American nightmare

Hassan Nafaa

03/28/05 "Al-Ahram"
- - President Bush took two decisions over the past two weeks that to me sum up his administration's new approach to international organisations and the UN in particular. The first was his appointment of John Bolton, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, as the US's permanent envoy to the UN, freeing John Negroponte to become the new director of national intelligence. The second was his nomination of First Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank after James Wolfensohn. 

In addition to being confirmed hawks in an administration dominated by neoconservatives, Bolton and Wolfowitz share a number of characteristics. Both have nothing but contempt for international organisations. Those that are not firmly under Washington's thumb, in particular, they regard with suspicion as though these organisations are inherently bent on undermining American policy. Both are staunch, unreserved supporters of Israel. Bolton was a member of the advisory board of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and some of Wolfowitz's family members, including his sister, live in Israel. Both are firm believers in uncontested American global supremacy, which they maintain is a prerequisite for universal peace and security. Finally, both contributed to the formulation of "The New American Century", that landmark report issued in 1997 that is the political and ideological handbook of the current administration.

Bush's nomination of Wolfowitz stunned the world, particularly in Europe where it stirred harsh criticism. On the other hand, it is surprising that the Bolton appointment was not greeted with a similar degree of anger, given that of the two he is the most outspoken and thus more clearly reflects Washington's current attitudes towards the UN. Perhaps the muted reaction to Bolton can be attributed to the fact that objection would be both futile and inappropriate; every government has the indisputable sovereign right to appoint whomever it wants as its envoy to the UN. In all events, this situation does not apply to the nomination to an elevated international office whose occupant is presumed to represent the consensus of all of its constituents, which, in the case of the World Bank, consists of 184 states. What makes the Wolfowitz nomination more sensitive is that the US, as the contributor of the largest share of the bank's capital, controls the greatest voting power (16 per cent). Although Europe as a whole controls twice that amount, it has long been the custom to divide the chairmanships of the world's two most powerful financial institutions whereby a European always heads the IMF and an American the World Bank.

Even from the American standpoint, Wolfowitz is far from the most suitable person to head a financial organisation of the size of the World Bank. Quite simply, he has no experience in the realm of economics and financial management. He established his academic credentials in an entirely different field, having obtained his PhD in political science from The University of Chicago and gone on to teach political science and international relations in the prestigious universities of Yale and Johns Hopkins. Wolfowitz, however, acquired his repute not so much as a research scholar as he did as a political ideologue for the neoconservatives. It was this, in conjunction with his political activism on behalf of Israel and his ardent support for toppling the regimes in Iraq and Iran, that secured nominations to key State Department and Defense positions since the beginning of the ascendancy of the American right under Reagan. 

Of course, one might argue that after some 30 years in public office Wolfowitz would have accumulated at least some useful administrative expertise. Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case, as most of the positions he occupied were primarily advisory and required little in the way of administrative and organisational skills. And even then, his advice on policy issues led to disaster. Wolfowitz was one of the most determined propagators of the claim that Saddam Hussein had enough weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to blow up the entire world. He was not just one of the architects of the war against Iraq; he was the most zealous of them and the least heedful of the consequences. It was he who insisted repeatedly that the US would not need more that 10,000 troops to sweep into Iraq and topple Saddam and that the entire war effort including reconstruction would cost no more than $65-95 billion. As we know, it has since been affirmed that there were no WMD in Iraq; today, two years after the invasion, there are 170,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and some 30,000 more in Kuwait and Qatar; and the cost of the war so far has totalled between $250--350 billion. And now this person whose judgement has proven so dismally poor stands to become head of the World Bank.

But clear judgement, administrative expertise or other such details were not Bush's foremost criteria in his nomination. Wolfowitz is one of his administration's ideological mentors and his ideology is that the current century belongs to America and that America must be prepared to use all means, regardless of how unethical, to maintain this. It is to him that the following definition of leadership has been attributed: "Leadership is something other than the ability to give advice or take stands. It means above all else the ability to protect and care for one's friends, to punish and deter one's enemies, and to make everyone who refuses to help rue the day they made that mistake." This, alone, should give us a good clue as to how Wolfowitz plans to run the World Bank. He intends to turn it into a powerful arm of Washington's policy offensive; an American bank that hands out generous loans to America's friends, withholds them from America's enemies, and ensures that anyone who does not march lockstep in line with American interests lives to regret the day they said "No" to the new master of the world. 

As horrifying as this image is, to many Wolfowitz is a gentle lamb when compared to Bolton, who for the next few years we will have the pleasure of seeing presiding over the Security Council. A graduate of law from Yale, Bolton is the slick attorney par excellence; a man so adept at persuading others that right is wrong and wrong is right that one imagines that had not the doors to public office opened to him he would have felt perfectly at home as a mafia don. Bolton built his reputation on his skill helping neoconservative electoral candidates worm their way around the laws prohibiting illicit campaign contributions. He later served as the neoconservative spearhead to purge the Department of Justice of liberals. 

Bolton is not just another one of those prominent figures in Washington who recoil from multiparty international consensual organisations, he is one of the most outspoken in his contempt for international law. In an article appearing in The Wall Street Journal in 1997 he regards international treaties and conventions as law only insofar as they can be used for domestic purposes inside the US. At the international level, they are no more than an expression of political arrangements and as such, in his opinion, the US should not regard the conventions it signed as binding law but rather as political expedients that may or may not be shrugged off as circumstances dictate. Little wonder, therefore, that Bolton has used his influence in the White House to propel the US to variously wriggle out of international commitments under treaties it had signed, to refuse to ratify treaties it had signed or to refrain from participating in the drawing up of treaties the international community needs to regulate relations among its members. John Bolton, we recall, was also one of the most vehement opponents to the US's signing of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, which he ridiculed as the "product of fuzzy- minded romanticism". In other words, not only were the authors of that convention nave, but dangerously misguided.

Anyone who thinks in this manner must harbour a profound disdain for existing systems for regulating international relations and it is only natural for such a person to regard the UN as a silly and useless organisation. Bolton is recorded as saying, "If the UN secretariat lost ten floors of its' building in New York that would not affect it." Not that this deterred him from lauding those multilateral organisations led by the US. He is a great supporter of such ideas as the "coalition of the willing", as long as Washington is at the helm. It is well worth bearing in mind, too, that Bolton founded an NGO called The Federalist Society whose most significant achievement was NGO Watch; a programme established to monitor international NGOs whose activities it brands as anti-American. 

What are we to expect of such a person when he assumes the American seat in the Security Council? Undoubtedly Bush brought him in to slap the hands of anyone who has the audacity to remind America about international law and to drive home the lesson that American law, alone, is the law of civilised nations and the only law that everyone else must respect and obey. But more importantly, his task is to ensure that anyone who falls out of line with American policy will not only incur Washington's wrath but also the wrath of the Security Council, which will become one of Condoleezza Rice's prime instruments of repression until 2008. 

When the likes of Bolton sit in the UN and Wolfowitz presides over the World Bank we know that the "new American century project" has moved well beyond the planning phase. We had better gird ourselves, for the nightmare is just beginning.

Hassan Nafaa is professor of political science at Cairo University. 

Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly

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