One of the maxims that you learn in Politics 101
is that exerting leadership doesn't require the use of coercion and force, and
that in fact the most successful politicians and statesmen are those who can
defend and advance their goals through guidance and persuasion. When heads of
state resort to ordering the police to quell demonstrators opposed to their
decisions or to dispatching the military to press another state that challenges
their policies, they acknowledge that they have failed in utilizing their power
in the most cost-effective way.
Indeed, whether it's in the domestic arena or on the global stage, leaders
have an interest in keeping their tools of coercion ranging from threats
and sanctions to the actual use of force as instruments of last resort
when all else, including negotiations and diplomacy, has failed. That when he
talks as opposed to when he bullies they listen, is the true testimony
to one's influence at home or abroad. Hence, being a global power doesn't mean
that you have to bomb other governments into submission to get your point across;
it suggests that being aware of your status and recognizing your credibility,
when other governments make decisions, they have to take into consideration
the way they affect your interests.
Paul Wolfowitz has a Ph.D. in political science from a prestigious American
academic institution and he fancies himself a great strategic thinker. But the
former deputy to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and currently embattled head
of the World Bank must have skipped the classes when these basic political principles
were being taught.
If anything, during his tenure at the Department of Defense, where he served
as a leading architect of the war in Iraq, and in the short period when he led
one of the world's most important development agencies, Mr. Wolfowitz demonstrated
that from his perspective, guidance and persuasion should be the instruments
of last resort when you try to advance your interests. First, use coercion and
force as you attempt to bully your opponent into submission, and if it's a foreign
government, bomb it into the Stone Age. And if that doesn't work, well, then
you might want to talk and try to use the tools of negotiations and diplomacy
to achieve your goals.
Compare this "shoot first, talk later" modus operandi that Mr. Wolfowitz
and his neoconservative colleagues used as they tried to promote their preemptive
and unilateral strategy in the Middle East and elsewhere, with the policies
that were embraced by Washington during the two terms of former President Bill
The 1990s, as you recall, were the years when America, the world's only remaining
superpower, reigned supreme, its international credibility at an all-time high,
and its sources of soft and hard power, ranging from Silicon Valley and Microsoft
through Hollywood and Wall Street to the World Bank and the Pentagon, making
it possible to project its influence here, there and everywhere.
In a way, by applying US military power in a very selective way through
air power in the former Yugoslavia, for example the Clintonites helped
to maintain it as deterrence against potential threats.
But when President George W. Bush, operating under the influence of Mr. Wolfowitz
and other neoconservative aides, decided to use US military might to its utmost,
the limits operating on that power were suddenly exposed, eroding US credibility
and diminishing its ability to deter foes while encouraging them to go nuclear.
At the end of the day, it proved to be a policy that wasted precious US power.
Mr. Wolfowitz, who as a reward for his failure in the Pentagon, landed up in
the prestigious job of the president of the World Bank, embraced the same kind
of bullying strategy there. He had brought with him Republican operators with
no experience in international development, extracted huge financial packages
for them, for his mistress, and for himself, while at the same time he tried
to force on the bank his "anti-corruption" policy with the same kind
of elegance that he exhibited when he set out to impose "democracy"
on Iraq and the broader Middle East.
The Wolfowitz Touch reflecting unilateralism, arrogance and disdain
for allies and rules of public conduct in the World Bank has had the
same disastrous impact on US global status that resulted from his policies in
It helped highlight a reality that Washington has tried to hide under the rug
for years: Assigning the job of the president of the World Bank to an American
is not an element in a predetermined cosmic plan but part of a diplomatic deal
with the Europeans. And by naming the incompetent Mr. Wolfowitz to that position,
the White House contributed not only to the growing perception that perhaps
the Americans don't deserve to hold that job anymore, but also to the continuing
erosion in US global credibility. It is one more example of how not to use your
power, unless you want to lose it.
Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.