Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan’s Ludicrous Syria Spin

The National Journal story today seeking to blame President Obama for missing an opportunity to end the bloodshed in Syria in 2012 is getting a lot of attention, but it does not deliver on its promise. The conceit of the piece is that the initial Geneva conference last summer, brokered by Kofi Annan (the reader’s first warning to have several grains of salt nearby), was close to a deal that would have ushered Bashar al-Assad out of power.

But the presidential election season was heating up and Obama felt cornered by Mitt Romney’s accusations that the president was not tough enough on the international stage. This, according to the sources for the story, prompted the Obama administration to call for Assad’s ouster publicly and keep military action on the table as a last resort. This angered Annan, who had somehow convinced himself he was more than a pawn in Assad’s play for time, and he quit. In an attempt to salvage their boss’s reputation, Annan’s former staffers give National Journal Annan’s version of events:

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The National Journal story today seeking to blame President Obama for missing an opportunity to end the bloodshed in Syria in 2012 is getting a lot of attention, but it does not deliver on its promise. The conceit of the piece is that the initial Geneva conference last summer, brokered by Kofi Annan (the reader’s first warning to have several grains of salt nearby), was close to a deal that would have ushered Bashar al-Assad out of power.

But the presidential election season was heating up and Obama felt cornered by Mitt Romney’s accusations that the president was not tough enough on the international stage. This, according to the sources for the story, prompted the Obama administration to call for Assad’s ouster publicly and keep military action on the table as a last resort. This angered Annan, who had somehow convinced himself he was more than a pawn in Assad’s play for time, and he quit. In an attempt to salvage their boss’s reputation, Annan’s former staffers give National Journal Annan’s version of events:

Former members of Annan’s negotiating team say that after then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on June 30, 2012, jointly signed a communique drafted by Annan, which called for a political “transition” in Syria, there was as much momentum for a deal then as Kerry achieved a year later on chemical weapons. Afterward, Annan flew from Geneva to Moscow and gained what he believed to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consent to begin to quietly push Assad out. But suddenly both the U.S. and Britain issued public calls for Assad’s ouster, and Annan felt blindsided. Immediately afterward, against his advice, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice offered up a “Chapter 7” resolution opening the door to force against Assad, which Annan felt was premature.

Annan resigned a month later.

The story refers to a joint communiqué signed on June 30, 2012 but as Laura Rozen reported on June 29, Annan had personally drafted a “non-paper” a couple days earlier that was to serve as a proposal for that political transition in Syria. And Annan’s own proposal excluded Bashar al-Assad from the new government that this diplomatic process would seek to establish. As Rozen wrote:

The national unity government “could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups,” the non-paper says, “but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine of [sic] the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation”–namely, Bashar al-Assad.

All the relevant parties clearly understood that at the time. Indeed, it was that demand that Assad personally be excluded from any “national unity government” after the “transition” that made the Russians hesitant to keep cooperating. Rozen followed up with a report on July 1:

Russia continued to oppose language in the statement calling for a political transition under which Bashar al-Assad would be required to leave power. But [Hillary] Clinton insisted the edits agreed on at the meeting convened by UN Syria envoy Kofi Annan Saturday did not alter that key demand.

That’s when Clinton said Assad had to go–the remark that supposedly angered Annan enough to quit. But the language of the dispute gives it away: the Russians “continued to oppose” the Syria working group’s demand for Assad’s ouster, which means both Annan and the U.S. were working under the assumption Assad would have to leave office–and willing to say so.

That means that according to the documentation released at the time, Annan was taking a hard line on Assad and the Russians got cold feet–presumably because Assad had told his Russian patrons the deal was a nonstarter. Even the National Journal story alludes to this; the report quotes Frederic Hof saying that the process was an uphill battle in part because “Assad had no interest whatever in being ‘transitioned.’ He was able to read the text of the Geneva agreement quite accurately.”

What exactly was Annan’s end game here? That he would pass a resolution vague enough to trick Assad into leaving office without realizing it? What kind of fantasy world was he living in? The Syria diplomacy was not derailed by President Obama trying to look tough to voters–who, by the way, do not want to go to war in Syria. There were three major states driving this process: the U.S., Russia, and Syria. Annan does not seem to have understood the political atmosphere in any of the three states, so it’s no wonder his efforts failed to achieve anything. But that failure is his, and he should stop blaming others.

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What is the UN Secretary-General’s Job?

Several years ago, I took the opportunity to hear UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speak at a Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies graduation. The Secretary-General is not the most dynamic speaker and, if memory serves, his speech was basically pabulum, talking a great deal about meetings he had had; if there was a focus, it was probably on global warming. To be fair, while his predecessor Kofi Annan is a better public speaker, there is little substance to Annan’s speeches as well.

