Made in USA
Within a few months of Annan's green light in Bosnia, a team of top officials in Washington, headed by Albright, was working on a secret plan, Operation Orient Express, for a coup at the UN. As America's designated candidate, Annan was, of course, party to the scheme. In the Security Council itself, Boutros-Ghali was supported by every member state, with the exception of the United States, which vetoed him. Seven ballots later and following tireless pressure by Albright, every state except France had realized, as Traub remarks, that "there was no percentage in blocking the will of such a powerful figure." Decisive was Washington's ability to call Russia to heel, bypassing its foreign minister for direct instructions to Yeltsin, on whom it could rely for submission. Once the Russian vote had been pocketed, France caved in, and Annan was home and dry.
Satisfaction in Washington was unconcealed. For Albright's assistant James Rubin, the UN now had a Secretary General able "to understand the importance of cooperation with the world's first power." More pointedly still, another of the architects of Orient Express, National Security Council officer Robert Orr, explained: "Very few secretaries-general had worked with the U.S. military. Here we were in an era where the U.S. military was going to be a big part of the equation. You needed a secretary-general who understands that the U.S. military is not the enemy." Or more tersely: "Kofi could do it." Annan duly did it. When NATO launched its aerial attack on Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 over Kosovo, in patent violation of the UN Charter, the Secretary General, far from condemning the action of the United States and its allies, informed the world that it was legitimate. For services like these--he "courted the wrath of the developing world by rejecting anticolonialism in favor of moral principles cherished in the West"--he was much feted and, not surprisingly, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The invasion of Iraq, however, would pose a severer test. Annan had presided over the sanctions regime without a qualm and not demurred at Operation Desert Fox, the four-day bombing campaign Clinton oversaw in 1998. When the Bush Administration began its push for war with Resolution 1441, which declared Iraq in material breach of all past resolutions on its disarmament, Annan swung into action to pressure all members of the Security Council to vote for it, personally phoning Syria's President Bashar Assad to insure that there would not be a single abstention. Unanimity was secured, but a hitch arose at the next stage. The French told the White House that while they could not accept a second Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing an attack on Iraq, which would implicate them, they had no objection to a US invasion based on an American interpretation of 1441--the course that Cheney was urging within the Administration. But Blair, who wanted to join in the attack, insisted that a second resolution was necessary to protect him from criticisms at home, and got Powell's support for a futile attempt to circumvent a French veto in the Security Council. Such mutual hypocrisies put Annan in an awkward spot. Blessing the Balkan War was one thing: In 1999, the West was united in the attack on Yugoslavia. But now the West, to all appearances, was divided. What should he do? If only the French had come round, we learn, all might have been well. "He would have accepted, and perhaps even embraced," Traub tells us, "a resolution authorizing war so long as the council was firmly united behind it." But unity was not forthcoming, and an embrace remained out of reach. Operation Iraqi Freedom rolled ahead. In March 2003, "shock and awe" hit Baghdad.
Annan, aware that his inspectors had failed to come up with any evidence of WMDs in Iraq, the pretext for war, and that his own position would be weakened by an attack that opened up a line of division between the United States and leading Western allies, indicated his unhappiness at this unfortunate turn of events, but he refrained from condemning the invasion--which, having endorsed an identical bypassing of the Security Council over Kosovo, he was anyway scarcely in a position to do. Once Iraq was conquered, however, he hastened to the assistance of the occupation, for which Bush and Blair wanted backdated cover from the UN. In May, at Annan's urging, the Security Council ratified the Anglo-American seizure of Iraq, voting unanimously for Resolution 1483, which endorsed Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, and pledged that the UN would play a "vital role," as requested by the White House and Downing Street, in helping it out. Rice and Powell had already chosen the functionary in the Secretariat they wanted for the job, Sergio Vieira de Mello, its human rights commissioner. Vieira de Mello was reluctant to go, but an audience was arranged with Bush, and Annan dispatched him. On arrival in Baghdad, Vieira de Mello's task was to help Bremer arrange a puppet advisory body to give the Anglo-American armies a local facade. "Over the course of six weeks, he persuaded reluctant leadership figures to identify themselves with the American regime" and got Bremer "to change the name of the body to the more dignified Governing Council (even though it remained powerless)." Traub goes on: "This was just what Annan had had in mind when he argued for a serious role for the UN."
Inevitably, the bid to create a network of collaborators for the occupation made Vieira de Mello a target for retribution by the Iraqi insurgents. In August, in politically the single most effective strike of the war, he and his staff were obliterated by a truck bomb. Annan, who had sent them to their death, did not flinch. To the incredulity even of intimates and the fury of subordinates, so determined was he to do his duty by Bush and Blair that he refused to withdraw the UN mission from Baghdad. It took another bombing, a month later, for him to change his mind and pull UN personnel out of the country. But his commitment to providing cover for the occupation had not altered. Within a few months Lakhdar Brahimi--Algeria's foreign minister at the height of the voided elections and military repression of 1991-92--was dispatched to Iraq as Annan's special representative, in the hope that he could repeat his performance of stitching together a client regime for the United States in Afghanistan. Brahimi got out alive, but his mission was no more successful than Vieira de Mello's, ending in the humiliation of having to announce that the CIA's Iyad Allawi, picked by the United States, would lead the new Iraqi democracy. Allawi lasted less than a year in his position.
Back in the West, cornered by a reporter from the BBC, Annan was in the end forced to admit, under repeated questioning, that the invasion of Iraq was illegal--"if you wish," he grudgingly added. How little he wished it could be seen from a poignant lapsus in the same interview. Asked if he was "bothered that the United States is becoming an unrestrainable, unilateral superpower," Annan replied: "I think in the end everybody is concluding that it is best to work together with our allies." Our allies. Identification with the United States could not be more innocently complete.
Annan ended his tenure lowered by scandal, when it was revealed that his son Kojo had received a rake-off of some $450,000 for helping to fix up the Swiss-based company Cotecna with an inspection contract under the Oil for Food program attached to the sanctions regime against Iraq. Annan, denying any knowledge of the contract, hired Clinton's defense counsel in the Jones-Lewinsky affair to ward off charges of corruption. The Volcker Commission, set up by Annan to investigate profiteering from the Oil for Food program, was obliged to look into the matter. Despite the incontestable fact that Annan had met with Cotecna executives, one of whom testified they had indeed discussed the UN contract with him and that documents had been rapidly shredded by one of Annan's confidants, Volcker--whose sense of establishment solidarity was not matched by an ear for literary meaning--concluded that the evidence that Annan knew of the contract his son had so coincidentally set up was "not reasonably sufficient": a formula in which the redundancy of the adverb destroys the denial of the adjective. For what would "unreasonably" sufficient be? Even sympathetic reporters like Traub and Meisler can hardly conceal their view of this verdict. Still, anyone who thinks Clinton told the truth about Paula Jones is entitled to believe Annan did so about Cotecna. It would, in any case, be unfair to judge a political record by such episodes. Annan was not personally greedy, and the venality at issue was trivial by comparison with the moral enormity of the sanctions themselves.