How Kofi Annan “Won” His Job

In the fall of 2004, as he suffered withering attacks from segments of the American and British media, and the U.S. Congress, Kofi Annan began holding — or being invited to attend — discreet meetings with a coven of "foreign policy experts" around New York City (and who knows where else), at least one or more of whom eventually leaked the story to the New York Times.


The purpose of these meetings was "to save Kofi and rescue the U.N.," an anonymous member of the coven told the Times, and to instruct Annan that “lapses in his leadership during the past two years had eclipsed the accomplishments of his first five year-term in office and were threatening to undermine the two years remaining on his final term.”


”The intention was to keep it confidential,” the Times quoted Richard Holbrooke, at whose New York City apartment at least one of these meetings was held. ”No one wanted to give the impression of a group of outsiders," the former UN Ambassador in the second Clinton Administration continued, "all of them Americans, dictating what to do to a secretary general.”

According to the Times, Holbrooke also described the group that met with Annan as people "who care deeply about the U.N. and believe that the U.N. cannot succeed if it is in open dispute and constant friction with its founding nation, its host nation and its largest contributor nation.”


”The U.N., without the U.S. behind it, is a failed institution,” Holbrooke explained.


The same evening that the Times‘s page-one report appeared, Holbrooke was one of four guests on American TV’s Charlie Rose Show 


The show’s host devoted the bulk of his discussion with Holbrooke to the story in that morning’s Times and the circumstances behind it.


"[W]e talked about the fact that the U.N. could not succeed if it was in fundamental opposition to the United States," Holbrooke told Rose. "It just can’t. The U.S. needs the U.N. and the U.N. needs the U.S. It’s as simple as that."


Acknowledging some of the pressures brought to bear on Annan’s head (for very good analysis of the sources of this pressure within the lunatic American Right, see "The Right’s Assault on Kofi Annan," Ian Williams, The Nation, Jan. 10, 2005), Holbrooke went on to explain just how important the U.S.-UN relationship is.


To excerpt a little bit of it here:



The U.S. without the U.N. and the U.N. without the U.S. are two institutions which would both suffer, the U.N. frankly more than the U.S…. [B]ecause in the end the U.S. does need the U.N. to help it in issues of such immense importance as Iraq, and the world needs the U.N. because of the tsunami….



What Richard Holbrooke — these days, a kind of elder statesman of all that remains of liberalism within the establishment political culture in the States, and the presumptive Secretary of State, had John Kerry defeated George Bush for the Presidency in November 2004 — was saying throughout this January 3 interview on American TV more explicitly than the New York Times was able to convey that same day was that the American Right’s attacks on the United Nations are misplaced.  They are misplaced because in fact there are all kinds of important U.S. foreign policy objectives the UN can advance on its behalf.  Holbrooke listed two in particular: Helping the U.S. carry out the January 30 election in Iraq (out of which no new governing coalition has yet to emerge, please note well); and helping to manage the conflict over the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Territories. (Though this is my language here — not Holbrooke’s.)  Plus, there are other missions that need to be undertaken, but that Washington doesn’t want to mess with — addressing the aftermath of the December 26 tsunami in the Indian Ocean repeatedly on Holbrooke’s lips.


Wake up, Holbrooke was telling his counterparts on the right side of the American political establishment. The various councils and agencies and expertise and personnel — the UN brand name, above all else — still command a very pretty premium in international affairs.  And no forward-looking American foreign policy expert dare sell it short.  Not yet, anyway.


Looking over the Secretary-General’s In Larger Freedom: Towards Security, Development and Human Rights for All today, I couldn’t help but recall Richard Holbrooke’s interventions on behalf of the UN and its embattled Secretary-General in two of the more prestigious fora of the American media last January 3. (At least on behalf of a certain conception of the UN.)


And I also remembered that in To End A War (Modern Library, Rev. Ed., 1999), his memoirs of the time he spent representing the Clinton Administration as its chief negotiator with the warring parties in the former Yugoslavia, Holbrooke had provided an invaluable account of the importance of Kofi Annan to American Power — but ten years ago, rather than today.  (And note that at the time, Operation Deliberate Force, the American bombing of Bosnian-Serb targets in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of August, 1995, was also what Holbrooke called the “largest military action in NATO history” (p. 102).)



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 twenty-four 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. (p. 103, emphasis added)



At this singular moment that Holbrooke characterized as the “most important test of American leadership since the end of the Cold War” (p. 92), what, exactly, had Kofi Annan done on behalf of the Americans to deserve such high praise?


“Fortunately,” as Holbrooke tells it, for a brief period of time before the American-led NATO-bloc’s launching of the Operation Deliberate Force air strikes against the Bosnian-Serb positions,



Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was unreachable on a commercial aircraft, so [UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright] dealt instead with his deputy, Kofi Annan, who was in charge of peacekeeping operations. At 11:45 A.M., New York time, [Aug. 29,] came a big break: Annan informed Talbott and Albright that he had instructed the U.N.’s civilian officials and military commanders to relinquish for a limited period of time their authority to veto air strikes in Bosnia. For the first time in the war, the decision on the air strikes was solely in the hands of NATO — primarily two American officers, NATO’s Supreme Commander, General George Joulwan, and Admiral Leighton Smith, the commander of NATO’s southern forces and all U.S. naval forces in Europe. (p. 99)



The result, as Holbrooke reports it, was the “largest military action in NATO history.” (Until Operation Allied Force, the U.S.-led NATO-bloc’s war over Kosovo, roughly three-and-a-half-years later.) This was how Kofi Annan "won the job," in Holbrooke’s telling, as Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s successor to the post of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.


And I remembered Chapter XV of the Charter of the United Nations, wherein Article 100 defines the independence and the integrity of The Secretariat as follows:



1. In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization. They shall refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization.


2. Each Member of the United Nations undertakes to respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Secretary-General and the staff and not to seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities.



And I wondered whether anyone — Richard Holbrooke, Kofi Annan — the editorial board at the Wall Street Journal, the board of directors of the United Nations Foundation — would care to defend the thesis that in participating in these late 2004 meetings with the coven of “foreign policy experts,” at least one meeting at which the Secretary-General “sat in silence and made no effort to defend himself,” as the Times reported the scene, Annan was upholding his constitutional duties and responsibilities as outlined by Article 100?


Or to put my question somewhat differently: Didn’t the events reported by the January 3 New York Times (among other sources eventually) amount to constitutional-type violations of the UN Secretary-General’s legitimate role and responsibilities? I mean, how could one look at them any other way?  (Aside from supplicating Americans, that is. So I guess they were okay after all.)



"Secret Meeting, Clear Mission: ‘Rescue’ U.N.," Warren Hoge, New York Times, January 3, 2005





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