Clearly George W. Bush has been clever with his pick of Zoellick. Lots of praise has come in from governments, senior figures in Congress and from analysts. (In the words of BusinessWeek: “It was a rare experience for George W. Bush: A major Presidential decision was greeted with bipartisan praise and international congratulations”). Although many governments say they would prefer multiple candidates to come before the board for scrutiny, it is now very unlikely that anyone will dare put up someone against Zoellick. They have until 15 June, should they wish to do so.I have spotted endorsements – or at least positive noises – coming from government ministers in Brazil, France, Singapore, Mexico, to add to those from Germany and Canada we reported yesterday. It seems that most of these governments were pre-consulted about Zoellick.
The Financial Times, which has played a leading role in scrutinising and challenging Wolfowitz in office, has an editorial that is also generally positive about Zoellick: “He has a first-rate intellect and a sharp strategic sense. He is a traditional Republican: pragmatic rather than ideological; and realist rather than neo-conservative”.
But the FT also raises three big questions about the World Bank presidential nominee:
1) “whether he has the needed understanding of the challenges of development”.
2) “whether his experience at Fannie Mae and the State Department equip him to manage such a complex multinational bureaucracy”.
3) “whether he will be able to make the shift from devoted proponent of US interests to trusted servant of the global interest”.
Rob Weissman, writing in the Multinational Monitor Editors’ Blog, has further questions for Zoellick on his substantive plans for the institution. He writes: Zoellick should be pressed to make specific commitments to abandon key components of the Bank’s failed preferred policy set, mentioning key controversial policies such as privatisation and healthcare.
The FT concludes: “It would have been better if the US had offered several candidates among which to choose. It would have been best of all if the new president had been chosen after a global search. … even so it remains the role of the board to judge for itself whether Mr Zoellick is indeed up to the task. He should be confirmed only after he has answered its questions in full. This is a responsibility the board must not shirk”.
It looks, however, that in the interests of global diplomacy and relations with the U.S. government, that many governments are already folding any negotiating positions or opportunities to ask tough questions of the candidate for World Bank president. Even the Europeans – who last time demanded an audition with Wolfowitz in Luxembourg and for him to sign up to a plan for his presidency, are saying little.