Sunday, May 20, 2007


This week Paul Wolfowitz was forced to announce his resignation from the World Bank in the midst of an investigation into a corruption scandal. Many people—including myself—indulged a good bit of schadenfreude to see the Bush appointee go down. And while I'm all for enjoying this moment, I'd urge we pull back on popping open the bubbly just yet. In the larger scheme, Paul Wolfowitz's exit from the World Bank should be greeted with as much joy as watching Darth Vader ousted from the Death Star. And I'll tell you why…

Much as Anakin Skywalker was no minor player in the events that caused the downfall of the Galactic Republic, Paul Wolfowitz wasn't just any member of the current White House junta. As Deputy of Secretary of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz was a major powerbroker. He was one of the elite members of the old guard brought in under the first term of George Bush the Younger and a key proponent of the now infamous ideology known as neo-conservatism. Like Anakin Skywalker's turn towards the power hungry Sith, Wolfowitz and numerous other neoconservatives had traveled down a twisted road before going over to the "Dark Side." A motley group made up of self-described "liberal Cold War warriors," disaffected radical leftists turned reactionaries, right-wing advocates of American hegemony and adherents of authoritarian philosophers like Leo Strauss, neoconservatives arose under their own Sith patriarchs like Irvin Kristol and Norman Podhoretz. Wolfowitz worked his way through the Pentagon and even the administration of President Jimmy Carter, to finally hone his emergent ideology under the Reagan Administration and especially under George Bush the Elder.

In 1997, along with such neocon ideologues as Richard Perle, Dick and Lynne Cheney, Jeb Bush, William Kristol and others, Wolfowitz would become a charter member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the preeminent neoconservative think tank. Like the policies of Chancellor Palpatine, PNAC adheres to an ideology that the Republic's military strength should be used to bring order to the world and unchallenged supremacy. Where Palpatine and his apprentice Darth Vader would eventually turn the Republic into an Empire, PNAC speaks of something similar—a Pax Americana of the 21st century, which would "extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces." To this end, in 1992, following the first Oil War of the Gulf, Wolfowitz would co-author a 1992 draft Defense Planning Guidance which, among other fantastic goals, "called for US military dominance over Eurasia;" the refashioning of the US military into a global police force; and the use of "preemptive strikes" against any nation that threatened American supremacy. When it was leaked to the media, the draft guide was so radical it caused global outrage and was immediately disavowed by George Bush the Elder, who ordered it rewritten—by none other than then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney. In 1997 Wolfowitz would sign his name to another infamous letter, this time to then President Bill Clinton urging "regime change" in Iraq as a stepping stone towards global American dominance. In 2000 Wolfowitz would help author and endorse what some have called one of the most "chilling" blueprints for American Empire— Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For A New Century.

Wolfowitz's time to shine however would come in 2001, after the attacks of September 11th. Having found his way back into the halls of power with the administration of Bush the Younger, Wolfowitz and compatriot Richard Perle would become two of the leading advocates in the Administration for an invasion of Iraq—hijacking the catastrophe of 9/11 for a war long planned. Wolfowitz is in fact recognized as a "key architect" of the Iraq War. Along with Perle, the administration, former cohorts at PNAC and others, Wolfowitz was not only a key planner of the war, but used the cowered mainstream press to help sell the American public on false claims of Iraqi WMDs. Wolfowitz would most famously claim that the war would be easy, cost something "under $50 billion" and that oil revenues from "liberated" Iraq would foot the bill. Today the cost of the war, simply in monetary terms, is over $400 billion and rises every second. When the war turned sour however, and visions of the Pax Americana came slamming against global reality, Wolfowitz and his neoconservative allies slowly began jumping ship, retreating to the shadows or turning on each other in a bizarre blame game, rather than answer for their heinous plans that have ruined a country, left hundreds of thousands mutilated, maimed, traumatized or dead, inflamed radical extremists and thrown the global security of the world into chaos. (Architects of the Iraqi War- Where Are They Now?) Wolfowitz however somehow managed to wrangle out a reward for such utter failure; and instead of simply retiring to some think tank or other private position, was given none other than a seat at the helm of the Death Star—the World Bank.

