The Man Who'll Replace Wolfowitz

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Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty

Robert Zoellick

Be careful what you wish for. Bob Zoellick, 53, President's Bush's new choice to be the World Bank president, has been waiting for more than 20 years to take charge of a large Washington agency.

Zoellick's dream is about to come true — and then some. He is set to be named this morning as the new president of the World Bank, an institution that wrestles with poverty and corruption overseas in its mission to help the underdeveloped world. As president, Zoellick will also have to contend with unending international politics about how to spend its multibillion-dollar budget.

Zoellick was hardly the safe choice to replace Paul Wolfowitz, who is leaving at the end of June after running afoul of the Bank's conflict-of-interest rules. Zoellick may be seen by some as too closely identified with the Bush Administration, having served in it from its start through summer of 2006. Less controversial alternatives were available, such as Commerce Secretary Carlos Guiterrez and Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt, who would probably have been acceptable to most of the European and Asian countries who get an informal chop on the choice. But Zoellick was more qualified than either.

Once described as having 20 IQ points on everyone else in Washington, Zoellick is widely regarded as brilliant, extremely hard-working, frequently difficult to work with and keenly interested in politics. He started in the Reagan era as a protégé of Jim Baker's at the Treasury Department and followed Baker to the State Department during the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush. During those four years, Zoellick was a behind-the-scenes architect for the reunification of Germany, the expansion of NATO and many of the complex negotiations that attended the end of the Cold War.

Under Bush 2, he served first as U.S. Trade Representative and then Deputy Secretary of State, working on international trade negotiations for months on end and later on the crisis in Darfur. It was an open secret that Zoellick always wanted to be Treasury Secretary, and when it became clear that he was unlikely to get the position, he left government last year and went to work for Goldman Sachs in New York. During his year at Goldman Sachs, Zoellick kept a real-time watch on a wide variety of events in Washington and served as a foreign policy adviser to John McCain.

As World Bank boss, Zoellick will have a chance to mix with every finance and foreign minister in the world, including America's own. And then there is the matter of running the World Bank. Even before Wolfowitz , embroiled in a scandal over his role in finding a new job for a World Bank employee with whom he had a close relationship, lost the confidence of the Bank's vast bureaucracy, the Bank was struggling to both justify the need for a multinational lending institution sponsoring big public projects in an era in dotted with increasingly effective non-governmental organizations.