from wolfie to zoellick

Posted on May 29, 2007


Finally, the Bush administration is getting something right in its international appointments.

In a pleasant surprise, the US will be announcing that it is replacing disgraced and scandal-ridden World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz, with Robert Zoellick.

The appointment is likely to generate plenty of goodwill and enthusiasm worldwide.

Thanks to his immense experience in the international arena, Zoellick’s appointment is probably going to be more successful than Wolfowitz’s. Zoellick has held a number of government positions, the most prominent ones being the US Trade Representative at the start of Bush’s first term in office, and later as the Deputy Secretary of State, effectively the US’ number 2 diplomat.

In his capacity as trade representative, Zoellick had traveled around the world tirelessly, steering US trade policy while simultaneously winning over nations to the cause of free trade with his intellect, consensus-building and fair-dealing manner.

His success as a US Trade Representative is legendary, most notably in his success at resuscitating stalled World Trade Organization talks, and for his solid partnership with his equally indefatigable European counterpart then (European Commissioner for Trade), Pascal Lamy, who’s now the WTO chief.

Zoellick’s appointment would help mollify European sentiments, which had soured on Wolfowitz as they made clear to the Bush administration Wolfowitz’s need to exit. Countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, which had dealt with Zoellick firsthand when he was trade representative, were also reportedly keen on his appointment.

Being a career diplomat, Zoellick is well-known as an expert bridge-builder, an experience that will serve him well as he tries to mend fences with the 10,000 World Bank employees and win their support. The bank employees had revolted against the hypocrisy and high-handedness Wolfowitz had meted out during his term and were instrumental in ensuring his downfall.

Currently a Goldman Zach’s executive, Zoellick’s experience in economic policy coupled with his ability to engage different stakeholders should prove useful for his tenure at the World Bank.

Rumors had been rife when the position came up two years ago that Zoellick was in the running to be named World Bank chief, but he was eventually passed over by the Bush administration for Wolfowitz.

It’s now time for Zoellick to shine and do damage control, even as the World Bank grasps with an identity crisis. Zoellick will not only have to restore dignity to the World Bank and rally its staff, but work on redefining its relevance in this changed economic reality, while simultaneously continuing on its anti-corruption policies.