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'Best Intentions': Annan and the United Nations

Writer James Traub discusses his new book, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power. Traub recounts the intertwined story of Annan, the United Nations and American foreign policy from 1992 to the present. Traub is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. His other books include City on a Hill and The Devil's Playground.


Other segments from the episode on October 31, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 31, 2006: Interview with James Traub; Obituary for Richard Gilman.


DATE October 31, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Journalist James Traub discusses his new book, "The
Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American
World Power"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan steps down at the end of the year after
serving two terms. My guest journalist James Traub has written a new book
called "The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American
World Power." It looks at the UN under Annan's leadership, including the
friction between the UN and the Bush administration, the failure to stop
genocide in Sudan and the controversy surrounding his son Kojo's involvement
in the oil-for-food scandal. James Traub has been a contributing writer to
The New York Times magazine since 1998, which is also the year he first met
Kofi Annan. In late 2003 Annan agreed to cooperate with Traub on a book about
the UN and his place in it, and he agreed to let Traub sit in on meetings and
travel with him. Traub interviewed him about 18 times.

James Traub, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Now, you said something very
provocative about the UN in a book review that you wrote for Paul Kennedy's
book about the UN. You wrote, `It takes a brave man or a blithe one to write
about the UN as if it had some purpose other than either to obstruct or to
accommodate American policy goals. So this is a double question. Question
one is are you brave or blithe, and question two is why is it so difficult to
write about the UN as if it had a purpose?

Mr. JAMES TRAUB: Well, I'm not going to attribute bravery to myself, so I'll
just say I'm blithe, and I think the answer to the second part, which is the
meatier part is that I think opinions on the UN tend to get so deeply
polarized. The UN does still have very much of a cheering section in this
country and certainly elsewhere in the world and maybe in part because it's so
embattled, those folks tend to be just as single-minded as the folks on the
other side. And so, being critical can get you in some trouble, but obviously
the bigger one is that right now, there's such a kind of reflexive contempt
for the UN, the idea that it's a soft place in a hard world. The idea that
these folks are so averse to tough-minded solutions that they'll choose one.
The idea that they're trying to tie down the Gulliver--that is the United
States--and so to speak at all well of the institution is to invite the idea
that you're kind of a sap because you've bought into all this sort of mushy
soft idealistic stuff.

GROSS: Do you think the Bush administration and the president himself started
with a critical attitude toward the UN?

Mr. TRAUB: Oh, there's no question. I don't think--you know, the president,
in his initial meetings with Kofi Annan, could not have been more polite,
appropriate, gracious, you know, nothing abrasive, though I was told that Dick
Cheney would sit in a corner with his head down looking at the ends of his
Wing Tips saying nothing. So there were clearly some people in the
administration who thought the UN is nothing but an obstructive force. And I
would say that the dominant mind-set in the administration coming in, even
before 9/11, was the Clinton administration allowed its policy to run through
the UN to an excessive degree. They were far too enamored of the idea of
international law and multilateral institution, so they were determined to do
what they thought was in the American interest, and if the UN was going to be
helpful with that, fine. And if the UN wasn't going to be helpful with that,
then we're just going to go ahead and do what we think is right, and you saw
that before 9/11 in the relationship of the Bush administration to the
treaties that had been passed in years prior because well before 9/11, the
administration renounced the Treaty of Rome, which established the
international criminal court, renounced Kyoto, refused to really move any
further with a series of treaties that had to do with small arms and
nonproliferation and so forth. So, yeah, certainly there was that deep
skepticism, which in the case of some people, amounted to active hostility.

GROSS: But you point out that after September 11th, before the US started
bombing Afghanistan, the US was pleased with the UN because it condemned the
September 11th attacks, and the Security Council passed a resolution saying

Mr. TRAUB: Well, the Security Council passed a resolution which essentially
said that the World Trade Center attacks constituted a threat to the United
States, such that under the rules of the UN charter, the US would be justified
at hitting back not only at the actual attackers, but at the country that gave
them refuge, meaning Afghanistan. So that was actually a moment of very good
feeling. The US also reciprocated by immediately forwarding dues that were in
arrears that it had owed, as well as immediately forwarding to the Senate the
nomination for the US ambassador for the UN which had been vacant at that
time. So that was a brief moment of good feeling, and that really lasted, I
would say, up until the late summer, early fall of 2002, when the debate over
Iraq began.

