Saturday, April 23, 2005

Although he is a man who heads an organization in meltdown — and whose own performance in his most recent U.N. positions has verged on disastrous — Secretary-General Kofi Annan remains something of a cult hero to hard-core U.N. devotees among the media and cultural elite.

In 2001, he won the Nobel Prize for his peacemaking efforts. In 2002, he won the John. F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his work. In announcing the award, the Kennedy Library Foundation praised Mr. Annan’s “courageous and skillful leadership,” his work to “confront … agressors” and “his tireless efforts to advance the cause of peace and end the world’s most brutal conflicts.” Mr. Annan, the foundation continued, has courageously led the United Nations in advancing human rights, “taking responsibility for international peacekeeping failures” and ensuring that U.S. anti-terror efforts aren’t undercut by other nations. In a new book, Linda Fasulo, a veteran U.N. correspondent for NBC News, MSNBC and National Public Radio, among other news organizations, fulsomely praises Mr. Annan’s work.

Sadly, the reality bears little resemblance to the gushing praise Mr. Annan often receives from political and media elites. In his two most recent posts (director of U.N. peacekeeping operations from1993 to 1996 and secretary-general since 1996), Mr. Annan has presided over a panoply of international disasters, ranging from genocide to the erosion and collapse of international sanctions against Iraq and the oil-for-food scandal. He is currently under fire for blocking, at the behest of Syria, a U.N. report critical of Damascus’ role in Lebanon. Following are just some of the most prominent debacles that occurred on his watch:

• Rwandan genocide. In 1994 in Rwanda, Mr. Annan failed to act upon receiving warning from Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the commander of U.N. peacekeeping forces there, that Hutu radicals were planning to massacre members of the rival Tutsi tribe. Gen. Dallaire said he requested permission to seize an arms cache that Hutus aligned with the Rwandan government were planning to use as part of their impending ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Tutsis. Mr. Annan rejected the request to seize the arms cache, helping pave the way for the ensuing massacres, in which 800,000 people were killed. An independent report concluded that Mr. Annan and aides in his peacekeeping headquarters encouraged the Security Council’s indifference on the matter.

• Other peacekeeping failures. In July 1995, U.N. peacekeepers who worked for Mr. Annan broke their promise to protect Bosnian Muslims in a “safe area” at Srebrenica. As a result, Serbian troops and militiamen executed 7,000 Muslim men and boys — one of the worst massacres in Europe since World War II.

In Congo, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, a U.N. watchdog, issued a report in November documenting a pattern of sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers who are supposed to be protecting local residents. Some of the victims were girls as young as 13.

• The oil-for-food scandal. In March 2000, when Saddam Hussein was systematically diverting assistance intended for the Iraqi people to his cronies, Mr. Annan was telling the Security Council about all he had done to reform the program to make it more transparent. After coalition troops ousted Saddam, investigators found Iraqi Oil Ministry records that say Benon Sevan — the man Mr. Annan picked to run the program — received vouchers for millions of barrels of oil from Saddam. Only when he came under political pressure did Mr. Annan cooperate with congressional investigatations of the scandal by releasing internal U.N. audits of the program. Mr. Annan’s chief of staff, S. Iqbal Riza, authorized his secretary to shred several years worth of documents relevant to the investigation.

• Iraq. In addition to oil for food, Mr. Annan has come under fire for appeasing Saddam during the 1990s. In February 1998, for example, when the Iraqi dictator provoked a crisis by blocking weapons inspectors, Mr. Annan traveled to Baghdad in order to cut a deal with Saddam that weakened weapons inspections. He heaped praise on Saddam for his courage and asserted that the Iraqi ruler had been misunderstood. Mr. Annan was feted at a state dinner in Paris by French President Jacques Chirac and was given a hero’s welcome by U.N. staff when he returned to New York.

By contrast, Iraqis liberated from Saddam’s tyranny reacted very negatively last year after Mr. Annan warned coalition forces against an assault on the terrorist insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. “Where was Kofi Annan when Saddam was slaughtering the Iraqis like sheep?” Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Sha’alan demanded. The secretary-general has much to answer for.

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