Double Standards

Double Standards

Perhaps it’s the first sign of trial-induced dementia, but lately I’ve been struck by certain paradoxical parallels between the travails of Conrad Black and the travails of Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz is the former deputy secretary of defence credited with having set out the policy priorities that led to the American invasion of Iraq. A couple of years ago, George Bush pegged him as the new president of the World Bank. Lately he’s been in hot water over exerting undue influence to get his girlfriend (who worked for the bank at the time) a raise. But of course the real reason is a fundamental disagreement between the Bank’s international bureaucracy and Wolfowitz over policy. The faceless ones are angry because he seems less interested in development than in developing standards of “governance” to combat corruption. That Wolfowitz engaged in an arguably corrupt practice made him a sitting duck, but such defenders as David Frum suggest that one needs to keep the bigger picture in mind:

“The thought,” writes Frum on his blog, “may have occurred to some discomfited officials: If only we could find some way to hoist this meddlesome president with his own petard, life around here would resume its pleasant ways… Under the circumstances, it was Wolfowitz’s duty to set the most stringent example. But even if he erred, let’s not lose sight of the larger issues—and the grosser scandal.”

The grosser scandal being that the whole operation is rotten with corruption, i.e., massive graft and kickbacks on loans from Ivy League and Oxbridge bureaucrats to tinpot dictators and back again. All this stuff is way, way over my head, but it’s interesting to note that in characterizing Wolfowitz’s ideas, the word “governance” keeps cropping up. This week, the New York Times reports:

“The corruption issue exposed a cleavage at the bank between Mr. Wolfowitz, who initially wanted to make ‘governance’ a priority equal to, or even ahead of, poverty alleviation, and Europeans, who argued that poverty alleviation must trump all other considerations.”

Funny, isn’t it, that when Frum, Steyn and the rest of Conrad’s neo-con defenders use that word referring to the prosecution and their allies it’s usually accompanied by either “zealot” or “fascist.” Whereas when used referring to Wolfowitz, it’s a weapon against “corruption.” How is it that they can hold on the one hand that capitalism as practised in the United States is best served by governance that governs least, while on the other that the developing world is best served by governance that governs most. I’m reminded in all this of a snippet of dialogue from the movie Syriana. I’m not going to bother trying to set it up, but my instincts tell me you’ll catch my drift.