Boons makes some good points below. I’ll add just one thing: In his two and a half years in office, Ban Ki Moon has generally eschewed the kind of moral grandstanding that earned his predecessor Kofi Annan great respect in some quarters and enemies in others. Instead, Ban has opted for what he calls “quiet diplomacy” that generally involves direct, private consultations with the world’s worst leaders in order to secure certain concessions from them. Sometimes this can work, other times not. Shortly after cyclone Nargis hit Burma, Ban met with General Than Shwe and convinced the junta to open Burma to international humanitarian agencies. On the other hand, Ban came up largely empty-handed after his most recent trip to Burma to urge the junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi.
The point is, the Secretary General of the United Nations is not a position with much real leverage or power over member states. To the extent that Ban can exert some leverage in negotiation it is because he has the backing of the Security Council. But in situations in which the Council is divided (as in Sri Lanka and Ban’s second trip to Burma) the S-G’s hands are pretty much tied. There is no way he can back up tough talk with tough action. This is something that should not be lost when discussing the job of the Secretary General.
Behind the curve a bit, I just discovered the Reuters blog Oddly Enough. And here I am commenting on the first post I read: Cool dudes, dashing in haberdashery…, the last installment of Oddly Enough’s “scientific Coolest Leader Dude poll.”
I’ll be kind and skip the title…of both the post and the poll. Let’s focus on the contestants: Obama, Putin, and Prince Charles. Slim pickins if we’re truly talking about the traditional definition of cool. Michelle Obama, yes. But B. Obama’s mom jeans, Bud Light, and medium-well burger each mean immediate disqualification in my book. Let’s not even talk about the other two. Ok, well, Putin is certainly macho but is definitely not cool.
Admittedly the easy choices, B. Clinton and Koizumi, have left office and others with aspects of what we might call “cool” — Kim Jong Il’s shades or Qaddafi’s threads and entourage – are folks we don’t want to hold up on a pedestal. Berlusconi’s joie de vivre is really just womanizing…not cool, and, true, Carla Bruni ups Sarkozy’s quotient, but can you really call a person cool if that coolness is solely derived from another person?
What about Ban Ki-moon? Admittedly, his rapping is just a gag, but isn’t that what “cool” really is, the confidence to have fun with oneself? Also, he does roll with Jay-Z.
Ban often says that one of the most formative events of his youth was a scholarship he received to visit the United States through a cultural exchange program in 1962. It was during this trip that Ban had the chance to meet President John F. Kennedy in the White House. In the video below, Ban recalls how, shortly after he was elected Secretary General, Teddy Kennedy presented Ban with a framed copy of the remarks his brother gave to the visiting student delegation that day, which he apparently dug up from the depths of the Kennedy presidential library. Ban seems genuinely touched by that gesture.
Suspected Islamist insurgents stormed a United Nations compound overnight in southern Somalia, witnesses said on Monday, but UN guards fought back and killed three of the attackers in a gun battle.
One UN official in Wajid, 70km northwest of Baidoa, said about 10 heavily armed men attacked them overnight. The compound is used for storing humanitarian aid.
“After several minutes shooting our security guards repulsed the attackers and killed three of them,” the UN official told Reuters.
While it was very fortunate that no UN personnel were killed (one guard was injured), it must be said that this success should not be taken as a policy blueprint. UN guards are not meant to defend against bands of militants, and it’s only a matter of time until an incident like this goes much, much worse.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.