Israel's strategy is collapsing, media say, as support grows for today's UNGA vote upgrading Palestine status to state

Israel’s score-keeping media is reporting that Israel’s strategy is collapsing, with announcements of growing international support, hours ahead of the expected vote later today in the UN General Assembly on a draft resolution that will upgrade the status of Palestine to [non-member observer] state.

Reuters’ Noah Browning Tweeted [@sheikhnb] today” “My take: world map of #Palestine #UNbid votes. Yes in green, No red, Abstain grey. Most undecided will likely abstain” … The graphic he prepared is posted here.

In Ramallah, a long-disappointed population is warily beginning to celebrate.

Child joins PLO celebrations organized in Ramallah ahead of UN vote on upgrading Palestine status to state - photo by Jihan Abdallah

One of the many thousands of children released early from school today to celebrate upcoming UNGA vote to upgrade Palestine status to State – photo taken in Ramallah’s Yasser Arafat square by Jihan Abdalla [Tweeted by @JihanAbdalla and posted here.

PLO Executive Member Hanan Ashrawi, who discussed the move with journalists in Ramallah yesterday, has written an op-ed entitled, “Supporting Palestine at the UN today is a vote for peace in the Middle East”, which is published today in The Guardian, here. In it, she said that this is, indeed, a unilateral story, but not one that resembles the unilateral scenario that Israel has been warning against, no.

Instead, Ashrawi wrote: “It is a story in which one side makes proposals for nothing in return; one side makes agreements that the other side breaks; and one side keeps commitments that the other side ignores…one side wants to negotiate a permanent solution and the other wants permanent negotiations”.

Continue reading Israel's strategy is collapsing, media say, as support grows for today's UNGA vote upgrading Palestine status to state

29 November 1947 – UN calls for creation of Jewish State + Arab State in Palestine

That’s right: 63 years ago today, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 181 which calls for the establishment of a Jewish State and an Arab State in Palestine.

For 63 years, the “international community” as we know it has backed the establishment of a Jewish State.

Six months later, the State of Israel was proclaimed as a Jewish state by virtue of UN General Assembly resolution 181.

And, though some argue otherwise, this is “international legitimacy” — a term coined by Palestinians, many of whom wish to preserve an option for their national rights based on UN resolutions and international treaties and various other agreements that are now called international law.

In November 1988, the Palestinians themselves declared independence, based on this same UN General Assembly resolution 181. But, it remains unrealized. Vague Palestinian pronouncements are met with threats against any “unilateral” actions — though Israel is perhaps the world’s foremost practitioner of “unilateral” actions , the country of “unilateral” actions par excellence .

So, how is it that we are all still talking past each other?

And, how did this situation come to be?

Continue reading 29 November 1947 – UN calls for creation of Jewish State + Arab State in Palestine

U.S. Joins the UN Human Rights Council

After not being elected — for the first time in its history — to membership for the final sessions of the now-replaced UN Human Rights Commission (HRC), and sullenly sitting out the opening sessions of the HRC’s successor (the new but not-much-improved UN Human Rights Council), the U.S. did stand for elections has now joined the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The U.S. has supported Israel’s criticisms that the new Human Rights Council has spent too much time on Israel (and not enough time on other places where human rights are also being violated. The former Special Rapporteur on abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory for the Human Rights Council, John Dugard, has just written an article stating that “President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim World failed to address allegations that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza”.

Continue reading U.S. Joins the UN Human Rights Council

Abu Zubaida – CIA had a plan to place him in confinement box with insects

Abu Zubaydah “suffered an injury during capture” — he “sustained a wound during capture which is being treated”, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jay Bybee, wrote in a memo dated 1 August 2002, yet authorization was given to torture him anyway. One torture contemplated — but apparently not used — was placing one of more insects, which Abu Zubayda would have been told were stinging insects, into a confinement box with him: “you have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects”, according to an analysis of the Bybee memo by Jason Leopold.

Continue reading Abu Zubaida – CIA had a plan to place him in confinement box with insects

Sorry — this doesn't make sense: Ahtisaari wins what???? The Nobel Peace Prize?

