Vijay Nambiar, chief of staff to the U.N. secretary-general, says Jacob Heilbrunn's criticism of his boss in "Nowhere Man" is unfairly focused on style, not substance.
- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
Jacob Heilbrunn’s feature on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ("Nowhere Man," July/August 2009) abounds in innuendo and patronizing commentary instead of serious analysis. Heilbrunn sees Ban’s demonstrated commitment to "big picture" issues such as climate change and the global food crisis as only smoke and mirrors. He characterizes the soft-spoken but tough-minded secretary-general who spoke out forthrightly amid the rubble in Gaza as a "nowhere man" and a "dangerous Korean."
Ban’s breakthrough in getting humanitarian assistance to Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis received wide acclaim, as did his proactive advocacy at the G-20 summits in Washington and London for the plight of the "bottom billion" affected by the financial crisis. Heilbrunn seems more interested in Ban’s oratorical style and accent than his grasp of issues and his diplomatic tenacity in seeing them through. Certainly these traits would be apparent to any journalist who is not motivated by facile, preconceived conclusions or a political agenda.
Chief of Staff
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The United Nations
New York, N.Y.
Jacob Heilbrunn replies:
Vijay Nambiar’s defense of his boss, Ban Ki-moon, is as understandable as it is unpersuasive. The situation of the incarcerated Tamil refugees continues to deteriorate, and Ban recently left Burma empty-handed. If Ban could actually point to concrete accomplishments from his quiet diplomacy, it would be one thing. So far, however, his tenure has been an ignominious failure, which is why the Financial Times, The Economist, and The Times of London have all recently either raised pointed questions about his leadership or condemned it outright. But perhaps they too are simply indulging in baseless innuendo?