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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Robert Zoellick

  • World Bank: President (2007-2012)
  • U.S. Trade Representative (2001-2005)
  • Project for the New American Century: Letter Signatory

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Robert Zoellick is a former World Bank president (2007-2012) who served in various high-level posts in the George W. Bush administration (2001-2006) and as a vice president of Goldman Sachs (2006-2007).

In June 2012, at end of his tenure as head of the World Bank, Zoellick announced that he was taking up fellowships at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C.[1] At the Belfer Center, Zoellick joined a host of well-known analysts and international relations experts, as well as several veterans of the George W. Bush administration who have advocated militarist foreign policies, including Eric Edelman, Meghan O’Sullivan, and Paula Dobriansky.[2]

In August 2012, the Mitt Romney presidential campaign announced that the former Bush official had been tapped to serve as head of the campaign’s national security transition planning.[3]

Because of his on-again-off-again relationship with foreign policy hawks, Romney’s selection of Zoellick caused a backlash among neoconservatives and national security hawks both inside and outside the campaign, leading the Romney campaign to downplay Zoellick’s influence. Many neoconservatives, however, were not placated. Jen Rubin, a blogger for the Washington Post who had been among the loudest boosters of the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan ticket, complained: “For foreign policy hawks, Zoellick is an anathema. As the right hand man in the State Department and Treasury Department of James A, Baker, who was infamous for his anti-Israel stance, Zoellick acquired a reputation as ‘soft’ on China, weak on pressuring the Soviet Union at the close of the Cold War, opposed to the first Gulf War and unsupportive of the Jewish state.”[4]

At least one Zoellick critic—Karen Hudes, a former senior legal counsel at the World Bank who faced retaliation at the bank for her efforts to disclose alleged fraud—argued that the main problem with Zoellick’s selection was his purportedly tainted track record at the bank, particularly on the issue of corruption.[5] In a comment to a story about Zoellick on the American Conservative website, Hudes wrote: “The real controversy has to do with the reason Zoellick didn’t get a second term as President of the World Bank: corruption.”[6]

Other commentators, including some neoconservatives, dismissed the backlash against Zoellick. The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol said: “Zoellick has no influence in the campaign and his appointment really means nothing for anything that happens over the next two and a half months in terms of the campaign. Bob Zoellick is an extremely able guy who is willing to do this and that’s great. The enemies of Zoellick are scared it means something big, but I think it's being way overblown.”

Kristol’s relationship with Zoellick dates back years. Zoellick was a supporter of the early campaigns of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a letterhead group founded in the late 1990s by Kristol and Robert Kagan that played a prominent role promoting the invasion of Iraq. Zoellick signed two PNAC open letters urging the ouster of Saddam Hussein as part of larger effort to reshape the Middle East geopolitical landscape (see Right Web, “A Complete List of PNAC Signatories”).


Because of his varied track record, observers have often been at pains to describe Zoellick’s worldview. Tom Barry wrote in 2005 that Zoellick is a realist who accepts the “neoconservative premise of U.S. global supremacy but want[s] to wisely manage that power to further [his] notions of U.S. national security and interests.”[7]

Among the views that Zoellick has shared with neoconservatives and other right-wing nationalists is a belief in the exceptionalism of the United States and the need to fight “evil.” In a January 2000 article for Foreign Affairs, Zoellick wrote: “A modern Republican foreign policy recognizes that there is still evil in the world—people who hate America and the ideas for which it stands. … People driven by enmity or by a need to dominate will not respond to reason or goodwill. They will manipulate civilized rules for uncivilized ends.”[8] According to Barry, Zoellick argued for a foreign policy that recognizes the “unparalleled” appeal of American ideas and “spelled out a new foreign policy that would be based on the preeminence of military power—a concept of a new American century in which unquestioned U.S. military superiority would allow the United States to shape the international order.”[9]

On the other hand, while at the World Bank years later, Zoellick embraced what he called a “multi-polar world economy,” stating in an April 2010 speech: “It’s time we recognize the new economic parallel. If 1989 saw the end of the ‘Second World’ with Communism’s demise, then 2009 saw the end of what was known as the ‘Third World.’ We are now in a new, fast-evolving multi-polar world economy.”[10]

Zoellick offered a succinct account of his views in an op-ed for the Washington Post shortly after the 9/11 attacks: “The terrorists deliberately chose the World Trade towers as their target. While their blow toppled the towers, it cannot and will not shake the foundation of world trade and freedom. Our response has to counter fear and panic, and counter it with free trade.”[11]

In a 2003 speech at the Institute for International Economics, Zoellick similarly prioritized trade in his vision of U.S. foreign policy interests, arguing: "The United States seeks cooperation—or better—on foreign policy and security. Given that the United States has international interests beyond trade, why not try to urge people to support our overall policies? Negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States is not something one has a right to do—it's a privilege."