What’s wrong with the Nobel Peace Prize Committee? They couldn’t find anybody better than long-time UN official Martti Ahtisaari to name as this year’s winner. Sorry, this just doesn’t cut it. This is the person who has most contributed to peace in the last year? Or even, let’s say, in recent years? Sorry, at best it could be said that Ahtisaari is a deal-maker. And the deals have to please the powers-that-be. He is a high-level functionary, looking out above all, and always, for his own career trajectory. And he just looks the other way whenever something is inconvenient — including the “human weaknesses” of his own staff. More recently this has come to be known as something else

And it is impossible to imagine him putting himself on the line for anything _ is this what we expect from Nobel Peace Prize winners?

Rather than rant, I will simply pick up a few excerpts from the NYTimes report on this Nobel Peace Prize announcement:

“In a book published by the Brookings Institution, Mr. [Gareth] Evans [former Australian Prime Minister and head of the International Crisis Group, which is a home for out-of-work but still ambitious policy makers who spend quite a lot of time rubbing each other’s backs] wrote that Mr. Ahtisaari ‘combines, to great effect, immense personal charm with a tough, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is approach to conducting negotiations’. The book quotes one of the negotiators in the Aceh conflict as saying: ‘His method was really extraordinary. He said, “Do you want to win, or do you want peace?£” ‘ Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in an interview that she could not ‘think of a prize that is more richly deserved’. Mr. Ahtisaari’s role in Kosovo, she said, far exceeded his appointment in 2005 to represent the United Nations in ‘final status’ talks to determine the future of what was then a Serbian province. She said he was also deeply involved in the region during the 1996-99 Kosovo War.’He was part of a whole set of diplomatic maneuvers we had during the war itself, in terms of trying to sort out how to deal with the Russians and a host of issues to do with carrying out the actual ending of the war’, she recalled … Ms. Albright said Mr. Ahtisaari had been instrumental in creating ‘a glide path’ toward a final resolution that underpins Kosovo’s independence. ‘When I talked to him just last week, he thought things were moving in the right direction’, she said. ‘He has done a remarkable job’ … Mr. Ahtisaari[‘s] name was selected from a list of 197 nominees … In an interview on Friday that was published on the Nobel Foundation’s Web site, Mr. Ahtisaari said that the international community should not allow conflicts ‘to become frozen’ or intractable. ‘Every conflict can be solved’, he said…”
The NYTimes article can be read in full here

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon – is there a critical mass of disenchantment?

A vigilant friend and colleague in Geneva has sent this translation by UNRIC’s Desk Officer for Spain of
the article that appeared in El Pais on Sunday, saying “the translation is not perfect but tells you what John Carlin [and Spain’s prominent newspaper El Pais! says about Ban Ki-moon:.


“The UN Secretary-General has remained absent from the great international conflicts and has blurred the role of the Organization. The United Nations therefore misses the opportunity to rebuild itself from the Iraq dump now that the upcoming changes in Washington come up.

El Pais, 07/09/2008
By John Carlin

“During a meeting with Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem last year, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, began expressing his satisfaction ‘for being in Israel’.

While the Palestinians who were present showed astonishment, making efforts to repress their indignation, one of Ban’s advisers whispered him that calling the occupied territory where they were “Israel” was not the most diplomatic thing he could do, given the attendants. Ban agreed, continued and finished his remarks with a smile and a happy “it has been a great pleasure to be in Israel’.

The confusion that Ban caused that day among the Palestinians has extended today, 20 months after he took over the post of Secretary-General, to the majority of the member States of the UN. On the eve of 63rd Session of the General Assembly that will begin in New York on the 16th of this month, a yearly ceremony in which Heads of Government of the entire world meet, there is an increasing perception that it would not be advisable that Ban, in the past the Foreign Minister of his country, South Korea, be renewed in his present five-year mandate when it concludes. The usual thing to do would be to continue in the post that some have described as a ‘Lay Pope’. But the impression that ‘the glass is half empty’ increases, a former top UN official points out.

“He adds that (Ban) is not the right man to preserve the independence and the legitimacy of the United Nations at a time in which it suffers from increasing paralysis, although there is a slight opportunity –before the imminent change of Government in United States- to be able to rise from the remains of the war of Iraq and the animosity of the President George W. Bush, as the moral and political force of Human Rights and Peace, as it was intended to be when it was founded at the end WWII. Continue reading UNSG BAN Ki-Moon – is there a critical mass of disenchantment?