GROSS: But even before that you say that after the bombing when it came time
to think about the rebuilding of Afghanistan, the United States and the UN
were kind of coming at it at different angles and the Bush administration had
previously opposed the idea of nation building and the UN was uncomfortable
with the idea of neocolonialism, which, you know, the rebuilding of
Afghanistan could be conceived of. So what was the relationship of the US and
the UN like in that period?

Mr. TRAUB: Well, I have to say, whatever the problems were, it looks
terrific compared to Iraq. There was a point of convergence, I would say,
between the US aversion to nation building and the UN aversion to
neocolonialism, and that was what was called `the light footprint.' Now the
light footprint is used in all sorts of ways but what it was understood then
to mean is that it would be clear that sovereignty rested with the Afghans
themselves. And so all of the help that would be given would still fall
underneath the umbrella of a sovereign Afghan government. I think where
things failed was not that, but rather, all right, having granted this
sovereignty and having avoid the neocolonial problem, how do you engage in
this act, whether you want to call it nation building or something else, where
you have a country that essentially hasn't really functioned as an effective
sovereign nation ever, with, you know, an unimaginable poor country, certainly
the poorest country, I think, outside of Africa, and so low level of
development. I think there you did have a disagreement, not only between the
US and the UN, but between the US and many of its allies as to how big the
development role should be and also how big the security role should be, and I
think what we see now in Afghanistan is the consequences of the wrong part of
the lightness of that footprint, which is too little money, too little focus
on reconstruction, too little security outside Kabul, and the administration
is really suffering the consequences of that now, as, above all, are the
Afghanis themselves.

GROSS: My guest is James Traub, and we're talking about his new book, "The
Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power."

Can you talk a little bit about how the Bush administration's push for regime
change in Iraq looked from the Kofi Annan point of view, from the UN point of

Mr. TRAUB: Well, certainly from the Kofi Annan point of view, what I
realized in the course of talking to him--and, of course, I should make clear
that my conversations with him took place later than all this, starting in the
middle of 2004, so this was a matter of retrospect. From his point of view,
he thought the war was a big mistake, and he believed that various forms of
containment could continue working, and he does, in fact, did and does, have a
deep aversion to conflict unless he feels it is utterly unavoidable. But
beyond that or maybe even more important than that in his own mind was the
debate over the war cannot be allowed to destroy the UN and the Security
Council, and so he was quite desperate to keep the Council together.

I was quite surprised to find that many people inside the institution who were
clearly opposed to the idea of a war were nevertheless pleased and relieved
when the Bush administration decided to seek a UN resolution authorizing the
war and to basically conduct its foreign policy through the Security Council
because they had gotten so worried that the US had decided to dispense with
the UN altogether that even this sort of ultimatum that President Bush issued
when he came before the UN in September of 2002, they still felt, `Well, at
least he feels he should be coming here.'

GROSS: So from Kofi Annan's point of view, was the UN undermined, and if so,
how seriously, by the invasion of Iraq?

Mr. TRAUB: The answer is yes and devastatingly. I think for him the fact
that this question of supreme importance came before the UN Security Council,
and then after months of tremendously bitter and divisive debate, the Council
failed to come to an agreement, and then the US with its allies acted anyway.
For him this was a terrible outcome, and those who were around him then could
see this very easily because he went into a kind of shock. I mean, I'm not
sure exactly what the right way to characterize it is--one of his own aides
described it as a kind of a break--he lost his voice, which, of course, you
can't help thinking about metaphorically. He didn't show up to work for
several weeks. This was a little bit later. It was May of 2003, and clearly
he was devastated by this, and the subsequent reform effort, which came to a
kind of fruition in September of 2005 was really born out of Kofi Annan's
sense that the US decision to engage in a pre-emptive war in what he would
have said and others would have said was a violation of the UN charter, and to
do so without the consent of the other nations in the UN Security Council,
this posed a fundamental challenge to the institution which had to be
confronted, not just by criticizing the US but by seeking to change the
institution in such a way that it could satisfy those concerns without merely
becoming an appendage of US foreign policy.

