President Bush on Wednesday nominated Robert Zoellick to be the next president of the World Bank, replacing Paul Wolfowitz.
If approved by the World Bank board as most expect, Zoellick would step in to the role at a tough time in the bank's history because of the controversy surrounding Wolfowitz's departure and the broader suspicion about the bank around the globe.
When you talk to people about Zoellick, you hear the same words over and over. Some are positive: smart, even brilliant. Then, there are the negatives: tough, even arrogant.
"He can be very blunt," says Grant Aldonas of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "And so, to the extent he's demanding, it can be tough on people who have gotten comfortable with the standard operating procedure."
Aldonas worked closely with Zoellick from 2001 to 2005, when Zoellick was U.S. Trade Representative and Aldonas was head of trade for the U.S. Commerce Department. By then, Zoellick had already established himself as a major Republican insider. He was high up in President Reagan's Treasury Department and in the State Department under the first President Bush.
Aldonas says Zoellick's greatest accomplishment came at the World Trade Organization talks in Doha, Qatar. This was shortly after the disastrous trade meetings in Seattle and Cancun, Mexico — and just two months after September 11.
"You not only had the trading system off the rails — not going off the rails, but off the rails — but you also had a crisis globally. It was a moment of high drama, frankly," Aldonas recalls
Aldonas remembers sitting in this negotiating room in Doha with Zoellick. President Bush wanted Zoellick to get WTO talks back on track, a task many thought was impossible. Poor nations said the U.S. was being too greedy. Europe was being stubborn, and many U.S. business interests were suspicious of the whole process.
"He had to persuade India that it was in their interest to be a part of the process," Aldonas says. "He had to persuade the Europeans that they needed to move further on agriculture than they wanted to. He had to persuade the Japanese that they had to get out from behind everybody else's skirts and actually make a down payment themselves. And he had to persuade an awful lot of people in the U.S. Congress that he could be trusted to take care of our interests at negotiating table."
Aldonas says Zoellick got everyone on board by being blunt, but honest. He is credited with getting the WTO talks on track — at least for a while.
Aldonas says that moment at Doha showed that Zoellick can be true to President Bush's vision, while winning over leaders in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Seto Bagdoyan of the Eurasia Group says Zoellick is not the typical Bush insider.
"Policy wise, he's an establishment internationalist," Bagdoyan says, explaining that means Zoellick is in favor of engagement with the rest of the world — that the U.S. should work closely and collegially with Europe, China and others.
That's different from Wolfowitz's neo-conservative views, which, Bagdoyan says, generally promote a more unilateralist foreign policy.
Bagdoyan says Zoellick is the rare hybrid: he's trusted in President Bush's inner circle and in capitals around the world. That means he has a shot at winning over a World Bank staff that is suffering from a horrible morale crisis after the messy departure of Wolfowitz.
But Bagdoyan says it's not a shoe-in.
"I think on balance right now I would give it a 50-50," he says.
Technically, Zoellick needs approval from the World Bank board. Though most expect the body to rubber-stamp the U.S. choice.
Zoellick is expected to become Bank president at the end of June.
Robert Zoellick is President Bush's choice to head the World Bank, administration officials say. He is shown testifying before the House International Relations Committee on China's resurgence in May 2006.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Timeline: Robert Zoellick
1953: Born in Naperville, Ill.
1981: Received J.D. from Harvard Law School.
1985-1988: Served in a variety of government positions, most notably as counselor to then-Treasury Secretary James Baker.
1988-1991: Undersecretary of state of economic affairs. In 1992, Zoellick was appointed White House deputy chief of staff and assistant to President George H.W. Bush.
1993-1997: Executive vice president of Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae.
1998-1999: Held a variety of teaching and business appointments, including as an adviser to the investment firm Goldman Sachs.
2000: Part of a team of foreign policy advisers to then-candidate George W. Bush during the presidential campaign. The team was lead by Condoleezza Rice and called itself The Vulcans.
2001-2005: U.S. trade representative. Zoellick helped launch the Doha round of world trade talks, and led negotiations for the entry of China and Taiwan into the World Trade Organization.
2005-2006: Deputy secretary of state. Condoleezza Rice hand-picked Zoellick for the No. 2 position at the State Department. There, he focused primarily on China policy and the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. He supported expanding a United Nations force in Darfur to replace the African Union soldiers who were struggling to keep the peace there.
2006-2007: Managing director, Goldman Sachs.
President Bush has selected former U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick to replace Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank, senior administration officials say. Zoellick's nomination, expected to be made official Wednesday, comes less than two weeks after Wolfowitz resigned amid a growing controversy over how he handled a compensation package for his companion, Shaha Riza, a bank employee.
Zoellick previously held two high-ranking jobs within the Bush administration. Until last summer, he was deputy secretary of state and played a key role in shaping the White House policy on Sudan. He previously served as the U.S. trade representative, negotiating trade deals with other countries.
The White House says Zoellick has the trust and respect of many officials around the world, adding that his experience in international trade, finance and diplomacy make him uniquely prepared to take on the challenge of leading the World Bank. Early indications are that Zoellick's nomination is being greeted positively by other countries, administration officials say.
Robert Siegel discussed Zoellick's nomination with NPR International Business Correspondent Adam Davidson. Excerpts from the conversation:
One can hardly imagine a better resume than Zoellick's for becoming president of the World Bank.
Yes, especially for a Republican Washington insider, Zoellick is about as golden as it gets. He has had very prominent positions in President Reagan's administration and the first President Bush's State Department. And the current President Bush has already appointed him to two prominent positions. However, Zoellick has let it be known quite openly that he was very upset that he was not named treasury secretary in 2005. And he was also upset that he was not named World Bank president in 2005, when Wolfowitz was given the job.
So Zoellick gave up Washington and entered private industry at Goldman Sachs — which is one of the world's most powerful and important financial institutions, so he probably had the same access to government leaders over the past few years.
There is a process for approval of the U.S. president's choice of a president of the World Bank. We assume Zoellick will be approved. But explain what the process is.
Since the World Bank started in 1946, the tradition has been that [the president] is always an American appointed by the U.S. president. Technically, that person does need to get approval from the World Bank's executive directors — a group of 24 people from different countries all over the world. But nobody expects them to turn this guy down.
There were some calls to reform that system, but it doesn't seem that the U.S. is interested in reforming that system and opening up the leadership of the bank to the world. It's just like the International Monetary Fund — traditionally, a European runs that, and Europe doesn't seem very interested in opening that position up.
Apart from the issues surrounding Wolfowitz's companion, there were questions about his approach to running the World Bank — the way he managed it and his concern with corruption. What challenges face Zoellick when he takes over?
Paul Wolfowit'z problems at the World Bank started long before any issues about his companion surfaced. This is one of the most complex, bureaucratic institutions that man has ever devised. It is 10,000 people from all over the world with very different politics. It's one of these places where you really need a brilliant, bureaucratic mind to negotiate, and Wolfowitz was seen as unsuccessful.
Now, Zoellick almost universally is considered a brilliant, capable person. But he has never run a huge staff. At the State Department, he was technically in charge of much of the staff, and people say he didn't do a great job with the politics, so that is a concern. Is he an idea man? Yes. Is he a manager? We'll have to see.
This transcript includes only a portion of the conversation and has been edited for clarity.