Outgoing Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan spoke today at the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri. Here is the text. Read it and I think you will be both enlightened and amused, for Mr. Annan has delivered a masterpiece of diplomacy. (For example, I love how he thanks Senator Hagel, saying, "It is a great honor to be introduced by such a distinguished legislator." You can just hear him saying it.)
Mr. Annan's tone remains calm and thoughtful throughout. He plods carefully through his simple argument. He pauses frequently to thank his hosts and to praise the far-sightedness of the late President Truman. Yet like all great diplomatic addresses, Mr. Annan's prose falls gently on the ears and only then do you feel the serrated edge. Observe, for example, how innocently he backs into a repudiation of Bush's notion that the current "war on terror" is a fight for Western Civilization.
Standing here, I am reminded of Winston Churchill's last visit to the White House, just before Truman left office in 1953. Churchill recalled their only previous meeting, at the Potsdam conference in 1945. "I must confess, sir," he said boldly, "I held you in very low regard then. I loathed your taking the place of Franklin Roosevelt." Then he paused for a moment, and continued: "I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you more than any other man, have saved Western civilisation."
My friends, our challenge today is not to save Western civilisation--or Eastern, for that matter. All civilisation is at stake, and we can save it only if all peoples join together in the task. You Americans did so much, in the last century, to build an effective multilateral system, with the United Nations at its heart. Do you need it less today, and does it need you less, than 60 years ago? Surely not.
At another point, in the context of Security Council reform, he notes the "special responsibility" of the permanent membership (which he says should be enlarged) and muses that,
The Security Council is not just another stage on which to act out national interests. It is the management committee, if you will, of our fledgling collective security system.
As President Truman said, "The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world." He showed what can be achieved when the US assumes that responsibility. And still today, none of our global institutions can accomplish much when the US remains aloof. But when it is fully engaged, the sky is the limit.
Finally, at the conclusion of his address, Mr. Annan takes a swipe at Bush himself. It is not hard to read.
More than ever today Americans, like the rest of humanity, need a functioning global system through which the world's peoples can face global challenges together. And in order to function, the system still cries out for far-sighted American leadership, in the Truman tradition. I hope and pray that the American leaders of today, and tomorrow, will provide it. Thank you very much.
Ah, I will miss him. If nothing else, Ban Ki-moon's accent is not half so lovely.