The problem with many of the UN Secretaries-General is that they have redefined their position to be that of the world’s diplomat, and have assumed a bully pulpit for which they have no right. When the UN was created, the purpose of the secretary-general, first and foremost, was to be the UN’s administrator. He was meant to make the organization’s bureaucracy function in a clear and efficient way.

By this standard, both Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan have been abject failures. Take the most recent scandal at the United Nations: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shipped hi-tech computers to Iran and North Korea in contravention of UN sanctions. That is a failure of administration at the highest level. In any normal organization, it would lead to the resignation not only of WIPO’s director, but also that of the UN administration, because it was the failure of the secretary-general’s oversight that allowed this transaction to occur.

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Several years ago, I took the opportunity to hear UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speak at a Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies graduation. The Secretary-General is not the most dynamic speaker and, if memory serves, his speech was basically pabulum, talking a great deal about meetings he had had; if there was a focus, it was probably on global warming. To be fair, while his predecessor Kofi Annan is a better public speaker, there is little substance to Annan’s speeches as well.

The problem with many of the UN Secretaries-General is that they have redefined their position to be that of the world’s diplomat, and have assumed a bully pulpit for which they have no right. When the UN was created, the purpose of the secretary-general, first and foremost, was to be the UN’s administrator. He was meant to make the organization’s bureaucracy function in a clear and efficient way.

By this standard, both Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan have been abject failures. Take the most recent scandal at the United Nations: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shipped hi-tech computers to Iran and North Korea in contravention of UN sanctions. That is a failure of administration at the highest level. In any normal organization, it would lead to the resignation not only of WIPO’s director, but also that of the UN administration, because it was the failure of the secretary-general’s oversight that allowed this transaction to occur.

The same is true with Kofi Annan. There has seldom been a statesman who enjoys such a reputation as an elder statesman but whose record rests on failure. As director of the UN’s peacekeeping operation, Annan’s indecisiveness enabled the Rwanda genocide to develop and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands, a casualty count for which Annan has apologized. As director of peacekeeping operations, Annan also presided over the failure to protect the safe haven in Srebrenica in 1995, in which 7,000 men and boys were slaughtered by Serbian fighters. It was as secretary-general, however, where Annan truly failed. He ignored his primary responsibility as administrator-in-chief in order to traipse around the globe at donor expense, giving speeches and collecting laurels. By doing so, he presided over the worst corruption scandal to hit the United Nations, one for which he has never truly paid the price.

The United Nations has an important role. Having a place to convene enemies and combatants is a valuable enabler of diplomacy. If the UN secretary-general is unable or incapable of managing UN affairs, however, then either it is time for the UN secretary-general to resign or it is time to shrink the UN and its myriad agencies back to a manageable size. Rather than sweep the WIPO scandal under the rug, perhaps it’s time to erase this notion of a world diplomat and instead return the secretary-general to his original purpose as an administrator and facilitator.

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Dead-End Diplomatic Initiatives in Syria

Last Friday, in a village near the Syrian town of Houla, a horrifying massacre unfolded. After government forces attacked an opposition rally, they shelled the town and then sent in the shabiha, the notorious Alawite-dominated, pro-government militia that carries out the same role in Syria as Serbian goon squads did during the Bosnian civil war. The shabiha went door to door, killing people either by shooting them or slitting their throats. At least 108 people were killed, among them 49 children and 34 women.

Given the terrible nature of these atrocities, the response from what is known as the international community is almost comically ineffectual. The UN Security Council voted to condemn the massacre–but not to do anything about it. Now UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan has traveled to Syria to try to “salvage” his ineffectual peace plan. He thunders from his high perch:

“I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process.”

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Last Friday, in a village near the Syrian town of Houla, a horrifying massacre unfolded. After government forces attacked an opposition rally, they shelled the town and then sent in the shabiha, the notorious Alawite-dominated, pro-government militia that carries out the same role in Syria as Serbian goon squads did during the Bosnian civil war. The shabiha went door to door, killing people either by shooting them or slitting their throats. At least 108 people were killed, among them 49 children and 34 women.

Given the terrible nature of these atrocities, the response from what is known as the international community is almost comically ineffectual. The UN Security Council voted to condemn the massacre–but not to do anything about it. Now UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan has traveled to Syria to try to “salvage” his ineffectual peace plan. He thunders from his high perch:

“I urge the government to take bold steps to signal that it is serious in its intention to resolve this crisis peacefully, and for everyone involved to help create the right context for a credible political process.”

Were this quote not contained in the New York Times, I could swear that it came from the Onion–it is such a pitch-perfect parody of the weasel words that international bureaucrats use to avoid assuming responsibility for doing something about an assault on human rights. (What steps could the government of Syria possibly take to convince Annan that it’s NOT serious about resolving “this crisis peacefully,” short of using chemical weapons on the protesters?) Only it’s not a parody.

And nor is this Times headline: “U.S. Hopes Assad Can Be Eased Out With Russia’s Aid.” The administration must be living in some alternative universe if it thinks that Russia–Syria’s second-closest ally (after Iran) and one of its chief sources of weapons–will suddenly turn on the Assad regime after having stood by it during the massacres of the past year.

