Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Wolfowitz at the Door of the World Bank

The best laid plans...gang aft awry...

Just because I won't be blogging daily (athough there are events which beg me to do so), it doen't mean I'm giving it up entirely.

The nominaiton of warrior and plotter Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank President has just been endorsed by European ministers. Wolfowitz predicably reacted by intoning a homily straight out of his formerly hidden "bleeding heart liberal" nature (as if...): Helping people lift themselves out of poverty is truly a noble mission. Nothing is more gratifying than helping people in need.

Earlier this morning, Christian Comeliau, Honorary Professor at Geneva's University Institute for Studies in Development, wrote an opinion piece in Le Monde, reminding us that the mission of the World Bank is not "to help the needy". Comeliau suggests that Wolfowitz had been charged with reinforcing US control over this international institution and to keep--borrowing a term from Jacques Chirac--les mauvais élèves in line with Bush's unilateral aims.

Should we be alarmed by the American nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank President? Of course we should. Because based on what we know about this candidate—his ultraconservatism, his role in the planning the crusade of Good against Evil, his influence in the decision to go to war against Iraq—his nomination is yet another provocation delivered by the most conservative elements on the Bush team and belies Bush’s timid overture which we thought we saw at the beginning of his second term in office.

We should also be alarmed because the nomination demonstrates, once again, Europe’s political insignificance. France and Germany have already let it be known that they will raise no public objection against the nomination (unless we are forced to: but you know, we have our own candidate for the WTO…). We seem to be without a pillar to ground any coherent opposition…and that’s nothing to celebrate.

Nonetheless, the murmur of protest which we are beginning to hear, particularly from certain NGOs, is of a paradoxical nature and needs to be examined. The murmur reveals a certain naïveté on the part of the NGOs about the role of the World Bank and diverges from criticism typically leveled at the bank in “progressive” circles. We must ask ourselves with grave concern if such an aggressive candidate is not going to end up transforming or even undermining the prospects for development assistance with which the bank is commonly associated and, to a greater extent, the multilateral organizations providing the funding which supports the global monetary system.

If we listen to statements often repeated by current World Bank President James Wolfensohn—in harmony with long-winded and self-righteous international rhetoric on the subject--the priority of the World Bank is nothing but the sacrosanct mission to combat poverty and should remain so. Wolfowitz himself seems to have lost no time in jumping on the bandwagon, since he has already claimed he is not as cynical as people say he is and that his heart bleeds when he considers the misery that exists in the world.

Without a doubt the time has come to revise our superficial notions concerning the role of international institutions, particularly those organizations created by the Bretton Woods Agreements--the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank--and to place them in the historical context of these institutions, not in order to demonize or to sanctify them, but to bear in mind that they are, and have always been since their inception following World War II, tools of finance (naturally) as well as organizations meant to promote a certain school of thought, to intervene in economies and finally, to establish rules of governance and management which have the aim of safeguarding and expanding the dominant world system which they represent.

It is within this context that we are obliged to interpret the official mandate handed to the World Bank in its original charter, which has remained unchanged. Contrary to what most of us believe, there is no mention of combatting poverty. The agreements mention only the investment of capital for productive purposes, the promotion of private foreign investment and the promotion of the long-range balanced growth of international trade. The monetary system governed by its provisions is not meant to be an American system, even if it closely adheres to US economic philosophy. Its charter provides for a global monetary system run by a board of directors with representation from all countries. A revision to this original mandate has never once been requested in the last sixty years.

From this historical perspective, one might cast an eye of indifference upon the nomination of Mr. Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. From all evidence his nomination is not an indication of a progressive shift. In any case, have no reason to expect a progressive turn of events in the world in which we now live. But we need to make a clarification.

Brilliant and intelligent, Mr. Wolfowitz does not appear to be a complacent individual or a demagogue. If he were to become World Bank President, we might expect to see a combination of cynicism and pragmatism in his behavior and in his decisions. The World Bank will be doubtlessly be seen as less paternalistic and less benevolent under his direction than under its current leadership but it will be more in alignment with geopolitical and geoeconomic realities.

Without denying the positive aspects of the role played by this institution, more than one circle of opinion and political milieu understand that a structure less monopolized by economic power is desirable for a global monetary system. Such a shift would at last permit pluralism among nations in their choices for development and international relations. Against Wolfowitz or without him, the time has come to start thinking about such a change.


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