Paul Wolfowitz is and always will be the honest face of the World Bank. True, he may have been forced to resign his presidency for using his influence to post his girlfriend with Liz Cheney — that's right, the World Bank employee with whom Wolfowitz was intimate was delegated to "work" with the vice president's daughter in the U.S. State Department's office of nepotism and related affairs. But that bit of petty corruption only confirmed the extent to which he was World Bank material. And his eminent departure from one of the creepiest of global institutions will leave it without an appropriate creep-in-chief.
As the poet, anti-apartheid campaigner and long-time champion of African development Dennis Brutus says, "Wolfowitz's arrogance, his insistence that any problems were the result of his colleagues' actions, never his own, were a perfect match for the World Bank, which has always refused to take responsibility for its own disastrous policies and projects, laying blame instead with the borrowing country, even though the common denominator in so many botched projects, violations of human rights, and failed policy packages has been the presence of the World Bank. The combination of war and economic crimes for which he was responsible, made Wolfowitz an appropriate symbol for the institution."
Brutus is so right. Wolfowitz and the World Bank were made for one another.
When he had finished scheming to — in his words — "take proper advantage" of the 9-11 attacks by creating the quagmire that is Iraq, there really was no place for Wolfowitz to go but the World Bank. He had the perfect resume: As blind to the suffering of others as George Bush, as foul-mouthed as Dick Cheney, as manipulative as Karl Rove, as delusional as Donald Rumsfeld, he was perfectly qualified for the move from making war on the poor with bombs to making war on the poor with "structural-adjustment" policies.
"The failures of the World Bank's neo-liberal ideology, such as privatization of basic services, user fees for primary education and health, and the rapid deregulation of trade and investment, have been measured in death, marginalization, and impoverishment," explains Kenyan activist Njoki Njehu, one of many critics of the bank's devastating policies in Africa. "Let's hope people look beyond the sensational scandal to see just how right Wolfowitz really was for the World Bank."
When Wolfowitz went to the bank, there were some who said that this ideologue might actually force the institution he was about to head do some good in the world — if only to promote the sort of stability that might further the neoconservative fantasy that it is possible or even preferable to force a one-size-fits-all version of liberal democracy and free markets on the planet. But the "Paul is really a bleeding heart" argument was a comic misread by those who never knew Wolfowitz or the World Bank Group.
Wolfowitz was right when he suggested that the World Bank was a cesspool of corruption. But he never proposed nor even imagined "reforms" that would have made this messy collection of financial institutions into a anything more than what it is: the global equivalent of a mob enforcer coming in to break the knees of the sovereign nations that do not march to the drum beat of the wealthy nations that own it.
It is true that Wolfowitz was a bad fit with the bureaucracy at the World Bank, but that was a stylistic rather than ideological matter. World Bank employees are schooled in social niceties. They do not comb their hair with spit-drenched combs, as Wolfowitz so memorably did in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," and they don't get caught inflating the bank accounts of their significant others.
So Wolfowitz is out. And the World Bank will soon be headed by a more properly-groomed president. But it will never be headed by a more accurate reflection of itself.
Let's hope that Sameer Dossani, the executive director of the 50 Years Is Enough Network, which has led the campaign to expose the dangerous doings of the bank and its partner in crime, the International Monetary Fund, is right when he says: "Paul Wolfowitz, now exposed as a corrupt liar, has been an invaluable asset in exposing the fundamental illegitimacy and institutional corruption of the World Bank. Though we are not sad to see him go, we would like to take a minute to thank him for bringing to light the rampant corruption, favoritism and double standards that help make these institutions tick."
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation