Monday, May 14, 2007


Now that his tenure at the institution is over with, one may with a fair degree of objectivity review the UN career (or to be more accurate careerism) of Kofi Annan. Essentially, 'placed' into the Secretary Generals position by American strong-arm tactics, which if employed now by the current American administration, would bring howls of outrage, by the liberal intelligentsia, but, which at the time was quite willing to overlook Albright's and Clinton's behavior in New York. Annan, was supposed to make up, for the alleged, 'passivity' (meaning occasional unwillingness to toe the American line, all the time) of his predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali in the office of Secretary General. Especially as it related to the Bosnia war. Annan, who had in fact not fared terribly well, in responding to the various crises that he had dealt with in his previous post as head of all UN peacekeeping operations, especially (oddly enough in retrospect) those of Rwanda and Bosnia, was thought by Albright, et. al., to be a safer pair of hands. In this case of course, like in fact the ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, Annan possessed one of those characteristics which one inevitably finds in similar beings who emerge out of thin air in large bureaucratic institutions: a suppleness in leaving behind, debacles which one has been involved with, and, a similar breeziness in passing through from one office to the next without however ever actually doing anything of either significance or importance. Much less being held responsible for anything. Certainly not anything of importance. In the case of Annan of course his hands are to the scholar and the lay educated public alike (insofar as they are not blinded by ideology or stupidity...), all over the twin disasters of Rwanda and Srbenecia. Which did not prevent the USA from parachuting Annan, to replace Boutros-Ghali in 1995.

This little noticed American coup de main, can be viewed in retrospect as being one of the most singularly successful episodes in the foreign policy of the Clinton Administration (which speaks volumes of course about what that actually means concerning foreign policy between 1993 and 2001...), and, probably had the end result of in turn providing the launching pad for the two parts egregious and one part ridiculous, Albright being named as Secretary of State by Clinton. Installed in the Secretary Generals chair, it would be correct, to state, as the British commentator, Perry Anderson notes in his brilliant hatchet job on Annan and his career, in the current issue of the London Review of Books ("Our Man", in, that:

"Annan was never a strong figure, or an independent agent....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.... In fact, what is really striking about Annan’s tenure as secretary-general is less his personal characteristics than the nature of the inner circle that surrounded him. From the start, it was overwhelmingly Anglo-American, with a sprinkling of figures from the Anglophone zones of the First or 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 or Princeton like John Ruggie and Michael Doyle, speaks for itself."

Indeed! What more can one say, except that notwithstanding the torrents of praise which poured in when he received the Noble Prize, and, later stilted explanations for his ethically challenged relationships with certain contractors who used (or attempted to use) his son, to solicit favors, Annan was and is no more than a morally blinkered, rather mediocre USA-flavored bureaucrat, of middling talents, who never excelled at much of anything except at positioning himself in the best light, when it was shining in his general direction. The fact that leading lights of the American foreign policy establishment (admittedly of the Democratic side of the political scale) saw fit, in 2003-2005, to elevate Annan's cause to that of the UN as a whole, speaks not so much for their own blinkered relationship to both ethics and the truth, as to the exact place of the United Nation's in the International System. In essence as Anderson points out, the whole role of the UN, from start to finish has been as an adjunct to American power and diplomacy:

