President George Bush risked the ire of the international community for the second time in as many weeks yesterday as he nominated his administration's leading neo-conservative hawk, Paul Wolfowitz, to be the head of the World Bank.
Barely eight days after he nominated John Bolton, a hotly anti-United Nations State Department official as US ambassador to the UN, the President's choice of World Bank president seemed virtually guaranteed to raise hackles in diplomatic circles, and among development professionals who believe Mr Wolfowitz currently Deputy Secretary of Defence is unqualified for the job.
The nomination still needs to be ratified by the World Bank's board and participating states. But by tradition the job is filled at the pleasure of the US alone, and a fight appears unlikely.
Mr Wolfowitz is not only an international lightning rod because of his central role in mounting the Iraq war. The appointment of a conservative ideologue with no direct experience of the financial world is also likely to be unsettling to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as they seek G8 backing to cancel debts in the world's poorest nations.
Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist and adviser to the UN secretary general Kofi Annan, described Mr Wolfowitz's nomination as "surprising and in many ways inappropriate". "He is a defense specialist, he is a military specialist," Professor Sachs said. "This is not a qualification to head the World Bank."
President Bush tacitly acknowledged the contentiousness of his choice, telling reporters he had called several world leaders to explain his decision before making it public. But he added that Mr Wolfowitz was "a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job".
The outgoing World Bank president, James Wolfensohn, was similarly gracious. "He is a person of high intellect, integrity and broad experience in both the public and private sectors... I look forward to a successful transition." But Germany's development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, said: "The enthusiasm in old Europe is not exactly overwhelming."
The choice of successor to Mr Wolfensohn, who steps down in May after 10 years, was the subject of furious speculation. Other names circulated included Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, and Bono, the lead singer of U2 and a passionate advocate for the poor and dispossessed of the world.
Mr Wolfowitz, a lifelong academic and diplomat, has consistently pushed for an end to the US doctrine of international containment and believes the US has the right to take pre-emptive action wherever it sees fit and extend what he has called a "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world.
The invasion of Iraq, which he had championed since the early Nineties, was the moment his vision became reality and his view of international affairs became official White House policy. As a hardline conservative, Mr Wolfowitz is much more likely to favour a return to the austerity of so-called "structural adjustment" programmes than he is to continue Mr Wolfensohn's softer approach.
So far, the US has shut the World Bank out of the reconstruction process in Iraq, a decision in which Mr Wolfowitz was almost certainly involved. Much of his credibility in the new job is likely to rest on his ability to bring the World Bank back into that process.
With his experience of six US presidential administrations and management experience at the Pentagon, Mr Wolfowitz knows his way around large public bureaucracies. He also served as US ambassador to Indonesia in the Eighties, giving him first-hand experience of a large developing nation.Reuse content