U.S. President George W. Bush has picked Mr. Robert Zoellick to be president of the World Bank. Mr. Zoellick, a former U.S. trade representative and a former deputy secretary of state, is almost certain to be confirmed by the World Bank board. The best thing that can be said about the nomination is that it offers the opportunity to move beyond the controversy over his predecessor, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz.
Mr. Wolfowitz was forced to step down over a scandal involving the treatment of his girlfriend, who was also a World Bank employee. While Mr. Wolfowitz’s behavior cast a shadow over the institution and a high-profile campaign that he had initiated to make good governance a cornerstone of bank lending, poor relations with bank staff contributed to his demise.
Mr. Zoellick has acknowledged that his biggest challenge will be to “calm the waters” at the Bank. His supporters say he has been successfully doing that throughout his career and is known as a consensus builder. Others caution that he can be imperious and demanding. He is also known as a Republican Party partisan, and some fear that his commitment to that party’s economic agenda may overshadow the World Bank’s mission — just as there were concerns about Mr. Wolfowitz’s involvement in the Iraq War and how that might shape his thinking at the bank.
There is no disputing Mr. Zoellick’s qualifications. As U.S. trade representative, he helped launch the Doha Round of global trade talks and pushed for more U.S. economic engagement with Africa. The deputy secretary of state must be prepared to handle crises worldwide. After leaving the State Department, he joined Goldman Sachs, the international investment firm.
Qualifications aside, it is fair to ask if the World Bank — and the world — is best served by a 60-year-old tradition that gives the U.S. president the right to pick its leader. Europeans are unlikely to protest because they “traditionally” have chosen the International Monetary Fund fund head. We hope Mr. Zoellick does not develop a similar sense of entitlement.
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