"Schematically – simplifying a mottled tale – there have been three distinct periods in the history of the UN. The organisation was from its inception an American creation, as Stephen Schlesinger has shown in abundant and admiring detail, the product of Roosevelt’s vision of a postwar world in which the USSR and Britain would retain delimited spheres of influence within an international order whose overarching power would be the United States. Its founding conference at San Francisco was meticulously controlled and choreographed by Washington, a special unit of US military intelligence at the army base in the old Spanish fort of the Presidio intercepting cables to and from the assembled delegates, the FBI tracking their movements on the ground, and a large bloc of Latin American satellites assuring majorities where issues were put to the vote. Soviet compliance was purchased with promises of non-interference in Eastern Europe and a watered-down right of veto in the Security Council. With its headquarters planted in New York, where surveillance would be permanent, and a large majority of members – principally European and Latin American – at the beck and call of Washington, the UN, whose first secretary-general, Trygve Lie, even illegally collaborated with the FBI in purging his own staff, was an all but infallible decoration of the American will. For 25 years, the US never had to cast a single veto in the Security Council, so relentlessly did its resolutions coincide with whatever Washington wanted. The landmarks of the UN in this period were approval of the creation of Israel (the Jewish third of the population allocated over half the territory of Mandate Palestine by Ralph Bunche, the ‘ghost-writing harlot’, as he described himself, of the UN plan for partition, rammed through the General Assembly by the US with every bribe and blackmail at its disposal); provision of a flag of convenience for American intervention in the Korean civil war, checked short of complete victory only by Chinese entry into the conflict; and induction of Mobutu Sese Seko’s dictatorship in the Congo, after Dag Hammarskjöld and his American advisers had connived at the murder of Patrice Lumumba.

Decolonisation, multiplying new member states from the Third World, brought such unimpeded utilisation of the UN by the US to an end. The General Assembly resolution of December 1960, calling for independence of the colonies – the US, in the company of Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and South Africa, refused to vote for it – marked the dusk of European imperialism. In the Middle East, Israel’s pre-emptive war of 1967, on the pretext of Cairo’s request that UN forces finally exit the country, having been ensconced in Egypt ever since it was victim of the three-way attack by Britain, France and Israel in 1956 (naturally there was no UN presence on the Israeli side of the border; why should the aggressor put up with any?), was a turning-point for Arab opinion. In South-East Asia, the Tet offensive of 1968 emboldened opposition to American power across the Third World, and a group of 77 ex-colonial countries started for the first time to offer organised resistance in the UN. The belated seating of the People’s Republic of China in 1971, to Washington’s fury (this was before Nixon’s visit to Beijing) amid scenes of wild rejoicing in the chamber, made it clear that the General Assembly had escaped American control.

The first US veto had been cast not long before, in defence of Ian Smith’s racist regime in Rhodesia. Since then, in a complete reversal of the pattern of the previous period, the US has vetoed more than eighty resolutions in the UN, many of them critical of Israel, others of South Africa, and not a few of its own actions in Nicaragua and elsewhere – products of the conjunction between the Soviet bloc and the Third World in the 1970s and 1980s. The acute dislike of the UN on the American right, lingering to this day, dates from these years. Unlike the first phase of UN history, however, this second phase was for all practical purposes an exercise in futility. There was no risk of the US suffering an Israel, Korea or Congo in reverse. Washington was not going to be ambushed, as Moscow had more than once been, in a structure it had itself designed. The US remained master of what the UN could do, however many impotent resolutions were passed in the General Assembly, or proposed to the Security Council, to be killed by it. No UN decisions of any significance mark these decades. In the resultant limbo, symbolic gestures like the denunciation of Zionism as a form of racism made do instead.

This period came to an abrupt end in 1990, with the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, and the collapse of the USSR the following year. As late as 1989, the US – along with the UK and France – had to veto a resolution condemning the American invasion of Panama. By the spring of 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 US more thoroughgoing 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. Annan’s Secretariat was one product of this change. The multiplication of UN peacekeeping missions in the 1990s, off-loading policing tasks of lesser strategic importance – Haiti and the like – was another. On occasion, when the US had no great stake in the outcome, as in East Timor once Suharto had fallen, such missions could even live up to their name, without altering the structural realities of the organisation....

Today, paramountcy does not mean omnipotence. The US 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 on the part 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. The US grip on the organisation has not relaxed, as can be seen from current UN resolutions on Lebanon and Iran. Anxious voices from liberal opinion, worrying that the organisation might become irrelevant if Bush’s ‘unilateralism’ were to persist, and plaintive appeals from the left to defend the UN from distortion by Washington, are regularly heard today. They can be reassured. The future of the United Nations is safe. It will continue to be, as it was intended to be, a serviceable auxiliary mechanism of the Pax Americana"

"A serviceable auxiliary mechanism of the Pax Americana", is of course equally apt in describing Annan himself. And, to quote Shakespeare: 'the rest is silence...'


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