All of the attention being devoted to such dead-end diplomatic initiatives is simply indicative of the fundamental lack of seriousness in Washington regarding events in Syria. President Obama may have created an Atrocities Prevention Board, but he is doing nothing serious to prevent the ongoing atrocities in Syria.

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The Bucks Stop with Kofi Annan

A friend on Capitol Hill alerts me to Kofi Annan’s budget for his doomed-from-the-start observer mission in Syria. (The breakdown is in paragraph 17):

The estimated requirements for the Office of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis for the 10-month period ending 31 December 2012 amount to $7,488,000 net ($7,932,200 gross) and will provide for salaries and common staff costs for 18 positions ($3,022,300), as well as operational costs ($4,465,700), comprising consultancies ($165,700), official travel ($1,590,500), and facilities and infrastructure ($578,400); ground transportation ($100,200); air transportation ($750,000); communications ($94,800) and information technology ($135,700); and other supplies, services and equipment ($1,050,400). Of the non-post items, $111,800 relates to one-time expenditures for the refurbishment of office space ($30,000) and provision of information technology and other equipment ($81,800).

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A friend on Capitol Hill alerts me to Kofi Annan’s budget for his doomed-from-the-start observer mission in Syria. (The breakdown is in paragraph 17):

The estimated requirements for the Office of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis for the 10-month period ending 31 December 2012 amount to $7,488,000 net ($7,932,200 gross) and will provide for salaries and common staff costs for 18 positions ($3,022,300), as well as operational costs ($4,465,700), comprising consultancies ($165,700), official travel ($1,590,500), and facilities and infrastructure ($578,400); ground transportation ($100,200); air transportation ($750,000); communications ($94,800) and information technology ($135,700); and other supplies, services and equipment ($1,050,400). Of the non-post items, $111,800 relates to one-time expenditures for the refurbishment of office space ($30,000) and provision of information technology and other equipment ($81,800).

So, Kofi Annan’s office will have 18 people?  Dividing the salary line item by 18, each employee will stand to make about $168,000—and that’s just ten months. The entire budget is a bit extreme, but that’s nothing new for Annan. Not only did he oversee the UN’s worst corruption scandal during his tenure as secretary-general, but he bankrupted his own “Global Humanitarian Foundation” retirement post through massive mismanagement. Western diplomats may assuage their guilt over the atrocities in Syria by throwing money at Annan and his office. They may not help Syrians, but they can be certain of one thing: When it comes to Annan, the bucks certainly stop with him.

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Kofi Annan Wrong Man for Syria Job

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby have appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be their top envoy on the worsening situation in Syria. While Annan is certainly a better choice than was Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammad al-Dabi, the Arab League’s previous pick and a man complicit in the Darfur genocide, Annan is not a good choice.

As head of peace-keeping during the Rwanda genocide, Annan hid behind legalisms and bureaucracy. Had he been bolder, his peacekeepers might actually have kept the peace, but for Annan, the path of least resistance enabled a quarter million civilians to die. His apology came years too late for people there.

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby have appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be their top envoy on the worsening situation in Syria. While Annan is certainly a better choice than was Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammad al-Dabi, the Arab League’s previous pick and a man complicit in the Darfur genocide, Annan is not a good choice.

As head of peace-keeping during the Rwanda genocide, Annan hid behind legalisms and bureaucracy. Had he been bolder, his peacekeepers might actually have kept the peace, but for Annan, the path of least resistance enabled a quarter million civilians to die. His apology came years too late for people there.

Alas, Annan failed upwards. While Annan saw his position as secretary-general as a bully-pulpit, the world’s top diplomat as it were, that is not actually the job of the secretary-general. Rather, the secretary-general is supposed to be the UN’s top administrator, responsible for its running and operations so that diplomats appointed by sovereign states can get at the business of diplomacy. Annan, however, failed at this task. Overseeing the Oil-for-Food program, the UN’s largest humanitarian effort, Annan presided over unprecedented fraud, from which his family profited. Had Annan allowed the UN to be audited by outside forensic experts rather than the UN’s own hand-picked panel, much more might have come to light.

Annan’s utter incompetence would have landed any other executive out of a job or in prison, but the culture which the UN embraces values neither accountability nor transparency.

Unfortunately, lives are on the line in Syria, and so Annan’s incompetence will again have real world consequences. The Syrian people deserve better.

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Some Advice for Matt Yglesias

The Dean of the Credulosphere is upset that I have not expressed sufficient reverence at the unveiling of J Street, and cannot understand why we Israel “hawks” (his label) haven’t learned anything from the obvious failure of everything we believe in. His evidence? The difficulties of the Iraq war. Well, let me break out the sock puppets and flash cards for the Dean: Israel and Iraq are two different countries.

