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It's been great, but we're putting this blog on hold. I've enjoyed blogging about the World Bank president contest, and we've made much more of an impact than I'd expected, despite the appalling result. But now the process has concluded, we're stopping.
I think we helped raise awareness about the medieval and opaque process of selecting the Bank president, and about the self-interested timidity of other countries to challenge the U.S. on this.
Neither David – based in rural England - nor I – based in urban Belgium - went anywhere near Washington between January and mid-April. So it was surprising and exciting to be treated as experts on the totally Washington-centred Bank president succession. We got calls and e-mails from journalists, from senior European officials, from Bank staff, and from activists all based in the U.S. capital. Thanks to all of you who wrote in with tips, comments, and encouragement.
Perhaps most amazing was when at the end of January Wolfensohn announced to a phalanx of Bank staff that he had taken a print-out of this website to his meeting with US Treasury Secretary Snow and that if Bank staffers wanted to know what was going on with the selection of his successor they should check out this site.
Having helped raise debate about the process and, I believe, helped prevent the Europeans from folding immediately after the Wolfowitz nomination in March, we’ve decided to call it a day. The political moment is passed and the outcome is known. And while there is certainly lots of work to do to monitor what Wolfowitz does in office, that burden will be shared among the different IFI-watching groups, reporters, executive directors etc etc.
My organisation will play its part – with its European constituency – in galvanising European governments to be more active and principled on the board than they were during the presidency contest. And – with our colleagues worldwide represented in the IFIwatchnet initiative we’ll continue to use the power of the web to showcase non-mainstream opinions on what the IFIs are doing. It's quite possible that an ongoing IFI-watching blog may get going and if it does we'll announce it here.
We'll keep the site up - as a record of the 2005 Bank president selection process and who said what about it. Students of development finance and global governance may find it useful. And if Wolfowitz does something especially egregious at the Bank we may revive this blog to follow the commentary and reaction.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 08:38 AM
Topsy turvy logic.
"If it is right for non-Americans to influence the choice of whom Bush appoints to be World Bank president or as his country's ambassador to the UN, then it was right for Bush to send the US army into Iraq." This is the intriguing, but absurd, argument of Charles Onyango-Obbo writing in the East African.
Onyango-Obbo may have a point with the Bush nomination of Bolton to represent the U.S. at the United Nations. But he seems not to have realised that Wolfowitz is not becoming U.S. Executive Director at the Bank, but the president of the whole thing. As it is the World Bank people have every right to express themselves.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 08:57 AM
"Sophisticated colonialism". A punchy piece in The Nation from Naomi Klein argues that post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as post-tsunami rebuilding is all about drastically reshaping countries' policies and practices.
In Iraq, Klein argues, "Wolfowitz was just doing what the World Bank is already doing in virtually every war-torn and disaster-struck country in the world--albeit with fewer bureaucratic niceties and more ideological bravado".
Activist Shalmali Guttal gets a snappy quote in the piece: "we used to have vulgar colonialism. Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'"
It remains to be seen how sophisticated the Wolfowitz bank will be.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 08:49 AM
Wolfowitz oil danger. A detailed article on Salon considers the likelihood that Wolfowitz will use his new position as World Bank head to get hold of more oil for the United States. The piece, by Daphne Eviatar, reminds readers that Wolfowitz "would be in a position to pressure the world's largest public financial institution to help pay for the exploration, drilling and transport of America's most coveted natural resource".
Eviatar is not convinced by Wolfowitz's fine words about pursuing "a noble mission and a matter of enlightened self-interest," at the Bank. She points out that Wolfowitz has forged a U.S. foreign policy "dedicated to American hegemony, energy security and the opening of foreign markets to U.S. business - goals that are often in conflict with the bank's mission".
Indeed, as the article points out, poorer countries have often benefited very little indeed when their oil has been exploited and shipped off to consumers in the U.S. or Europe.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 12:36 PM
Wolfowitz-inspired placards. The rally against the World Bank and IMF in Washington DC last Saturday did not have a massive turnout, but there were some creative slogans in reaction to the Wolfowitz appointment.
They included "a wolf at the door". "Wolfowitz is a war criminal". And "Mr Wolfowitz: tear down this bank".
Also: "we're not crying wolf, we're decrying Wolfowitz". Could this be the first time 'decrying' has been used on a placard?
There were some people dressed like wherewolves, with fangs, in black suits, with black umbrellas, etc.
Some photos have been posted by the Global Justice Ecology Project.
