A world better off with Wolfowitz at bank helm

But for the twist of fate that determines the direction of many a Washington career, it would not be John Bolton facing scrutiny in the Senate for the post of ambassador to the United Nations, but Paul Wolfowitz.

Mr. Wolfowitz reportedly was offered the post at the beginning of the Bush presidency but elected instead to become deputy secretary of defense. Probably he was more attracted to formulating policy in Washington than articulating it at the UN.

When President Bush reshuffled his top team after reelection, Wolfowitz could probably have gotten the again-vacant ambassadorship to the UN had he wanted it. Instead he became president of the World Bank, gliding relatively easily to confirmation by its board of directors, despite the predictable European dismay at the installation of a key Bush lieutenant.

Whether Wolfowitz would have had an easier time of it than Mr. Bolton before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is debatable. He'd certainly have come under as sharp criticism from the Democrats for his ideological stands. But nobody could have faulted him for the abrasiveness or bullying tactics of which Bolton has been accused.

I'm puzzled by the vilification of Wolfowitz in his Pentagon role as a kind of insensitive neocon with a lust for bloody warfare. As an assistant secretary of State in the Reagan administration, I worked closely with Assistant Secretary Wolfowitz for several years. We traveled together with Secretary of State George Shultz or President Reagan when they visited Asia, which was then Wolfowitz's special area of responsibility. We suffered together in foreign capitals through innumerable cocktail parties, state dinners, and time changes, gently prodding each other to stay awake and thus avoid embarrassing gaucheries of protocol.

Far from exhibiting any boorish tendencies, Wolfowitz was a rather shy, sometimes absent-minded intellectual amid the bureaucratic thickets of the State Department. Once, when we were standing next to each other in an early-morning receiving line in Tokyo, he whispered to me: "Do you happen to have a spare pair of black socks on you?" Bemused, I answered "No, but why?" Wolfowitz gently lifted a black pants leg above black shoes to exhibit a band of white flesh. Packing his bag the night before for early-morning pick-up by Marine guards, he'd neglected to keep out a pair of socks for the day's events.

There was a lighter side to him too. Once, coming home from Asia on a presidential trip, we were quartered in the presidential suite of the backup Air Force One, identical to the plane in which the president was flying. Thumbing through the president's library of videotapes, Wolfowitz determined that we would have a John Travolta film festival, and ran one Travolta movie after another across the Pacific.

What Wolfowitz always displayed was a steely commitment to democracy. When an Asian trip for Mr. Reagan was planned to include a visit to Ferdinand Marcos, then president of the Philippines, a distraught Wolfowitz enlisted my support to protest to Secretary Shultz. It was inconceivable, we argued, that the president should honor a leader who had such a dismal record on democracy. (We did not immediately prevail, but happily circumstances later conspired to get the visit canceled.)

This dedication to the spread of democracy has been Wolfowitz's guiding star through all his government posts, his ambassadorship to Indonesia, and of course his relentless determination in his Pentagon role to see Saddam Hussein removed from office and the people of Iraq gain their liberty.

And I believe it will be his primary motivation at the World Bank. As Carnegie Mellon professor Allan Meltzer wrote, Bush's nomination of Wolfowitz to the post "recognizes that democracy involves more than the ballot box. Institutional reforms that encourage development of markets, the rule of law, protection of human and property rights, and openness to trade - all these sustain democracy by giving people opportunity, hope, and higher living standards."

Wolfowitz has begun his tenure at the World Bank with a lot of listening and a lot of diplomatic schmoozing of key foreign players. They should not be deluded into thinking that this low-key approach has diluted his passion for making the world a better place.

• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, served as assistant secretary of State in the Reagan administration.

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