The famed economist speaks:
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.
Middle East: During the last 48 hours of the continued ceasefire, humanitarian workers have delivered food to hundreds of thousands of people, repaired water and sanitation infrastructure, re-stocked medical supplies, and some of the 520,000 displaced Palestinians have returned to their homes. However, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator remarked the scale of needs remains “unprecedented in the Gaza Strip.”
Middle East: At today’s informal session of the General Assembly on Gaza the SG remarked that the most recent ceasefire has held since yesterday at 8 a.m. local time. He noted that a durable ceasefire is necessary and UN shelters must continue to remain safe zones. The SG thanked UN staff in Gaza and will fly the UN flag at half-mast tomorrow in memory of those who died in the conflict.
Middle East: The SG commended Israeli and Palestinian parties for committing to a 72-hour ceasefire that took place at 8 a.m. local time today. He urges all parties to abide by the ceasefire and commence peace talks in Cairo to address underlying issues and agree on a durable ceasefire to sustainably stop the violence. The UN lends its full support toward these efforts.
Middle East: The SG condemned yesterday’s shelling outside of an UNRWA school in Rafah that killed at least 10 Palestinian civilians. The SG stated that the attack violated international humanitarian law and UN shelters must continue to be safe zones and not combat zones.
SG: Last night the SG spoke at a joint press conference with the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica where he repeated his call for an unconditional and extendable humanitarian ceasefire. Speaking about yesterday’s shelling of a UN shelter he said: “Nothing – nothing – justifies such horror” and demanded “that all parties immediately respect UN premises”.
SG: The SG met with President Ortega yesterday in Nicaragua where he visited a wind farm and praised the country’s commitment to renewable energy. The SG arrived in Costa Rica today where he is expected to lecture about “Costa Rica and the United Nations: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century”.