Between the idle speculation about various “dream” non-candidates (Lula, Sri Mulyani, Bachelet, Ngozi), the shameless self-promotion by academics (Sachs), and the attacks on Larry Summers after the White House leaked his name a month ago, and the NGOs’ unwillingness to go beyond criticizing the selection process to specify the selection criteria and how to apply them, the rumored White House frontrunner, Susan Rice, is in trouble.
Visibility at the UN is a big asset for an international job. In some ways it compensates for Dr. Rice’s lack of first-hand experience on development issues, and inexperience at running a big organization in the public sector.
The downside is that you make enemies. And Russia and China are not the kind of enemies you want if the White House was thinking of you as Robert Zoellick’s successor.
The Bank board members representing these two important shareholders are making it clear that Dr. Rice has baggage. Too much, in their view, if corridor talk is to be believed. “Disgusted” she denounced their vetos on Syria; “outrageous”, however accurate, is not the sort of word nuclear-armed superpowers and arms dealers that oppress their own people like to hear about themselves. Adding for good measure that China will come to regret this action doesn’t exactly play well in Zhongnanhai, as the Party prepares to annoint a new generation of leaders who have stoked the fires of middle-income nationalism to distract from their own regime’s weaknesses and the country’s economic challenges.
This puts the White House in a jam.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s only nominee, Larry Summers, would alienate key Democrat constituencies in an tight election where women and environmentalists will be crucial for President Obama’s reelection. Kerry and Clinton don’t want the World Bank job, and Rice would be a contender to replace Clinton as Secretary of State in the second Obama administration despite their chilly personal and professional relationship in Foggy Bottom. Mohamed El-Erian is turning up with amazing regularity on C-SPAN and the respectable cable news talk shows. With French and Egyptian passports, and financial sector background, El-Erian might have baggage of a different sort, however, in a season when the future US role in the world might well be a secondary election issue.
So the speculation last weekend that the US might ask for an extension of Friday’s nomination deadline may not be entirely without foundation, as the US administration needs more time to build consensus around its nominee once they find one. The vetting process in the West Wing seems to serious, but only if it works, and only if the US candidate is strong enough to avoid a messy race with less than credible other contenders who, at the end, will lose. Not that the BRICs, South Africa and Indonesia have many common interests beyond all wanting their rightful seat at the high table and projecting their own version of power beyond their borders. So even if there were credible non-US candidates, it’s hard to see their governments agreeing on one they could all support. She–probably ‘he’–will not be Indian or Chinese. for sure.
Did you notice, by the way, that MIT Poverty Lab director Esther Duflo told the FT over lunch that she’s getting her US passport?