At the World Bank

Zoellick was nominated to the World Bank post by President Bush to replace the beleaguered Paul Wolfowitz in 2007.[12]

Despite investigations into allegations of corruption at the Bank during Zoellick’s tenure,[13] many observers credit him with a number of achievements. According to one report, “Zoellick has been given high marks for his managerial competence and work ethic. In terms of concrete achievements, Zoellick helped negotiate the Bank’s first general capital increase since 1988 as part of a package that also increased developing-country representation on governing board. He also helped raised a record $90 billion for [the International Development Association], which provides credits to the world’s poorest countries; expanded the Bank’s anti-corruption efforts; promoted more women and developing-country staff to senior positions; and significantly increased the transparency of its operations through the revision of the Bank’s Access to Information Policy.”[14]

During his tenure, Zoellick was confronted with numerous financial crises and shifting global power balances. In a September 2011 speech at George Washington University, Zoellick highlighted some of the emerging changes, including China’s growing economic clout and the developing world’s faster economic growth compared to developed industrial countries. According to the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson, Zoellick argued that “the ongoing economic crisis has deeply damaged the prestige and authority of the United States and Europe in the eyes developing countries. There’s a ‘whiff of hypocrisy’ to rich countries’ advice, he said. ‘When [advanced] countries with large fiscal deficits preach fiscal discipline to poor countries—what are they really saying?’”[15]

In April 2011, Zoellick controversially suggested that the World Bank should start taking a direct role in promoting political change in some countries—which is explicitly prohibited by the Bank’s own mandate—by supporting the work of civil society organizations “working on accountability and transparency in service delivery.” The proposal was criticized by some observers. Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development wrote, “I’m all for helping to create popular demand for accountability and transparency, but is this really the comparative advantage of the World Bank? Isn’t this exactly the kind of ‘mission creep’ Jessica Einhorn (wisely) warned against a decade ago? Isn’t direct support for civil society better handled by foundations and organizations like the Open Society Institute than a huge international financial institution without the same on-the-ground links and legitimacy? The Bank’s mission to promote growth and reduce poverty may be broad, but the Bank should—I would think—still avoid trying to be all things to all people. This latest idea leaves me scratching my head.”[16]

In the George W. Bush Administration

Zoellick's first appointment in the George W. Bush administration was as the chief U.S. trade representative, a post he held during 2001-2005. After briefly leaving the administration to serve as vice chairman of international operations at the investment firm Goldman Sachs, Zoellick returned to the Bush administration in early 2005 as deputy secretary of state, a post he held until mid-June 2006. The appointment, which made Zoellick Condoleezza Rice's chief deputy, was viewed by many as a sign that the administration would be taking a softer foreign policy line in Bush's second term. As the right-wing Washington Times reported: "Mr. Zoellick's selection by Miss Rice in early 2005 was seen as a victory for foreign-policy 'realists' in the administration against the hard-line diplomacy favored by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who were said to back State Department arms chief John R. Bolton" for the post.[17]

Zoellick played leading roles in a number of high-profile administration decisions, including the effort to mediate the crisis in Sudan, where according to the Posthe "was instrumental in pushing Darfur's rebel leaders to sign a peace accord." He was also credited with playing a constructive role in establishing a strategic dialogue with Beijing, which was highlighted in the press in January 2006 when Zoellick, then visiting the city of Chengdu, was photographed hugging a baby panda. Commenting on the incident, John Tkacik, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, wrote that the “images of Zoellick clad in a sterile veterinary smock and gloves, cuddling a distinctly uncomfortable baby panda, could have been seen as evidence the Bush administration had gone a bit soft in the noggin on China. Indeed, the initial reaction among Washington China-skeptics was horror. … [Zoellick] believed that his appearance with the panda would reassure the Chinese that he is still open to a ‘global dialogue’—provided the Chinese start to act like they’re interested.”[18]

Much of Zoellick’s legacy from the Bush administration stems from his pursuit of bilateral and regional trade pacts. “Although Zoellick failed to seal a Free Trade of Americas Agreement during his tenure as U.S. trade representative,” wrote Tom Barry, “he won respect among the corporate community for his role in gaining bipartisan support for George W. Bush's request for ‘trade promotion authority,’ also known as fast-track authority because it reduces the role of congressional and public review of new free trade pacts.”[19]

