The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

20 December 2005

From Kofi to Bill?

Parag Khanna of the Brookings Institution, in the January Harper's, presents a case for Bill Clinton as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations:

It may seem ironic to suggest Clinton as a manager, given that he ran one of the fastest and loosest White Houses in American history. No shortage of Clinton-haters would point to his personal indiscretions and ask why he is any better than Ruud Lubbers. Furthermore, it was under Clinton's watch — and Kofi Annan's as head of peacekeeping — that the United States balked in Somalia, waffled on the Balkans, and prevaricated on Rwanda. Yet not only has Clinton been forgiven; he continues to be seen as a source of hope. Simply watching any clip of the man in action overseas will demonstrate that America today has not one single citizen even remotely approaching his ability to develop a rapport with foreign leaders — and there is no replacement in sight. The choice for President Bush, therefore, is not betwen any American and a non-American but between Bill Clinton and a non-American. Given Bush's patriotic instincts, this should be no choice at all. President Bush must be made to realize that changing the secretary-general is intimately linked to changing the U.N.'s culture and to reconciling the world body with the U.S. Certainly Clinton would use the bully pulpit to try to force the Bush Administration to respect international norms, but Bush would still be doing his party a big favor, particularly if Hillary runs for the White House in 2008. As she seeks to build a political dynasty in Washington to counter the Bushes', having Bill Clinton at the U.N. would eliminate Republicans' concerns about having him back at the White House, even as First Man to Hillary. Democrats are desperate for some kind of influence on foreign policy, and Republicans are obsessed with a U.N. cleanup. There is no credible competition for the job from Asia or any other region, and many countries are seeking a candidate who could counter [U.S. Ambassador John] Bolton's wrath. With the U.N. itself so desperate to find a comprehensive mandate for the future, the combination of so many colliding interests yields only one compromise greater than another lowest common denominator — and he already lives in New York.

[Link added by me.]

A few things come to mind:

  • Who, precisely, is doing this "forgiving"?

  • I was starting to enjoy Bolton's wrath.

  • For whatever reasons, Bill Clinton is staggeringly popular outside the States.

  • George W. Bush's aspirations for changing the UN culture are certainly high, and probably unrealistically so; at this point, "not making things worse" might be the best he can hope for.

  • Kofi Annan's term ends in December 2006.

  • Who on the world stage commands the same attention as Bill Clinton? Nelson Mandela, certainly; Václav Havel, very likely. But Mandela will be eighty-eight years old next year and is not in the best of health; Havel, only seventy, but in no better condition.

  • Annan himself was a compromise candidate, not any sort of diplomat but a UN bureaucrat, and we know how well that worked out.

I'm not saying I think this is a wonderful idea, but the more I think about it, the less I dislike it. I suspect I may be quite alone in this judgment, though. (If I had my way? Maybe Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.)

Posted at 6:47 PM to Political Science Fiction


I seem to recall that there was something that disqualified Bill Clinton from taking that position.

Posted by: Ted at 8:02 PM on 20 December 2005

There is an informal agreement — I don't think it's officially in the rule book, but I could be wrong — which says that persons from the permanent members of the Security Council aren't supposed to serve as S-G.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:17 PM on 20 December 2005

If Bill staggered outside the States, that would be popular with me. Did I mention 1.83% in the Slut-o-meter thingie?

Posted by: Mister Snitch! at 2:41 AM on 21 December 2005

I would vote for him with one clause: UN should be permanently relocated to Bikini Island, what's left of it.

Posted by: Tatyana at 1:27 PM on 21 December 2005