The Washington Post today carries an opinion piece on Kofi Annan’s term of office byÂ William Shawcross, British former journalist and author of The Quality of Mercy, a great book about the limitations and contradictions of the international humanitarian effort to help Cambodians, who fled to ThailandÂ during the 1979 Vietnamese invasion, after suffering inÂ isolation during theÂ traumaticÂ Khmer Rouge communitarian experiment, that followed the 1975 American pull-outÂ from Viet Nam.Â
William Shawcross’ most recent work, apparently, is “Allies — Why the West Had to Remove Saddam“
The argument in this piece on Annan, however, is flawed — the failings of the United Nations are not only due to the Member States. This is an easy answer, often given by top Annan aides (Mark Malloch Brown, Shashi Tharoor, Edward Mortimer, to name a few, who are responsible for William Shawcross’ access to Kofi Annan). No, the UN failings are also the responsibility of UN officials, including Kofi Annan and his closest associates, and to the UN administration that manages, or mismanages, the Organization.
Were the 20 UN staff members who were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003 — sent there by Kofi Annan, who still mourns and deeply regrets their dying on his orders — were they really the best in the UN system, or is this just something we all say to pay tribute to their sacrifice? Did their terrible deaths really cripple the UN in Iraq — or was it the infighting in the UN secretariat afterwards that caused the problem?
Nevertheless, in the interest of seeing a fuller picture of the problems, here is today’s article in the Washington Post, “Annan and the U.N.’s Limits”: by William Shawcross (Thursday, December 28, 2006; Page A27):
“Kofi Annan deserves a good sendoff. For 10 years he has persevered with unfailing grace in what really is ‘a job from hell.’
“I am biased — I’ve admired Annan since the early 1990s, some years before he became secretary general of the United Nations. Like the U.S. government, I welcomed his replacing Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1996. Annan had been the one U.N. official brave enough to give Washington the green light to bomb the Serbs to the negotiating table in the summer of 1995. His intervention then was crucial. [n.b. – Kofi Annan would never have done this on his own authority – Boutros-Ghali would have to have approved]
“It is easy to forget now that Annan’s first five-year term was widely seen as a great success. He presented a wise, comissioning independent inquiries into the disasters of Rwanda and Srebrenica and accepting all criticism from them, including criticism of himself.
“Kofi Annan was (and is) pro-American, and he mended the United Nations’ relations with Congress. He persuaded international businesses to help promote development. He concentrated much attention on the ravages of HIV-AIDS.
“Not surprisingly, he was reelected by acclamation in the middle of 2001. But then Sept. 11 changed everything. As Annan himself said, the world entered the 21st century through a gate of fire. That fire still rages, especially in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East.
“Unlike Annan, I was and remain in favor of the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. But the Security Council was and remains divided on the whole Iraq issue. The United Nations being what it is, no secretary general could have ignored that division.
“Tragically for Annan and the United Nations, more than 20 of his best people were brutally murdered in Baghdad by al-Qaeda in August 2003. This assault, together with the political divisions, have crippled the United Nations in Iraq ever since. But Annan insisted that the United Nations help stage the successful January 2005 election in which so many millions of Iraqis voted freely for the first time in their lives.
“The U.N. role in Iraq has been further complicated, if not diminished, by the oil-for-food scandal. This was indeed a disaster; the secretariat was incompetent, a few officials behaved corruptly and the perversion of the program by Saddam Hussein (as Charles Duelfer showed in his magisterial Iraq Survey Group report) enabled the dictator to prop up the Iraqi economy in the last years of his misrule.
“But it is wrong to blame all this on Annan — members of the Security Council, particularly France, Russia and China, were all busily corrupting the program for their own ends. Even the United States and Britain turned a blind eye to sanctions-busting when it helped their ally Jordan.
“Annan tried hard to reform the U.N. system. He has had less success than he’d hoped. In the spring he devised a complicated reform plan that, though supported by John Bolton, then the U.S. ambassador, and agreed on by the Security Council, was scuttled at the last minute by the ‘Group of 77’ developing states. To put it crudely, too many ambassadors and their presidents were frightened of losing too many jobs for their ‘nieces’ in the cozy U.N. system. Annan was deeply disappointed. Blame the members, not him.
“Annan has worked endlessly on myriad, often unseen problems. Traveling with him to countries around the world, I was astonished at the number of international calls he had to take daily from leaders begging for help in settling disputes. He dealt with such requests in a calm and conscientious manner that inspired confidence and conciliation.
“Darfur has been an agony for Annan the past two years. I was with him in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in November; at a meeting of the Security Council’s ‘permanent five,’ he was desperate to get agreement to send a U.N. peacekeeping force into Darfur to stem the mass murders and ethnic cleansing promoted by the Sudanese government.
“After a long day of negotiations, hopes rose that Sudan had finally agreed to Annan’s plan, but it was a trick: Soon after the meeting, Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, announced that he would allow no such thing.
“The bottom line is that, like Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and all too many other leaders of member states, Bashir is a gangster and a murderer. It is not Annan’s fault that the world has failed to confront Bashir effectively — the truth is that he has far too much support, tacit if not overt, among African, Arab and other governments. It’s the same with Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and other despots.
“Millions of people around the world place hope in the United Nations. It all too often disappoints. It does do vital things, but there is much it cannot do, and it is stuffed with cronyism and hypocrisy. It reflects the horrors of the world, as well as trying to keep those horrors at bay. Annan has dealt with such problems with more skill, patience and decency than any recent secretary general. If he was unable to create the decent, reformed, efficient and humane organization he sought, that is because far too few of its members want any such thing.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/27/AR2006122701385.html