But never mind that rather large quibble. Yglesias is exasperated and he’s just not going to take it any longer:

the attitude of thoughtless, unreflective scorn that you see from the Pollacks [sic!] and Kirchicks and Goldfarbs of the world is like it comes from some weird alternative reality where their ideas have generally been deemed vindicated, rather than one where 178% of the public says we’re on the wrong track.

What is the counterproposal to an effort at diplomatic engagement with the existing non-AQ powers in the Middle East? More of the same? Because the last five years have worked out so great?

The counterproposal to diplomatic engagement with Hamas is defeating the group in the only arena that it is willing to be engaged — the battlefield. As I always say, you don’t make peace with your enemies, you defeat them.

And as far as Israel is concerned, yes, hawkishness over the last five years has indeed worked out “so great.” The Dean of the Credulosphere doesn’t appear to have a historic memory longer than three or four blog posts, but if he did he would remember that five years ago buses and restaurants were being detonated by suicide bombers on a weekly basis in Israel. In March of 2002 alone, 134 Israelis were murdered in such attacks.

Did diplomatic engagement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Yasser Arafat stop this relentless murder? Of course not — Operation Defensive Shield did. The IDF killed or captured the people responsible for the terror war, sent the rest underground in fear for their lives, encircled the hotbeds of Palestinian terrorism with military checkpoints and roadblocks, and flooded terror networks with informants. By 2004 the intifada was over; Israel won, Yasser Arafat lost, and after four horrible years of death and murder, Israelis were able to resume something resembling a normal life.

If you’re the Dean of the Credulosphere, you don’t know any of this, or you choose to ignore it, perhaps assuming that the intifada ended because some kind of vague deal was struck, or because Kofi Annan asked everyone to cut it out, or because terrorists just got tired of fighting, or, you know, whatever; you can always blog about basketball, right? Well, Dean, no deals were struck, and there was no diplomatic solution. So yes, the past five years in Israel have actually been quite nice as far as Palestinian terrorism is concerned. I heartily endorse more of the same. It’s called winning.

The Dean of the Credulosphere is upset that I have not expressed sufficient reverence at the unveiling of J Street, and cannot understand why we Israel “hawks” (his label) haven’t learned anything from the obvious failure of everything we believe in. His evidence? The difficulties of the Iraq war. Well, let me break out the sock puppets and flash cards for the Dean: Israel and Iraq are two different countries.

But never mind that rather large quibble. Yglesias is exasperated and he’s just not going to take it any longer:

the attitude of thoughtless, unreflective scorn that you see from the Pollacks [sic!] and Kirchicks and Goldfarbs of the world is like it comes from some weird alternative reality where their ideas have generally been deemed vindicated, rather than one where 178% of the public says we’re on the wrong track.

What is the counterproposal to an effort at diplomatic engagement with the existing non-AQ powers in the Middle East? More of the same? Because the last five years have worked out so great?

The counterproposal to diplomatic engagement with Hamas is defeating the group in the only arena that it is willing to be engaged — the battlefield. As I always say, you don’t make peace with your enemies, you defeat them.

And as far as Israel is concerned, yes, hawkishness over the last five years has indeed worked out “so great.” The Dean of the Credulosphere doesn’t appear to have a historic memory longer than three or four blog posts, but if he did he would remember that five years ago buses and restaurants were being detonated by suicide bombers on a weekly basis in Israel. In March of 2002 alone, 134 Israelis were murdered in such attacks.

Did diplomatic engagement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Yasser Arafat stop this relentless murder? Of course not — Operation Defensive Shield did. The IDF killed or captured the people responsible for the terror war, sent the rest underground in fear for their lives, encircled the hotbeds of Palestinian terrorism with military checkpoints and roadblocks, and flooded terror networks with informants. By 2004 the intifada was over; Israel won, Yasser Arafat lost, and after four horrible years of death and murder, Israelis were able to resume something resembling a normal life.

If you’re the Dean of the Credulosphere, you don’t know any of this, or you choose to ignore it, perhaps assuming that the intifada ended because some kind of vague deal was struck, or because Kofi Annan asked everyone to cut it out, or because terrorists just got tired of fighting, or, you know, whatever; you can always blog about basketball, right? Well, Dean, no deals were struck, and there was no diplomatic solution. So yes, the past five years in Israel have actually been quite nice as far as Palestinian terrorism is concerned. I heartily endorse more of the same. It’s called winning.

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Carter’s Awkward Moments

Jimmy Carter’s upcoming handshake with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus promises to be an incredibly awkward moment. In fact, it will be so awkward that–almost forty-eight hours after the story broke–the Carter Center has yet to confirm the visit (though Hamas has done so giddily). Amidst this dithering, the U.S. foreign policy community has overwhelmingly lambasted the proposed meet-and-greet, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Ibrahim Hooper seems to be Carter’s lone supporter in Washington.It’s gotten so bad that even Kofi Annan–who infamously greeted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during his tenure as UN Secretary General–is distancing himself from Carter, canceling his plans to accompany the former U.S. president to the Middle East.

