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Developing Countries Urge Non-American for World Bank Presidency

The Obama Administration has until Friday to name a successor to Robert Zoellick on the World Bank. Since the end of World War II, the United States has held this selection privilege. And every time, they have selected an American for the position.

This year, that has received some pushback. Other countries have forwarded their own candidates, in a rare public campaign.

Developing nations may challenge the United States’ historic hold on the presidency of the World Bank and are discussing African and South American candidates to compete with whomever the Obama administration nominates […]

(Brazilian World Bank Executive Board member Rogerio) Studart said he is conferring with the nine countries he represents, including Colombia, about nominating Jose Antonio Ocampo, a professor at Columbia University who formerly served as Colombian finance minister and central bank governor.

South African executive director Renosi Mokate, who represents Nigeria on the executive board, may nominate Ni­ger­ian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, according to bank officials familiar with the nominating process. Okonjo-Iweala is a former top-ranking bank executive also receiving support from some Washington-based development experts.

Experts don’t disagree with the notion that there are other worthy candidates, but think this will never happen, mainly because the White House wants to avoid a political fight:

Can the Obama White House in an election year, facing a Congress suspicious of a globally honored president, eschew pushing through its own American candidate? And anyway would a non-American at the helm in the World Bank be able to raise the resources on Capitol Hill that have already been committed in principle by the United States for the next several years? The election year timing puts the White House in an especially unenviable position. There is a risk that the World Bank could become a highly partisan, U.S. hot-button issue, as the UN has too often been.

I fail to see how the nomination to the World Bank could rouse any likely voter who hasn’t already decided on a Presidential candidate. It’s just too wonky a subject for the average swing voter to care. The idea that the World Bank President exists to extract funds from the US Congress makes a lot more sense to me, but even with an American in charge, given the budget-cutting mania that still exists on Capitol Hill, that benefit will be limited.

But seeing that this CW is probably correct, thoughts turn to who will actually get the nomination. I’ve heard lots of high-profile names, including Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Larry Summers. Summers is viewed as a one-man short list, even though the Presidency of the development bank is a job that requires diplomatic skills he does not possess. (I don’t think it’s an accident that Summers called for more stimulus today in a Brookings Institution speech, which would be a good mark on the resume for selling the selection to the Democratic base. But Summers has been the subject of a mass letter-writing campaign opposing his selection, and would be a controversial choice.

Other possibilities include UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has been waging his own campaign, which has received support from members of Congress, but the Administration is seen as lukewarm to this option. Kevin Drum floated Tim Geithner out of nowhere, which would really be a left-field choice.

We’ll know tomorrow.

UPDATE: Fascinating breakdown of the nomination from Felix Salmon, who thinks that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala would garner a lot of support.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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