As United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan departs after a full decade of service in that position, I have two words of advice for incoming Secretary General Ban Ki Moon: be undiplomatic.
By that, I don’t mean be rude, inconsiderate, boorish, nasty or aloof. Just don’t be as overly diplomatic as Kofi Annan sometimes was.
I know, some Americans will laugh at the notion that the outspoken, outgoing secretary-general ever hid behind a veil of timidity. After all, he didn’t seem to hesitate to criticize American foreign policy. He branded the war in Iraq “illegal,” just because it was not approved by the full U.N. Security Council.
Though the war can be rightly debated, did Annan hold Saddam to a similar standard when he violated 17 Security Council resolutions and made off with billions from the “Oil for Food” program? Of course not. Annan even called one aggressive U.N. correspondent, who repeatedly asked quite proper questions related to the scandal, an “overgrown schoolboy.” More recently, the under-secretary-general called another reporter, who dared to inquire about the lack of U.N. transparency, a “jerk.”
Instead of lambasting reporters who seek legitimate answers to the U.N.’s secrets, such labels should be applied to some of the miscreants who cross the transom on First Avenue. I mean the ones who are whisked to the plush 38th floor executive offices, and stand shaking hands and smiling for a staged photo-op with the world leader who is supposed to be the embodiment of all that is moral, ethical and right. Instead, that endorsement was cheapened by a secretary-general who welcomed anyone, as long as the cameras were rolling.
Mr. Ban, don’t do it.
Don’t bestow the legitimacy, credibility and respect of your office on those who undermine your organization’s principles. Instead, dare to be undiplomatic, and tell them what you think of their support of terrorism, the starvation of their people, the imprisonment of their opponents, the theft of foreign aid money, or whatever other misdeeds the dictators, tyrants, and others whose hands you are forced to shake commit. When they say, “Can we have a picture?” say no. They may be personally hurt and offended — but that will be a good thing.
From what we’ve seen so far, you probably won’t follow in the footsteps of your predecessor in this regard.
You refused to criticize America. When asked if you agreed with Annan’s recent lambasting of U.S. foreign policy at the Harry S. Truman library in Missouri, you demurred, saying Annan’s critical comments were “his own personal assessment and insight.”
In other words: “Annan was speaking for himself. I’m not piling on the Americans.”
Well, we know a new day is dawning when a U.N. diplomat is actually not willing to chastise the U.S.
As Annan’s ten-year tenure winds down, many Americans are shaking their heads in disappointment. True, the warm welcome he received in the heartland shows that a great many of us that still hold him in high esteem, and admire his principled stands. But others have mostly disgust for the outgoing leader.
It’s not that Annan should depart with a completely tarnished reputation — his legacy as an activist and caring U.N. leader is not in dispute. He put himself at the disposal of the most helpless of the globe and preached the need for peace. He even pushed for U.N. reforms, so desperately needed, but never fully implemented. Yet, it is equally undeniable that the crises that exposed the dire need for reform, and brought to light what is so very wrong with the way the U.N. is run, all erupted during Annan’s watch.
His greatest achievement may have been securing the consensus of all 192 member states that nations have a responsibility to protect their citizens. Unfortunately, in U.N. world, some agreements aren’t even worth the paper they are printed on. Waving this resolution in the face of the president of Sudan won’t stop the killing in Darfur. Throwing it on Castro’s desk won’t release political prisoners. Nailing it to the liquor cabinet of Kim Jong Il won’t end the starvation of his people. Stuffing it in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s mouth the next time he’s welcomed to U.N. headquarters won’t stop his ranting.
Under Annan’s leadership, when the world looked to “the world body” for moral direction, it too often was lacking. For instance, was it too much to ask that Annan simply skip the photo-op with the visitor who wanted to wipe out another U.N. member nation, defeat the country that houses U.N. headquarters — and whose taxpayers shell out more than $5 billion a year for the U.N. system — and who openly defied the Security Council, all while he and Annan smiled for the birdie?
With these standards, maybe they would have rolled out the red carpet for Hitler.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Chancellor of Germany!”
Click, click. Flash, flash.
After all, Hitler was elected too.
But we have reason to expect better from you, Mr. Ban. When you were asked at his introductory news conference about Iran’s recent Holocaust-denying symposium, you called it “unacceptable.” You should repeat that, and go further, face-to-face, when you presumably meet with Ahmadinejad at the next U.N. World Summit next September. Just make sure you meet behind closed doors.
On a final note, it is curious that Annan’s farewell to U.N. staff workers was declared “no access press.” In other words, the media was not allowed to photograph or record it. It seems the U.N. doesn’t want the world to see disappointed U.N. staff members lambaste the leader in whom their staff union had already voted “no confidence.” Perhaps the U.N. was afraid there would be a repeat of what happened the last time Annan met with the U.N. folks — they yelled at him.
Great. In U.N. World, the despots and dictators are greeted with open arms, while the hard-working stiffs are treated like pariahs.
You can tell a lot about a person by those with whom he is willing to pose for a picture.
Mr. Ban, don’t do it!
Eric Shawn, a New York based senior correspondent for FOX News Channel, and the author of The U.N. Exposed: How the United Nations Sabotages America's Security and Fails the World. You can read his complete bio here.