Crank Up the Rumor Mill: If Wolfowitz Leaves . . .

By Al Kamen
Friday, April 20, 2007

Embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz says he's not resigning -- and there is no official bank process to force him out -- but the speculation has begun on who might be a suitable successor.

Assuming the administration -- the head of the bank is nominated by the president of the United States -- does pull the plug on him, the most obvious places to look would be to the banking community or to people who have run big institutions and might be available.

One obvious choice would be Robert Zoellick, former deputy secretary of state and U.S. trade representative, who was thought to be getting the job in 2005 until Wolfowitz slipped in. Unfortunately, Zoellick recently moved to Wall Street and is now making huge bucks.

Another solid candidate, though not an American, would be Kemal Dervis, head of the U.N. Development Program. There are surely many other banking, Treasury or even Hill types (remember Barber Conable, the late Upstate New York congressman and World Bank president?) who fit the bill. But in this time of crisis, it might be worth thinking beyond the usual suspects. So let's see . . .

Perhaps one of the Larrys? Larry Small, who used to be head of the Smithsonian until he was pushed out over his lavish expenditures, or Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary bounced recently as president of Harvard after clashes with faculty and some remarks about women, might be available.

There's Attorney General Alberto "Fredo" Gonzales, though he lacks banking experience and other requisites. After yesterday's dreadful appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he might be looking for work -- and the bank job doesn't require Senate confirmation.

But what they truly need is an articulate, persuasive, intelligent leader, someone with many years of international banking experience -- maybe who's even run a bank; someone with substantial managerial experience and extraordinary political agility; someone who's been very close to the Bush administration and the neocon crowd of which Wolfowitz is a charter member and who could bring a multicultural perspective to the organization.

Who would that be? Yes, of course, Ahmed Chalabi, the former deputy prime minister of Iraq! Sure, Chalabi had that little bad patch in Jordan, where he was convicted of embezzlement and fraud, but that's old news, happened long before he sat, beaming, behind first lady Laura Bush at the 2004 State of the Union address. And those recent agent-of-Iran allegations are all unproven.

The bank's executive board of directors started meeting yesterday afternoon on the Wolfowitz question and other matters, and the session could go well into the night and into today.

There's buzz that Wolfowitz thinks the storm has passed and it's time to look forward. He is reported to have said that at a bank managers meeting Wednesday, prompting his own deputy, Graeme Wheeler, a widely respected former New Zealand treasury official and a bank veteran, to tell him to resign.

And despite Wolfowitz's insistence that he's staying -- and the rote White House assertions each day that they're 1,000 percent behind him -- support appears to be eroding even among the base.

The conservative Washington Times, in a rapier-like editorial Tuesday, said Wolfowitz "should apologize once more . . . and step down." Ordering promotions and pay raises for his girlfriend, the newspaper said, was "clearly unethical" and particularly "unacceptable" given his anti-corruption crusade. "The only honorable choice is to resign."

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