In the Star Wars universe, the Death Star is described as "the code name of an unspeakably powerful and horrific weapon developed by the Empire… an instrument of terror, meant to cow treasonous worlds with the threat of annihilation." Some have argued that the World Bank, is little different. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) was founded in 1946 as a way to finance reconstruction projects in World War II-ravaged countries, primarily Europe, who had poor creditworthiness. Today its purported reason for existence is to help nations, especially the more impoverished, in their development and economic policies. But instead, along with complimentary world bodies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank has spread more terror among the world's impoverished than anything approaching development.

The transnational advocacy group 50 Years is Enough, which monitors the World Bank and IMF, points out how these detrimental policies take hold:

"Structural adjustment—the standard IMF/World Bank policy package which calls for slashing government spending, privatization, and opening up countries to exploitative foreign investment, among other measures—has deepened poverty around the world. In the two regions with the most structural adjustment experience, per capita income has stagnated (Latin America) or plummeted (Africa)."
Like the Death Star, the World Bank and IMF are owned and run by a powerful empire—this one made up of international banks and the elite brokers of the neoliberal global political economy that convene at such events as the G8 Summit or WTO Conference. Though a diversity of nationalities work at the World Bank, its head is always an American, usually chosen by the sitting President. The IMF in turn is always led by a member of a powerful European state. Together, along with the interconnected trade policies that govern the world, the World Bank operates as one of the forces that keeps poor nations poor, helping ruin their economies with disastrous neoliberal reforms, laying their markets open bare for rich nations to loot and maraud and strangles entire regions in stifling debt out of which they can never climb. It is a system that helps to engender a world where a few have and the masses of the global population live in poverty or die due to lack of food, medicines and more.

It was only fitting that Paul Wolfowitz, like Darth Vader, would be placed in charge of the weapon of mass destruction the World Bank has become. That an architect of war attempted to pass himself off as a humanitarian was the first bit of folly—and is part of the creepy perversity that is neconservatism: saving the world by, as Michael Franti crooned, attempting to "bomb it into peace." That Wolfowitz's fall came out of corruption is also a bit of sweet irony, as his vision of the organization upon take-over of its helm caused upheaval among the staff as he attempted to ram in his own specialized reforms to "fight corruption." And yet for all the seeming "oil and water" mix many in the mainstream press have tried to spin the Wolfowitz-World Bank scandal as, their joining was in many ways a proverbial match made in heaven—or that other place.

Journalist John Nichols notes as much in an article for The Nation, quoting from the poet, anti-apartheid activist and African development campaigner, Dennis Brutus:

"Wolfowitz's arrogance, his insistence that any problems were the result of his colleagues' actions, never his own, were a perfect match for the World Bank, which has always refused to take responsibility for its own disastrous policies and projects, laying blame instead with the borrowing country, even though the common denominator in so many botched projects, violations of human rights, and failed policy packages has been the presence of the World Bank. The combination of war and economic crimes for which he was responsible, made Wolfowitz an appropriate symbol for the institution."
Thus with the fall of Wolfowitz from the World Bank let us not engage in too much schadenfreude. Darth Vader may be gone, onto who knows what new mischief, but the Death Star remains "fully operational." Now not everyone at the World Bank, its varied workers and staff, may think of their organization as a weapon of mass destruction. And many may actually believe it can serve some good. Even one of its former taskmasters turned critic—economist Joseph Stiglitz—yet believes so. However, willing to risk the crossing of sci fi and fantasy genres in my analogy, the Bank—like the One Ring—serves the interest of the elite and the powerful who govern the finances of the world, and keep most of the world's population impoverished. It serves only one master and has been unable or unwilling to do much good for those who still put faith in it. So let us not get so caught up in the removal of one figure—no matter how powerful—and lose sight of the real threat to millions that yet exists by the very existence of the institution.

Naomi Klein posits her thoughts on the true meaning of the saga of Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank in her article "Sacrificial Wolfie":

"What we should absolutely not do…is participate in the effort to cleanse the Bank's ruinous history by repeating the absurd narrative that the reputation of an otherwise laudable antipoverty organization has been sullied by one man. The Bank understandably wants to throw Wolfowitz overboard. I say, Let the ship go down with the captain."
Indeed. Don't abandon your X-Wing fighters just yet. We've still got a Death Star to take down.

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