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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wolfowitz Takes Office as Head of World Bank

WASHINGTON -- Paul Wolfowitz swapped his warrior's mantle for a global development hat Wednesday when he formally took over a job some are calling "the hardest in the world" -- president of the World Bank.

The former U.S. deputy defense secretary has spent the last few weeks meeting with member nations, staff and critics, and weighing the best route to winning the war on global poverty.

Using charm and knowledge of world affairs gained as the Pentagon's No. 2 official, Wolfowitz appeared to disarm even some of his fiercest critics, still skeptical about his role as the U.S. government's architect of the Iraq war.

"I was pleasantly surprised," said Mohammad Akhter, CEO of InterAction, an alliance of 160 U.S-based development and humanitarian nonprofits, who met with Wolfowitz last Friday. "The World Bank is in good hands."

Wolfowitz has done more listening than talking so far, which he says in the months ahead will be crucial to gaining the confidence of staff.

Experts say he will have to quickly show psychological distance from the White House and to corral the bank's member governments to make changes that would improve the bank's credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness.

"Mr. Wolfowitz is in an unusually good position, clearly being someone who commands loyalty with the Bush administration to take leadership," said Nancy Birdsall, who heads the Center for Global Development.

But while Wolfowitz will be pushed to improve the bank's management, the CGD points to a more complex set of challenges in a report entitled: "The hardest job in the World: Five crucial tasks for the new president of the World Bank."

The report says Wolfowitz's biggest challenge will be to provide global leadership in the anti-poverty fight and to withstand pressures from its wealthy shareholders.

The report argues that Wolfowitz will have to revitalize the lender's role in middle-income countries, support an expanded role in poor ones, improve internal evaluation of the bank's work and push for more transparency in how the bank's president is chosen.

In the six decades since the establishment of the Bretton Woods Institutions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the bank's president has been an American, while the International Monetary Fund has been led by a European.

"Paul Wolfowitz will have a honeymoon period, and in that honeymoon period he has a great opportunity to ask both the U.S. and other members to think clearly how the next president will be chosen and to suggest dramatic opening up what is now a very opaque selection process," Birdsall said.

Wolfowitz has pledged to make Africa his biggest priority and will travel to the continent in June.

In comments to staff posted on the World Bank's internal web site, Wolfowitz acknowledged a busy agenda ahead with meetings of Group of Eight nations in July, which will focus on Africa and poor country debt relief.