Some people go out in style. On Monday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan bade farewell by biting the American hand that has fed him for the last decade. Kofi's American swan song, delivered at the Truman Library in Missouri, was a condescending piece of finger-wagging from a discredited diplomat who can barely disguise his contempt for American foreign policy.
One low-light: his declaration that Washington's position in the "vanguard of the global human-rights movement...can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism. When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends are naturally troubled and confused."
This from a man who blithely allowed the biggest financial scandal of modern times, the multibillion-dollar Oil-for-Food debacle, and blinded himself to human-rights violators throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Amazingly, some U.S. political leaders still defend Annan's leadership. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) praised him as a man who served with "grace, humor, determination, always doing what he felt was in the best interest of mankind." And Annan has long been a darling of the American left. In 2002, media mogul Ted Turner famously remarked that Annan "has the toughest job in the world and everybody loves him. He doesn't make anybody mad at him, not even Saddam Hussein."
But Annan has been no friend of the American people, or of the Iraqi people. At every opportunity, he has undermined U.S. global leadership, most recently making a habit of deriding America's decision to remove Saddam from power as "illegal." People of good will can debate whether that decision was right or wrong - but it was Saddam, not Bush, who thumbed his nose at a dozen UN resolutions and systematically oppressed the Iraqi people.
Annan has a long track record of cozying up to dictators. He has consistently failed to condemn African tyrants such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan. And aside from a few perfunctory criticisms, he has been noticeably quiet about the threats against Israel posed by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Annan gave only a low-key response to Iran's state-sponsored Holocaust denial conference, which sparked international outrage this week. To his credit, incoming Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has already strongly denounced it.
As a result of this and more, the UN's standing as a moral authority on the world stage - not exactly stellar at the start of Annan's tenure - has plummeted during his 10-year reign. He was forced to disband the UN Commission on Human Rights after Western complaints over human-rights abusers (Cuba, Libya, et al.) running the show. Yet his "reform" solution, the much-vaunted Human Rights Council, is just as bad. It has been unwilling even to condemn the regime in Khartoum over the crisis in Darfur.
Even worse, amid a culture of weak and permissive leadership, UN peacekeepers entrusted with protecting some of the world's most vulnerable people have raped and abused hundreds of refugees in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Haiti and other war zones. Before he became secretary general, Annan was in charge of UN peacekeeping operations during the Rwanda slaughter and the mass killing at Srebrenica, in Bosnia. Suffice to say, in that capacity, he did not earn the top job.
The free world should not shed a tear at Annan's departure. Rather, let New York bid good riddance to the most weak-kneed secretary general in the history of the United Nations, a shameless appeaser of despotism and tyranny. He may well be remembered as the Neville Chamberlain of our time.
Nile Gardiner is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former aide to Margaret Thatcher.
First appeared in the New York Daily News