And so in faraway Kenya President Daniel arap Moi, for 28 years the great hope of progressives everywhere, retires.
According to all the accounts I have heard, he was roundly jeered by Kenyans at the inauguration of his successor Mr. Mwai Kibaki. That would not have been the case in the good old days when he ruled his nation by strict socialist principles, interlarded with a little graft. At the United Nations in particular he was an admired figure.
Now, I am glad Kenyans finally spotted in him what I spotted years ago, to wit, a buffoon. He provided me with much laughter and I shall miss him, at least as much as I miss Jimmy Carter, who, by the way, ought to return his Nobel Prize in light of the North Koreans’ rude treatment of that nuclear accord he fashioned with them during the Clinton administration.
Mr. Moi was by all odds one of the simplest men ever to appear at the United Nations. His artlessness was legendary. Whatever ambled through his mind he was apt to eject instantaneously onto the public record: his intention to irrigate arid lands, his love of blue skies, his yearning for his dinner companion’s puce tie. He said what came to his mind. Reticence was as alien to him as the poetry of Sigfried Weisberger.
I recall fondly autumn 1981. President Moi was chairman of the Organization of African Unity, and because of his exalted position a Lucullan luncheon was laid on for him at the diplomats’ dining room of the U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim had spared no expense. He never did. China was on the table, so were the fresh flowers and the silver. Fully 120 ambassadors were there for the solemnities.
There were cocktails in abundance. There were five courses, including lobster hors d’oeuvre, vichyssoise, and layer cake, accompanied by ice cream and cherry sauce. The piece de resistance was a slab of roast beef the size of a manhole cover. Three wines flowed in exuberance even to the diplomats from Araby. Then came liqueurs and cigars.
Now it was time for President Moi to orate, but first Secretary General Waldheim’s oration. He was the master of the U.N. in those days, though later it transpired that during World War II he had become a little more cooperative with Nazi death squads than was prudent well, one moves on. Those who would master the world in the 1930s were not to be the same as those who would master it in the 1980s. Mr. Waldheim now mastered the U.N., where he regularly lectured the United States on its coarseness and racism and where he celebrated forward-lookers of the luminescence of Mr. Moi. As Mr. Moi sat back in his chair, Mr. Waldheim sang of the brotherhood of man. An end to the arms race. North-South dialogue. Finally he called upon Mr. Moi to duplicate the bromides.
Hush. President Moi arises, peers down at his notes, and responds: The brotherhood of man. An end to the arms race. North-South dialogue. That stupendous roast beef. What, what. President Moi’s eyes widen. He commends Secretary General Waldheim on a lovely meal. He notes the wines, the layer cakes, the fresh flowers. But President Moi would have liked another helping of roast beef. He gently protests that he had sought the attentions of the waiters, but none would respond to his plea for more roast beef. A sigh is heard from the assembled diplomats. Then Mr. Moi resumes his oration.
The next day America’s deputy ambassador, the jovial Kenneth Adelman, finds himself in the company of the great Waldheim. Always sensitive to the feelings of the U.N.’s powerhouses, Mr. Adelman compliments Mr. Waldheim on yesterday’s luncheon, and assures him that at least the deputy ambassador from the United States had a sufficient helping of roast beef. “Yes,” this former accomplice of the Nazis says dreamily, wasn’t it beautiful?” Mr. Adelman agreed, “a beautiful meal.” “No,” objects Herr Waldheim, “the toast?” “The toast?” “Yes, the toast. President Moi’s point about the roast beef using it as a symbol to remind us of the inequalities between the North and the South.”
Mr. Adelman was not surprised. The U.N. was like that in those days, abounding with simpletons and frauds, some with truly vile biographies. They all composed a tireless chorus of our critics. None ever solved the problems about which they wailed. Meanwhile Washington has made steady progress against world hunger, genocide, totalitarian dictators threatening peace.
Since 1981 the likes of Mr. Waldheim and now Mr. Moi have quietly left the world stage. Yet the anti-American chorus remains. Now it is at it again: The brotherhood of man. North-South dialogue. Unilateralism. War with Iraq. The chorus has all the politically correct answers. Why does Washington not listen? Possibly, because we recognize the buffoons when we see them, and the scoundrels.