Rest assured, this awkwardness is here to stay, and will not subside once Carter boards his plane back from Damascus. Rather, it will follow him all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver–where the keynote address he will deliver as a former Democratic president will be a chillingly awkward moment for the ultimate presidential nominee. Indeed, without Carter having even addressed the Hamas meeting publicly, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have criticized Carter’s plans through their press offices. For now, Carter’s lack of attachment to either campaign makes this form of distancing acceptable. Yet when Carter addresses a national audience for a full half-hour or so in late August at the convention, the ultimate nominee will have some serious explaining to do–particularly because the nominee’s campaign is largely responsible for drafting speakers, and thus technically responsible for Carter’s time in the limelight.

Naturally, Carter’s visit with Hamas will be most problematic if Obama wins the nomination. As an article in the LA Times noted yesterday, Obama continues to face doubters within the Jewish community, who remain concerned by his longtime relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and question the sincerity of his pro-Israel pronouncements. It is for this reason that Carter’s decision to legitimize Hamas now is most confounding: how can Carter, who has hinted at his support for Obama, put him in such an awkward position?

Jimmy Carter’s upcoming handshake with Hamas leader Khalid Meshal in Damascus promises to be an incredibly awkward moment. In fact, it will be so awkward that–almost forty-eight hours after the story broke–the Carter Center has yet to confirm the visit (though Hamas has done so giddily). Amidst this dithering, the U.S. foreign policy community has overwhelmingly lambasted the proposed meet-and-greet, while the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Ibrahim Hooper seems to be Carter’s lone supporter in Washington.It’s gotten so bad that even Kofi Annan–who infamously greeted Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during his tenure as UN Secretary General–is distancing himself from Carter, canceling his plans to accompany the former U.S. president to the Middle East.

Rest assured, this awkwardness is here to stay, and will not subside once Carter boards his plane back from Damascus. Rather, it will follow him all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Denver–where the keynote address he will deliver as a former Democratic president will be a chillingly awkward moment for the ultimate presidential nominee. Indeed, without Carter having even addressed the Hamas meeting publicly, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have criticized Carter’s plans through their press offices. For now, Carter’s lack of attachment to either campaign makes this form of distancing acceptable. Yet when Carter addresses a national audience for a full half-hour or so in late August at the convention, the ultimate nominee will have some serious explaining to do–particularly because the nominee’s campaign is largely responsible for drafting speakers, and thus technically responsible for Carter’s time in the limelight.

Naturally, Carter’s visit with Hamas will be most problematic if Obama wins the nomination. As an article in the LA Times noted yesterday, Obama continues to face doubters within the Jewish community, who remain concerned by his longtime relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright and question the sincerity of his pro-Israel pronouncements. It is for this reason that Carter’s decision to legitimize Hamas now is most confounding: how can Carter, who has hinted at his support for Obama, put him in such an awkward position?

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“They Want to Destroy People”

“They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” said President Bush Wednesday, referring to Iran’s theocrats. The leader of the free world did not have to wait long for criticism. “That’s as uninformed as McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda,” remarked nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.”

It is true that Iranian leaders have never publicly proclaimed their desire for the ultimate weapon in history. In fact, they have said exactly the opposite. So award a point to Cirincione.

Yet make that an exceedingly technical point. On the broader issue of truth, the President scores higher. In my book, a nation has essentially declared it wants the bomb when it, like Iran, hides parts of its nuclear program, possesses plans for nuclear warheads, conducts nuclear weaponization experiments, builds ballistic missiles, and voices a desire to wipe another country off the map. If I ever have an opportunity to talk to Cirincione, I will ask this: “Is there any room in your world for common sense?”

In any event, there’s none in Kofi Annan’s universe, at least judging from his comments reported by the Associated Press on Friday. The former U.N. secretary-general, in remarks summarized by that news organization, said he “didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.” Nonetheless, the retired diplomat felt confident enough to say this: “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”

Well, I hope no one is contemplating listening to Annan. As a matter of logic, one cannot comment on military action if one is too ignorant to discuss why the U.N. has demanded that Iran stop enrichment in the first place.

Until Kofi catches up on his reading, we should take our advice from Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, while visiting Oman, the Vice President said that “Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” Why? Because Annan is correct about one thing. In his recent comments he said that all Security Council members must live up to their “responsibility to protect.” If this noble concept means anything, it means stopping militant regimes like Iran’s from getting the capability to “destroy people.”

“They’ve declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” said President Bush Wednesday, referring to Iran’s theocrats. The leader of the free world did not have to wait long for criticism. “That’s as uninformed as McCain’s statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda,” remarked nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.”

It is true that Iranian leaders have never publicly proclaimed their desire for the ultimate weapon in history. In fact, they have said exactly the opposite. So award a point to Cirincione.

