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Wolfowitz survives his tsunami. Or perhaps he was the tsunami


It was done in a month, from mention as candidate to formal confirmation as president of the World Bank. Early on, I had the feeling of a wave, a tsunami, of commentary pro and con - no one seemed neutral in the slightest - surrounding the nomination and it was not clear at the onset that it would end easily or favorably for Wolfowitz. As one of the daily news aggregators that I follow is News & Broadcast from the World Bank Group, it proved to be an interesting study of watching 'the patient examine itself' as Wolfowitz's candidacy progressed from murmur through reality, affront and reaction, political calculus and negotiation, 'beauty contest' interviews, resolution, and appointment.

First a word about the structure of News & Broadcast. There are some five or six survey articles in descending priority drawn from a wide spectrum of news sources. Following those is a Briefly Noted section that has a few sentences on a variety of subjects. While Wolfowitz's passage can almost be gleaned from the titles and their order in the aggregation, I will offer some observations. Unless otherwise noted, all citations are from World Bank:

March 1 & 2, Briefly Noted: Wolfowitz and Carly Fiorina are mooted as candidates to replace Wolfensohn. Wolfowitz would be "highly controversial" yet he was staying put as OSD.

March 3, Story 4: Europe diplomatically focused on Wolfowitz's lack of development experience, not as an architect of the Iraq war. Trust in, and credibility of, World Bank would falter. At least five other candidates in the scrum.

March 16, press release: World Bank receives formal US nomination of Wolfowitz for Presidency

March 16, Washington Post: Europe is stunned, "much surprise, little enthusiasm and some outright opposition in Europe." Minuscule US-European relations could be undermined. Two interpretations, neither good, "going to take him away from U.S. policy" or the US "has to give sop to the far right." Private environmental and aid organizations largely hostile. Praise from UK only.

March 17, Stories 1 & 2: "a lightning rod of controversy… a bitter fight on the World Bank board… decision to send [Bush's] hawkish deputy defense secretary to the world's leading development institution underlines [Bush's] eagerness to see multilateral organizations advance America's foreign policy… European sources said Wolfowitz's name was circulated informally among board directors several weeks ago and was rejected." "There are going to be a lot of very unhappy people but they may be as upset about the process as about the person… They were supposed to consult us and there was no consultation."

Issues of reform and redirection of the bank. Common concern over US "trying to turn the World Bank into an agency of the "war on terror", adopting a political mission with democratization and political lending criteria to match. Wolfowitz compared to Robert McNamara in which "Pentagon leaders identified with controversial wars taking the same exit route to new careers at a time the wars were unresolved." Wolfowitz vows to wage war on poverty, believing "deeply and passionately in the mission of the World Bank," looks forward to "meeting the European executive directors and the European finance ministers and development ministers."

March 18, Stories 1 & 2: Europe reacts "coolly," ranging from "outright hostile -- "a disaster," one critic said -- to the tepid, with diplomats cautious in their language," yet "Most European Union diplomats however dismissed any idea of a united front to block the nomination." "many bank insiders and observers predict that the odds strongly favor Wolfowitz eventually getting the job, [although the furor] indicated that at the very least a fight will rage for several weeks before the board approves him." A veto would create "vast ill will in the US [and] it would be far too easy for Bush to put forward a much worse candidate than Wolfowitz. It would be politically impossible for the Europeans to cast a veto twice."

Germany wants to "avoid any disagreement [with the US as] Germany is hoping for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council – and for that the country needs the agreement of the United States." France "would not want to antagonize [the US] at a time when it was pushing its own nationals for important jobs at international institutions." European members of the World Bank's board seek to interview Wolfowitz separately for the job of president while the World Bank's Staff Association sought to meet (interview) Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz's romantic relationship with Shaha Riza in the bank's Middle East and North Africa department is noted. Critics call for an overhaul of the "gentleman's agreement" process under which the World Bank chief is generally nominated by Washington and the head of the IMF by Europeans.

March 21, Washington Post: "In a sign of the antipathy toward Wolfowitz at the World Bank's headquarters, staffers last week were e-mailing each other a video clip in which the Pentagon official was skewered on "The Daily Show," the satiric news program, for having miscalculated the problems involved in rebuilding Iraq."

