UNVANQUISHED: A US-UN SAGA By Boutros Boutros-Ghali Random House 338 pp., $29.95
Boutros Boutros-Ghali describes his memoirs of his five-year term as secretary-general of the United Nations as being about nothing less than a lost opportunity to establish a new world order.
His readers, however, will see the narrative as about the Clinton administration's clumsy but ultimately successful effort to deny him a second term.
The conflict was not without irony. Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian diplomat and academic, was in many ways the sort of reformer the United States said it wanted as secretary-general. He cut the organization's staff by 10 percent, and presented its first zero-growth budget. He tightened restrictions on attendance by UN staff at conferences. He moved to consolidate UN field offices under a single roof instead of leaving them scattered.
But in the end, he ran afoul of Clinton's domestic political considerations.
Bob Dole, the president's Republican challenger in the 1996 election, had discovered that picking on the secretary-general, even making fun of his name, was a "surefire applause line" on the campaign trail.
Mr. Dole found he could get mileage out of promising that under a Dole administration, US troops in harm's way would be commanded by US officers, not Boutros Boutros-Ghali of the UN. Never mind that Dole was promising the status quo - as Dole knew, US soldiers in the field were always under US command.
The only way to deprive Dole of Boutros-Ghali as an issue, the Clinton camp reasoned, was for the State Department to engineer his defeat for reelection. When the vote in the UN Security Council came, it was 14 for, and 1 vote against - that of the US, whose ambassador, Madeleine Albright, had just been appointed secretary of state.
It may be too simplistic, however, to ascribe the Clinton administration's conflict with Boutros-Ghali merely to traditional American isolationism - the paradox of a land so vast its inhabitants often can't see beyond its borders.
The UN was set up at a time when the Soviet Union provided a certain counterweight to the United States. As Boutros-Ghali reminds us, the two superpowers used to compete for "clients" among the countries of Africa - to the latter's considerable benefit.
For those outside the US, an important question now is how well the US can be expected to behave as the world's sole remaining superpower. As Boutros-Ghali writes, "It would be some time before I fully realized that the United States sees little need for diplomacy; power is enough. Only the weak rely on diplomacy. This is why the weak are so deeply concerned with the democratic principle of the sovereign equality of states"
In this memoir, Boutros-Ghali certainly does not hesitate to take on the Clinton administration, including Ambassador Albright, with whom he evidently had a relationship bordering on the surreal - despite her strident attacks on him, they nonetheless met for regular dinners.
He clearly sees an opportunity wasted to reinvigorate the UN at the end of the cold war, to make it an authentic forum for peacekeeping and international politics, including the third world.
The US, and particularly the Clinton administration, in his view, wanted to have the UN as a forum for addressing international crises but did not want to have to put troops in the field. Answering his own question, "Why was Bosnia a failure?" Boutros-Ghali writes, "Because the United States was so deeply involved politically and so deeply determined not to be involved militarily."
Boutros-Ghali cannot be faulted for lacking whatever is the Arabic equivalent of "chutzpah." The title of his book, however, is ambiguous - it sounds tough at face value, but if one imagines the first two letters capitalized, another meaning comes through.
*Ruth Walker is the Monitor's correspondent in Toronto.