World Piece


Globetrotting with your girlfriend, making music with dictators—no wonder Wolfie wants the World Bank job

Wolfowitz friend Shaha Riza, the World Bank’s former “senior gender specialist” and now chief Middle East flack, typically introduces speakers and then says, “I’ll get off right now.”


PAUL WOLFOWITZ‘S NEW job as Earth’s chief banker might scare the shit out of some people, but can you blame him for wanting to work with his girlfriend?

And the job carries other perks. Rock-star world-tour perks.

The current World Bank president, Jim Wolfensohn, controls billions of dollars and travels around the globe to get his butt kissed by dictators—he even makes music with them.

Nero was just a country fiddler (or maybe just clowning around) compared with Wolfensohn. In May 2002, Wolfensohn shared some of his experiences in a D.C. speech, “Faith and Development—The Link Yet Tapped for Global Poverty Reduction.” The occasion was the launch of the World Bank’s Dialogues Across Cultures project.

First, Wolfensohn thanked current Wolfowitz gal pal Shaha Riza, at the time the Senior Gender Specialist for the World Bank’s Middle East North Africa region, for getting everyone to come together. He continued with a fond reminiscence of his time spent with in Kazakhstan, the oil-rich Central Asian dictatorship run by Dick Cheney gallon pal Nursultan Nazarbayev:

I’ve certainly understood, in the 100-plus countries I’ve visited, that if you can engage on a local cultural level, it just opens all the doors. I just got a picture of myself with President Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan at his home in the country, with him playing an instrument much like a guitar, and me playing a cello surrounded by local instrumentalists.

Rock ‘n’ roll! I’ll bet Nazarbayev wields a mean axe. (See below for a photo of him when he’s not playing guitar.)

Nursultan of swing: Kazakh poobah Nazarbayev

It stands to reason that not every music venue in raucous Kazakhstan is safe. The U.S. State Department’s human-rights report on that country hints that you’d better stay unplugged if you’re going to jam in Kazakhstan with any government authorities. The very month Wolfensohn was doing cello shots with Nazarbayev, this was also going on:

In an April interview that appeared in the official press, the Deputy Prosecutor in Pavlodar Oblast (province) cited specific instances where police had resorted to beatings and torture. In one case, two officers shocked a suspect with electric cables to force a confession after they had planted evidence on him. One of the officers was sentenced to five years in prison and the other escaped. A second case cited the use of suffocation as an interrogation technique; the police officer involved was sentenced to three years in prison.

And just after Wolfensohn ended his tour date with Nazarbayev, this occurred:

On May 5, 18-year-old Andrey Cherniy died after allegedly being beaten by a Pavlodar police captain some days before at a local disco where the police captain was on duty.

Were such topics discussed by Wolfensohn and Nazarbayev between riffs? I’m thinking of the dueling banjos on the bridge in Deliverance, but the State Department report wasn’t relentlessly negative about the rich and rowdy “republic.” Here are a couple of positive notes:

Prison conditions remained harsh and sometimes life-threatening, although there were some signs of improvements during the year. . . .

Reported incidents of self-mutilation in prisons to protest conditions declined during the year. Government statistics on self-mutilation generally matched information available to NGOs and human rights monitors. According to the head of the prison system, there were 14 such cases in the first half of the year, compared with 100 in 2001.

In any case, it’s much wiser to make music with Nazarbayev than make him mad. The report notes that the dictator’s government “selectively prosecuted political opponents.”

As for potential groupies for any visiting World Bank troubador? Bring your own chick, if you want, but Kazakhstan is a prime spot for the sex-slave trade, said the State Department, and blowback is kept to a minimum because, at least in 2002, “the Government did not assist trafficked women who returned to the country.”

Like many other musicians, Wolfensohn often travels with an entourage of women (see photo below).

The loan arranger and his sidekicks

It’s not known whether any of them sat in with him and Nazarbayev during their jam session. Wolfensohn also didn’t mention whether he talked with the Kazakh guitarist about the country’s human-rights problems. But he did say that after he jammed with the dictator, things were, like, really cool:

I didn’t need too many more discussions with Nazarbayev after that to establish an understanding that was positive.

I’ll say! You get to jam with the ruler of an incredibly corrupt and drug-ridden country—as if you’re touring with, say, Marilyn Manson but getting to meet people who are more like Charles Manson.

Kazakhstan’s quite a place. The CIA Factbook notes:

Significant illicit cultivation of cannabis for CIS markets, as well as limited cultivation of opium poppy and ephedra (for the drug ephedrine); limited government eradication of illicit crops; transit point for Southwest Asian narcotics bound for Russia and the rest of Europe

Wolfensohn didn’t comment on that chronic problem. He also didn’t mention the Kazakhgate oil scandal, which three years later is still bubbling along in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

A long-delayed bribery and influence-peddling trial of key figure James Giffen is scheduled to finally begin in April. At last report, Giffen will claim that he was acting as an agent of the CIA and other U.S. government agencies and officials when he allegedly took bribes as a middleman between U.S. oil companies and Nazarbayev and allegedly laundered money for the dictator. You may not recall that only a few years ago, Halliburton CEO Cheney was a member of Nazarbayev’s exclusive Oil Advisory Board.

Kazakhgate is just one of several unanswered topics revolving around the Bush regime. But that’s all on the back pages, pushed aside by steroids and Schiavo.

Meanwhile, the fact that the current World Bank president has a “faith-and-development” thing going on must cheer the neocons. Faith-based global banking sounds like a plan for Wolfowitz, too.

Yes, the World Bank job sounds great, but Wolfowitz and Mrs. Riza have got to be extra careful and not build their hopes up too high.