News & Politics

Wolfowitz to Rule the World (Bank)

Wolfowitz's record on Iraq is one of miscalculation and exaggeration. And the poor of the world deserve a World Bank president with better judgment.
First George W. Bush picks U.N.-basher John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations. Then he nominates Karen Hughes, a champion spinner who has little foreign policy experience, to be under secretary of state in charge of enhancing the United States' image abroad. Next, Bush taps Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to run the World Bank.

The Wolfowitz nomination is a win for the Pentagon but a loss for the world. Wolfowitz's achievements as a warmonger may say little about his views on international development, but his record on Iraq is one of miscalculation and exaggeration. And the poor of the world deserve a World Bank president with better judgment.

A leading neocon, Wolfowitz was a chief cheerleader for the war in Iraq – even before 9/11. In the first months of the Bush administration, Wolfowitz advocated toppling Saddam Hussein by sending in U.S. troops to seize Iraq's oil fields and establish a foothold. Then, according to Wolfowitz, the rest of the country would rise up against Hussein. As Bob Woodward reported, then-Secreatry of State Colin Powell called this idea "lunacy."

Right after the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, Wolfowitz again called for attacking Iraq. He argued that Iraq would be a much easier target than Afghanistan. So much for his strategic sense. And before the invasion of Iraq he was a key pitchman for the phony case that Saddam Hussein presented a direct WMD threat to the United States. For example, on Dec. 2, 2002, he said, "[Bush's] determination to use force if necessary is because of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." At a subsequent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Wolfowitz claimed the WMD case for war was "very convincing." (After the invasion, WMD hunters David Kay and Charles Duelfer concluded there had been no WMDs. And a Senate intelligence committee report noted that the pre-war intelligence had been flawed – that is, not all that convincing.)

Shortly after the start of the war, Wolfowitz declared there had been "no oversell" of the WMD threat. No "oversell"? He said there were WMDs; there were no WMDs. Isn't that, by definition, overselling? Wolfowitz did tell Vanity Fair that the WMD argument had been quite convenient: "For bureaucratic reasons. we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." It just happened to be the only reason deployed by Bush and Wolfowitz that made the immediate safety of the country the paramount issue. But with the WMDs clearly missing in action, Wolfowitz tried to pivot. Appearing before Congress, he explained that intelligence is "an art not a science" and that the absence of WMDs did not mean "that anybody misled anybody." Yet before the war he had depicted the intelligence not as art" but as hard-and-fast and "very convincing" material.

When the Bush White House was pushing – or manipulating – the case for war, Wolfowitz sided with the administration hawks who believed Hussein's regime had a significant connection to al Qaeda, despite the absence of credible evidence. He pressed the CIA and FBI to find proof of the unconfirmed report that 9/11 ringleader Mohamad Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague – even after the two intelligence agencies had already investigated the matter and had found nothing to corroborate the allegation.

While selling the war to come, Wolfowitz told Congress the conflict in Iraq and the subsequent reconstruction would be financed by oil sales. That, too, was wrong. And Wolfowitz shares responsibility for the administration's inadequate planning for the post-invasion challenges in Iraq. Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded the Iraq invasion, told Woodward that he had urged Wolfowitz and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to prepare for the aftermath, but the pair did not do so. When Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki suggested that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to get the job done in Iraq, Wolfowitz scoffed at him and said Shinseki was "wildly off the mark." Misreading the task ahead, he also naively remarked, "Like the people of France in the 1940s, [the Iraqis] view us as their hoped-for liberators." Was that not another "oversell"?

Perhaps developments in Iraq and the Middle East will move toward Wolfowitz's grand neocon vision. The elections in Iraq were a positive and encouraging event. But the war is not over, and all the consequences of the war are not yet realized or recognized – even though some direct (and still-mounting) costs are clear: 1,500 dead Americans, tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians (perhaps over 100,000), $200 billion in taxpayer funds, a dramatic drop in the United States' standing abroad, the creation (according to the National Intelligence Council) of a new breeding ground for anti-American terrorists), and the uncontrolled dispersal of equipment that could be used to produce unconventional weapons. This war, as of yet, is no slam-dunk.

So what's Wolfowitz's reward for his various misjudgments and exaggerations? The fellow who is co-culpable for diminishing U.S. credibility overseas and who symbolizes arrogance and hubris in policymaking is handed a plum position. (Outgoing World Bank president James Wolfensohn got to play cello with Yo-Yo Ma.) What signal does it send to the rest of the world, particularly those troubled nations that need effective assistance from the World Bank? It seems the White House doesn't care. After the Bolton appointment, why worry about this one? The G8 nations, the Europeans will roll over. It's good to be king in a unipolar world

In 1967, Robert McNamara, the captain of the Vietnam tragedy, left his post as secretary of defense to become president of the World Bank. So Bush is establishing a bipartisan tradition: you screw up a war, you get to run the World Bank. With this announcement, the impoverished of the world have less reason for hope.

For other takes on Wolfowitz, see the comments of fellow bloggers and Wolfowitz-watchers Tim Shorrock and Steve Clemmons.
David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation and author of "The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception." He writes a blog at davidcorn.com.
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