We are having a chat with the World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz in a room overlooking the Potomac river in Watergate, Washington. When he selected Watergate for our brunch meeting, I can’t resist asking: you Republicans have a hang up on Watergate, you are always drawn here against your will.
He laughs and points at the Potomac River. He means that his choice was based on the beauty of the view, not past history. Four years ago today he was the Defence Secretary’s assistant and had made his reputation as the architect of the war in Iraq. In 2003 and 2004, the subject of our meetings was the political dimension of Turco-American relations and the fallout from the Turkish parliament’s refusal to allow US troops use Turkish soil in war. This time his title is “President of the World Bank” and our discussion is focussed on the relations between Turkey and the World Bank.
Not long ago that relationship took a comical turn because his big toes emerged through holes in his socks in a visit to the Selimiye Mosque. The “holes in his socks” made for so much publicity in the US and the rest of the world that it is now almost impossible to say Paul Wolfowitz and Turkey in one breath without remembering that incident.
Two days before, the moment he saw me in a meeting room at the World Bank with a delegation consisting of the Ankara Forum, i.e. the delegation from the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (the TOBB) headed by Rifat Hisarcikoglu, and the joint delegation of Palestinian and Israeli businessmen, the first thing he did was to laugh and ask: “did you get me a pair of socks?”
The World Bank observes an American law that forbids its employees to accept gifts worth more than $100. Even so, after his toes made the headlines, he has been receiving boxes of socks from Turkey, China, Germany, Italy and many other countries. For legal reasons, he cannot collect most of these gifts. Knowing that, I replied “no, I didn’t bring any but I can help you by relieving you from the gifts.”
Joking aside, I know the secret of the holes in those socks. He had been wearing “Golden Toe” brand American socks. I said “they’re awful. I once had quite a few and you wouldn’t believe how little they last.” He nodded. His visit to Turkey had provided enough evidence of their longevity.
He said he was very impressed by the vitality of Turkey’s small businesses. He said he would soon make two new visits to Turkey. The first will be connected with the Bilderberg meeting scheduled to take place in Istanbul between 31 May and 3 June. It is not certain that he will participate in that event. He says that “the Bilderberg is “a valuable opportunity to meet many people and make acquintances.” He has been in the administration of the Bilderberg and attended these meetings many times already. I said “for years, conspiracy theorists claimed that the Bilderberg was covert world government. This year I will be there myself. I shall see what covert world government is all about.” He added mockingly: “that is still being claimed, there are many web sites making similar claims.”
Although it is uncertain whether he will attend the Bilderberg, he pointed out that he had already made a promise to Tayyip Erdogan to attend another meeting in June, the International Investors Board which will be headed by Turkey’s prime minister.
Will Erdogan still be prime minister then, or will he be Turkey’s president? That too is uncertain. If the latter is the case, will he join the board over which he will be presiding? Uncertain.
The topic of the discussion changed to Turkey’s presidential and general elections. Did he say anything? He said nothing. He only asked questions. So I provided him with a summary of everything that everybody in Turkey talked about, knew and didn’t know. He asked if the Ankara Forum was satisfied with the meeting with the World Bank. I said they were realists. They made a good start but they do not believe that their business with the World Bank is concluded at this stage. He agreed with he TOBB directors.
It is not necessary to wait long before we come across discrepancies between the content of information coming from Washington and the behind-the-scenes reality, particularly in foreign policy issues. For example, when I wrote that the US-backed conference scheduled to take place this month in Istanbul was no longer a certainty, and that prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was opposed to it even though he had long stayed close to Turkey due to his reservations about the Kurds, both official circles and colleagues protested.
However, on Sunday, the Washington Post carried an article by Jim Hoagland, “Why is Nouri al-Maliki blocking an international conference?” It explains the circumstances that I wanted to bring to your attention last month. Just read this part: Washington has focused intense pressure on Maliki, who may yet agree to send Zebari to Istanbul rather than see the conference aborted. The reasons for his resistance were explained in these terms by an Iraqi official who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly: “Why should we go to a meeting to be ganged up on by European and Arab countries that were against the liberation of Iraq to begin with? Why should it be held on the soil of a country that threatens and slights Iraqis instead of helping them?”
Evidently, Washington’s support isn’t enough to fix the problem and move on. That is because Washington itself displays a “weakness of authority”. That authority has holes in it. Its failure in Iraq and its position in the Congress make its weakness manifest.
And for now, it is still uncertain how long this weakness of authority in the world’s only superpower will last or what it will lead to or how it will be fixed.