WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney’s pick of Robert Zoellick to lead his national security transition team, announced earlier this month, is said to be “roiling” his campaign staff and causing a “firestorm” within foreign policy circles, especially among pro-Israel stalwarts.
Zoellick is said to be an “old-school Republican,” a foreign policy realist in the mold of his mentor, former US secretary of state James A. Baker, who was well-known for his clashes with the American pro-Israel community. Zoellick worked for Baker at the State Department and Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. Under George W. Bush, Zoellick spent 16 months as Condoleezza Rice’s deputy secretary of state, but is not considered to have close ties to the latter Bush’s foreign policy team.
During his five-year tenure as president of the World Bank, which concluded in June, Zoellick came under fire for authorizing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of projects in Iran despite multiple UN Security Council resolutions in place against the Islamic Republic.
In 2007, a dozen US congressmen from both sides of the aisle sent Zoellick a letter urging the bank to cut its ties with Iran. “In our view, it would be consistent if, as the Security Council condemns the actions of President Ahmadinejad, the World Bank would suspend funding for his government,” said the letter, which can be read on the AIPAC website.
The lawmakers said the bank was funding nine projects in Iran totaling $1.4 billion and had set aside $220 million for Iran in 2007 and another $870 million for the next three years. They also noted that the US was the top investor in the World Bank, having contributed $950 million in 2007 and $940 million in 2006.
‘…it would be consistent if, as the Security Council condemns the actions of President Ahmadinejad, the World Bank would suspend funding for his government.’
Two months later, one of the letter’s co-authors, Republican Congressman Mark Kirk of Illinois (now a Senator) wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post expressing frustration with Zoellick’s inaction, accusing the World Bank of harboring “a worldview toward Iran that is backward, uneducated and outdated.”
By 2008, Kirk and Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman of New Jersey, who also signed the original letter, took their concerns directly to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. In a letter (also available on the AIPAC website), the duo wrote:
“More than six months ago, we wrote to President Robert Zoellick urging a review of current World Bank projects in Iran in order to realign the policies of the Bank with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Since then, the Bank has transferred at least $50 million in U.S. and allied taxpayer funding to Iran.”
In 2011, foreign policy hardliners were shocked when Zoellick gave a speech praising China as a “responsible stakeholder” on the world stage, despite the human rights abuses by Beijing’s communist government. One of Romney’s foreign policy advisors even referred to him as ‘Pragmatic Bob.’
Some believe Zoellick is lobbying hard for the secretary of state job in a Romney administration, but campaign officials stress that his role is administrative and does not make policy. They point to well-known pro-Israel, foreign policy hawks like Robert Kagan and Elliot Cohen who are supporting Governor Romney and providing policy advice to his campaign.