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April 18, 2007

Another Victim of the Anti-Neocon Revolution?

by Leon Hadar

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz was scheduled to spend this week welcoming economic officials from all around the world to the bank's spring meetings in Washington. Instead, he has been engaged in an intense campaign aimed at fending off the growing pressure on him to resign after admitting that he was personally involved in securing a large pay raise and promotion for his girlfriend.

The latest scandal involving one of the leading neoconservative ideologues and an architect of the Iraq war and the Bush administration's "freedom agenda" in the Middle East has to do with more than just a failure on the part of Mr. Wolfowitz to measure up to high professional and ethical standards.

In fact, Mr. Wolfowitz could become the latest victim in what could be described as a counterrevolution led by the American political and media elite, as well as many non-American critics, against the neoconservative efforts to establish the U.S. as a global hegemon that secures its status through unilateral and preemptive action.

Mr. Wolfowitz, who became deputy defense secretary under Donald Rumsfeld when President George W. Bush took power in 2001, helped plan the Iraq invasion and had been one of the cheerleaders for the ouster of Saddam Hussein since the end of the first Gulf War, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In the months leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz, who maintained close ties to Ahmed Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles, assured Congress and the American public that the occupation of Iraq would require a relatively small U.S. military force and that the Iraqis would welcome the "liberation" of their country. He also expected that Iraq's oil revenues would pay for its swift economic reconstruction and that the country would become a model of political and economic freedom for the entire Middle East. The war in Iraq was supposed to serve as a case study for the Bush Doctrine, which Mr. Wolfowitz helped design. It called for replacing America's traditional multilateral diplomacy with a unilateralist approach that disregarded opposition by U.S. allies. It assumed that America would have the necessary military and economic resources to achieve global strategic supremacy. But if anything, the Iraq war and its aftermath have demonstrated the bankruptcy of Mr. Wolfowitz's neoconservative dogma and ignited enormous pressure at home and abroad against the Bush administration's foreign policies. So it was not surprising that Mr. Wolfowitz became a major target of critics of the Iraq war such as film director Michael Moore in his award-winning Fahrenheit 9/11.

Mr. Wolfowitz, however, proved once again his talents as a political survivor, jumping quickly from the sinking political ship of the Bush administration to the World Bank in March 2005, a year before Democratic victories in midterm congressional elections politically devastated the Bush administration and reflected American impatience with the war in Iraq.

By then, he was in the process of promoting his World Bank agenda, which was centered on the need to tackle corruption and improve governance in aid recipients. The strategy itself encountered some opposition among members of the board, with some critics expressing concerns that his favorite aid recipients were countries that supported the Bush administration.

The pressure on Mr. Wolfowitz to resign now reflects the recognition by critics of the administration that Mr. Bush has become a "dead duck" who is finding it more and more difficult to defend his policies and protect his loyalists.

Indeed, the counterrevolution has already forced the resignation of the main architect of the Iraq war, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as well as that of one of the most radical neoconservative figures, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby has been convicted of perjury, while Mr. Cheney's more "realist" foreign policy critics in Washington seem to be gaining the upper hand.

The Bush administration has also been trying to contain the political damage from several other scandals, the latest involving Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Hence those who are trying to force Mr. Wolfowitz out of office are betting that a weakened President Bush will lack the political stamina to protect the man he selected to serve as the head of the World Bank.

The White House is insisting that Mr. Wolfowitz continues to have its "full confidence." Since the U.S. is the largest shareholder in the bank, it doesn't seem likely that the Europeans and other members would pick a fight with Washington over Mr. Wolfowitz – unless they conclude that Mr. Bush isn't interested in investing his remaining, and very small, political capital over the man who encouraged him to make what now looks more and more like one of the most disastrous strategic decisions in U.S. history.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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  • Leon Hadar is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). He is the former United Nations bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post and is currently the Washington correspondent for the Business Times of Singapore. Visit his blog.

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