President Bush’s choice for president of the World Bank is the candidate he should have named two years ago, Robert Zoellick, a career diplomat and a top official in three Republican administrations.
But Zoellick, a loyalist, agreed to go to the State Department as Condoleezza Rice’s number two. He left last summer to go to Goldman Sachs, an investment firm that serves as kind of a bullpen for Bush, having already given him his Treasury secretary and White House chief of staff. Paul Wolfowitz, whom Zoellick is to replace June 30, was always a poor choice, inexperienced in running large organizations and with a personal style that rubbed the World Bank staff the wrong way. Even if he hadn’t gotten into trouble for arranging his girlfriend’s fat raise, he was tainted, especially in European eyes, as an architect of the Iraq war.
Zoellick, 53, will face something of that problem because of Bush’s unpopularity. One World Bank official, while conceding Zoellick’s credentials, told The Washington Post, “But he’s still from the same people who brought you the Iraq war … Any American appointed by this president would carry that stigma.”
Some member nations had hoped the Wolfowitz fiasco would end the informal agreement of 60 years standing that the United States gets to name the bank’s president, but Bush wisely refused to budge from that arrangement. (By the same custom, the Europeans get to pick the head of the International Monetary Fund.)
Even without the other problems, Zoellick faces a difficult task. Running a large international bureaucracy is difficult enough, but its new president must raise $30 billion even as the bank struggles with its sense of mission. And Wolfowitz bequeaths him an anticorruption program that one hopes Zoellick will not allow to wither.
With a background at the highest levels of State, Treasury and the White House and with large financial institutions, Zoellick clearly has the credentials for the job. But through no fault of his own, circumstances have made it tougher than it had to be.