The President and Wolfowitz
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
As Paul Wolfowitz is to the World Bank, the U.S. is becoming to the world.
We should look at the battle unfolding at the World Bank not as the
story of one man falling to earth, but as a moral tale of the risks the
U.S. faces unless the Bush administration spends more time rebuilding
bridges it has burned all over the world.
Mr. Wolfowitz genuinely aspired to help Africa develop, but he ended up
isolated, friendless and vulnerable; receiving no credit for his genuine
accomplishments; and unable to make progress on the issues he cares
about. And the U.S. is in a similar position today.
best-known role has been as a conservative hawk — and everything he has
done in that role has been a disaster — he has also aspired to fight
poverty and help Africa. And Mr. Bush has genuinely scored some major
accomplishments as a humanitarian.
O.K., pick yourself off the floor: It’s true. In the world of foreign
aid, Mr. Bush has done better than almost anyone realizes — or gives him
credit for. It’s his only significant positive legacy, and it consists
of four elements.
First and most important, Mr. Bush started Pepfar, his Emergency Plan
for AIDS Relief in Africa — the best single thing he has done in his
life. It’s a huge increase over earlier programs and will save more than
9 million lives. Granted, it has been too ideological about promoting
“abstinence only” programs, but at the grass-roots level it is
increasingly pragmatic (don’t tell the White House, but the U.S. still
gives out far more condoms than any other country).
Second, Mr. Bush started a major new foreign aid program, the millennium
challenge account. This involves giving large sums to countries selected
for their good governance and from top to bottom reflects smart new
approaches to foreign aid.
Third, the Bush administration elevated sex trafficking on the
international agenda. Mr. Bush spoke about it to the U.N., and he
appointed a first-rate ambassador for the issue, John Miller, who until
his resignation late last year hectored and sanctioned foreign countries
into curbing this form of modern slavery. (Alas, since Mr. Miller left,
the administration’s anti-trafficking efforts have faltered.)
Fourth, Mr. Bush has begun to focus attention and funds on malaria,
which kills more than 1 million people a year in poor countries and
imposes a huge economic burden on Africa in particular.
So why doesn’t Mr. Bush get any credit for these achievements? Partly, I
think, because he never seems very interested in them himself. And
partly because, like Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Bush’s approach to governing is
to circle the wagons rather than build coalitions; they both antagonize
fence-sitters by coming across as unilateralist, sanctimonious, arrogant
In December, the White House held an event to call attention to malaria.
But Mr. Bush’s staff barred me from attending: They apparently didn’t
want coverage of malaria if it came from a columnist they didn’t like.
I can’t recall an administration as suspicious and partisan as this one,
one so disinclined to outreach, one that so openly adheres to the
ancient Roman maxim of Oderint dum metuant: Let them hate, so long as
So Mr. Bush, unwilling to concede any error, unwilling to reach out,
unwilling to shuffle his cabinet, staggers on. And the U.S. itself has
been tainted by the same haughtiness; long after Mr. Wolfowitz has gone,
and even after Mr. Bush has gone, the next president will have to
detoxify our relations with the rest of the world.
Moreover, even in those areas where Mr. Bush has done well, like foreign
aid, our strained relations with the rest of the world have undermined
our ability to succeed. Indeed, Bill Clinton (who wasn’t nearly as
generous with foreign aid as Mr. Bush when he was in the White House)
has shown in recent years how much can be accomplished when a leader
cooperates with partners on issues like AIDS and development. If Mr.
Clinton were pursuing Mr. Bush’s development agenda, it would be in a
flurry of meetings and visits and multilateralism that would be far more
effective in seeing that agenda put in place.
But instead the international stage is riven in ways that mirror the
World Bank itself. And it looks as if we’re drifting toward the end of a
failed presidency of the United States that parallels Mr. Wolfowitz’s
failed presidency of the World Bank.
You are invited to comment on this column at Mr. Kristof’s blog,
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