GROSS: So Kofi Annan felt that the UN structure needed to be changed in the
light of what happened?

Mr. TRAUB: Yeah. I mean, in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, Kofi Annan's
first thought was `How can we remake the institution so that the United States
will feel that it actually wants to use it?' And what that meant was to create
rules of engagement which would essentially say that if you are facing a
conflict situation and there are certain criteria that it satisfies, like,
there's no other way of solving the problem, there's an imminent threat and so
forth, then you would have a right to go to war. So, it began there and then
increased over time to include a whole series of reforms, Security Council
expansion, social and economic development, everything, until it became a kind
of giant, omnibus reform package.

GROSS: And was any of that ever passed?

Mr. TRAUB: Some. I mean, it was hugely ambitious and some parts of it were
reforms that had been sitting around forever and had never succeeded and were
never likely to succeed. The most famous example being making the Security
Council more representative, that is to say, adding countries from the Third
World like Brazil and India, as well as adding Germany and Japan, who were big
donors to the UN. Well, that had been sitting around for 13 years, and the
fact that it was part of this reform package didn't make it any likelier to
pass. So that failed. Some others did succeed. Some little bits of
management reform, the creation of what's called a peace-building commission,
some small advances on terrorism, the creation of a new human rights council,
which has proved to be a failure. So the answer is some stuff passed, but
nothing like the initial hope.

GROSS: My guest is journalist James Traub. We're talking about his new book,
"The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is James Traub, and we're talking
about his new book, "The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of
American World Power."

So we've been talking about the big split between the UN and the US when the
US invaded Iraq, and Kofi Annan still says he thinks it was illegal for the US
to do that. But the US went back to the UN after the overthrow of Saddam
Hussein. What did the US need the UN to do? What did it ask the UN to do?

Mr. TRAUB: Well, all it wanted--but it was a big thing--was the Good
Housekeeping Seal of Approval that comes when the Security Council accepts
something, even accepting it in retrospect. So essentially what they wanted
was for the UN to bless the American occupation of Iraq. Now the price for
that was to give the UN some role in Iraq, but the US didn't really want to
give the UN much of a role, and so it succeeded really 100 percent. It got
this blessing by the Security Council. It gave the UN a role in which it
said, `The UN will help and the UN will play an important role,' and this
thing and that thing and this thing and that thing. But the UN didn't
actually have any authority of its own.

GROSS: And then the head of the mission from the UN to Iraq, Vieira de Mello
was--and he had a four-month commitment in Iraq, he was killed in an attack.
Would you describe that attack that you described as the worst disaster ever
to befall UN civilians?

Mr. TRAUB: Yeah, it was a terrible disaster for lots of reasons, not the
least of which being that this gentleman that you mentioned, Sergio Vieira de
Mello, was perhaps as much admired and even loved as any official in the
United Nations, but 21 other people died as well. This was in August, so they
had been there for several months, and they were staying in a place called the
Canal Hotel, that was their headquarters. And security was really lax.
Anyway, I suppose that's obvious in retrospect, but to some people it was
obvious then, too. And the truck that drove essentially beneath the office
where Sergio de Mello was working and blew up and causing the death of Sergio
de Mello and 21 others. This was--there had never been such an event in the
history of the UN. It was devastating for the whole institution. It was
devastating for Kofi Annan because he was deeply fond of Vieira de Mello. He
had known him for many, many years, and he viewed him as a possible successor,
as many other people did as well. More than that, he was blamed by people in
the UN who were tremendously angry and bitter--their real anger and bitterness
was at the United States for having had the UN there in the first place. But
they blamed Kofi Annan for being all too willing to accommodate the US by
sending a UN mission there, and they felt, sending it there so quickly that
there wasn't time for a sufficient security check, which was at least partly

GROSS: So, this attack happened in 2003. You say in your book that the UN's
inviable status was compromised in this event, and it could never be restored.
I mean, what did this event kind of symbolize to you and safety and UN

Mr. TRAUB: Well, that there is no longer the idea of neutrality. The idea
that the UN is protected by the fact that it doesn't represent the interests
of any country but represents the supreme interest of all men and all women.
That clearly didn't provide it any protection against the jihadists in Iraq.
And increasingly there had been attacks on UN peacekeeping forces and on UN
civilian forces all around the world, but this was by far the worst. And so
once you are no longer seen as sacrosanct in that way, well, you can't regain
that kind of moral virginity, and so it meant that from now on, certainly in
large parts of the world, the UN would feel endangered and would no longer
have the ease of access or the ease of motion, which is essential if you want
to play an important role in either political or economic or social
development in any one of dozens of countries.