Press coverage included an article in the Washington Times.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 04:56 PM
Right-wing paternalism. A strong article in the Weekly Akhram reviews African criticism of Wolfowitz. Gamal Nkrumah, author of the article, comments: "it is no secret that the developing countries of the South feel threatened and utterly frustrated by the nomination of Wolfowitz as the new World Bank head
The piece quotes Yao Graham of Third World Network Africa: "grants will be given to countries that serve America's interests. Wolfowitz has an old-fashioned notion of poverty alleviation which smacks of right-wing paternalism. The Middle Powers (countries like China, India and Brazil) don't care much about the World Bank. They are not so dependent on the bank. It is the weakest and poorest countries that stand to lose the most by the agenda set by Wolfowitz".
Posted by Alex Wilks at 04:17 PM
Wolfensohn reveals plans. Outgoing Bank president has been appointed special coordinator to assist the Palestinians during the Israeli pull-out from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. This is important work, and you have to admire Wolfensohn's energy for difficult challenges. And it is certainly good that the Bush administration did not put forward Wolfowitz for that job.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 11:45 PM
Wolfowitz power memo. Mohamed El Beih has dug out a fascinating early Wolfowitz memo which made me shudder. The memo extracts, which appear in Stern Opportunity (free subs) reveals a mind filled with naked power politics.
Mr W's 1992 memo Defense Planning Guidance, written while he was a strategist working for Dick Cheney, said "Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival".
It goes on ... "the U.S must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests. In non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order."
The paper floated the option of preemptive military action made no mention of collective or multilateral action, calling only for occasional fleeting American exploitation of ad-hoc coalitions.
El Beih's conclusion? "I would join international voices in arguing that such officials are not just unfit for international posts, they belong to The Hague".
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:20 AM
Protests likely larger because of Wolfowitz.
Expectations are growing about protests against the Bank and Fund on Friday and Saturday. Reuters explains: "President George W. Bush's recent choice of Pentagon No. 2 Wolfowitz to lead the World Bank is proving a lightning rod for resistance groups, who view him as the chief architect of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and fear he will pursue Bush's agenda with a similar zeal in his new job.
The piece quotes Njoki Njoroge Njehu, director of the 50 Years is Enough Network saying "Paul Wolfowitz is a global symbol of U.S. imperialism. His appointment makes clear the link between globalization and militarism".
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:27 PM
Why didn't we think of it? Irish bookmakers are making a fortune getting people to bet on who will be the new pope. Would it have worked for the World Bank process? Maybe. But perhaps cardinals are less likely to do insider betting than White House staffers.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:21 PM
Wolfensohn complains he had no political support from U.S. ...
... and then warns Mr. Wolfowitz against politicization of the World Bank. In an interview blitz, Wolfensohn manages three potential provocations --
1) He casts some doubt on his feelings about Wolfowitz by using a string of carefully constructed and detached sentences, e.g. saying Wolfowitz "says he does understand that he's not working for the U.S. government anymore" (see Bloomberg);
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 08:34 AM
Neocons "packed off". More on the silver-lining interpretation. Michael Gawenda, writing in The Age (Australia). It says "with Paul Wolfowitz packed off to the World Bank, with Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defence for policy, about to retire, with Richard Perle no longer chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board and with John Bolton, one way or another out of the State Department, it would seem that the neo-conservatives have had their 15 minutes of fame."
The article thinks wonders whether John Bolton, the US nominee for UN ambassador, might get voted down by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Alas no such procedures domestic ratification exist for the Administration's World Bank president nomination.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:07 PM
Weapons of mass salvation? Prabhat Jha - a former former senior health specialist at the World Bank - urges Wolfowitz to focus on four "radically sensible steps". Jha starts sceptically: "no doubt, Paul Wolfowitz, the new president of the World Bank, understands the use of weapons of mass destruction. But does he understand the use of weapons of mass salvation?"
Writing in the Toronto Star he says:
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:44 AM
Rewarding allies, pocket change.
"More reconstruction money for Afghanistan and Iraq? Sure! New loans for Pakistan? Yes sir!" Christian Science Monitor reviews the controversy over Wolfowitz. It concludes, however, that the Bank is becoming increasingly irrelevant, still useful for rewarding allies, but being dwarfed by other financial flows.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:36 AM
Smelling hypocrisy. Tony Sisule, writing in The Nation (Narobi) is not convinced by Mr Wolfowitz's "politically correct" statements about wanting to do something about African poverty. Sisule says "It is obvious that the cause of poverty in Africa is poor access to international markets and the heavy debt burden. Good governance will only work if it is matched by a fair deal in international trade and the cancellation of debts".
