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Turtle Bay

Now, everybody loves the Ban

Remember the back channel sniping about Ban Ki moon‘s lack of charisma, his hopelessly bland personality. Or the attacks from within the U.N.’s own ranks that Ban’s weak leadership was destroying the institution. Remember the impassioned pleas to Obama Administration officials to dump Ban in order to save the United Nations from irrelevance. Ah, they ...

Remember the back channel sniping about Ban Ki moon‘s lack of charisma, his hopelessly bland personality. Or the attacks from within the U.N.’s own ranks that Ban’s weak leadership was destroying the institution. Remember the impassioned pleas to Obama Administration officials to dump Ban in order to save the United Nations from irrelevance.

Ah, they seem so distant now.

I think Jeffrey Sachs probably best captured the mood at Turtle Bay this week as U.N. bigs and diplomatic heavyweights vied for the most over-the-top superlatives to burnish the former South Korean diplomats much maligned first term.

"The world can breath easier with the reelection this month of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon to a second term in office," wrote Sachs, the head of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a UN special advisor on the Millennium Development Goals. "During a recent trip with Ban to Egypt and Tunisia, I watched in awe as he deftly backed the democratic changes underway in those two countries while simultaneously dealing with many other upheavals in the region."

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, gushed about the record of the top U.N. diplomat, citing his support for democratic change in the Middle East, his role in the ousting of Ivory Coast’s strongman Laurent Gbagbo, and seeking to wash away any of the doubts about Washington’s attitude towards Ban.

"This is an important day in the life of this institution," Rice said at Ban’s reelection ceremony. "For the past four and a half years, the Secretary General has navigated turbulent waters with a steady hand."

"We have all benefited from the wisdom and experience he has amassed over the course of a long, distinguished, and selfless career of public service," Rice continued. "Secretary General Ban is a leader who listens to the voice of the voiceless-of the refugees sheltered beneath UN tents, of the children vaccinated through UN programs, of the innocent civilians whose lives have been saved by effective U.N. action."

Even outside analysts got into the act, penning a series of articles that highlighted Ban’s contribution to global peace and tranquility. In a blog post entitled "Why Ban Ki-moon is Good for the United States," Daniel F. Runde, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, played up Ban’s contributions to U.S. initiatives from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Notably, the South Koreans showed a bit more restraint in characterizing the tenure of their most famous foreign sons. South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan described Ban as a "legendary diplomat" in the Korean foreign-service and the pride of the Korean nation. "Secretary-General Ban is widely acknowledged and respected in Korea and beyond for his virtues of integrity, diligence, and a strong work ethic."

The glowing plaudits perhaps didn’t reflect the more skeptical views of Ban’s tenure that emerge from within the U.N. quarters, where many rank and file diplomats and civil servants still remain unenthusiastic about his leadership. Human rights groups say that while they appreciate his support for pro-democracy demonstrators in North Africa and the Middle East in recent months they are withholding judgment until they see whether he can exercise the independence necessary to challenge powerful interests, including China, on their human rights records. "Free at last from reelection concerns, the Secretary General needs to work on his legacy," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "While we welcome his new tone over the Arab spring or the Ivorian crisis, his willingness to stand up to big powers remains a question mark."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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