Posted on June 6, 2007


The best thing a newcomer to a job could hope for is to have a thoroughly incompetent or universally reviled predecessor.

Because after that nightmare of a predecessor, the next person just has to be a slight touch more genial or not an absolute idiot, to be considered an improvement, or if one is lucky, even a godsend.

That’s what the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, is discovering. He had the good luck to be named to the post right after John Bolton — he of the infamously unruly and even comical moustache, if only he wasn’t such an awful scold and thorough failure at building consensus and support for the US and its policies at the UN.

Without taking away from the wonderful qualities that Khalilzad have, such as his inclusive and confidence-building style welcomed by other diplomats, he would easily have seemed better just because the bar has been set so low, thanks to Bolton.

Khalilzad is already getting great feedback from others, who feted him both publicly and privately to the media. Morale among staff at the US mission also seems to have improved.

A concrete sign that he’s able to move things along the way Bolton couldn’t, was how Khalilzad successfully got the UN Security Council to vote for the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects accused of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The New York Times alluded to Khalilzad’s influence that kept the Russians from vetoing, despite their earlier threats to do so.

It seems that the Bush administration is learning the lesson a little too late that appointing the right people to top international posts is crucial to its success and gaining allies, now that it’s in the closing stretch of Bush’s term. But better late than never, right?

It’s an obvious shift from the start of the administration, when it aggressively adopted a go-it-alone attitude and was out to change the world by mowing down any opposition in its path. It has learned the hard way and endured spectacular failures from its unilateral approach and bad appointments, with one of the most recent cases being the repudiation of its World Bank president, Paul Wolfowitz, by the organization’s staff and European leaders.

But the Bush administration redeemed itself — well, almost — with its announcement that seasoned diplomat and world trade affairs specialist Robert Zoellick would take over. Zoellick might face the same challenges that Wolfie did, but he seems more likely to get more done.

It would have saved itself a lot of headaches had it appointed Zoellick from the start. But live and learn.

Posted in: politics, US