Kofi Annan and the Art of Puppetry


may sound absurd to suggest any element of puppetry in the role
of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. After all, hasn’t he been
assailed over the past year for corruption and for suggesting that
the invasion of Iraq was illegal? Haven’t right-wing Republicans
and pundits repeatedly called for his ouster? But Kofi Annan has
retained his post for eight tumultuous years, through the late Clinton
era and the first term and more of George Bush, years in which U.S.
officials have not hesitated to push out UN officials they found
objectionable (notably, former High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mary Robinson, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
head Jose Bustani, and most recently Independent Expert on the Situation
of Human Rights in Afghanistan M. Cherif Bassiouni). Annan couldn’t
have kept his high office if he hadn’t performed to the satisfaction
of those officials. The right-wing outcry against Kofi Annan reflects
the extremism of that faction, hostile to the UN and attacking Annan
as part of an assault on the UN, which they would like to see terminated
altogether. The attacks may also serve to keep Annan more closely
attuned to U.S. demands by focusing his mind on the threat of a
forced exit. 

is a relative matter. Some U.S. puppets are placed in power by U.S.
arms and require continuous protection and for this reason are highly
responsive to the demands of their protectors. But even in this
case, as with Hamid Karzai in Kabul, the puppet will sometimes cry
out as Karzai has done with the recent publicity regarding the torture-killings
of several Afghanis by U.S. soldier-interrogators. The U.S. puppet
leaders of the Saigon government, Generals Ky and Thieu, were entirely
dependent on U.S. arms for their rule, but they stole, dealt in
drugs, made numerous remarks inconvenient to their string-pullers
(“Hitler is my hero”—General Ky), and were openly
annoyed at the lack of respect shown them by U.S. leaders. Even
highly dependent puppets have some limited freedom of action, but
they cannot depart from the demands of the puppeteer on major issues
and policy. 

great many U.S. puppets have been remarkably corrupt as well as
extremely brutal, as the search for “leaders” who would
sell out their country to a foreign power and provide the requisite
“favorable climate of investment” has necessitated resorting
to folks like Somoza—a “son-of-a-bitch, but our son-of-a-bitch,”
in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s graphic language—Trujillo,
Suharto, Pinochet, Marcos, Mobutu, and the generals in Argentina,
Brazil, and Saigon. My first collaborative effort with Noam Chomsky
was an article on the Saigon corruption crisis subtitled “The
Search for an Honest Quisling.” Honest quislings are hard to
come by. The U.S. failure to come up with honest quislings led some
commentators to explain their frequent dishonesty in terms of “Asian”
(or Latin, or African) “human nature,” an explanation
bypassing the awkward fact of the selectivity in the search for
amenable leaders. In any case, our puppets have very often been
crooks whose robbery has been an acceptable price for general serviceability. 

presents an interesting case where the huge aid and military and
diplomatic protection provided by the United States would seem to
establish a puppet-puppeteer relationship, but where the dependent
exhibits considerable freedom of action and sometimes seems able
to influence or paralyze puppeteer policy in accord with the puppet’s
perceived interests. There is an ongoing debate on the left and
elsewhere as to whether this is so and whether the power of the
Zionist lobby can shape U.S. policy in ways deviating from U.S.-interested
policy choices. Ariel Sharon apparently thinks so: Israeli Army
Radio quoted him at a September 2001 session of the Israeli cabinet,
after his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, warned that “refusing
to heed incessant American requests for a cease-fire with the Palestinians
would endanger Israeli interests and turn the U.S. against us,”
responding angrily: “I want to tell you something very clear,
don’t worry about American pressure on Israel. We will not
pay with the blood of our people for American interests and they
understand it.” Certainly Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Rodham Clinton
understand this, as indicated by their unlimited groveling at the
latest gathering of the AIPAC. 

Annan is a model puppet because he is not crudely subservient, but
instead combines verbal proclamations of benevolent and progressive
aims and policy with virtually complete accommodation to the demands
of the United States and its close allies. He will sometimes object
in measured language to U.S. violations of law and inhumane and
outrageous actions, but he won’t resign over them, however
egregious and contrary to fundamental principles, and he quickly
adjusts to power realities. This gives him the image of decency
and allows the UN to appear independent and moral even as it literally
participates in illegal and immoral actions. 

took office in January 1997, in the aftermath of his support of
U.S. policy demands in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He had been one of
Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s subordinates and in his boss’s
absence Annan took it upon himself to approve Operation Deliberate
Force, the U.S. bombing of Bosnian-Serb targets in Bosnia and Herzegovina
at the end of August 1995



To End A War

, Richard
Holbrooke’s memoir of the time he spent representing the Clinton
administration as its chief negotiator with the warring parties
in the former Yugoslavia, Holbrooke asserts that this action assured
Kofi Annan’s future as a UN leader: “When [Operation Deliberate
Force] was all over and we could assess who had been most helpful,
my Washington colleagues usually singled out Kofi Annan at the United
Nations, and Willy Claes and General Joulwan at NATO. Annan’s
gutsy performance in those 24 hours was to play a central role in
Washington’s strong support for him a year later as the successor
to Boutros Boutros-Ghali as Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Indeed, in a sense Annan won the job that day.” 

