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After Wolfowitz, Who Will Lead the World Bank?


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.


And I'm Michele Norris.

One day after an embattled Paul Wolfowitz resigned as president of the World Bank, the attention turns now to the questions of who will replace him and how or if the bank's mission might change? By tradition, as the bank's largest shareholder, the U.S. selects the head of the World Bank.

SEABROOK: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations." He's also the director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies and a fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. He joins us now.

So good to have you with us.

SEBASTIAN MALLABY: Great to be with you.

NORRIS: Now, after a tumultuous period, what kind of leader might the president be looking for?

MALLABY: Well, there are normally three criteria to look at for a good leader of the World Bank. The first is somebody who actually understands the subject of development. Some of the people that were chosen in the past such as Barber Conable, who was picked in 1986, had been a congressman focused on domestic tax issues, didn't really know about international development and didn't particularly want to know about international development. So you do need somebody who understands the substance, otherwise they spend a year or something just learning the ropes before they can do anything.

The second thing is you need a great communicator because the World Bank is constantly under attack from left and from right. And the third thing is you need a manager because this is an institution with 10,000 people - a very complex institution, full of disputatious economics Ph.D.s. And so, you need to be able to lead these people in a coherent way and that's were Paul Wolfowitz clearly failed.

NORRIS: There are lots of names now in speculation. Would you mind ticking through some of those for us?

MALLABY: Well, the most obvious one and I think the front-runner is Bob Zoellick, who was the U.S. trade representative in the first Bush administration and then went on to be the number two at the State Department under Condoleezza Rice. And Bob Zoellick understands international economics very well, and he really wanted the job last time around. And only didn't get it I think because Condoleezza Rice really wanted him to come over to the State Department.

NORRIS: As we move down that list?

MALLABY: A name that I think is intriguing is Stan Fischer who is the governor of the Bank of Israel - the central bank of Israel. But who is a U.S. citizen and was formerly both chief economist at the World Bank and also the number two at the International Monetary Fund.

NORRIS: And before we leave the list, are there any other names that we should take note of?

MALLABY: You know, one name, Michele, who was in the mix in 2005 when the job came up last time was Colin Powell. People talked about it. It wasn't ever clear if he really wanted the job and that remains a question. But he was interested, he would fit the bill because he has experience, clearly of managing a big organization - the State Department, he did that pretty well.

And he does care about development and understands something about it. So, I think he would be a great candidate.

NORRIS: Bill Clinton?

MALLABY: Again, another intriguing name. You know, it would be a clever move on the part of the White House to offer him the job because it might slightly sort of tie him down and weaken Hillary as a candidate. Whether Bill would do it in light of his wife's ambitions, I'm not quite so sure.

NORRIS: Tony Blair has emerged as what some are calling a surprise contender. How realistic is that?

MALLABY: Well, I mean, I think in some ways he's a very attractive figure. I think he's greatly expanded Britain's overseas development budget so he has a track record of caring about development. He needs a job since he's about to step down as prime minister. He's got global stature, obviously. I think the drawbacks are twofold. First of all, he is associated with the Iraq war just like Paul Wolfowitz was. And secondly, it's not clear he wants it.

NORRIS: Might European board members be emboldened by this? Is it a case where they might try to flex their muscle as they have done in the past?

MALLABY: Yes, they might be. But it's easier for the Europeans to be united against one person, as they were in this instance than to unite around an alternative person. Because, trying to get European consensus on any subject is very difficult. And to do so - when you're kind of up against a White House that would come out with one name and that would be it. It would be totally united is pretty tough.

NORRIS: How soon are we likely to see a successor?

MALLABY: I think the White House does have to move fairly quickly in this instance. Last time around in 2005, as I recall there was a sort of two- or three-month period in which there was a lot of speculation and the difference this time is that, A, we're not coming out of an election and, you know, a transition in which the administration has lots of other personnel issues to fill.

And second of all, I think they realize that if they don't come up with an American name quickly, then there is a danger that the Europeans might carry a lesser alternative, non-American name. And then, this White House could go down in history as the first to lose the American prerogative over the head of the World Bank.

NORRIS: Sebastian Mallaby, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MALLABY: Nice to be with you.

NORRIS: Sebastian Mallaby is the author of "The World's Banker: A Story of Failed States, Financial Crises and the Wealth and Poverty of Nations." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.