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Zoellick Ascends at World Bank

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In just about 90 minutes, President Bush is going to speak to the "international development agenda" of his administration and announce his support for Robert Zoellick as President of the World Bank.

Both Bob Zoellick and current Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Robert Kimmitt were at the top of my list to succeed the embattled and self-destructive Paul Wolfowitz as CEO of one of the world's most important financial institutions.

We were all very lucky that the thin-skinned former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist withdrew from contention. I have liked Frist from time to time -- mostly because he believes in science and rationality -- but recently had an odd personal battle with him that exemplified why the former Tennessee senator would have been a personnel disaster at the Bank.

Zoellick -- who has served as US Trade Representative and as Deputy Secretary of State in this Bush administration -- is a walking hyper-synthesis of geostrategic and geoeconomic thinking. He is one of the few people I know -- beyond Bob Kimmitt and a few others -- who understands the economic dimensions of national interest as well as the classic military realities of national security and pulls them together brilliantly and articulately.

Getting the "developing nation problem right" is important to Zoellick -- and more importantly, the Europeans trust him in large part because of his famous friendship with former World Trade Organization Executive Director Pascal Lamy. But to be fair, former US Ambassador to Germany Robert Kimmitt has similar levels of trust -- which is important in healing a bank that has lost confidence in itself, its mission, and leadership.

Many in the Bank do not trust Zoellick like I do. I have known and observed Bob Zoellick for a very long time and nearly worked closely with him at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a role in which he was trying to make a large organization more dynamic and more -- well, "21st century." I didn't join Bob there, though I nearly did -- and instead helped set up and build the New America Foundation.

But here is some friendly advice to Bob Zoellick from a blogger who considers himself a friend of the new nominee:

1. Quickly establish and communicate a plan for international economic development efforts that has benchmarks, clear strategic goals, and that highlights pilot efforts as part of a continual R&D effort that is empirical and not tethered to ideological assumptions.

Wolfowitz never established a plan -- and everything from his African anti-poverty projects anti-corruption efforts seemed ad hoc, reactive, and part of a constantly changing calculus on his part that few understood. Even his friend and one of Wolfowitz's political appointees at the Bank, Karl Jackson, kept saying about Wolfowitz, "he has no plan."

2. "Listen, listen, listen" to your senior World Bank staff. You may disagree with them, but listen to their views and counsel.

Wolfowitz failed to listen and thus at the end of his painful struggle at the Bank meekly offered "listening sessions." Get this right up front. Make sure that your staff know that you value excellence (which I know you do) and while you will want to put your own mark on the direction of the bank and its interests, try your best to make them stakeholders in your decisions.

3. Break out of the ideological game. Ignore those who will want to pitch your efforts one way or the other as promoting free trade or protectionism. You are doing neither. You are building capacity and trying to get large multiplier effects from Bank programs.

Former Under Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs Grant Aldonas is writing a book now on global economic development and posed the question recently at an economic forum I helped organize, "If we gave a damn about international economic development, what would we negotiate for?! Not what we are negotiating for now." Aldonas has a point. Meet with him. Figure out how to benchmark World Bank project decisions and constituency building around a theme -- like "building a global middle class" for example.

4. Curb the tendency to tell the "Zoellick story" through the prism of your role in the George W. Bush administration. You have many facets. You helped orchestrate the reunification of Germany. You are known as one of James Baker's leading acolytes. You kept providing Bush the younger with platforms to discuss trade and international economic policy during a war -- when most of the Cabinet disparaged trade and didn't believe in economic policy. The Zoellick story is one that is far larger and more impressive than the George W. Bush administration roles you have played.

For some reason, Wolfowitz focused all too much on his links to and allies within the Bush administration than either his credentials as a policy intellectual or his former service as Ambassador in Indonesia and the Philippines.

5. Get Japan back on board with the Bank -- and with you personally. While you were U.S. Trade Representative, to say that your relationship with Japan was "rocky" is a bit of an understatement -- where you took relations with Europe to new highs despite the broader pugnaciousness towards Europe in the Bush administration. But you need Japan and its strong involvement in the Bank.

6. Continue to cultivate China and Chinese collaboration with Bank efforts -- even if informal. You were the conceptualizer of the "stakeholder" notion regarding Chinese international engagement and were the ONLY person in the Bush administration when you were there thinking strategically about China and its importance. That is a strong suit here because Chinese economic activity in the developing world -- while mostly mercantile -- is generating a larger footprint than either American or European activity.

7. This is the time to become a soft Republican, a more pragmatic Republican -- veering toward an "independent." Your tenure at the Bank needs to survive political transition in the country -- and won't work if you play a hand one way or another in the upcoming presidential race. Keep your eye on the international economic agenda.

These may be self-evident, but it's important that the U.S. get the World Bank in better shape. I have confidence in Bob Zoellick to do the job, but many inside the Bank do not and are emailing me mountains of email expressing doubts and uncertainty.

But he is a smart, capable guy whose ego is large enough for this massive responsibility but not so large that he can't welcome critique, introspection, and robust collaboration with other smart, effective people.

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

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