16 months after Annan’s approval of the U.S. bombing of Bosnian
Serb positions, he replaced Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whose reelection
was blocked by the United States. Kofi Annan didn’t disappoint
Holbrooke and his associates. Throughout the Yugoslav struggle and
up to the present he has followed the U.S.-NATO party line on the
issues there, according to which everything wrong has been attributable
to the Serbs. He, therefore, accepted the unrestrained use of the
Yugoslav Tribunal in servicing U.S.-NATO war aims, the refusal to
negotiate a settlement of the Kosovo crisis, and the NATO attack
on Yugoslavia, which was in violation of the UN Charter. In his
report on the Srebrenica massacre (

The Fall of Srebrenica

November 1999), Annan states that in both Bosnia and Kosovo “the
international community tried to reach a negotiated settlement with
an unscrupulous and murderous regime. In both instances it required
the use of force to bring a halt to the planned and systematic killing
and expulsion of civilians.” This is blatant disinformation,
as it is well established that the United States sabotaged the 1992
Lisbon Accord, which had been accepted by the Serbs in Bosnia, that
the “planned” expulsion of civilians (Operation Horseshoe)
was a propaganda fraud, and that the Clinton administration deliberately
“raised the bar” in the Rambouillet talks of 1999 so as
to assure the failure of negotiations over Kosovo because the Serbs
needed a little bombing. These lies helped sustain Annan’s
support for the 1999 bombing war, which was as clear a violation
of the UN Charter as Bush’s March 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

a logical follow-up, in February 2004 Annan appointed Louise Arbour
as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Arbour, who had been vetted
by Madeleine Albright for the prosecutor’s job for the Yugoslav
Tribunal, served in that function before and during the NATO 78-day
bombing war, where she played a special role in using a purported
judicial body to facilitate a major UN Charter violation and the
commission of serious war crimes (see Christopher Black and Edward
Herman. “An Unindicted War Criminal: Louise Arbour and the
International Crimes Tribunal,”

Z Magazine

, February
2000; Michael Mandel,

How America Gets Away With Murder

Arbour is now busily engaged in trying to liquidate the UN Human
Rights Commission that she heads, with Annan’s support, because
the United States does not like its mode of operation and failure
to do the U.S. bidding. (Her role here may be similar to that which
John Bolton will likely play in the UN.) Arbour, whose service to
NATO as Tribunal prosecutor was the ultimate in politicization,
wants to make these changes because the Commission is “politicized.”
Translated, it has been serving the wrong interests. (On liquidating
the UN Human Rights Commission, see “The OHCHR Plan of Action:
Protection and Empowerment,” UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights, May 2005.) 

Annan played an ugly role in the Bush ouster of the democratically-elected
Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti. As reported by the Council on
Hemispheric Affairs, “In the days preceding the February 29,
2004 de facto ouster of Aristide and his U.S. arranged flight into
exile, Annan echoed U.S. policy in condemning Aristide as Haiti’s
‘failed’ president and Powell’s cynical scenario
that international peacekeepers would be sent to Haiti, but only
if Aristide abrogated most of his constitutionally mandated authority.
Annan’s backing of Powell’s strategy legitimated Washington’s
goal of ridding itself of Aristide. At today’s talks, a politically
weakened Annan is likely to discuss next year’s Haiti elections
and how to minimize a role for the pro-Aristide Lavalas party.”
(Seth DeLong, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Aiding Oppression
in Haiti: Kofi Annan and General Heleno’s Complicity in Latorture’s
Jackal Regime,” December 16, 2004.) As the situation has deteriorated
further and the Jackal Regime continues to brutalize and kill, the
UN mission and Annan have done nothing constructive (see Marcela
Valente, “Haiti: Human Rights Delegation Echoes Growing Criticism
of UN Mission,” Inter Press Service News Agency, April 8, 2005). 

