short black kofi

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    November 29, 2004

    Time for a Kofi Break

    November 29, 2004; Page A14

    Things are going badly for Kofi Annan. The oil-for-food scandal has revealed U.N. behavior regarding Saddam Hussein's Iraq that ranges from criminally inept to outright corrupt. Rape and pedophilia by U.N. peacekeepers haven't gotten the kind of attention they'd get if American troops were involved, but the scandals have begun to take their toll. And the U.N.'s ability to serve its crowning purpose -- the "never again" treatment of genocide that was vowed after the Holocaust, and re-vowed after Cambodia and Rwanda -- is looking less and less credible in the wake of its response to ongoing genocide in Darfur. And finally, the U.N. has so far played no significant role in defusing the Ukrainian crisis.

    Things have gotten bad enough that some are calling for Mr. Annan's resignation, amid talk of former Czech President Vaclav Havel as successor. ("Havel for Secretary General" bumper stickers are on the Web.) But however you assess Mr. Havel's chances of becoming secretary general, for Mr. Annan the comparison is devastating. Mr. Havel, after all, is a hero on behalf of freedom: A man who helped bring about the end of communist dominance in Eastern Europe, despite imprisonment and the threat of death -- a man who could write that "Evil must be confronted in its womb and, if it can't be done otherwise, then it has to be dealt with by the use of force." Mr. Annan, by contrast, is a trimmer and temporizer who has stood up for tyrants far more than he has stood up to them.

    If the comparison is damning to Kofi, it's even more damning to the U.N. Mr. Havel once wrote Czech dictator Gustav Husak, "So far, you . . . have chosen . . . the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances . . . of deepening the spiritual and moral crisis of our society, and ceaselessly degrading human dignity, for the puny sake of protecting your own power." One might say the same of the U.N. bureaucracy.

    And that, perhaps, is the only argument against bringing Mr. Havel to the U.N. (Besides the obvious: He probably wouldn't take the job.) The U.N. is losing what shreds of moral legitimacy remain, even among those who were once sympathetic, as the extent of its corruption becomes too obvious to ignore. There's talk of replacing -- or, more diplomatically, supplementing -- the U.N. with a Community of Democracies that would draw its support from legitimate governments, not thugs and kleptocrats. At the very least, it seems likely that the U.N. will soon come under enormous pressure to reform.

    But here's a paradox: It's hard to imagine that Mr. Annan could parry the pressure. But a U.N. headed by Mr. Havel might derive enough reflected legitimacy to resist such changes. According to Mr. Annan's Web site, the secretary general is supposed to serve as a "symbol" of U.N. "ideals." It may well be that he's doing that more accurately than Vaclav Havel ever could.

    Mr. Reynolds, professor of law at the University of Tennessee, publishes InstaPundit.com1.

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