Notably, when developing countries scuttled world trade talks in 2003 over the refusal by rich countries to cut agricultural subsidies or reconsider pro-corporate investment rules,[20] Zoellick lamented that the "won't do" countries had stymied the "can do" countries. Zoellick then issued a veiled threat to the multilateral process: "We're going to keep opening markets one way or another."[21] Instead of returning to the negotiating table to create a more comprehensive trade zone, Zoellick instead sought to negotiate smaller bilateral and subregional free-trade agreements where U.S. leverage was greater. Zoellick used the fast-track authority he had promoted to assemble what he called a “coalition of the liberalizers,” pursuing trade pacts between the United States and other countries in the face of mounting opposition from critics of the global economy. In May 2004, Zoellick took the lead in negotiating the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and opened bilateral trade negotiations with Panama and several South American countries.[22]

Zoellick, according to Barry, “termed his free trade strategy one of ‘competitive liberalization.’ By establishing numerous bilateral and regional agreements outside the WTO, the United States hoped to undermine opposition to its aggressive liberalizing agenda and to weaken developing country demands for U.S. market access, subsidy reduction, and special treatment in the WTO.” In a July 10, 2003, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the administration's trade czar clearly articulated the United States' global trade and investment strategy. He explained that under WTO consensus procedures, "one nation can block progress" in extending economic liberalization to new areas. Explaining that Washington can pursue its liberalization agenda outside the WTO, Zoellick warned: "It would be a grave mistake to permit any one country to veto America's drive for global free trade."[23]

Despite his extensive work on free-trade agreements, Tom Barry has argued that it would be a mistake to regard Zollick as “a free trade ideologue or a committed advocate of the WTO.” Rather, Barry wrote, Zoellick “appears to regard free trade agreements as instruments of U.S. national interests. When the principles of free trade affect U.S. short-term interests or even the interests of political constituencies, Zoellick appears to be more a mercantilist and unilateralist than free trader or multilateralist.”[24]

Prior to his work in the second Bush administration, Zoellick worked as a special assistant to the Treasury Department during Ronald Reagan’s second term. He subsequently served as a senior officer in the George H. W. Bush Treasury and State Departments and as a personal adviser to Bush himself.

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[1] World Bank, press release, “Zoellick to Join Harvard’s Belfer Center, Peterson Institute,” June 27, 2012, http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:23229940~pagePK:64257043~piPK:437376~theSitePK:4607,00.html.

[2] Belfer Center, press release, “Robert B. Zoellick to Join Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center as Senior Fellow,” June 27, 2012, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/22150/robert_b_zoellick_to_join_harvard_kennedy_schools_belfer_center_as_senior_fellow.html.

[3] Josh Rogin, “Zoellick pick roils Romney campaign,” Foreign Policy, The Cable, August 8, 2012, http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/08/08/zoellick_pick_roils_romney_campaign.

[4] Jennifer Rubin, “Romney foreign policy misstep, a big one,” Washington Post blog, August 8, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/romney-foreign-policy-misstep-a-big-one/2012/08/08/701ea0cc-e162-11e1-98e7-89d659f9c106_blog.html.

[5] For more about corruption issues at the World Bank, see Richard Behar, “World Bank Mired In Dysfunction: Mess Awaits New Head,” Forbes, June 27, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/richardbehar/2012/06/27/world-bank-spins-out-of-control-corruption-dysfunction-await-new-president/2/.

[6] See Karen Hudes comment to the Daniel Larison, “The Zoellick Panic,” American Conservative, August 8, 2012, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/larison/the-zoellick-panic/.

[7] Tom Barry, “Robert Zoellick: a Bush Family Man,” CounterPunch, January 14-16, 2005, http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/01/14/robert-zoellick-a-bush-family-man/.

[8] Robert Zoellick, “Campaign 2000: A Republican Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/55632/robert-b-zoellick/campaign-2000-a-republican-foreign-policy.

[9] Tom Barry, “Zoellick plies a new trade,” Asia Times Online, January 14, 2005, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/GA14Dj01.html.

[10] Matthew Berger, “Zoellick Embraces ‘Multi-Polar World Economy,’” Inter Press Service, October 4, 2010, http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/zoellick_embraces_multi_polar_world_economy/.

[11] Robert Zoellick,  Washington Post, September 20, 2001.

[12] Richard Adams, "Zoellick Confirmed as World Bank Chief," Guardian, June 25, 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2007/jun/25/imf.usnews.

[13] For more about corruption issues at the World Bank, see Richard Behar, “World Bank Mired In Dysfunction: Mess Awaits New Head,” Forbes, June 27, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/richardbehar/2012/06/27/world-bank-spins-out-of-control-corruption-dysfunction-await-new-president/2/.

[14] Jim Lobe, “NGOs Urge Open Selection Process for Next World Bank Chief,” Inter Press Service, February 15, 2012, http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/02/ngos-urge-open-selection-process-for-next-world-bank-chief/.

[15] Robert Samuelson, “The Global Power Shift,” PostPartisan blog, Washington Post, September 16, 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/post/in-zoellicks-george-washington-speech-a-global-power-shift/2011/09/16/gIQArFmnXK_blog.html.

