Two weeks into the Ban Ki-moon era at Turtle Bay, there are signs that he is yet to score a decisive victory over the intractable bureaucratic machine, while the machine has already scored a significant number of points.
Several insiders from Kofi Annan's heyday have already been named to key positions, while others are closing in on high-profile jobs. The former U.N. humanitarian coordinator, Jan Egeland of Norway, is being considered for an appointment as Mr. Ban's wandering troubleshooter, mediating disputes in the world's hotspots.
Mr. Egeland is an energetic, press-friendly, aggressive dogooder — a U.N. evangelist who strongly believes that Turtle Bay needs to reform the world, rather than the other way around.
He is also a chartered member of Mr. Annan's inner circle and has constantly butted heads with Washington. It was Mr. Egeland who called the American people "stingy" at a time when "oil for food" and "graft" emerged as the top terms that most of them associated with the United Nations. The new U.N. chief, who has wanted to surround himself with "team players," risks hiring a loose cannon who has never met a microphone that he did not like.
Mr. Ban has demanded the resignation, as of today, of 60 top aides. But now, the question is whether he intends to really rid himself of the old-timers or just reshuffle the deck. Former chief of staff Alicia Barcena has become undersecretary-general of administration, while Mr. Annan's former special adviser, Vijay Nambiar, moved to chief of staff.
Mr. Ban's most revolutionary idea is his intent to name an American, Lynn Pascoe, to head Turtle Bay's political department. This may prove a true change in the way that the world body and its most powerful member interact, which is the reason that the idea was greeted with a chorus of criticism from all the predictable quarters.
American officials are concerned that Mr. Ban is too slow in his appointments. To be sure, he has suffered some setbacks. The International Herald Tribune's columnist Roger Cohen told me over the weekend that "after long reflection," he has declined Mr. Ban's offer to become his top speechwriter.
Rather than presenting a complete package of appointments, Mr. Ban used his mantra of "harmonizer" and "bridge builder" to tend to critics first. He spent much political capital to appease them by filling regional and gender quotas.
Far from silencing his detractors, however, he now looks increasingly like an indecisive slave to the old machine. Even New York Times editorialists have criticized his appointments. They described Ms. Barcena, who has been at the United Nations since August 2005, as "a long-serving insider."
The problem with Ms. Barcena is not the length of her term. Last week, she protested to me that she "stopped seeing" her early career mentor, Canadian tycoon Maurice Strong, in the mid-1990s. But at the United Nations, she is seen as part of the perpetual machine, as are Messrs. Nambiar, Egeland, et al. Such impressions can hinder Mr. Ban's ability to force real changes.
It is not too late. With much-needed strategic advice on communication, Mr. Ban yet may prove to embody the gale of fresh air that this staid organization needs. Coming from a country that understands baseball, he could easily point out that we are playing the first inning of the first game of a long season — in a sport where it ain't over 'til it's over.
But at the United Nations, anyone who fails to control the perpetual bureaucracy risks being controlled by it. To take control, a strong hand at the tiller is needed, and, as Mr. Ban told me in an interview one week before taking office, "It's better to do it early."
At this early stage, it is clear that Turtle Bay will resist allowing "Ban to be Ban," as the former American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, advocated in a Washington Post op-ed piece over the weekend. For his part, Mr. Ban is showing way too much deference to his critics.
He was forced to retract a perfectly defensible statement that death penalty policy should be left for each country to decide, rather than being dictated by Turtle Bay. If anything, he now needs to depart altogether from his predecessor's habit of constantly commenting on world affairs, concentrating instead on fixing the world inside Turtle Bay.
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