Yet make that an exceedingly technical point. On the broader issue of truth, the President scores higher. In my book, a nation has essentially declared it wants the bomb when it, like Iran, hides parts of its nuclear program, possesses plans for nuclear warheads, conducts nuclear weaponization experiments, builds ballistic missiles, and voices a desire to wipe another country off the map. If I ever have an opportunity to talk to Cirincione, I will ask this: “Is there any room in your world for common sense?”

In any event, there’s none in Kofi Annan’s universe, at least judging from his comments reported by the Associated Press on Friday. The former U.N. secretary-general, in remarks summarized by that news organization, said he “didn’t have enough information to comment on the justification for the U.N. Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment.” Nonetheless, the retired diplomat felt confident enough to say this: “We cannot, I’m sure, take on another military action in Iran, and I hope no one is contemplating it.”

Well, I hope no one is contemplating listening to Annan. As a matter of logic, one cannot comment on military action if one is too ignorant to discuss why the U.N. has demanded that Iran stop enrichment in the first place.

Until Kofi catches up on his reading, we should take our advice from Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, while visiting Oman, the Vice President said that “Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.” Why? Because Annan is correct about one thing. In his recent comments he said that all Security Council members must live up to their “responsibility to protect.” If this noble concept means anything, it means stopping militant regimes like Iran’s from getting the capability to “destroy people.”

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Carter, Annan to Head Peace Mission to Mideast

No, really: that’s the headline of the story. Here are the details:

The council of world leaders launched by former President Nelson Mandela is sending a three-person team to help ease tensions in the troubled Middle East, the organization known as The Elders said Friday.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Irish president Mary Robinson will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from April 13th to April 21st.

In other news, Rudy Giuliani and Benjamin Netanyahu will head a mission to Tehran seeking to ease international tensions over the Iranian nuclear program, Lou Dobbs is leading a delegation to Mexico City that hopes to assuage controversy about illegal immigration, and Al Sharpton will be appearing at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center to speak about his leadership in promoting social harmony between blacks and Jews.

No, really: that’s the headline of the story. Here are the details:

The council of world leaders launched by former President Nelson Mandela is sending a three-person team to help ease tensions in the troubled Middle East, the organization known as The Elders said Friday.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Irish president Mary Robinson will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from April 13th to April 21st.

In other news, Rudy Giuliani and Benjamin Netanyahu will head a mission to Tehran seeking to ease international tensions over the Iranian nuclear program, Lou Dobbs is leading a delegation to Mexico City that hopes to assuage controversy about illegal immigration, and Al Sharpton will be appearing at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center to speak about his leadership in promoting social harmony between blacks and Jews.

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The U.N.’s Action

In 2005, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said that the United Nations suffered from a “culture of inaction.” This was after he had made public his findings about the organization’s oil-for-food scandal. Mr. Volcker’s analysis of the body’s lackadaiscal approach to policing the behavior of its own employees and programs was apt. But it does not accurately describe what the UN is now doing to an internal panel tasked with investigating corruption in its procurement office.

For UN bureaucrats have been busy, busy bees in seeing that the unit tasked with investigating corruption in the awarding of contracts be eliminated. Thus far, these private investigators have uncovered over $600 million in “tainted United Nations contracts and [are] currently investigating an additional $1 billion in suspect agreements.” Much of this corruption has occurred within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Kofi Annan’s old stomping grounds, which operates mostly in war-torn and developing countries. Many of those nations and the UN employees who staff the DPKO have been sucking at the international teat far too long and successfully to give the game up now. Today, the General Assembly will vote on a measure to shut the investigation down.

The United Nations has long been incapable of enforcing its own resolutions. This has never been a secret. What we discover now is that it is utterly incapable–even unwilling–to enforce its own workplace procedures, adopted in the aftermath of a massive financial scandal. The United Nations can’t police its own employees, let alone the world. Its defenders become irate when the United States insists on the organization fulfilling these rather basic expectations in return for the billions of dollars it receives every year. But what can they possibly say in response to this?

In 2005, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said that the United Nations suffered from a “culture of inaction.” This was after he had made public his findings about the organization’s oil-for-food scandal. Mr. Volcker’s analysis of the body’s lackadaiscal approach to policing the behavior of its own employees and programs was apt. But it does not accurately describe what the UN is now doing to an internal panel tasked with investigating corruption in its procurement office.

For UN bureaucrats have been busy, busy bees in seeing that the unit tasked with investigating corruption in the awarding of contracts be eliminated. Thus far, these private investigators have uncovered over $600 million in “tainted United Nations contracts and [are] currently investigating an additional $1 billion in suspect agreements.” Much of this corruption has occurred within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Kofi Annan’s old stomping grounds, which operates mostly in war-torn and developing countries. Many of those nations and the UN employees who staff the DPKO have been sucking at the international teat far too long and successfully to give the game up now. Today, the General Assembly will vote on a measure to shut the investigation down.

