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Random House, NY, 1999, 352 pp,




Review by Tom Gallagher



Some will remember that before serving as spokesperson for the victims
of erectile dysfunction, Senator Robert Dole was the 1996 Republican nominee
for the United States presidency. The election years for the four year
term of the presidency and the five year UN Secretary General’s term coincide
only every 20 years. Unfortunately for Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1996 was
one of those years, and as the former Egyptian Foreign Secretary sees it,
the coincidence led directly to his becoming the first Secretary General
denied a second five year term.



Bob Dole, you see, didn’t care for Boutros-Ghali. In his acceptance speech
at the Republican convention, he announced that under his presidency, “our
armed forces will know that the president is their commander-in-chief—not
Boutros Boutros-Ghali or any other U.N. Secretary General.” And, oh yes,
whenever Dole pronounced his name he did it mockingly—Boo-trus, Boo-trus.



As we well know, when the Republicans have strong feelings against something,
President Clinton usually will find that he doesn’t care for it all that
much either. As Boutros-Ghali sees it, eventually “the White House was
competing with the Republicans to see who was more anti-UN.” By that logic,
Boutros-Ghali ultimately had to go; his bid for a second term failed in
the Security Council on a vote of fourteen in favor to one against, the
one being the American veto.



Unvanquished is Boutros- Ghali’s attempt to convey the gulf he sees between
“The world outside the United States (that) saw a solid record of UN accomplishment,”
and inside, where “the United Nations was called an inefficient and bloated
bureaucracy and—laughable though this was—a danger to American sovereignty.”



As the first post-Cold War Secretary General he presided over a United
Nations with greatly expanded responsibilities: when he left, the UN had
70,000 peacekeeping troops—5 times the number when he started—stationed
in 17 nations around the world. However, only 67 out of 159 member nations
were paying their full dues; the rest were a combined $848 million in arrears
for the regular operating budget (the U.S. alone accounted for $517 million
of this deficit), and owed another $1.2 billion for the cost of peacekeeping
missions.



As a result, he was forced to sound the alarm that the UN might not be
able to continue operations and to suggest independent funding sources,
including a levy on arms transfers, interest charges on unpaid assessments,
and “payment of UN peacekeeping assessments out of national defense budgets,
which would illustrate how small were the costs of UN peacekeeping in comparison
with the huge military outlays of the major powers.” The program did not
go over well in the U.S. His proposed tax on international air tickets
“was denounced in the Senate as an attempt to impose taxes on American
citizens in defiance of the U.S. Constitution.”



Boutros-Ghali did sometimes make things more difficult for himself. He
acknowledges that he has “never been known for downplaying my abilities,”
and is “not the easiest person to deal with,” and he did give the appearance
of monumental insensitivity when he told the residents of besieged Sarajevo
that they had “a situation that is better than ten other places in the
world … I can give you a list.” He insists that he meant only that Bosnian
Muslims should be encouraged by the worldwide concern over their fate,
in contrast to numerous other conflicts in which the outer world displayed
little interest.



As the first UN Secretary-General from Africa, Boutros-Ghali was particularly
disturbed with the world’s declining attention to that continent, home
to many of the world’s “orphan conflicts.” His problems in dealing with
the U.S. were epitomized by events in Somalia, where the U.S. raid in South
Mogadishu was famously unsuccessful. Eighteen U.S. soldiers, one Malaysian
soldier, and “by later press investigations, as many as a thousand Africans”
were killed in “an operation planned, decided, and launched entirely without
the knowledge of United Nations officials.” But the U.S. failure would
be blamed on the UN, with what The Economist called, “a chutzpah level
high even by American standards.”




Boutros-Ghali’s belief that “The UN can only do what the U.S. lets it do,”
seems to be supported by the experience of the Yugoslavian war crimes tribunal—the
first “authorized not by a country victorious in war, but by the international
community as a whole.”  The tribunal’s investigators have reported that
although the U.S. has been a major supporter of the effort, it has failed
to provide evidence requested of it regarding possible war crimes committed
against Serb civilians during “Operation Storm.” This non-cooperation presumably
stems from the fact that this military campaign, conducted by the Croatian
army shortly before the Dayton Peace Agreement, was carried on with Washington’s
tacit support. The U.S. has also opposed the creation of a permanent war
crimes court, out of fear of its potential for manipulation by countries
hostile to it.



Of course, the Middle East was a major source of difficulties for Boutros-Ghali,
as it has been for every Secretary General. He was accused of “treason
against the Muslim world,…. But in American political circles I was assumed
to be biased against Israel and against the United States in general.”
His report on the Israeli shelling of a UN observation post at Qana, in
southern Lebanon, six months before the end of his term likely eliminated
what slim reelection possibilities he might still have had. The action
killed 100 civilians who had taken refuge there. The report concluded that
it was “unlikely that the shelling was the result of gross technical and/or
procedural errors,” outraging Israel, and the U.S.



As The Economist saw it, “Boutros-Ghali is the most effective head of the
United Nations in history, and the Americans hate him for it.” In her campaign
to defeat his re-election bid, Madeline Albright asked Polish diplomats,
“Who would you rather have as your friend—Bill Clinton or Boutros-Ghali?”



Boutros-Ghali’s final conclusion is that “the United States sees little
need for diplomacy; power is enough.”                             Z



Tom Gallagher is a freelance writer living in California, and a long-time
activist.