This week, The New York Times finally caught onto a story that U.N. experts and others in the press have been focused on for months - the world body's upcoming selection of its next Secretary General. Wanted: Secretary General

This week, The New York Times finally caught onto a story that U.N. experts and others in the press have been focused on for months - the world body's upcoming selection of its next Secretary General.

The current Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was first elected in 1996, and according to U.N. tradition may only serve two terms. It doesn't help, of course, that on his watch corruption, nepotism and incompetence have become the organization's defining traits.

So what happens now?

Frankly, it's hard to care. The U.N. will spend the next few months doing what it does best - nothing. Talks will be held. Hushed discussions will be punctuated with discreetly worded statements and controlled leaks to the press. Rumors will abound, and they will all be wrong. And none of it will matter.

Ultimately, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China and France (yes, France) - will get in a room sometime next fall and make their choice. The Security Council will rubber stamp it, and the General Assembly will ratify the rubber stamp.

In short, the whole selection process is a joke.

That's because, at the end of the day, any astute observer must seriously doubt the sanity, judgment and motives of any poor soul willing to take the job.

Think about it. The new Secretary General will take the reigns of an organization hobbled by scandal after scandal. A place where corruption isn't the exception - it's the norm. A world organization so enfeebled by its own failures that no one takes it seriously. An organization that's been crying out for reform for years, but whose members are unable to agree on the most basic, fundamental first steps. But the job pays well, and the opportunity for, shall we say, entrepreneurial advancement through creative accounting and occasional scandal appears infinite.

So what's going to happen?

In the past, the post of Secretary General has rotated among the world's regions. China, Russia and others say it is Asia's turn, and three possible candidates are being discussed. The United States and Great Britain would prefer someone from Eastern Europe. But the Russians aren't wild about that. France thought about it for ten minutes and gave up. We're waiting for them to suggest someone from Iran.

Some conservative news sources have suggested that former President Bill Clinton is interested in the job. Happily, John Bolton is on guard for American interests at the U.N., and gets a veto. This Clinton candidacy is a non-starter.

So we don't know who might wind up with the job. But no matter who it is, the permanent, massive structural and bureaucratic problems will remain. It will take a truly gifted statesmen to lift the U.N. out of the gutter where it now lies. And, for the moment, we don't see one of those mythical creatures anywhere in the mix.

February 16, 2006
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