[Paleopsych] NYT: For McNamara and Wolfowitz, a War and Then the World Bank
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Business > World Business > For McNamara and Wolfowitz, a War and Then the
March 22, 2005
By ELIZABETH BECKER
WASHINGTON, March 21 - As defense secretary in the 1960's, Robert S.
McNamara never showed any emotion in public about the war in Vietnam
that he directed for seven years. But after he took over as the
president of the World Bank in 1968, Mr. McNamara openly wept when he
gave his annual reports about the dispossessed.
"I cried because I felt so involved in what we were doing," he said in
Now, a generation later, Mr. McNamara has a rare appreciation for the
predicament facing President Bush's nominee to head the World Bank,
Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense who is best known
as an architect of the war in Iraq.
Both men made their national reputations directing divisive wars. Both
were rewarded with nominations to head the World Bank and both are
adamant that their qualifications rest on their interest in
development and the world's poor; in Mr. Wolfowitz's case, it includes
his work in the 1980's as the American ambassador to Indonesia.
But when the European members of the World Bank hold a private meeting
on Tuesday to discuss Mr. Wolfowitz's qualifications, the Iraq war and
Mr. Wolfowitz's advocacy of using American influence to spread
democracy around the world will be at the top of the agenda. Since it
appears that their governments are willing to approve of Mr.
Wolfowitz, much of the discussion is expected to turn on how Mr.
Wolfowitz's record will translate into development policy, especially
on the question of whether he will seek to make democracy-building
paramount over basic aid issues like education, health and economics,
according to diplomats involved in the decisions.
"There is a sense of discomfort over Iraq, but the fact that he is a
heavyweight political figure with good intellectual qualities makes us
think that it could be worse," said one of the officials who insisted
on not being identified because of the sensitivity of the nomination.
European business journals that watch development issues, like The
Financial Times and The Economist have been critical of Mr.
Wolfowitz's appointment. In an editorial, "Wolf at the Door," The
Economist compared him to Mr. McNamara, who had ambitious ideas about
eliminating poverty but, the magazine argued, ended up weakening the
"His appointment tells the world that Mr. Bush wants to capture the
World Bank and make it an arm of American foreign policy," the
Of special concern at the bank, an organization within the United
Nations system, is how Mr. Wolfowitz handled Iraq after the Saddam
Hussein regime fell. These include his public rejection of the
recommendation by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff,
to send more troops to stabilize the country, the subsequent breakdown
in security needed to rebuild the country and the mistaken premise
that the country could be rebuilt largely from Iraqi oil revenue.
"I support Paul Wolfowitz but with the big caveat that he shares
responsibility for the failures of postwar Iraq," said Sebastian
Mallaby, author of a contemporary history of the World Bank, "The
World's Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises and the
Wealth and Poverty of Nations" (Council on Foreign Relations/Penguin
Press, 2004). "That is a piece of his record that he has got to live
John Cavanagh, director of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies,
said that Mr. Wolfowitz's record in Iraq suggested that he had a
difficult time admitting mistakes and should not be given a second
chance at the World Bank.
"He ignored or belittled anyone who disagreed with him before the war
in Iraq," Mr. Cavanagh said, "and when it turned out there were no
weapons of mass destruction, shut out the Europeans from most
Mr. Wolfowitz frames his move as continuing to work for peace "on a
different line of action."
He points to his work as the American ambassador to Indonesia in
Ronald Reagan's administration. According to two career diplomats who
carried out his policies in Indonesia, Mr. Wolfowitz did break new
ground promoting human rights in East Timor, giving financial aidto
local labor unions and Islamic groups and documenting official
David Merrill, a retired foreign service officer who directed the
United States aid program under Mr. Wolfowitz, said that his former
boss had supported economic development for its own sake as well as
being a necessary means for building a middle class, the civil society
and a democracy. To that end, he approved aid for environmental
activists, labor rights groups and private Islamic groups, which was a
rarity 20 years ago.
"He listened to our ideas and we listened to his and it was the
perfect relationship," Mr. Merrill said.
Fighting corruption was one of his big causes, Mr. Merrill said.
At one point, Mr. Wolfowitz told him to end a food aid program because
the wife of President Suharto was profiting hugely from the program
through her partial ownership of the flour mill where the American
wheat was milled.
Timothy Carney, the political counselor at the embassy under Mr.
Wolfowitz, said he had to make a long, extensively documented report
on corruption. "We weighed in against corruption and its bad effects,
essentially arguing back to Washington that the Suharto administration
had exceeded the norms," Mr. Carney said. Mr. Wolfowitz also
encouraged him to publicize human rights abuses in East Timor and in
Indonesia as a whole.
Mr. Wolfowitz resists the idea that his work at the Pentagon played a
role in his nomination to head the World Bank.
Likewise, Mr. McNamara rejects the notion that he asked to run the
World Bank to atone for the destruction in the Vietnam War.
"No, it was not redemption for Vietnam," he said. "Frankly, I don't
think Vietnam had anything to do with me going to the bank."
Mr. McNamara said he thought that Mr. Wolfowitz's war experience would
be of little help at the World Bank.
"I know there is a theory out there that giving economic aid to failed
states will help combat terrorism, but there are so many of those,
you're not going to be able to deal with them all," Mr. McNamara said.
It is really a question of political will, not of terrorism or
democracy, Mr. McNamara said, and whether the richest countries in the
world will give the resources needed to help poor countries improve.
"In the Defense Department I learned that identifying the problem is
always more difficult than finding an answer," he said.
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