WASHINGTON—President Bush on Wednesday nominated Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, to head the World Bank.
The nomination was expected to engender worldwide controversy because the Iraq war has been profoundly unpopular, especially in Western Europe and in developing nations to which the World Bank lends money. Wolfowitz was among the war's most vocal proponents. However, he's expected to be confirmed by the bank's board despite reservations abroad.
In a news conference, Bush acknowledged that the nomination would spark dissent, but asked that world leaders try to "get to know Paul better" and keep an open mind.
"He is a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job at the World Bank," the president said.
Wolfowitz, 61, has been deputy defense secretary since March 2001. He has served in six administrations in either diplomatic or defense roles. In the 1980s he served as a U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and was assistant secretary of state for East Asia, pressing a reluctant President Reagan to support democracy in the Philippines. He also served as dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
While he lacks experience in finance and development and isn't known for his managerial skills, Wolfowitz shares Bush's vision that free markets are vital to the spread of democracy. His experience in East Asia left him a believer that open economic systems can promote open political systems.
The World Bank, which employs more than 10,000 people across the globe, is largely unknown by most Americans. It was created at the end of World War II to help rebuild Europe and Japan. With 184 nations as members, it provides development loans for major infrastructure projects such as roads and ports in needy countries and manages an annual loan portfolio exceeding $20 billion.
Since the United States is the World Bank's largest contributor by far, Washington has the highest share of weighted voting on its 24-member board. Historically, that has guaranteed approval of U.S. nominees to head the bank.
In a gentlemen's agreement, Europeans traditionally name the head of its sister agency, the International Monetary Fund. But there's precedent for opposition to nominees: In 2000, the United States successfully shot down Caio Koch-Weser, a German who was Europe's choice to head the IMF.
Anticipating possible opposition to Wolfowitz, Treasury Secretary John Snow said administration officials "consulted extensively with the bank's executive board and development committee to come to a consensus on the essential qualifications of a World Bank leader as well as the timing of this selection."
Wolfowitz would become the 10th president of the bank. He'd follow James Wolfensohn, a lifelong banker whom President Clinton appointed in 1995. Several previous bank presidents have lacked experience in finance, so in that sense Wolfowitz isn't unusual.
The deputy defense chief could become the second controversial military man to head the bank. Robert S. McNamara, the chief architect of the Vietnam war as defense secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, ran the bank from 1968 to 1981.
Wolfowitz's ardent advocacy of war with Iraq made him highly controversial. Before the war, he predicted that Iraqis would greet U.S. troops as liberators. He publicly scoffed at then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki's assessment that the occupation would require several hundred thousand American soldiers.
Time has shown that too few U.S. troops were on the ground to prevent the massive lawlessness that followed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government. That helped fuel widespread anti-American sentiment that snowballed into organized insurgency.
Wolfowitz also famously told Congress, "we are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." But the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to spend another $81.4 billion mostly on Iraq, pushing total U.S. spending there over $300 billion.
Wolfowitz would take over the bank at a sensitive time. The World Bank and the IMF have drawn criticism in the developing world. Many nations, particularly in Latin America, think there has been too much emphasis on opening markets to foreign investment that doesn't trickle down to the poor.
Critics of Wolfensohn's leadership say the next World Bank president must provide greater definition of mission and focus.
"Wolfensohn was everything to everybody, and that is not the kind of wishy-washiness the institution needs," said Edwin Truman, a senior researcher at the Institute for International Economics in Washington.
Of Wolfowitz, Truman said: "He's a smart guy. He's had experience in developing countries. He's had experience as an administrator. The test is whether enough people stand up and salute."
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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