Made in USA
What is one to make of the career as a whole? Annan was never a strong figure, or an independent agent. As a UN bureaucrat, he obviously had his share of vanity and ambition, but it was probably no more, and in some cases less, than that of others. There is no reason to suppose his Americanism was purely calculating, a mere means of self-advancement. It belonged to his formation. He achieved high office as a creature of the Clinton Administration, with ties that swaddled him to the end. Although personally fond of Bush and Blair, he never had a comparable rapport with the Republican Administration, which lacked the same confidence in him. When he came under attack over the Oil for Food scandal, the Democratic coterie that had elevated him rallied round. The campaign was led by Richard Holbrooke, imposing the changes in Annan's entourage that were deemed necessary to save him. In fact, what is really striking about Annan's tenure as Secretary General is less his personal characteristics than the nature of his inner circle. From the start, it was overwhelmingly Anglo-American, with a sprinkling of figures from the Anglophone zones of the First and Third World--Canada, Pakistan, India, Gambia--trained, like Annan himself, in the United States. A token Frenchman. Not a Russian, a Chinese, a Japanese, even a German or Italian, in sight. The provenance of figures like Robert Orr, head of "strategic planning," lifted straight from the National Security Council in Washington, Louise Fréchette, Deputy Secretary General, dispatched from the Defense Ministry in Ottawa, or, lower down the scale, theorists of humanitarian intervention from Harvard and Princeton like John Ruggie and Michael Doyle, speaks for itself.
But since the real work of the UN is the manufacture not of actions but of legitimations, the two key figures were the set's ventriloquists, who wrote the speeches and articles furbishing the Secretary General with his rhetorical image--much needed, since Annan's own powers of expression were wooden in the extreme. This pair, Edward Mortimer and Nader Mousavizadeh, came from the Financial Times and The New Republic, respectively. Not surprisingly, Annan's various pronouncements, applauded for their eloquence by like-minded colleagues across the West, were little more than lofty versions of editorials in these publications, whose political profile needs little specification. Mortimer, from a high clerical background in England, was a founder of the International Committee for a Free Iraq along with Ahmad Chalabi. Relations between them remained sufficiently close, Meisler tells us, for Chalabi to tip him off in advance of the Oil for Food affair. Mousavizadeh, editor of The Black Book of Bosnia, though technically a Dane, "was essentially American"--so says Traub--"and, like Ruggie, could not view international law as the summum bonum." Later, Mousavizadeh was elected a Global Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in Davos, where Ruggie once conducted Annan as "the first Secretary-General to speak to the annual conclave of capital." Mousavizadeh now adorns Goldman Sachs, presumably pending higher things.
Few episodes are more revealing of the part played by this Anglo-American duo than the way in which the world came to learn that NATO's blitz on Yugoslavia in 1999 was legitimate. Annan, unsure how to react, had to be manned up by his mentors to issue the absolving words. Rejecting a first draft submitted to Annan that expressed regret at the outbreak of war, Mortimer and Mousavizadeh handed him their own document, lauding the attack, to sign. According to Traub, "Mortimer says that when he delivered the new version, Annan gazed at it fixedly and finally said, 'This is the most difficult statement I have had to make as secretary-general.' And then he agreed to issue the statement."
In his second mandate, floundering in the Oil for Food crisis, Annan was summoned by Richard Holbrooke to his residence on the Upper West Side for a secret meeting, attended by Orr, Ruggie and Mousavizadeh, and three other Democratic insiders. There Annan was enjoined to fire unwanted colleagues and accept a more competent minder in the shape of Mark Malloch Brown, a former journalist for The Economist--whose main claim to fame was to have been campaign manager for Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a Bolivian ruler so hated by the population for his neoliberal zeal and subservience to Washington that he had recently had to flee the Presidential Palace by helicopter, and make for Miami. Without a murmur, Annan accepted him as the power in front of the throne. Holbrooke was pained that news of the arrangement had leaked out. "The intention was to keep it confidential. No one wanted to give the impression of a group of outsiders, all of them Americans, dictating what to do to a secretary general." Impressions, apparently, are everything.
