Good Cops, Bad Cops, & the World Bank

The war against terrorism used to include a battle against poverty. The "war on terror" seems to have dumped that creditable cause.

When leaders of the institutions that guide global economic development set 2015 as a target date for reducing by half the number of people who live in extreme poverty, they did not anticipate 11 September 2001. The subsequent war on terrorism has altered the character of the campaign against poverty more dramatically than might appear at first sight, however. After 9/11, military men certainly did become more prominent in the project of protecting globalisation against its enemies, but reducing poverty had previously gained support in rich countries as a means to combat terrorism. Major new funding for a global campaign against poverty now seems hostage to military campaigns to pacify a world of insecurities aggravated by globalisation.

In the US, particularly, the stage was set for current military campaigns well before 9/11. Military security already topped the global agenda in the 1990s, when real US military expenditure remained as high as it was in the 1960s at the height of the global war on communism. In the 1990s, as the world's rich became rapidly richer and extreme poverty increased along with global inequality, American anxieties about the instability attending globalisation also increased. Robert D Kaplan detailed this anxiety in his influential 1994 essay in the Atlantic Monthly, entitled "The Coming Anarchy: How Scarcity, Crime, Overpopulation, Tribalism, and Disease Are Rapidly Destroying the Social Fabric of Our Planet". Bill Clinton's presidency saw numerous attacks on US military installations that foreshadowed the attack on the Pentagon, and car bombers had attacked the Twin Towers once before 9/11.

American popular anxiety about foreign threats increased in the context of new immigration, some of it critical for the economic boom in America in the 1990s, especially of Asians in the hi-tech sector. Public suspicion of foreigners lurks in multi-cultural America, where the long war against communism promoted hatred for un-American aliens. The internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II suggests a tendency to conflate foreign and domestic enemies, as do purges of Marxists and "communist fellow travellers" during the Cold War. The fear of foreigners has historically tended to peak in times of high immigration. As immigration boomed again, the Iranian Revolution produced a new alien menace, Islam. By 1990 and the war on Iraq, fanatic Muslims had replaced rabid communists in American demonology.

In American popular opinion, the war against terrorism resembles a war on crime on a global scale. Popular ideas about criminality support global police action by the US military. The American political system has habitually criminalised behaviour deemed unacceptable to the voting majority, such a, drug use, sex work, and other deviant activities that other countries often treat as problems for medical attention and social reform. The crime problem also appears in the public eye as being most intense in poor ethnic communities in urban ghettos, now mostly African-American and Hispanic, but in earlier times filled with Italian, Irish, and Chinese immigrants. Racial stereotypes of poor people in poor neighbourhoods often mingle in discussions of crime. Local police commonly target young, poor, non-white men for special attention. Racial profiling by police is common practice. US prisons hold a hugely disproportionate number of poor people from minority communities.

In this cultural context, the public can readily imagine that global attacks on civilised society arise primarily from alien ethnic groups living in poverty, whose criminal behaviours include opium and coca growing, drug smuggling, honour killings, abusing women, rioting, corruption, and bombing American warships in the Gulf of Aden and US embassies in Africa. Amidst poverty and ignorance, fanatics seem to learn terrorist trades in schools of primitive hatred. Bill Clinton articulated this vision of the world in one of his last presidential speeches, when he said, "we have seen how abject poverty accelerates conflict, how it creates recruits for terrorists and those who incite ethnic and religious hatred, how it fuels a violent rejection of the economic and social order on which our future depends".

Two figures represent complementary strategies in the fight against crime in America: the "good cop" and the "bad cop". A good cop brings a smiling face to patrol bad neighbourhoods teeming with poor youth. Good cops support local development initiatives by "keeping kids off the streets" and by leading them instead into schools, churches, sports, and other learning centres where they can improve themselves and stay out of trouble. Meanwhile, the bad cop patrols the streets with a mean face, gun in-hand, poised to arrest criminals and, if necessary, to shoot-on-sight dreaded enemies of the law.

