Prague, 17 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- President Bush's nominee for World Bank chief is best known around the world as a neoconservative hard-liner who played a key role in the administration's decision to invade Iraq.
Bush sought to downplay that image on 15 March when he announced Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as his choice to head the World Bank. Bush says Wolfowitz's management experience at the Pentagon and his diplomatic experience at the State Department have prepared him for the job.
"Paul [Wolfowitz] is committed to development. He is a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job in the World Bank," Bush said.
"I think he incarnates -- in the eyes of many non-Americans, if not many Americans -- the ideology of neoconservatism and the roots of the war in Iraq. And so people are asking themselves, 'How could such a man be responsible for development aid?' "
Wolfowitz says he, too, believes in the World Bank's mission of reducing global poverty:
"More than an honor, it's humbling and challenging to be nominated for this incredibly important position," Wolfowitz said. "I believe deeply and passionately in the mission of the World Bank. The opportunity of working to lift a billion people who earn less than a dollar a day out of poverty -- and billions of others who live in circumstances of poverty, to give them a fair chance in life -- is an exciting responsibility and a real challenge."
Wolfowitz's nomination must be approved by the World Bank's 24-member board. As the bank's largest shareholder, the United States has a strong voice in that vote. Traditionally, Washington chooses the World Bank chief, while Europe selects the head of the International Monetary Fund.
The bank's second-largest shareholder, Japan, already has expressed support for Wolfowitz. Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Hiroyuki Hosoda, has lavished praise on Wolfowitz, saying he is "well versed" in the issues of development in Asia.
But other important shareholders of the World Bank include Germany and France -- which opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq -- and Britain. All of those countries have reacted less enthusiastically to Wolfowitz's nomination.
Analysts say many countries fear Washington may more forcefully impose its development agenda with Wolfowitz at the helm.
"To say that the Europeans are not enthusiastic about his nomination is an understatement of sort," said Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute for International Relations. "I think he incarnates -- in the eyes of many non-Americans, if not many Americans -- the ideology of neoconservatism and the roots of the war in Iraq. And so people are asking themselves, 'How could such a man be responsible for development aid?' "
Wolfowitz's critics say he lacks the development credentials and the skills of an economist. They also argue he does n-o-t have the collaborative management style needed to run an international development bank with 184 nations as members.
One of those critics is American economist Jeffrey Sachs, who serves as an adviser on poverty issues to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"We need key positions in the world [to be] held by qualified people, like the World Bank," Sachs said. "Millions of people depend on this position. So one candidate was nominated [with] no experience in development that I know of. It's time for other candidates to come forward that have experience in development."
Moisi says it will be interesting to see how the debate over Wolfowitz evolves before the World Bank board makes its decision.
"Traditionally, the American decision has been accepted, even grudgingly, by others," Moisi said. "This time, the American choice is more problematic at a time when American decisions are more discussed and, sometimes, rejected abroad. So it will be a test. It will be a test of the way people relate to the United States and a test of this new Bush administration. [Bush] may be adopting a new tone [aimed at improving trans-Atlantic ties and improving the image of America in the Arab world]. But he is placing in key positions very faithful allies within his administration who are considered [from the] outside as ideologues and neoconservative people."
French President Jacques Chirac has reacted coolly to Bush's choice. Chirac's office says the French president will examine the nomination "in the spirit of friendship between France and the United States," but with a focus on the World Bank's mission to foster economic development.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier says Wolfowitz's "personality" will be an issue. Barnier suggests that other candidates could be considered.
Mexican President Vincente Fox also says there may be other candidates "of great value."
Although Britain backed Wolfowitz's arguments for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, its endorsement of Wolfowitz is seen as weak. An official from the British government's Department for International Development responded to the news by saying that it is for the World Bank's board to decide on the appointment.
If approved by the bank's board, Wolfowitz would replace James Wolfensohn, who is stepping down on 1 June when his second five-year term ends.