The United Nations has long been incapable of enforcing its own resolutions. This has never been a secret. What we discover now is that it is utterly incapable–even unwilling–to enforce its own workplace procedures, adopted in the aftermath of a massive financial scandal. The United Nations can’t police its own employees, let alone the world. Its defenders become irate when the United States insists on the organization fulfilling these rather basic expectations in return for the billions of dollars it receives every year. But what can they possibly say in response to this?

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Elders (Not Betters)

Nelson Mandela will celebrate his 89th birthday tomorrow. To mark the occasion, Mandela, along with Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and other “elders” of our global village will launch an extraordinary worldwide humanitarian campaign. The Council of Elders, as the Daily Mail calls it, will be a “United Nations of the great, the good and the rich.” (Expect Clinton—Bill, that is—to have a leading role.)

Conceived by entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel, this new assemblage will tackle (and presumably attempt to eradicate) armed conflict, AIDS, and global warming. But are these people really capable of saving the world? Many of the big names on this list didn’t exactly distinguish themselves the first time around. Kofi Annan presided over the decline and (further) corruption of the United Nations; Bill Clinton, his successes at home notwithstanding, failed to use American power abroad wisely. Carter was weak as a president, and seems to have gone around the bend since leaving office. It will take people of great vision and courage to guide the world through the strife undoubtedly lying ahead. (As Washington journalist David von Drehle memorably put it, “some very different sort of world is roaring up at us.”) These “elders,” unfortunately, do not possess that vision.

This new multilateralist group may have commendable aims; ironically, its charter members have helped discredit multilateralism as an instrument in global politics. I worry that this irony will be obscured by the pomp and circumstance attending tomorrow’s celebration.

Nelson Mandela will celebrate his 89th birthday tomorrow. To mark the occasion, Mandela, along with Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and other “elders” of our global village will launch an extraordinary worldwide humanitarian campaign. The Council of Elders, as the Daily Mail calls it, will be a “United Nations of the great, the good and the rich.” (Expect Clinton—Bill, that is—to have a leading role.)

Conceived by entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel, this new assemblage will tackle (and presumably attempt to eradicate) armed conflict, AIDS, and global warming. But are these people really capable of saving the world? Many of the big names on this list didn’t exactly distinguish themselves the first time around. Kofi Annan presided over the decline and (further) corruption of the United Nations; Bill Clinton, his successes at home notwithstanding, failed to use American power abroad wisely. Carter was weak as a president, and seems to have gone around the bend since leaving office. It will take people of great vision and courage to guide the world through the strife undoubtedly lying ahead. (As Washington journalist David von Drehle memorably put it, “some very different sort of world is roaring up at us.”) These “elders,” unfortunately, do not possess that vision.

This new multilateralist group may have commendable aims; ironically, its charter members have helped discredit multilateralism as an instrument in global politics. I worry that this irony will be obscured by the pomp and circumstance attending tomorrow’s celebration.

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Lord Hannay’s Defense

Last week I gave a lecture at the London School of Economics titled “What’s Wrong with the United Nations?” I was honored by the presence of Lord David Hannay, who served in the early 1990’s as the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Lord Hannay is a smart and sophisticated man, and a friendly conversationalist. He also personifies the mindset of the UN.

In 2004, Kofi Annan, in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and the Iraq war debate, undertook one of the UN’s most far-reaching reform initiatives by appointing a High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. Lord Hannay was one of the panel’s few Western members. He and I had met once before, at a conference to evaluate the panel’s report. Where I was critical of the UN, Lord Hannay voiced the argument that the UN is nothing more than the sum of its member states and is used as a whipping boy by thoughtless critics.

This time, at a dinner following my talk, Lord Hannay took issue with an attack (similar to what I wrote in this recent post) I had made on the UN’s Human Rights Council. Hannay said that the Council’s singular chastisement of Israel was understandable in light of Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon last summer.

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Last week I gave a lecture at the London School of Economics titled “What’s Wrong with the United Nations?” I was honored by the presence of Lord David Hannay, who served in the early 1990’s as the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN. Lord Hannay is a smart and sophisticated man, and a friendly conversationalist. He also personifies the mindset of the UN.

In 2004, Kofi Annan, in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and the Iraq war debate, undertook one of the UN’s most far-reaching reform initiatives by appointing a High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. Lord Hannay was one of the panel’s few Western members. He and I had met once before, at a conference to evaluate the panel’s report. Where I was critical of the UN, Lord Hannay voiced the argument that the UN is nothing more than the sum of its member states and is used as a whipping boy by thoughtless critics.

This time, at a dinner following my talk, Lord Hannay took issue with an attack (similar to what I wrote in this recent post) I had made on the UN’s Human Rights Council. Hannay said that the Council’s singular chastisement of Israel was understandable in light of Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon last summer.

