PRESIDENT BUSH'S nomination of Paul D. Wolfowitz as World Bank president has raised predictable hackles, at home and abroad. As deputy defense secretary, Mr. Wolfowitz has been a prime architect of the administration's Iraq policy and is seen as the personification of the "neoconservatism" that is little understood and yet much criticized all over the world. But this hostility is mostly unjustified. Mr. Wolfowitz is the best qualified of all the recently rumored candidates for the World Bank job. He has been a valued member of the Bush administration; by selecting him rather than a peripheral figure, Mr. Bush is showing that he understands the World Bank's importance. The bank's leading shareholders -- principally the Japanese and Europeans -- should welcome Mr. Wolfowitz's nomination, not use their positions on the World Bank's board to obstruct it.
Unlike several of his predecessors, Mr. Wolfowitz would come to the World Bank presidency with real knowledge of development. He served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia in the late 1980s, when that country was one of the World Bank's biggest clients and a poverty-reduction success story. Mr. Wolfowitz is also a persuasive communicator, an essential quality in the leader of an institution that is frequently attacked by ideologues on both the left and the right. And Mr. Wolfowitz has experience as a public-sector manager. The World Bank is an unwieldy, 10,000-strong bureaucracy. Mr. Wolfowitz's stint as No. 2 at the Pentagon should have prepared him for that.
It's true that to succeed in his new challenge, Mr. Wolfowitz will have to adapt. As a U.S. government official, he has pursued policies that have elicited sharp foreign resistance; as the leader of a multilateral institution, he will have to steer a more consensual path -- a point that he acknowledged during his news conference yesterday.
Moreover, Mr. Wolfowitz will have to modulate his admirable passion for democratization, the idea that has animated his thinking since his experience, as a State Department official, of the people-power uprising against Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The World Bank is a poverty-fighting institution, not a democracy-spreading one, and in the short term the link between development and democracy is tenuous: Some of the greatest recent advances against poverty have come in autocracies such as China and Vietnam. To be true to its mission, and to survive as a financial institution, the World Bank needs to stay active in these undemocratic development success stories.
It's also right, though, for the World Bank to promote some democratic virtues -- openness, accountability and other anti-corruption measures -- that underpin economic development. And in the long term, economic development and the creation of a middle class do tend to foster democracy. If he can lead the World Bank successfully, Mr. Wolfowitz will ultimately be promoting the cause with which he is most identified.