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January 2, 2005
Can The UN Be Saved?

The New York Times reports on what can only be called an intervention for Kofi Annan in a Manhattan apartment that recently took place. Former US diplomat Richard Holbrooke hosted a conference that told an impassive Annan that he needed to clean up his act and that of his staff in order to quit poking the American bear:

At the gathering, Secretary General Kofi Annan listened quietly to three and a half hours of bluntly worded counsel from a group united in its personal regard for him and support for the United Nations. The group's concern was that lapses in his leadership during the past two years had eclipsed the accomplishments of his first four-year term in office and were threatening to undermine the two years remaining in his final term.

They began by arguing that Mr. Annan had to refresh his top management team, and on Monday he will announce that Mark Malloch Brown, 51, the widely respected administrator of the United Nations Development Program, will become Mr. Annan's chief of staff, replacing Iqbal Riza, who announced his retirement on Dec. 22.

Their larger argument, according to participants, addressed two broad needs. First, they said, Mr. Annan had to repair relations with Washington, where the Bush administration and many in Congress thought he and the United Nations had worked against President Bush's re-election. Second, he had to restore his relationship with his own bureaucracy, where many workers said privately that his office protected high-level officials accused of misconduct.

What this intervention appears to have emphasized is style rather than substance. Sure, Annan apparently agreed to shake up his staff and reached out to Condoleezza Rice, but that's more or less what he's paid to do. The participants urged Annan to repair relations with an administration that they tacitly acknowledge he sabotaged in recent elections -- which makes George Bush less than motivated to save Annan's bacon. He's not paid to interfere with domestic politics anywhere, and his credibility won't improve much with any amount of apple-polishing. His undersecretary, Jan Egeland, didn't help matters any by accusing Western nations of being "stingy" earlier this week.

Besides, the style isn't really the problem. Americans have serious questions about Annan's integrity and competence after his son got paid off by a major player in the Oil-For-Food corruption and his right-hand man, Benon Sevan, took money from the Iraqis in the form of oil futures worth millions. Aid programs in the Congo have descended into depravity, with UN staffers as well as troops exploiting women and children for sexual favors in relief camps, turning victims into prostitutes for survival. We don't see why our tax dollars should go to support any institution that allows such atrocities to happen regardless of who is in charge, nor do we want to remain associated with the stench of these scandals.

Whether Annan stays or goes is really secondary to the fact that the UN has no accountability for its failures. The General Assembly shows no remorse for the atrocities committed by the UN or for its abject corruption -- not surprising, as many benefitted from it. The prevailing mood in the Assembly and among some members of the Security Council is that the UN's mission is to check American power rather than free people from tyranny or stop terrorism. Annan only matters to the extent he enables this and refuses to accept any responsibility for the degradation of the UN under his administration.

Until the UN reforms itself and its approach, Annan and the UN are irrelevant. Holbrooke and his Kofi klatch would have been better making that point clear.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 2, 2005 10:49 PM

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