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Two controversial nominations have raised questions about U.S. President George W. Bush’s intentions in his second term. Mr. Bush had pledged to put a renewed emphasis on diplomacy and to rebuild damaged relations with friends and allied nations. Yet the naming of Mr. Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank and Mr. John Bolton as U.S. representative to the United Nations has alarmed many. Their supporters argue that concern is overblown and these men, though controversial, may yet engage the U.S. in multilateral diplomacy in new ways. The world will be watching closely to see which interpretation is correct.

Mr. Wolfowitz is best known as the intellectual light behind the invasion of Iraq, which he helped direct as number two in the Department of Defense. His judgments — or misjudgments — are in many ways responsible for the current situation in Iraq. He publicly dismissed the idea that a larger invasion force was needed and asserted that U.S. soldiers would be greeted as liberators. He has pushed the notion that the Middle East is ripe for “democratic dominoes” and conceded in an interview that the charge that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was merely the best rationale for mobilizing the bureaucracy and selling the invasion.

The move across the Potomac River from the Pentagon to the World Bank is not unprecedented. Mr. Robert McNamara did it after an equally contentious tenure at the Department of Defense during which he oversaw the war in Vietnam. Running the huge Pentagon bureaucracy is good training for managing the World Bank, one of the world’s largest institutions. Mr. Wolfowitz also served as ambassador in Indonesia, and was by virtually all accounts a success, sensitive to local concerns and the development issues that dominate policy in that sprawling archipelago.

There are few doubts that Mr. Wolfowitz can handle the assignment. The chief concern surrounding his appointment is how doctrinaire he will be. Will he continue to push a U.S. policy that puts democracy first among its priorities? Will he put global interests ahead of those of the U.S.? Some worry that he could turn the World Bank into an arm of U.S. foreign policy. His ideology is especially important for Asian countries, which take a decidedly skeptical view of “the Washington Consensus” embodied in the thinking of institutions like the World Bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund. They have different development priorities. Critics also argue that the unilateralist tendency that has dominated U.S. military planning during his tenure at the Pentagon is a troubling sign.

Mr. Wolfowitz has countered that he understands the difference between the new post and his old one and that he will be an international civil servant with a different constituency from a U.S. bureaucrat. He has convinced some key critics; having met the World Bank’s executive directors, they seem comfortable with him. They are likely to back his nomination when they meet on March 31. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder has said his government will back the nomination. That endorsement, however, deserves a grain of salt: Even though the U.S. has traditionally nominated the World Bank head, the price of European acquiescence is likely to be U.S. agreement to a European nomination at some other institution.

No such tradeoffs figure in the nomination of Mr. Bolton to the post of ambassador to the United Nations. In the past, Mr. Bolton has been openly hostile to the institution. The former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security has been called America’s “most undiplomatic diplomat,” dismissing the merits of international law and multilateralism. He was one of the strongest supporters of the now discredited story that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger. In Seoul, he gave a speech that referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il more than 40 times in disparaging tones.

His supporters say having Mr. Bolton at the U.N. means that the U.S. will take his comments seriously. Worse than appointing a critic is having an ambassador that no one in Washington takes seriously. By that measure, they argue, Mr. Bolton’s nomination is a sign that the U.S. will genuinely re-engage the U.N., albeit on its own terms. Cynics counter that Mr. Bolton has proven to be too radioactive even for Washington. For example, his efforts to undermine six-party talks with North Korea convinced Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that she wanted no role for him in her organization, and that the U.N. post was the best place for someone of his power and disposition. In other words, the logic was that he could do the least damage there.

In both cases, the eventual outcome depends on whether the nominee acknowledges the intrinsic value of his organization and works to maximize it. To put it crudely, if both men become multilateralists, then these nominations could improve the U.S. relationship with these institutions and improve the functioning of each body. If not, then the rocky U.S. relationship with the international community will only intensify.

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