10 December is Human Rights Day

It was on 10 December 1948 that the UN General Assembly adopted, after lengthy negotiations, in which the American then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a leading figure, a remarkable document on basic human rights — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The drafting of this document, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, took two years of negotiations.

Eleanor Roosevelt - UN Photo

Many if not most of its tenets are still not implemented today.

But, as the UN’s Human Rights website says, in various places, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was “one of the first major achievements of the United Nations”, and it “inspired more than 60 human rights instruments which together constitute an international standard of human rights” — in addition, the UN Human Rights website asserts, the Universal Declaration has the “general consent” of UN Member States.

The original English-language version of the Universal Declaration is here.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has put a press statement to mark the occasion, from which we will excerpt the following:

“The Universal Declaration and its core values – inherent human dignity, justice, non-discrimination, equality, fairness and universality – apply to everyone, everywhere, always”

In all parts of the world, people and groups and Governments have tried to transform the tenets of this Declaration into reality, Arbour said, and “Many have died in the pursuit of these ideals”.

She added that “Today is also the day to reflect upon our individual and collective failures to stand up against violence, racism, xenophobia, torture, repression of unpopular views and injustices of all sorts”.

Apparently, today’s Human Rights Day will see the launch of what Arbour said would be a “year-long campaign leading to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

And, the High Commissioner said, “In the course of this year, unprecedented efforts must be made to ensure that every person in the world can rely on just laws for his or her protection”.

The preamble of the UN GA resolution adopting the Universal Declaration said, in ringing words, that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people“.

It also states that “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law“, and that “it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations“.

And, it says, “the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The General Assembly, in its resolution, said that the Universal Declaration is “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction”.  

Need we say more?

In the tradition of examining voting records, it is interesting to look at the vote of the then-58-member UN General Assembly which, meeting at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in UNGA Resolution 217 A(III) of 10 December 1948) as follows: 48 states cast a yes vote, eight countries abstained, and two members were reportedly not present for the vote [this is usually done deliberately, to avoid taking a position].

Those UN Member States who voted YES were: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Chile, China,Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Siam (Thailand), Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Those Member States who abstained were: Byelorussian SSR, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Ukrainian SSR, Union of South Africa, USSR, Yugoslavia.

Urquhart defends diplomats — and the UN — yet again

Brian Urquhart – British former Under-Secretary General at the UN for ages, who came “on board” the Organization even before its actual founding – is still writing and thinking about his memorable experiences there.

Not everybody who works at the UN gets to have as much fun as Urquhart did. You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of UN staff who, at any one time, are using their skills and making a difference in the world. The others are mostly marking time, and waiting for the next paycheck — and the best way to do that is to be quiet — and often, to do nothing.

Anyway, Urquhart has just published, in the New York Review of Books, a review of a new book by Carne Ross, a former British diplomat, who was posted at the UN, and who then worked for the UN in Kosovo.

The Urquhart review of Ross’ book is published here.

In the first two grafs, I think Urquhart takes issue with Ross’ descriptions for the wrong reasons, and misses the point. Later, he defends diplomacy using the exact same arguments that supporters give for their positive view of the UN: if it didn’t exist, where would we be? And, if it didn’t exist, it would have to be created.
Continue reading Urquhart defends diplomats — and the UN — yet again

Blogging at UNHQ/NY

The NY Times has an article on a colleague (we have not yet had the pleasure of making his acquaintance), who blogs from UNHQ/NY. The Story, As Blogs Proliferate, a Gadfly With Accreditation at the U.N., by Maria Aspan, was published on 30 April, and focuses mainly on issues concerning accreditation [with which we do have more than a passing acquaintance — though not because we have asked for accreditation for our blog, which we are still doing anonymously].

Here is the text in full of the NYTimes story:

“UNITED NATIONS — The daily press briefing was routine. Marie Okabe, a spokeswoman for the secretary general, read a five-minute update on Somalia, Darfur and the Security Council’s actions, and about 30 journalists quietly listened

In the third row, Matthew Lee tapped away at his laptop and scribbled on two notepads with the intensity of a graduate student at thesis time. When Ms. Okabe asked for questions, Mr. Lee, the resident blogger of the United Nations press corps, pounced, asking almost as many questions in 20 minutes as the other correspondents combined.

