Sunday, November 28, 2004

Havel for the UN? How about Kwasniewski? 

It looks like Glenn Reynolds has really started something with the "Vaclav Havel for the UN General Secretary" meme. What appealed to Glenn was Havel's unquestioned moral authority maintained throughout his life as a dissident-playwright, the Czech president, and now a retired elder statesman of world politics who's never afraid to take unpopular but right positions.

On the other hand, Havel's compatriot, blogger Tomas Kohl thought that the Havel for the UN push was a bad idea:
"Vaclav Havel used to be a great playwright. He was a decent president who provided some very useful PR for Czechia, especially in the early 90s when most Westeners thought our country was part of Great Mother Russia. Now, he's a pensioner with very fragile health.

"And above all, he is an intellectual. He loves to talk, and he loves to write even more. He is a very independent thinker with great distrust for any kind of organized political process. He's chaotic.

"In short, he's not the type of manager the UN now needs most, someone with enough willpower and stamina to clean every toilet, scrub all the floors, fire the corrupt staff and reform the rules so that Libya never gets to chair the Human Rights Commission again, ever."
Kohl then changed his mind, but unfortunately in Czech only so I'm not sure why, but I think he got it right the first time, and for the same reason I thought it was a bad idea when I originally read Glenn's post: moral clarity is an admirable, not to mention an all too rare, quality in politics, but, alas, it's not enough. Politics is a dirty game, which requires certain toughness and brutality, not to mention advanced administrative and managerial skills. That's precisely the reason why so many "moral leaders" turn out to be such disappointments when finally given the reins of power. It's one thing to know what is right and what needs to be done, but another to know how to achieve it in the ruthless dog-eat-dog (or bureaucrat-eat-bureaucrat) world of government and public administration.

So, here's another proposal I'm going to make, although should my staunchly right-wing family in Poland read it, they would undoubtedly crucify me for even thinking about it:

How about the Polish president, Aleksander Kwasniewski for the UN General Secretary?

His moral credentials aren't as good as Havel's; after all, when Havel was still working to overthrow Czechoslovakia's communist government, Kwasniewski was serving as the youngest minister (for sport) in Poland's last communist government. To many, Kwas (as his detractors like to shorten his surname; it also means "acid") is another opportunistic post-communist turncoat. And on one level they're clearly correct; but his record as president, however disappointing it is to any right-winger who actually had to live in Poland over that time, is reasonably impressive. Kwasniewski is a pro-market modernizer; he's also a staunch Atlanticist who oversaw his country's entry into NATO and is working hard to ensure that the European Union doesn't completely turn into a sclerotic anti-American Eurabia. Unquestionably the most prominent leader of the "New Europe", he presided over Poland's participation in the war on terror and the war in Iraq (the latter less than popular cause in Poland).

Just as importantly, he is a successful politician (two terms as president), a clever operator and a reasonable administrator. He's still quite young and energetic. Better still, his second term as president will expire soon. With Kwasniewski at the helm of the UN, the Polish right-wing can finally achieve its dream of getting him out of Poland, and the UN might get a leader who, while not perfect, is actually head and shoulders above other alternatives.

Just a thought.

Update: Glenn Reynold elaborates on the "Havel, not Kofi" meme in a "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece (hat tip, you guessed it, Instapundit).

I'm sticking by my arguments. In addition, let me go out on a limb - I believe that despite all its numerous faults, it's important to have an organization that counts as its members everyone in the international community; the good, the bad, and the ugly. But the UN needs a deep and thorough reform to make it relevant and credible again. So, mend it, don't end it, and if we're to do so, we need a strong leader with a proven track record. Maybe somebody like Kwasniewski, maybe somebody else - as long as they do the job.


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