's nomination are grudgingly acknowledging that he would bring an intellectual depth to the job that could serve the bank well. And his links to the White House, many speculate, could translate into powerful backing for important antipoverty initiatives.

Don't miss this related piece from Jim Hoagland either:

"He gets right down to business and talks about how to get these things done, not about the philosophy of why we should do them," says one senior official. "As soon as he makes his mind up on the World Bank, for example, the question right away becomes who to call to get support."

Bush was encouraged by the early call he placed to Jacques Chirac. The French president at first showed an undisguised coolness to moving Wolfowitz from the Pentagon's No. 2 slot to No. 1 at the World Bank, a 184-nation institution that is a major provider of aid to developing countries.

"Please remember that this is the World Bank," Chirac said, in an ironic phrase interpreted by one U.S. official as a plea to Bush not to turn the institution into the Arab World Bank or the American Bank for Spreading Democracy in the Middle East. Europeans and others must also have meaningful input, Chirac insisted. But Chirac then told Bush that France would not fight the nomination, a decision that bolsters Wolfowitz's chances of being confirmed by the bank's board of governors, in the view of U.S. and European officials.

"This nomination shows that the president is not indifferent to the World Bank as an institution. There is a desire to fit the bank into an agenda of change that other leaders can work with and influence," said one U.S. official. "If Chirac can see beyond the caricature of Wolfowitz as a warmonger, others will as well."

Wolfowitz's advocacy of invading Iraq as a linchpin for the democratization of the Middle East has made him a lightning rod for controversy, as has the gross mischaracterization of him as a neoconservative. His intellectual abilities and extensive government service make him a solid candidate to continue James Wolfensohn's spirited efforts to rescue the bank from irrelevancy or worse.

Bush's strong personal ties to Karen Hughes will make her a formidable figure that foreign governments will have to pay attention to as she works to change the U.S. image abroad. The same is true for John Bolton as ambassador-designate to the United Nations, an organization pushing for its own far-reaching reforms that need and deserve U.S. engagement. Bolton, European officials tell me, is far easier to work with in private negotiations than his public abrasiveness suggests.

Hmmm. How does this last square with this blogger's assessment: "That's wonderful. Like John Doe, I think his [John Bolton's] shouting voice will alienate more often than it will persuade." I'll take Jim Hoagland's European governmental sources over Praktike's pithy musings, no?

Posted by Gregory at March 21, 2005 04:30 AM | TrackBack (12)

Wolfowitz's advocacy of invading Iraq as a linchpin for the democratization of the Middle East has made him a lightning rod for controversy, as has the gross mischaracterization of him as a neoconservative.

Can someone explain this?

Posted by: confused at March 21, 2005 07:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Joseph Stiglitz was in the papers yesterday, criticizing the Wolfowitz nomination on the grounds that the World Bank under Wolfowitz would be viewed with suspicion and hatred by residents of poor countries.

I can't judge the truth of this. Maybe the man on the street in, say, Sri Lanka already loathes the name of Wolfowitz; or maybe Stiglitz is simply projecting.

I also can't see how it is very relevant. There's a small effect, in that you might be gifting dictatorships a handy external enemy; but I think dictators will fare worse under Wolfowitz in general. Will countries refuse aid money because it has been touched by that Arab-loving Neocon Jew? That would be something to see.

Posted by: sammler at March 21, 2005 08:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You want to start this up again? Hoagland has always been a shill for this crowd. Sorry if I don't take his word as gospel here.

Posted by: praktike at March 21, 2005 02:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In response to the gross mischaracterization of him as a neoconservative:

It would read more accurately if it said gross mischaracterization of neo-conservatives. It has been my experience that an overwhelming majority that use the term "neocon" have absolutely no idea where neo-conservatives are on the poitical spectrum. Wolfowitz is definitely a neo-conservative, and neo-conservatives are conservatives that typically support a liberal-leaning social policy and a strong democratic foreign policy.

Part of the problem other world leaders may be having with Wolfowitz is his ideas about tying aid and loans to human rights, democratic, and economic reforms. Many foreign leaders and NGOs do not want to see the new progressive U.S. policy on foreign aid forced upon the World Bank.

Posted by: Carl F at March 21, 2005 03:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The term "neo-con" is an example of those cliches, like "fascist," that Orwell called "shortcuts from thought."

At one and the same time the term "neo-con as used by nearly everyone signifies warmonger and Wilsonian idealist; likudnik and irresponsible friend of arab democracy; oil industry shill and opponent of oil-centric realpolitik.... The only coherence in all this muddle is the fear and loathing of GW Bush.

Somehow, Cheney, who was the strongest opponent of overthrowing Saddam up till 911, morphed into a "neo-con."

In this bizarre formulation Wolfowitz, who was always the most passionate opponent of ExxonMobil-Conoco-Total-LUKoil's collective hunger to do business with Saddam rather than overthrow him, is viewed as a shill for the oil industry.

And of course "neo-con" includes both Rumsfeld, who loathes nation-building, and Kristol and others who advocate it.

The term itself has become utterly meaningless. Time to retire it along with those other shortcuts from thought such as "the arab street" and "the Iraqi insurgency."

