No other organization is held in such respect as the United Nations. This is perhaps natural, for the UN embodies some of humanity's noblest dreams. But, as the current scandal surrounding the UN's administration of the Iraq oil for food program demonstrates, and as the world remembers the Rwanda genocide that began ten years ago, respect for the UN should be viewed as something of a superstition, with Secretary General Kofi Annan its false prophet.
Not since Dag Hammarskjöld has a UN leader been as acclaimed as Annan. Up to a point, this is understandable. Annan usually maintains an unruffled, dignified demeanor. He has charm and - many say - charisma. But a leader ought to be judged by his or her actions when important matters are at stake. Annan's failures in such situations are almost invariably glossed over.
Between 1993 and 1996, Annan was Assistant Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations and then Under-Secretary-General. One of the two great disasters for which he bears a large share of the blame is the Serbian slaughter of 7,000 people in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, perhaps the worst massacre in postwar Europe.
In 1993, Bosnia's Muslems were promised that UN forces would protect them. This commitment was a precondition of their consenting to disarm. The UN declared Srebrenica a "safe haven" to be "protected" by 600 Dutch UN troops.