As Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy Pentagon chief and lightning rod for criticism of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, takes up his job as head of the World Bank, his first task will be to disarm resistance to his tenure.

The bank’s 24-member executive board confirmed Wolfowitz’s appointment last week following one of the most contentious nominations in the global lender’s 60-year history. He will start June 1.

The executive directors pronounced their unanimous decision while street theatre played out around the bank’s Washington, D.C. headquarters as groups protested what they termed a “one-horse race” — Wolfowitz was the sole candidate. The groups were also critical of U.S. “horse-trading” with European governments that initially had been cold to President George W. Bush’s nominee.

Among the pay-offs for Europe, it is understood that the bank — the largest issuer of development loans to poor and former Soviet economies — will appoint a European to one of two new deputy president’s posts. China’s Zhang Shengman, the bank’s managing director since 1997, is the other second-in-command and oversees much of the organization’s day-to-day running.

Additionally, diplomats and analysts said it was understood that Washington would support France’s Pascal Lamy’s bid to lead the World Trade Organization and likely would back German efforts to secure a new permanent berth if and when proposals to enlarge the U.N. Security Council are approved.

Borrowing countries often have complained that they are shut out of important bank decisions and that information about how those decisions are made is withheld from them.

Leading media throughout the developing world assailed Wolfowitz and fretted that under him the lender would become too patent and rigid an enforcer of U.S. foreign policy.

Wolfowitz met some borrowing countries’ representatives but it was not immediately clear what issues were raised or resolved, nor whether any horses were traded.

The bank’s next president, in a statement, indicated he was aware of, albeit noncommittal on, some of the issues uppermost in the minds of middle-income and poor borrowing countries.

“I have a new appreciation for the urgent need for debt relief, infrastructure, and regional integration if poverty is to be reduced,” Wolfowitz said.

He added that “my new colleagues have recommended I review the right balance between loans and grants; the bank’s role as lender versus technical advisor; lending to middle-income countries versus support for the poorest nations; and timely, high quality delivery of financial support versus the need for conditions, accountability, and safeguards.”

As the bank’s executive board reached its final decision, a small but spirited group of Washington, D.C.-based activists staged a “one horse race” — complete with photo finish — outside the lender’s headquarters to protest that the World Bank presidency remained Washington’s to bestow and to blast European critics of the nomination for “rolling over” under a Wolfowitz charm offensive.

“Even the lamest pony can win a one-horse race,” said Robert Weissman, Essential Action’s director who portrayed the pantomime horse’s rear quarters.

U.S. and European officials long have assailed poor countries’ governments for being opaque and unaccountable but the air was thick with hypocrisy, said Atila Roque, executive director of ActionAid International USA.

“In this context, this secretive leadership selection process is breathtakingly hypocritical,” Roque said.

Before taking the Pentagon’s number two job in 2001, Wolfowitz was a director of toy maker Hasbro Inc., served as dean of Johns Hopkins University’s international affairs school and as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia in the late 1980s, and held a string of posts in federal agencies dating back to the 1970s.

He long expressed the view that the United States should maintain and actively assert its power to enforce its “values” and advance its interests in the world. Activist groups and European diplomats voiced concerns that he would continue this proselytizing from his new pulpit at the bank.

But after meeting him in Brussels on Wednesday, European officials said they were convinced he recognized his job at the bank would be that of an international civil servant, not a U.S. official.

Even so, Wolfowitz, in remarks to European officials and reporters, emphasized what he saw as the importance of reducing global poverty as part of a broader program to promote democracy and government “reform.”

How well the new bank president balances his views with those of his international constituents could be tested soon enough. Will he commit significant bank resources to rebuilding Iraq? Will he maintain the bank’s $400 million-plus financing of projects in Iran, which Bush has consigned to his “axis of evil,” or will he slap new political conditions on the money or seek to turn off the tap?

Having calmed some questioners to win confirmation, Wolfowitz also will need to reassure bank staff of his commitment to the institution and its goals, insiders said. Bank staff, in an unprecedented move, voiced discomfort with his nomination and demanded a say in the confirmation process. Privately, some of the lender’s 10,000-odd workers spoke of feeling dispirited by his appointment, and of being fearful that the bank’s reputation — and that of staff members — will suffer.

One official summarized the feeling thus: The appointment of Wolfowitz, among the most visible U.S. foreign policy hawks, has been a blow to the bank’s reputation and to staff members’ self-image as poverty-reducing multilateralists.

Abid Aslam

Abid Aslam is a writer with OneWorldUS where this article has appeared.