Hillary Clinton wouldn’t suit the World Bank
By Martin Hutchinson
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, may want the top job at the World Bank in 2012, though officially she doesn’t. That’s probably a bad idea. But even if it’s just an early trial balloon, it reveals the jockeying surrounding the big vacancy at the International Monetary Fund.
The World Bank presidency, currently held by Robert Zoellick, a former U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary of state, is an important job. It’s the most prominent multilateral development institution, and it has enough troubles without a new boss bringing more. The forced resignation of Paul Wolfowitz in 2007, for instance, came in the wake of an ethics investigation but also after he attempted to clean up corruption surrounding the bank. It can easily be interpreted in part as a sign of internal resistance to needed reforms.
Zoellick’s term ends next year, though he could be given another. If he is replaced, Clinton doesn’t look like the right candidate. She has acquired the needed diplomatic expertise. But she has little financial experience — and that’s something a World Bank head should have. And while Clinton has publicly renounced any ambition for the 2016 presidential race, were she to change her mind it would be a huge distraction. In any event her high-profile U.S. political position could make it hard to get on with the job of representing the World Bank’s 187 member countries. And the prominence of her husband Bill and his own activities on the world stage could raise conflicts of interest, too.
It’s very early to talk about replacing Zoellick. But the IMF, the World Bank’s fraternal twin, is looking to fill the managing director spot vacated by Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Traditionally, a European runs the IMF and an American the World Bank. That cozy, outdated carve-up is under threat from emerging economies.
It’s therefore easy to see the floating of a U.S. name for the World Bank as a signal about a quid pro quo for American support for Christine Lagarde, the French frontrunner for the IMF job. Such bartering is perhaps inevitable. But it’s also a reminder that both institutions are highly politicized, to the detriment of their ability to fulfill their nearly 70 year-old missions.