Posted by: thibaud at March 21, 2005 03:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If Paul Wolfowitz is not a neoconservative the term has no meaning. But neither his central failing as Deputy Secretary of Defense (deficient planning for postwar Iraq) nor the trademark of American neoconservatives (occasional confusion over whether Israel is in fact a foreign country) is necessarily relevant to being a successful President of the World Bank.

I share Greg's respect for Jim Hoagland's European sources, and am keeping an open mind on John Bolton. But Hoagland is engaging in a little buttering of Bush's bread with his comments on Karen Hughes, a Bush intimate and campaign adviser whose supposed ability to command attention from other governments unlikely to be helpful in improving America's image among foreign publics, which is her job. The bane of American public diplomacy for years, and going back into the Clinton administration, is the preoccupation of the State Department and White House with pitching every message so that it is appealing to its domestic audience. If foreign audiences end up mystified about what is being said, or even hostile to it, that's just the cost of doing business.

An electioneering hand like Hughes, whose job has been to interpret Bush to a domestic audience and who has no foreign policy experience whatever, is a dubious choice to fix this problem. My fear, in fact, is that she asked for this job because she and Bush agreed that if foreign audiences only understood him better they would like America more.

Posted by: Zathras at March 21, 2005 04:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's funny how many of the more positive responses to the Wolfowitz nomination are along the lines of "he won't be that terrible!" (which I think is more or less right) rather than "what a great choice!"

Posted by: Guy at March 21, 2005 05:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Context is everything, Guy. From this administration, Wolfowitz is a great choice. Actually, compared to most of his recent predecessors, Wolfowitz is a great choice. Just the fact that he wants the job is a big plus. Despite some misgivings, I think as Mel Kiper would say that he has a big upside in this job.

Posted by: Zathras at March 21, 2005 08:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The context is that he's better than Taylor or Fiorina, too. I do think the anti-globos are going to go apeshit, though. Some people may be amused by that, enjoy "heightening the contradictions" and so forth, but in fact it makes it harder for the Bank to do its job.

Posted by: praktike at March 22, 2005 12:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Does it really, though? There are NGOs with gripes about the way the Bank does things, or about some of the things the Bank does, that the Bank can nonetheless work with profitably. There are also NGOs who are just interested in using the Bank as a target, or as a bogeyman for their fundraising, or who are still ticked off at Gorbachev for betraying the revolution and would attack the Bank no matter what it did. It might be a good thing if the Bank did a little separating of wheat from chaff among the NGOs it deals with; I'd be upset if a World Bank president weren't most interested in fighting poverty, and don't see why anti-globolization types shouldn't be held to the same standard.

Posted by: Zathras at March 22, 2005 04:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, there are two cases where the NGOs successfully killed good projects. One was over Tibet (where they made hysterical and false accusations about ethnic cleansing, which was not occuring) and another was a dam and rural electrification project in Uganda where they made out opposition to be far, far greater than it actually was. And they've made it far more onerous for the Bank to get anything done, so it costs more and takes more time to get things going. The Bank HAS tried to separate wheat from chaff, but it's going to be harder with Wolfowitz, because he's going to be seen as the devil incarnate.

Posted by: praktike at March 22, 2005 05:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The World Bank's problems are based on what it does, under McNamara and his successors the metric for success was how much money was loaned out. Pretty much a guaranteed effort to funnel lots of money from poor and middle class taxpayers to rich klepto-crats in poor countries. Exhibit A being the Alcoa plant in Jamaica funded by the World Bank.

One diplomatic blog had an example of a World Bank project that was far smaller in scope, but was still a waste. It involved a reforestation project in Haiti, that also had rebuilding of a stream bed and water works and reservoir below the denuded hillside. The flood control and reservoirs had not been maintained since they were installed in the early part of the twentieth century. New trees were planted, and new stone work installed in the flood control channels and drains. The reservoir was cleaned out, and the stream bed cleaned of junk.

After five years, roving bands of thugs came in and stripped the hillsides bare of trees, and even removed the stonework for sale elsewhere in the streambed, which once again was the dumping ground for all sorts of garbage.

Good government is the prerequisite for World Bank projects success. Relatively clean and honest governments put a stop to the private militias and government thugs that engage in this stripping of everything in the country.

Bono is a good man but he's unable to come to grips with this simple fact. His pet cause debt forgiveness is a good thing, but won't make a thousandth of the impact that good government will.

Oddly, much of the opposition to Wolfowitz seems related to his private life. Divorced, he has been dating a divorced and exiled Algerian Arab feminist. Many in Europe and the Middle East have a problem with this. I think the real reason is that Wolfowitz (he was Ambassador to Indonesia) has seen this above dynamic first hand and threatens business as usual, including the NGO, World Bank beaurocrats, and kleptocrat coalitions that basically graft most of the money.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at March 22, 2005 09:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Huh? Much of the opposition to Wolfowitz is related to his personal life? How do you back that up Jim? Everything I have read has centered around his beliefs regarding working through International NGOs and his track record at the Pentagon. That sounds a bit far fetched to me.

Actually, I have seen many people cite his personal life as a testament to the fact that he is actually more balanced and reasonable than his public persona would suggest. Amongst the critics I have read and heard, his personal life is a net positive.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 22, 2005 10:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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