Monday, June 19, 2006

Robert Zoellick Resigns from State Dept.

Secretary of State Rice loses her talented deputy to Goldman Sachs.

It's a loss for us, as well. A very sharp man and a moderating force, Zoellick's background is marked by an impressive breadth and depth.

Zoellick's interest in leaving his high-profile post had been long rumored but it leaves a large hole in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's foreign policy team. Zoellick spearheaded efforts to end the violence in Sudan's Darfur region and was the administration's main interlocutor in the delicate relationship between the United States and China.
Zoellick said he approached Rice early this year and told her that he was ready to move on. He had planned to stay until after Chinese president Hu Jintao visited Washington in April but then his departure was delayed because he became involved in rescuing faltering Darfur peace talks being held in Nigeria.

Zoellick also felt that with Rice's key initiatives launched -- and Rice now such a high profile figure around the globe -- that he would be left with increasingly lower-priority issues. Some State Department officials believe Zoellick was surprised at how rapidly Rice became global celebrity.

"We are at a point where with the major initiatives, they really have got to be driven by the Secretary, in terms of the conduct of it. It's the way foreign policy works," Zoellick said. "The nature of the deputy job is you get a smorgasbord of what I'll call the second and third and fourth order issues."

Over time, Zoellick had been considered for a number of top-dog positions, including head of the World Bank (a position that went to Paul Wolfowitz) and cabinet level posts, most recently Treasury, which, of course, went to Goldman Sachs chief Hank Paulson. It's not surprising to me that he would want to ply his many talents in a broader arena, where he can be more at the forefront and pursue different career ambitions. (At 52, Zoellick is still a relatively young man.) At Goldman Sachs, he will be "concentrat[ing] trying to develop investment markets around the world.

Zoellick's shoes will be hard to fill, especially in the current political and foreign policy climate. It will be interesting to see who finally gets the nod.