Tony Blair for World Bank?

There is speculation that Tony Blair might be on the short-list for the World Bank job. I have to admit to some mixed feelings. The Iraq War was, by any measure, a disaster, and Tony Blair was an enabler, if not an architect of this disastrous policy. On the other hand, I have to admit being a fan of Blair's before he joined forces with Bush (remember, I served in the Clinton Administration).

And on third world development issues, Blair has been quite good--indeed, the UK is taking the Millennium Development Goals far more seriously than any other developed country. The Director of Oxfam, Barbara Stocking said in a recent press release: "By setting up the Africa Commission and using his presidency of the EU and G8 in 2005 as leverage, Tony Blair helped to create an unprecedented global focus on Africa and poverty, and elicit some important pledges from other governments as well as his own. "

And, given that Bush will make this appointment, it seems to me that Blair would be an interesting choice. Here is Nicholas Kristof's take on all this:

Looking at the possibilities for the presidency of the World Bank, I like the idea of Tony Blair.

Granted, I’m much cooler to Blair than I was a few years ago, but he brings several advantages. First, if the U.S. nominated a non-American for the role that would help heal the divisions in the bank and enable it be a little more effective. I’m afraid that another American appointment, particularly someone who isn’t widely hailed as an expert in development, would just lead to more recriminations and in-fighting at the bank.

Second, one of the things the bank can do is to spotlight problems, to help put them on the agenda. And Blair carries a spotlight with him in a way that the other candidates do not. If Blair goes on a trip to Africa, then cameras will accompany him in a way that is not true of other potential World Bank presidents. So my hunch is that Blair can put issues of global poverty on the international agenda more effectively than other candidates.

Finally, one of the problems with development efforts is that every country has its own approach. For example, the U.S. has a terrific program called AGOA that encourages exports from Africa to the U.S. by cutting tariffs on those exports. Europe has a similar program — but different enough to require a major bureaucratic effort to master the two systems. My hope is that somebody like Blair could get the U.S. and Europe to unify their standards to make it much easier for poor countries to take advantage of these programs.

Other than Blair, I think my favorite candidate might be Bob Zoellick, the former trade rep and deputy secretary of state. Zoellick was a tireless traveler when he was at State, and he knows trade issues better than anybody — and I really believe that encouraging trade is one of the best ways to extricate countries from poverty. Zoellick also has a reputation as a non-ideological pragmatist who plays well with people from both parties.

I would be interested to see what our friends in the U.K. think of this possibility.


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