President Bush has nominated Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to be the next president of the World Bank. Mr. Wolfowitz is considered a key architect of the US policy in Iraq, and his nomination has brought swift reaction from both supporters and critics.
President Bush has described Mr. Wolfowitz as compassionate and committed to development. His long resume includes dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and ambassador to Indonesia. He also has a doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago.
His nomination to lead the World Bank has sparked debate over what message the Bush Administration is trying to send to the world. Especially since the nomination follows that of John Bolton as US Ambassador to the United Nations. If approved, he would succeed James Wolfensohn, a Clinton appointee, who has led the bank since 1995.
One of those praising Mr. Wolfowitz is Sarath Rajapatirana a former World Bank official and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
"Oh, I’m very positive, I think it’s a great appointment. Because he is somebody who is very clear minded and who can carry on policies in the bank to support countries that are both developing and moving toward democracy. That’s a great idea," he says.
Soren Ambrose is a senior policy analyst with the group 50 Years is Enough. It’s a coalition of 200 NGOs lobbying for reforms in international financial institutions. He says he reacted very differently when he heard about the nomination.
(LAUGHS) "That was it, laughter. Actually the initial reaction came two weeks ago when the rumors started flowing, and before the day was out we had pretty much dismissed the rumors as a joke. The reason we dismissed them as a joke because we know that Paul Wolfowitz is well known around the world and much disliked around the world," he says.
While Mr. Ambrose sees the nomination as a controversial one, Mr. Rajapatirana says Mr. Wolfowitz has solid credentials for the job.
He says, "He has a very good track record, background. He was ambassador to Indonesia. He speaks the language. He has interest in developing countries. He has been dean at one of the best schools for economic development in the Washington, DC, area. So, I think he has all the credentials. And he’s somebody who knows how to set a goal and move towards it."
Mr. Rajapatirana also does not see the Wolfowitz nomination as an attempt by the United States to impose its will on others.
"You know, I worked for the World Bank for twenty-five years. I don’t know of any incident where I could have said the World Bank imposed its will on a country. The countries are always free to borrow, number one. Number two is that there’s a board there that discusses issues, board of directors appointed by the countries. So, it’s a joint decision. So, you know, I don’t agree with that at all," he says.
Soren Ambrose of 50 Years is Enough disagrees.
"Wolfowitz has proven himself to be the leading advocate within the Bush Administration of a policy that really seeks to impose US interests on other countries around the world. And we think this is something the World Bank already does and doesn’t need to do better. Instead it needs to open up and listen to voices from developing countries more," he says.
He says the World Bank under Paul Wolfowitz would have a more pro US policy.
"I think that we’ll see them being more inclined to support countries that are in line with US strategic interests and more inclined to ‘ice out’ countries, which are not. I think we’ll also see some of the other agenda items that the Bush administration has been pushing on the international development scene rise to great prominence there. Some of which we actually like, such as the idea that the World Bank giving grants rather than loans," he says.
But Mr. Ambrose says those grants could be based on certain performance standards that poor countries would have a hard time meeting.
Yet, Sarath Rajapatirana of the American Enterprise Institute says the World Bank should take a new approach.
"What is lacking basically is a very clear idea of its objective function or mandate. In the last ten years, there has been sort of a drift of the bank toward various different goals. Poverty reduction is a goal, you know. But there are so many things that must happen in order for that to be achieved like ensuring property rights, having open and free markets," he says.
While many believe that the Mr. Wolfowitz’s confirmation as World Bank president is assured, Soren Ambrose thinks there’s a chance to block the nomination.
"There actually is. I think it’s slim, but there is and that’s because the US managed to block the western Europeans’ nomination of the IMF (director), which is their traditional post to fill back in 2000. So, now that that precedent has been set – you know there are really only two powers at the World Bank, the US first among them by a long stretch, but Europe has enough votes when it unites to overcome the US," he says.
He says critics may denounce Mr. Wolfowitz for his role in the Iraq war to try to force the Bush Administration to make another choice. But former World Bank official Sarath Rajapatirana says the administration probably consulted European nations before announcing the nomination.