How wretched is the prose we live by in the global arena, how tired and half-hearted are the lies we tell when we hope someone will think us noble.
Consider, for instance: No one can be truly free till all are free. Or: No one can truly prosper till all are prosperous.
These were among the articles of faith Kofi Annan set forth yesterday at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., during his final speech as secretary- general of the UN.
"We are all responsible for each other's security," he declared, and "we can and must give everyone the chance to benefit from global prosperity." Furthermore, "both security and prosperity depend on human rights and the rule of law." Moreover, "states must be accountable to each other." Finally, all this will be accomplished through multilateralism, Annan's political religion.
Yet notions like these are little more than fables, expressions of an idealism that no one has ever lived by. For decades, Annan has clung to the empty slogans that created the theory of globalism in the middle of the 20th century.
"Annan calls for global solidarity," said the headline yesterday on the news service of Al-Jazeera, an institution that otherwise shows little enthusiasm for global solidarity. But that report included one sentence that summed up the crazy contradictions of Annan's regime: "As Washington reviews its policies in Iraq, Annan has pushed for greater involvement by Syria and Iran, a more inclusive political system and greater human rights protections."
Syria? Iran? Human rights? Those words don't fit into the same sentence, but Annan has never been troubled by inconsistency. Yesterday, being in Truman country, he praised President Harry Truman, a great leader who would have regarded Annan with contempt. Annan was drawing a contrast between the virtues of Truman and the vices of George W. Bush.
Perhaps those who know little history accepted what he said. He claimed that Truman fervently believed in multilateralism and would never have gone to war in Korea without the UN's approval, a nonsensical proposition. Annan somehow forgot to mention the Truman Doctrine, the promise, made in 1947, that America would (unilaterally if necessary) "support free peoples" resisting armed minorities or outside pressures.
That was Truman's argument for sending U.S. troops abroad.
Annan said yesterday that Truman believed "security must be collective and indivisible." In truth, there were many countries from which Truman never expected assistance. In fact, he believed security was divisible. Never addicted to the truth, Annan has clearly decided he won't abruptly change his ways during his last weeks at the UN.
Among world leaders few have given a more flagrant display of mediocrity than Annan. His most fervent admirer never called him an impressive manager, and I doubt that MIT brags about the degree in administration it granted him in 1972. Annan's UN declined in effectiveness while deteriorating internally. Scandals proliferated on the lower administrative levels, like the rapes habitually committed by UN troops in
the Congo. The UN's failure in Darfur was rather more serious. And, more serious still in its way, the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program made UN officials appear to be running an allegedly humanitarian program for profit. Billions of dollars were used improperly.
Annan was not accused of stealing money but his son was on the payroll of a Swiss company contracted to oversee Oil-for-Food.
Last year a report by Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman in the U.S., concluded that Annan's inept administration made the scandal possible. Annan then announced his own program for reforming the UN, which helped him survive the scandals and live out the second of his five-year terms with the serenity for which he had long been admired.
Sometimes Annan seems to talk nonsense just to keep in practice. Yesterday he said being in Missouri was "almost a homecoming for me. Nearly half a century ago I was a student about 400 miles north of here, in
Minnesota." Perhaps he was trying to say that his vision of the world is so broad that Missouri and Minnesota appear close to each other. Or perhaps he was just talking, keeping the show going, maintaining the old act even as he shuffled off the stage, moving his lips and emitting sounds as if he had something of value to say.
He usually speaks in quiet measured tones, but Kofi Annan's words often provoke outrage somewhere in the world. Since he took over as U.S. Secretary-General in 1997, his pronouncements have annoyed many people, particularly in the United States. Here are some of his remarks.
On the U.S. invasion of Iraq: "I've indicated that it was not in conformity with the UN Charter," he told the BBC in 2004. "From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it [the invasion] was illegal." The comment provoked a storm of criticism and may go down as the most controversial remark of his reign.
On the current state of Iraq: "When we had the strife in Lebanon and other places, we called that civil war -- this is much worse," he told the BBC.
On Saddam Hussein: Mr. Annan had only held his post for a year when he declared he could "do business" with Saddam Hussein, who was still in control in Iraq.
© National Post 2006