The Neocons

PAUL WOLFOWITZ as the executive director of the World Bank was just the icing on the cake. The Bush Administration has put any sense of appeasing nervous allies well behind it. Europeans (particularly the ever-compliant Tony Blair) stand in shocked dismay as George Bush does exactly what he said he would do when re-elected: ‘I’ve earned political capital and I intend to spend it.’

The craven representatives on the World Bank’s board of directors duly raise their hands in affirmation without even a murmur of dissent. After all, this is a US prerogative – the superpower’s right to name the man charged to run the institution that is supposed to be the global catalyst in pulling billions back from the brink of starvation. It’s part of the deal – Britain is touting Baroness Amos as the next head of the United Nations Development Programme and the French have ticketed Pascal Lamy as the future main man at the World Trade Organization – so why rock the boat? The architect of the US invasion of Iraq can be expected to use economic warfare to shape the poor economies according to US tastes – privatization, free trade (for the poor, if not the rich), user fees, cutbacks in essential services, tax-friendly regimes for big transnational corporations. But isn’t this what the World Bank is all about anyway? Maybe the reconstruction fiasco in Iraq (complete with corporate giveaways to Halliburton, et al) is Wolfowitz’s model for development worldwide. Well, at least we won’t have to hear all that cant about gender and sustainability from the Bank any more.

And it’s not just Wolfie. There is the virulently anti-multilateral John Bolton as Bush’s point man in the United Nations. Agribusiness’s friend Ann Veneman is going to sort out the world’s children as the head of UNICEF. John Negroponte, a ruthless servant of imperial power, from Central America’s Contra wars to the UN (again) and ‘nation-building’ in Baghdad, is now head of the US global intelligence network – maybe on the grounds that it takes a thug to catch a thug.

Perhaps the biggest slap in the face for the rest of the world is the nomination of John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN. Here is a man who in 1994 charged that: ‘There is no such thing as the United Nations.’ He continued by proclaiming that: ‘ If the UN Secretariat building in New York lost 10 storeys, it wouldn’t make a difference.’ To this end Bolton has been a strong supporter of the US refusing to pay its UN dues. Bolton holds similar views on all multilateral initiatives, be they treaties or initiatives like the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He believes that: ‘It is a big mistake for us to grant validity to international law even if it may seem in our short-term interests to do so – because over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States.’

If you unpack this, what it really comes down to is something like ‘Running an empire is a messy business and you might have to step on a few toes, so let’s not get hemmed in by a bunch of treaties that restrict our use of landmines, torture, armed intervention in someone else’s country, the further development of nuclear weaponry or anything else. We are the biggest kid on the block and we’ve got to have the right and the means to push people around when we see fit. Otherwise you might get people thinking they can bring charges against Donald Rumsfeld or Henry Kissinger for war crimes.’

Bolton, like Wolfowitz, emerged from the lavishly funded thinktanks that pass as civil society inside the Washington Beltway. The names have an appropriately martial and triumphalist ring to them – the Project for a New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation – and all have played a key role in championing the bevy of international causes dear to the hearts of the neocons: Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank; Taiwanese independence; tough measures against the ever-expanding ‘axis of evil’; opposition to any kind of meaningful arms control or efforts to combat global warming; ‘right to life’ policies shoved down the throats of the world’s women.

Ann Veneman may not have the ‘intellectual’ pedigree of Wolfowitz and Bolton, but she goes to UNICEF with a clear sense of which side her bread is buttered on. Veneman’s pro-agribusiness bias in her role as Secretary of Agriculture meant that she ‘drew the boos of farmers on her rare visits to rural America’. With a refreshing understatement, Ravi Narayan, co-ordinator of the People’s Health Movement, points out that: ‘Ms Veneman’s training and experience as a corporate lawyer for agribusiness do not qualify her for the substantial task of leading the agency most responsible for the rights of children worldwide.’ UNICEF can look forward to a steady hand at the till(er) that makes sure that the world’s children ‘stand on their own two feet’ and that a good deal of corporate largesse is thrown around to aid in this ‘ worthy’ goal.

New Internationalist issue 379 magazine cover This article is from the June 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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