Yesterday's nomination of Paul D. Wolfowitz to head the World Bank recalled a similar move by Robert McNamara nearly 40 years ago when, as secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, he was named by President Lyndon B. Johnson to run the bank.
Although many particulars of the two cases differ, both instances involved Pentagon leaders identified with controversial wars taking the same exit route to new careers at a time the wars were unresolved.
Paul D. Wolfowitz
Age: 61 (born Dec. 22, 1943).
Education: Bachelor's degree in mathematics, Cornell University, 1965; doctorate, political science, University of Chicago, 1972.
Experience: Deputy secretary of defense, 2001-present; dean, School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, 1994-2001; taught at the National Defense University, 1993; undersecretary of defense for policy, 1989-93; ambassador to Indonesia, 1986-1989; assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, 1982-1986; headed State Department's policy planning staff, 1981-82; deputy assistant secretary of defense for regional programs, 1977-80; special assistant for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, 1976-77; with U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1973-77; taught at Yale University, 1970-73.
Family: Three children.
-- Associated Press
Word of Wolfowitz's departure surprised many inside and outside the Pentagon who had expected that the conflict in Iraq and an upcoming major review of defense programs would, among other projects identified with the deputy defense secretary, keep him in his job. Wolfowitz had contributed to the impression that he intended to stay by appearing to squelch rumors of his impending resignation that had popped up several times in recent weeks.
But as close associates revealed yesterday, he started thinking seriously about leaving two months ago, spurred by a January tour of the devastation in Southeast Asia caused by the tsunami. The scenes of death and destruction that he viewed in Indonesia and Sri Lanka played on Wolfowitz's long interest in Third World issues of poverty and peace, according to this account, and got him looking at what new career move he could make to help in this area.
"The catalyst was being asked to do the job -- it wasn't my decision," he said yesterday in an interview. But he called the tsunami trip "a big deal" that "may have crystallized" his views, and he referred to the visit in a written statement explaining his interest in the World Bank position.
"Nothing is more gratifying than being able to help people in need -- as I experienced once again when I witnessed the tsunami relief operations in Indonesia and Sri Lanka," the statement said. "It is also a critical part of making the world a better place for all of us."
His move was described by a number of colleagues and defense specialists as leaving a significant gap at the Pentagon in sheer intellectual power.
Normally, the deputy is responsible first and foremost for keeping things moving through the Pentagon's giant bureaucracy. But Wolfowitz -- a former academic and diplomat -- was widely seen as less interested in the administrative demands of the position than in serving as an intellectual force in the department.
More than any other defense official, he is identified with the invasion of Iraq and the campaign to implant democracy there. He also is credited with major roles in shaping policy on anti-terrorism efforts, India, Asia and a range of other issues of particular interest to him.
Along the way he rose to greater prominence than any previous deputy secretary, drawing controversy not only for Iraq but also for his broader vision of a democratic transformation of the Middle East -- a view frequently attacked as unrealistic.
"As an intellectual force he was unparalleled, and there were few in the building who kept their eyes on as many things," said a former defense official who had frequent dealings with Wolfowitz. "But paradoxically, when he ordered action on this or that, things had a way of getting delayed or never done."
There was little sign yesterday of whom, if anyone, President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld may have in mind to replace Wolfowitz. Rumsfeld's office appeared to be just starting to draw up a list of possible candidates, canvassing various people for suggestions.
"This is the one job you can't leave vacant for long, because there are so many issues that cannot be resolved at any level short of the secretary's, and the deputy makes the bulk of those decisions for the secretary," said one defense specialist with extensive Pentagon experience. "If that position remains vacant, it is really going to slow things up dramatically."
Speculation about possible successors ranged from Rumsfeld loyalists inside the Pentagon to executives in the defense industry, like those Rumsfeld has tended to recruit to lead the military branches.
Several lawmakers mused privately that Wolfowitz's departure will add to pressures on Rumsfeld to step down as well. In this view, whoever takes Wolfowitz's place would be a likely successor to Rumsfeld.
But others surmised that with Wolfowitz gone, Rumsfeld might feel compelled to stay longer and finish work they started on such issues as Iraq, terrorism and revamping the armed forces.
In a statement on Wolfowitz's move, Rumsfeld said that "the Department of Defense will miss his talents, insights, and energy, and I will miss his daily counsel and friendship."
Many inside the Pentagon have assumed that Rumsfeld plans to leave after U.S. troop levels in Iraq start declining and this year's quadrennial review of defense programs is completed. The Pentagon leader has given no hint of his plans.
"One advantage of picking a successor for Wolfowitz now is that the person can expect to serve for at least three years" until the end of Bush's current term, said a retired high-ranking officer who remains well connected at the Pentagon. "That is enough time to enable someone to do the job well."