Wolfowitz continues to stress "that he attaches prime importance to the bank's goal of fighting poverty," and has "been scoring points by harking back to his experience in Indonesia… where economic development was the most important issue on the agenda." Charm offensive is necessary to overcome "handicaps" and suspicions over US "intentions in choosing him."

March 21, Story 1: Wolfowitz had first interviews with World Bank members. "Although there is no set process to select the president, experts said this was the first time in recent World Bank history that shareholders had asked to interview a nominee." The European Union invites Wolfowitz "to present his future plans if confirmed" but denies "that the invitation amounted to an "audition."" Euro nonprofit groups continue to pressure governments to reject the nomination. The European Parliament's development committee expressed "great concern" over the nomination.

Wolfowitz makes his views known, vowing that there would be no "regime change" at the Bank, that "he would come to the bank with an open mind and no political program," that the bank's mission "is by nature multilateral" and that "the Bank should make Africa a priority." World Bank staff association is "swamped with complaints from employees over the selection of Wolfowitz." Alarm is widespread.

March 22, Story 1: "German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Germany would not try to block Wolfowitz's candidacy [making] it clear that a European-led challenge to Wolfowitz is not in the offing" and the board will not likely accept an alternative candidate should the developing countries put one forward.

Wolfowitz was the victor that day if not earlier. Wolfowitz is increasingly described as "a very serious and credible candidate."

March 23, Story 1: In what I took as going through the motions, saving face, and soothing anxious constituencies, "European Union finance ministers agreed Tuesday that US nominee for World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz is a "serious candidate," but said they want to hear his views in person, possibly in the next 10 days." "[P]eople familiar with the situation in Brussels said key European Union finance ministers had agreed informally not to oppose his candidacy… US officials in Washington said they now assume Wolfowitz will be approved by the World Bank's 24-member executive board, which is expected to meet March 31. European Union nations are slowly moving toward endorsing [Wolfowitz and that] there were no "very negative attitudes" toward the former US deputy defense chief [and] he is taken as a serious candidate by everyone."

March 24, Press release: Wolfowitz met 23 March with "Executive Directors representing European Union member countries of the World Bank" to hear his views on the bank's "overarching goal" (poverty reduction), its status as a "finance and knowledge institution," the role of multilaterals and bilateral development agencies, corporate governance, et al.

March 24, Story 1: "Wolfowitz virtually sealed his election as World Bank president Wednesday [23 March] after meeting with members of the bank's board, who were impressed and reassured by his answers to their questions." But in a continuation of political theater, "The self-styled G-11 World Bank executive directors from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, who represent 108 bank member countries [state that] We were pleased with the exchange that we had with him." Wolfensohn said [that] he expects US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to be appointed his successor and predicted he would do "a fine job."

March 28, Story 1: Wolfowitz continues to stress that he "will focus on measures to boost economic growth, cut poverty and clamp down on graft around the globe."

March 30, Story 1: The EU gave Wolfowitz "a green light on Wednesday by calling him the "incoming president of the World Bank" on the eve of a board meeting to choose a new head of the development bank."

March 31, Story 1: The EU backed Wolfowitz's nomination as World Bank chief Wednesday as the "US deputy defense secretary promised to work closely with Europe and mount a major fight against global poverty… Wolfowitz refused to give an immediate pledge that he would select a European as his senior deputy, and ruffled feathers by linking aid and development to the Bush agenda of promoting political freedom and good governance. "He told us nothing and gave nothing away.""

April 1, Story 1: World Bank Executive Board "unanimously approved Paul D. Wolfowitz Thursday as the bank's next president, a move that for the first time will put a Bush administration appointee at the helm of the giant anti-poverty institution." "Europe-representing executive directors [issued a hopeful statement designed for European press] that they expect Wolfowitz to focus on poverty eradication, work in partnership, enhance the voice and participation of developing and transition countries, apply the spirit of multilateral principles and address other issues."

Now that the new king was crowned, the old king could be criticized: "[E]ven Europeans hope that Wolfowitz will bring order to the Bank's management. James Wolfensohn, the outgoing president, has been criticized for being little interested in the Bank's core business of lending [preferring the] championing [of] new programs. So the Bank has been ill-focused and plagued by mission creep."