Mr. Lee, a well-known gadfly who often presses banks to revise their policies on mortgage loans to the poor, is the only blogger at the United Nations with media credentials, entitling him to free office space and access to briefings and press conferences. There had been a second accredited blogger, Pincas Jawetz, a 73-year-old retired energy policy consultant, but he was ejected last month on the grounds that he had distracted too many briefings with off-topic questions.

The United Nations is one of the only institutions of its size and importance that currently allow bloggers not affiliated with larger, more traditional media companies into the permanent press corps.
Continue reading Blogging at UNHQ/NY

Four years after U.S. invasion of Iraq, one look back

An interesting read can be found at the Nation magazine’s 2 April 2007 issue, in an article entitled “Made in USA“, which at least starts off as a rather scathing review of two of what the author, Perry Anderson, calls “fawning” biographies of Kofi Annan:

“The facts of Annan’s career are clear enough, and in practice neither writer casts much of a veil over them. The academically ungifted son of a manager for Unilever in colonial Ghana, he was spotted as likely material by a scout for the Ford Foundation and dispatched to Minnesota to study economics at a local college. There, Traub explains, he learned something of more lasting value: ‘Annan himself had become persuaded of the merits of capitalism, and of the American way generally’. Perhaps with this in mind, the Carnegie Foundation got him to the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, where he failed to take any degree, leaving instead for a low-level job in the World Health Organization. For the next twenty years, he gradually moved up the bureaucratic ladder in the UN system, with a stint at MIT to acquire management lore, finally landing a post in the services department of the Secretariat in New York in the early ’80s. From there, shortly before the Clinton Administration came to office, he edged his way toward the number-two position in the department for ‘special political affairs’, with subordinate responsibility for the Middle East and Africa. When Washington pressed for UN troops to be sent into Somalia, his superior opposed the mission. Annan took the American line. His chief was duly ousted, and Annan was put in charge of all peacekeeping operations, as they were now called, in February 1993.

A year later, in January 1994, he received an urgent cable from Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian lieutenant general in charge of the UN force in Rwanda, warning him of impending slaughter of the Tutsi population in the country and explaining he planned to intervene by raiding Hutu arms caches. Not only did Annan refuse to allow any measures to be taken to stop the unleashing of genocide; he insured that the fax informing him of what was in store did not reach the Security Council. Approximately 800,000 Tutsis died in the ensuing massacre. Measured by consequences, the culpability of Kurt Waldheim, exposed for concealing his service as a Nazi intelligence officer in the Balkans, was puny by comparison. Annan remained quite unmoved until it became too impolitic to deny any remorse. The extent of his contrition is summed up by all he would say to Traub, after a long pause, about his part in the fate of Rwanda: ‘In retrospect, and this is also the culture of the house, we should have used the media more aggressively, and exposed the situation for them to see. Of course, at that time this organization was media-shy’. Read: Don’t blame me, I’m the one who became media-friendly. As banalizations go, Arendt might have had some words for it.

Far from being an impediment, however, Annan’s performance regarding Rwanda was in a way a condition of his further ascent. The Clinton Administration, gearing up for intervention in the Balkans, was determined not to allow any distractions over killings in Africa to deflect public attention from Bosnia–where the scale of death, though high, was neither proportionately nor absolutely near that in Rwanda. But strategic interest, not to speak of skin color, made the region altogether another matter. As a Pentagon memorandum about Rwanda put it at the time: ‘Be Careful. Legal [department] at State [department] was worried about this yesterday–Genocide finding could commit USG [the US government] to actually ‘do something’.’ Clinton and Albright, naturally, did nothing. When, on the other hand, they pressed the button for action in Bosnia in the summer of 1995, Annan sprang to life and, at Albright’s request–without consulting Boutros-Ghali as Secretary General–he authorized NATO to start heavy bombing of Serb positions. This was the alacrity that made him. Boutros-Ghali, although a former foreign minister of Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, one of America’s most loyal client states, had riled Washington with an increasing lack of deference, dragging his feet over Bosnia and talking too much about Africa. By the time his mandate came up for renewal the following year, the Clinton Administration was determined to oust him and parachute Annan into his place. The most valuable sections of Traub’s book, as of Meisler’s, describe how this was done.

