Wolfowitz tapped to lead World Bank

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is seen testifying before the Senate Budget Committee earlier this month on Capitol Hill. Wolfowitz has been a lightning rod for criticism over the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other defense policies.Charles Dharapak / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush on Wednesday tapped Defense Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who has been a lightning rod for criticism of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other defense policies, to take over as head of the World Bank.

Bush told a news conference that Wolfowitz, now Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s top deputy, was “a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job at the World Bank. That’s why I put him up.”

The administration began notifying other countries that Wolfowitz was the U.S. candidate to replace World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who is stepping down as head of the 184-nation development bank on June 1 at the end of his second five-year term.

The United States is the World Bank’s largest shareholder in the development bank. The bank traditionally has had an American president. Its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, traditionally has been headed by a European.

Bush, during the news conference, noted that he had called Premier Silvio Berlusconi to talk about Iraq and other issues earlier in the day and said that he had discussed Wolfowitz, “my nominee,” with the Italian leader.

“He is a man of good experience,” Bush said. “He helped manage a large organization .... a skilled diplomat, worked at the State Department.”

Wolfowitz, 61, was sworn into his post at the Defense Department in March 2001, marking his third tour of duty at the Pentagon.

He was regarded as more academic and ideological than his boss, Rumsfeld. Wolfowitz was among the most forceful of those in the Bush administration in arguing that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and he had predicted that Americans would be welcomed as liberators rather than occupiers once they toppled Saddam’s government.

Wolfowitz, a veteran of six administrations, has earned a reputation for being a foreign policy hawk — the view that the United States should use its superpower status to push for reforms in other nations. A conservative scholar, Wolfowitz, before taking over the Defense Department post, had served as dean and professor of international relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of The Johns Hopkins University.

Administration supporters of Wolfowitz said Wednesday he is suited for the World Bank post and pointed to his management experiences at the Pentagon and his diplomatic experience at the State Department. He had served as assistant secretary of State for east Asia during the Philippine transition to democracy. He also served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia.

The World Bank’s 24-member board will soon vote on Bush’s selection of Wolfowitz to head the development bank. Approval is expected.

“The executive directors of the board ... are in the process of consultations with the member countries they represent,” the World Bank said in a statement.

Wolfensohn, bank president since June 1, 1995, emphasized reducing poverty in developing nations and making lending projects more effective. Previously, he headed the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was a Wall Street investment banker for 20 years.

Wolfensohn, in a statement, said he has known Wolfowitz personally and professionally for a long time. “He is a person of high intellect and broad experience in and out of the government and has many of the qualifications that would be critical to leading the bank,” Wolfensohn said. “I look forward to ... doing everything that I possibly can to ensure a successful transition.”

For now, it is expected that Wolfowtiz would take over the World Bank post when Wolfensohn’s term ends on June 1.

William Cohen, who was secretary of defense during the Clinton administration, praised Wolfowitz.

“He has a keen understanding of the tides and trends that have shaped our world since the end of the Cold War,” Cohen said, “and a deep commitment to liberty and improving the quality of life for suffering people.”

The Bush administration has been pushing for major reforms in how the World Bank operates, especially interested in having the development bank dole out aid in the forms of grants, which don’t have to be repaid, rather than loans.

A number of people were said to have been in the running as his successor, among them Carly Fiorina, the recently ousted chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co.; John Taylor, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for international affairs; Peter McPherson, the former head of Michigan State University who served as Bush’s point man on rebuilding Iraq’s financial system; Randall Tobias, Bush’s global AIDS coordinator; and Christine Todd Whitman, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency.