The Yes Man

Posted January 2, 2007

Categories: Articles

It’s a scandal worthy of the Yes Men. Over the course of three years, this band of merry pranksters impersonated World Bank officials and told bemused audiences that Spain should outlaw the siesta, corporations should adopt “compassionate slavery” for workers in Africa, and fast food restaurants could solve the global hunger problem by serving a new hamburger made out of human waste.

So, did Paul Wolfowitz join the Yes Men? It’s tempting to believe that, when the former U.S. deputy defense secretary became head of the World Bank two years ago, the pranksters gave him advice on how to reveal the underlying hypocrisy of the organization. “Sweep into the organization with big promises about transparency and accountability,” the Yes Men told their newest recruit, “Make grand pronouncements about ‘zero tolerance for corruption’ and then give your World Bank girlfriend a big raise.”

Wolfowitz might have expressed some doubts about the project. “But you did such a marvelous job with Iraq,” his colleagues would have told him. “You talked nonstop about democracy in the Middle East and what did we get instead? And, really, you were a big proponent of democracy back when you were ambassador to Indonesia and still you cozied up to strongman Suharto. So you’re the perfect person to expose the double standards of an organization that preaches poverty alleviation and somehow always manages to fatten the pockets of the wealthy.”

As FPIF contributor Sameer Dossani writes in Wolfowitz Scandal Takes Bank Hypocrisy to New Heights, the hypocrisy of the World Bank is not confined to the decisions of the president. It is a structural problem.

“These institutions, whether they are pushing governance reforms or economic reforms, insist that borrowing countries, and especially those countries that are the most dependent on aid flows, follow rules that no one in the United States or other developed countries follow or would be willing to follow,” Dossani writes. “The Bush administration could do with a serious dose of the World Bank’s anti-corruption medicine, but even those who would support such reforms do not suggest using Bank-style strong-arm tactics to implement them.” You can keep up with new developments in Wolfowitz’s doomed fight to stay at the World Bank’s helm at

Hypocrisy at Exxon, in Somalia

The ExxonMobil website has a carefully worded section on climate change that recommends a “prudent” approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the corporation has played a prominent role behind the scenes raising doubts about the connection between human activity and climate change.

“As the scientific consensus around global warming began to solidify, it began funding a series of studies and spokespeople to insist that mainstream scientific opinion was sharply divided,” writes FPIF contributor Paul Rogat Loeb in Target Global Warming, Target Exxon. “Between 1998 and 2005 the company has invested over $16 million in challenging the overwhelming consensus among climatologists, spreading the resources among at least 43 different institutions to give the appearance of a broad chorus of dissent.”

Meanwhile, in Somalia, the hypocrisy of militarism continues unabated. The United States backed Ethiopia’s invasion of its neighbor back in December. What was supposed to bring peace and stability to the troubled Horn of Africa country has only created havoc and bloodshed. More than 300,000 people have fled the capital of Mogadishu. Nearly a thousand people, most of them civilians, have died in fighting in the last month. A small contingent of African Union peacekeepers from Uganda is holed up at the airport. UN officials are saying that Somalia is heading for its worst crisis ever. So much for peace and stability.

FPIF contributors Michael Shank and Khadija Ali, in Memo to the Somali Government, offer some suggestions on how to turn things around: send Ethiopia packing, embolden the peacekeepers to actually keep the peace, take charges of war crimes seriously, and bring in the UN to mediate a settlement.

Key to any reconciliation, they continue, is a changed U.S. policy. “During Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer’s surprise visit to Baidoa earlier this month, she pledged to provide U.S. security assistance to the Somali government,” Shank and Ali write. “If help looks anything like the U.S. air raids earlier this year in southern Somalia, decline the offer because military strikes will only empower the resistance movement. Suggest that Frazer fund economic development instead.”

McCain at VMI

It’s hard to call Republican presidential candidate John McCain a hypocrite. He has consistently supported the Iraq War. He continues to back the “surge” of U.S. troops proposed by the Bush administration. And he supports bombing Iran, as his recent Beach Boys karaoke bit demonstrates.

Recently McCain went in front of the cadets at Virginia Military Institute to explain his position on war. FPIF’s military analyst Dan Smith parses McCain’s speech section by section. Grasping at straws to rationalize continued U.S. involvement, McCain invoked “just war” doctrine in his speech. But as Smith points out, the insurgents in Iraq could just as easily use the same doctrine to justify their own attacks on occupation forces. And every Abu Ghraib, every “drive-by” shooting of unarmed Iraqis by fast-moving U.S. convoys trying to prevent road-side bombings,” writes Smith, “simply reinforces the Iraqi people’s perception that they have their own duty to oppose the occupation.”

Finally, FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan—in Shi’ite vs. Sunni?—describes the divide-and-conquer strategies employed by the United States to maintain control in the Middle East. The advantages of pitting Shi’ites in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon against the majority Sunni populations throughout the region are myriad: to retain access to oil, to keep Islam divided, to handcuff Iran.

How did those grand U.S. visions of democracy for the Middle East devolve into these grubby realities? Ask that fellow at the World Bank. Problem is, he has other, more personally urgent hypocrisies to explain away.

FPIF, April 23, 2007

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