Within a few months of Annan’s green light in Bosnia, a team of top officials in Washington, headed by Albright, was working on a secret plan, Operation Orient Express, for a coup at the UN. As America’s designated candidate, Annan was, of course, party to the scheme. In the Security Council itself, Boutros-Ghali was supported by every member state, with the exception of the United States, which vetoed him. Seven ballots later and following tireless pressure by Albright, every state except France had realized, as Traub remarks, that ‘there was no percentage in blocking the will of such a powerful figure’. Decisive was Washington’s ability to call Russia to heel, bypassing its foreign minister for direct instructions to Yeltsin, on whom it could rely for submission. Once the Russian vote had been pocketed, France caved in, and Annan was home and dry.

Satisfaction in Washington was unconcealed. For Albright’s assistant James Rubin, the UN now had a Secretary General able ‘to understand the importance of cooperation with the world’s first power’. More pointedly still, another of the architects of Orient Express, National Security Council officer Robert Orr, explained: ‘Very few secretaries-general had worked with the U.S. military. Here we were in an era where the U.S. military was going to be a big part of the equation. You needed a secretary-general who understands that the U.S. military is not the enemy’. Or more tersely: ‘Kofi could do it’. Annan duly did it. When NATO launched its aerial attack on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 over Kosovo, in patent violation of the UN Charter, the Secretary General, far from condemning the action of the United States and its allies, informed the world that it was legitimate. For services like these–he ‘courted the wrath of the developing world by rejecting anticolonialism in favor of moral principles cherished in the West’–he was much feted and, not surprisingly, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The invasion of Iraq, however, would pose a severer test. Annan had presided over the sanctions regime without a qualm and not demurred at Operation Desert Fox, the four-day bombing campaign Clinton oversaw in 1998. When the Bush Administration began its push for war with Resolution 1441, which declared Iraq in material breach of all past resolutions on its disarmament, Annan swung into action to pressure all members of the Security Council to vote for it, personally phoning Syria’s President Bashar Assad to insure that there would not be a single abstention. Unanimity was secured, but a hitch arose at the next stage. The French told the White House that while they could not accept a second Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq, which would implicate them, they had no objection to a US invasion based on an American interpretation of 1441–the course that Cheney was urging within the Administration. But Blair, who wanted to join in the attack, insisted that a second resolution was necessary to protect him from criticisms at home, and got Powell’s support for a futile attempt to circumvent a French veto in the Security Council. Such mutual hypocrisies put Annan in an awkward spot. Blessing the Balkan War was one thing: In 1999, the West was united in the attack on Yugoslavia. But now the West, to all appearances, was divided. What should he do? If only the French had come round, we learn, all might have been well. ‘He would have accepted, and perhaps even embraced’, Traub tells us, ‘a resolution authorizing war so long as the council was firmly united behind it’. But unity was not forthcoming, and an embrace remained out of reach. Operation Iraqi Freedom rolled ahead. In March 2003, ‘shock and awe’ hit Baghdad.

Annan, aware that his inspectors had failed to come up with any evidence of WMDs in Iraq, the pretext for war, and that his own position would be weakened by an attack that opened up a line of division between the United States and leading Western allies, indicated his unhappiness at this unfortunate turn of events, but he refrained from condemning the invasion–which, having endorsed an identical bypassing of the Security Council over Kosovo, he was anyway scarcely in a position to do. Once Iraq was conquered, however, he hastened to the assistance of the occupation, for which Bush and Blair wanted backdated cover from the UN. In May, at Annan’s urging, the Security Council ratified the Anglo-American seizure of Iraq, voting unanimously for Resolution 1483, which endorsed Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, and pledged that the UN would play a ‘vital role’, as requested by the White House and Downing Street, in helping it out. Rice and Powell had already chosen the functionary in the Secretariat they wanted for the job, Sergio Vieira de Mello, its human rights commissioner. Vieira de Mello was reluctant to go, but an audience was arranged with Bush, and Annan dispatched him. On arrival in Baghdad, Vieira de Mello’s task was to help Bremer arrange a puppet advisory body to give the Anglo-American armies a local facade. ‘Over the course of six weeks, he persuaded reluctant leadership figures to identify themselves with the American regime’ and got Bremer ‘to change the name of the body to the more dignified Governing Council (even though it remained powerless)’. Traub goes on: ‘This was just what Annan had had in mind when he argued for a serious role for the UN’.

