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Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Looks like the UN's starting to gain a little bit of ground back (and the US is beginning to admit what was obvious even to semi-educated leftists such as myself). From a Newsweek article on Kofi Annan:

U.N. officials spent some lonely weeks combing the papers for any mention of their organization, trying to reassure themselves they hadn’t been completely forgotten. Now they are back in the news, and with the Coalition struggling to cope with a society threatening to spiral out of control, there does seem to be a dawning realization among American officials that the United Nations, with its long experience in reconstruction efforts, may have something to offer after all. Americans are pushing Annan to appoint a candidate of their choosing, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, as a U.N. representative in Iraq, though Annan is not so sure he wants to be seen relegating human-rights issues to a back burner. The shift, in any case, is a step sure to gladden multilateralist hearts. “They want to share the blame with more people” in the complicated aftermath of the war, one U.N. official observes. “That’s what we’re here for.”

That's a pretty cynical way of putting it, but I guess it's good that they're considering the possibility. I dunno. When reading this story, I had a certain reaction, and I hope to god Kofi had the same one: as soon as it became clear that the UN was going to get shut out of the war, I hope he prepared both an internal political strategy and an external policy plan for when the US would almost certainly drop the ball during the reconstruction and admit that they needed help, so the Iraqi people could suffer as little as possible. This, after all, is what politics at its best is for--and, lest we get caught up too much in partisan accusations, why having not only a good policy but having a political strategy to successfully implement and maintain it is crucial to doing the kind of good works that (hopefully) everyone involved in politics want to do. But that's old-hat policy stuff, right guys?

Ah, but read on:

“The future of the institution depends on how he responds to the challenge,” says a former U.S. official, as much as on whether President George W. Bush ultimately sides with the hawks who call him “Kofi Annoying,” or with his more moderate friends in the State Department, who’d rather see the United Nations reformed than retired.

Is Annan up to the job?...Is he too tentative and polite to use the only real tool he has, the bully pulpit? People the world over were waiting for his big antiwar speech, but he never delivered anything of the kind. “He’s —not the missionary type,” says a key aide. “He’s very much about will it help the process, will it help the United Nations.” Which is why he is not about to do what his most adoring fans would like—spend some political capital and join Britain’s Tony Blair in making the case for multilateralism. His undramatic answer? Wait for passions to fade, and then wait some more, to see what jobs are actually offered the United Nations in Iraq, rather than risking rejection by volunteering for specific duties. For his critics, Annan’s under-caffeinated affect and tendency to go slow have only reinforced their feeling that the French-speaking, “dopey old United Nations,” as one Fox News commentator recently called it, should stick to worthy relief efforts and leave the masterminding to the guys with the guns.

What is not so dopey, however, is the alternative notion that Annan’s one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach is not only strategic, but actually quite shrewd. He has for weeks been resisting heavy U.S. and U.K. pressure to send an envoy to Baghdad, holding off until somebody tells him precisely what a U.N. representative would do at the postwar party. While insisting on a real rather than rubber-stamping role, he has also been trying to split the difference between the Coalition and the rest of the world in his public comments. Though this hasn’t satisfied those on either side of the Iraq issue entirely, it may be the best way to keep the United Nations alive in the long run. The long run, of course, being what the United Nations has been counting on. With Americans already tiring of the tedious, messy business of nation-building, the point seems valid. “You come from a country with a short attention span,” one of the United Nations’ top officials told me. Annan, on the other hand, is an exceedingly patient man.


Of course, it would be nice if the US were to take a more active role in the reformation of the UN, but it's also a nice testament to the fact that the UN is stronger than it would seem sometimes, and much of its strength lies in its institutional memory, I think. I mean, I usually disagree with the dumb party line that Americans have no historical memory, but with national institutions that change on a pretty short cycle, that kind of memory is (intentionally) lacking, at least when you get an administration in that seems determined to minimize the power of the civil services of career officials, like at State.

(apologies for the long excerpt, but I know mostaya blog-fans aren't exactly Newsweek readers...)