In American national politics, Democrats and Republicans broadly typify good cops and bad cops, respectively. Democrats typically see crime as a symptom of poverty; and thus they promote social welfare and economic development schemes to reduce the lure of crime. Republicans typically see crime as an infraction of civil norms demanding punishment; and thus they promote strict law enforcement, tough sentencing, and harsh penalties to get criminals off the streets.

George W Bush is a life-long bad cop Republican. As governor of Texas, he signed more death penalty authorisations than any governor in American history. Since 9/11, his snarling self-image as the fierce leader of the global war on terror has been an everyday media spectacle. Such media displays are strategic, because like Genghis Khan, a bad cop seeks to compel compliance with fear.

Bill Clinton is now a good cop Democrat, who seeks to promote civility with economic development. In his first major post-presidential speech on US foreign policy (14 December 2001), he spoke to an audience in England, where Bush's bad cop ally in the war on terrorism, Tony Blair, is also Clinton's good cop friend. Clinton's speech indicates the link between the military (bad cop) war on terrorism, (good cop) concerns for the poor, and the new global anti-poverty campaign led by the World Bank. He described 11 September as "the dark side of global interdependence". He went on to warn his audience that "if you don't want to live with barbed wire around your children and grandchildren for the next hundred years then it's not enough to defeat the terrorist. We have to make a world where there are far fewer terrorists."

Creating such a world is not a military mission. Rather, in Clinton's view, it requires "wealthy nations" to acquire "more partners" and "spread the benefits and shrink the burdens" of globalisation. This is a job for development agencies. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, is one of its leaders. He has said that, "On September 11 [2001], the imaginary wall that divided the rich world from the poor world came crashing down", and that the Bank's campaign against world poverty supplements the war on terrorism as a means to secure globalisation. He says that we can no longer view as normal "a world where less than 20 percent of the population dominates the world's wealth and resources and takes 80 percent of its dollar income".

In his new anti-poverty campaign at the Bank, Wolfensohn echoes one of his predecessors. Robert McNamara left his office as US Secretary of Defense thirty years ago to start an earlier anti-poverty campaign at the Bank to combat communism at its roots among people in poverty. McNamara's agenda fell by the wayside in the 1970s under the influence of structural adjustment policies that dominated Bank activity for the next two decades. When communism had quit the world stage, and when structural adjustment had subjected poor countries to world market discipline and to rich country policy dictates, poverty gained favour again at the Bank, under Wolfensohn's leadership.

The "millennium development goals" now endorsed by all the major institutions in the world development regime include a 50 percent reduction in people living on USD 1 per day, primary school for all children, a 67 percent reduction in child deaths, a 75 percent cut in maternal deaths, and halving the number of people without clean water – all by 2015. Many world leaders have joined the 2015 campaign, and, like UK Chancellor Gordon Brown, promote a "new deal between developed and developing countries", having accepted the idea that the critical issue now "is whether we manage globalisation well, or badly; fairly or unfairly".

The scale of the 2015 campaign is unprecedented, and its future, uncertain. The UN convened a Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico, on 18-22 March 2002, where it sought to raise requisite funds, but financial commitments from rich countries were meagre. Monterrey witnessed a unique gathering of big players in global development, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, 171 heads of state, and representatives of civil society and business.

9/11 gave the 2015 campaign new urgency but also gave military initiatives firm control of public opinion. Fights against terrorists attract more public attention than efforts to alleviate poverty. The military and its support services – including education for specialists in subjects critical for global security – now receive more new funding than development programmes. Recession has also undermined prospects for new development funding. 2015 is 13 years away. The clock is ticking. Since the 2015 campaign began two years ago, more people have surely been driven into more desperate poverty in Afghanistan and Palestine than have escaped extreme poverty in most poor countries. Funding for a global campaign against poverty now seems more hostage than ever to military budgets buttressed by national fears aggravated by globalisation.

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Himal Southasian