The leadership crisis engulfing the World Bank began with talk of favoritism for a girlfriend and ill feeling about the Iraq war. But as the bank's board this week considers the fate of President Paul D. Wolfowitz, the ethics controversy has swelled into a test of who controls the institution and its future relevance in battling global poverty.After all, the mission of the World Bank is to eradicate world poverty; and since when has the Bush Administration cared about poverty?
The outcome could determine whether governments from Berlin to Buenos Aires would be willing to contribute new funds in support of the bank's mission.
"There's a real danger because of this Wolfowitz stuff that donors are going to find a reason not to give," said Elizabeth Stuart, senior policy adviser for Oxfam International, an anti-poverty group in Washington.
The situation isn't getting any better, either:
Under an arrangement in place since the bank's inception in 1944, the United States has the right to name the World Bank president, and Europe names the leader of the bank's sister institution, the International Monetary Fund. A senior administration official has said that if Wolfowitz is forced out at the bank, Europe could lose its rights to name the leader at the fund.And it's not just the Board of the World Bank, or the Bank's ethics committee:
In much of Europe, Wolfowitz is reviled as a primary architect of the Iraq war and as a symbol of a U.S. administration seen as arrogant and aloof -- sentiments that have deepened as the ethics controversy has emerged. The European parliament has called for Wolfowitz to resign.But this is the Bush Administration; they don't give a wet snap for world opinion, or for "Old Europe," as Rumsfeld so memorably described it, and they won't yield on the issue of a particularly bad, dare we say offensive, appointment to the World Bank. Coincidence? I think not:
"What is at stake here is not merely Wolfowitz's position, but the whole system by which all of these positions are chosen," said Kenneth Rogoff, a former IMF official and fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It's an incredible anachronism, and it's time for it to go. If it persists, it makes the World Bank an embarrassment."One can't help but think making the World Bank an 'embarassment' would suit the Bush Administration right down to the ground. Especially since Wolfowitz has already tried the Bush Administration's favorite line: when caught with your hand in the cookie jar, blame the cookie jar:
"While I am prepared to acknowledge that we all acted in good faith at the time and there was perhaps some confusion and miscommunication among us, it is grossly unfair and wrong to suggest that I intended to mislead anyone, and I urge the committee to reject the allegation that I lack credibility," Wolfowitz wrote. "Rather than attempt to adjudicate between our conflicting interpretations of the events that occurred here, the board should recognize that this situation is the product of ambiguous bank rules and unclear governance mechanisms."Not exactly the response of a leader seeking to heal wounds and mend fences and call for consensus. But very much in keeping with the "leadership style" of George W. Bush. Can any of this be read as anything other than either incompetence, or a deliberate attempt to break the Bank?
It's hard to know what else to call it. And the distinction between the two, is one with hardly any difference at all.
"Your rulers are rebels, associates of thieves;
every one of them loves a bribe
and chases after gifts;
they deny the fatherless their rights,
and the widow's cause is never heard."--Isaiah 1:23 (REB)