Thursday, May 31, 2007

Another neocon at The World Bank

By Michael J.W. Stickings

President Bush has tapped Robert Zoellick, Goldman Sachs executive and former deputy secretary of state, to head The World Bank. And because Bush says so, it's a go. It is the president of the United States who nominates the World Bank president -- and the position is always given to an American -- but any nomination is merely a formality. The banks's executive board will appoint Zoellick just as it appoints (i.e., rubber stamps) every other nominee.

There is no good reason for this to be the case. Why should the president of the United States be the one effectively to fill the position with his (or her) own nominee? Why should the position always go to an American? Why, more specifically, should the position always go to a partisan of the president?

Well, of course, because The World Bank is an instrument of American global hegemony. It always has been. That was the original intent, for all intents and purposes, and nothing has changed. If other countries approved of this, it was only because they approved of American global hegemony at least to some degree. This should change. China, Brazil, South Africa, India, and Russia, along with others, are right to call for a new and open process to select World Bank presidents. But the U.S. will refuse. Why would it agree to have its hegemonic position weakened? (It's already doing a stellar job weakening itself.)

For, though, it's Zoellick, and people seem to be happy with his nomination. He's no Wolfowitz, after all -- though, of course, pretty much anyone would have been an improvement over the outgoing president. And is there good reason for them to be happy? Perhaps. He seems to know where Africa is, which is good, and he has already presented himself as an internationalist. An American internationalist, but still. Even the European seem to like him.

BUT: Let's not give him a free pass just yet. He's a Wall Street insider whose emphasis may turn out to be on maximizing Wall Street profits. And there's more. He may be presenting himself as an internationalist, and he may be receiving a warm welcome because he's not Wolfowitz, but, like Wolfowitz, he's a committed neoconservative. (See here.)

He was, for example, one of the signatories to a now-infamous 1998 letter from the Project for the New American Century to President Clinton calling for "the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power". The other signatories amounted to a who's-who of the neocon movement and Bush foreign policy team, including Bill Kristol, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Richard Perle, and, yes, Paul Wolfowitz. Indeed, though he may very well be more of an internationalist than some of his nationalist neocon brethren, he has long been an enthusiastic supporter of the neocon movement and of Bush's foreign policy, including the Iraq War and the war on terror. His own writings show that he sounded a lot like Bush well before Bush himself ever did.

What this means is that whatever his commitment to international development, which may be genuine, and whatever his commitment to Wall Street, which may be profound, it is likely that Zoellick will use his position as World Bank president to advance what he perceives to be American national self-interest. Like other neocons, he is something of a neo-Wilsonian idealist, but, also like them, he is first and foremost an American nationalist who believes in American exceptionalism and the prospect of -- and (PNAC) project for -- American global hegemony. The neocons like to think of such hegemony as benevolent, but much of the rest of the world, and many Americans themselves, know that this is a sham.

Which is not to say that Zoellick's World Bank presidency will be overtly malevolent. It's just that in many important ways Zoellick is just like his soon-to-be predecessor. And that should be of serious concern not just to critics of neoconservatism, and there are many of us, but to everyone who desires a global community, and development within that community, that is not ultimately subservient to American nationalism.

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