US President Bush has selected Robert Zoellick as the new president for the World Bank to replace Paul Wolfowitz, according to an unnamed White House “senior official”. The leak is deliberate as Bush is set to formally make the announcement today. The nomination is subject to a rubber stamp approval from the bank’s board of directors.
The 53 year old Zoellick is a former US Deputy Secretary of State and trade representative who helped launch the Doha round of world trade talks. He began his political career in the presidency of George Bush snr where he was Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs. He was promoted to assistant chief of staff in the dying months of the administration. When Clinton took power he left government and was appointed executive vice president of the privately owned Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA). After four years he moved on to the US naval academy where he was appointed professor of National Security. He also held roles at the Kennedy School of Government and the global investment bank Goldman Sachs.
Zoellick was coerced back into politics in 2000 when he joined a foreign policy advisory team to help overcome Republican presidential candidate George W Bush’s lack of foreign policy experience. Led by Condoleezza Rice and containing luminaries such as Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Hadley, Richard Perle and Richard Armitage, this elite team became known as the Vulcans. The name alludes to a huge statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, in Rice’s home town of Birmingham, Alabama. All the Vulcans got key positions in the new administration after the election.
Zoellick was appointed a US trade representative where helped conclude negotiations to bring China and Taiwan into the WTO. He was instrumental in leading the American position in the Doha Round and also promoted the controversial Central American Free Trade Agreement. That FTA required that state-run monopolies on electricity, telecommunications and insurance in poor Central American nations be gradually phased out to allow for private competition and attracted the objections of environmentalists, labour unions and human rights activists alike.
At the start of Bush’s second term, Zoellick was appointed Deputy Secretary of State, once again serving under the leadership of Condoleezza Rice. Here he became the administration’s focal point on China issues and also played a key role in the Darfur talks. He was instrumental in securing the peace agreement between Sudan and the western rebels in May 2006. A month later he quit to rejoin Goldman Sachs.
Zoellick now replaces his former fellow Vulcan Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank. Wolfowitz was forced resigned amid a high-profile scandal over his role in winning a new pay and promotion package for his girlfriend, a Libyan born British citizen named Shaha Riza. Riza was a former Senior Communications Officer for the Middle East and North Africa Regional Office at the bank and had been romantically linked to Wolfowitz since his White House days.
Once Wolfowitz was appointed president of the bank, their relationship threatened to violate a World Bank ethics rule forbidding personal relationships between bank employees and their supervisors. To get around this, Wolfowitz negotiated a promotion and a move to the US State Department for Riza in 2005 although her increased salary was still paid by the World Bank. The Washington Post broke the story in March this year. Wolfowitz went on the defensive and his spokesman claimed that all Riza’s arrangements were made at the direction of the bank's board of directors.
On 17 May, the World Bank’s board accepted his decision to resign effective end of the fiscal year (30 June). The bank accepted Wolfowitz’s assurance that he had “acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution”.
While the World Bank has 185 member countries, only the US has the power to nominate its president. And Bush has insisted on another American to succeed Wolfowitz, despite increasing calls from World Bank members to appoint someone from another country. But the White House has stated Zoellick's experience and long career in international trade, finance and diplomacy makes him the best man for the job. The spokesperson added "He has the trust and respect of many officials around the world and believes deeply in the World Bank's mission of tackling poverty."