He continues "the wealthy nations are flagrantly hypocritical in handling the debt problem. The Bush administration took just a few days to help cancel the $120 billion owed by Iraq because the country is an important source of oil for America. Yet successive US administrations have opposed total debt forgiveness for other poor countries deemed to be of less strategic importance".
The current signals on G7 debt talks are not encouraging. But many activists are gearing up to increase pressure on decision-makers.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 05:05 PM
Indonesian complaint. George Monbiot still seems to be alone among The Guardian's columnists and correspondents in coming out for Wolfowitz. John Vidal, the paper's long-standing environment and social correspondent, carries a complaint from Longgena Ginting, a former director of Friends of the Earth Indonesia and now running the International Financial Institutions campaign at Friends of the Earth International.
Ginting comments that when Wolfowitz was US ambassador to Indonesia "he was very close to [President] Suharto. He ignored gross human rights violations practised by the administration, such as those in East Timor, Aceh and Papua. He coddled corruption and made life as easy as possible for US corporations, including some with terrible social and environmental records."
Vidal comments that Friends of the Earth is "one group that won't be getting a World Bank grant".
I'm pretty sure FoE is fiercely independent of the Bank and does not apply for such grants anyway. But I understand discussions are hot among some other NGOs about whether to continue getting Bank cash in the current circumstances.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 11:31 AM
Bank staff latest: Riza and Association.
The Bank's Staff Association seems awed and cowed by the new presidential appointment. An open letter sent to Wolfowitz by the Association is diplomatic, positive and vague. So much so in fact that Bank staff who were supposedly "consulted" by their Association may want to think about a leadership contest for that august body.
Riza is applying for an advisor level position in the Bank's Middle East/North Africa (MENA). A Bank staffer wrote to the Village Voice: "they pretend to advertise this job internally, but no one will apply for it. They'd risk pissing her off, and nobody here's under any illusion that she won't get it".
For the record here is the text of the Staff Assocation's 4th April weak letter.
"Dear Mr Wolfowitz,
On behalf of staff, we welcome you to the Bank Group.
We appreciate your positive statements about the Bank Group during the nomination and confirmation process, particularly regarding its mission and the quality of its staff. Your stated willingness to come in with an open mind and no pre-determined agenda are equally appreciated.
Critical to moving forward in the way you have suggested will be our joint ability and willingness to discuss openly and frankly the perspectives of the World Bank Group's very diverse work force on several key issues.
We look forward to working with you to advance the development agenda and the Bank's mission.
With best regards,
PS Sorry Gerry Rice, the leaking seems to be continuing. But you can see why people would not want to rely on the Bank's Staff Association and appointed spin doctors alone, can't you?
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:52 AM
Burkinabes not impressed. A strong article carried on a Burkina Faso portal condemns the Wolfowitz appointment to the World Bank in no uncertain terms. It says (French) Washington is clearly giving itself all the means possible to "encircle and suffocate the rest of the world in order to bring it to adopt the U.S. worldview".
The article complains bitterly about the "dividing the cake" mentality which prevented European leaders from standing up to the U.S. on this. In return for accepting Wolfowitz at the Bank the UK was promised the UNDP top job, France the WTO one and Italy UNHCR.
Where does that leave international institutions? In the words of Le Faso: "Refuges of careerist technocrats awaiting a gilded retirement from their governments - mortuaries where the coffins of the poor countries are prepared".
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:26 AM
Strong US leadership contested. Two letters in today's Washington Post from former Bank officials respond harshly to Sebastian Mallaby's pugnacious op-ed in that paper last week. Mallaby, you'll recall, said the bank's "affinity with the world's most successful society" was a plus and that Paul Wolfowitz's "strength is that he'll make the bank a tool of U.S. policy."
Johanna Mendelsson Forman, who used to work in the Bank's post-conflict unit poured cold water on the Mallaby thesis as follows: "The World Bank's ability to play a significant role in the nation-building process will be proven only by its ability to link security and development, something World Bankers are apt to shun".
While Fritz Fishcer, a former Executive Director to the Bank, adds: "the dominance of U.S.-trained economists at the World Bank has not been so successful and has even weakened the institution. These U.S.-trained economists consider their profession close to a natural science that allows for predictable and concise developments. This has been proved wrong again and again".
He concludes: "To make the World Bank "a tool of U.S. policy," as Mr. Mallaby suggested, would reverse a painful learning process that has made the bank more multicultural and more effective".