GROSS: What role is the UN playing in Iraq now?

Mr. TRAUB: Modest. Extremely modest. The UN has really quite a small role
there. There is a UN civilian force which deals with political issues and so
on. But the hopes once upon a time that the UN would have a much larger role
have been scotched by the fact that the security situation is impossible. So
the UN has an office in Baghdad and in several other cities, but it's very
hard for them to get out. So really, the UN played a very important role in
terms of the transition from the UN-US occupying force to the creation of an
independent Iraqi government. Since that time, it's played a rather marginal

GROSS: John Bolton is the US ambassador to the UN but he still has not been
confirmed by the Senate because his appointment was so controversial. I mean,
he was a known detractor of the UN. When he was appointed, is it fair to say
he didn't believe in the UN at all?

Mr. TRAUB: Well, let's say he didn't believe in it before he got appointed.
What he would say is that `If the UN is useful, we should use it.' But the UN
doesn't deserve any particular respect. This whole idea that the UN has a
kind of legitimacy the United States needs struck him as being preposterous,
because he would say the United States carries its own legitimacy. And so he
was always hostile to any kind of what he would have said was multilateralism
for its own sake as opposed to a purely pragmatic one. So, yeah--I mean, his
appointment was seen at the UN, you know, as kind of sending Count Dracula to
the institution. I mean, people recoiled in horror at the thought of Bolton.

GROSS: Was Bolton's appointment seen by Kofi Annan as a provocative act?

Mr. TRAUB: Yeah, I think it was. I mean, he and I had a funny conversation
months before it happened. We were in a plane in the middle of some swing
through Africa, and I was asking about his relations with the United States,
and he was in a really dejected state and he had just received what turned out
to be the incorrect news that Bolton had been nominated. But, you know, when
you're fearful of something, of course, you automatically believe it when you
hear about it. And he just said, `What about the news of the new nominee?'
And he said this with a tone of the utmost dejection, and he took it as a way
of the Bush administration basically sticking its thumb in the institution's
eye. Well, it was premature but, in fact, it did happen. It was something
nobody was looking forward to and almost as soon as Bolton came, he confirmed
everyone's worst fears.


Mr. TRAUB: By being unbelievably unyielding and quite indifferent to the
difficulties he would put on anybody else by virtue of his unyieldingness. So
he arrived in the middle of this very heated debate about reform, trying to
convince everybody to sign onto everybody else's concern so as to produce some
kind of package, and Bolton arrived, and literally the first day he arrived,
he went to meet the president of the General Assembly, and he said, `Look,
you've done a terrific job so far, but it's coming to an end because all the
documents you're producing really aren't going to do any good, and we don't
want to have all these UN ambassadors that you've appointed getting in the way
of our debate, so we're going to take the thing over and produce our own
document and thanks very much.' Thus, in effect, throwing in the trash months'
worth of painstaking attempt to come to some kind of common agreement. And
from that time forward, his behavior was so peremptory, so demanding, so
undiplomatic, so unyielding that he made it that much more difficult to find
common ground, which was already terribly difficult in the first place.

GROSS: James Traub is the author of the new book, "The Best Intentions: Kofi
Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power." He'll be back in the
second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is journalist James Traub, author of the new book, "The Best
Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power." When
we left off, we were talking about John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN
who has been antagonistic toward the UN and its mission.

