If honesty and the absence of charisma were key criteria in the choice of a successor to Paul Wolfowitz, then Washington has certainly found its man in Bob Zoellick. His critics label him as charmless, but crucially he’s also known as a safe pair of hands, essential in the wake of the Wolfowitz fiasco.
The 53-year-old Harvard Graduate is a fervent advocate of free trade and best known to Europeans as George Bush’s Trade Representative from 2001 to 2005. Zoellick took to the offensive against Europe over its refusal to import genetically modified foods, which Washington branded as a form of protectionism.
The Doha round of trade talks ended in failure, but Zoellick had more success, concluding bilateral trade deals with the likes of Chile, Singapore, Australia, Morocco and Central American countries.
Zoellick has been in and out of US government over the last two decades. He served under George Bush Senior too, notably during the negotiations over German reunification. Philosophically he is associated with the conservative wing of the Republican Party, but by nature he is a pragmatist, more sensitive to the need for multi-lateral thinking than some of his hardline colleagues.
Zoellick spent a year leading the American negotiating team that sought to find a solution with Sudan over the Darfur crisis, before leaving public service to join the investment bank Goldman Sachs. Given his range of experience, and reputation as a tireless worker, Zoellick’s nomination is expected to meet with broad approval from the international community.