Wolfie's War on Poverty

Summer replacement show at the WB: Out of Africa, sponsored by America's oil industry

Defense Dept. photo

Geography lesson: Wolfowitz's head is clearly bigger than the entire continent of Africa, according to this neoconical projection of the globe

Had to wait a couple of weeks to make sure, but, yeah, a BBC story posted April 1 about Paul Wolfowitz has to have been a prank. The headline? "Wolfowitz Sets Africa Poverty Aim." The first paragraph of the piece was this:

    Paul Wolfowitz, the new head of the World Bank, has said his main goal will be to achieve "real success" in cutting poverty, particularly in Africa.

Har-de-har-har. I mean, we all knew this was a joke—it's real, he really said this, but the joke is on us, that's what I mean. No wonder the Pentagon's massive dictionary defines "POL" as "petroleum, oil, and lubricants."

A lot of staffers at the World Bank don't feel too kindly towards Wolfie—like about 90 percent of them, according to the Financial Times (U.K.). I heard this interesting tidbit the other day from one of my World Bank moles—call this person W.B. Staffer One:

    My colleagues in the Africa department told me that Wolfowitz asked that an extended trip to Africa be arranged for him—and he wants to go there as quickly as possible.

    One of them told me that most of the staff are trying to pass the buck. They are all coming up with conflicts on their schedules, and they're booking their summer vacations as soon as they can. No one wants to go with him.

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Hell, I'll go. One reason I'd like to accompany the future World Bank leader (he takes over in June) is that he's not going to Iraq. Too dangerous. Too much freedom and democracy over there.

I have plenty of baggage of my own, but I'd be willing to carry Wolfie gal pal Shaha Ali Riza's, too. From what some people at the World Bank (or formerly at the bank) tell me, she can't carry her own weight anyway. Someone I'll call W.B. Staffer Two jotted this note to me recently:

    I just wanted to add my two cents. If I were still at the WB, I would be less concerned with my new boss and more worried about Shaha Riza becoming an even more insufferable colleague now that she is schtupping the boss.

I'm going to ask for a separate room.

Anyway, the main reason I want to tag along with Wolfie is that I've already read what he has said about Africa. As the BBC story from April 1 noted:

    The U.S. deputy defense secretary said he wanted his legacy to be "real success in reducing poverty especially in Africa, the continent which most desperately needs it."

Actually, it's the West that needs Africa's raw materials, like oil, so desperately. And Wolfowitz, as always, wants to make sure that there's enough stability for companies to continue extracting wealth from the Third World.

In February 2004, he drove home that point in a speech to African countries' military and defense officials brought to D.C. for a conference. Here's a snatch of Wolfie's speech:

    "When the United States acts in the world, we do not act by ourselves but as part of a community of states, and we see our strength multiplied by the contribution of others and our interests advanced when the interests of others are advanced."

This neighborhood of make-believe has Wolfowitz sounding like a regular Mr. Rogers, doesn't it? The Bush regime is famous for making it up as it goes along. In this case, OK, Wolfowitz was talking to military officials, and he was representing the Defense Department, but does "humanitarian" stuff always have to take a back seat? He explained to his guests why the U.S. is "helping" Africa:

    There are many reasons for doing so, including humanitarian ones, but we also as a country need to view Africa from a perspective of security—both that our relationships with Africa can contribute to security on the continent and that security in Africa can contribute to security in the United States.

One of the funniest parts of his speech was a little riff on corruption, which he said was one of the problems "longstanding in many nations in Africa" and which now, because of "terrorism," has a "new urgency." He added:

    The bribes that terrorist organizations and other international criminal organizations pay for sanctuary undermine local and national law enforcement as well as the effectiveness of local government. Weak governments with officials who are open to corruption are vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists. And no country can long withstand the corrosive effects that hush money from these organizations has on stability or on the prospects for democracy and economic growth.

Oh, brother. Did he mean Equatorial Guinea, whose corrupt rulers were the biggest clients of old Bush family pal Joe Allbritton at friendly hometown Riggs Bank in D.C.? The same Allbritton who took some of that loot and donated it to the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, a private academy closely connected to Wolfie's Pentagon pal Doug Feith? Is that the kind of African corruption Wolfie meant?

Or maybe the oil corruption in Nigeria that Dick Cheney's Halliburton was allegedly involved in?

Wolfowitz was also on slippery ground talking about certain other aspects of recent African history:

    Africa, I would say happily though it has many problems, does not have the problem of large tank armies threatening one country or another across different borders . . ."

Just wait till our oil companies' profits dip. You'll hear the sound of our tanks over there, and I don't mean gas tanks.

By the way, I was just kidding about wanting to tag along with Wolfowitz to Africa. As Al Kamen of the Washington Post recently noted, it's really not safe to be around this guy who's a symbol to the world of our unjustified invasion of Iraq. Kamen, who has a hell of a lot more sources at the World Bank than I do, wrote this in late March, as Wolfie was on the verge of getting the job:

    The biggest concern about the nomination, we're hearing from bank folks, is over security, especially for those working in the bank's 100 offices outside Washington, and most especially in the Middle East and Africa. There was chatter, though unconfirmed, that some employees postponed or canceled trips to those regions.

    Bank employees say that, to be effective, they must be out there with the people they are serving, not in fortified bunkers, but Wolfowitz's appointment makes them much more of a target for terrorists.

    Changes are also expected in the presidential security detail. When he traveled abroad, outgoing president James D. Wolfensohn usually had a couple of bodyguards. Wolfowitz is likely to need more than that.

He'll need protection against more than terrorists. He's going to have to have a security battalion to fend off reporters around the globe eager to pepper him with questions about Iraq.

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