Opinion: I will be pleasantly surprised if his tenure turns out well as my thoughts lie with The Economist, the Financial Times and The Daily Show:

The Economist: It is doubtful that Wolfowitz's zealotry, albeit in that noble cause, is right for the Bank. Its job is alleviating poverty, and the relationship between democracy and the relief of poverty is, let us say, complicated. Think of China. The Bank needs a realist more than a visionary.

The Financial Times: To put the unilateralist architect of the Iraq war in charge of the world's premier multilateral development agency is, many must think, to put a fox in charge of the chicken coop. Wolfowitz's comments on the likely costs of the Iraq war and prospective popularity of the invading forces in Iraq put his judgment in question. But, above all, the world would view a bank directed by Wolfowitz as no more than an instrument of US power and US priorities. Every piece of advice the bank gave and condition it set would be made illegitimate, in the eyes of recipients, by the perception that it served the interests of the world's "sole superpower". The impact on the bank's legitimacy would be hugely damaging.

For someone so closely identified with the Bush administration, and who has consistently made the promotion of democracy the top goal, Wolfowitz's more persistent challenge may be to demonstrate his ability to lead an institution of all the bank's members. He says he will not use the World Bank to further democracy but argues that democracy can be a side product that emerges from economic and social development. Other officials point out that, as a former cold warrior, he has long recognized the advantages of tolerating some regimes, however autocratic… Bank insiders stress the importance of delivering a consistent message across countries…

I hope that the poor will not suffer further.

Briefly Noted… The Financial Times reports that Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy secretary of defense, has emerged as a leading candidate
March 1, 2005

Briefly Noted… The New York Times reports that Carleton S. Fiorina, who lost her job as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard almost three weeks ago, has emerged as a strong candidate
March 2, 2005

Wolfowitz World Bank Shortlisting Raises Questions Over Qualifications
March 3, 2005

Nomination For Presidency Of The World Bank
Press Release
March 16, 2005

Nomination Shocks, Worries Europeans
Some Say Selection of War Proponent Could Undercut Improved U.S. Relations
By Keith B. Richburg and Glenn Frankel
Washington Post
March 17, 2005

Bush Picks Wolfowitz For New World Bank President
March 17, 2005

Views And Opinions: Wolfowitz's Nomination To World Bank Draws Praise, Criticism
March 17, 2005

Europe Cool, Aid Groups Dismayed Over World Bank Role For Wolfowitz
March 18, 2005

Commentaries and Editorials: The challenge ahead for the World Bank
March 18, 2005

Wolfowitz Strives To Quell Criticism
By Paul Blustein
Washington Post
March 21, 2005

Wolfowitz Meets World Bank Shareholders
March 21, 2005

Wolfowitz Closing In On Bank Post
March 22, 2005

Wolfowitz Dating Muslim Woman Causes Stir
Barbara Ferguson, Arab News
Wednesday, 23, March, 2005 (12, Safar, 1426)

Statement By Group Of Executive Directors On The World Bank’s Selection Process
Press Release No.:2005/397/S
March 23, 2005

EU Sees Wolfowitz As 'Serious Candidate' For World Bank Job
March 23, 2005

Statement By World Bank Executive Directors Representing EU Member Countries On Their Meeting With Paul Wolfowitz
Press Release No.:2005/401/S
March 24, 2005

Developing States Meet Wolfowitz On World Bank Job
March 24, 2005

Statement By World Bank Group’s Board Of Executive Directors On Presidential Selection
Press Release No.:2005/403/S
March 25, 2005

Wolfowitz To Meet Europeans In Luxembourg: Sources
March 25, 2005

Wolfowitz says he will focus on cutting poverty if named World Bank president
March 28, 2005

EU Calls Wolfowitz "Incoming World Bank President"
March 30, 2005

EU Ministers Back Wolfowitz Candidacy, Commitment To Make Fight Against Poverty Top Goal As World Bank Chief
March 31, 2005

Board Approves Wolfowitz as World Bank Leader
April 1, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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