[16] Todd Moss, “The World Bank as a Foundation? Why I’m Scratching My Head Over the World Bank’s New Vision,” Center for Global Development , April 7, 2011, 2011, http://blogs.cgdev.org/globaldevelopment/2011/04/the-world-bank-as-a-foundation-why-i’m-scratching-my-head-over-the-world-bank’s-new-vision….php.

[17] Washington Times, June 20, 2006.

[18] Heritage Foundation, "Revenge of the Panda," February 26, 2006.

[19] Tom Barry, “Zoellick plies a new trade,” Asia Times Online, January 14, 2005, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/GA14Dj01.html.

[20] BBC, “World trade talks collapse,” September 15, 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3108460.stm.

[21] Tom Barry, “Zoellick plies a new trade,” Asia Times Online, January 14, 2005, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/GA14Dj01.html.

[22] Tom Barry, "Coalition Forces Advance," IRC Americas Program Policy Brief, July 24, 2004, www.bilaterals.org/IMG/pdf/0407econ.pdf.

[23] Robert Zoellick, “Our Credo: Free Trade and Competition,” Wall Street Journal, July 10 2003, available at http://singapore.usembassy.gov/071003.html; Tom Barry, “Zoellick plies a new trade,” Asia Times Online, January 14, 2005, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/GA14Dj01.html.

tle="">[24] Tom Barry, "Coalition Forces Advance," IRC Americas Program Policy Brief, July 24, 2004, www.bilaterals.org/IMG/pdf/0407econ.pdf.

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Robert Zoellick Résumé


  • 2012 Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign: Head of national security transition planning
  • Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School: Senior Fellow (2012- )
  • Peterson Institute for International Economics: Fellow (2012-)
  • World Bank: President (2007-2012)
  • U.S. Naval Academy: Former John M. Olin Professor
  • Eurasia Foundation: Trustee (1997-2001)
  • German Marshall Fund: Former Board Member
  • Aspen Institute Strategy Group: Former Director
  • World Wildlife Fund: Former Member, Advisory Council
  • Project for the New American Century: Signatory to letters pushing for the removal of Saddam Hussein


  • U.S. Department of State: Deputy Secretary of State (February 2005-June 2006); Under Secretary for Economic and Agricultural Affairs; Counselor (1989-1991)
  • Office of the President: U.S. Trade Representative (2001-2005)
  • U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission (1999-2000)
  • U.S. Department of the Treasury: Counselor to the Secretary and Executive Secretary; Executive Secretary and Special Adviser to the Secretary; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions Policy; Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary; Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary (1985-1987)
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit: Law Clerk (1982-1983)
  • U.S. Department of Justice: Staff Assistant in Criminal Division (1978)
  • Council on Wage and Price Stability: Research Assistant (1975-1976)


  • Goldman Sachs: Vice Chairman of International Divisions and Chairman of International Advisers (as of July 2006); formerly Senior International Adviser
  • Enron: Former Consultant
  • Fannie Mae Foundation: Executive Vice President (1993-2000); Vice President and Assistant to the Chair and Chief Executive Officer (1984-1985)



  • Swarthmore College: B.A.
  • Harvard University: M.P.P; J.D.


Robert Zoellick News Feed

Trump’s foreign policy is in shambles, for now - The Washington PostTough boots to fill at the top of the World Bank - Euromoney magazineZoellick bashes Trump's trade policies in WSJ op-ed - Yahoo FinanceHas America’s China Backlash Gone Too Far? - The Wall Street JournalThatcher archives: US 'embarrassed' by PM's attitude to Germany - The TimesRobert Zoellick steps down as AllianceBernstein chairman - Financial TimesDealBook Briefing: Is U.S. Ready to Rein in Big Tech? - The New York TimesDoyle McManus: Trump's foreign policy has produced a string of failures - Chippewa HeraldFormer World Bank president warns Trump: ‘You can’t contain China’ - South China Morning PostA Better Way to Deal With Beijing - The Wall Street JournalWhoever runs the World Bank needs a plan for emerging markets - Financial TimesQ&A: Robert Zoellick Says Increasing Scrutiny of China Reflects Nation's Accomplishments - Caixin GlobalWorld Bank Should Share Reform Expertise With China, Ex-Head Says - Caixin GlobalGeorge HW Bush’s presidency transformed global relations - Financial TimesTrump’s China strategy belies long-term approach - Financial TimesDonald Trump’s impulsive approach to China makes US vulnerable - Financial TimesWorld Bank chief Robert Zoellick to step down June 30 - Washington PostTwitter Appoints Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Robert Zoellick to Board of Directors - PR NewswireA Conversation with Former World Bank President Robert Zoellick - Brookings InstitutionTalking Lessons Learned with Former World Bank Head Robert Zoellick - reit.com

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