In a last-ditch effort to preempt further U.S. criticism of U.N. weapons inspectors, the United Nations moved today to change its name.
"We realized that UN-everything wasn't putting our best foot forward," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said. "You start thinking, UNWELCOME, UNHELPFUL, and before long you're simply UNNECESSARY. The prospect for U.N. employees was, quite frankly, UNEMPLOYMENT."
Annan went so far as to assert that the lack of Iraqi cooperation might be attributable to the name of the current inspection team, UNMOVIC, short for U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. "If we had been DOMOVIC or PROMOVIC, maybe Saddam Hussein would have gotten the message by now."
The head of UNMOVIC was unmoved. "An inspection by any other name will still take months to complete," said Hans Blix. "We're not exactly a household name in Iraq, anyway."
But prefix consultants said that Blix underestimates the importance of image in the new global order. "Sweden, where Blix comes from, doesn't understand the value of the old razzle-dazzle," one brand-name expert sniffed. "Volvo is Sweden's idea of buzz. That tells you something."
The new name and new look is being kept under wraps until later this week. Annan is reported to have taken the unusual step of making the decision without waiting for the usual report from UNOI, the U.N. Organization for Introspection (or simply "oy," as it is known in Turtle Bay).
The idea of a name change has been kicking around the 58-year-old organization ever since the days of UNSCOM, the first inspection effort in Iraq. "Not only was it almost unpronounceable, but it came awfully close to sounding like UN-scam," said Annan. "And that's just unacceptable."
Immediately after President Bush's State of the Union speech on Tuesday, the U.N. hired a London company to manage the renaming process. One unidentified and unverifiable source said that Annan "was very keen on Together On Peace, which would have made him the TOP Secretary General. But the front-runner is Global Organization, because GO- puts a more positive spin on U.N. projects."
The consulting firm, renowned for its understated success in helping to make Britain's Royal Family less unpopular, considered several options. "We thought hard about Democracy Overall and Peace Rules! Organization," one untraceable source said. "Global Organization may play into the hands of anti-globalization protesters, but it's worth it just for the prefix."
Spokesmen for ASEAN, NAFTA, NATO, OAS, OIC, OPEC, OSCE and the G-7 all said they would have no comment until the new initials are officially unveiled. But one U.S. official was undeterred. "Too little, too late," he said. "The time for acronyms is running short. If we have to, we'll go it alone."
-- Steven Mufson and Frances Stead Sellers, for Outlook