Kofi Annan described 2004 as his annus horribilis. A man who had received the Nobel Peace Prize, who was widely counted one of the greatest UN secretaries general, was nearly hounded from office by scandal. Indeed, both Annan and the institution he incarnates were so deeply shaken after the invasion of Iraq that critics, and even some friends, began asking whether this sixty-year-old experiment in global policing has outlived its usefulness. Do its failures arise from its own structure and culture, or from a clash with an American administration determined to go its own way in defiance of world opinion? James Traub, who enjoyed unprecendented access to Annan and his top aides, shadowing the UN's work for two years, delves into these questions as no one else has done before. He describes the Oil-for-Food scandal, the deep divide between those who wished to accommodate American critics and those who wished to confront them, the failed attempt to act decisively against ethnic cleansing in Sudan. And he recounts Annan's effort to respond to criticism with sweeping reform - an effort which ultimately shattered under the resistance of U.S. Ambassador John Bolton.
In The Best Intentions, Traub recounts the dramatically entwined history of Kofi Annan, the United Nations, and American foreign policy from 1992 to the present. In Annan he sees a conscientious idealist given too little credit for advancing causes like humanitarian intervention and an honest broker crushed between American conservatives and third world opponents - but also a UN careerist who has absorbed its stultifying culture and cannot, in the end, escape its limitations.
James Traub has been a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine since 1998, where he writes about international affairs, US foreign policy, and national political issues. He has written three books, including City On A Hill and The Devil's Playground. He lives in New York City.