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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March 2005, 13:42 GMT
Wolfowitz to spread neo-con gospel
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

By nominating Paul Wolfowitz to be head of the World Bank, President George Bush appears to be sending a message to the world that he intends to spread into development policy the same neo-conservative philosophy that has led his foreign policy.

Paul Wolfowitz
His role is likely to be one of spreading the word that the ideas that have driven neo-conservatism are just as relevant in the World Bank as in diplomacy
The nomination of Mr Wolfowitz, currently deputy defence secretary, follows hard on the appointment as UN ambassador of another Bush loyalist, John Bolton, who once remarked that "it wouldn't make a bit of difference" if the UN building in New York "lost ten [of 38] storeys".

It is as if Mr Bush is sending his fighting captains into battle as Nelson once did. They know what to do and can be left to get on with it.

Mr Wolfowitz was one of the brains behind the Iraq war. He called for the removal of Saddam Hussein immediately after the attacks of 11 September 2001, but was overruled in a meeting at Camp David the following weekend.

However, his view did prevail in due course.

He has also been one of the leading thinkers in the administration calling for the spread of democracy in the Middle East and he did not shrink from the need, as he saw it, of waging war if necessary. He saw Iraq as a test bed for this.

From hawk to dove

There is an interesting precedent, though, for someone like him being sent to the World Bank and an example that, to some, shows that hawks can become doves.

After the Vietnam War, US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara was sent to the World Bank by President Lyndon Johnson. He served there from 1968 to 1981.

Mr McNamara, a former businessman, had fought that war with such single-mindedness that he was compared to an IBM machine. But he has emerged as a repentant and wrote about his regret in his memoirs, In Retrospect, published in 1995.

It is unlikely at the moment that Mr Wolfowitz will go through the same metamorphosis about the Iraq war.

Indeed, his role is likely to be one of spreading the word that the ideas that have driven neo-conservatism are just as relevant in the World Bank as in diplomacy.

These ideas, as expressed by proponents, are about free markets and elections and reducing the role of government in societies, though opponents say they are also about spreading American power and influence.

Tackling corruption

The bank is the main lender and a major source of technical and other assistance to developing countries for a whole range of projects, including the fight against HIV/Aids.

But Mr Wolfowitz will have to reconcile the neo-conservative belief that good economic policy does far more to drag people out of poverty than development aid, however generous, with the philosophy of the World Bank.

The World Bank believes that aid can make a big difference. There is potential for a clash in the words of the World Bank "mission statement".

Paul Wolfowitz in Aceh, Indonesia
With the neo-cons being dispersed on their missions away from the heart of Washington, the field is clearer for Condoleezza Rice
This says: "The World Bank helps governments in developing countries reduce poverty by providing them with money and technical assistance they need for a wide range of projects - such as building schools, roads or water wells - and reform of government services."

It is the phrase "reform of government services" that Mr Wolfowitz might focus on.

He might see this as a way into economic reform in a particular country and certainly as a way into tackling corruption in recipient countries, an issue that has also preoccupied outgoing World Bank President James Wolfensohn.

Mr Wolfowitz himself has given a glimpse of why he is interested in the job, and this does soften his image as the Pentagon's hardliner.

He has told the Washington Post that a tour he made of tsunami-hit areas (including Indonesia, where he was once US ambassador) had been a "big deal" for him.

This was reflected in the statement he issued when his nomination was made public:

"Nothing is more gratifying than being able to help people in need, as I experienced once again when I witnessed the tsunami relief operations in Indonesia and Sri Lanka."

But his departure will also leave a hole at the Pentagon, especially as another like-minded neo-conservative theorist Douglas Feith is also leaving.

It may be that one of the results of all these moves will be to strengthen the hand of the new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has the president's ear in a way that her predecessor Colin Powell did not.

With the neo-cons being dispersed on their missions away from the heart of Washington, the field is clearer for her.

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