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A Wolf in Development's Clothing?

To his critics, he is the most heinous of ideologues. To his supporters, a much-maligned intellectual. As Paul Wolfowitz edges closer to being installed as the new head of the World Bank, the jury is still out.

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No one truly knows what Wolfowitz will bring to the World Bank

Paul Wolfowitz says he will be his own man as president of the World Bank, committed to the lofty goals of an organisation that is on the frontlines of the war against poverty.

But the US deputy defence secretary has earned notoriety for his more divisive actions in another war, in Iraq.

For critics his role in that, coupled with his championing of the "neoconservative" world view, makes him the worst possible choice for one of the most important jobs in the multinational system.

Emi Woods, an analyst at Washington's Institute for Political Studies, told AFP that putting Wolfowitz in charge of the World Bank was akin to giving Herod the keys to the nursery. "Someone who has totally mishandled the reconstruction process in Iraq, making sure that corporations benefit while a lot of Iraqis don't have electricity or running water, this is not the right person for a position where he will be responsible for the entire world," she said.

Following his surprise nomination on Wednesday by President George W. Bush to take a job that is traditionally in Washington's gift, Wolfowitz has sought to appease his critics by pledging that he will be nobody's stooge.

"If I am chosen to be the president then I would view my job as trying to pull together the strongest possible consensus to get the thing done," he said in an interview with Friday's Financial Times newspaper.

An advocate of transparency?

Wolfowitz described the World Bank's mission to reduce global poverty as "one of the greatest moral challenges of our time", while also stressing the importance of fighting corruption and promoting transparency.

One criticism levelled against the World Bank has been that it is too wedded to high-profile infrastructure projects favoured by governments in the developing world, and not enough to the needs of ordinary people.

James D. Wolfensohn Weltbank

Out-going World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn.

During his decade-long stint, outgoing president James Wolfensohn has done much to address that criticism by reorienting the Bank's focus into backing education and health policies in impoverished nations. With an annual budget of $9 billion ( 6.7 billion euros) and 10,000 staff around the world, the International Monetary Fund's sister institution is in the vanguard of promoting sustainable development.

A chance to further the New American Century?

But for his opponents, Wolfowitz has shown little interest in development and every interest in furthering a neoconservative cause that sees US-style liberal democracy and free markets as the acme of human achievement.

The New York Times highlighted his mistaken premises that led to the Iraq war and said his nomination, like that of the hardline deputy secretary of state John Bolton as UN ambassador earlier this month, was "a slap at the international community".

Recalling his hands-on stint as ambassador to Indonesia and assistant secretary of state for East Asia in the 1980s, the Times said: "We can only hope that Mr. Wolfowitz reverts to his earlier incarnation in his new job."

A man to wield the axe and sweep the broom?

Weltbank

The World Bank in Washington.

For his supporters, Wolfowitz will bring some overdue scrutiny to the Bank. The Wall Street Journal echoed the view of many Republicans in Congress that the bank has a "dysfunctional bureaucracy that requires deep reform".

The European Union's development commissioner, Louis Michel, has invited Wolfowitz to present his future plans if confirmed to succeed Wolfensohn in June.

Analysts say that European nations will begrudgingly accede to Bush's wish to install his man at the World Bank and continue a tradition that sees Europe, in turn, get to choose the boss of the IMF. But German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said "the enthusiasm in old Europe is not exactly overwhelming".

Power for good as well as evil?

Paul Wolfowitz

At any rate, some see a silver lining in having an arch-hawk with Bush's ear put into such an influential role. "If Wolfowitz is sincere then it would be an advantage, he would have the support of the administration and that could be a very good thing," said Carol Graham at the Brookings Institution.

But if he sticks to his neocon instincts and listens to the White House rather than global opinion, "it could be a very damaging thing for the bank", she added.

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