dealing with the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, Kofi
Annan has bent over backwards to accommodate the United States and
Israel. Although Israel is in violation of dozens of UN resolutions,
has violated them seriously for years and does so now on a daily
basis, Annan does not press for enforcement. When Israel refused
to allow a UN on-site study of the attack on Jenin, he accepted
this meekly, in marked contrast with his aggressive pursuit of enforcement
of rulings against Serbia in the conflicts in that area. Even his
language tilts in a one-sided way, as he is indignant over suicide
bombings, which he regularly “strongly condemns,” but
only expresses regrets or “grave concern” at Israeli violence
(for illustrations and discussion of this double standard, see David
Peterson, “Principals of World Order II,” ZNet Blogs,
October 5, 2004). 

regards Iraq, Annan remained silent from the time of his taking
office in 1997 on the “sanctions of mass destruction”
imposed by the UN on Iraq (essentially, by the United States and
Britain) and the systematic and illegal bombing of Iraq by the U.S.-British
axis of preemptive violence. His performance as the United States
was setting the stage to invade Iraq was enlightening as to his
mode of operation. He tried to channel the United States and Britain
into accepting the inspections regime and into agreement to abide
by a Security Council majority judgment. When this failed, he did
say that an invasion was in violation of the UN Charter, but he
didn’t do this with the passion that he has expressed on Palestinian
suicide bombers and he couldn’t even say it in straightforward
language. His March 11, 2003 statement was that an invasion “would
not be in conformity with the Charter.” 

the invasion, he didn’t resign at his failure to prevent a
very major violation of the UN Charter and the carrying out of the
“supreme crime.” Subsequently, he accepted the occupation
and helped legitimize it, supporting the resolutions (including
Res. 1546 of June 8, 2004) that gave the United States and its coalition
of aggressors UN Security Council sanction to stay, pacify, and
rule as long as deemed necessary (in contrast with the UN’s
clear insistence in 1990-91 that the aggressor Iraq get out of the
invaded and occupied Kuwait and pay damages for its attack). The
murderous assault on Fallujah was never once officially condemned
by Annan whose mealy-mouthed remarks on the subject featured the
threat such an assault would pose to the forthcoming elections and
that “The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening
the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce
perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation”
(Maggie Farley, “U.N.’s Annan Seeks to Prevent an Assault
on Fallouja,”

Los Angeles Times

, November 5, 2004).
Gosh, we wouldn’t want the Iraqis to think they are an occupied

has not assailed the open U.S. threat to commit armed aggression
against Iran, Syria, and North Korea and it is likely that if and
when these occur he will quietly say that they are “not in
conformity” with the UN Charter before helping to ram through
a Security Council recognition of the aggression-occupation “facts
on the ground.” 

Annan has come up with a series of reforms of the UN designed to
make it more useful to education, development, poverty alleviation,
and the conquest of disease, and suggesting political changes to
better enable it to deal with terrorism and war. Unfortunately,
his proposals and fence straddling are ultimately unconvincing and
unlikely to accomplish anything useful, for two main reasons. First
because it is the United States and its allies whose funding and
resources are needed for development and humanitarian issues, and
the United States is moving away from bolstering UN finances and
cooperating with the UN on anything the Bush administration does
not positively favor. Second, the main global problem of war- and
terrorism-prevention is the inability of the “international
community” to constrain the United States, which in the past
half dozen years has carried out three major illegal aggressions
in violation of the UN Charter. Kofi Annan’s reform proposals,
which still rely heavily on Security Council action, do not even
suggest removing the veto from the initial five permanent members,
hence will do nothing even formally to prevent a U.S. veto from
stalemating any Security Council action impeding its war-making
and aggressions. Annan’s reforms won’t be implemented
and won’t work anyway, but this rests ultimately on the absence
thus far of any serious international community resistance to a
superpower out of control and posing a global threat at many levels
and in many spheres. 

the fall of 2004, Kofi Annan was invited to Richard Holbrooke’s
apartment in New York City to meet with a number of U.S. power brokers
to hear what they had to say about the need for reform at the UN
(Warren Hoge, “Secret Meeting, Clear Mission: ‘Rescue’

New York Times

, January 3, 2005). Annan reportedly
listened and said nothing at the meeting. “In the week after
the session, Mr. Annan sought and obtained a meeting with Condoleezza
Rice, the nominee for secretary of state. United Nations officials
said afterward that it was an encouraging meeting.” The Bolton
appointment followed soon after this encouraging meeting, so any
moves toward a “larger freedom” through the work of the
UN seems unlikely. In fact, we may soon see a further test of Annan’s
willingness to serve in the interest of a “shrinking freedom”
and more preventive warfare.

Edward S. Herman
is an economist, author, media critic, and regular contributor to

Z Magazine