Those failures had many looking for Annan to give an introspective and anguished reckoning of his personal struggles — but they will be disappointed in this memoir. The book, written with his former adviser and speechwriter Nader Mousavizadeh, aims to shore up Annan’s legacy. It provides a fresh opportunity to remind the world that the greatest blame belonged to the globe’s biggest powers, principally the United States, for failing to provide the United Nations with the troops, the firepower and the will to confront evildoers.
Annan is justified in shining a light on the United States, including the Clinton administration, which blocked action in the U.N. Security Council on Rwanda, and the Bush administration, which went to war in Iraq on the back of flimsy evidence and with a post-invasion plan that left the country in chaos. But Annan tends to minimize the consequences of his own decisions, treating the United Nations’ repeated refusal to confront wrongdoers as the inescapable path of an organization forced to do its job with inadequate means.
Rwanda is illustrative. On the eve of that country’s 1994 genocide, the United Nations’ force commander, Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, fired off a cable to Annan saying that he’d uncovered a plan to exterminate the country’s Tutsi and that he intended to mount an armed raid on a weapons cache that would be used to arm the mass murderers. Annan ordered him to abort the mission, a decision Dallaire saw as disastrous.
In Annan’s telling, there was no other logical response, given the United Nations’ under-equipped peacekeeping force in Rwanda and the reluctance of the Clinton administration to support a tough reaction in the wake of a debacle in Somalia, where 19 U.S. Army Rangers and members of the elite Delta Force were killed by supporters of a Somali warlord.
To his credit, Annan sought to use the failures of Bosnia and Rwanda to develop a practical strategy for averting new genocide. He recruited national armies — the Australians in East Timor, for instance — to enforce peace in hot conflicts. And he empowered U.N. “blue helmets” in such places as Somalia, Congo and Haiti to use lethal force in limited instances in repelling challenges to the United Nations’ mandates from armed gangs and other spoilers.
It was Annan who shepherded a new international doctrine, the Responsibility to Protect, which places a moral obligation on states to protect their citizens from mass slaughter while pressing powerful nations, principally the United States, to ensure that the use of force is legitimate, preferably with a Security Council mandate.