World cools to big bad Wolfowitz

Fiorina out of frame for World Bank chiefdom

There has been a mixed international reaction to the announcement that US president George Bush has nominated Paul Wolfowitz as next head of the World Bank. Bush described the hawkish US deputy defence secretary - an enthusiastic proponent of the war in Iraq - as a "compassionate, decent man". UK foreign secretary Jack Straw concurred, applauding Wolfowitz as "very distinguished and experienced internationally".

This was not a view shared by many. German aid and development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul admitted: "The enthusiasm in old Europe is not exactly overwhelming." French president Jacques Chirac dutifully "took note" of the appointment, while Sweden's foreign minister told the BBC that she was "sceptical about the nomination".

Those not obliged by political courtesy to watch their words were less guarded. The World Development Movement - a UK-based campaigning outfit - condemned the "truly terrifying appointment".

The main concern is that Wolfowitz will use the World Bank as a vehicle for the promotion of evangelical US-style democracy - backed by the big stick. The 184 member, American-led organisation is responsible for "global efforts to promote economic development and reduce poverty". Former World Bank chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, said: "Choosing the right general in the war against poverty will not assure victory, but choosing the wrong one surely increases the chances of failure."

It's not all doom and gloom, though. Allan Meltzer, a critic of the World Bank who chaired a US congressional committee on the organisation in 2000, told the BBC: "We don't need a development person, there are plenty of people at the bank who do that. What the bank needs is focus: how many children are inoculated against measles every year? What have we done to bring water to the villages?"

Washington pundits say that, in any case, Bush would not have announced the appointment were he not confident of general international support. The White House confirmed that he "personally telephoned a string of world leaders to discuss Mr Wolfowitz's candidacy", including Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder.

Whether the current incumbent James Wolfensohn received a friendly heads-up from Mr Bush is not noted. He will leave the post in June after 10 years - despite seeking re-election.

Former HP supremo Carly Fiorina will be equally disappointed. It's clear that she most certainly did not get a call from El Prez asking her to bring her celebrated business skills to bear on the world poverty market - despite fevered speculation that she was in the frame for the post. ®

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