The Real Story Behind Clinton Administration's "Win" over Boutros-Ghali

By Holden, Kurt | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February 1997 | Go to article overview

The Real Story Behind Clinton Administration's "Win" over Boutros-Ghali


Holden, Kurt, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The Real Story Behind Clinton Administration's "Win" Over Boutros-Ghali

With the selection of Kofi Annan of Ghana to succeed Egypt's Boutros Boutros-Ghali as secretary-general of the United Nations, America's foreign policy-challenged president seems to have won a victory. But the former Egyptian foreign minister won, and the U.S. lost, hugely, in the court of world opinion. Boutros-Ghali won first when America's oldest allies, Britain and France, joined all of the other Security Council members to produce a 14-to-1 vote to grant him a second term, something the Security Council has granted his predecessors.

Under Security Council rules, America's single negative vote amounted to a veto. But that veto didn't mean much as weeks went by without any other candidate able to secure enough support in the Security Council to replace Boutros-Ghali. Instead, the U.S. found itself almost completely isolated, with only Israel clearly siding with the U.S.

Israel could hardly join the rest of the world on the issue because it was stubborn U.S. support of Israel that got President Clinton into his fix in the first place. It is just one facet of the Clinton administration's inattention to foreign policy that has resulted in a huge cut in U.S. foreign affairs funding in the four years Clinton has been president; the reduction of U.S. foreign aid to some $5.5 million in grants and loan guarantees for Israel and $2.1 in grants to Egypt for keeping the peace with Israel and not much else; and a delinquency of $l.4 billion in U.S. assessments to the U.N. That reduced the world organization to borrowing from its general budget to finance part of its peacekeeping operations, and deferring payments due to the peacekeepers themselves.

Although Secretaries-General Dag Hammarskjold, Trygve Lie and Kurt Waldheim came from Europe, U.N. members are trying to diversify the selections from continent to continent. U Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) has represented the Far East, and Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru has represented Latin America.

When Africa's turn came around five years ago, former Egyptian Foreign Minister Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a Coptic Christian married to a Jew and the grandson of an assassinated prime minister of Muslim Egypt, seemed ideally suited for the position. One of the Egyptian diplomat's many accomplishments was playing a key role in the Camp David agreement that resulted in the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab government. After he successfully lined up majority support among both the Christian and Muslim nations of Africa, his election for his first term was assured.

His turbulent five-year term included tensions with the United States over continued American abstention from UNESCO, largely over criticism of Israel that surfaced in UNESCO activities and publications; the failed U.N. peacekeeping mission in Somalia; the Bosnia operation which succeeded only after the U.S. committed ground as well as air and naval forces to it; and other ongoing U.N. peacekeeping operations in Cyprus, Lebanon and elsewhere in the world.

During the same period the U.S. fell far behind in meeting its assessments for U.N. peacekeeping operations. At one point in mid-1996 the amount the U.S. owed had reached $1.7 billion, some three-fifths of the U.N.'s entire $2.6 billion annual budget.

Keeping the Peace

It fell to Boutros-Ghali to keep the peace between the U.S., which complains that its assessment of one-third of U.N. annual dues is too high, and the other nations of the world, which have agreed to renegotiate annual dues, but only after the United States pays its delinquent assessments. In fact, the low-key Egyptian diplomat had seemed moderately successful in balancing the conflicting demands of the real world and the world of isolationist chairman Jesse Helms of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose goal is to reduce the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment to little more than a visa office. …

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