Never mind that Israel’s actions in Lebanon were in response to a deadly attack on its territory and soldiers by a military force sworn to its destruction. Are Israel’s abuses, such as they are, more blameworthy than those of, say, Burma, Sudan, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc.? Is it possible that Lord Hannay believes that they are? More likely, he knows better, but suppresses common sense in order to defend the organization that he cherishes.

This impulse to protect the UN at all costs is just what led the body into its worst moments, and Lord Hannay, as it turns out, was in the thick of that. I refer to the UN’s refusal to lift a finger to stop genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The U.S., under President Clinton, was in the forefront of this disgraceful decision. But Lord Hannay stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States government.

Some UN peacekeepers were present in Rwanda when the slaughter began, and they pleaded for reinforcements. Instead, the opposite happened. As recalled by journalist Linda Melvern: “It was the British ambassador, Lord David Hannay, who first suggested to the council that the peacekeepers be withdrawn, and he had suggested ‘a token force’ to remain behind in Rwanda in order to ‘appease public opinion.’”

So much for Lord Hannay’s credentials on human rights. A decade later, when questioned by CNN about those events, Hannay pleaded ignorance. Reports by UN forces in the field saying that mass murder was imminent were “smothered,” he explained. “The Security Council was never told something appalling was going to happen. We were flying completely blind.”

Perhaps so. But who “smothered” the reports to which Lord Hannay was referring, the ones that were sent to UN headquarters in New York by General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian who commanded UN forces in Rwanda? None other than the Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; Kofi Annan, then the head of the UN department of peacekeeping; and Annan’s deputy, Iqbal Riza. They did so because they feared that the truth about Rwanda’s imminent genocide would lead UN member states to order actions that might fail and reflect poorly on the UN. Better to let events take their course. In short, Lord Hannay’s self-exoneration gives the lie to his own argument that the UN is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

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The UN’s Human-Rights Debacle

The announcement last Tuesday by the State Department that, for a second straight year, the U.S. would decline to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council inscribes finis on a landmark effort to reform the UN—and suggests that all such efforts are doomed to fail.

In the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and the rending of the Security Council over the Iraq war, Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, with an unusually ambitious mandate for UN reform. It issued a report in late 2004, which was largely incorporated in Annan’s own reform package formulated for the UN summit of September 2005. Both the panel and Annan asserted in unusually blunt terms that the longstanding UN Commission on Human Rights had strayed so far from its original purposes that, in Annan’s words, it “cast . . . a shadow on the reputation” of the whole UN. Therefore, it was to be abolished in favor of a new body designed to avoid the faults of the old.

Going into the summit, the U.S. worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Annan toward this goal, combining the clout of Washington with that of the UN establishment, two powerful forces that have often been at cross purposes. Even this alliance, however, proved too weak to achieve its key goals in the design of the new Human Rights Council.

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The announcement last Tuesday by the State Department that, for a second straight year, the U.S. would decline to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council inscribes finis on a landmark effort to reform the UN—and suggests that all such efforts are doomed to fail.

In the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and the rending of the Security Council over the Iraq war, Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, with an unusually ambitious mandate for UN reform. It issued a report in late 2004, which was largely incorporated in Annan’s own reform package formulated for the UN summit of September 2005. Both the panel and Annan asserted in unusually blunt terms that the longstanding UN Commission on Human Rights had strayed so far from its original purposes that, in Annan’s words, it “cast . . . a shadow on the reputation” of the whole UN. Therefore, it was to be abolished in favor of a new body designed to avoid the faults of the old.

Going into the summit, the U.S. worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Annan toward this goal, combining the clout of Washington with that of the UN establishment, two powerful forces that have often been at cross purposes. Even this alliance, however, proved too weak to achieve its key goals in the design of the new Human Rights Council.

In the hope of assuring a council made up of states that themselves respect human rights, Annan had proposed election by a two-thirds majority. This measure was rejected. Then, in the hope of setting a minimum standard for election to the council, the U.S. proposed that states under UN Security Council sanction for human-rights abuses be barred from membership. This barrier was so nominal that it would have excluded only two of the UN’s 193 members—Sudan and the Ivory Coast. But even this was too much for the UN majority, and it too was rejected.

In the face of these defeats, the U.S. announced last year that it would not seek a seat on the new council, for fear of legitimating a body that might prove as unfaithful to the cause of human rights as its predecessor. The U.S. expressed its hope that the performance of the body would allow us to join in subsequent years. The reality, however, has exceeded our fears.

The old commission would rebuke only a few dictatorships while directing its main fire against Israel. The new Human Rights Council has gone farther. It has remained in almost perpetual session castigating Israel and has not seen fit to utter a word of criticism of any other state. (It did pass one resolution on Darfur. This lauded the government of Sudan for its cooperation. It was supported by all the Muslim members and opposed by all Western members.)

Compared to other UN failings, those of the Human Rights Commission seemed easy to fix. That this has proved utterly impossible speaks volumes about the chances that the institution as a whole can ever be fixed.

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