Day By Day

Monday, February 20, 2006

Wolfowitz and the World Bank

Sebastian Mallaby reports on Paul Wolfowitz' tenure at the World Bank:

Nine months into his tenure as president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz has made headlines mainly by provoking a staff backlash. Neoconservative commissars are seizing control! (Actually, Wolfowitz has a grand total of four Republicans in his entourage.) The World Bank's agenda is being hijacked by a Bush man! (Actually, Wolfowitz has resisted the Bush administration's bad policies on debt relief and climate change.) The previous World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, made no secret of his intention to blow up the institution when he arrived in 1995. Wolfowitz's accession has been comparatively mild, but his reputation as the architect of the Iraq war colors the response to him.

Meanwhile, the staff backlash is obscuring something interesting. In the past few months, there have been hints of fresh thinking on corruption. Now the evidence has reached critical mass: The change appears to be genuine.


In sum, Wolfowitz's World Bank presidency, which had seemed to lack an organizing theme, has acquired one. The new boss is going to be tough on corruption, and he's going to push this campaign beyond the confines of the World Bank; on Saturday he persuaded the heads of several regional development banks to join his anti-corruption effort. It's amusing to see the Wolfensohn-Stiglitz left-liberal critique of narrowly economic development policy being championed by this neoconservative icon; and it's encouraging as well. After a decade of stagnant aid budgets in the 1990s, the rich world's development spending is finally expanding. Using the money effectively has become doubly important.

Read it here.

Mallaby, probably for dramatic effect, is being more than a bit disingenuous here.

He expresses surprise that Wolfowitz should be emphasizing corruption, but that theme was part of Wolfowitz' agenda even before he assumed the position at the head of the World Bank, and it was also emphasized by the man who put him there, George Bush. [see my post here]. He makes it seem as though Wolfowitz is betraying conservative principles here, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Neocons have never bought into the old "realist" idea that corruption wasn't important.

And, he also makes it seem that Wolfowitz is finally adopting the benign principles that guided his liberal internationalist predecessor, John Wolfensohn, but that also is at best a partial truth. Wolfensohn talked from time to time about accountability but did little to enforce it. Wolfowitz actually is taking action to diminish corruption, something that his predecessors chose to ignore.

Like so much that appears on the WaPo editorial pages, this is a poorly informed and ideologically imbalanced account, soaked in liberal internationalist sillyness, but it does serve to point up an important aspect of President Bush's commitment to making the world, including the "developing world" a better place than he found it when he took office.

Liberal internationalists talk, neocons actually get something done.

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