Shasi Tharoor: The Indian who wants to be chief

Posted: Sep 22, 2006 4:40 PM
Shasi Tharoor: The Indian who wants to be chief

The race to succeed Kofi Annan as the UN's next Secretary-General is getting more attention. South Korea's Ban Ki-Moon has placed first in two straw polls of the UN Security Council, and at this writing would seem to be the favorite. Ban is a product of Harvard and a career diplomat and he has received good grades for his part in the North Korea nuclear negotiations. But late-entry candidates are getting in the race, indicating that the permanent members of the Security Council haven't yet settled on a choice to send to the General Assembly.

Shashi Tharoor – the Indian who wants to be chief of the United Nations – is hot on Ban Ki-Moon's tail. Tharoor now serves as Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information at the UN and was Kofi's chief spin master during the Oil-for-Food scandal. He has finished second to Ban in both Council straw polls.

After receiving the nomination of the Indian government this summer, Tharoor has been hopping the globe, lamenting the fact that "this used to be a job for which people didn't have to campaign." The ultimate UN insider, Tharoor longs for the days when "the Security Council discussed names behind closed doors."

Tharoor bleeds powder blue, having spent his whole career on the international public dole. If elected Secretary-General – and a recent Security Council straw poll shows him with the requisite support – Tharoor will continue Kofi Annan's legacy of building the UN into a global bureaucracy. The UN, Tharoor demands, must be built into "an effective house of global governance for the twenty-first century." Tharoor's determination to have the UN govern the globe makes him a candidate worthy of a U.S. veto.

Tharoor is a master at spin. As part of the disgraced team that allowed some of the worst scandals in UN history, Tharoor recently told a reporter that "the UN is not in need of reform because it has failed, but because it has succeeded in a whole host of endeavors, enough to be investing in."

Despite the fact that the UN is a closed and secretive institution, Tharoor told BBC reporter Jeremy Paxman that "we [at the United Nations] tend to work in a very open and transparent way." Then, during the same interview, Tharoor answered the reporter's questions with statements like, "I'm not at liberty to tell you that"; "I'm not going to go into that level of detail"; "no, I really can't tell you"; and "that is not something that I can really go into in any detail right now." Open and transparent indeed.

John Kerry and Shashi Tharoor have a lot in common when it comes to how the United States should defend itself. Tharoor endorses Kerry's "global test" and argues that "acting in the name of international law is always preferable to acting in the name of national security." Spoken like a true utopian who never bore the responsibility of protecting citizens of his nation.

The UN is not capable of protecting innocents from those who mean them harm because the elites who take up space and oxygen at the UN spend their days debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The most infamous example is the UN's inability to define "terrorism." That is unlikely to change with Tharoor at the helm. During an interview at the University of California at Berkley, Tharoor said that "truth is a particularly difficult issue."

He went on to explain: "A lot of the work of the world's diplomats in international affairs consists of reconciling different forms of truth, different perceptions of truth, of being able to see every international conflict from the point of view of both or all the protagonists, not necessarily to sympathize with them, but to understand that there is more than one answer to every question and more than one way of looking at every particular problem."

That explains a lot. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that Israel should be "wiped off the map," I now understand why UN officials respond with, "Hmmm, interesting, tell me more."

There is one truth that Shashi Tharoor holds, and that is that America-bashing is good for business. From his ivory tower, Tharoor tried to undermine the 2003 U.S. liberation of Iraq saying, "the difference between a UN operation, in which everyone wears a blue helmet, and a 'coalition of the willing,' led by one big power," he wrote, "is similar to that between a police squad and a posse." And in a 2004 speech to the Asia Society in Hong Kong, he began with several criticisms of the UN's most generous contributor nation and then said, "I am not here just to pick on the United States."

But if elected Secretary-General, Tharoor will make a career out of undermining the United States. Stay tuned – a decision from the Security Council is near.

Thomas P. Kilgannon is the president of Freedom Alliance and the author of Diplomatic Divorce: Why America Should End Its Love Affair with the United Nations.