NEW YORK - Kofi Annan had the best of intentions, but not enough to turn him into a true hero who made a difference in the end. This summary of the term of the United Nations secretary general, who officially finishes his term today, appears in the book by The New York Times journalist James Traub about Annan. In "The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power," Traub describes Annan as a chivalrous figure who was gifted with charisma and the art of expression, but was unable to confront the subterfuge and intrigues of a world that prefers its own selfish interests.
As opposed to several previous secretaries general, "Annan will be remembered in the UN, for good or for bad," said a veteran Western ambassador at the UN yesterday. "He was the SG during one of the stormiest periods in the history of the organization, which was characterized by regional wars and armed conflicts, and exposed the UN and the SG to challenges and goals never dreamed of by Annan's predecessors."
However, even his fans admit that Annan did not excel in dramatic achievements. The ambassador of a Middle Eastern country said that, "the admiration for him is mainly for his aristocratic and restrained presence in the midst of difficult events and horrors that took place in recent years in various places in the world, and some of which still continue."
And the fact is that the list of the ongoing crises and bloody conflicts that Annan is leaving behind to be dealt with by his successor, South Korean Ban Ki-moon, is long and frightening: Darfur, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Israel and the Palestinians. In all of them Annan failed consistently and humiliatingly in his attempts to turn himself into a dependable and influential factor. The horrible memories of Rwanda, Srebrenica and Kosovo are deeply etched in the annals of his era.
His greatest diplomatic failure was his inability to promote his plan to unify Cyprus, an initiative in which he invested a great deal of time and energy. The inability of his organization to stop the massacre of civilians in Darfur will also be credited in no small measure to Annan: "The secretary general represents 192 clients, each of which has conflicting interests," said a veteran diplomat known for his close ties with Annan, in an effort to defend him. "One of his great mistakes was that he tried to please everyone," said a Western ambassador. "He did not demonstrate firmness with Iran, and his meeting in Tehran with [President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a mistake."
Nor did Annan succeed in carrying out the reforms he formulated to streamline the mechanisms of the international organization and improve its functioning. The failure has been explained due to the opposition of many member nations, which feared that the reforms would erode their status and reduce their areas of activity within the context of the organization. But Annan will be remembered as someone who wanted to refresh the organization, yet failed.
At his last press conference with UN correspondents last week, he pleaded with them: "Please, don't remember the oil-for-food affair as the affair that characterized my term." But the exposure of corruption in the UN program that followed the first Gulf War, a program whose purpose was to enable the export of oil from Iraq in exchange for food and drugs - and included the revelation that Annan's son had channeled money into his own pocket - in effect marked the end of Annan's diplomatic career.
Annan's defenders in the UN Secretariat claim that during his term he succeeded in making concern for the fate of people all over the world a No. 1 priority. "Annan propelled hardships such as poverty, AIDS, the abuse of women and ignorance to the forefront of the international arena, and that demanded great efforts on his part," said a veteran member of the secretariat.
Israel's UN delegation believes that the hostility toward the outgoing SG, which is shared by many people in Israel, is not justified. "At several junctions Annan revealed tough stances toward Israel and stained his Middle East record," said one senior member of the delegation. "He made critical and outspoken declarations that later turned out to be mistakes, such as blaming Israel for the deliberate killing of the four UNIFIL soldiers, and statements condemning Israel that he voiced during the second Lebanon war. But in general Annan was fair toward Israel, and worked to increase its involvement in the international organization."
The delegation has reservations about Annan's view of the conflict with the Palestinians as a source of tension in the world, but praised him for the fact that in his last speech in the UN Security Council, he condemned the anti-Israel resolutions passed in the UN General Assembly, which in his words "did not lead to any improvement in the situation of the Palestinians."
The Jewish people reserve a warm place in their hearts for Annan. He was the first secretary general who initiated an international discussion in the UN about anti-Semitism, and later declared the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp as International Holocaust Day.
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