Inevitably, the bid to create a network of collaborators for the occupation made Vieira de Mello a target for retribution by the Iraqi insurgents. In August, in politically the single most effective strike of the war, he and his staff were obliterated by a truck bomb. Annan, who had sent them to their death, did not flinch. [Sorry, but this is not true — Annan was personally devastated by the deaths] To the incredulity even of intimates and the fury of subordinates, so determined was he to do his duty by Bush and Blair that he refused to withdraw the UN mission from Baghdad. It took another bombing, a month later, for him to change his mind and pull UN personnel out of the country. But his commitment to providing cover for the occupation had not altered. Within a few months Lakhdar Brahimi–Algeria’s foreign minister at the height of the voided elections and military repression of 1991-92–was dispatched to Iraq as Annan’s special representative, in the hope that he could repeat his performance of stitching together a client regime for the United States in Afghanistan. Brahimi got out alive, but his mission was no more successful than Vieira de Mello’s, ending in the humiliation of having to announce that the CIA’s Iyad Allawi, picked by the United States, would lead the new Iraqi democracy. Allawi lasted less than a year in his position.

Back in the West, cornered by a reporter from the BBC, Annan was in the end forced to admit, under repeated questioning, that the invasion of Iraq was illegal–‘if you wish,’ he grudgingly added. [His admission to Owen Bennett-Jones may have been grudging, which is should have been, given how leading the interviewer’s questions were, but Annan’s position regretting that the Iraq war was not approved by the UN Security Council, and suggesting some doubts about its legitimacy on that ground, was long-standing.]

How little he wished it could be seen from a poignant lapsus in the same interview. Asked if he was ‘bothered that the United States is becoming an unrestrainable, unilateral superpower’, Annan replied: ‘I think in the end everybody is concluding that it is best to work together with our allies’. Our allies. Identification with the United States could not be more innocently complete.

Annan ended his tenure lowered by scandal, when it was revealed that his son Kojo had received a rake-off of some $450,000 for helping to fix up the Swiss-based company Cotecna with an inspection contract under the Oil for Food program attached to the sanctions regime against Iraq. Annan, denying any knowledge of the contract, hired Clinton’s defense counsel in the Jones-Lewinsky affair to ward off charges of corruption. The Volcker Commission, set up by Annan to investigate profiteering from the Oil for Food program, was obliged to look into the matter. Despite the incontestable fact that Annan had met with Cotecna executives, one of whom testified they had indeed discussed the UN contract with him and that documents had been rapidly shredded by one of Annan’s confidants, Volcker–whose sense of establishment solidarity was not matched by an ear for literary meaning–concluded that the evidence that Annan knew of the contract his son had so coincidentally set up was ‘not reasonably sufficient’: a formula in which the redundancy of the adverb destroys the denial of the adjective. For what would ‘unreasonably’ sufficient be? Even sympathetic reporters like Traub and Meisler can hardly conceal their view of this verdict. Still, anyone who thinks Clinton told the truth about Paula Jones is entitled to believe Annan did so about Cotecna. It would, in any case, be unfair to judge a political record by such episodes. Annan was not personally greedy, and the venality at issue was trivial by comparison with the moral enormity of the sanctions themselves.

What is one to make of the career as a whole? Annan was never a strong figure, or an independent agent. As a UN bureaucrat, he obviously had his share of vanity and ambition, but it was probably no more, and in some cases less, than that of others. There is no reason to suppose his Americanism was purely calculating, a mere means of self-advancement. It belonged to his formation. He achieved high office as a creature of the Clinton Administration, with ties that swaddled him to the end. Although personally fond of Bush and Blair, he never had a comparable rapport with the Republican Administration, which lacked the same confidence in him. When he came under attack over the Oil for Food scandal, the Democratic coterie that had elevated him rallied round. The campaign was led by Richard Holbrooke, imposing the changes in Annan’s entourage that were deemed necessary to save him. In fact, what is really striking about Annan’s tenure as Secretary General is less his personal characteristics than the nature of his inner circle. From the start, it was overwhelmingly Anglo-American, with a sprinkling of figures from the Anglophone zones of the First and Third World–Canada, Pakistan, India, Gambia–trained, like Annan himself, in the United States. A token Frenchman. Not a Russian, a Chinese, a Japanese, even a German or Italian, in sight. The provenance of figures like Robert Orr, head of ‘strategic planning’, lifted straight from the National Security Council in Washington, Louise Fréchette, Deputy Secretary General, dispatched from the Defense Ministry in Ottawa, or, lower down the scale, theorists of humanitarian intervention from Harvard and Princeton like John Ruggie and Michael Doyle, speaks for itself.

