Boutros-Ghali's obsession with the US damages his memoirsby David Hannay / October 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
This is a sad story written by a very angry man. Boutros-Ghali’s period as secretary-general of the UN (1991-96) coincided almost exactly with the first Clinton administration. This coincidence, together with his own troubled relationship with the US leaders involved-the president, the secretary of state (Warren Christopher) and the US ambassador to the UN (Madeleine Albright)-dominates the book. And it is this which carries the story from high hopes at the outset to tears and recriminations at the end, with Boutros-Ghali denied a second term despite a 14-1 vote in his favour in the Security Council.
The story is a sad one because, while the expectations aroused at the outset of his term were excessive-loose talk of a new world order in itself contributed to the setbacks which followed-it was not absurd to believe that the post-cold war UN was destined to play a more effective role. Relatively successful peacekeeping operations in Namibia, Cambodia and El Salvador were demonstrating what could be achieved; the reversal of Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait had shown that the five permanent members of the Security Council were capable of working together as the founding fathers had intended; and, above all, the ending of the great east-west confrontation, with its proxy manifestations all over the third world, and the crumbling of apartheid in South Africa, drew out the two poisoned thorns which had caused the UN to limp through its first 45 years.
But, five years after Boutros-Ghali took office, following crushing setbacks in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda, and the debilitating vendetta between Boutros-Ghali and the Clinton administration, the outlook was a lot bleaker. The UN which enters the new millennium looks more like the one which emerges at the end of this book-damaged and marginalised-than the one full of promise depicted at its beginning.
The story is also sad because the vendetta at its heart seems inexplicable and unnecessary. How did a US administration, committed in advance to “assertive multilateralism” and to strengthening the UN, come to inflict much more damage on the organisation than the three Republican administrations which preceded it? How did Boutros-Ghali-that most pro-US of Arab politicians, who had helped build the Camp David agreements-come to be regarded in Washington as the devil incarnate, hell-bent on taking over command of the US armed forces? This book tries to explain the background to these questions. But in the end, the focus on…