Readers of this site since the beginning will anyway recall that Mallaby has changed his tune in recent weeks. In February he complained bitterly about the Administration's "desperation" in the Bank appointment process and absolutely refused to back any of the U.S. candidates for the Bank job.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:12 AM
Yachters join in. When George Monbiot (see previous post) commented that "everyone this side of Atilla the Hun and the Wall Street Journal agrees that Paul Wolfowitz's appointment as president of the World Bank is a catastrophe" I don't know if was including the latest apparent convert to the anti-Wolfowitz appointment: Yachting and Boating World.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:47 PM
1) "Wolfowitz's appointment highlights the profoundly unfair and undemocratic nature of decision-making at the bank. His presidency will stand as a constant reminder that this institution, which calls on the nations it bullies to exercise "good governance and democratisation" is run like a medieval monarchy".
2) It also demolishes reformism which ignores the fact that the US can veto any attempt to challenge its veto, keep waving their wands in the expectation that a body designed to project US power can be magically transformed into a body that works for the poor.
3) Best of all is the chance that the neocons might just be stupid enough to use the new wolf to blow the bank down. Neocons want to drag down the old, multilateral order and replace it with a new, US one.
Amen to number 1) - exactly the language we have used constantly on this site.
As for number 2), George sets up a false dichotomy. It's not a question of being entirely a creature of the US government or entirely multilateral.
And on number 3) George's argument - like all "it's getting so much worse so it's going to be better" political positioning - relies on a big if. He writes that the neocons "are seeking to replace a hegemonic system that is enduring and effective with one that is untested and (because other nations must fight it) unstable". But given the cowardly reactions of other governments to the Wolfowitz appointment which nations are likely in fact to fight it? And would a collapse of our flawed multilateral system not just allow more untramelled deployment of US power, not less?
Instability to combat inequity might work, but it's a big risk, George.
Posted by Alex Wilks at 07:05 PM
Europeans urged South to oppose Wolfowitz "Observer," the daily Financial Times column of wry observations and intriguing gossip, reports that "European finance ministries," frustrated by their heads of government conceding on the Wolfowitz nomination with so little fuss, approached their counterparts in the Global South to urge they spearhead the opposition. But "the developing country representatives ... refused to do the dirty work on behalf of their European colleagues."
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 11:21 PM
WB cracking down on free thought
The Financial Times' "Observer" column also reports that Gerry Rice, head of communications at the World Bank, has advised staff to stop making loose comments about the new boss. According to Rice, staff should be aware that from now on, "his problem will be ours" and that care should be taken with emails on the subject. "These things leak these days," says Rice.
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 11:12 PM
Military & Economic Imperialism and the Environment The Global Justice Ecology Project shows how Wolfowitz makes the links in this hard-hitting analysis.
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 07:55 PM
World Bank staff fears The Washington Post government gossip column reports on the latest signs of Wolfowitz's unpopularity among Bank staffers, and on their fears that they'll be targeted for the sins of their president. (scroll down to second item in column)
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 07:51 PM
Jim, we hardly knew ye ... Been wondering what becomes of James Wolfensohn after May 31? There have been allusions in a couple press account to his forming a "small think-tank" with 5 or 6 staff. Then there's Sunday's AP story from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (U.S.), in which we learn about "the Global Facilities Fund for Indigenous Peoples, an international loan program. He created it with the help of Rebecca Adamson, president of the First Nations Development Institute .... The goal of the fund is to help native people around the world financially benefit from their land, intellectual property and other assets not yet tapped."
Says Wolfensohn: "I think many of us who've grown up in more of a Western tradition need to stand back in a world in which we're really screwing up and see what the older nations, the indigneous nations, could contribute."
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 09:51 AM
Board says process must be improved In his coverage (sub. possibly required) of the World Bank board meeting in Friday's FT, Andrew Balls -- alone, I think, among those reporting on it -- says that whilst approving Wolfowitz, board members "spoke of the need for a better selection procedure for the future -- including the consideration of an array of candidates, regardless of their passports."
But how seriously should we take such remarks? True, they don't seem to have been designed for public relations purposes, since they have not been widely reported ... but given that they were supposedly uttered by "directors from developing countries, Europe and the U.S. representative," it's hard not to conclude that some serious hypocrisy was going on.
