ROBERT B. Zoellick is a credible candidate to head the World Bank, which raises the question of why he wasn t given the job two years ago instead of Paul Wolfowitz.
It s a question perhaps only President Bush could answer, but there is no doubt that the Zoellick nomination is an attempt to end a damaging episode for the international lending institution, as well as an clumsy and unnecessary dustup for the administration.
Mr. Wolfowitz s imperious management style and his background as one of the key architects of the disastrous Iraq war only fed widespread suspicion of the U.S. in Europe, Asia, and Latin American.
He might have skated past his ideological baggage, but the arrangements he made for a high-paying job for his girlfriend sharply undercut his own stated goal of combating nepotism and other forms of corruption in countries that receive World Bank loans. His problems became an embarrassment to the bank.
By way of contrast, Mr. Zoellick has gold-standard credentials in private banking and senior levels of the U.S. government, including the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In the current administration, he had been considered for the World Bank post but was made second-in-command in the State Department.
In the international economic arena, he was best known for having served as U.S. Trade Representative at the time of the launching of the so-called Doha round of trade talks. He left government in 2005 to take a senior position at the prestigious Wall Street banking firm Goldman Sachs.
In naming Mr. Zoellick to the bank post, Mr. Bush may have headed off pressure that was building among other members of the bank to open up the presidential post to non-American appointees.
The job has traditionally gone to an American, based on the United States being the single largest bank shareholder, at 16.8 percent. In return, the post of head of the International Monetary Fund goes to someone from another country, traditionally a European.
There is every reason to believe that the World Bank s board of directors will approve Mr. Zoellick quickly and with some enthusiasm given his reputation.
Whether the resolution of this senior personnel problem will take the heat off Mr. Bush to also get rid of another target for replacement, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, remains to be seen.