Has John Bolton made up with the UN? And I ask this because, say, sanctions
against North Korea, for instance. John Bolton has worked with the UN on
that. So, you know, and the Bush administration has worked with the UN on,
you know, peacekeeping in Lebanon and working with the UN on sanctions against
Iran. So is--are things improving in the relations now between the US and the

Mr. TRAUB: Yeah, Terry, I think especially if you put it not at the personal
level, but at the level of foreign policy, then that is clearly true. I mean,
the second term of the Bush administration feels very different from the first
term of the Bush administration, and that's because in the first term, the
Bush administration got whacked over the head by a two-by-four. Everything
they've tried to do by themselves has turned out very badly, and so
Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has clearly focused, as she said she
would, on diplomacy, which includes the use of the UN. And so, if you look,
certainly, as you said, at the way the US has conducted its policy on Iran, it
has been extraordinarily patient with what is a very trying process of
attempting to craft a Security Council resolution, including meaningful
sanctions against Iran unless Iran agrees to end its program of nuclear
development. And that certainly has improved the atmosphere a lot. And these
are the things in the end that are more important than, you know, whether or
not John Bolton is abrasive in his personal behavior.

GROSS: Now, you actually went with Kofi Annan to Sudan where he hoped to
persuade the government to call off the Janjaweed, which is the group
responsible for the genocide. What can you tell us about observing him in
action in Sudan?

Mr. TRAUB: He is a diplomat to the last. I mean, it's nothing at all like
watching most American diplomats, who are very happy to wield the club that
comes with American power. I mean, Kofi Annan has no club to wield, that's
the nature of being secretary-general, but it is also his nature not to wield
any clubs. And so when I--when we went to Darfur, what I describe in the book
is the whole entourage is whisked into a hot guest house where there's a whole
party of Sudanese officials waiting for him. And so, Kofi's goal here is to
let them know that the world is watching, and they can't get away with this
systematic mistreatment of the people of Darfur and that the UN believes and
everyone believes that the government is in league with the Janjaweed to abuse
the people of Darfur. Well, instead, he is subjected to a 45-minute monologue
by a government official explaining why all these accusations are baseless.
And he sits there quietly for the longest time saying nothing and finally
pipes up, and the government official says, `I'm not finished yet,' and kind
of runs rough shod over him. And then, finally, Kofi says, `I would like to
ask you something,' and he asks a rather mild question and he gets a rather
evasive answer. And rather than saying, `You guys are lying to me and I know
it,' which he feels would be counterproductive because then they'd basically
give him the back of their hand, he tried to get them to reach agreement that
indeed we must all stop this violence. And I left this thing feeling at the
very best really ambivalent because it was obvious these guys were lying to
him and they couldn't care less about the fine moral principles that he stood
for. And he hadn't exactly instilled the fear of God in them. So, if there
was any hope that his visit was going to make a difference, it sure wasn't
going to be in that.

GROSS: I think the example you just gave us is a perfect example of what the
UN is up against now in trying to stop genocide. How do you negotiate with
people who obviously have, like, no conscience, no empathy, you know, no
decency, or else they wouldn't be committing genocide in the first place?

Mr. TRAUB: Yeah. Not only that, how do you negotiate with them when you
don't have a club to hold over their head?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TRAUB: It's not simply that it's naive to think that you can persuade
monstrous people to behave in a nonmonstrous way. That is naive, and I think
one can accuse Kofi Annan of being optimistic to the point of naivete. But he
also said to me then, and he says all the time, well, you know, `Yes, I should
use a stick, but what stick do I have?' And so if the Security Council is
unwilling to pose a serious threat to these tyrannical figures, whether it's
in Sudan or elsewhere, then when Kofi Annan goes to negotiate, he's got an
empty hand. He may be, he can offer a carrot, but he can't offer a stick.
And, in fact, I would say that the underlying pattern of his diplomatic
activity in Sudan was his attempt to use whatever carrots he had at his
disposal, given that he had no sticks. Well, the fact is, the Sudanese
government wasn't going to respond to the offer of more trade and to be
incorporated into the global economy and so on. They may have wanted that,
but they didn't want that nearly as much as they wanted to have a free hand to
deal with the rebels of Darfur and the people of Darfur as they wished. And
so, he wound up seeming quite helpless there, but I don't think a more
tough-minded or firm or aggressive or whatever person could've made a bigger
difference because the underlying fact was that he had no way of threatening

GROSS: Well, that gets to another underlying problem you write about in your
book, which is that a lot of countries blame the UN for being weak when it
comes to, say, the Sudan, but at the same time, Kofi Annan can say the
Security Council, the countries that sit on the Security Council, aren't
giving the UN any power to do anything. So he points the finger right back at
the countries.