If the directors were serious about what reforming the process they could have returned to the recommendations of a joint WB/IMF board panel created after the contentious selection of Horst Koehler as Managing Director of the IMF in 2000. The panel outlined a concrete process that would address precisely the points the directors are reported here to be concerned with. The recommendations were noted "with appreciation" by the two institutions' boards, but never adopted by either.
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 07:27 PM
UK Doctors vs. Wolfowitz Although its statement urging the rejection of Wolfowitz seems to have come out after the World Bank board accepted him, the British Medical Journal makes a fine case that the man is likely to make the World Bank more dangerous to human health.
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 07:18 PM
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 08:44 PM
Wolfowitz puts Bank & staff at risk Reuters reports that the World Bank is busily assessing what new security measures will be required to protect its facilities and staff now that the architect of the Iraq war is confirmed as its new President. We understand that Wolfowitz requested that the World Bank cover the costs of maintaining his present substantial 24-hour security detail by reimbursing the U.S. Treasury. The board has reportedly not made a decision yet.
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 08:35 PM
Motivations & Silver Linings Robert Hunter Wade of the London School of Economics (LSE) analyzes in The Guardian the motivations governments had to approve Wolfowitz's nomination -- what deals they made. Wade also says that Wolfowitz was chosen for two reasons: to get someone who would support U.S. foreign policy objectives, especially in Iraq, and a sense of panic as the end of Wolfensohn's term neared and they couldn't find a credible candidate. Both quite plausible, but what his sources are for claiming this as knowledge, rather than speculation, is unclear.
Wade also mentions 3 possible "silver linings": 1) he has advocated full debt cancellation for Iraq, so may forward such policies on a wider basis; 2) he can be a "Nixon in China" -- that is, because he has credibility as a neo-con, he can move the Bush Admin to overcome its skepticism of multilateralism; and 3) he will be so patently an instrument of US policy that Southern countries will summon the courage to demand a better selection process (or, I would add, maybe repudiate those debts].
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 08:25 PM
Wolfie pay packet.
Does anyone know how much Mr W will be paid? And does he have to pay any taxes? A reader has enquired...
Posted by David Steven at 09:09 AM
Help us laugh again.
"Incoming Bank president Paul Wolfowitz has asked the IMF to restructure the Bank's failing comedic system to 'help us laugh again' " reports Bank Swirled, the Bank's official in-house magazine (download big fat pdf here).
Posted by David Steven at 09:00 AM
Profiles in Crassness: Wolfowitz Mainstream press outlets have begun printing long profiles of the incoming President of the World Bank. A few interesting tidbits here and there, but nothing too shocking. The Financial Times profile tries to get a bead on the man's political and philosophical evolution, calling him the "modern intellectual high priest of the neo-conservative movement." The Guardian's piece goes over much the same ground, but is introduced with the useful reminder the scene in Michael Moore's "Farenheit 911" in which Wolfowitz spits on his comb before combing his hair.
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 05:43 AM
Wolfowitz's good friends at Halliburton ... Halliburton is the U.S.-baseed multinational corporation that has gained notoriety for 1) being the company Vice President Dick Cheney ran for five years before joining the Bush team; and 2) being the leader in getting U.S. military contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, often without the formality of competitive bidding. Charlie Cray of the Center for Corporate Policy questions how a man who oversaw the awarding of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq can be considered appropriate for a job like President of the World Bank, given the many opportunities he will have to contine rewarding Halliburton (and others). Cray, with Jim Vallette, also has a slightly longer piece on halliburtonwatch.org outlining how the influence shakedowns work.
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 05:18 AM
For clues to Wolfowitz's economic development philosophy ...
... look to Indonesia. One of the leading US-based Indonesia scholars, Prof. Jeffrey Winters, looks at the role Wolfowitz, as Ambassador to that country, played in privatizing and deregulating the Indonesian banking system. Those "reforms" were blamed by many for the financial crisis of the late 1990s.
Winters writes that "Wolfowitz and his ... staff talked up the wonders of liberalization. The deregulated banking system would mobilize capital more efficiently, jobs would be created, and the economy would soar. Left out of the formula was any Indonesian government mechanism or capaicty for supervision and safeguards for the banking and financial sector. Ideologues like Wolfowitz could only see a need for the state to get out of the way. But what Indonesia's depositors really needed was a stronger state role to set rules and boundaries for bankers' behavior."
Sounds uncannily like the World Bank doesn't it?
Winters also reports on the maneuvers Ambassador Wolfowitz ordered in order to shield then-President Reagan from any discussion of Indonesia's human rights record during his visit in 1986.
Posted by Soren Ambrose at 12:18 AM
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