Schematically--simplifying a mottled tale--there have been three distinct periods in the history of the UN. The organization was from its inception an American creation, as Stephen Schlesinger has shown in abundant and admiring detail, the product of Roosevelt's vision of a postwar world in which the USSR and Britain would retain delimited spheres of influence within an international order whose overarching power would be the United States. Its founding conference at San Francisco was meticulously controlled and choreographed by Washington, with a special unit of US military intelligence in the Presidio intercepting all cables to and from the assembled delegates, the FBI tracking their movements on the ground and a large bloc of Latin American satellites assuring majorities when issues were put to the vote. Soviet compliance was purchased with promises of noninterference in Eastern Europe and a watered-down right of veto in the Security Council. With its headquarters planted in New York, where surveillance would be permanent, and a large majority of members--principally European and Latin American--at the beck and call of Washington, the UN, whose first Secretary General, Trygve Lie, even illegally collaborated with the FBI in purging his own staff, was an all-but-infallible decoration of the American will. For more than twenty years, the United States never had to cast a single veto in the Security Council, so relentlessly did its resolutions coincide with whatever Washington wanted. The landmarks of the UN in this period were approval of the creation of Israel (the Jewish third of the population was allocated more than half the territory of Mandate Palestine by Ralphe Bunche, the "ghost-writing harlot," as he described himself, of the UN plan for partition, which was rammed through the General Assembly by the United States with every bribe and blackmail at its disposal); provision of a flag of convenience for American intervention in the Korean civil war, checked short of complete victory only by Chinese entry into the conflict; and induction of Mobutu Sese Seko's dictatorship in the Congo, after Hammarskjöld and his American advisers had connived at the murder of Patrice Lumumba.
Decolonization, multiplying new member states from the Third World, brought such unimpeded utilization of the UN by the United States to an end. The General Assembly resolution of December 1960, calling for independence of the colonies--the United States, in the company of Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and South Africa, refused to vote for it--marked the dusk of European imperialism. In the Middle East, Israel's pre-emptive war of 1967, on the pretext of Cairo's request that UN forces, ensconced in Egypt ever since it was victim of the three-way attack by Britain, France and Israel in 1956, finally exit the country--naturally there were none on the Israeli side of the border; why should the aggressor put up with any?--was a turning point for Arab opinion. In Southeast Asia the Tet offensive of 1968 emboldened opposition to American power across the Third World, and a group of seventy-seven ex-colonial countries started for the first time to offer organized resistance in the UN. The belated seating of the People's Republic of China in 1971, to Washington's fury--this was before Nixon's visit to Beijing--amid scenes of wild rejoicing in the chamber, made it clear that the General Assembly had escaped American control.
The first US veto had been cast shortly before, in defense of Ian Smith's racist regime in Rhodesia. Since then, in a complete reversal of the pattern of the previous period, the United States has vetoed more than eighty resolutions in the UN, many of them critical of Israel, others of South Africa, and not a few of its own actions in Nicaragua and elsewhere--products of the conjunction between the Soviet bloc and Third World in the 1970s and '80s. The acute dislike of the UN on the American right, lingering to this day, dates from these years. Unlike the first phase of UN history, however, this second phase was for all practical purposes an exercise in futility. There was no risk of the United States suffering an Israel, Korea or Congo in reverse. Washington was not going to be ambushed, as Moscow had been more than once, in a structure it had itself designed. The United States remained master of what the UN could do, however many impotent resolutions were passed in the General Assembly or proposed to the Security Council and then killed by it. No UN decisions of any significance mark these decades. In the resultant limbo, symbolic gestures like the denunciation of Zionism as a form of racism made do instead.
This period came to an abrupt end in 1990, with the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the collapse of the USSR the following year. As late as 1989 the United States--along with Britain and France--had to veto a resolution condemning the American invasion of Panama. By early 1991 the Gulf War could be launched with Soviet assent and Arab participation, under cover of a deliberately vague Security Council resolution, passed with just one abstention. Victory in the cold war, knocking the USSR out of the ring, and the concomitant eclipse of nationalism by neoliberalism in the Third World, henceforward gave the United States more thoroughgoing real power over the UN than it had enjoyed even at the height of its postwar ascendancy, since it could now rely on the compliance, tacit or express, of Russia and China with its imperatives. Annan's Secretariat was one product of this change. The multiplication of UN peacekeeping missions in the '90s, offloading policing tasks of lesser strategic importance for the American imperium was another.
Paramountcy does not mean omnipotence. The United States cannot count on always securing UN legitimation of its actions ex ante. But where this is wanting, retrospective validation is readily available, as the occupation of Iraq has shown. What is categorically excluded is active opposition of the UN to any significant US initiative. A Security Council resolution, let alone a Secretary General, condemning an American action is unthinkable. Ban Ki-moon, whose appointment required Chinese assent, may keep a lower profile than Annan, but his role is unlikely to be very different. The US grip on the organization has not relaxed, as can be seen from recent UN resolutions on Lebanon and Iran, which the White House could never have obtained so easily before. Anxious voices from liberal opinion, worrying that the organization might become irrelevant if Bush's "unilateralism" persists, and plaintive appeals from the left to defend the UN from distortion by Washington, are regularly heard today. They can be reassured. The future of the United Nations is safe. It will continue to be, as it was intended to be, a serviceable auxiliary mechanism of the Pax Americana.