The Marketplace Report: Wolfowitz at the World Bank

Alex Chadwick talks to John Dimsdale of Marketplace about the new chief of the World Bank. Wednesday is the first day on the job for former U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the controversial Bush administration "neocon" who enthusiastically backed military action in Iraq.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

This is the first day on the job for the new president of the World Bank. He's Paul Wolfowitz, former US deputy secretary of Defense, beginning a five-year term. As head of the bank, he'll oversee lending of some $20 billion a year to fight poverty and disease in developing countries. "Marketplace's" John Dimsdale joins us from Washington.

John, Mr. Wolfowitz is a controversial figure, a leading architect and pusher of the war in Iraq, demonstrably wrong on some important points there. How's his reception from officials in world capitals?

JOHN DIMSDALE ("Marketplace"): Well, there was some initial skepticism, but Wolfowitz has done some international fence mending. He's been getting good marks for listening and doing his homework. Plus, he's obviously on good terms with the Bush administration, and there's hope overseas that that'll serve the bank well. His initial reaction from the streets isn't--hasn't been as good. There was a small protest by critics outside the headquarters of the World Bank this morning here in Washington.

CHADWICK: What does--what is it that he wants to get done at the bank? Has he said?

DIMSDALE: He says he's going to concentrate on Africa. Health conditions there are a real concern with AIDS and malaria. He's getting lots of advice on the ways to alleviate the debt burden for many African nations. He'll have to bridge some differences between the US and Europe over the best way to do that. There's one panel of experts at the Center for Global Development that wants to make sure Wolfowitz's focus on the poorest areas doesn't preclude help for a group of developing nations that are beginning to pull themselves out of poverty. Nancy Birdsall is that group's co-chair.

Mr. NANCY BIRDSALL (Co-chair, Center for Global Development): The working group is concerned very much with the issue of: Is the bank going to stay relevant for countries like China and India? What they do and don't do affects the overall system, not just financially. But if you think of issues like global warming or a non-proliferation treaty, there's a lot of issues where if those countries aren't at the table, the bank is no longer relevant as a global institution.

CHADWICK: John, let me bring this up again. It's Mr. Wolfowitz's role in US policy toward Iraq that's been so controversial. Is he going to be dealing with Iraq in this new job? I mean, after all, one would think Iraq would be a country the World Bank would be interested in.

DIMSDALE: He does. In fact, the World Bank oversees a $400 million international fund for rebuilding infrastructure in Iraq, and most of that money is already committed to projects. But, you know, they're not getting very far. In part, that's because the World Bank staff pulled out of Baghdad following a huge truck bomb that exploded near its headquarters in 2003. It was the same building as the United Nations. So it may be a bit ironic that Wolfowitz is inheriting a security problem for his staff created by the policies he engineered at the Pentagon.

CHADWICK: John Dimsdale of public radio's daily business show "Marketplace," produced by American Public Media.

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