With the back-to-back nominations of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank and John Bolton as United States ambassador to the United Nations, President Bush has emphatically returned to his peculiar brand of "stick a hot poker in your eye" foreign policy and done so with the same inevitable consequence – making the American people less secure in an increasingly dangerous world.
On the heels of successful fence-mending visits to Europe by the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, some had hopes the White House had decided to turn over a new international leaf. The promotions of Wolfowitz and Bolton, however, send the unmistakable message that any charm offensive is over.
On the one hand, you have to give the president credit for consistency. You can already hear his supporters and the White House spin machine peddling the line that these are strong, decisive figures who can achieve real reform in these institutions. And these appointments will no doubt play well with the president’s conservative supporters.
But the president should have asked not how his choices would play in Peoria but how they play in Pretoria. Because the bottom line is that these nominations are direct affronts to our allies in the industrialized and developing world and counter-productive to the interests and security of the American people.
Despite their differences, the United Nations and the World Bank both have crucial capabilities on a number of important fronts: helping our nation in the long-term battle against extremists whose primary weapon is terror; reducing the amount of U.S. taxpayer dollars spent on national security; bolstering our domestic economy, and increasing our credibility throughout the world.
Both institutions are also vital to countries in the developing world, as they provide a source of expertise and resources for the advancement of their people. And in Secretary General Kofi Annan and World Bank President James Wolfensohn both institutions have had leaders who not only recognized the need for reform but took concrete steps to achieve those changes.
Naming Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank could at best be called a curious choice, and at worst fundamentally damaging. In the eyes of our closest European allies and key nations in the developing world, Wolfowitz is the very personification of American arrogance, imperial ambitions and the decision to go to war in Iraq with a feeble – and now dwindling – "coalition of the willing." Little wonder that Bush’s choice has been met with a combination of disbelief and anger in foreign capitals and among Bank staff.
Wolfowitz is undeniably influential and intelligent but it is doubtful that he can he earn the credibility to carry on Wolfensohn’s necessary reforms and take the Bank through what will be some very rough times. His actions since the beginning of the war in Iraq – including tacit support for no-bid contracts and keeping international auditors in the dark about overcharges by Halliburton – make him a hard sell as the man to best carry on Wolfensohn’s legacy of instilling anti-corruption programs in every phase of the Bank’s work.
Wolfowitz’s career and statements, moreover, demonstrate a limited understanding of, and interest in, post-conflict reconstruction and long-term strategies to rescue weak states. He famously dismissed the prescient estimate by former Army Chief of Staff Eric K. Shinseki that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq and set it on the road to stability and democracy. Or consider his simplistic characterization of people in developing countries caught in the throes of civil war. "These people are not fighting because they’re poor," said Wolfowitz. "They’re poor because they fight all the time."
The president’s decision to name Bolton, the current undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, to represent the United States at the United Nations could be equally damaging. Reaction to Bolton’s nomination has stressed his utter contempt for the United Nations, including his contention that nobody would really get hurt if the U.N. building lost ten floors.
As with Wolfowitz, however, there is a more important reason to reject Bolton. Simply put, he has a dismal record in his current job and does not merit promotion. Charged with handling some of the greatest concerns to our national security, he has stood by as our programs to secure weapons-grade nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere have languished. Bolton’s strange brand of diplomacy has, among other things, been credited with the death of the Convention on Biological Weapons. And his ham-handed approaches to Iran and North Korea have set back our attempts to control their acquisition of nuclear arms technology.
These are two very important appointments – positions in which personal style and commitment matter a great deal – and the president’s choices could set back by years current efforts to strengthen institutions that we helped found 60 years ago and today advance American interests. The governing members of the World Bank, and the Nordic nations in particular, should think twice about yielding to the usual process that gives the United States a monopoly on appointment of the Bank president. Germany should also recall how the United States rejected its first choice to head the International Monetary Fund in 2000 and consider some well-placed retaliation. Similarly, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should first consider their responsibilities to their constituents, and not the president, before they allow Bolton’s nomination to go through.
Ill-considered appointments have in the past contributed to the tarnishing and downfall of many individuals and a few administrations. But there is much more at stake in these two appointments than personal damage. Unfortunately, it is the American public that may ultimately pay for the president’s provocative choices.
Robert O. Boorstin is senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress.