Zoellick to the rescue?

May 31, 2007

President Bush has turned to his inner circle of loyalists to clean up the mess made by one of its own.

But given the parameters within which he was working, the president seems to have made the best possible choice in naming Robert B. Zoellick to replaced Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank.

Unlike Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Zoellick is a competent manager who is highly regarded in the diplomatic, financial and international development communities. Also unlike the man he would replace, Mr. Zoellick is no ideologue. A veteran of the Reagan and previous Bush administrations as well as this one, Mr. Zoellick was a prot?g? of James A. Baker III and shares his belief in multilateralism.

However well prepared, though, Mr. Zoellick faces a daunting challenge that will tax his highly touted negotiating skills. He must calm the waters at the enormous international lending institution, which were deeply roiled by the controversy prompted by the personal and managerial behavior that finally forced Mr. Wolfowitz's resignation. Almost simultaneously, the new president must also direct a broad effort to better adapt the post-World War II bank's anti-poverty mission to 21st-century reality.

Perhaps in no place is that more important than in Africa, home to much of the world's mineral riches but with little apparent benefit flowing to its people.

Mr. Zoellick addressed this problem yesterday in a way that displayed the understanding he has gained from his stints as former U.S. trade representative and former deputy secretary of state.

Too many lands in Africa, he said, "are denied opportunity because of disease, weak health care and child mortality, hunger and poor agricultural infrastructure, lack of good schools, discrimination against girls and women, unsound governance and cooperation, the want of property rights and the rule of law, endangered environment, and impediments to business, investment, economic liberty, entrepreneurs, trade and a thriving free market economy."

The good news, he said, is that there is a new generation of leaders in many developing countries that is assuming responsibility for showing that poverty can be surmounted.

Partnering with such leaders while working to weed out the corrupt practices of old regimes is a tall order - but also an essential part of Mr. Zoellick's task. As within the bank itself, he'll need the skill to sort out the heroes from the tyrants.

He'll be off to a good start if he simply has the sense not to isolate himself from his professional staff as Mr. Wolfowitz did.

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