Mr. TRAUB: Yeah. I mean, this is the kind of ongoing argument between the
UN and its critics, especially in the United States, which is the UN is weak,
the UN is feckless, the UN is pacifist and so on. Well, I actually in the
book argue that indeed the UN's culture is some of those things and the UN's
culture is a real problem. But if you ask why has there been no adequate
response in Darfur? Why was there no adequate response years earlier in the
most notorious cases, like the Balkans and Rwanda? The answer is not because
the UN is weak and feckless, whether or not it is, the answer is because there
was no political will in the part of the major countries, meaning the five
countries of the Security Council. In the case of Darfur, we see that none of
the countries, really, were eager to act. The United States was clearly the
most aggressive, and it was sought to impose sanctions on the Sudanese regime,
though there was never any thought of having anything like a humanitarian
intervention, which is what everybody had pledged they would do in a case of
massive violations of human rights. The--both the Chinese and the Russians
didn't want to have sanctions at all. They wanted nothing. And so between
the lack of really deep resolve on the part of the Western members of the
Security Council and a genuine resistance on the part of China and Russia,
nothing was done and then little was done, and then a little more was done,
but never was enough done.

GROSS: I'd like you to give your assessment now of Kofi Annan's tenure as
secretary-general of the UN and he leaves at the end of this year.

Mr. TRAUB: Yes. Kofi Annan has served for 10 years, two terms. And his
first term was incredibly successful. His second term incredibly not. I
don't think that's because he was a different person in the first term from
the second. I think that's because the situation changed enormously. In the
first term, there were several things he did that mattered a lot. One was,
when he arrived in 1997, the US was really feeling that the UN was marginal.
They had ousted his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The US was falling
way behind in the payment of dues. It was a very ugly time. And then Annan
himself, along with the US ambassador at the time, Richard Holbrooke, did an
extraordinary job of bringing the US back into the UN. That mattered a lot.
He reanimated peacekeeping. Peacekeeping which had been a marginal enterprise
became a much bigger enterprise. He made the UN in that sense a more active
operational body. Also at the rhetorical level, he spoke up for humanitarian
values in a way that previous secretaries-general had not. He spoke about the
UN as a place that would defend the rights of individuals, not merely the
states who were members of it. Indeed, defend the rights of individuals
against those states at times. He championed the idea of humanitarian
intervention, which meant that he would be willing to violate the sovereignty
of the member to save the people of that country from tyrannical, from abusive
treatment. And for all those reasons, he won, and I would say deserved, the
Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

Second term couldn't have been more different. Why? Iraq and the Bush
administration. So he was then put under--the UN was then put under a kind of
tension which it could not easily survive. The Bush administration wanted
various goals that the institution would not grant. They could not find
agreement to go to Iraq. And that was only one of many different
disagreements. So, certainly I would say 2000--from late 2002 to the end of
2004, the institution was paralyzed, Kofi Annan was deeply damaged, the
oil-for-food scandal made it all the worse. Now, I wouldn't say the last year
or two has proved to be better, I think because of the change in the Bush
administration, a greater willingness to use diplomacy. And Annan is widely
admired for the role he played in bringing a settlement, a temporary one, to
the Israel-Lebanon war that we recently had.

GROSS: Kofi Annan's successor is South Korea's foreign minister. What do you
know about him and what kind of UN secretary-general he's likely to make?

Mr. TRAUB: My guess is that he was chosen because, as John Bolton likes to
put it, he would be more secretary than general. I think both the US and
China wanted somebody who would be an administrator, who would take care of
business, who maybe would do some good management reform, but who would not
try to push around or eclipse the major countries through diplomatic
pronouncements or kind of moral adventures. My fear is that in Ban Ki-moon,
they got just that person. Yes, the UN desperately needs management reform.
But a secretary-general who chooses to behave like a kind of private figure
and mostly tends to the institution itself and doesn't use the--that public
rostrum that he has, I think is going to fail to do something terribly
essential for that institution.

GROSS: James Traub, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. TRAUB: Well, thank you.

GROSS: James Traub is the author of the new book, "The Best Intentions: Kofi
Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power."

Coming up, we remember the drama and literary critic Richard Gilman and listen
back to the interview he recorded after the publication of his memoir, "Faith,
Sex, Mystery." Gilman died over the weekend.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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