- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

Paul Wolfowitz yesterday overcame misgivings about his role in the Iraq war and won unanimous approval to become president of the World Bank after personally assuring board members that he embraces the bank’s anti-poverty mission.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a deputy defense secretary who takes over the bank job from retiring leader James Wolfensohn on June 1, said a strenuous series of meetings with all 24 board members, diplomats and heads of state in the past two weeks produced humbling but satisfying results.

“Helping the poorest of the world to lift themselves out of poverty is a noble mission,” he said. “I believe deeply in that mission. Nothing is more gratifying than being able to help people in need and developing opportunities for all the people of the world to achieve their full potential.”

Although bank officials from European and Third World countries initially were repulsed by Mr. Wolfowitz’s reputation as the architect of the Iraq war, they never openly opposed the nomination and said they came away from the meetings impressed by his credentials and commitment to the bank’s core goals.

Despite the unanimous vote, European and developing country members made it clear that they expect Mr. Wolfowitz to include people from their regions in the bank’s management and adhere to policies started by his predecessor.

Nevertheless, analysts say, Mr. Wolfowitz, 61, may redirect the bank’s $20 billion of lending in subtle ways, refocusing on large infrastructure projects such as dams over social projects such as climate change, and perhaps placing an emphasis on the role of democracy in fostering development.

Mr. Wolfowitz also might seek to reverse loans to Iran pushed through by Mr. Wolfensohn despite a U.S. embargo, while increasing aid to Iraq.

Mr. Wolfowitz made his mark at the Pentagon advocating the democratization of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries through “regime change” and other methods.

He has drawn criticism for his role in starting the war and for various miscalculations associated with it. Those include underestimating the number of U.S. troops needed in Iraq and grossly underestimating the cost of the war.

At the outset of the war in 2003, Mr. Wolfowitz predicted Iraq would largely pay for its own reconstruction with oil revenues of between $50 billion and $100 billion a year.

But oil revenues have fallen far short of that goal because of constant attacks on Iraq’s oil infrastructure by an insurgency largely unanticipated by the United States. Meanwhile, the cost of the war and reconstruction for the U.S. has burgeoned to about $100 billion a year.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, had called for Mr. Wolfowitz’s ouster from the Pentagon. “Maybe this is the president’s way of removing him from the Defense Department,” she said. “Otherwise, I can’t see a match of credentials” for the World Bank job.

Approval of the nomination was never greatly in doubt because the U.S., the bank’s largest shareholder, has an unwritten agreement with the European Union to appoint the bank president while European countries appoint the head of the International Monetary Fund.

A group of 11 board members representing 108 developing countries suggested before yesterday’s vote that the nominating process should be more “global” and “transparent,” but apparently raised no objections at the closed meeting.

Opposition from outside anti-poverty groups also was muted, despite some vocal criticism when the White House announced the Wolfowitz nomination last month.

The “one-horse race” was protested by a small group of activists from 50 Years is Enough, ActionAid International USA and Mobilization for Global Justice outside the bank while the board met.

Shannon Lawrence, a policy analyst with Environmental Defense, said it was a “dangerous precedent” that the bank board approved a huge hydropower project in Laos over objections raised by environmentalists on the day the new president was ushered in.

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