Ambassador McHenry cool presence in a hot world
When Donald McHenry replaced Andrew Young as United States ambassador to the United Nations, a Nigerian newspaper carried an editorial with the headline "Goodbye Brother Young, Hello Mister McHenry."Skip to next paragraph
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"In there is a message," said Mister McHenry.
The Nigerians' "open, close identification with Andy" is in contrast to the "detached, deal-with-the-facts, distant, unemotional McHenry," said Ambassador McHenry, detaching himself even from himself by using the third person.
He paused. "They don't know what my emotions are," he said.
"You don't show them?" I asked.
"Try not to," he said laconically.
But then he smiled. And in that smile lay a hint of the enigma that crops up occasionally in the ambassador. No doubt about it, this man is cool. But how to describe his detachment? It is not cool as ice, for the man is cordial. It's not cool as a breeze, for that would somehow be too active. Maybe cool as a cucumber -- to latch onto another cliche.
Many analysts have commented on McHenry's style -- subdued, cards held close to the chest. Some say that Ambassador Young was much more conservative than he appeared on the surface and that, underneath, Ambassador McHenry is more liberal.
"Andy was very conservative, which was inconsistent with his public image," McHenry said. "I don't think I'm more conservative or liberal underneath.
"I try in private to help people to get rid of their emotions and come down to the point of listening to the other guy. . . . In doing that sometimes I am labeled as advocating the other person's point of view. But you cannot solve a problem unless you appreciate the view that the other person is going to have. If people try and slide over it, I will tenaciously put the case forward -- not as mine, but you've got to deal with it."
McHenry, the diplomat's diplomat, usually dresses the part. His dark suit emphasizes his tall, fit figure, trimmer than one would suspect from television pictures showing him at meetings of the United Nations Security Council. His rounded jawline is in marked contrast to his lean, graceful fingers that twine around his pencil as he listens intently to the obscurities of UN debate.
"I'm a debater. I'm a student of logic," McHenry explains. "I used to switch sides as a schoolboy and through college, and in teaching and studying persuasion and social control. I can analyze Hitler, as my roommate in college did when studying and translating the Hitler speeches. I can analyze why those things appeal to people. Does that mean that I agree with them? No, I recognize the device that is used."
McHenry agreed that there is an emotional element in the hottest of international problems. In a recent speech, he stressed this emotionalism.
"As a matter of fact, the argument of each [side in the Middle East] is almost a mirror image of the other in many instances. The person who is going to be a mediator between the two has to be able to see both sides, even has to run the risk of being identified with the underdog. It's a risk which is very difficult."
He cited as an example of this kind of risk the attitude South Africa had toward him when he was negotiating the issue of Namibia, the country west of South Africa which the United Nations is trying to remove from South African control. The South Africans were inclined to stereotype, McHenry said, and he elaborated:
"Mr. [Roelofs] Botha [South Africa's foreign minister] was asked one day, 'How do you know McHenry is pro- SWAPO [pro the black liberation movement in Namibia]?'
"'Because he must be,' was Botha's reply. What Botha didn't say is that he assumes because McHenry is black he has to be pro-SWAPO. Botha doesn't want to deal with the substance.
"And similarly, when you deal with the Middle East, you get it both ways. The Arabs figure McHenry must be pro- Arab and they are disappointed when you don't do something which they like. Why do they figure that? Because anyone who has suffered some kind of discrimination must automatically be partial.
"Similarly, the mayor of New York says McHenry is anti- Israel. And why does he say that? Because he has already gone on record as saying all blacks are anti-Semites or anti- Jewish. It's stupid."