President Bush has announced that he is nominating U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to be the next president of the World Bank. The United States is the bank's largest shareholder, and although the nomination requires the approval of the Bank's 24-member board, the U.S. candidate is traditionally accepted. Mr. Wolfowitz has long experience as a diplomat, but he has also been the focal point of much criticism of the war in Iraq.
During a news conference on Wednesday, President Bush confirmed that he is nominating Mr. Wolfowitz, saying he has been calling world leaders to ask for their support. The president said Mr. Wolfowitz will be a strong leader of the 184-member bank because of his experience managing a large organization, and his earlier experience as a U.S. diplomat.
"He's a skilled diplomat,” said Mr. Bush. “He worked at the State Department in high positions. He was ambassador to Indonesia, where he did a very good job representing our country. And Paul is committed to development. He's a compassionate, decent man, who will do a fine job in the World Bank."
Mr. Wolfowitz, 61, has held senior positions in the Departments of Defense and State, and at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, during nearly every administration since 1973. During the Clinton administration he was the Dean of the prestigious School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
In a recent speech, Mr. Wolfowitz quoted one of his mentors, the late President Ronald Reagan, in order to explain his own worldview.
"'The only answer to poverty, to war, to oppression is one simple word: freedom,” said Mr. Wolfowitz. “Freedom is not only a moral imperative for our foreign policy, it's also supremely pragmatic. Tyranny fails, freedom works.'"
Mr. Wolfowitz also described his own management style, using a reference to a key battle in the American Civil War.
"I'm always thinking about what can go wrong next,” he explained. “And I remind people that Gettysburg was a great victory, and the failure to follow up on Gettysburg properly extended the civil war by another two years. And I worry every time that we have a big success we might sit on our laurels."
Mr. Wolfowitz is known as a leading proponent of what is called the 'neo-conservative' political philosophy. One of the originators of neo-conservative thinking, Irving Kristol, describes it as a "forward-looking" approach designed to make "conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy." Mr. Kristol says neo-conservatism has transformed American politics since it emerged in the 1970s.
But the concept has many critics, who say it promotes an aggressive foreign policy that got the United States into the war in Iraq and has alienated many of its traditional allies. In addition, Mr. Wolfowitz has been blamed for what critics call several miscalculations related to the war, including the number of U.S. troops that would be needed, the strength of Iraqi opposition to the U.S. invasion and the cost of the war.
Mr. Wolfowitz defended the Iraq war in his recent speech, saying it helped bring the promise of a better life to the Iraqi people. And he disputed the claim of those who say it signals a new, more militarist U.S. foreign policy.
"The expansion of freedom can, and hopefully will, occur for the most part without the involvement of combat forces from foreign countries, particularly our own,” he said. “In other words, Iraq and Afghanistan, as justified and important as they were, need to be thought of more as exceptions than as the rule."
Still, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the minority Democrats in the House of Representatives, criticized Mr. Wolfowitz's nomination to head the World Bank.
"The president's selection of Mr. Wolfowitz to head the World Bank is hard to understand,” she said. “As one who served as the Ranking Democrat on Foreign Operations for years and worked closely with the World Bank, I don't see a match in the commitment to the vision of the World Bank. Maybe this is the president's way of removing him from the Defense Department. Otherwise I can't see a match of credentials with the mission of the world bank."
The current World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, said he is looking forward to a smooth transition with Mr. Wolfowitz. Mr. Wolfensohn is stepping down as head of the bank on June 1, at the end of his second five-year term.