But since the real work of the UN is the manufacture not of actions but of legitimations, the two key figures were the set’s ventriloquists, who wrote the speeches and articles furbishing the Secretary General with his rhetorical image–much needed, since Annan’s own powers of expression were wooden in the extreme. This pair, Edward Mortimer and Nader Mousavizadeh, came from the Financial Times and The New Republic, respectively. Not surprisingly, Annan’s various pronouncements, applauded for their eloquence by like-minded colleagues across the West, were little more than lofty versions of editorials in these publications, whose political profile needs little specification. Mortimer, from a high clerical background in England, was a founder of the International Committee for a Free Iraq along with Ahmad Chalabi. Relations between them remained sufficiently close, Meisler tells us, for Chalabi to tip him off in advance of the Oil for Food affair. Mousavizadeh, editor of The Black Book of Bosnia, though technically a Dane, ‘was essentially America’–so says Traub–‘and, like Ruggie, could not view international law as the summum bonum’. Later, Mousavizadeh was elected a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in Davos, where Ruggie once conducted Annan as ‘the first Secretary-General to speak to the annual conclave of capital’. Mousavizadeh now adorns Goldman Sachs, presumably pending higher things.

Few episodes are more revealing of the part played by this Anglo-American duo than the way in which the world came to learn that NATO’s blitz on Yugoslavia in 1999 was legitimate. Annan, unsure how to react, had to be manned up by his mentors to issue the absolving words. Rejecting a first draft submitted to Annan that expressed regret at the outbreak of war, Mortimer and Mousavizadeh handed him their own document, lauding the attack, to sign. According to Traub, ‘Mortimer says that when he delivered the new version, Annan gazed at it fixedly and finally said, ‘This is the most difficult statement I have had to make as secretary-general.’ And then he agreed to issue the statement’.

In his second mandate, floundering in the Oil for Food crisis, Annan was summoned by Richard Holbrooke to his residence on the Upper West Side for a secret meeting, attended by Orr, Ruggie and Mousavizadeh, and three other Democratic insiders. There Annan was enjoined to fire unwanted colleagues and accept a more competent minder in the shape of Mark Malloch Brown, a former journalist for The Economist–whose main claim to fame was to have been campaign manager for Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a Bolivian ruler so hated by the population for his neoliberal zeal and subservience to Washington that he had recently had to flee the Presidential Palace by helicopter, and make for Miami. Without a murmur, Annan accepted him as the power in front of the throne. Holbrooke was pained that news of the arrangement had leaked out. ‘The intention was to keep it confidential. No one wanted to give the impression of a group of outsiders, all of them Americans, dictating what to do to a secretary general’. Impressions, apparently, are everything.”

This article concludes with the observation that, after the end of the Cold War, American domination of the UN is unchallenged: “By early 1991 the Gulf War could be launched with Soviet assent and Arab participation, under cover of a deliberately vague Security Council resolution, passed with just one abstention. Victory in the cold war, knocking the USSR out of the ring, and the concomitant eclipse of nationalism by neoliberalism in the Third World, henceforward gave the United States more thoroughgoing real power over the UN than it had enjoyed even at the height of its postwar ascendancy, since it could now rely on the compliance, tacit or express, of Russia and China with its imperatives. Annan’s Secretariat was one product of this change. The multiplication of UN peacekeeping missions in the ’90s, offloading policing tasks of lesser strategic importance for the American imperium was another. Paramountcy does not mean omnipotence. The United States cannot count on always securing UN legitimation of its actions ex ante. But where this is wanting, retrospective validation is readily available, as the occupation of Iraq has shown. What is categorically excluded is active opposition of the UN to any significant US initiative. A Security Council resolution, let alone a Secretary General, condemning an American action is unthinkable. Ban Ki-moon, whose appointment required Chinese assent, may keep a lower profile than Annan, but his role is unlikely to be very different.”