UNITED NATIONS. SERGIO'S "CHARM COURAGE AND CUNNING" IN SAMANTHA POWER'S NEW BOOK: <I>BEHIND THE FLAME: THE FIGHT TO SAVE THE WORLD</I>

 

SERGIO'S "CHARM COURAGE AND CUNNING" IN SAMANTHA POWER'S NEW BOOK: BEHIND THE FLAME: THE FIGHT TO SAVE THE WORLD

15 MARCH 2008

Regardless of a recent controversy which she handled effectively and graciously, Professor Samantha Power has all the right credentials. An acknowledged Pulitzer Prize winning author (on Rwanda), an intellectual with a pragmatic approach, a teacher in "global leadership" at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, a human rights advocate and -- above all -- a perceptive intelligent individual with impressive connections worldwide.

Her new book about our beloved colleague Sergio Vieira de Mello traces his political evolution from the Paris 1968 student uprising to his realistic dealings with autocrats, democrats, and bureaucrats. It is an inevitable platform to review the peacekeeping role of the United Nations in an increasingly changing and challenging world.

A perceptive analysis of the conflicts, accomplishments and disasters that Sergio faced in his U.N. career began in South Lebanon where he started as Political Officer for UNIFIL, passing through Cambodia, the Balkans, Timor Leste, Human Rights High Commissioner until finally -- and tragically -- Iraq. At one point, he is described as "brave but enigmatic" -- willing to go anywhere, talk to anyone; a pragmatist who remained idealistic about U.N. goals. Rising in his career at a historic time -- the end of the Cold War and the beginning of U.S. predominance -- trying to accomplish his noble objectives in the most effective way required: cajoling, charming, disdaining, but always moving ahead. "In the blurry world between humanitarian aid and international he was as good as it gets" according to the Economist, "wielding a mixture of ambiguity and decisiveness with the personal and institutional authority to make it all, sometimes, work."

The most painful part is the failure to save Sergio from the rubble after the explosion in Baghdad. Basic equipment was not readily available, rescuers had to use their hands to claw formidable hurdles. When the necessary planks and jacks arrived it was too late.

Ms. Power gives a gentler treatment to those who pushed Sergio to go to Baghdad without providing him with minimum required support. Although he agreed to the post out of a sense of duty and respect for the Secretary General's wish, it is common knowledge at U.N. Headquarters that many senior officials in Mr. Annan's team were conducting a negative whispering campaign against him both in New York and even through some who were sent to "surround him" in Baghdad.

Perhaps it was an irrelevant detail; but it may have been a factor in the irresponsible brutal instigation we will never know. What we know is that the two "investigative" reports, drafted by the same person, were more like a whitewash.