Yes, Hypocrisy Matters


It's no surprise to see that James Kirchick, assistant to New Republic editor in chief Martin Peretz, shares his patron's passion for the cause of keeping Paul Wolfowitz in office at the World Bank. Kirchick says Wolfowitz's critics are making baseless charges: "As Jon Chait noted in his excellent Netroots article, liberals are increasingly adopting the 'no enemies on the left' strategy that the right has used so effectively for decades to police its own ranks . . . Wolfowitz's critics could care less about the fact that there is little to no evidence of wrongdoing. What they care about is that he was a Republican who was an architect of the Iraq War, which has no bearing on the good job he's done at the World Bank."

That's preposterous. Kirchick is talking about a Sebastian Mallaby column. Mallaby wrote for The Economist for over a decade, supported the Iraq War, and is the author of a recent book about the World Bank. He doesn't dislike Wolfowitz as bank president because he can't abide by Republicans or Iraq War supporters. He dislikes Wolfowitz because he thinks he's a bad choice to run the Bank. And Mallaby, unlike Kirchick or Peretz, knows something about the World Bank (Chait is no doubt thrilled to have his work cited favorably in this context by a fellow bold seeker of the Truth like Kirchick).

More surprising is Isaac Chotiner's post below in which he doesn't understand why Wolfowitz's corrupt dealings would undermine World Bank anti-corruption efforts. The reason is that said efforts are taking place in the world of power-politics rather than the world of abstract logic. The Bank is in a position to try to use its financial clout to force developing world governments to alter their policies. How well something like that works will have something to do with whether people in the developing world are inclined to believe that coercion is being deployed out of honest concern for their well-being or else if it's some kind of imperialist scam. Wolfowitz's behavior, and the Bush administration's tolerance of it, makes it highly non-credible that his anti-corruption stance is motivated by sincere concern for good governance. And when people doubt the motives of would-be reformers, that makes it very hard to achieve reforms.

One thing that I think tends to go missing in these debates is that nobody's proposing that Wolfowitz be drawn and quartered, and nobody has an inalienable right to be President of the World Bank. If the Bank would perform better under alternative leadership, as it almost certainly would, then alternative leadership should be brought on board. The lives and well-beings of hundreds of millions of people around the world are impacted by this stuff and even if Wolfowitz gets sacked he'll still be living a very nice life.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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