This afternoon, World Bank President nominee Robert Zoellick departed on a grueling two-week long “global listening tour” to check in with key stakeholders and clients of the Bank.
Zoellick is hitting Africa first — before Europe. The first trip defines much of the mission. He is going to Ghana, which chairs the Africa Union now. He then goes to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia which is the official headquarters of the Africa Union.
Then, Bob Zoellick will travel to South Africa; then up to London, Paris, Berlin, and Oslo. While Norway is not part of the European Union — in Zoellick’s estimation, Norway is hitting way above its weight in Bank matters. Then before the trip is over, he will jump continents to Mexico City and Brasilia.
Sources report to TWN that the travel agenda and listening tour Zoellick has embarked upon would have been completely global if the U.S. government had sprung for a plane — but it seems that the U.S. government may be skittish about doing too many favors for the next World Bank president given the trouble that Paul Wolfowitz got in for getting employment favors and help from the Pentagon and State Department for his girlfriend. (actually I have no idea why the USG wouldn’t help out with a requested plane — but my speculation seems reasonable I think)
Ding Dong. . .Note to US government — helping Bob Zoellick accomplish his “actual mission” and help connect with key stakeholders around the world is not an inappropriate exercise to support. The USG should have lent the Bank a plane for this important trust-revitalization effort. That’s the least we could have done for the length of time we stretched out the Wolfowitz ordeal.
Bob Zoellick nonetheless is reaching out to think tank players in DC and around the world to help him build support networks that feed him advice and counsel. I know some of the players, and they are first rate and would impress World Bank professionals.
In my view, he has committed to a whirlwind, minimal sleep exercise (five nights of sleeping on planes) to “show respect” to Bank stakeholders as well as to get the “healing process” underway inside the Bank, and outside.
My only concern about Zoellick’s first steps is that he may be trying to do too much, too fast. His appointment will most likely come through near the end of this month — after ratification by the World Bank board of directors. And his bridge-building and “listening sessions” are exactly what is needed at this time.
But Zoellick — who was Senior Co-Captain of Swarthmore College’s cross country team — knows the difference between sprints and long-distance running. He’s at the start of a marathon, and while he may want to make some early moves to establish the crowd’s confidence in him — he can’t be the rabbit in this race. He needs to plan for a long haul.
There is a lot of inaccurate speculation in the blogosphere that Bob Zoellick is another neoconservative following in the footsteps of Paul Wolfowitz. This simply is not the case. The evidence that some critics provide is that Bob Zoellick signed a 1998 PNAC letter advocating war against Iraq. The truth is that Zoellick is a pragmatist in policy affairs and well known to be one of the best and brightest of the James Baker crop of political practitioners.
Roughly half of PNAC’s letters dealt with the Middle East broadly — and focused particularly on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. The other half focused on China and standing by the Taiwanese in their incremental push for independence from the mainland. Zoellick is a realist on China — and is author of the “China as global stakeholder” template for talking about China’s rise and the terms of its international engagement. This is completely antithetical from PNAC and neoconservative views.
I have learned that Bob Zoellick has met all of the Bank’s executive directors — or just nearly all of them already.
Folks are scrambling to know more about him, his management style, and his ideas. One of the other interesting tidbits I picked up today in trying to learn his views on climate change is that Zoellick was one of the “heroes” who got the US government to sign on to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Zoellick headed the US effort and was the guide for EPA Administrator William Reilly through that effort.
Today, I have spoken with a number of environmental leaders at organizations such as the World Resources Institute who have said that Zoellick has been actively engaged with them — from the early 1990s up til now. I was surprised to learn this given the general hostility of the Bush administration to environmental friendly and climate change oriented policies.
In any case, I still have a number of emails from World Bank staff members — some who were involved in the insurrection against Paul Wolfowitz — who are worried about Zoellick.
I remember the first tremors I heard about Wolfowitz’s internal decisions in the Bank which preceded much of the mainstream furor that later followed. In January 2006, this blog actually broke the story of Wolfowitz pushing his cronies, Robin Cleveland and Kevin Kellems, which the Financial Times and Washington Post later turned into major stories.
Zoellick is under the watchful eye of many now — in ways that Wolfowitz was not, particularly 18 months ago when I started digging into Wolfowitz’s decisions on bank management and projects. He is one of the smartest policy players in Washington, in my view, and will work quite vigorously to start out on the right track — and then will hopefully keep going.
More later — but wanted to get the word out on Zoellick and his global “listening” and “show the world respect” trip.
– Steve Clemons